The panic has returned. Wendell Berry’s title character in Jayber Crow says from time to time “the war returned.” He was talking about the wars in his lifetime. They were no different from each other. I believe the same thing could be said about the panic. It takes different forms. But it returns. This time the panic involves the supply of dry goods (paper products), some foodstuffs, and weapons. Last time it involved psychiatrists and courts.
The Satanic Panic
Stories of satanic ritual abuse of children made the news in the 80’s and 90’s and involved two issues that have been debunked. The first was a pseudo-scientific treatment that offered hypnosis and “recovered memories.” The second involved satanic conspiracy theories promoted by the likes of Mike Warnke and Lauren Stratford (a pseudonym).
Kurt Anderson in his book Fantasyland describes how it all began. Some adults under hypnosis told stories describing how they suffered ritual abuse during childhood. These stories were dubbed “repressed memories.” They were used to bolster the claim that a global satanic conspiracy existed to exploit children. Mental health professionals along with law enforcement task forces used these stories and brought about the persecution of daycare owners and workers. Children told fantastic stories to please adults doing the investigations. Talk shows also contributed to the hysteria.
The stories adults and children told ranged from the implausible to the impossible. Stories of children taken from daycare and flown to places to be raped and tortured and then home by the time their parents picked them up should have been red flagged. Stories of children participating in the sacrifices of elephants and giraffes appeared to m to be completely false. Tales of witches breeding babies for cannibalistic purposes were told in the fundamentalist press.
One couple from Austin Texas who ran a daycare were convicted and served 21 years in prison before their case was overturned. The McMartin Preschool trial ran for three years in Los Angeles costing two workers to spend over seven years in jail between them before they were acquitted.
The Panic Only Subsided
One may think all of that nonsense died out after the panic ran its course. It didn’t. A whole new batch of church and parachurch ministries related to “spiritual warfare” were born. Spiritual warriors claimed demonic entities enter people through (you probably guessed it by now) trauma from child sexual abuse. Exorcisms and prayers conducted by “specialists” in these programs have developed in every community that has a charismatic or Pentecostal presence. Nadia Bolz-Weber, in her recent book Shameless, describes a session much like those I have heard from people who regularly participate in them.
The Spiritual Warriors collect a mountain of anecdotes. These anecdotes become evidence showing how Satan and his minions actively destroy children through sexual abuse. In other words, the conspirators are at it again.
What the Panic is Now
QAnon and other conspiracy sites propose that an international conspiracy of very powerful pedophiles are manipulating world events. The present COVID-19 pandemic is one of those manipulations. I find it incredible. Other people I have talked to imagine a whole fantasy concerning the goals requiring such manipulations. It could be to weaken the position of the United States. Bill Gates is the primary conspirator because he stands to benefit from a vaccine for COVID-19. The truly evil and ultimate goal of the conspiracy is to consolidate power into the hands of the elites.
The panic has returned because people believe the powerful in our society intend to destroy the existing order and forge a new one. The new order will be demonic, reduce the standard of living, drug the masses, and exploit the children. The new order will take away money and therefore freedom from people like us.
The Results Are In
The conspirators in these scenarios do not appear to be very bright. They obviously can’t keep a secret. Their machinations are clumsy. And the information gets to the stalwart defenders of the good and the right. They warn people who will listen to make everyone safe. Unfortunately, that last statement is not true.
The result is fear. The run on paper goods and the increase in gun sales are evidence of fear. Most people fear what can happen. Some people act in fear by lashing out. Both the feeling and the action are irrational. People acting irrationally bring about the great evils they fear.
Do we remember the daycare workers who were jailed? Remember the gunman who went to the pizza parlor looking for the child sex trafficking ring. These evils came about because some people with platforms make their living by discussing imaginary fiends. But let’s not get into condemnation.
Where Is The Truth?
It is hard to know if one has all the facts. People act believing they possess every fact that can be known or is worth knowing. It is necessary to act if the information warrants action and gives a course of action. The other day my neighbor commented on how extremely bored her children staying inside all of the time. We live in an area where no authority has ordered us to do anything more than uphold the CDC recommendations of “social distancing.” She misunderstood what that meant. Her children now play outside together but away from other kids.
Sharing information is important for the preservation of the community. The twisted “information” of conspiracy proclaimers has caused panic and created the fear of an impending breakdown of the community. Some religious people especially the spiritual warfare mongers are doing this.
The alternative to the panic is to practice charity in the older sense of the term. Charity is giving. It is love seeking the good and acting toward it. Loving in this way is not easy. It requires taking the best information we can get and doing the best with it. Charity takes the form of helping rather than warning. Charity does not seek to justify itself. Christians practicing charity according to St. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13 will get all of us through this pandemic and every other crisis we ever have. I can think of no other way to be or to act.