Remember Zachary King? He’s a Catholic guy claiming a past in Satanism, except nothing he says about Satanism has ever tallied with actual Satanism. Well, our Get A Load of THIS Guy Cam just focused on a Church of England guy making the same sorts of claims. A line’s determined by two points, so I reckon we’ve found a new trend. His end of Christianity might have come to the Satanic Panic too late for the dancing, but they arrived eventually. So today we welcome Benedict Atkins to the Cult of “Before” Stories!
Everyone, Meet Benedict Atkins. He’s a Hipster.
Benedict Atkins is a 20something vicar in Great Britain with the Church of England (C of E). His church, St. Matthias Canning Town, is located in London, just a titch north of the Thames River. He’s young and fairly new to the position; he quite deliberately sells himself as some kind of hipster vicar who can talk to kids today.
And last month he told his shocking testimony to a completely irresponsible writer for the BBC’s “Health and Wellbeing” department.
I can only assume that the Church of England puts up with him because they seriously don’t have a lot of better options. For years, the C of E has battled a serious shortage of vicars and priests. Sure, fashionable parts of Great Britain, like London itself, can fill vacated positions fairly easily–but other parishes wait for months and years to get their own priest. Clergy numbers have steadily dropped over the last decade or so. That drop matches the decline in membership itself from 13 million to 8.5 million in just ten years.
The Guardian outright called the situation “a clergy crisis” a couple of years ago. Our hipster vicar pal here is one of that 13% of ministers in his denomination who are under the age of 40. This entire denomination is dying. I’m not exaggerating. Here’s the Queen of England’s onetime chaplain laying down some truth:
It isn’t a matter of how I see it. Demographically and financially [the C of E] is dying. Spiritually it appears to be on its last legs too.
He’s wrong about why it’s dying–he thinks that “spiritualised socialism and feminism” have killed it, rather than simple irrelevance and a regressive worldview–but he’s quite right that it is dying.1
As they say about dating in offbeat locations, the odds are good, but the goods are odd. Apparently some similar saying applies to finding vicars in the Church of England.
I don’t think they knew exactly what they were getting when they hired this guy.
Old Wine in New Bottles.
The big problem for regressive groups like the Church of England is that they don’t want new clergy who seriously challenge the denomination’s leaders.
Make no mistake: this denomination stands fully on board with fundagelicalism’s culture wars in most ways. They oppose marriage equality. They recognize the necessity of legal abortion, but super-oppose it in the main and sound like they’d love to be able to set themselves up as the authorities on the matter. At a time when “white Christian America” is fading into the rearview mirror, only a tiny fraction of C of E ministers are black. (About 20% of C of E ministers are women–though they only rarely appear in senior, high-ranking roles.)
These stances and others, combined with shocking abuse allegations springing forth in recent years about Anglican clergy, (“Anglican” means “relating to the Church of England”) have led directly to voices calling for a total separation of the Church of England from Great Britain’s government.
But the denomination stands strong in antidisestablishmentarianism.2 Like fundagelicals, they’d rather go down with their ship than change in ways that challenge their own power.
A Standard-Issue Logical Christian.
Benedict Atkins is a standard-issue logical Christian. He’s well-educated in his denominational theology, and holds no opinions whatsoever that might be groundbreaking or challenging to the elite within his group. He touts himself as a I dunno, he’s just different somehow, man kind of Christian, but he really isn’t.
Atkins shows up here in a 2014 post about the C of E’s difficulty in funding its full-time clergy training schools. He speaks very loftily of “who the Church is called to be: not an institution, not even a Sunday school + day centre for adults, but a family on a mission.” In another drive-by comment around the same time, we see him happily complimenting a post that drills down on the Church of England’s bigotry against same-sex couples.
In 2017, we see the name “Benedict Atkins” associated with a genuinely weird “prophetic word” for the UK. In this totally-for-realsies-prophecy, we perceive echoes of the hipster aesthetic he favors, particularly in the post’s disapproval of “consumerism” and “materialism.” (Enjoy the bonus Jesus Aura evangelism in it.)
Atkins talked his leaders into letting him revive a largely-defunct church in East London in 2017. But the C of E didn’t want to pay for it–and one can hardly blame them–as we’ve mentioned, London doesn’t normally have a problem. So he launched a crowdfunding attempt to purchase the help of a church-planting group whose website sounds like pure corporate-ese gibberish (which all sounds strangely familiar).
He got the church started despite the utter failure of the crowdfunding effort. You can see his autobiography for the church here. Note that he talks about being a solid Christian (“learning from Jesus”) by age 15. That website generally will look equally familiar to anybody who’s seen what passes for church marketing these days.3
Satanism Became His LIFE, Y’All. His LIFE.
But now Benedict Atkins has made a huge splash! He claims he was totally-for-realsies a real-live-Satanist before making a dramatic turnaround thanks to the power of Jesus Christ.
Atkins begins with the startling assertion that he first “got into Satanism” when he was 15 years old.
In terms of Satanic Panic testimonies, it varies only in degree. Atkins hits all the tropes that we know to watch out for:
- Sexual naughtiness.
- Self-destructive behavior.
- Careful descriptions of the stereotypical “Satanic” goth-y appearance.
- Descriptions of interactions with real live DEMONS, Y’ALL, DEMONS.
- Mention of books like The Satanic Bible to bolster credibility with the rubes.
- Most of all: A self-described affiliation with Satanism that looks exactly like a right-wing Christian’s conception of Satanism, rather than anything that actual Satanists describe.
Again, though, this is simply Act 1. He wants to make himself sound as depraved as humanly possible. He sure doesn’t want to come off sounding like a typical teenager in a typical Christian household who got a little tetchy about parental oversight and criticism.
Act 2: A Triumphant Turnaround!
In a Satanic Panic testimony, Act 2 always involves a miraculous turnaround. Typically speaking, that turnaround is tangible, perceptible, and all-encompassing. Often it takes the form of a genuine miracle; at all times it at least will be an undeniable contact with the Christian god.
Benedict Atkins’ testimony is no different. After having intense dreams about Satan interacting with him, he got an invitation to some kind of “Christian festival.” He went to it hoping to find easy sex. Instead, he discovered TRUE CHRISTIANITY™.Yes indeed!
On the last night of the festival, I was listening to a talk about how to recognise when you’ve hit rock bottom when a stranger offered to pray for me. I didn’t know what to say so I agreed. While he was praying, I felt a sense of peace flood my body. Afterwards, the man said that even though I felt there was no hope in my life, God had a plan for me and Satan was a liar.
And that’s all it took to convert this hardcore Satanist.
Act 3: Everything Is So Much Better Now.
In Act 3, a Satanic Panicker discovers that life is sooooo much nicer and better as a Christian than it ever was as a Satanist. All that sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll doesn’t hold a single candle to life as a Christian! No way!
And again, here Atkins’ testimony follows the tropes. He’s a little more realistic about the 180-degree-turnaround his peers often relate, but still, he contrasts his life as a Christian with what he describes as his life as a totally-for-realsies Satanist:
Slowly, I learned not to use people for money or sex, as Satanism had led me to. . . Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll had been my coping mechanisms throughout my teens. It took me years to learn that you don’t need those to feel good about yourself, and I slipped up on occasion.
Mostly the changes he discusses involve a transition from a purely selfish, hedonistic lifestyle in which he freely used other people for whatever he wanted from them, to one in which he serves a Christian community selflessly.
So this guy grew up Christian, went through an emo sk8er boi phase, and then reconverted to Christianity. Hooray Team Jesus!
I Have A Little Question About All This Here.
That question is: WHEN THE HELL DID THIS EVEN HAPPEN?
In speaking with the BBC, Atkins clearly forgot that he wrote on his church website that he began “learning from Jesus” at 15. Certainly by 2014 this guy was a solid Anglican. He met his now-wife when he was 20. He gives every indication that he was a firm Christian after that. So he doesn’t have a lot of room to maneuver here.
Even more devastatingly, however, we’ve got a whole other testimony from Benedict Atkins. It doesn’t even halfway resemble the BBC one.
On a testimony he gave in 2014 to a defunct anti-porn group called “The Bridge,” he thought his real problem was porn addiction, not Satanism.
In this earlier testimony, he also makes it very plain that his experiment with Satanism began at 14 and ended at 15.
But if he reconverted to Christianity at 15, as he describes to The Bridge and on his church website, then “sex, drugs, and rock’n’ roll” couldn’t possibly have been his “coping mechanisms throughout [his] teens.”
This earlier testimony pretty much nullifies everything he told the BBC.
(Pro-tip for Liars-for-Jesus: the internet never forgets.)
The Obvious Problem With His “Satanism.”
We also must contend with the BBC testimony bearing no resemblance whatsoever to actual Satanism. At most, it sounds like something Beavis & Butthead would have come up with. I can only imagine that Christians don’t know any actual Satanists. To be sure, they don’t ask a lot of questions when the narratives fit their preconceived notions.
To a Christian, Satanism is about selfishness. Satanists, in their eyes, can’t really love or cherish anybody. These totally-for-real Satanists view other people as objects to be used. And their religion definitely revolves around the worship and appeasement of a totally-real supernatural being called Satan.
The “Satanism” of Benedict Atkins’ testimony doesn’t look a single thing like actual Satanism. And he surely knows that not a single mark will know any better.
I guarantee you that at least a few Anglicans, however, will wonder–as I did long, long ago–why Christianity seems to shelter and harbor so many stone-cold liars in it. They would do well to wonder so.
(PS: You can believe that “Jesus” totally fixed Atkins’ porn problem too, if you like. I sure don’t buy it, though.)
A Disturbing Trend.
So I’ve no doubt at all that Benedict Atkin’s youth got him his plum position in London. Anglicans must be downright desperate to try anything to reverse their decline. They’ll try anything at all–except meaningful, substantive changes to anything they’re already doing.
By far the more disturbing part of this entire story, however, is the idea that the Catholic end of Christianity might have finally stumbled into the wacky fundagelical party that was the Satanic Panic. Zachary King blazed this trail a while ago for Catholicism, and now we’ve got Benedict Atkins for the Church of England. If two points determine a line, then we might well have a trend here.
The party’s over, I want to tell them. The dancing stopped hours ago. The bunting is falling off the walls. Go home and try to sober up.
Protestants have already forgotten all about the Satanic Panic. It was an embarrassing example of how completely wrong Christians can be about literally everything they try to claim. Millions of Christians supported and adored dozens-if-not-hundreds of charlatans, poseurs, and conjobs who claimed lurid pasts in Satanism. And then suddenly everyone realized none of it was true and quietly tried to slink off of the party van.
Let Them Try.
Just imagine the national spectacle for a moment, back when the Satanic Panic finally fizzled out. Millions and millions of people realized that why no, Satanists weren’t a problem. Why no, Wiccans weren’t infiltrating the government. Nobody was murdering children in Satanic rituals. We couldn’t trust Christians’ testimony after all.
Christians should not be in such a hurry to revive those days.
So yeah, I’d love to see Christians try to resurrect the moral panic that allowed their own decline to begin. The internet didn’t really exist when the Satanic Panic began and reached fullest flowering. It’d be nothing but hilarious to see one of these twits try to pull off a Mike Warnke-style deception again. Such congames still happen, but they get exposed swiftly these days. (Tony Anthony wasn’t claiming Satanism, but he barely lasted like ten years!)
At least this time I can guarantee you nobody innocent will get thrown in prison or professionally destroyed, like Christians made happen last time. And Satanists (and Wiccans) themselves clearly feel safe enough to speak up in their own defense in a way they couldn’t really do in the 1980s and 1990s.
The Church of England would be wise to rein in their boy Benedict before he sparks a backfire in their ranks. If they want to try something different, vilifying and smearing people to make Christians look better isn’t going to be the ticket to revival.
NEXT UP: We’ll be examining the common Christian game of “Last Ideology Standing” later this week – and we’ll also look more closely at that misogynist narrative spun by Christians about the supposed “feminizing” of their religion. It’s another busy week at Roll to Disbelieve, and I do hope to see you here!
1 In this, that chaplain dude is like all the rest of his pals in Christianity. It’s vanishingly rare even to run across a Christian who can accurately engage with the decline at all, much less accurately identify why it’s happening.
2 Amusingly, William Ewart Gladstone might have coined antidisestablishmentarianism to describe the Church of England.
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