Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Satanic Panic to my #AtheistEar

I really wanted to show you something that would convey to you just how bad we evangelical Christians thought things were in the 1980s when it came to the occult. I remember the figures on our local Family Life Radio station excoriating the popular trends of horror films and heavy metal music, and I remember hearing parodies and take-downs that I thought (at the time) were really sticking it to those heathens.

But for today's post, this is the best I could find:

(Lyrics are... probably available somewhere. I'll let you Google this one if you really want to.)

I'm truly sorry for that, but it was honestly the best video I could find to represent what I wanted to talk about today. And by "best," I mean that it's almost listenable.

That was Carman, one of those artists I thought was pretty cool and entertaining in the mid-1980s. He apparently went on to re-imagine Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a wild west showdown. He made several videos like this in the early 1990s, and they tend to be longer and less entertaining. I guess a career is a career.

But I remember there were a lot of smaller-time artists out there doing similar things at the time. I can't remember their names, and clearly, they aren't easy to find on YouTube. But what I wanted to talk about was the way they went so over the top in portraying their Enemy.

There is no denying that a lot of the things that rural Christian communities like mine saw coming out of pop culture in the late-1970s and early-1980s were terrifying. John Carpenter's Halloween, the Exorcist, and the slasher movies they inspired; Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and the increasingly cacophonous and increasingly depraved bands they inspired seemed to confirm that demons and Dark Powers had taken over our land, and were intent on convincing kids (like me!) to ignore their upbringing and sin, sin, sin.

Unfortunately for their message, the people behind the Satanic Panic went too far in building up the Enemy. What do I mean by that?

First, a lot of the panic was based on lies. A man named Mike Warnke was one of the more famous, but there were several people who made a living touring the country and telling stories of their lives as "high priests" in Satanic cults. They described awful rituals, murders, baby-killing, and rapes occurring, and then spoke about how Jesus had saved them, and told them to spread the word. Spoiler alert, Mike Warnke, and those like him, turned out to be frauds.

But not only were these people lying about things that Christians find scary, the truth is that those scary things - like demons and the Devil, and Hell - don't actually exist. I don't just say that as an atheist who does not believe in the supernatural - I also say that as a former Christian who is quite familiar with the Bible. The very concept of Hell, as these people teach it, is not Biblical.

As the Slacktivist said a few years ago, after controversy flared up over a book by Rob Bell:
"Dante teaches this. Jack Chick teaches this. Iron Maiden and countless B movies teach this. But the Bible does not. The doctrine of Hell can be, with only partial success, taken from Dante and Chick and Iron Maiden and grafted onto the Bible. But it cannot be derived from the Bible...
"The Hebrew scriptures offer no support for Team Hell. None. The pages of the Old Testament mention “sheol,” or “the grave,” but not Hell...The gospel as Paul preached it, as he described it in his epistles, does not include the doctrine of Hell."  (from Team Hell gets loud)
The point is that none of these supernatural beings exist, either in reality, or in the scriptures that those perpetuating the Satanic Panic claim to follow.

So why were evangelical Christians like me motivated to buy into the lurid stories we were being told? Why did we want to believe those stories were true? For the answer to that, I'll refer you to another incredible Slacktivist essay, this one about the Anti-Kitten-Burning Coalition. (Spoiler: it comes from a deep need to feel superior to others that becomes more important that combating actual evil.)

At the end of the day, it's important to remember that the vast majority of Christians want to help make the world better. They see the problems that come from drug use, alcoholism, poverty, and crime, and they want to share what they think is a simple solution. If only solving real problems were as easy as shooting a demon with a magic pistol.

But, since you put up with that Carman video, I thought I'd share this gem: it's Steve Taylor's  live performance from 1984 of his song criticizing Bob Jones University and its racist policies. Enjoy!

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