Date: 31 Mar 1998
I think the question "Who believes this crap and why?" is critically important. If we could figure out what emotional needs this theory fulfills, what flaws in reasoning make it seem plausible, we'd be able to counter it a lot more effectively.
For instance, Dr. Jeffrey Victor (_Satanic Panic_) points out that many people spread Satanism rumors because they find them exciting. They may or may not believe in the reality of a murderous cult, but they find speculating about it titilating. From his experiences in the Jamestown (NY) panic, he recommends that "countering" a rumor panic with facts is often pointless. Facts aren't exciting -- they don't fulfill the emotional need the rumor does. Nobody passes them on the way they pass on rumors.
So instead, he suggests creating a rumor of your own: there are people who are trying to make you believe in Satanists, to make money or to stir up animosity against innocent groups they don't like. Offer a reward for evidence against the people who are making these things up. No one will ever collect your reward, Victor says, because rumor panics aren't coherant pogroms, started by some individual. On the other hand, the "conspiracy theory" elements of this rumor make it exciting -- it's as fun to pass on as the Satanism scare.
And you're right: the vast majority of the people who believe in a Satanic conspiracy are fundamentalist Christians. It's not exclusively a Christian phenomenon, but fundamentalists are far and away the most active modern Witch hunters, the most gullible and clueless promoters of these scares. Why?
After I've spent too many hours arguing with my fundy relatives, I am inclined to shriek, "We wouldn't have these problems if you had THREE FUNCTIONING NEURONS in your brain!!!" But in my calmer moments, I have to admit that congenital stupidity is probably not to blame. <g>
Dr. Victor, a sociologist, tends to focus on sociological factors. People who believe in this conspiracy tend be poor or lower middle class; they tend to be poorly educated; they tend to be rural. Satanic panics generally occur in areas that are experiencing economic disruption and hardship (like rural areas during the Reagan years). Therefore to his way of thinking, fundamentalists tend to be Witch hunters partially because they tend to come from these target groups.
Interestingly, the fundamentalist couple who runs the _Answers in Action_ web-page I recommended take a very different point of view. They focus primarily on religion, and make a telling case for why their co-religionists are less critical of Satanism rumors. For example, they point out that the core rumor is based on Christian religion (Satan exists; he is served by humans; he will drive his followers to do the most depraved things imagineable). Therefore it's immediately more believable to a Christian than to someone who *doesn't* believe that there are malign supernatural forces egging us on.
It also fits with a fundamentalist world-view. Fundamentalists often have a strong bunker-mentality. They see themselves as the last guardians of decency and righteousness in an increasingly depraved world nearing the Day of Doom. The conspiracy elements of the myth (Satanists surround you -- anyone who doesn't believe exactly what you believe may be a Satanist) fits well with this. It also serves to explain why things are "so bad" now. Finally there's the simplistic good/bad theology of many fundamentalist Christians. Such dualism makes it easier to write people off as the Evil Other, to believe that people not like you are capable of unspeakable evils.
It's a very interesting article. High quality stuff, like the rest of the Passertinos' pieces on Satanism.