The Case Against Satan details a young woman’s exorcism at the hands of a bishop and a priest. The bishop, traditional and hard-line, clashes with the modern young priest; the girl, who may or may not be possessed, tries to use this conflict to her advantage. At just 140 pages, the book doesn’t waste any time, taking us through the whole experience in brief but powerful chapters.
Russell’s spare but expressive prose drives the story and adds to the horror of the situation. Some of his characterizations feel a little on the nose, from the bigoted crank to the perverted, murderous father. The recent sexual abuse scandals also color how one views this book. Despite these qualms, the book managed to hold my interest to the end, and the final revelation is both surprising and satisfying.
The Case Against Satan delves into the role unconscious motivations may or may not play in an individual’s salvation. Would God damn you to hell for an action you committed unconsciously? The anguish surrounding this question reflects a growing anxiety about how psychology was revealing and restructuring our views of the mind, even of the soul.
There’s a subtle irony in the title. The modern priest, Gregory Sargent, doubts the existence of the devil. Over the course of the book, he comes to believe that Satan is a real creature that wills evil. Who is making “the case against Satan” here––and what kind of case is it? Are we arguing that Satan is wrong, or debating his existence?