One of the reasons that John Boehner was fun to have on Capitol Hill was that the former House speaker would just say things and then he'd make a funny face. This didn't help him make the base of his party happy, but it was certainly appreciated by the media.
This Boehner reappeared on Wednesday during a conversation at Stanford University, during which he indicated a degree of displeasure with Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
Cruz, Boehner said, is "Lucifer in the flesh. I have Democrat friends and Republican friends. I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life."
My first reaction, like anyone's, was that this was unexpectedly bold. My second reaction, like anyone's, was that of course there was no truth to it, which there isn't. My third reaction, though, unlike most people's? I wondered what would actually happen if a member of Congress — or, should a lot of cards come up in Cruz's favor, the president of the United States — were literally possessed by Satan.
So I decided to reach out to an exorcist.
If you try to find an exorcist in the Washington area, there's a hiccup. It turns out that there was a very famous movie about an exorcism that was filmed in D.C. (the name escapes me), making it very hard to find an exorcist for all of the Google search chaff related to spinning heads and spooky staircases. But there is this guy, Pastor Bob Larson, who provides exorcisms and exorcism training around the world. (Larson is the founder of the International School of Exorcism.) And Larson was happy to explain the process.
Larson has been doing this for 40 years, and when we spoke he had just arrived back in the United States from Ukraine, where he had been conducting an annual training session on exorcism. He hadn't heard about the Boehner comments; when he did, he laughed. But, gamely, he explained how he would go about cleansing the junior senator from Texas of any demonic possession.
"I would treat him no differently than I would treat anyone else," Larson said. (He intimated that he'd dealt with political leaders — including some I'd be familiar with — but he declined to name names.)
When presented with someone who friends or family think may be possessed, Larson first ensures that the person has seen a therapist or doctor — tried, in other words, to eliminate all potential medical and psychological causes for the person's behavior.
If all of that has occurred, he then tries to figure out why the person might have been possessed. "People don't just become possessed because they have a bad hair day," he said. "They become possessed because something evil has happened either transgenerationally or in their life." The next round of questions centers on what type of evil acts the possessed person has committed or have had committed to them, and how the person had dealt with those issues, if at all.
Next? "Once you know there was the right of an evil spirit to enter," Larson said, "then the question is whether they are the true host of a spirit or just somehow tormented. And to do that, you demand to speak to the spirit and call the spirit forth. And it either comes or it doesn't."
It goes like this:
You say to the spirit, 'I command by the power of Christ and the Gospel for this evil spirit that is inside this man or woman to come forward now and to face the judgment of God.' Some days you sit there for a little bit and nothing happens. Oftentimes, you'll see their face start twitching or their body start twitching. You may touch them with holy oil or the cross and they recoil and they try to hide. Sometimes they become violent. Now you know there's something there. And then it's just a matter of getting them to speak.
"If you're going to address any being, you need to know their name to get any significant connection," Larson said. So he asks three questions: Who are you? How did you get there? Why are you there? (In the example he gave, the spirit was "the spirit of lust." Demons, by the way, are always male — misandry! — but they may assume a female persona for their purposes.)
Now that you know there's a demon there and what its name is, the negotiation to leave the body begins. This can take hours. Larson's goal is to get the demon to say, "I relinquish my rights to this person, and I go now to the pit or the abyss" — and he says that the demon will fight him the entire way.
Success all comes down to the host. "That's the key," he said. "Are they determined to expel this thing, and are they determined to stop doing whatever it is that may have given refuge to this spirit?" If the person is committing immoral behavior but won't stop, "the demon knows that it doesn't have to leave and can come back shortly."
I'll note here that I'm a skeptic of demonic possession. Larson's procedure, though, makes some sense seen through that lens: Clarify that the person doesn't have a medical cause for his or her behavior, challenge the person to come to terms with why they feel they may be possessed, and insist that the person's behavior change. I'm sure this isn't the way that a psychiatrist would approach a solution, but it's much more personal and involved that one might assume, based on the movies.
About that. Since I had him on the phone, I asked Larson how accurate the depiction of the act was in "The Exorcist."
"They were trying to get the appropriate information from the spirit to expel it," he said, "but where it's contrary is these priests were approaching it out of fear. They were terrified of the spirit. No true exorcist would ever endeavor such a task from a position of fear. You got at it from a position of strength and power through Christ and the gospel and the church."
Oh, also — spoiler alert — no real exorcist would ask the demon to enter his body instead of the possessed's, though Larson did concede that it made for a more spectacular ending to the film. "It makes for great drama, but as far as reality, no."
So that's how the process works. But if Boehner is right and if Cruz is actually possessed, what is America supposed to do?
"I'm not going to take a political stance and say vote for Trump or Hillary," Larson said, laughing. "I'd say, pray for the man. Pray that he will come to that realization."
Oh: "And pray that he doesn't get the nomination, if that's the case.”