Culture At Large

Satanic Panic, and other tales of terror

Andy Rau

Remember the "satanic panic" of the 1980s, when people saw satanic abuse and conspiracy behind every corner? Two decades after the fact, an accuser from the infamous "McMartin Preschool case" has admitted that he lied, fabricating lurid tales of abuse and devil-worship in response to leading questions from parents and other adults. [Note: while this and the below articles aren't needlessly graphic, some of the allegations of abuse described in them are nevertheless disturbing, so read with caution.] Interestingly, from this person's account, the controversy began with allegations of child abuse, but took on religious/satanic tones when the accuser started incorporating his own church experience into his stories.

For a summary of the McMartin case, which produced no convictions and cost the government $15 million from start to finish, see here; and for general information about the "satanic ritual abuse" controversy, see the Apologetics Index.

Of course, it isn't exactly breaking news to learn that the tales of abuse and satanism in the McMartin case were fabricated--to somebody reading about the case now, it seems painfully obvious that hysteria and not logic was at the heart of the situation. I'm glad that the Christian church has outgrown the "satanic panic;" in fact, it was Christians who helped to expose some of the most outrageous satanic-scare stories.

It seems appropriate, as we talk about Halloween today, to look back at a time that the church let a prudent concern about evil turn into a hysterical, overly-credulous obsession with Satan, demons, and cultists. I like the way C.S. Lewis famously put it: "There are two dangers in considering Satan: one is to think too much about him and to become obsessed by his power; the other is not to believe in his existence at all." It's incredibly easy today to fall into either one of those extremes. The trick is to find that healthy balance, where we're on guard against spiritual evil but not letting that concern completely dominate our thinking.

I've enjoyed all the discussion about Halloween and related topics here lately. So whether you're getting ready to hand out Gospel tracts to trick-or-treaters tonight, or are excitedly putting the finishing touches on your Darth Maul Halloween costume... what can I say? Have a safe, non-hysterical, and spiritually balanced evening!

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church