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Anathema A term with Greek roots meaning something lifted up as an offering to a deity or deities.
In Catholicism it came to mean a severe denunciation of some theological idea or practice and usually the complete separation of the culpable person or persons from the saving power of the Church.
Essentially, this meant that guilty parties were condemned to eternal fire with Satan and his demons lest he or she repent and display obedience to the Church.
In 1983 the Code of Canon Law entirely replaced the now archaic word anathema with excommunication.
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Most religious and mythological traditions attest to the reality of demons. For the most part, demons are regarded as dark, evil spiritual beings whose sole purpose is to wreak havoc on individuals and the world.
In Hinduism, demons appear in the Puranas as Rakshakas (evil beings capable of shape-shifting) and tramp souls. Also in Hinduism the, at one time, god-like asuras of the Vedas devolve into demonic spirit beings which, the mystic Sri Aurobindo says, try to place false and harmful ideas into the minds of impressionable, vulnerable human beings.
In Tibetan Buddhism, immediately after a person dies a priest reads the Tibetan Book of the Dead aloud over the dead body, instructing the departed soul how to avoid different spiritual lights and deceptions that demonic beings use to try to trick the deceased into falling into another earthly incarnation. And Mahayana Buddhism portrays many hells, each presided over by horrific entities
In China demons are thought to be able to inhabit dead bodies and haunt various places, both inside and out.
Demons in China… are capable of animating dead bodies, haunting cemeteries, cross roads, and the homes of relatives. Some live in Hades…others inhabit the air. Many are hungry ghosts, the spirits of those who have had no proper burial or who have no decendants to feed them sacrifices.¹
Traditional Roman Catholicism doesn’t envision the demon in terms of a psychoanalytic, physiological id or Jungian shadow archetype, as is fashionable in some circles today. Instead, traditional Catholicism makes no bones about the belief in demons. The Prayer Against Satan and The Rebellious Angels, published in 1961 by order of H. H. Pope Leo XIII refers to various “spirits of wickedness,” “diabolical legions” and “infernal invaders” that are to be driven away with the help of this solemn prayer.
Contemporary Catholicism, however, is incorporating secular and psychiatric perspectives on demons, but arguably in a clunky manner that seems to conform to ancient and medieval styles of analyzing issues. This shouldn’t be surprising as certain aspects of Catholic theological discourse borrow from Aristotelian and Thomist analytical categories and modes of analysis. And as history suggests, deeply entrenched patterns of thought and practice usually take time to be positively redirected.
In secular society alleged demons are often described as nothing more than a product of the imagination, hallucinations, an arrested or disturbed personality, mutated chromosomes, or the much debated idea of chemical imbalances. Along these lines the Catholic Catechism makes a sharp distinction between “the presence of the Evil One,” on the one hand, and current understandings of mental illness on the other:
The solemn exorcism, called “a major exorcism,” can be performed only by a priest and with the permission of the bishop. The priest must proceed with prudence, strictly observing the rules established by the Church. Exorcism is directed at the expulsion of demons or to the liberation from demonic possession through the spiritual authority which Jesus entrusted to his Church. Illness, especially psychological illness, is a very different matter; treating this is the concern of medical science. Therefore, before an exorcism is performed, it is important to ascertain that one is dealing with the presence of the Evil One, and not an illness.²
In contrast to the arguably underdeveloped either/or perspective outlined above, a more productive and responsible approach would intelligently consider different perspectives — physiological, psychological, cultural, transpersonal and spiritual — using as many of the analytical tools that are available to us in the 21st century.
Having said that, we should also keep in mind the very real possibility that God could permit a fundamentally good and ‘well adjusted’ person to be afflicted by evil, as we find, for instance, in the Old Testament Book of Job.
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¹ S. G. F. Brandon, A Dictionary of Comparative Religion, 1971, p. 230.
² Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1673.
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In Catholicism excommunication is a separation of an individual from the saving power of the Catholic Church due to a serious theological idea or practice deemed contrary to the Church. The excommunicated may not participate in the sacraments nor associate with the community of believers.
Historically speaking, “the term (excommunicatus— ἀκοινώνητος) first appeared in Church documents in the fourth century.”¹ Minor excommunications were conducted by local bishops for associating with an excommunicated Catholic. Major excommunication is carried out by the Pope in an official ceremony.
Excommunication is terminated upon repentance and satisfying the demands of the Church, at which point the once condemned person is received again and fully recognized as a Catholic. As the Catholic Encyclopedia puts it:
It is also a medicinal rather than a vindictive penalty, being intended, not so much to punish the culprit, as to correct him and bring him back to the path of righteousness.²
Excommunication is not exclusive to Catholicism; various forms are found in most world religions.³
¹ LAWLOR, F. X., and T. J. GREEN. “Excommunication.” New Catholic Encyclopedia. 2nd ed. Vol. 5. Detroit: Gale, 2003. 504-506. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 29 May 2012.
³ This Wikipedia entry gives a good overview of the situation among various faith groups » http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Excommunication
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Timothy Leary (1920-1996) was an American psychologist who believed that mind-altering substances such as THC and LSD facilitated self-discovery.
Leary’s ideas remain controversial, not only because he advocated what in many countries is illegal, but also because an increasing body of scientific research suggests that street drugs can be deleterious to users’ physical, psychological and spiritual health.
The Christian scholar J.N.D. Anderson questions whether the experiential quality, orientation and commitment of drug induced mysticism are equal to those of the sincere seeker who aims to know and serve God, and in so doing, encounters grace without chemical intervention or, for that matter, direct personal effort.¹
Some minority groups claim that drugs like THC, if taken ‘responsibly,’ are liberating and therapeutic. But the vast majority of people see illegal drugs as debilitating and enslaving.
Another perspective deconstructs the issue by noting that alcohol was once prohibited but is now legal.
Meanwhile, medical watchdog groups and organizations critical of allopathic medicine say that some legal medications have serious long-term side effects that can be harmful to patients’ health. Tom Cruise, representing the views of the Church of Scientology, has taken an extreme position in this controversy with regard to psychiatric medications, one not necessarily reflecting the varying needs of different individuals over the course of a lifetime.
These contemporary issues about the safety and efficacy of so-called ‘drugs’ and ‘medications’ aside, Leary’s popularity among the hippies of the late 1960′s is attested in the Moody Blues song “Legend of a Mind” (1968):
He’ll fly his astral plane.
He’ll take you trips around the bay.
He’ll bring you back the same day.
¹ See J. N. D. Anderson, Christianity and Comparative Religion, The Tyndale Press: 1970, pp. 20-26. Of course, one could argue that praying the Rosary, for instance, is a technique and therefore an “effort” to attract graces. And other Christians, especially fundamentalists, ask God to “cover them” with Jesus’ “precious blood” in order to be washed of their sins, just as most Christians invoke the “Holy Spirit” to come and shower them with grace. So although many uphold Christianity as a religion where grace comes without any special effort, this might seem a bit misleading. However, the Christian asks, whereas some conjurers may command spirits to protect or assist them–spirits which they believe are essentially under their personal control. Moreover, some meditators say that once they achieve a certain level of awareness, their meditative technique – be it a mantra, the development of inner silence or assuming bodily postures – will undoubtedly lead to mystical experience. By way of contrast, Christians hope for assistance but never command nor expect with certainty, for this kind of attitude is anathema to having a humble relationship with God who created them. In a nutshell, a sincere Christian would never claim to be able to control or have mastery over God’s supernatural graces. And that’s why it’s so distasteful to them when some New Age enthusiasts use the term “Christ Consciousness” as if to imply that, by perhaps listening to a mediation CD or through some other store-bought technique, one can definitively turn on God’s grace like water from a tap.
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He believed that all souls existed prior to birth, an idea condemned by the Church in the 6th century and repudiated by St. Thomas Aquinas.
Origen may have proposed a type of reincarnation but his surviving texts are too incomplete and fragmentary to be sure.
We do know that he believed in universal salvation–i.e. the idea that all souls are eventually redeemed and admitted to heaven, even the Devil’s.
A fierce ascetic, Origen castrated himself. C. G. Jung says that this self-castration enabled Origen to remain faithful to an extreme type of Gnosticism. But Jung’s claim is debatable because many mystics prize celibacy due to the transformative potential that is allegedly contained in sperm.
If Origen was a mystic in the way that Jung envisioned him, he most likely would not have castrated himself. Celibate Christian, Hindu and Buddhist mystics all seem to agree that there’s a bio-spirit relationship between profound contemplative states and retained semen (i.e. the ‘seed’ of religious scripture that is not to be spilled on the ground or wasted on lustful sex).
Arrested in 250 CE under the persecutions of the Roman Emperor Decius, Origen suffered prolonged and repeated torture before dying two years later from his injuries.
Once deemed an important Church Father, his ideas continue to influence Protestant theologians.
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