Many years ago when I worked for a humane society, I attended a major training seminar for animal cruelty investigation, and one of the topics within was the tricky subject of animal sacrifice. There, I first learned of santeria, an offshoot of christianity practiced by mostly Cuban and Haitian immigrants to this country and, disturbingly, protected by law as ‘legitimate’ religious rituals. But the presenter also brought up satanism as a special case, because it deserved its own tact in handling. Not because it is a protected religion in the US, but because it doesn’t actually exist – not as a very large percentage of the population thinks, anyway. The one registered church of satan, founded by Anton La Vey, does not practice animal sacrifice or cruelty in any form, and in fact considers belief in supernatural beings and influence as “insane.” The special handling that is necessary is because damn near everyone thinks that satanism takes place, and when coming across, for instance, a beheaded chicken or tortured black cat, far too many people are quick to assume that this means some kind of black mass has occurred.
The parallel to this is, despite the countless reports of ‘satanic activity’ provided by police departments across the country, an extensive FBI investigation revealed that effectively none of them could be considered any kind of organized satanic ritual. Bluntly, satanism doesn’t exist. Neo Nazis and white supremacists, survivalist enclaves and slavery rings and even organ trafficking, yes – but not satanism. I won’t blame you if you think this sounds hard to believe.
Part of the reason for that, however, is the amount of effort the various churches put into the idea. According to them, satan is a very real being, constantly plotting the downfall and damnation of every living being on earth – why, is not too clear. But if you have a being that is perfectly good, then you must have a perfectly evil one too, otherwise nothing makes sense, right? We continue to believe that such things always boil down to opposing absolutes, despite the fact that this has never been demonstrated in any human experience. And of course, someone or something must be to blame for not only the nasty occurrences in the world, but the nasty behavior too. I admit to having a problem here, because I can barely even stay on my topic without running into the countless ways in which this crashes into absurdity. Remember that, right from the very beginning, god made humans who immediately did something bad. Blame it on the serpent or blame it on human nature, they both come down to god wanting it to happen. Or, not being the creator, or not being omniscient; choose all three if you like, it doesn’t get any more lucid no matter what.
As a species, we have a remarkably inept approach to evidence. Despite the daily reminder of how often people lie, we seem to have this propensity for believing whatever someone tells us, especially if they’re someone we ‘trust,’ or someone in a position of authority, or even if they just sound sincere. This can, and frequently does, countermand direct physical evidence, and even the lack thereof. Everyone knows that there are satanic rituals, always hiding just one rumor away, like the girlfriend that your buddy had while at summer camp, who no one ever met. You’d think, in our age when celebrity pregnancies are big news (I guess they’re considered a special accomplishment,) that ritual sacrifices and possessions would be covered a bit more if they occurred as often as anyone claims. But, that would require thinking.
Therein lies the problem. It’s really easy to throw blame onto an imaginary being that ‘personifies’ an abstract absolute. So we have god getting credit for any happy coincidence or even recovery from illness (funny how he started taking a much more active hand right along with our medical advances,) and satan getting the blame for any kind of bad behavior, especially if it’s something as horrifying and loathsome as disagreeing with any particular religious standpoint. There is a notable percentage of religious folk that believe that atheism=satanism, ignoring the fact that atheism denies the entire pantheon of supernatural beings. But for them, it’s very simple (and has to be): anything anti-god is by nature satanic. Don’t get me wrong, most religious people can count above two, all the way up to ten in most cases, but even when doing so, it often only occurs between two hands.
You might feel sorry for anyone who suffers from such a feeble ability to think, except that they’re allowed out on the streets. Some churches, of course, encourage such attitudes wholeheartedly, since anything more thoughtful than kneejerk reactions starts to make scripture look inane. There are two interesting things at work here, and by ‘interesting things’ I mean ‘blatant manipulations.’ The first is the oft-used ‘wolf-at-the-door’ concept, convincing people that there is something frightening that will happen if they let their guard down for even a second. This can convince them of much worse consequences than could ever be supported rationally; think about the McCarthyism attitudes of the 1950s here in the US. The second, closely related, is the skewed perspectives that are introduced with very powerful enemies. When there is an idea of ultimate evil, behavior that is merely anti-social, invasive, abusive, or just plain stupid is small potatoes in comparison. If this seems farfetched, remember it the next time TSA is groping your genitalia because suicide-bombers are so likely to target a flight from Atlanta to Des Moines. Fear changes the standards that people will allow.
Given such simple criteria for ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ it becomes extremely easy for the weak minded to automatically classify anything that disagrees with them as satanic influence. Since god is pure good, the obviously anti-social, counter-intuitive, or outright vicious actions that they are encouraged to enact through their religion aren’t really bad; how could they be? They’re just unfathomable by us mere mortals; the ends (god’s secret but assuredly good plans) justify the means. You’d think a perfect being wouldn’t have any difficulties making such things crystal clear, but there you go – some things are even out of god’s reach.
You have to admit, it’s a nice racket for any authority figure. “Look, doing anything else outside of following me blindly is evil!” What’s absolutely amazing is, practically no one has any difficulty seeing this as blatant manipulation – when it’s practiced by other religions. But to apply it to themselves, they first have to entertain the idea that they might be wrong, and could have been for a long time. If this seems like a minor thing to get past, you’ve never argued politics, or heard someone defend their dipshit boyfriend/girlfriend, or watched any sporting events at all. We often consider it stubbornness, but most of it comes down to simply the fear of being wrong – or even, being seen as wrong.
A small side note: very few people have ever considered that, if satan did exist, this is exactly the kind of trait that he would exploit in order to have people do his bidding. All you have to do is convince someone that they’re right, and they’ll do anything at all. Anyone who doubts this has never learned from history and never pays attention to world news.
But there is potentially another aspect which may be at work, and it can apply well outside of religion. I’ve remarked before about the tendencies for people to think in terms of absolutes and black or white decisions, and above I mentioned that the ‘wolf at the door’ attitude is commonly employed. The combination of these seems capable of producing the concept of a sworn enemy, a classification that allows for immediate dismissal, or at the very least, an uncritical bias against any argument or action from those so categorized. We see this constantly between creationists and ‘Darwinists,’ UFO proponents and debunkers, and in this country, Liberals and Conservatives (it applies far more often in this manner than between Democrats and Republicans, even while they’re ostensibly interchangeable,) or even between Southerners and Everyone Else. But even without such clear partisan lines, there’s also those who demonize non-organic foods, big corporations, “tree-huggers,” foreign auto manufacturers, and so on. And it’s not difficult at all to find multiple demons being associated or combined, for convenience’s sake it would seem.
Once such a category is determined (or even created,) it can then be considered the source of much woe, far bigger in scope or more pervasive in its manifestation than can be supported by mere evidence. I remarked earlier about the feminism fad, which has produced numerous activists who seem to find it the root of all evil – several decent blogs have been shifted in their nature towards dealing with this demon rather obsessively. At this point, I really haven’t come up with any good idea about what causes someone to select their ‘sworn enemy,’ but there is an unmistakeable tendency towards such things becoming a pet cause. My own speculation lies along the lines of someone seeing themselves as the hero (a stronger term than is warranted, perhaps, but effective in describing the mindset,) or the magnifying power of personal experience with some ill effect, something that I can attest to myself* and which bears more than a little statistical support.
Too frequently, this has several effects. The first is the hypersensitivity to everything that can be classified as that personal demon, often forcing a fit where one is questionable. This is followed by the exaggeration of the negative impacts, perhaps in a bid to justify the activism in the first place. And most importantly, there is the insistence and repetition of the problems this must cause to society; if everyone is talking about the loss of jobs to illegal aliens, then it must certainly be true – otherwise why would we keep hearing about it? But as the history of repressed memory hypnosis, childhood satanic abuse, and facilitated communication shows us, we can keep hearing about them even when they have nothing of any value whatsoever (see above about celebrity pregnancies.)
This handicap in thinking also devalues the search for good answers. When a recent study found a distinct bias in payscale between male and female undergrads, it becomes easy fodder for the feminism crusade, ignoring that it was demonstrated by both male and female supervisors. Another set of studies seemed to show the same kind of behavior, but found that the bias was more than sexual. When someone has a pet demon, the only thing that matters is what keeps that demon alive, but the underlying causes of such behavior deserve closer attention and more thought than that. Misdiagnosing the illness isn’t likely to lead to effective treatment.
The belief in satan has a further effect, in that behavior attributed to such influence falls outside of human control, obviating any action from mere mortals and, most especially, freeing the devout from any dealings. They don’t have to listen to any arguments, answer any questions, or put any thought into the situation in the slightest – a rational response is unwarranted when the only ‘good’ response is abject avoidance. Difficult situations, such as childhood sexual abuse within the family, no longer ever require contemplation, much less understanding or addressing; go with god and it’s all taken care of, and if that doesn’t seem to be working, pray harder.
While it would be nice if the world were simple, that desire doesn’t make it happen. Simple decisions are for simple minds; we should take more pride in using our brains and avoiding the practice of pigeon-holing. More importantly, with the eradication of demons we find ourselves dealing only with people, which places the prospect of finding solutions and correcting behavior within the realm of human endeavor.
* You see what I did there