Friday, October 22, 2004

thought(s?) on john safran's monday night show

i have commented a few times - chiefly in symposiasts' comment boxes - about the effect that watching john safran's exorcism had on me, and the thoughts it engendered. it's not worth repeating (who wants to read the same statements all over again?) what has been said in many other places, about the figure of the exorcist, bob larson, and whether or not john was 'faking it'. but i do wish to make some comments of my own.

when watching, i was struck by how unusual the dynamic of this group-witnessed/participated exorcism was, in comparison to the meetings/masses of what might be called more 'mainstream' christianity - from catholicism to new-fangled, entertainment-centre evangelical christianity. there, the focus is the sermon, and participation is generally quite watered-down: 'singing and praying' is as involved as it gets, and the congregation keeps its attention focussed largely within itself.

but in the instance of the exorcism, there was active involvement. the prayer was directed, as though the people in the room were in a tug-of-war or arm wrestle with the demons in john's body. there was a sense that their willpower and concentration were having an effect. if they didn't pray hard, then the demons might not leave - which, in turn, made it dramatic! all the more so, because there was a focus on one person: the pushed-about figure of john safran, being taunted and confronted by the exorcist.

i'll cut to the crux of my point. it was as though safran effectively took the position of a communal sacrifice within this ritual. larson proclaimed his christianity, yet what the ordeal resembled was closer to approaching the footage of the voodoo goat sacrifice that john took part in a few weeks before. the hysteria, the climaxes, the atmosphere in the room, the crying, the collapsing, the violence... john safran was bullied and pushed around for a higher cause - accessing demons and dispelling them. isn't this close to what took place with the sacrifice of the goat? abomination for a cause? and furthermore, there is surely only a difference of degree between summoning demons to be possessed, and summoning demons in order to tell them to piss off in the name of christ.

in summary, i find that the most astonishing thing about what bob larson did to john safran is not that he pushed him about and hit him with a bible, but is rather that the role that this violence (verbal and physical) played was an oddly archaic one - and, indeed, one that resembled the practices of precisely those "occult" religions that were proclaimed to be so antithetical to the beliefs and practices of christians.

quick, someone get john safran on the phone - there are some questions that he needs to be asked...


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