Monday, September 05, 2016

Book Review: Lure of the Sinister (2001) by Gareth J Medway

Subtitled “The Unnatural History of Satanism,” this is a very evenhanded discussion of social frenzies that have taken place throughout history, centered on the concept of organized worship of the Devil.

          Medway very candidly explains in the Introduction that he doesn’t necessarily subscribe even to the existence of a “personal” Satan.  “I am a Pagan and a priest of Themis in the Fellowship of Isis” (page 8).  He writes with a dry style that generally allows human foolishness to demonstrate itself.

          And what fools these mortals be, as amply demonstrated by the copious narrations in this historical narration.  Medway provides many depressing examples of the behavior of a certain type of human:  Scandalized, narrow-minded people who believe that Satan is so powerful that Earth is filled with his willing servants.

          The general idea of the censorious masses is that Satan is real, powerful, and served by several organized groups that throughout history have used such devices as drugs, intimidation, sex, and human sacrifice to further his evil plans.

          Medway does a good job of describing Satanist scares in the Old World and New.  Often one or two people will stir up trouble by claiming to have just escaped the clutches of a terrible Satanic cult that practices child abuse and bloodletting.  Well-intentioned, worried citizens are frightened and are often able to induce the police or social services to “investigate.”  Over and over again, children are browbeat or cajoled into making statements that the now-obsessed “investigators” interpret as giving substance to the allegations that were made up by the attention-seekers, and amplified by the insecure fears of those who listened to them.

          Sadly, even though there is no objective proof of the allegations invented by the meddlers, people have been jailed for decades for crimes that didn’t happen.  The McMartin case of the 1980s is just one well-known example.

          Of course, there are bad people.  Of course, some bad people hurt children.  But there really has never been any evidence of any organized group of cultists that does the kind of things alleged by the provocateurs.

          As thoroughly footnoted by Medway, nearly all of the Satanist scares are provoked by liars, cheats, and shysters.  Sincerely well-meaning people are somehow tipped over the edge of concern into meddling, persecution, and even criminal behavior to “protect” the supposed child victims.

          “Anti-Satanists have claimed that the Lord has told them, by way of the Holy Spirit, to kill witches, to give the wrong treatment to hospital patients, and to accuse innocent people of serious sexual abuse.  They really ought to ask themselves if they are sure they have heard their divine instructions correctly” (p375).

          Beginning with Biblical tales and early church fathers’ battles with the devil, the book tells selected tales of supposed “deals with the devil,” witch hunts provoked by for-profit results, and the psychology of a society’s fear of those who live on the fringes of acceptability.

          You may know that part of the charm of the Inquisition (begun in France in the 12th Century) for the ruling class was that the accuser was often the recipient of the accused’s worldly goods.  Or sometimes the Catholic hierarchy took the spoils.  Torture proved exactly what it wanted to prove, and hey presto! Another “servant of the devil” had been removed from the streets.

          After extended purges of a locale, the available sources of money began to dry up, and things tapered off for a while.  As one author lamented in 1360, “In our days there are no more rich heretics; so that princes, not seeing much money in prospect, will not put themselves to any expense; it is a pity that so salutary an institution as ours should be uncertain of its future” (p131).

          The typical modern-day scare story, as narrated by proven fakers like Mike Warnke or Michelle Smith, involves the narrator falling into an organized group of people who claim immense power.  A ritual is involved involving dozens or hundreds of people, and the ritual usually involves death, sex, or both.  Many of the stories tell of the sacrifice of babies produced by “breeders” strictly for this purpose.

          Most of the problems with these bits of scary fluff arise when you look at them with an eye for logistics.  After much investigation of many similar tales, no evidence has been found to back them up -- no suddenly vanishing pregnancies; no sacrificed bodies have been found, even when diggers were told where to look; no parking lots full of cars where the rituals supposedly happened; and certainly no documentation of the supposed wealth and influence of Satan’s people.
          This book is a very evenhanded look at hysteria, attention-seeking behavior, and narrowmindedness.  One observation from the Christian side:  If the so-called Christian church can’t get along, what makes people think that the Father of Lies can coordinate a millennia-old system?  Especially since that system seems to recruit losers, like the tattletales who squeal on him.

          In a discussion about censorship, Medway makes an observation that I can agree with.  As narrated on page 299, somebody protested that a Plymouth (England) school library contained a history book called Witches and Their Craft.  As Medway says, “In effect, the complaint is that books of historical information are available.  It could be asked: Why stop there?  So much of history is a list of wars, massacres, assassinations, executions, plagues, famines, and so on, any one of which might affect sensitive children, that one might as well ban the subject altogether.”

          We can all agree that there is a perfectly human behavior that is expressed by rebellion, acting out, and deliberate misbehavior.  This applies to adults who derive satisfaction from tweaking their staid neighbors’ sensibilities, as well as to kids who deliberately outrage their parents by claiming to worship Satan. 

          When these offended ones react with persecution, it dismays me.  Lives have been ruined, because of this frenzy.  It is doubly atrocious when acts of violence and wrath have been committed by so-called Christians.  As Jesus said in Matthew 7:16, a person’s actions will demonstrate the kind of person they are.

          These examples show the petty, narrow minds of insecure people, people who certainly show no signs of enjoying the peace of God in their hearts.  Folks that perpetrate acts of persecution in the name of God are simply insulting him, and damaging his kingdom.  I’d like to ask these self-righteous folks:  If God is all-powerful, then why do you have to guard him like a piece of breakable crystal?

          No matter how much mud you throw at the moon, the moon is still just fine.

          As I understand him, God is indeed strong enough to take a few insults.  When our local “church of Satan” decides to put on a ritual, it comes across to me much like a kid thumbing his nose at the school principal in summertime.  It’s done as much to provoke or get attention as anything else.  When certain “church leaders” fall for the bait and amplify the publicity by professing outrage, to me that shows a little lack of conviction in their own faith.  God has promised to set all things right, and he probably doesn’t need me to tell him how to do it.

          My job is to do the right thing as I see it, to help people, and to tell them, when they ask, that my motivation is to show God’s love.

          Read this book and despair at Man’s inhumanity to Man.  As this history of persecution shows, we don’t need a Devil to make hell for others.

          [NB:  I believe that a devil exists, and that there are plenty of evil influences.  But my job is to dwell on God and his service.]


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