Sunday, March 01, 2020

Beyond Satanic Panic

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Near the beginning of February the CBC program, The Current, reminded me about a bizarre sequence of events in Saskatchewan during the early 1990's. The owners and operators of a daycare in Martensville were accused by a mother of a child of abuse which included the involvement of multiple children into a a "Devil Church." An investigation ensued into what was described as a satanic cult and more than 100 charges were laid against a dozen people. 

In the end an RCMP inquiry found that "emotional hysteria" had led to these wild and largely groundless accusations. The owners eventually sued and received nearly a million dollars for wrongful prosecution. This situation was near the end of a decade or so into "Satanic Panic" in a number of states and provinces and even other countries. The lives of a number of people who worked with children were essentially ruined by these fears of cult abuse. 

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The reminder got me thinking about Satan or the Devil as we approached Lent and this first Sunday in the liturgical season. Jesus goes into the wilderness for 40 days -- hence the length of Lent -- and encounters Satan, or the devil, depending on which gospel we read. There are a series of clever temptations which Jesus resists, quoting scripture in each of his responses. 

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Temptation of Jesus -Chris Cook

I've long had ambivalent feelings about Satan/Devil/ Evil One/Beelzebub (the latter a recent Jeopardy clue!) I do believe in evil and accept that there may be a presence and personification of that evil. Surely convincing a nation to exterminate millions of people because they of a particular religious background is evil at its worst. Abusing children is evil and so is war, in almost every circumstance. I figure that idolatrous worship of a profane, misogynist leader who incarcerates migrant children is evil. 

All the same, allowing ourselves to be captivated by the notion of a personified evil, particularly to vilify or isolate others is surely its own form of evil. 

Today I'm as willing as I've ever been to pray, "lead us not into temptation, and deliver us from evil." And I'm grateful for the gospel story which tells us that Jesus, our Deliverer, discerned the lies of the Devil and resisted their seductive power. 

What are your thoughts? Is Satan just emotional hysteria, or is this notion of  the presence of evil still important? Have your views changed over time? 

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Socks worn by a colleague in ministry during worship today

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