There have been plenty of theories about James Holmes's actions in the Aurora theater shooting, including some that appear semi-plausible (e.g., reactions to antidepressants) and others that seem unmoored from reality (the assault was staged to promote a United Nations gun control measure).
The possibility advanced by Father Dwight Longenecker? Holmes may have been possessed by a demon.
Longenecker's essay, "The Aurora Murders and Demonic Possession," was actually published on the Patheos.com website more than a week ago, but it's won new life thanks to an August 1 piece in the Christian Post labeled "James Holmes Was Demon Possessed, Claims Catholic Priest."
This headline is a bit exaggerated. Longenecker, who's described by Patheos as the "author of sixteen books on the Catholic faith, a broadcaster and a nationally known speaker" who now serves as pastor for Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Greenville, South Carolina, doesn't come right out and say that Holmes was possessed. Instead, he floats the prospect as a question, then answers it in an indefinite but persuasive manner: "Was he demon possessed? Maybe. It happens."
At that point, Longenecker shares his view of demonic possession:
Demonic infestation is a rare, strange and terrible psycho-spiritual affliction. In simple terms, a malevolent, separate intelligence infests the mind and spirit of a person. It takes over the rational faculties and dominates the personality. The phenomenon is real, but anyone who has ever dealt with the problem realizes that the demonic realm is complex. The human person is an intricate organism in which the physical, mental and spiritual aspects are totally interwoven. Therefore, in most cases, trying to diagnose the possibility of demonic influence is extremely difficult.
This is because, in theory, demonic influence in a personality can exist on several different levels. Experts disagree about the terminology and extent of the diabolical influence, and in this arcane discipline, for reasons that will become clear, there are few set rules or guidelines. However, some levels of demonic involvement can be observed.
According to Longenecker, demonic influence has four major components, with the first two (temptation involving "something radically and extremely vile" and obsession with evil via the likes of "occult activity, violent video games or movies, pornography, drug abuse, sexual perversion, sexual promiscuity or...power and violence") not necessarily sporting a paranormal element. But they can be followed by what Longenecker describes as "infestation...the stuff of exorcism movies," and then possession, at which point "the malevolent spirit does not manifest itself any longer, but hides within the personality rather like a parasite. The person will appear to return to normal, but there is a shadow within. Even if they do so in a respectable and 'normal' manner, they will live only for themselves and the darkness within."
These ruminations lead Longenecker to ask, "Is James Holmes demon possessed?" -- and he concedes that "it is impossible to say without a detailed diagnosis. Even then, it is a slippery question. We are dealing with a reality that is rubbery. In many ways this is the wrong question. Better to ask, 'Was James Holmes taken over by Evil?'"
To that query, Longenecker responds with an unambiguous "Yes."
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Nonetheless, he concludes on an upbeat note:
Love is the divine force of rationality and goodness. Love is the force which empowered three murdered men in the cinema in Aurora to shield their girlfriends from harm. Love is the force which makes the meaningless meaningful through the strange power of forgiveness, and which brings sacrifice in the face of insane self-love. Love is the light in the darkness, and Love is the meaning that makes us remember in a compassionate connection that this dark act took place in a town named Aurora, which holds a hopeful meaning: "Daybreak."
More from our Follow That Story archive: "Aurora theater shooting: Five twisted theories about the attack."