William Peter Blatty, RIP: Godspeed to Heaven the Author Who Showed Us Hell
I have never seen The Exorcist. Based as it was on the real-life details of an actual exorcism, the William Friedkin film (1973) had scenes in it (as I’ve read) that nobody needs to see. And some things you just can’t unsee. My knowledge of the film is based on Richard Pryor’s fantastic parody on Saturday Night Live, with its best line: “Your mother sews socks that smell!”
That said, its explosive success, and that of the book it was based on by recently departed Catholic novelist William Peter Blatty, was a very good thing at the time. It was a canary in a coal mine.
Back in the 1970s, popular culture was deeply sunk in the denial of actual evil. The Sexual Revolution had finally triumphed. Antibiotics, birth control, and newly legal abortion on demand had eased the illusion that pleasure had no consequences. From San Francisco bath houses to YMCAs in Greenwich Village, whole subcultures were indulging in the habits that would someday mow them down with AIDS. But they didn’t know that. People thought that Communism would eventually mellow into socialism, and that cocaine was really harmless.
The U.S. was pulling at last out of Vietnam. After that, the media told us, the battered lands of Southeast Asia would at last be free to follow their destinies. Few realized that this would include vicious re-education camps for Christians and U.S. allies, and a massive auto-genocide in neighboring Cambodia, where everyone living in cities, teaching in schools, or even wearing eyeglasses would be driven into the killing fields. We Americans didn’t know any of that was coming, because we didn’t want to know. We were flying with The Eagles, heeding their sage advice to “Take It Easy.”
Then William Peter Blatty, a dogged Lebanese Catholic raised by a fearless single mom, came along to smash that illusion. He harshed our mellow, all right. Blatty intended the novel to remind the world of the reality of evil, and it did so in lurid tones. But that was what we needed, and need again right now.
Blatty Fought for Faith on College Campuses
As you’ll read in Blatty’s charming and moving final book, Finding Peter, Blatty made his bones as a writer the old-fashioned way — as a hard-working, hard-drinking schmoozer and rewrite doctor in Hollywood. But the Catholic faith he was raised with stayed with him all throughout. It was honed and undergirded by old-style Jesuits in prep school and at Georgetown — back when that school insisted on rigorous philosophy and orthodox theology classes for every graduate. Blatty was grateful for that formation all through his life — which is why he used his notoriety in later life to fight to protect and restore it.
Unfortunately, Georgetown has secularized and slid to the left even faster than most of the other once-faithful colleges across America. Proof of that sad fact lies thick on the ground, but here’s the most recent headline: A school-approved pro-abortion club is using Georgetown facilities to train medical students to perform abortions:
Medical Students for Choice (MSFC) hosts so-called “papaya workshops” where students learn how to perform procured abortions using fruit. “Papaya workshops,” the group’s web site reads, “provide students with the perfect setting in which to learn and practice Manual Vacuum Aspiration (MVA) technique in a hands-on setting.”
Evil walks the earth, disguised as sweet reason and human kindness. Tough-minded Christians like Blatty helped to rip away its mask.
Blatty was appalled by the spread of such wickedness at a once doggedly Catholic school, and led in the efforts to defend faithful students and faculty at his alma mater. As CNS News reported in 2013, Blatty led a group that
sent a Canon Law petition to Pope Francis, appealing to him to make Georgetown University comply with the basic rules required to be a “Catholic” school.
If Georgetown University refuses to adhere to those rules, as spelled out in the papal document Ex corde Ecclesiae by Pope John Paul II, then its official identity as a “Catholic” university, as a last possible measure, should be removed, says Blatty.
Observers of the current Vatican will not be surprised to learn that nothing came of the petition. Indeed, on the day Blatty died, we learned that two Vatican congregations have invited pro-abortion activist and discredited “overpopulation” crank Paul Ehrlich to speak at a church conference on science.
Evil walks the earth, disguised as sweet reason and human kindness. As another Catholic writer who dealt with the grotesque, Flannery O’ Connor, observed, “Tenderness leads to the gas chamber.” Tough-minded Christians like Blatty helped to rip away its mask.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul, and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.