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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Did Bobby Jindal claim to have performed an exorcism?

In comments to a post on Outside the Beltway entitled McCain to Pick VP This Week: Romney or Jindal?, someone commenting under the name "Hal" quipped: "McCain/Jindal '08: Because The White House Needs An Exorcist!"

Now, that's typical moonbat twaddle that I'd ordinarily ignore, but a couple of comments down, another blogger, Dr. Steven Taylor, whose integrity I respect, chimed in with a comment saying: "Not just a belief in exorcism, btw, but as Hal alludes, Jindal claims to have performed one." (Italics his.)

That's completely wrong, and I left a comment saying so. But I became curious, which in turn, led me to track down and read Jindal's entire 1994 article in the New Oxford Review (accessible by subscription or $1.50 one-time fee here), "Physical Dimensions to Spiritual Warfare." In it, Jindal described his presence at, and complex reactions to, an event involving a fellow student who some present concluded had been possessed by a demon which some present attempted to exorcise. In succeeding comments, I added quotes and links — including some incidental opinions about Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM)'s lack of serious foreign policy credentials and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act — in what turned into a lengthy argument with "Hal," who eventually demonstrated that he can't or won't distinguish a "Hail, Mary" from an exorcism ritual.

Fairly read, Jindal's article is a well-written and moving description of his own confusion, concern, self-doubt, and fears as he was struggling with issues both spiritual and concrete. But as for his participation in — much less performance of — a purported exorcism, these paragraphs seemed to me to convincingly refute any such suggestions (boldface mine):

Knowing that I was doing Susan no good, I quickly retreated to the opposite side of the room. Susan proceeded to denounce every individual in the room, often citing very private and confidential information she could not possibly have known on her own. It was information capable of hurting individuals — attacking people, as she did, by revealing their hidden feelings, fears, and worries. The night was just beginning!

The students, led by Susan's sister and Louise, a member of a charismatic church, engaged in loud and desperate prayers while holding Susan with one hand. Kneeling on the ground, my friends were chanting, "Satan, I command you to leave this woman." Others exhorted all "demons to leave in the name of Christ." It is no exaggeration to note the tears and sweat among those assembled. Susan lashed out at the assembled students with verbal assaults.

Though I attempted to maintain a stoic attitude and an expressionless face, my inner fear must have been apparent to all present. I was the only one present who remained silent and apart from the group.

I repeated to myself that such things do not happen to normal people. I had attended a charis­matic church once, out of curiosity, but had merely seen a congregation dance wildly, pray enthusiasti­cally, and speak in a language that sounded like gib­berish. I wondered how the horror unfolding before my eyes could make any sense. I desperately wanted it all to end, but could not leave.

Then the fear and doubts began. Though I have experienced the normal periods of questioning, I have never come so close to abandoning my faith as I did that night. I could not pray to God. I tried as hard as I could, but I couldn't. Out of desperation, I called upon the saints to articulate my prayers and rescue me from this living nightmare. Though I had never prayed with the saints before, I began to understand the Church's teaching of the unity within the One Body. I pleaded with the saints in Heaven to offer God the prayers I was unable to formulate.

These paragraphs describe an informal spiritual ceremony, a lay attempt at something like exorcism (no clergy were present), that Jindal watched, found intensely troubling, and prayed about — not something that he led or even participated actively in, but something that he deliberately stood physically and spiritually apart from. In a later paragraph he emphasizes that he does "not have the answers" to questions like "Can a Christian be 'possessed'?" And his final paragraph eloquently summarizes his own inconclusive reactions to the purported possession and exorcism (boldface mine):

I left that classroom with a powerful belief in Mary's intercessions and with many questions about spiritual warfare; I also learned a lasting lesson in hu­mility and the limits of human understanding. Was the purpose of that night served when so many indi­viduals were inducted into the Church? Did I witness spiritual warfare? I do not have the answers, but I do believe in the reality of spirits, angels, and other re­lated phenomena that I can neither touch nor see.

It is inconceivable that someone who claims to be an exorcist himself, or who is representing that he "performed" or even participated in a successful exorcism, could write that paragraph. The article thus not only fails to support Steven Taylor's assertion, but refutes it. Nevertheless, you can read my exchange back and forth with "Hal" if you'd like to see how anti-religious bigots with few scruples for the truth can and will mock someone of faith like Jindal.

I'll repeat here, however, one more sentiment that I stated there:

I have zero doubt whatsoever that were Jindal to become McCain's Veep nominee, and were the netroots to continue to harp on this issue, Jindal could very effectively shame them for doing so with every American who has an ounce of decency and an ounce of respect for the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, regardless of their personal religious beliefs.

Looking more deeply into this particular episode deepens my respect for Gov. Jindal, whose own words are indeed his own best advocate, even when he's describing his own very subjective doubts, fears, and hopes.


UPDATE (Tue Jul 22 @ 6:10pm): Prof. Bainbridge quotes Dr. Joyner's original post, which refers to Jindal's "belief in things like exorcism," without further comment on the exorcism subject, but he goes on to quote from U.S. News & World Report an impressive list of facts about Gov. Jindal and his qualifications in urging Sen. McCain to pick him as the GOP Veep nominee. Separately, in comments here and on his own blog, Dr. Taylor has walked back from his statement that Gov. Jindal claims to have performed an exorcism, but he still asserts that Gov. Jindal "partially participated" in one, which I think is still an overstatement. Nevertheless, my regard for Dr. Taylor remains intact. Finally, I ran across this on Catholic doctrine regarding exorcisms, and I can't vouch for its accuracy or authority, but it appears to include a warning about lay attempts at exorcism issued by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who of course is now Pope Benedict XVI. Basically, such "imprecatory exorcisms" (as distinguished from more general prayers to be freed from the influence of demons) may only be done by a priest with permission of a bishop. Unless we presume that Jindal was attempting an act forbidden by official Catholic dogma, then, it seems to me that this is yet another reason to doubt that he was voluntarily attempting to participate in a lay exorcism, much less perform one himself.

Posted by Beldar at 02:30 PM in 2008 Election, Current Affairs, McCain, Politics (2008) | Permalink


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(1) Steven Taylor made the following comment | Jul 22, 2008 4:00:35 PM | Permalink

My mistake--I really did misremember what I had read. He did not claim to perform an exorcism, but he did claim to be present at one and if I read his account correctly, he claims to have participated.

Really, this is not a major issue for me, and I was overly flippant at OTB this morning. If one reads the account, however, that I linked to, one has to admit it is the type of stuff that McCain's opposition can make PR hay out of.

(2) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Jul 22, 2008 4:46:36 PM | Permalink

Dear Mr. Dyer: First, I read the entire comment thread at Mr. Joyner's blog. I think "Hal" is described easily enough by a) mean-spiritedness b) disingenousness (by his logic, I'm married to five women because I've been groom or best man and hence have "participated" in five weddings) c) partisanship and d) the lust for the last word. You kept your temper far better than I would have. Leave Hal in the fever swamps.

Next, I find the Jindal article disturbing. That he has recounted it as honestly as he has is to his credit. But it would do him tremendous damage politically if it got into general circulation. To anyone who doesn't believe in the Judeo-Christian God, the actions of the group on that night are going to look mighty bad, if for no other reason than Hippocrates's "First, do no harm." None of the people involved in this action really knew what they were doing. "The man who represents himself in court has a fool for a client," applies here, I think. I found this account of a struggle with darkness unsettling, not only for the forces unleashed, but for the response the group gave. Jindal was right to be detached, but it would have been better for him to leave entirely and go for help, either psychiatric or spiritual. But he didn't try for the first, and gave up much too easily on the second. Part of this is the inertia that settles on a group in crisis, everyone waiting for someone else to do something. The "He was quite young," defense could be applied, but in its very different style, this event is as potentially bothersome as Obama's youthful drug use. Jindal will be hurt more by this than Obama because drug use is common and all too easily accepted, particualarly by the press. Jindal's experience is less common in my judgment, and is certainly not accepted. Imagine what Keith Olbermann would do with this, or the swinish gang at SLATE! In any case, he's a Republican, so the press will work the double standards overtime. Hal would be right to pound on this; it's a gaping hole in Jindal's political armor.

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

(3) Beldar made the following comment | Jul 22, 2008 5:16:42 PM | Permalink

Dr. Taylor: I thank you for admitting you'd misremembered. I'm still puzzled how you can argue that standing on the other side of the room, silent and as straight-faced as he could manage, constitutes "participation" in the chanting and exhortation that comprised the lay attempt at exorcism. I agree that religious bigots will attempt to make hay of the story. I'm disappointed that even someone like Katheryn Jean Lopez of NRO, who's a Jindal fan and a member of the Roman Catholic faith, didn't read Jindal's essay closely enough to discern the extent of his actual participation. But I'm still waiting for anyone, anywhere, to point to a line of the essay which shows that Jindal did anything other than observe and pray as the "ceremony" was going on, or to anything inconsistent with his repeated assertions that he doesn't know whether someone can be possessed by demons (which is the logical precondition to believing that the demons can be exorcised).

I do agree that the essay contains an "admission," if such you want to call it, that Gov. Jindal believes there are "spirits, angels, and other re­lated phenomena that [we] can neither touch nor see." But that's fairly conventional Christian doctrine both in and out of the Catholic Church, and a sentiment that I'm very confident no recent nominee for president from either party would deny. (I'm not sure what Joe Lieberman would say, but I suspect he'd go along with that formulation too.)

Mr. Koster: You found the essay disturbing. Gov. Jindal likewise found the events disturbing. What I find disturbing are people like Hal who ridicule others for their faith, whether that includes a belief in possessions and exorcism, or transubstantiation and resurrection, or reincarnation and karma. Whenever Gov. Jindal runs for national office, I'm confident he can allay the concerns of those who think his faith would interfere with his ability to govern.

(4) Boyd made the following comment | Jul 22, 2008 10:58:56 PM | Permalink

I used to debate Hal on a regular basis a few years back. He was always reasonable and open to discussion, while remaining an inveterate liberal.

Unfortunately, it appears that his BDS has gotten the best of him since then, and that cancer has grown to engulf him completely.

(5) nk made the following comment | Jul 24, 2008 4:11:42 AM | Permalink

When someone asks you if you are a god, you say "Yes".

(6) Milhouse made the following comment | Jul 24, 2008 8:00:03 AM | Permalink

This whole thing is ridiculous. Roman Catholicism is the biggest religion in the USA. More than a quarter of USAns are RC. Five out of nine Supreme Court justices are RC. If I recall correctly, the majority of starting candidates in both major parties' primaries this year were RC. They all can be presumed to believe in possession and exorcism. So what's the big deal that Jindal does too?

As for his own participation, if you want to call it that, why should anyone object? Suppose he had actively participated, rather than standing on the side and praying for the power to pray. Suppose he had directly commanded the demon to leave his friend. Well, most believers, and especially Catholics, would say that he was rash, that he took a foolish risk, that he could easily have been harmed. But how's that different from any stupid risk that young people take? Would anyone make a fuss if a vice-presidential candidate admitted that as a teenager he'd played chicken with trains, or gone climing on his own without adequate safety precautions, or something like that? The main thing is that he obviously survived it, and he's now old enough to have more caution.

People who would raise this against Jindal need to be exposed as the anti-religious bigots they were. And like it or not, Americans are a religious people, a believing people, and it's time people stopped acting as if it's something to be ashamed of. The Roman Church is not my cup of tea, but it's not some weird cult, it's as respectable as any religion gets. I don't believe in its tenets, but when over a quarter of my countrymen do, I have to respect it.

(7) Donna B. made the following comment | Jul 24, 2008 9:40:37 PM | Permalink

Regardless of his religion, Bobby Jindal can help the U.S. more as governor of Louisiana than he can as VP.

Let him serve his two terms as governor and turn this state around as much as he can.

His success (or lack thereof) will determine whether he's ready for national office.

Unlike Obama, Jindal will have some experience under his belt in 7 1/2 years.

I'm with Beldar. I want Sarah Palin for VP

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