A NATION HOODWINKED:
THE POWER OF MORAL PANIC
This blog series contains content that is not suitable for children.
If that's you, go outside and run around and enjoy your youth.
My younger brother, Aaron, is a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic. He is 34 years old, homeless, and unable to keep a job. He has been in and out of institutions, causing my family mountains of grief along the way. I have heard him speak to the voices in his head in disorganized mumbles. I have heard him, jobless, give financial advice to someone possessing an MBA. I have come home to find the driver's side window of his car smashed to pieces, his hand bloody and bruised. He is twice my size and irrationally violent, and the one person on this planet who thoroughly scares me.
He is also a Christian, or so I am told. This is the one thing my family praises him for. He has a vast criminal record, including many acts of violence, but at least he's going to heaven. While this notion brings comfort to some, I have my own opinions on the matter.
How can someone who is not right in his mind have the wherewithal to sincerely devote his time and attention to the God spoken of in the Bible? How can he make the distinction between God and the voices in his head? His religious delusions are not separate from his mental illness, but rather a symptom of it. To assert that this one area of his life is "normal" in context with the rest is ludicrous. If my brother went to the police today and spoke of a world-wide conspiracy of Satanists out to harm our children, he wouldn't be believed.
Yet Judy Johnson, the diagnosed schizophrenic McMartin preschool parent who made the initial allegations, was. Many reported victims of Satanic ritual abuse also suffered from dissociative identity disorder, though the mental illness was considered wholly separate from the religious aspects of their testimony.
In my brother's case, his religious delusions are a direct result of his mental illness, as he had no interest in personal faith before his diagnosis. In light of this, it was very difficult for me to watch interviews where the religious assertions of clearly mentally unstable individuals were emphatically believed. Ignoring the mental illness while encouraging religious notions that are a result of it makes absolutely no sense. My brother may believe in God, but that doesn't mean his incoherent ramblings about God should be taken seriously.
What about the children?
That was the question that sent McMartin preschool parents into a panicked frenzy back in 1983, and it's the same foundation of a recent moral panic that has ravaged our country: the heated issue of vaccines. The interesting thing about vaccines, however, is that they're not a new debate. Do a little reading (I can't do everything for you), and you'll find that it's an argument that's centuries old. And although we now have more science on the subject than ever before, some people don't care.
Evidence doesn't seem to matter if there's a personal bias in place, but it matters to me. One thing I keep wondering is, why were people so willing to believe this without any physical evidence? There were claims all over the country that children were being forced to murder other children, yet there were never any bodies found. Young girls were being led to believe that they'd birthed numerous babies for the purpose of human sacrifice, yet medical exams confirmed that they had never been pregnant.
On top of that, most of the accounts of Satanic ritual abuse involve being abused by a High Priest. The Church of Satan only has one High Priest in place at a time (currently Peter H. Gilmore), so if these instances are to be believed, LaVeyan Satanism isn't responsible—yet the Church of Satan continually stands as the accused. The term "Satanists" tends to lump LaVeyan Satanism, Wicca, Paganism, and any other occult practice into one single category. I grew up in a conservative, charismatic Pentecostal church. If you called us Methodists, you would be quickly corrected. People know the specifics of the religion to which they prescribe, yet in recovered memories of Satanic ritual abuse, no distinction is made regarding which "Satanists" specifically are responsible.
"The recovered memory debate has been the most acrimonious, vicious and hurtful internal controversy in the history of modern psychiatry."
— "Ground Lost: The False Memory/Recovered Memory Therapy Debate" | By Alan W. Scheflin | Psychiatric Times
“'Whether repressed memories are accurate or not, and whether they should be pursued by therapists, or not, is probably the single most practically important topic in clinical psychology since the days of Freud and the hypnotists who came before him,' says researcher Lawrence Patihis of the University of California, Irvine. According to Patihis, the new findings suggest that there remains a 'serious split in the field of psychology in beliefs about how memory works.'”
— "Scientists and Practitioners Don’t See Eye to Eye on Repressed Memory" | Association for Psychological Science
I am neither a scientist nor a psychologist, therefore I am not the right person to argue the validity of recovered memories as a whole. But one thing I am convinced of based on my research—false memories of abuse can be planted in the brain. This is not an assertion I make lightly, nor without deep internal struggle. It is a situation where nobody wins—neither the patient nor the accused. I cannot help but to feel compassion for the McMartin preschool parents, as they were certain without a shadow of a doubt that their children had been victimized. From their perspective, the hysteria was warranted, and the Buckeys deserved to rot not just in jail, but in hell.
We can never fully understand how our actions affect others, but we must be conscious that they do. Is there one person specifically to blame for Satanic Panic? No. There were a myriad of factors that led to its conception. However, a little bit of logic along the could have at least hindered its spread.
Asking questions is never a bad thing. How else are we supposed to learn?
The sexual exploitation and abuse of children is the grossest, most disgusting crime I can imagine. It does not need to be sensationalized with the added proponent of Satanism to be a detested act. Though I have spent a great amount of time discussing the debunking of Satanic ritual abuse, it should be remembered that sexual abuse is a very real thing. While moral panic pointed fingers outside the home, sexual abuse generally happens at the hand of a relative or close family friend, and "the devil made me do it" is not a valid excuse.
It was surprising to read that the Church of Satan has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to the abuse of children, sexual or otherwise (abusers are kicked out of the church with no chance of reinstatement), while the Catholic church sends molesters to "rehabilitation," if not just reassigning them to a different church altogether. For more information on this topic, I highly recommend the HBO documentary Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God. P.S. You'll want some Kleenex.
Many Christians believe that Jesus can "deliver" molesters of their urges, and they are welcomed back into churches with open arms. I do not have children, but I will tell you this: if someone has but once sexually abused a child, they are not to be trusted. I don't care what kind of therapy or healing or whatever they claim to have had—do not leave your children alone with them. Sexual abuse will change a child's life forever, and you as the parent have every right to be cautious and listen to your gut when it comes to who you leave your children with.
The biggest takeaway I have from the McMartin case and Satanic Panic is that the media is more concerned with lining their pockets than with reporting the truth. They were more than happy to make a buck off of lives that were literally destroyed, all the while not taking any responsibility for those hurt in the process. There's a tendency to think that if it's in the news, it must be true. After all, why would they lie to us? That's a naive standpoint. Media's driving force has much more to do with the bottom line than with reporting what's in the best interest of the public.
Just because you see something on TV, or the Internet, or your Facebook feed doesn't mean it's true. If something sounds too good or bizarre to be true, there's a pretty good chance that it probably is. But then again, I wouldn't want you to take my word for it. Do some of your own research, and you'll be amazed what you can learn.
“[The McMartin case] brings into focus that our American culture can do harm to our children in the next generation to win at all costs, to have a great publicity run, to jump the ratings and make it for a day. Those were all adult aspirations at the sacrifice of children.” (12:43)
— Danny Davis | Defense Attorney for Raymond Buckey | McMartin Preschool: Anatomy of a Panic | Retro Report | The New York Times
“Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.”
— Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays | GoodReads.com