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Atheist Perspective: Rememberance of a Moral Panic

February 17, 2015 Leave a comment

I was originally thinking that I should put this entry into my “Road to Atheism” series but I don’t think it really belongs there.

This is a distant memory, so my details are bit fuzzy. I’ve talked about Confirmation before. I mentioned that in addition to my five days a week religion classes at my Catholic High School, my service as an altar boy (no girls allowed back then), I was forced to go to a Sunday night religion class in order to prepare me into accepting a faith as an adult that, by this time, I knew backward and forward. Sure the finer points of theological discourse were never taught to us: instead we were just given the same run down of the exact same stuff I learned in my religion classes from when I was in elementary school. The major difference is that in these classes they tried to subtly push the Holy Orders sacrament. Maybe they get extra points if they turn out a priest or nun but no one I knew was going to bite on that hook.

Most of it was boring. One session they had us meet in the school’s auditorium for a special session on—-SATAN! No, seriously, they had us meet so that some members of the local Police, a church official, and some other person that I can’t quite recall could talk to us about devil worship, animal sacrifice, and related activities. I want to be absolutely clear here: there has never been a report in my small suburb of Satanic activity. There will never be a point in that town where an organized underground Satanic group will be operating. How do I know this? Because such groups don’t actually exist.

I should also be really clear about another interesting facet of the talk: it took place in 1996. If the talk had taken place in 1986, that would be different…sort of. It would still be utterly unnecessary, but at least in the 80’s the great moral panic of organized Satanism was popular. In the 90s it was dead, by 1995 the furor was spent as “Michelle Remembers” was thoroughly debunked and the pre-school trial in California had ended with no convictions. The idea of a vast underground conspiracy was ludicrous, the idea that a bunch of people were patrolling our towns looking to indoctrinate teenagers into Satanism through the promise of drugs and sex was absurd. Yet here we were, listening to some “expert” on Satanism talk about signs to watch out for.

They gave us a handout with all kinds of symbols so that we knew to avoid such areas. The funny thing was that without this handout I would never know what they were. Some were familiar but others were weird. One symbol was the double s that the band, Kiss, uses as their font. Somehow it’s related to Satanism as well as the Nazi SS in that it sort of looks like their symbol too. The rest of the sheet was the typical pentagram, goat head, upside down cross (although that’s actually a Christian symbol for St. Peter), etc. It was very very stupid.

First, if I was the type of person to dabble in Satanism, and it really existed like they said it did; they basically told me how exactly to join by letting us know what to look for. Apparently, I could just walk through the woods or a park at night and look for these symbols then just wait for someone to come along to sign me up. Secondly, since it didn’t exist it was just a waste of time.

I remember the police officer the most, because she seemed to think along the same lines as I did: that it wasn’t happening. She told us a story of how someone found a pile of dead animals on the side of the road and called the police to report on animal sacrifice (because say what you want about Satanists, but they clean up their sacrificial stone altars when they are done). It turned out that the highway department had just been dumping road kills at the side of the road for one reason or another. She went on to tell us that drug use was the big problem, but if we saw Satanists we should probably tell someone. This was odd, because as far as I knew it wasn’t illegal to be a Satanist. Sure they might be weird and all, but as long as they aren’t harming anyone there’s nothing that can be done. I brought the handout home, told my parents what I had learned and then the handout made into the garbage.

That was it. Our class on evil, and it was so stupid, so absurd, it was basically parody. Satanism as they portrayed (and still do) it was nothing more than fear mongering. Real Satanists, the ones I have met, were silly people that would eventually just grow out of it. Most of the time the “religion” is just a form of rebellion that compels people to listen to shitty music like Marilyn Manson while buying a lot of pewter rings from Hot Topic. They don’t go to a church because that would mean recanting their rebellion from authority. The other ones, aren’t even religious, they just like to stoke the fires of the fundamentalists and exploit the legal loopholes that those same evangelicals created so they can put up their religious displays on public property. The whole thing was a farce, but the more religious you get the more you need some enemy to be working against you. In the case of Christians it’s Satan, but we know how that story is supposed to end if its real, he loses. He can’t stalk the land looking for followers because he’s in prison.

It’s a need for oppression that they wanted to sow in us for a reason I’ll never understand. Given that they don’t have a true enemy they have to make one up and give it powers that it could never have. The fact that this class happened makes me wonder what the real fear was going to be. I guess I know that now, it’s unbelief.

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