This language strikes many Westerners, including Western Christians, as odd, irrelevant, or even superstitious. In ages past, people in the West understood themselves according to what philosopher Charles Taylor calls the “porous self.” They took for granted that the world was inhabited by spiritual beings, some good and some evil. They believed, moreover, that these spiritual beings exerted influence on their lives. Today, however, we have adopted a perspective Taylor calls the “buffered self.” We don’t see ourselves as subject to the influence of a spiritual world anymore. The emergence of the “buffered self” means that, while we may reject the “spiritual forces of wickedness” as a matter of ritual, we really can’t imagine what this rejection actually means for our lives.
It’s important to realize, however, that from a global perspective we in the West represent a minority report. Most people living today understand themselves as “porous” rather than “buffered.” Some Western intellectuals, moreover, are beginning to rediscover what it might mean to think of ourselves as susceptible to spiritual influences. Perhaps the buffered self is not the final word for Western Christians. Indeed, among Western Roman Catholics, exorcisms are on the rise.