Up until the point where I began to do a PhD at an elite University, the only accounts of demons I heard came from homeless men on the 1 train. It was only when I arrived at the academy, where the life of the mind is assured by a living stipend that allows for little else and surrounded by intellectuals whose business it was to reason that I received theological explanations as well as descriptions of the existence and typology of demons–and with a coherence and vocabulary not to be found with the NYC homeless. The former was anecdotal, the latter had all the credibility that comes with adding an “ology” to the end of a term.
Yes, dear reader “demonology” is a sub-field, as I was to learn from a doctoral student of divinity, within “the great science of theology,” by which he meant orthodox Catholicism. Like almost all of the religious intellectuals I was to meet, this gentleman was a convert. As someone from the Irish working class, I marveled at how poor an education my fore-bearers had, since I had not heard mention of demons from any of my relatives, only injunctions from my grandmother such as, “if you read too much you’re gonna’ go crazy” and “don’t put the plastic mass cards in the edges of the television screen because that’s what the Italians do.” One of those statements is true.
I might also add that I felt great disappointment at how much the bling has depreciated from yesteryear. Whereas my great-grandparents slept in a bed between a nightstand that boasted a relic of St. Francis–an obscure bloody fleck in a murky glass vial–and another nightstand with a statue of St. Lucy holding a plate with two eyeballs on it, her sockets still streaming blood where freshly grown eyes emerged as the Lord’s reward for her faithful obedience in ripping them from her own head, we’ve somehow gotten here:
Alright, so this one gets some points for the bloody slit, but still, meh.
So I saw some stuff like this in the gift shop of one of the religious schools that hosted a conference I attended (on why I was there see my upcoming publication “Professionalization, or, Prostitution of the Soul”). For the most part, however, the intellectual converts I encountered in my PhD were far more averse to color than this. They preferred heaping piles of black tomes that assured you in one glance of the total reason and love behind the eternal agony you would experience if you touched yourself at night.
Even if there were snatches of insight to gain from a homeless whose spontaneous enthusiasms secured him an entire row of empty subway seats on both his left and right during rush hour, his ravings had none of the systematization, tome-ification, and suffixication that gives the claim of “science.” He did not have the credentialized authority, money, and institutional infrastructure to secure an audience, though I must say that, what he loses to the academician in rigor, he makes up for by superseding him in charisma.
Most of the intellectual sort informed me that, because demons were invisible entities, I could not expect to have visual proof of them, but that their effects could be observed and their existence metaphysically demonstrated by reason. Nonetheless, there were other intellectuals who described to me some rather visual secondary effects.
I heard my first description of such secondary effects while sitting at the Divinity school refectory beneath a wall that bore painted messages about His Love while His Love 24/7 radio station played songs in the background about the joy of His word. It was then that I heard of the rightness and truth of the demoniacal deduction from a rather short and stocky woman with a deep voice and marching gait who wore a plaid shirt tucked into the waist of khaki shorts, which halted mid-shin above a pair of Tevas with socks and who was fond of beginning as many sentences as possible with “As a straight woman…” We ordered some food, which was quite lovely, and sat for a chat at a long polished table. With hands folded and a brow furrowed in weighty thought, she nodded her head as I expressed my misgivings about certain supernatural phenomena. When I had finished, she gave a deep pause of ratiocination, resting her head on clasped hands, and began the explanation.
She told me that, in fact, it is not the demons that take on the appearance of black forked tongues, horns, hooks, and crooked wings, but the bodies of persons possessed by such entities. Thus, there was no contradiction in asserting that an invisible, purely metaphysical entity such as a demon (coming in as many types as there are sins) was observable since such characteristics belonged to the material body which was the secondary effect of the demon. Thus, when Jesuit priests performed exorcisms on persons whose tongues rolled about black and forked (one of her examples), it was not really a demon that was seen, but the modified attributes of the human body under its influence.
When I then inquired as to why the Jesuits did not happen to capture on their iPhones such visual displays, she informed me that they were forbidden from doing so as a form of magisterial discretion and, Jesuits being holy men, every single one remained faithfully obedient to this injunction. Naturally, I nodded my head in understanding but expressed that, although I was certain that this was done in accordance with reason, I very much regretted it, since I believed that uploading such visual evidence of the supernatural to YouTube might prove convincing enough to secure the overnight conversion and, therefore, the salvation of souls the world over so long as they had an internet connection.
After the lunch was over, we got up, thanked each other for the pleasant conversation, and never spoke again.
I had met with this person at the recommendation of someone else who knew I had an interest in theology (which, for me, really meant the ancient Neoplatonic theology of the One, itself drawn from the even more ancient Vedic theology of the One in which “God” is considered an abstract reality of which the Universe is the manifestation–not a man with a beard). However, history being what it is, and me being someone who wanted a job in academia, I found myself in conversations, seminars, and coursework with those whose ideology had successfully dominated Western history (i.e. Christians).
And, moreover, not the sort who interpreted their religion liberally or who were open to dissent (they were intellectuals, after all). Almost all of them were converts–which means they were ready to defend the absolute truth of every record of magic ever recorded in the one true book of truth and all subsequent miraculous occurrences and systematic dogmas founded on it by human institutions. Whenever my pagan soul let slip an “It” in reference to the transcendent real absolute, I was promptly checked with a reminder that I had misgendered God. In one particularly amusing instance, I had some batshit convert of a professor, who had just finished delivering a lecture on the nonsense of transgenderism, turn to me with utter seriousness and correct my pronoun usage for a small, thin wafer, which, the smugly smiling gentleman informed me was not a cracker at all, but a god-man and, therefore, ought to be referred to as “He” (to be even more theologically accurate, it was both a cracker and a god-man). Silly me, I should have checked God’s email signature.
I am currently away from my desk while on sabbatical and not checking email until the seven signs of the apocalypse. I will be responding less frequently to requests for miracles. For those predestined please reach out by DM.
It was one of those wonderful moments in life when you sit bemused, gazing upon the arrogance of absurdity and think to yourself, “I am in a farce and I can do absolutely nothing about it.” The way I see it, these dudes can keep slap fighting with the post-structuralists until academic kingdom come.
Meanwhile, I’ll be drawing henna all over my body and listening to the moola mantra while each tries to outdo the other in impenetrability. I’ll also make sure to do it within the privacy of my own apartment so that the one group doesn’t come red-faced and shrieking about how I worship the devil and the other group red-faced and shrieking about how I am culturally appropriating because only Indian people can believe Indian philosophy. I will continue to not give a fuck about either of them.
It was only until I got to graduate school that I learned that reason, intelligence, and higher education in no way necessitate that one has moved beyond superstition, bigotry, or fanaticism. Even less do those things imply good character or a capacity for empathy. In fact, the only law of science my degree program seemed to be proving was: the more pages written on the love of humanity the less likely one is to love humanity. More often, it was the case that reason, intelligence, and education were put into the service of formalizing, systematizing, professionalizing, rigidifying, jargonifying–in short, intellectualizing—batshit insanity.
Alright, so not everyone in academia is an ideologue. The second most common type I encountered was the cynic whose language could just as easily be adapted to Derridean deconstruction as it could medieval scholasticism, depending on the demands of professionalization–the one and only true categorical imperative of academicians, whether conservative or liberal. As a graduate student I met at a religious conference put it, “I don’t like Shakespeare. I like literary criticism.” This comment was followed by an inquiry into my interest in joining Opus Dei (more on cult recruitment later).
I took his comment, uttered with all the unreflective promptness to be expected of intellectual certitude to mean something along the following lines: “I am so smarticle that I can talk about Shakespeare without having any reason to talk about Shakespeare.” In fact, he may even belong to that class of exceptional smarticleness-people who can not only not care about Shakespeare while talking about Shakespeare but also manage to not talk about Shakespeare while talking about Shakespeare. After all, despite being an ultra conservative Christian, he began to expound upon ideas for a Queer Theory paper after asking me to join Opus Dei. In retrospect, I should have taken up that offer. Can you imagine what kind of material there would have been for this blog?
We might also take the graduate student’s statement as an excellent example of the law of academic puritanism in which smarticleness correlates with the extent to which one takes utterly no pleasure in one’s object of study. At least Melville’s Bartleby realized one day that his task of issuing iterations of documents to no end was totally meaningless and plopped down on the floor to utter “I would prefer not to” until he died from non-action. We must say that our student of literary criticism excels Bartleby in absurd heroism since, unlike Bartleby, he perseveres in continuing to perform a task he prefers not to be doing. To be more accurate, our graduate student above is more akin to Bartleby if Bartleby took a great interest in scrivener work in and of itself, copying endlessly documents of no intrinsic interest to himself and scribbling for the the sake of scribbling.
A true smarticle does not write about plays because they have something to do with life. He writes about plays so that we can know he is someone who writes about plays–and that he is worthy of fifteen different fellowships and distinguished chairs and deserves to be worshiped in an esoteric microcosm for being more smarticle than everybody else. If there is any pleasure allowed among the puritanical priesthood of academia, it is this form of recursive masturbation.
Above all, don’t actually say anything new. Say the same thing but in a new way.
The field of literature (which I found myself in) was mostly populated with people more interested in Western philosophers like Derrida, Foucault, Judith Butler, and Marx & co. than Christian theology. However, my own interest in poetry and religious thought put me in proximity with a niche of conservative Christians whose response to modernity has been to circle the wagons.
At first it was nice that they let me use words and phrases like “the transcendent” and “the Good, the True, and the Beautiful” and “the moral imagination” and I had a good old time saying all the things I normally wasn’t allowed to say in the predominantly materialist and postmodern discipline of English lit–sure sometimes they started talking about acts of magic but I was in love the above mentioned words and sort of ignored it. Much like a bad new relationship, I was happy to be with someone who was the opposite of my ex–at least, right up until the point where they started talking about how the world would be better off if we lived under a theocracy and undid the evils of feminism and the gays. That was more like discovering that your new boyfriend was actually Bluebeard and had a closet with fifteen dead bodies in it but expected you to ignore the smell.
As I was to later learn, trying to escape from your frustrations with an ossified secular clerisy by fooling around with an actual ossified clerisy is a really bad idea. Thus having rejected both these directions, I surveyed the options left to me in academia.
What dictates what is taken seriously at university is not so much truth as it is money, power, and the contingencies of history. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not claiming that truth doesn’t exist. That would be incoherent, since I am making my own truth claims. Rather, what I am saying is that there is a difference between truth and the various kinds of bullshit that appear in human cultures and institutions. One can certainly believe in truth and think that something is total bullshit (or false ideology if we want to sound a bit fancier). In fact, one can call out that bullshit precisely because one believes in truth and goodness–which is what George Orwell did.
It was only when I had reached the Olympian heights of academic excellence and consorted with those best specimens of intelligence in our species that I realized what the hell George Orwell meant when he said, “There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.”
The faith of a peasant is fickle and emotional, but the faith of an intellectual is a priori. The peasant is there to do. The elite to explain and to rule her in accordance with the natural order. The little old Italian lady in my parents’s apartment building flicks holy water at the Jehovah’s witnesses, but can she provide the metaphysical demonstration illustrating why this is efficacious? (Btw, way more effective at getting them to go away than telling them their reasoning is circular. Start quoting some Enlightenment philosopher and you’ll have a siege daily trying to save your soul. The second you flick that holy water and let them know you worship the anti-Christ your doorbell will sleep in holy peace).
Sure, Mrs. Lombardi down the hall may flick holy water at the Jehova’s witnesses, but only a professor can explain that the reason she does so is the efficacious substantiation of holiness as a secondary property of water and that post-functional desacrilizaiton necessarily follows upon contact with the floor after the water has performed its anti-demonic duty upon the Jehova’s witness so that the water, no longer being holy, is in no danger of evaporating and re-entering the atmosphere such that accidental sanctification of random persons and objects may occur during precipitation. Thus, thanks to the metaphysical necessity of the necessarily temporary efficacy of re-substantiated secondary properties, holiness does not become a permanent feature of the water cycle.
It was only until I got to graduate school (and especially when I attended a few religious conferences) that I could be set straight on a number of matters of difficulty–such as how to know who was 100% correct about the cosmic order–the answer being, of course, that the person in possession of perfect truth was a person who was infallible and we could know that this person was infallible because he infallibly said that he was infallible. But don’t worry! It’s qualified. Infallible persons are only infallible about the things they are infallible about. Since the only alternative to believing Truth is to say that Truth doesn’t exist, and that’s incoherent, therefore, orthodox religion X.
And it is because I have been humbled and chastened in my encounters with those who witness to all that it means to be a Christian, that this former Jezebel has been transformed into a charitable penitent eager to share the good news with you, dear reader, including all the metaphysical demonstrations I have had the privilege of receiving from the most elite and inaccessible heights of intellectual seclusion–all for the sake of your immortal soul. We wouldn’t want salvation to be restricted to the fifteen converts of a seminar room now would we?
Read on and learn the final truth about cosmic order, natural law, and the evils of the female orgasm and the gays. What does He who is Love, Reason, and Mercy have planned for us beyond the grave? What is a day in a metaphysical afterlife that by definition cannot have days because a day is based on the turning of rock-lump in space-time? Where does a body go when it ascends upwards bodily into heaven when heaven is not the sky and the actual trajectory of such a journey would lead infinitely into star nebulae and space voids? Get it all delivered to your IP address through the oceanic network cables of the internet and, of course, the pious generosity of your humble and obedient servant,