This weekend, I watched Ghost Rider, a film in the genre of Neo-Gnostic/comic book “good demons fighting bad demons,” as found in Constantine, Angel, Hellboy, Blade, etc. The film has the basic elements of such stories: a very superficial definition of “evil” as consisting only in the worst sins; the idea that evil is ultimately more powerful than good, vaguely positive references to Catholicism without the sense that Catholicim has an efficacy, etc.
In fact, I really had little interest in watching it, other than a) I’ve enjoyed most of the Marvel Universe movies that have come out in recent years and b) as a G. I. Joe fan, I’ve always wondered about the character of Ghost Rider, because of a similarly named G. I. Joe character. While G. I. Joe was a Hasbro property, the concepts behind A Real American Hero–a line designed to compete with Star Wars–were jointly designed by Hasbro and Marvel. Larry Hama was the head writer for Marvel’s G. I. Joe comics for 155 issues, plus various spin-offs, and he also wrote the official “file cards” for Hasbro’s figures.
So, when Hasbro produced a Stealth Fighter, called the Phantom, Hama gave the pilot a name he borrowed from another Marvel comic: Ghostrider (with no space). So, here was the thing: Hasbro now had a copyright to “Ghostrider” as a toy, while Marvel had a copyright to “Ghost Rider” as a comic character. It was a great inside joke, but created a bit of a legal quandary for both companies.
So Hama made it an inside joke in the comics (and even in the character’s filecard) that he’s so good at being stealthy that people forget he’s around and no one can even remember his codename! Of course, one wouldn’t get the joke unless a) one knew the figure’s official codename (which I didn’t, at the time) and b) knew the character of Ghost Rider (which I didn’t, beyond the occasional ad).
This brings me to watching the movie. Ghost Rider is a guy who’s possessed by a “vengeance demon.” He’s supposed to be Mephisto’s “bounty hunter,” rounding up evil people and those who’ve made deals with the Devil. But he decides to use his power to fight against evil.
One of his powers is the “Penance Stare.’ When Ghost Rider uses the Penance Stare, the person he’s looking at is suddenly aware not just of all his or her sins, but of the consequences of those sins for others. The person is overwhelmed by the physical and emotional pain he or she has caused others. At one point, it is noted that demons can’t be effected by the “Penance Stare,” because, supposedly, they don’t have souls. Without giving away the ending, it actually made me realizing something about possession and exorcism.
Fr. Amorth says that exorcism works by basically torturing the demon into leaving: sometimes, for example, a particular demon may loathe holy water, so holy water is the most efficacious sacramental to drive it out. Other demons hate the Rosary, etc.
Well, I wonder if God permits possession and exorcism as almost an inversion of the Incarnation. God became Man to know what life is like for us, to understand our failings better. Maybe He allows demons to inhabit human bodies because, as angels, they are incapable of feeling pain. But, in possessing people, demons feel what those people feel. When the demon is exorcised out of the person, it physically feels pain–something otherwise impossible for it–which allows God to administer a kind of justice that He otherwise wouldn’t.