From the Phoenix Gazette 24 June, 1989 SCAPEGOAT: Satanism scare is mostly hype, expert on
From the Phoenix Gazette 24 June, 1989
SCAPEGOAT: Satanism scare is mostly hype, expert on cults says....
by Michelle Bearden
Judging by Satan's popularity in news accounts and police reports
these days, you'd think Satan had been elected to Congress or won the
But it's not true, says J. Gordon Melton, director of the Institute
for the Study of American Religion in Santa Barbara, Calif. and one of
the country's leading experts on cults. In fact, there is no suge at all
in Satan's popularity.
"The only surge we're seeing is the spread if mis-information,"
Melton says. "Malicious, suspicious, and ritualistic acts are being
attributed to satanism, and people are buying into it."
Melton has launched a one-man crusade to get what he considers the
truth out to the public. Using an extensive survey he completed in 1986
as his guide - "The Evidences of Satan in Contemporary America" - Melton
makes his case frequently before groups and in interviews.
Most misinformation regarding satanism comes out of police agencies,
Melton maintains. That's because, in the absence of true satanic groups,
law officials have to blame "something concrete," he says.
"What we've got is creation of imagination, paranoia, and general
ignorance," Melton says. "We've got wild speculation and jumps in logic.
What we don't have is the truth."
"One story perpetuates another, and, before long, 'experts' in
police departments are conductng seminars on a topic they don't really
At the Phoenix Police Department, police spokesman Andy Hill says
the agency analyzes every incident that has satanic overtones. He blames
a majority of these crimes on "kids caught up in experimentation."
"It's safe to say that most of it isn't hard-core. We're usually
dealing with copycat crimes," he says. " I wouldn't consider satanism a
big problem here in Phoenix. We know it exists, but it's more
underground than anything else."
According to Melton, only three established satanic cults exist: The
Church of Satan, a San Fransisco based group headed by founder Anton
LaVey; a splinter group, the Temple of Set, also in San Fransisco and
headed by Michael Aquino; and the Church of Satanic Liberation in New
Haven, Conn., led by Paul Douglas Valentine.
Total membership in all three groups is "probably less than 3,000,"
Melton says. Those followers are the true satanists, and their numbers
haven't varied much in the last two decades, he says.
Many of the acts blamed on satanism are committed by teen-agers who
are bound together by drugs and violence rather than demons. While they
may use satanic imagery in their deeds, Melton says they are "play-
acting" the role of worshipping the Prince of Darkness.
"It's true we're hearing a lot of satanic referneces in today's
music, but that's pure commercialism," he says. "Just because your
teenagergets wrapped up in certain rock'n'roll doesn't mean he's into
Some of the conclusions that support Melton's studies to combat the
theory of international satanic conspiracy include:
* The existence of a large number of nonconventional religions
that have nothing to do with occultism, much less satanism.
* The growth of Witchcraft as a new religion and how it is confused
with satanism. Melton labels contemporary Wicca as a nature religion
that places great emphasis upon the preservation of life and non-
* Reports of cattle mutilations, which ignore the facts that most
are mistaken observations of predator damage.
* The dicovery of common symbols, such as an inverted cross,
pentagrams, and bloody altars, which lead investigators to conclude that
satanic activity has taken place. However, no evidence of any
conspiracy involving the kidnapping and transportation of children for
ritual purposes has emerged.
* Fantasies of people who make "confessions" of their involvement on
satanic cults. Typically, they cannot supply independent corroboration of
Moreover, a good portion of the mis-information on satanism - which
Melton says is really a "parody of religion" - comes out of evangelical
Christian publishing houses. With that bias, "it's easy to see how
misinformation breeds," he says.
Melton contends that open satanic groups pose no public threat. If
there is cause for concern, it would be the small, ephemeral satanic
groups, mostly consisting of young adults or teenagers and possibly led
by psychopaths or sociopaths.
"These are the groups that cause immediate danger to themselves and
society at large. That's where police should be concentrating their
efforts," he says. "In the meantime, we've got to get out of this
satanic mentality and get our labels straight."
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank