"Go and Sin No More": Therapy and Exorcism in the Contemporary Rhetoric of Deviance

Philip Jenkins, Pennsylvania State University

Since the enlightenment, supernatural notions of demonic intervention in human affairs have largely been rendered obsolete by developments in social and behavioral science, and these ideas are commonly derided. In modern thought, acts once regarded as sinful are rather to be treated as personal or social dysfunctions. yet despite a change in rhetoric, and a shift to medical language, older views of evil remain clearly in view. In this paper, I will discuss the survival, and indeed revival, or revival of older demonic concepts of evil in modern discussions of wrongdoing. I will concentrate on the traditionally conceived sin of lust, and its modern manifestation in sex crime. I will suggest that much contemporary rhetoric about sex crime resembles older ideas of possession, in that the acts are seen not merely as isolated phenomena but as conditions integral to the individual, which can probably never be cured. In addition, affected individuals are believed to suffer from an overwhelming compulsion to repeat their misdeed with great frequency. This is especially true of crimes like child molestation, rape, and sexual murder. In many ways, we are dealing here with a thought-world reminiscent of ancient notions of possession -- and that notion itself has enjoyued a substantial revival through theories of multiple personalityl In summary, I argue that the supposed secularization of attitudes to wrongdoing is largely illusory, and modern notions retain what are clearly pwoerful and widespread intuitive beliefs about the nature and causation of evil.

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Updated 05/20/2006