How about this religion angle? Jail nurse accused of trying to exorcize an inmate

How about this religion angle? Jail nurse accused of trying to exorcize an inmate

Just in time for Halloween, a jail nurse in Oklahoma is accused of trying an exorcism on a  combative inmate.

Here in my home state of Oklahoma, a longtime investigative reporter for The Oklahoman reports the story.

Just to be clear, this news actually has nothing to do with Tuesday's holiday.

But it did break today:

A nurse has been banned from working at the Oklahoma County jail after witnesses reported she began an exorcism rather than help a combative inmate.
The inmate died the next day.
The nurse, Linda Herlong Jackson, 67, of Oklahoma City, denies the accusation.
"Oh, brother," she told The Oklahoman. "No. ... I didn't do an exorcism."
Detention officers reported the nurse said, "I revoke you demons,'' as the inmate thrashed around and screamed, a sheriff's investigator said. One witness reported the nurse had asked first if anyone would mind if she performed an exorcism.
A sheriff's lieutenant stopped the exorcism after arriving and being told what was going on, the investigator said.
Sheriff P.D. Taylor banned the nurse Oct. 20.

At the end of the story, readers hear from the nurse again:

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The demon of clickbait: Daily Telegraph sensationalizes UK's 'boom' in exorcisms 

The demon of clickbait: Daily Telegraph sensationalizes UK's 'boom' in exorcisms 

Which comes first? The chicken or the egg?

A hackneyed phrase, I admit. But the question it poses is relevant to several important questions in the newspaper business.

What comes first, advertising or content?

Do you tailor your content to generate the greatest number of readers (or "hits" or "clicks" on-line), or do you generate content that attracts readers seeking balanced reporting?

Do you seek advertisers first, or readers whom advertisers seek to reach?

This question loomed large in my mind as I read a recent article in The Daily Telegraph entitled “'Astonishing' rise in demand for exorcisms putting mental health at risk, report finds.” In this story, the Telegraph has chosen to sensationalize an item rather than report faithfully.

The title of the piece recycles the war between science and religion so beloved by bores. Not hirsute, feral pigs, mind you, but the dreary sort of folk one comes across in the chattering classes.

The suggestion raised in the title is softened slightly by the lede -- moving the problem from the war between science and religion to the war between science and the religion of immigrants. It states:

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Are demons going to start sending us links to that Washington Post exorcism essay?

Are demons going to start sending us links to that Washington Post exorcism essay?

It's perfectly understandable why many journalists are fascinated with the subject of exorcisms, especially when the Roman Catholic Church gets involved. For starters, we are talking about battles on the front lines between the material and the supernatural, encounters that raise eternal questions about free will, the love of God and the existence of ultimate good and ultimate evil. And then, of course, there is Hollywood.

So you will not be surprised that your GetReligionistas have taken a look at quite a few mainstream news stories about this topic. Click here and do some surfing, if you wish.

But this post is not about a news piece. Yet, over the past week people have sent me the URL to this Washington Post essay more than any other. At this point, I have begun to wonder if the demons are sending it to me. Why, well you know what C.S. Lewis said about demons (speaking through the voice of Screwtape, his great demonic professor).

We are really faced with a cruel dilemma. When the humans disbelieve in our existence we lose all the pleasing results of direct terrorism and we make no magicians. On the other hand, when they believe in us, we cannot make them materialists and sceptics. At least, not yet. I have great hopes that we shall learn in due time how to emotionalise and mythologise their science to such an extent that what is, in effect, belief in us, (though not under that name) will creep in while the human mind remains closed to belief in the Enemy. The “Life Force”, the worship of sex, and some aspects of Psychoanalysis, may here prove useful. If once we can produce our perfect work -- the Materialist Magician, the man, not using, but veritably worshipping, what he vaguely calls “Forces” while denying the existence of “spirits” -- then the end of the war will be in sight.

The headline on the Post piece, written by New York Medical College professor Richard Gallagher, was this: "As a psychiatrist, I diagnose mental illness. Also, I help spot demonic possession."

I should note that this is a sequel, of sorts, to his 2008 essay -- "Among the Many Counterfeits -- A Case of Demonic Possession" -- that ran in the journal The New Oxford Review, a very small-o orthodox Catholic publication (and one with a high digital wall around its content).

Here is the opening of the new Post piece:

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Dear Baltimore Sun editors: Concerning your MIA U.S. Catholic bishops coverage

Dear Baltimore Sun editors: Concerning your MIA U.S. Catholic bishops coverage

It's logical, if you stop and think about it. Day after day, week after week, month after month, your GetReligionistas focus our time and efforts on news that is published in the mainstream press.

Note: This is news that is PUBLISHED in newspapers, wire services, websites, etc. As opposed to what? News that is NOT published? Precisely.

We do have our "Got news?" thing, which is when we note that something really interesting is happening somewhere in America or the world and the big, elite media (as opposed to, let's say, specialty websites) haven't noticed it yet. Readers send us notes about that kind of thing all the time.

That helps. But let's face it: It's hard to critique coverage that doesn't exist.

With that in mind, let's consider this week's Baltimore Sun coverage of the meetings -- in Baltimore, of course -- of the U.S. Catholic bishops.

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Demon 'deliverance' in Big D: 'The Exorcists Next Door'

A burp or a yawn? Either might signal an exiting demon. So say Larry and Marion Pollard, the subjects of a 4,400-word D Magazine profile with the provocative title “The Exorcists Next Door.”

When Rod “friend of this blog” Dreher proclaimed the piece a must-read, we knew we needed to check it out.

The trees and rolling hills lend a warm, suburban vibe to Marion and Larry Pollard’s West Arlington neighborhood. Shouts of children from a nearby elementary school waft in on waves of heat as you step inside the foyer of their comfortable ranch home, where you’re surrounded by portraits of the grandkids—eight of them, ranging in age from 5 to 22.

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Devil in the details: WPost on Francis teaching about Satan

The current head of the Catholic Church has often shocked liberals by showing he actually believes Catholic dogma. In the newest chapter of this saga, Pope Francis spooks ‘em by preaching traditional doctrines about Satan. An account of this situation by the Washington Post isn’t half bad. Written by Anthony Faiola, the Post‘s London bureau chief, it skims the pope’s pronouncements on the devil and quotes a couple of worriers. But Faiola also quotes a couple of believers, including attendees at a conference on exorcism that’s the clear time peg for this article.

The article doesn’t start out promising: “A darling of liberal Catholics and an advocate of inclusion and forgiveness, Pope Francis is hardly known for fire and brimstone.” But it gains depth and shows savvy.

Faiola alertly notes how Francis shows an awareness of how un-trendy is the belief about Satan. He has the pope paraphrasing critics: “But Father, how old-fashioned you are to speak about the Devil in the 21st century.”

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Indiana family: Demons, possession and exorcism, oh my!

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to separate the subject of a story from its journalistic merits. You can try, of course. You can look for proper attribution and treatment, context and clarity. Fairness.

But when your head still can’t get around the topic by the story’s end, something still might be missing.

In this case, I suppose it’s the why. And I’ll explain why in just a bit.

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Pod people: Are Christians crazy, or just stupid?

There is little new under the sun when it comes to anti-theistic arguments. Whether it be high minded philosophical critique or rabble rousing anti-clericalism, what was old is now new.

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Pope Francis' 'obsession' with the devil

It’s kind of charming that all popes have to deal with bad media coverage and global press frenzies. This week we’ve seen some awful media coverage of Pope Francis, including coverage of his blessing of a man after Mass on Sunday. Part of the blame must go to the Italian press, which really went crazy with the story in a way that might not be prudent. But I’ll restrict myself to the English-language media. Let’s begin with the Telegraph (U.K.):

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