Wed 22nd Oct 2014 | Last updated: Wed 22nd Oct 2014 at 15:10pm

Facebook Logo Twitter Logo RSS Logo
Hot Topics

Comment & Blogs

Christians must believe in the reality of hell as well as heaven

Parents should be wary of secular books, like the Harry Potter series, that deal with the occult

By on Monday, 7 February 2011

Anthony Hopkins stars as an exorcist in the forthcoming film The Rite

Anthony Hopkins stars as an exorcist in the forthcoming film The Rite

I read in a recent Herald report that that most soulful of actors, Sir Anthony Hopkins, is going to play the part of Fr Gary Thomas, a well-known American exorcist, in a forthcoming film called The Rite. The choice of Hopkins seems appropriate, for Satan, according to the famous prayer to St Michael composed by Pope Leo XIII, spends his time “wandering the world for the ruin of souls”.

If this sounds melodramatic, I make no apologies; Christians must believe in the reality of hell as well as heaven, evil spirits as well as good angels. Evangelical Christians, I notice, have no difficulty with this concept and talk about the Evil One quite unselfconsciously. We Catholics, I fear, are often rather muted in our attitude and try to play down talk of the Devil in case we sound, well, a little Evangelical. Indeed, I once heard a very post-Vatican II priest, with whom I had raised the question of Jesus’s temptations in the wilderness, dismiss the whole idea as “psychological disturbance”. I later heard that he had left the priesthood.

C S Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters remains, for me, the best book on the subject. However, for Christian parents concerned with what their children are reading or looking at on their computer screens, I would recommend Michael O’Brien’s Harry Potter and the Paganisation of Culture. Before readers raise their hands in horror over this, and tell me that the books are just good fun and have got their children reading, I urge them to attend to O’Brien’s chief criticism: that J K Rowling muddies the battle between good and evil and that she uses “the symbol world of the occult as her primary metaphor, and occult activities as the dramatic engine of the plots”.

What’s wrong with good, old-fashioned magic, you will say. Nothing at all – if it is indeed of the “old-fashioned” variety, where, according to J R R Tolkien in his essay “On Fairy Stories”, “the baptised imagination will be faithful to the moral order of the universe”; in other words, where good is clearly good and evil is clearly evil. Rowling’s is a brilliant but unbaptised imagination, working on the minds of children who have grown up without the old moral and spiritual parameters and certainties to guide them.
According to O’Brien: “The spiritual war in which we are all immersed is very much connected to the signs and symbols in material creation and in men’s conscious minds… We must never lose sight of the truth that symbols are among the most potent of human languages… Only in the secular age has this awareness faded, or disappeared altogether, reducing the world of symbol to the logos of advertising marketers.” He emphasises that contemporary Western man “has lost the sacramental sense of the sacredness of creation and can hardly comprehend the sacredness or diabolical character of various iconographic ‘words’.” His whole book, which discusses Philip Pullman’s books and the Vampire series also, is well worth reading.

Exorcist Fr Gary Thomas, who believes that the absence of God in the lives of many people has led to an increase in idolatrous and pagan practices in the US, would agree with Michael O’Brien’s view that “the ferocity of the Devil, his cunning and subtlety, have been neutralised as legend or superstition”. Fr Gabriele Amorth, former chief exorcist of Rome, has warned about a similar rise in witchcraft in Italy. As I write this (Sunday evening) I note that the film, The Exorcist, is being shown right now on TV. When it was first shown in cinemas in 1973 it created a sensation, as “a horror film like no other”. In the law of unintended consequences, I understand that the number of people in the US going to Confession significantly rose that same year; the film had given ordinary Americans a glimpse of the terrifying world of Satan when he openly shows his hand and a good instinct made them run to the only possible supernatural remedy: the Sacraments.

Thomas Molnar, in The Pagan Temptation, tells us that “today the occult penetrates the lowered defences of the Christian tradition”. That is why Fr Thomas rightly warns people, especially the vulnerable young, to avoid anything – such as pornography – which can be a “doorway” to satanic influence.

  • Anonymous

    Sorry Ma’am but do you honestly think the devil works in such a direct way?

    He doesn’t need to!
    Might I ask how aware are you of popular culture?
    Bewailing the Harry Potter books while most teenagers are watching ‘skins’ and ‘misfits’ – suggesting that children might be susceptible to indoctrination into evil – when they have been brought up on Soap operas where crime, adultery, betrayal, revenge without consequences or any moral grounding whatsoever is thrust before them.
    Have you watched BBC3 recently on teenage antics?
    Seen Hollyoaks?

    The Devil must be in hysterics – all the blinkered fundamentalists and deluded Catholics who simply have no idea what’s going on in the world – denouncing the Harry Potter books?!!!

    Have you even heard of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Supernatural ?
    The Twilight books, The Darren Shan series of novels, Garth Nix novels…
    Demons, Vampires, goda and goddesses, Possessions, Werewolves, monsters of every shape and size, and even the Devil himself!
    Ever heard of the Yu-Gi-Oh card mania from a few years ago and its corresponding animated series which went on for a hundred+ episodes – that too had evil wizards, demonic possessions, black magic imagery throughout…and that’s before we get to the vast profusion of Children’s main source of reading material
    Manga!!!! and their corresponding Anime – Japanese comic books and animated films/television series
    Yu-Yu-Hakusho, Naruto, Dragonball Z, the list is endless…
    Speaking of the terrors of demonic influences and how influential they are on children?

    Ma’am – these are based on fights against evil – extended fairy tales…
    The issues are overwhelmingly pagan, mythic,
    Perhaps you need to be reminded of Chesterton on the issue
    The Dragon’s Grandmother
    & The Red Angel

    I’m sorry to say this Ma’am but I think you need a little culture shock – what do you actually think the poor little baa-lambs are playing on their playstations and x-boxes ?

    and that’s without showing you the nightmare horror of silent hill or the grotesqueries of bioshock or the abject pornography of grand theft auto…all manner of…well?

    But where is the devil ?
    Pick up a take-a-break
    Watch Jeremy Kyle…
    See the invidious, pernicious contempt and almost sociopathic amorality and immorality within popular culture…
    Have you even glimpsed at the Daily Star over the past month – virtually every day there’s been some invented story about ‘Jordan’ [Ms Katie Price] and her sexual shenanigans and relationships chaos…
    ,,and kids soak all this in.

    ..and I’m afraid you’re behind the times with the idea that actual ‘pornography’ is a corrupting influence – men and women engaging in copulation is exceedingly mild and tame compared with the viral videos even young teenagers watch – the childish racism misogyny and homophobia of 1970s schoolyards has been replaced with a more more sinister, corrupting and malevolent series of ‘latest mobile jokes’ sent via bluetooth etc where no subject – and I mean no subject – is out of bounds…

    I take it you’ve heard of the ‘Saw’ series of films – and the emulators who have inserted graphic sadomasochistic and gratuitous violence into ‘storylines’…

    I’m serious Ma’am – maybe you should take a look at the outside world first before you think a subtle – paganisation is our main adversary – far from it – satan’s ruling the roost..and most people simply look the other way while chaos ensues!

  • tobias

    One never, ever, hears the devil mentioned in Church these days. Or indeed for a very long time.

  • Jackie Parkes

    Well Paul that was an education! Mine have read the Twilight books & got the tee-shirt..I checked with our Christian gp who told me he was reading them too! I think Francis raises a good point re Harry Potter etc but you raise a fair point. With 6 teenagers in my house I do check out what they are reading/watching..certainly no Hollyoaks..though we all watch Coronation St & discuss the issues…The X box is monitored..something called Call of Duty is banned..their father monitors that..the internet is restricted to runescape for our sons &Facebook for the girls which I monitor..I can’t click on yr youtube links or I won’t sleep at night..we allow incubus..I don’t like eldest son switches off any demonic music shouting rants at of our children is best so they can censor for Harry Potter one very respected Oratorian saw no harm in it..though my children find Rowling has plagiarised Tolkien & they find the language limited..

  • Anonymous

    Ah but it’s all a question of degree isn’t it Jackie?
    Buffy becomes Twilight becomes Moonlight becomes the Vampire Diaries becomes being Human becomes True Blood and thirty days of night.
    Kids being allowed to watch Shaun of the Dead because it’s a comedy – and consequently because the same people starred in Hot Fuzz they get to watch that – [ah comedy gore!!! you can get away with so much!] and as they’re ‘used to zombies now’ [the ludicrous assumption that kids seeing one thing once in a specific context become desensitised to it]
    means ‘sure you can watch zombieland’ and ‘day of the dead’, ’28 days later’ and the walking dead – the japanese film versus etc etc etc…and then a profusion of video games.

    Jackie I am telling you now – you simply could not sit and watch the game most teenagers are at this very minute playing across the land – Dead Space 2.

    Teenager[s] gain[s] special powers or train themselves with gadgets and become [a] hero[es]
    Is that Spiderman? The X-men? Heroes? Batman? The Dark Knight? Kick-Ass? Misfits?
    Japanese cartoons? Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle have to be some of the best family films ever made – but Legend of the Overfiend? Ninja Scroll? Elfen Lied ? Where the ‘adult’ content really does mean adult – and please never forget that being animated – the boundaries of taste plunge to the most depraved and one could even say – luciferian – Korishiya Ichi has a storyline I simply could not repeat on here…it is really THAT BAD

    But I have to reiterate – that’s not the playing ground of the devil’s main assault on the young – that’s with the example of adults – their opinions, their activities, and popular culture….
    It’s the pernicious evil within the Sun – not the poor pneumatic featherhead exposing her wherewithalls on page three – no – rather in the vehemently spiteful misanthropic, bigotted leaders and misreporting – reportage redolent of nazi Germany and Stalinist russia indoctrinating the gullible reader into believing this is what all decent like-minded people think…
    It’s the malevolence in the seemingly innocuous television programmes where ‘opinion is provided’ and the watcher becomes the ethical hudge jury and executioner…

    …and I think you know where I’m heading – a lot of the Devil’s work can be found even in places like these… I don’t mean the Herald – I mean among the commentators and journalists – who can make evil so, so justifiable…don’t you even it yourself? Maybe half-way through a seemingly inoffensive article or comment-piece and then the whole theme becomes disconcerting, then eerie, then diabolical…an an article you originally thought made a reasonably valid point now becomes the sickest perversion or terrifying manifesto conceivable…and it can be found in the most ‘high brow’ , ‘well bred’ journals and newspapers…
    That’s what makes all this so scary…when you can have an X pity the plight of those in the third world – becoming systemic global genocide via population control,
    Some sympatheric seeming young lady speaking of the plight of the adopted in care homes – suddenly becoming advocacy for abortion on demand and the sterilisation of drug abusers etc..
    The devil doesn’t need to throw us into the pit – he merely makes us walk a very long descending incline – where the descent in virtually unnoticeable – until we’re there at the very gates…

    and it gets us there through our opinions, our compromises..our laziness, our accommodating…our ‘not trying to offend’ ..our cowardice…our loneliness and anxiety…our unwillingness to stand apart…softly, slowly…catchee monkee!

    The devil’s very easily found in the gratuitous, the pornographic, the violent, the sado-masochistic , the overtly salacious – but it can readily be found in the mundane, the boring, the tedious, the laziness, the intellectual sloppiness, the quick-fix contamination which infects and corrupts everything it touches…

    We should all stay awake!

  • Anonymous

    I once asked a former 6th form student, when he was 25 years old, how often he had had school lessons on Hell or heard any sermons on Hell.

    No lessons, no sermons. He said he had NEVER heard Hell mentioned in his entire school career or in any church homily.

    Little wonder Catholic youth hold to the same views as everyone else on morality, cohabitation, divorce, contraception etc just like everyone else. Like everyone else, they’re not going to Hell – even if it exists!

  • Anonymous

    A long overdue topic. Priests are too busy chatting in their homilies about how to make the world a better place, pray for and end to the fighting in Egypt and for peace in the world, to worry their parishioners about the possibility of Hell.

    The Devil is very clever and (as paulpriest points out below) he doesn’t just work in the overt ways of popular films and books, but subtly, very subtly (as per the wonderful Screwtape Letters) conditioning minds and using all the ordinary means around us so to do.

    Thus, those who think they are watching daft soaps to keep in touch with “the real world” soon find themselves accepting the immorality around them. Nice “gays” on TV, poor unfortunate single, teenage mums, all soon becomes normal. And those who object to the dumbing down of culture and morality are labelled as holding to some phobia or other, some irrational fear, and are dismissed as “extremists.”

    Ditto those who hold to the liturgy “of a bygone age” … etc. No doubt about it, the Devil has a grip on the modern world and on the modern Church he’s helped to create.

    It’s clever all right – but subtle. Very, very subtle.

  • chiaramonti

    The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convicing the world he didn’t exist.

  • chiaramonti

    The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.

  • Anonymous

    Well EditorCT – did you read Timmy Radcliffe’s sermon from Sunday? [it's on ICN]
    All about the eye of the beholder – evil be to he whom evil thinks – the sin is in the pharisee etc
    Then the usual ‘Jesus loves gays’ stuff and heaven pity those who think differently – for they are the real sinners…

    Turning on its head the whole ‘seeing through a glass darkly’ paradigm – How can one love one’s neighbour – a sinner – while denying there is any sin for God to forgive ? How easy is it to deny one’s own sins when one denies the existence of that which is blatant before one in one’s neighbour – and they suffer for our neglect?
    Those who have come asking for bread and fish – those ordained to provide bread and fish – and all they offer is stones and snakes!
    Did not cardinal Ratzinger write:
    But we wish to make it clear that departure from the Church’s teaching, or silence about it, in an effort to provide pastoral care is neither caring nor pastoral.

    The devil thrives when those supposedly there to speak for good do the Devil’s job for him….
    When compartmentalising someone according to their predilection is expressly proscibed by Church teaching,,,
    Today, the Church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person when she refuses to consider the person as a “heterosexual” or a “homosexual” and insists that every person has a fundamental Identity: the creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life.

    So here’s the modern agenda: The only sinners today are those who say sin exists !

    ..and it’s all around us – and our ‘leaders’ order us to hold our tongue!

  • Dr.Wolfgang Munster Schnoozle

    These days to mentioned Satan, the devil, hell is to be branded an idiot. A figure to be rebuked and made fun of and how silent we have become.

    Is it not the most simple of human weaknesses that Satan wields as yakuzza does a samurai?

  • Anonchap

    “One never, ever, hears the devil mentioned in Church these days. Or indeed for a very long time.”

    If, that is, one attends Novus Ordo Masses. We not infrequently hear about the devil at my parish run by the FSSP (which thus offers only the traditional Mass).

  • Anonymous

    Please get a life. The video game you show is an 18, it is a game for adults just like the Godfather is a film for adults.

    The majority of the media you mentioned is totally benign. Go to the trouble to actually watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer and you will find it is just TV designed for teens/late teens. If you believe such programs are liberalizing more serious matters, then look back to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings or Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula. The paranormal, spirits, warlocks, wizards etc. all abound.

    Even Enid Blyton wrote about witches – do you not want our children to read her books?!
    Your delusional hysteria is quite laughable.

  • abound

    I’m a parent of a 7 year old boy and I’m very torn over what to do about Harry Potter.

    I believe in reading widely and finding the good in whatever you read. You can’t stick to sacrosanct culture or you wouldn’t have any culture at all.

    On the one hand, I think Potter is very witty, insightful, clever and fun
    (all Christian attributes) – if atrociously written in places. My son is
    reading it, and claims to love it as all kids do, though I suspect that
    is partly peer pressure. On the other I do find it extremely dark and I
    am concerned about the realistic portrayal of witchcraft in places
    within it. I do find large swathes of Potter to be full of influences that worry me, and without any true sense of good.

    And it’s not the only offender; Beast Quest disturbs me with its relentless diet of violence, Ben 10 is very dark, there are innumerable witchcraft programmes on CBBC right now. I am absolutely sick of this stuff. There’s just too much of it and it is filling our childrens’ heads, and that has to be a bad thing.

    This obsession shows no sign of lessening. Is it in fact a sign of the hunger that humans have for religion? In an age where Christianity is for many considered to be discredited, is the only source of extra dimension to life witchcraft?

    Evil seeks to fascinate but in truth it is dull. We should encourage better from our culture. As Christians we need to be positive role models. We should be more creative. God is interesting, creative, beautiful,
    good. We need to think on ‘whatsoever is true, noble… of good report’ 
    There’s no need to vilify Rowling – it’s not her fault she doesn’t have faith. I think we should stand up and say that we’re bored by
    this cultural fad for magic and find alternatives for our children. Above all though, we do not need to be scared of witchcraft. It is to be
    avoided, but we have Christ to protect us and that is enough.

    The other night my mother brought Paul Gallico’s ‘The Small Miracle’ to read to my son. He really loved it and I had a sense of a truly wonderful and positive atmosphere in the room. We need more like that.


    Here is a very good prayer of protection that someone once taught me;

    ‘By the power of the Lord God Almighty, I surround myself with the presence of Christ, I cover myself with the blood of Christ, I seal myself with the cross of Christ. All dark and evil influences must now leave. Nothing is allowed to come near to me but that it is first filtered through the light of Christ. Amen’