the black hole always freaked me out
Reading Time: 8 minutes Obviously, the outer plane that receives the souls of deceased Chaotic Neutral/Evil players after death. Also clearly the inspiration for that weird scene at the end of The Black Hole. (Jean-Pierre Dalbéra, CC.)
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Welcome to Roll to Disbelieve’s Spooky Week! Last time, we looked at the dishonest testimony of a totally-for-realsies ex-Satanist turned evangelist, John Ramirez. But we noticed a worrisome trend in the new crop of similar testimonies, and we must ask: Did Christians love the Satanic Panic so much that they’re trying their best to restart it? And can they restart a moral panic that ended so long ago? Well, we’re going to see if we can find answers to those questions.

the black hole always freaked me out
Obviously, the outer plane that receives the souls of deceased Chaotic Neutral/Evil players after death. Also clearly the inspiration for that weird scene at the end of The Black Hole. (Jean-Pierre Dalbéra, CC.)

Christians already have a tough time letting go of debunked or otherwise terrible ideas once they enter the tribe’s canon, and this one was a super-big idea so even though it’s been super-debunked and is super-terrible, it still kicks around like a grimy dust bunny.

The Satanic Panic, Revisited.

Just to whisk through this cultural phenomenon so we’re all on the same page, the Satanic Panic was a massive conspiracy theory that took hold of mostly hardline evangelical Christians. It began in the late 1970s and lasted till damned near the end of the 1990s. It ran thusly:

  • Just as prayer really accomplishes stuff through supernatural means, magic does too. All of that stuff is totally for realsies.
  • Every magical system that isn’t overtly and directly Christian ultimately turns out to be Satanism, especially Wicca. So all Wiccans are actually Satanists. Some of them know this, but most don’t. To advance to the top levels in Wicca, they must perform Satanic rituals. So they definitely find out then.
  • Satan exists as a real entity and so do all the demons Christians have invented over the centuries–just as their side’s supernatural entities exist.
  • Satanists have infested and infiltrated pretty much everything–from Hollywood to Christian denominations to all levels of government.
  • These infiltrators seek to corrupt children and teens and seduce them away from Christianity.
  • In addition to corrupting kids’ faith, these infiltrators also murder many thousands of people every year–as well as sexually abusing children in ritualistic ways.
  • The leaders of these countless evil covens participate in vast cover-up operations.
  • These evil forces vastly outnumber TRUE CHRISTIANS™.
  • And ANYBODY, ANYWHERE could be one of THEM.

Needless to say, every single one of these ideas is false, false, false in every single way.

Weirdly, “Jesus” hasn’t told any of the Satanic Panickers that. Instead, he keeps busy appearing on food, or he’s too occupied on the potty.

Throwing Sensibility Out the Window.

Its last time around, the Satanic Panic functioned entirely as an extension of ultra-right-wing Protestantism. Catholics had entirely too much sense to get involved in most of that.

In fact, a big part of the Satanic Panic involved accusations against Catholics and Catholicism. The hard-right-wing Protestants involved in the panic fought equally hard against Catholicism as against (what they imagined was) Satanism. Some of their biggest stars (like Alberto Rivera and Charles Chiniquy) claimed to have been ex-Catholics who’d seen the light and now fought to expose the paganism and demonic corruption of Catholicism.

But that was back when huge differences existed between the two branches of Christianity.

Over the last 20 years, while the Satanic Panic bubbled and toiled behind the scenes, Catholic hardliners and Protestant ones slowly melded and merged into one horrifying monster. In particular, their shared culture war against abortion lent itself well to Satanic Panic imagery and folklore.

Nowadays, you would be hard-pressed to find any real differences between the two groups. They have successfully horseshoed themselves into the same crazypants tent. If I had to define a difference, I’d say that Catholic Satanic Panickers tend to sound way more magickal and have considerably more props, as well as tending to promote prayers to saints and the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM). But that’s not a hard-and-fast difference.

So it shouldn’t surprise us that about half of the new Satanic Panic testimonies I’ve found involve Catholics or Catholic-adjacent religious nutters, people we  previously would have considered entirely too sensible to go near such obvious (and obviously false) wackadoodlery. Generally, you only find out which they are toward the end of their totally-for-realsies testimonies, when we discover that they’ve tailored their “solutions” to their problems to their specific take on Christianity.

The Fake Testimony, Perfected.

A word to the wise: we should always regard Christian testimonies as unreliable.

They function as sales pitches and attention-grabbers–and as such, contain exaggerations and outright fabrications meant to aid in those functions. Their creators spend a lot of time crafting them to be like that. And they know very well that a really dramatic testimony can catapult them into stardom.

But when Christians add the bombastic elements of the Satanic Panic to their already-inflated sales pitches, they can elevate those stories to the stratosphere. MAGIC! WITCHCRAFT! SEX! BLOOD! DEMONS! And then, just when the allure of this conspiracy theory seems to be too great to bear, we add in the fact that literally nobody will ever demand proof that anything in the testimony really happened.

(That sound you might have just heard was Christian conjobs messily exploding in their pants.)

Christian audiences have always loved and thrilled to Satanic Panic testimonies. These stories represent triumphs over their enemies. They fulfill all of Christians’ wishes and hopes for conversions. They even (massively incorrectly) consider these stories PROOF YES PROOF of their religion’s veracity.

Consequently, a garden-variety Christian grifter can easily become a rock star with a good Satanic Panic testimony.

Back when I was Christian, I personally watched my own tribemates ignore more humdrum, pedestrian testimonies like mine. Instead, they clambered over each other to get closer to a Satanic Panicker like my ex Biff.

The same thing seems like it’s happening again in the religion.

Moral Panics: A Reaction to Challenges.

When we ask how the modern Satanic Panic got rolling, we have to look back at how the last one did.

Very quickly, we discover that moral panics in general originate as a reaction to massive cultural challenges to the dominance of the groups promoting those panics. In short, authoritarian groups promote moral panics to regain their dominance.

These groups hope to convince the general public–and the government(s) of their country or local area–that they should share that concern, whatever it is. They set forth the idea that people generally should help the group deal with the subject of the moral panic, and that society generally will benefit if the group gets what it wants.

For this section, I draw upon the work of South African criminologist Stanley Cohen and this summary of it. Mr. Cohen’s book, Folk Devils and Moral Panics, can be found for free online.

First, the group singles out a behavior or group of people as dangerous to the common welfare. Whatever this moral panic centers around, the group exaggerates and demonizes it/them.

Second, the group insists that this behavior/group represents some huge danger to everyone. However, informed experts disagree about that danger’s intensity or existence.

Third, the group quickly elevates that concern to the level of public hysteria and panic.

Last and ideally, the group manages to gain actual power through laws passed or adoption of the moral panic by the general population. If it fails in these goals, then the moral panic vanishes overnight–and the group forgets they ever pushed it or believed in it.

Ultimately, a moral panic is a conspiracy theory. Its leaders and believers hope to gain power through it. Then again, everything is about power with authoritarian groups.

Carrying the One.

The late 1970s represented a time of great challenge to Christians. Just as “a just war” can mobilize and unify a country, a good moral panic can mobilize and unify a population. For a while, the Satanic Panic accomplished those goals and then some. Thanks to this conspiracy theory, Christians felt like they had clear-cut tribal boundaries–and clear-cut, over-the-top evil enemies to fight.

More than that, though, the Satanic Panic appeared to confirm oodles of Christian mythology and folklore as true. The hucksters that Christians elevated to stardom not only thrilled and titillated them, but also made them feel like vastly-outnumbered underdogs–instead of the dominant cultural force in the entire country. At the same time, this moral panic told them that they would prevail despite all the odds stacked against them–instead of steadily losing credibility and, soon enough, many millions of fellow believers.

The actual veracity of those testimonies mattered to almost none of them. How Christians felt after buying into the testimonies was what mattered. Christians don’t tend to fact-check the people pandering to them for money and attention even when those panderers aren’t talking about moral panics. And these stories were so well-received that Christians cared even less about that important step.

Anybody even asking about fact-checking, like I did, got shouted down or simply ignored.

Poor Pattern Recognition.

Hilariously and sadly, because moral-panic-inclined Christians possess no sense of pattern recognition at all, the same exact situation is happening now in their culture. And they are reacting in the same exact way they during the moral panic’s first time around.

Every single time someone fact-checked Satanic Panickers in its last go-round, they turned out to be liars.

No exceptions.

Not even one.

But just as Christians can’t abandon bad ideas, they can’t abandon their exposed conjobs and liars. Every single such exposed grifter I’ve ever covered in these hallowed halls is still out there peddling the same tired lies about their past. And Christians still give them money and attention enough to keep them in business doing it.

The rewards, for the believers in this conspiracy theory, simply seem too great. And the penalties for abandoning it simply seem too devastating. So they’re not about to examine any of the modern Satanic Panickers too closely!

They’ll leave that task to folks like us, then criticize us when we do their job for them.

The Anatomy of a Modern Satanic Panicker.

First and foremost, these modern Satanic Panickers never acknowledge that the subject of their moral panic is many decades old. They always act like what they describe is some remarkable brand-new discovery.

Indeed, as we examine John Ramirez’ testimony, we discover not a single hint of this particular moral panic’s long and storied pedigree. At one point in his video, he visits an occult store in the Bronx. He describes it as “the devil’s throne,” further insisting “that throne [has] been there since the 80s.” And yes, this store began existence in 1959. However, he doesn’t mention any Satanic Panic reactions to that store during that time. As far as he’s concerned, he’s the first TRUE CHRISTIAN™ ever to speak against this store or anything it sells. That seems quite doubtful.

Second, though some of the modern Satanic Panickers seem strikingly young, many are holdovers from the era that birthed the original moral panic.

In the case of John Ramirez, he looks close to my age–meaning mid-40s but probably not yet 50. That puts him at the perfect age to have been immersed in the Satanic Panic of the 1980s and 1990s. We do occasionally see younger people caught up in that conspiracy theory, but usually it’ll be people who were kids or teens during those decades.

In the 2014 video we looked at last time, he mentions that he’s been an evangelist for 14 years, which puts his “miraculous” conversion at around 2000, when he’d have been about 25 years old. That age and conversion date means he missed the last Satanic Panic by at least a few years. It took almost that long for his Satanic Panic testimony to finally reach relevance again.

(And look, I get the motivations here. I still have super-cute clothes I bought in the early Aughties that I refuse to part with because one day, one day they will be fashionable again and then won’t I look OH SO RETRO.)

The Takeaways.

Yes, absolutely a new Satanic Panic can easily break out now. 

The 2010s represent an even more challenging time for Christians than the 1970s did. If you’d told me in the year 2000 what would be happening today, I would not have believed a word of it. I’d never have believed the rise of the Religious Right–even to the point of stuffing the Supreme Court and the Presidency with their useful idiots. Nor would I have believed that Christianity could lose so much credibility and membership so quickly.

In reaction to both situations, hucksters and conjobs busily rile up the most gullible, most reactionary, and most belligerent and self-pitying Christians. More Christians fitting that description exist, proportionally speaking, than ever have before. Those Christians and their wallets are the fields that are truly “white unto harvest,” not us unwashed heathens!

I expect us to see a lot more Christians freaking out about Halloween and pushing the tropes I described up at the top of this post, and a lot more liars-for-Jesus seeking to get in on the action before this conspiracy theory fades overnight…

…exactly like the last one did.

I’m okay with this version of Hell. (Allegory Malaprop, CC-ND.)

NEXT UP: Lord Snow Presides on Monday! Then, we look at the wackiest demons of them all. Ohhhh yes, I mean sex demons! Afterward, our first Super Special, and then we’ll look at how important it is for Christians to believe in their supernatural enemies’ stupidity. See you then!

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...