Many people turn to religion when in need of an explanation, be it in regards to creation, the meaning of life or even what their next career goal should be. In turn, religions seek to keep their followers informed by providing answers based on founding beliefs that may not exactly be in harmony with science. Because science is based on evidence, facts and what can be observed in a laboratory or experiment, it often neglects supernatural occurrences; religions, on the other hand, can study and discuss these phenomena without this restriction. The Catholic tradition, therefore, does not prohibit the investigation of controversial subjects including demonic possession, extraterrestrials, miracles and even witchcraft.
The Holy Bible, Catholicism's scripture, includes many instances of people possessed by an evil spirit. During this possession, victims suffer from such maladies as muteness, blindness or depression. In one case, "a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus. And. . .the demon was driven out." The process by which these spirits are expelled, known as exorcism, has been exaggerated by movies and television, resulting in priests hesitant to assist people believed to be possessed. Recently the church has urged its clergy to continue performing exorcisms, a ritual centered upon prayer and requiring the use of holy water, a Bible, and a cross. Catholicism, furthermore, reminds people that power over demons is derived from Jesus' name and not from a priest's magical abilities.
Catholic scripture explains that God created plants, birds, beasts, animals that live underwater and humans, but makes no mention of lifeforms that do not inhabit earth. As a result, many argue that the notion of alien lifeforms goes against the church's dogma. Yet the Vatican's chief astronomer, Reverend José Gabriel Funes, points out that not believing in aliens is to put boundaries on God. He says life beyond earth is very likely since there is such an abundance of life on this planet. Funes also reasons that it is possible for other intelligent beings to be closer to God than humans since, perhaps, we are in fact the sheep who strayed from His flock. Should extraterrestrial life ever be confirmed, it could be supported by the Bible's statement that God made "everything that has the breath of life in it."
A miracle is deemed a supernatural occurrence since it cannot be explained by science. The Catholic Church uses these events as an opportunity to prove (or disprove) an individual's connection to God. To be canonized as a saint, for example, a person has to perform two confirmed miracles; in other words, two things that are deemed a scientific impossibility such as healing someone from an incurable disease. Through a rigorous process, the church's clergy sends investigators to conduct interviews and research to see whether an event was an actual miracle in which God's hand intervened. In an effort to legitimize miracles, the church dismisses about 95% of all petitions for miracles.
Behavior that runs contrary to the church's belief is known as heresy with witchcraft perhaps being its worst form. Witchcraft is seen as a diabolical pact that attempts to supersede God's will, hence for centuries the Catholic church has sought to eliminate those who practice this magic. Several popes led witch hunts, asking the faithful to accuse those they suspected of this offense. This charge usually included flying, drinking human blood and making potions. A guilty sentence often led to being burned alive at the stake. Recently the church has scaled back its approach, offering pamphlets that ask followers to try to convert witches rather than kill them.
- Holy Bible; Genesis 1
- Vatican Astronomer Says Its OK to Believe In ET: Nancy Atkinson
- Holy Bible; Matthew 9:32-33
- For Catholics, Interest in Exorcism Is Revived; Laurie Goodstein
- Witch Hunts in the Western World; Brian A Pavlac
- Catholic Church Issues Guide on How to Convert Witches; Theunis Bates
- The Process of Becoming A Saint; William Saunders
- A Boy, An Injury, A Recovery, A Miracle?; Barbara Bradley Hagerty
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