What is the nature of spiritual reality? Does a thing called evil, or the devil, actually exist?
William Friedkin and the titular subject of his new documentary, The Devil and Father Amorth. (Photo: The Orchard)
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William Friedkin, the maker of one of the most influential films in cinematic history, The Exorcist, believes so, and though in retrospect he concludes that the material upon which the first film was based was mostly fantasy, he believes that in his newly-released documentary, The Devil and Father Amorth, he witnessed and filmed a real exorcism.
Possession is a religion-based disease, notes Friedkin. Does that mean that if one is not Christian, a demon would have no possibility of effecting possession of a human being? Friedkin believes that the concept of a devil is a metaphor for all the evil in the world.
But what is that evil? And did the possessed in this latest film have to buy into Roman Catholic religion to be susceptible to this disease? Perhaps the new film will help make the answers to these questions clearer to its viewers.
Before more specifically focusing on the new film, Ethan Alter, interviewing for Yahoo Entertainment, skillfully allows Friedkin to flesh out the psychological context within himself, the attitude in which he carried out the production of the current film:
So there's nothing personal in this for you? No bigger questions you want answered?
"There are no answers! Nobody has any answers -- not Bertrand Russell, not Stephen Hawking, not St. Augustine, not the pope. No human being knows if there's a heaven and a hell or an afterlife, or what our purpose is here on earth. That's why faith is such an extraordinary thing: People, by the billions, have faith in something they've neither seen, nor heard, nor touched. That interests me a great deal."
Have you noticed a change in the conversation surrounding faith and exorcism in the decades since The Exorcist premiered?
"There are still people who accept it and still people who are skeptical. There always will be. I don't happen to be a skeptic -- I don't know! I just don't know. I didn't go in there with any skepticism, and neither am I a Catholic.
I do believe in the teachings of Jesus, who happened to be a Jew; he was born, lived, and died a Jew. The teachings of Jesus as written in the New Testament are extraordinary to me. We never heard his voice, we never really saw a portrait of him at the time he was alive, and nobody around today was there, and yet people believe [in him]. That's true of other religions as well. I was raised Jewish, but I never felt close to the Jewish faith in that sense."
I was intensively raised in the Anglican Communion. I was a choir boy through high school. But I became a skeptic of the entire body of writings that the Council of Nicaea decided was "the" Book, no matter that I felt the awe that constitutes a knowing that you are doing right.
I felt I was in the Presence in church. However, the more I read the Bible, the less I was able to accept the history of the monotheistic barbarian worshipers of a quite bloodthirsty Sinai-region mountain deity-- the Old Testament-- as fitting together with the New Covenant.