Holes in their 'holier than thou'

For centuries, Catholics sexually abused children like it was their job. But now they are positive they can call down divine wrath upon the Satanic temple for daring to hold a convention

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For centuries, countless Catholic leaders have sexually abused young children like it was their job. However, now they are positive that they can call down divine wrath upon Satanists for daring to hold a convention without caring what they think. Yes, I am sure Jesus will totally get up off his rump and help them out here! This is, after all, SPIRITUAL WARFARE, and Jesus totally loves that stuff! Today, let me show you what spiritual warfare is — and why these Catholic leaders are so sure they can magically affect this convention.

Spiritual warfare: a quick introduction

Out of every strange practice in Christianity, spiritual warfare might just be my favorite of all. Just hearing a Christian use the phrase puts a great big silly happy smile on my face and laughter in my heart. Spiritual warfare is one of those super-context-dependent Christian practices. When removed from its very specific context its practitioners look like they’re playing a Happy Pretendy Fun Time Game — which they always were. It’s just a lot easier to perceive that fact when the actions are observed out of context.

Until my mid-20s, I was a fervent, devout Pentecostal lass. Pentecostals are way into spiritual warfare. As a result, I learned how it worked very early on. Any time my tribe needed to get our way and it didn’t seem like we’d be able to do it through real-world means, we broke out the spiritual warfare. Think of it like a really intense prayer meeting, amp up its anger and volume, and you’re almost there.

Indeed, my husband at the time — an aspiring minister — loved it.

When I finally saw Biff practicing it out of context, my faith took a body blow that it never healed. That’s how absolutely goofy spiritual warfare is.

How spiritual warfare works

To wage spiritual warfare, the Christian doing it imagines putting on armor. This part is non-negotiable.

You see, spiritual warriors wear imaginary armor for their equally imaginary battles. Interestingly, every time I see this armor represented in art, it always looks like high-quality stuff from the Roman Empire — or else, less commonly, medieval plate armor. Spiritual warriors also wield imaginary swords and hold imaginary shields.

(The metaphors involved here come from various Bible verses. For a religion stressing pacifism, kindness, and charity, the Bible sure makes a whole honkin’ lot of fighty metaphors.)

Next, our spiritual warrior imagines marching onto an imaginary battlefield in an imaginary world. The enemies, of course, are demons, which are also imaginary. Spiritual warriors think these imaginary beings control people in the real world. So the demons must be dealt with before those people can be controlled by Christians.

Finally, the spiritual warrior wages the actual spiritual warfare. To do this, Christians imagine they’re duking it out with those demons. In the real world, it just looks like the Christian prays loudly, invokes Jesus, speaks in tongues (as applicable), and verbally scolds the demons.

This process continues until the spiritual warrior gets worn out or achieves euphoria.

Then, the spiritual warrior declares flawless victory.


This is how it actually works.

What happens after a bout of spiritual warfare

Of course, spiritual warfare never, ever fails. That’s because Jesus always wins all of his fights against demons. (Didn’t you know?) Therefore, any Christian invoking his name similarly wins against demons, just like I’m guaranteed to win all fights against conservatives if I invoke Barack Obama’s name.

So whatever the battle involved, whatever its cause, whatever the real-world situation was, whatever real people opposed them, spiritual warriors always get their way. Always.

Except when they don’t. In fact, they don’t win in the real world very often at all. And when their SPEERCHUL WARFARE fails to accomplish its goals, spiritual warriors have a few ways to handle these failures.

A representative battle

Way back in 2014, some evangelicals decided to wage spiritual warfare to stop marriage equality. They planned to have “40 Days Of Prayer, Fasting And Repentance For Marriage.” Their completely-earnest warfare even included a period of fasting that coincided with a Ohio Supreme Court evaluation of their 2006 Marriage Amendment, which restricted marriage to only opposite-sex couples.

(If Christians were too queasy about the idea of skipping much-needed nourishment, of course, they could just think about fasting. It’s the thought that counts!)

At the time, photos circulated of this group’s fervent Christians with big ole Jesus smiles plastered on their faces as they talked about how Jesus-y it was for them to deny the right to marry to their culture-war enemies. In fact, here’s one with them and Josh Duggar:

From the Family Foundation’s Facebook page. Strangely, Jesus never told them he liked molesting his sisters, jerking it to cheese pizza, and looking for strange on dating sites.

But their spiritual warfare failed.

The Virginia Marriage Amendment of 2006 was repealed in 2014. The next year, all such restrictions became unconstitutional.

But if you go to these Christians’ website right now and search for “40 days of prayer,” you’ll come up blank. Same for the marriage amendment itself, at least as relating to same-sex couples.

Screenshot of source. Also, here’s an archive of the search.

In fact, I couldn’t find anything on their site at all about that momentous bout of spiritual warfare back in 2014. But the Internet Archive tells us that yes, it existed.

When a spiritual battle fails to produce its desired results in reality, the warriors simply memory hole the whole affair.

How to recast a loss into a totes-for-realsies win

Thinking back to my own days as a Christian, I can’t recall any spiritual battles that actually got us what we wanted. Every single time, reality failed to conform to the results we’d gotten in our imaginations. (So strange!)

Spiritual warriors are still doing the exact same things we did in response. Here’s a Quora thread about it:

Jess: Go back to the one who has already won the war! We don’t battle for victory, Christ has already won it, He sent us to demonstrate His victory through us. The devil says we lost it and God has given up on us, he’s the father of lies. With Jesus, we can always restart! Don’t lose hope!

Elizabeth Penrose: Whatever our personal condition, our side has already won. Jesus won on the Cross. And He won, paradoxically, in the face of His own bloody death.


Others assume that when someone loses a spiritual battle, they masturbated sinned somehow:

Terry Ferguson: Keep your spiritual wall built up,by not sinning.When you sin or unreptant sin can cause this.or pride.I have delt with this.


That second rationalization is a popular one. To quote just one Christian, Christians have failed to turn America into a theocracy because of their hypocrisy:

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in intercession for our communities and nations. I believe in demonic angelic powers. But if we are living in disorder and defeat, with broken lives, marriages and families [. . .] the enemy will not be threatened. We can issue declarations of triumph all we want, but he will laugh at us, because those declarations devoid of the evidence of divine government in the midst of his people mean very little.

David Campbell, “Why Do We Lose in Spiritual Warfare” (archive)

In other words, we’re apparently safe forever.

The latest attempt to cast magic spells to influence reality

Now, I’ve got another hilarious episode of spiritual warfare to add to my ever-growing folder of Christian Ls.

Recently, the Satanic Temple (TST) decided to hold a convention this February in Scottsdale, Arizona. They’re calling it SatanCon, and it sounds like a hoot.

And this convention is not okay at all with the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix. The leader of this diocese, Bishop Thomas Olmsted, has called for his people to wage spiritual warfare against the entire convention. He’s put out a call to action and everything.

Of his list of requested activities, none have even the potential to affect any Satanists’ lives.

In a lot of ways, this is the smart way to wage spiritual warfare. When the convention comes and goes and nothing whatsoever happens, when his church flock ends the week exactly as it began, then nobody can say anything about the failure of his spiritual warfare.

This is the equivalent of making an Endtimes prophecy without actually naming a date for anything. Evangelicals won’t vibe with it, but Catholics should get a little thrill out of following his list.

Why Bishop Olmsted is the very last person who should be wanting spiritual warfare to be real

As you might guess just by knowing that Thomas Olmsted is a Catholic leader, his organization has been deeply embroiled in the Catholic child-rape scandal.

When he got his position back in 2004, he took charge of a diocese wracked by scandal to start with. His extremely conservative, culture-war views worried his parish. In that story, we learn that his inaction regarding victims’ lawsuits was already worrying critics. A SNAP leader called him “autocratic” and unable to accept “public accountability.”

Then, in 2019, Olmstead had to release a statement regarding Franciscan friars who’d abused children. That’s the same year he went on record to imply that the sexual revolution, decriminalized abortion, and LGBTQ people’s growing access to their human rights were what caused people to abuse children. To stop that abuse, the world just needed to be forced to be more Catholic! (Because that totally worked, right?)

Now he wants to wage spiritual warfare to have some nebulous impact on people in his area.

It seems to me that if spiritual warfare actually got Jesus up off his rump to do anything, then he’d have obliterated the Vatican long before now. If he couldn’t be bothered to help all the children that Catholic leaders have hurt, then I don’t see him caring at all about a few hundred (or even a few thousand) Satanists meeting in Scottsdale for a few days.

The mere fact that Olmsted and all his peers aren’t a series of smoking oily smears on the ground from a divine bolt from the blue should clue him in to how hopelessly imaginary spiritual warfare really is.

Why so many Christians love spiritual warfare

If you checked out that Quora thread, you probably noticed a few people — including Christians — pushing back at the whole notion of spiritual warfare. They correctly note that the concept itself doesn’t appear in the Bible as something humans are supposed to do.

However, that’s never stopped Christians from doing anything they really want to do. Like with everything else that’s only imaginary, Christians try very hard to define what spiritual warfare is — and isn’t. As just one example, here’s a guy with Intervarsity accidentally making his variant of spiritual warfare sound like Calvinball.

As Intervarsity Guy shows us, there is just something about spiritual warfare that turns Christians’ motors. It carbonates them. It makes them all giddy.

I can see why. The idea makes Christians feel strong when they’re not. Powerful when they’re not. Able to meet any obstacle and maintain powerful faith, when in reality obstacles are destroying their religion from the inside out and their own hypocrisy makes the news every single day and twice on Sunday.

Of course, the same Christians who bellow the loudest about spiritual warfare turn out to be the worst hypocrites. Here, for example, is Bill Hybels’ sermon on the topic. Just nine years later, he’d finally be outed as a sex creep whose misconduct “spann[ed] decades.” Oopsiedoodleboodle!

As my husband likes to say, in their dreams they are free indeed. Christians can talk big about spiritual warfare. It’s not like it can be really gauged and tested in reality.

A funny little endnote

Bishop Olmsted’s call to action was written originally on January 14th. The Internet Archive grabbed an image of it on the 15th. Here is the image I just made of it today. D’you notice anything different? My, my. That’s a lot of spice added to an otherwise-bland directive! Oh, to be a fly on the wall to hear what spurred him to add all of that extra stuff!

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...