They’ve Got The Fear

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Sarah Jones’ blog Anthony B. Susan.  It was originally published on September 10, 2013.

These girls. These so-called “teenage exorcists.”

You’ve probably heard of them by now. Enabled by their parents (and I use ‘enabled’ deliberately here) they’ve travelled the world battling the forces of evil. They’ve taken culture war to a supernatural extreme. Adult me pities them. Adolescent me would have rolled her eyes–and probably envied them just a bit.

It sounds ludicrous. And it is ludicrous. The Harry Potter phobia and the conviction that the United Kingdom is a seething hotbed of demonic activity aren’t rational reactions. Nevertheless, I’m going to argue for a certain degree of leniency for these girls.

If you can, step inside my former world for a moment.

In that world, demons are real. And they are terrifying. I spent nights awake, soaked in  sweat, because I had been told that demons can possess people, even people who think they’re Christians. I’d been told that if you aren’t right with God, you’ve left a window open for the devil. So I prayed. I prayed until I fell asleep, and when I fell asleep, I had nightmares about witches and devils who would seek me out and take me over.

The dreams would routinely frighten me awake. One night, I ran for my parents, because I was a child and that’s what children do.

My father then told me that I was actually correct to be frightened, because Satan is a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.

I didn’t go back to sleep that night.

And then there were the Rapture movies, with their gory martyrs. I secretly loved them, because for a long time Revelation was as close as I could get to science fiction. But at the same time they too filled me with fear, fear that I wasn’t really saved, that I was out of favor with God and would therefore fail to be Raptured upon Jesus’ imminent return. I spent so much of my early life effectively paralyzed by fear.

When you’re a child, and you’ve been told from your earliest days that evil isn’t just real, but that it’s an active force currently engaged in a war against you, it makes sense to go on the offensive. If you’re a girl, of course, your options are limited. You’re not allowed to hold a position of spiritual authority. You can be a ‘prayer warrior.’ You can share the gospel. But you certainly can’t lead an offensive against the devil. That’s men’s work.

Unless you’re Brynne Larsen or her friends, Tess and Savannah Scherkenback.

These girls are the fundamentalist Scooby Doo gang. They’re almost certainly being controlled by Larsen’s father, a failed televangelist, but they’re doing something. They’ve seen the world. When I was a teenager, demonic possession seemed far more plausible than freedom.

People change as they grow. I lay the blame at Bob Larsen’s feet, and at the Scherkenbacks’ feet, for choosing to raise their children in a manner that has emotionally crippled them. Brynne, Tess and Savannah most likely believe they’re helping people.

I was 20 when someone tried to exorcise me.

Specifically, she intended to set me free from depression, and somehow she thought laying her hands on my head in public, without prior warning, and praying the “depressed spirit” out of me would improve my outlook on life.

My exorcism wasn’t particularly violent. I’m grateful for this, because self-proclaimed exorcists have been known to carry things to a dangerous extreme. But it was invasive and humiliating. A year later, I left the church altogether–for a variety of reasons, of which the exorcism was only one.

It turns out that leaving the church did far more for my depression than exorcism ever did.

Brynne, Tess and Savannah have never been on the receiving end of exorcism. ** I suspect that if they underwent what they’re dishing out to others, their perspectives on the matter would change rather drastically.  But that’s my point, really: they’ve never been faced with any real to challenge to their indoctrination. They’ll be adults soon (and since Savannah’s 21, she’s really already there) and personal responsibility does play a role. But believe me, fundamentalists know how to brainwash. They’re terrifically successful at it.

They saturate your every encounter with the world with such a blinding fear that it feels impossible to move or think, and waging culture war is the only proactive measure you can take.

It’s so pervasive that even now, as a secular adult, the occasional sleepless night is still ever so slightly tinged with fear.

If I’m going to be honest with myself, I don’t know that I’d have left the church if it weren’t for experiences like that exorcism. Perhaps I might have eventually, because the doubts were certainly present. But my departure might not have been so early, or so drastic. When I had cause to fear Christians and not the devil, it became much more difficult for me to convince myself that Christianity was worth the effort.

If we’re fortunate, Brynne, Tess and Savannah will learn from their travels. Maybe they’ll even join me and my friends among the ranks of the prodigals.

I hope for their sake their journey is less frightening than mine.

** Update: So it seems that Savannah Scherkenback has received an exorcism. Also for depression. I suppose becoming an exorcist yourself is certainly one way to prove to your fundamentalist community that you’re really “healed.” Maybe I’ve underestimated the level of fear (or arrogance) at work here. Thanks to Kathryn Brightbill for pointing this out.

8 comments

  • Unattractive middle-aged man exploits young pretty women. Nothing to see here. Move along.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    I’d been told that if you aren’t right with God, you’ve left a window open for the devil. So I prayed. I prayed until I fell asleep, and when I fell asleep, I had nightmares about witches and devils who would seek me out and take me over.

    Isn’t that the heresy of “Attributing too much power to the Devil”?

    AKA Malleus Malefecarium without the author’s demon-slash-witch sexual fantasies?

    And like the Witch-sniffers whose Bible was the Malleus, they have made the Devil so powerful God would be crushed unless He had Powerful Spiritual Warriors (guess who?) doing all the REAL heavy lifting and Spiritual Combat(TM). Maybe the reason they are so shrill is they have made the Devil so omnipotent and omnipresent that deep down inside they’re afraid they backed the losing side.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Wait a minute…
    “Larsen”…
    BOB LARSEN?

    First I heard of Bob Larsen was in Kooks Magazine many years ago; an article about “Satanic Rock Music” and “Backwards Masking” paranoia. I don’t remember if he was the one the article described as “Jack Chick’s hatchetman for Rock Music”.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      P.S. Some online news coverage of this described Bob Larsen as “a failed televangelist” looking for a new angle.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      P.P.S. I don’t think Bob Larsen is Catholic. If he’s like other extreme Fundagelical types, he’s probably foaming rabid Anti-Catholic. “Whore of Babylon” and all that.

      SO WTF IS HE DOING WEARING A ROMAN COLLAR FOR HIS PUBLICITY STILLS?

  • I had a similar situation – well maybe. I went to a Pentecostal church. I did them and do still believe in the devil, demeans prayer etc. Not to the rate you lived through. I am so sorry for your sleepless nights and not being comforted as a child. That is wrong.

    So my funny story:-) One night I had a headache and needed to go tho work – i worked 11 pm to 7 am. I was 19 or 20. So I knew the young adult group was meeting, so I went to ask for prayers. They prayed and prayed – I eventually figured out that they were not going to stop praying until I was slain in the spirit. I silently prayed for God to forgive me and fell backwards. I could not be late to work!!!

    I laid there for a few minutes got up tried to act like I was coming out of that and left for work.

    Often I just kind of know there is a whole lot of wiggle room in Christianity – more than most people give it credit for:-) All of us were public school kids by the way:-0

    • Your story is one of the reasons I became more and more jaded with charismatic and AOG churches. I still attend an AOG church, btw. Partly because that particular one is not completely insane. But anyway…

      It is apparent to anyone who is observing with any kind of intellectual honesty that *so much* of what goes on in these types of churches that is attributed to the Holy Spirit is frankly a complete farce. It ranges from high levels of suggestibility (especially when people have been raised since infancy with the routine and expectations of what happens in such a church, and the correct responses to particular cues) to flat out pretending, as you did. I am still a Christian, still a church attender. Still fairly conservative theologically. But I am just worn out and weary with so much of what goes on in the church. Just tired of it.

      I think these feelings started when I was about 17, and a preacher physically pushed me–hard. And I distinctly remember thinking “That was *not* the Holy Spirit. I refuse to fall out.” lol I guess he thought timid, emotional little me was an easy mark. I never did “fall out”, never did “speak in tongues” either because I refused to babble mindlessly as instructed on the basis that saying nonsense words would open my mind up to the Holy Spirit taking over. I make a very poor charismatic.

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