The Devil and Father Amorth: Witnessing “the Vatican Exorcist” at Work

William Friedkin (yes, the director of ‘The Exorcist’) , writing for Vanity Fair:

Rosa had no apparent medical symptoms. It was Father Amorth’s belief that her affliction stemmed from a curse brought against her by her brother’s girlfriend, said to be a witch. The brother and his girlfriend were members of a powerful demonic cult, Father Amorth believed.

I sat two feet away from Rosa as her torment became visible. Her family stood against a wall to my right. Father Amorth invited everyone to join him in saying the Lord’s Prayer and Hail Mary. Then he invoked Saint Joseph, Padre Pio, Father Amantini, and the Blessed Virgin, asking for their protection.

Rosa’s head began to nod involuntarily. Her eyes rolled back, and she fell into a deep trance. Father Amorth spoke in Latin in a loud, clear voice, using the Roman ritual of Paul V, from 1614. He asked the Lord to set her free from demonic infestation. “EXORCIZO DEO IMMUNDISSIMUS SPIRITUS.” (I exorcize, O God, this unclean spirit.)

Rosa’s body began to throb, and she cried out, before falling back into a trance. Father Amorth placed his right hand over her heart. “INFER TIBI LIBERA.” (Set yourself free.)

She lost consciousness. “TIME SATANA INIMICI FIDEM.” (Be afraid of Satan and the enemies of faith.)

Without warning, Rosa began to thrash violently. The five male helpers had all they could do to hold her down. A foam formed at her lips.

I’m not totally sure why this didn’t become one of those articles that everyone passes around for a couple of days on the internet, but it’s crazy interesting and well read and we could all use a distraction right now and I mean, c’mon—it’s William friggen Friedkin writing about actual exorcisms!


Radio Diaries no. 49: Majd’s Diary: Two Years in the Life of a Saudi Girl

Radio Diaries:

Majd Abdulghani is a teenager living in Saudi Arabia, one of the most restrictive countries for women in the world. She wants to be a scientist. Her family wants to arrange her marriage. From the age of 19 to 21, Majd has been chronicling her life with a microphone, taking us inside a society where the voices of women are rarely heard. She records herself practicing karate, conducting experiments in a genetics lab, and fending off pressure to accept an arranged marriage. In her audio diary, Majd documents everything from arguments with her brother about how much she should cover herself in front of men, to late night thoughts about loneliness, arranged marriages, and the possibility of true love.

I’m not breaking any news by pointing out how awesome Radio Diaries is, but this episode is even more special than usual. In a time when some people want to build walls and close themselves off from the rest of the world, it becomes even more important to listen to something like this. To learn, to educate, to expand your mind, and to better understand what you don’t have experience with.


God Is a Question, Not an Answer

William Irwin, writing for The New York Times:

Anyone who does not occasionally worry that he may be a fraud almost certainly is. Nor does the worry absolve one from the charge; one may still be a fraud, just one who rightly worries about it on occasion. Likewise, anyone who does not occasionally worry that she is wrong about the existence or nonexistence of God most likely has a fraudulent belief. Worry can make the belief or unbelief genuine, but it cannot make it correct.

This type of humility regarding your beliefs is exactly what is missing from our public discourse.


‘Thank God for AIDS! You won’t repent of your rebellion that brought His wrath on you in this incurable scourge, so expect more & worse! #red.’

Adrian Chen, writing for The New Yorker:

It was easy for Phelps-Roper to write things on Twitter that made other people cringe. She had been taught the church’s vision of God’s truth since birth. Her grandfather Fred Phelps established the church, in 1955. Megan’s mother was the fifth of Phelps’s thirteen children. Megan’s father, Brent Roper, had joined the church as a teen-ager. Every Sunday, Megan and her ten siblings sat in Westboro’s small wood-panelled church as her grandfather delivered the sermon. Fred Phelps preached a harsh Calvinist doctrine in a resounding Southern drawl. He believed that all people were born depraved, and that only a tiny elect who repented would be saved from Hell. A literalist, Phelps believed that contemporary Christianity, with its emphasis on God’s love, preached a perverted version of the Bible. Phelps denounced other Christians so vehemently that when Phelps-Roper was young she thought “Christian” was another word for evil. Phelps believed that God hated unrepentant sinners. God hated the politicians who were allowing the United States to descend into a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah. He hated the celebrities who glorified fornication.

Phelps also believed that fighting the increasing tolerance of homosexuality was the key moral issue of our time. To illustrate gay sin, he described exotic sex acts in lurid detail. “He would say things like ‘These guys are slobbering around on each other and sucking on each other,’ ” Megan said. In awe of his conviction and deep knowledge of Scripture, she developed a revulsion to homosexuality. “We thought of him as a star in the right hand of God,” she said. Westboro had started as an offshoot of Topeka’s East Side Baptist Church, but by the time Phelps-Roper was born its congregation was composed mostly of Fred Phelps’s adult children and their families.

Nevertheless, Phelps-Roper didn’t grow up in isolation. Westboro believed that its members could best preach to the wicked by living among them. The children of Westboro attended Topeka public schools, and Phelps-Roper ran track, listened to Sublime CDs, and read Stephen King novels. If you knew the truth in your heart, Westboro believed, even the filthiest products of pop culture couldn’t defile you. She was friendly with her classmates and her teachers, but viewed them with extreme suspicion—she knew that they were either intentionally evil or deluded by God. “We would always say, They have nothing to offer us,” Phelps-Roper said. She never went to dances. Dating was out of the question. The Westboro students had a reputation for being diligent and polite in class, but at lunch they would picket the school, dodging food hurled at them by incensed classmates.

It’ll take you about 40 minutes to read this piece, but if you’ve ever spent any time thinking about the Westboro Baptist Church (and in 2015, who hasn’t?), there’s no way you can’t take the time. I would just assume that the film rights to this story have already been bought. Jennifer Lawrence was born to play Megan Phelps-Roper. 


The Chains of Mental Illness in West Africa

Benedict Carey, writing for The New York Times:

Every society struggles to care for people with mental illness. In parts of West Africa, where psychiatry is virtually unknown, the chain is often a last resort for desperate families who cannot control a loved one in the grip of psychosis. Religious retreats, known as prayer camps, set up makeshift psychiatric wards, usually with prayer as the only intervention. Nine camps visited recently in Togo ranged from small family operations to this one, Jesus Is the Solution, by far the largest and most elaborate.

“We try to talk people out of going to the camps,” said Dr. Simliwa Kolou Valentin Dassa, Togo’s director of mental health services, “but we cannot tell them to stop if there’s no alternative.”

Any time you might feel guilty—navel gaze-ish—about the ability of the Western World to focus on and treat mental health issues, force yourself to be thankful. There are people outside of your worldview who are not nearly as fortunate.


Pope Francis and His Little Fiat

John Cassidy, writing for The New Yorker:

Behind the huge gas guzzler, there was a little black Fiat 500L, the same car had ferried Pope Francis into town from Joint Base Andrews on Tuesday afternoon. Apart from the fact that it bore the license plate SCV 1, denoting it as the first vehicle of the Vatican City (“Status Civitatis Vaticanae”), it looked like any other 500L—a 1.4-liter, somewhat elongated version of the iconic Fiat 500, which gets about thirty-five miles to the gallon and costs around twenty thousand dollars. A Marine sentry held open the rear door on the passenger side, and the seventy-eight-year-old Pope climbed out to greet the President. He’d been in the United States, which accounts for about a fifth of the world’s total oil consumption, for only about eighteen hours, and up to that point hadn’t said a word in public. Already, however, he had delivered a message.

You could go crazy trying to read everything that’s being written about Pope Frankie’s visit, but this was one of my favorites (no surprise: John Cassidy is one of my favorite political writers).


Bearded Terrorists Don’t Believe in Israel’s Right to Exist

Isabel Kershner, writing for The New York Times:

The extremists’ working plan calls for fomenting unrest to bring about the collapse of the State of Israel, with its democratic system of government and courts, and establishing a [redacted] kingdom based on the laws of the [redacted]. Non-[redacted] are to be expelled, the [redacted] is to be built and religious observance is to be enforced, initially in public spaces.

“The starting point of the Revolt is that the State of Israel has no right to exist, and therefore we are not bound by the rules of the game,” write the anonymous authors of the manifesto of sedition that lays out these ideas, which the Shin Bet internal security agency recently discovered.

Go ahead. Read the article. You just might be surprised.


Oh, Now You Want to Trample My Religious Rights

Talk about a straw man. I can’t wait to read the reports of priests having a gay put to their head and being forced to marry people. And there’s nothing better than reading these sour grapes retorts about the activists on the Supreme Court. I bet the same accusation was being leveled after Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and McCullen v. Coakley, right?

Yeah, didn’t think so.

Your conscience doesn’t have rights and nobody is looking to coerce you into doing anything against your beliefs. We cross over to the other side of the street when we see you and your hate coming in our direction.


From Amateur to Ruthless Jihadi in France

Rukmini Callimachi and Jim Yardley, The New York Times:

In the year after the United States’ invasion of Iraq, a 22-year-old pizza delivery man here couldn’t take it anymore. Sickened by images of American soldiers humiliating Muslims at the Abu Ghraib prison, he made plans to go fight United States forces. He studied a virtual AK-47 on a website. Then he took lessons from a man, using a hand-drawn picture of a gun.

It was an almost laughable attempt at jihad, and as the day of his departure approached, the delivery man, Chérif Kouachi, felt increasingly unsure of himself.

When the police arrested him hours before his 6:45 a.m. Alitalia flight on Jan. 25, 2005, he was relieved. “Several times, I felt like pulling out. I didn’t want to die there,” he later told investigators. “I told myself that if I chickened out, they would call me a coward, so I decided to go anyway, despite the reservations I had.”

A decade later, Chérif Kouachi, flanked by his older brother Saïd, 34, no longer had any reservations, as the two jihadists in black, sheathed in body armor, gave a global audience a ruthless demonstration in terrorism.

This is what real journalism reads like.


Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Newspaper Edited Important World Leaders Out of An Iconic Picture of The Hebdo March Because They Are Women

Myka Fox, The Loom:

Israeli paper Walla says of the retouching that "Haredi sector daily newspapers operate under the supervision of a 'spiritual committee.'" That committee's task is to censor based on religious beliefs, and when it comes to publishing pictures of women, "the rule is simple: do not advertise."

Draw your own conclusions.