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Sunday, April 01, 2007


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My PhD dissertation contains a chapter that is about the history of evil and covers a lot of what you've written about, although its early 90s date pre-dates the full rise of Christian fundamentalism in the U.S. The issues you raise were alive back then, although they did not focus on "picking on Christianity" or the "war against Christians" as is so common today.

However, WAY back when I was an undergrad, we had a class on "The Bible as Literature." This fabulous class had a great prof who had to remind students (that'd be me and others) that this wasn't about your religious beliefs; rather, it was about the literary merit, stories, and teachings of holy texts.

We nodded and understood. Leave your beliefs at the door while you appreciate other people's religious stories. I know that today we can neither tell people to leave those feelings/beliefs at the door nor remind them that they are not trying to hear another message (that should not threaten them) without being called a "criminal" in the "war" against their religion(s).

The odd thing is that it's mostly, if not exclusively, Christians who are calling normal discussion to be a 'war' against 'their' religion. Jews, of course, are fairly used to lies and slander and shrug it off. Perhaps those who feel threatened should do what they tell others to do (and have told others to do for centuries) - shrug it off. Don't let it bother you.

Yup, it's VERY hard to do. But it takes inner strength and belief in your beliefs. Then pot-shots (or Protocols) just don't matter.


Speak of the Devil: Tales of Satanic Abuse in Contemporary England


Nightwind, how many Muslim students are in your class?


It's pretty old-school human for folks to scapegoat and demonize others, Night. I reckon we've been doing that since caveman days or Cain and Abel, take your pick.

Whatever else the human race may be, we are highly skilled in the use of deception and manipulation. It isn't too much of a stretch of the imagination for someone who wants to condemn or control others to see how perfectly suited religion is to that purpose.

Convince someone that you are the personal spokesman (or spokeswoman) of the most powerful being in the universe and what is left to be said? They will do as you say even if they themselves or others die in the process. How many examples of exactly that are sprinkled throughout history?

A lot of lines get blurred between those who believe and those who are using belief as a political tool to manipulate others.

Which is a shame because religion applied internally as a guide to personal behavior can be a very good thing. It's when the power-hungry sink their talons in it that it gets ugly.


There are no Muslim students in the class. I find it sad that the question even needs to be asked. Bad behavior should offend all of us regardless whether the miscreant is of the same faith as us. I might go so far as to suggest we should be more offended by the bad behavior of those in our own camps, because they misrepresent the beliefs that we hold dear.


Why sad? You compare the behavior of your students in two situations: Islam/9-11 and Christianity/Satanic Panic. Why sad that I should ask if the student behavior includes Muslim students?

Sue also picks up on this comparison of behavior based on religious identity in the first comment.

I'm curious why my question is deemed by you as a defense of bad behavior? Please explain.


Greetings from China, where I can't believe I'm spending time commenting on Xark!

I think Christians, particularly evangelicals, take to heart the New Testament verses about the inevitability of suffering/persecution for Christian faith. I think part of the evangelical self-identification as "persecuted" has to do with an association of persecution and "faithfulness." Certainly Christians were persecuted, and often martyred, before Constantine converted.

In one way, in a country with an evangelical president, Christian persecution is a ridiculous concept. In elite and academic circles, I think it IS true that Christians, and particularly evangelicals, are viewed as intellectually suspect. But I wouldn't call that "persecution" - certainly not in a New Testament sense. But in any case, maybe some of this plays into the class discussions Nightwind describes.

Certainly, demonizing (or propagandizing against) other religions is something that happens FAR beyond Christianity - but you're not arguing it doesn't. I DO think, however, that secular liberals have panicked about the Christian Right more than they really need to. The movement is ebbing (my opinion), but if you read magazines like Harper's (which my aunt got me), you'd think theocracy is imminent.

I DO think the Christian Right should be resisted. I just also think it might be a litle overhyped. Maybe this is a counterpoint to the Satanic Panic.

Again, my point to other Christians: A religion that stresses human sinfulness and fallibility should be FAR more willing to admit error than we are. That would be my main critique of your students.

One last point: I disagree that Jews "shrug it off." I would submit that the reaction to the Jimmy Carter book, as well as the existence and activism of the Anti-Defamation League, show that at least some Jews take criticism quite seriously.

I don't think Muslims would be much different. For that matter, neither are, say, Scientologists or vegetarians or anyone. Few people deal well with criticism.


It appears to me that isolated religion will never adequately explain the activities we're observing, whether we're talking about the crusade against D&D or 9/11. I'm sure the fact that I'm currently reading Chrysanthemum and the Sword. Patterns of Japanese Culture has an impact on my view.

In both cases (D&D and 9/11), religion is a significant part of the stated motivation or justification but I think reality, as Night experienced in England, needs to be interpreted against a broader and deeper cultural background.

While I consider it logical to wonder about the opinion of Muslims in Night's class as a natural parallell to the Christians discussing actions of other Christians, I don't think that Muslims in the class would necessarily shed more light on the issues.

I think the key would be: how close can we come to someone who has direct experience in the culture of the person we're trying to analyze.

I'm not assuming that the above cultural prototype (who happens to be Muslim) would automatically approve of the terrorists actions. However, neither am I assuming that they would disapprove for the same reasons that I do. My assumption is that someone from a similar cultural heritage -- including nation and probably economic class as well as religion -- would better understand their motivations and actions.

I believe that most people act morally most of the time from their own perspective of morality. I believe that moral systems often have similar components. I even believe that some moral systems are "superior" to others. However, I don't believe that morality is universal and as such even obvious questions are quite valid to find the answers. Perhaps obvious questions are the *most* important to ask.


Tim, I'm sorry, I wasn't meaning to imply that you specifically were defending bad behavior.

Ben, I think comparing the theocracy conspiracy theories to the Satanic Panic is a GREAT idea. Probably too late in the semester to fit it in, but definitely something to try to incorporate next time I teach (hopefully in the fall).

Xarker, your site is going wonky. I sign in, type my comment, hit "post", and it tells me my name and address are required. I've tried it twice with the same result.


I read a great book debunking SRA called Satanic Panic by Jeffery Victor. He was a sociology professor at SUNY when a satanism scare occurred in his local area. His analysis provides many clues on how these events occur and get out of hand.

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