Why do journalists love Satan (and witches)?

It’s the quirky news story of the week. Leading Hand Cranmer, 24, a technician on board HMS Cumberland, has been given permission to perform Satanic rituals at sea. According to Warlock Helnock, editor of Rule Satannia magazine:

Chris did a piece for issue 5 of Rule Satannia (out at Halloween) about becoming an official Satanist in the armed forces. The Sunday Telegraph picked up on it and contacted us and we put them in contact with Chris. And now the story seems to have gone global!

“Maybe in hindsight he should not have written an article for the magazine Rule Satannia” said his mother, “but I dont think he thought it would cause this much fuss.”

Cranmer has been active on Satanist web forums where he posts under the username ‘The Demon Jock.’ Follow the links and you’ll find him on web sites like The Society of the Onyx Star and The Gate of Naphula.

Search Google News for “Chris Cranmer” and you’ll find almost 100 articles referring to the Royal Navy’s most notorious religious minority (some searches will throw up references to another Chris Cranmer – the publisher of The Onion).

Meanwhile, in the US columnists are frothing at the mouth over the Puyallup School District‘s decision to ban Halloween celebrations. Karen Hansen, administrative assistant to the superintendent, said Halloween celebrations and children dressed in Halloween
costumes might be offensive to real witches. “Witches with pointy noses and things like that are not respective symbols of the Wiccan religion and so we want to be respectful of that,” said Hansen.

So here’s a question for readers – Why are these kinds of stories so popular? Are they just funny or are people really afraid that political correctness will mean it’s impossible to discriminate between serious religions and nutty cults?

Note: Thanks to Yobbo and Catallaxy’s Jason Soon for links to the sea-going satanist story.

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Francis Xavier Holden
2021 years ago

To add to the stories – My USA friend tells me that a few of the Christians were trying to get Halloween shifted this year because it falls on a Sunday and they felt it inapropriate to have kids dressed as Devils and ghosts walking around on The Lord’s Day.

John
John
2021 years ago

“Are they just funny or are people really afraid that political correctness will mean it’s impossible to discriminate between serious religions and nutty cults?”

Is it possible? If so, how? Where would you class speakers-in-tongues? Snake-handlers? Celibates?

Robert
2021 years ago

Re: moving Halloween. There was an article about that proposal at The Simon last week.

Andjam
2021 years ago

The Jedi Knights seem to be a bunch of Walter Mittys. According to the ABS there’s more of them than Jews, but are any of them serving in the armed forces?

Alan Green
2021 years ago

Christianity is still Western society’s norm. These stories are about an official decision that challenges that norm. Both are newsworthy because they are of interest to many people, including those that support the norm, those that oppose the norm, and those who like to see how our culture is changing.

Fyodor
2021 years ago

Don,

You’ve written a couple of interesting posts on religious tolerance, but this one takes the cake for highlighting the lunacy of some of the more extreme religious types. The “new age” religions in particular are typically bereft of intellectual coherency or real cultural tradition. The so-called “wicca” or “neo-paganist” movement is a good example, bearing little resemblance to historical paganism (of which little is really known).

It’s perverse to see Halloween celebrations being banned because they might offend “real” witches and warlocks, when Halloween is a PAGAN festival, i.e. the Autumn harvest festival. The Celts celebrated it as samhain eve, which the Christians incorporated into their religious calendar as “All Hallows’ Eve”, the day before All Saints’ Day. To suggest it might be “anti-wicca” is ludicrous. The decision highlights the ignorance on both sides of the argument.

Amanda
2021 years ago

The basic beliefs of the “nutty” religions often aren’t any more irrational than the “serious” ones, but the “serious” ones have been around longer and lodged in our culture more deeply. People love these stories because anything to do with religion/death/paranormal/origins/etc fascinate us. And the naval satanist has the wacky factor that makes it great to fwd to friends. There are always isolated cases of taking things to an extreme which get beat up. It wouldn’t be Christmas without a frenzy about some kindergarten banning Christmas decos.

See the silly Sophie Masson bit in the SMH today. Eeek. Roman Polanski made a movie and so is to blame for the slaughter of his wife and child apparently.

David Tiley
2021 years ago

Now snakes on a frigate – that is worth writing about. Don’t touch my bag, God is in it… Damn, too late.. everyone gets on the deck and I’ll just get a torch and search.. um.. everywhere.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

Amanda

I read Sophie’s piece, and don’t think she was suggesting that Polanski was in any sense “to blame for the slaughter of his wife and child”. That’s a rather exaggerated and ungenerous reading of a perfectly valid viewpoint.

I agree that some of the beliefs of many if not most religions, “nutty” and “serious”/mainstream, look distinctly weird from a rationalist/humanist perspective. But that doesn’t mean they’re wrong, or any less entitled to tolerance and respect than those who hold rationalist/utilitarian belief systems. The fact is that none of us know, and both faith and unfaith are ultimately “distal”/neither verifiable nor falsifiable.

As John Quiggin argued yesterday, it’s when religious people enter the political arena and demand that their political views must be respected and even obeyed simply because they’re grounded in religious faith, that things get problematic. Political views/policy agendas are inherently contestable in a democracy, and none can expect any greater respect or adherence whatever their philosophical basis.

Personally, although I adhere generally to a rationalist/humanist/utilitarian perspective, I also think there’s some Higher Power. I square the circle by also believing that this higher power is unlikely to be anthropomorphic or interventionist in the universe he/she/it created. But that position is no more or less worthy of respect than yours or Sophie’s or anyone else’s. Moreover, as I read Sophie’s article, she was in part arguing from a rationalist/utilitarian perspective herself: that some of the beliefs and practices advocated by Satanists are potentially very socially problematic to say the least:
Trawling through the Church of Satan’s website and its related links, one comes across such statements as “Let our governments be toppled! Let the strong become Masters and the weak be swept away, as they should!” and “Kill all the deluded and weak”.
The Church of Satan breezily informs us that though supposedly it venerates the “Dark Force”, in fact, “we are our own gods”. All traditional sins are henceforth virtues. Altruism is a myth; the Christian virtues are just hypocrisy; all restraints are simply attempts to force the really strong into a humiliating capitulation to the weak.
That this sub-Nietzschean, quasi-Nazi rubbish should be tolerated, much less encouraged, by the Royal Navy simply beggars belief.
She has a point, don’t you think?

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2021 years ago

Ken
I had a different reading. I would hesitate to describe her position as ‘rationalist and utilitarian’ at all. Look, no one agrees with allowing killing, even if solely as a matter of rational self-interest. So if all she wanted to say was ‘killing is bad, Satanism advocates killing’ then that whole article was a waste of space. I’d say the quotes about killing are just a bit of hyped up rhetoric of the sort she engages in herself for instance, when she *does* seem to blame Polanski for allowing a satanist onto his film set. As for the bit about Christian virtues being hypocritical, etc, well she is right to describe this as Nietzschean but Nietzsche is quite a brilliant and compelling thinker, you should read him some time. Historically, psychologically and in terms of the genealogy of ideas my view is he’s basically correct about the re-evaluation of values from the pagan to the Christian era (‘pride’ going from a virtue to a sin, pleasure being regarded as inherently evil) and the reasons for this re-evaluation in the changed circumstances of the Hebrews from a mighty empire to an enslaved people. Satanism does have elements of a vulgarised Nietzscheanism (of course for Masson to throw Nietzsche and Nazi together is another intellectual error – Nietzsche *commended* interracial relationships, a united Europe, despised anti-semites, etc but that’s another issue)and there is a perfectly respectable intellectual tradition underlying these ideas vulgarly expressed by the Satanists.
Incidentally as I note on my blog, given that Masson herself has written an apology for Jean Marie Le Pen for Quadrant, if I were her I would be hesitant about throwing around the Nazi slur.

Amanda
2021 years ago

Perhaps it was an ungenerous and crude rendering of what she said. I was a bit shocked when I read it the first time. But as I read it again –post-morning coffee– she did link Polanski giving la Vey a cameo in R’sB with the murder of his wife. By doing so he “invited evil into his life” and that can come back to bite you. Or am I totally wrong in how I’m reading that?

The offending part is:
“The figure of the devil is a very profound, living metaphor, expressed in a concrete way; to worship the principle of evil itself is to invite it into your life and the lives of those around you, sometimes in unpredictable and horrifying ways.

A year after Church of Satan founder Anton la Vey appeared in Rosemary’s Baby, Roman Polanski’s pregnant wife Sharon Tate and several friends were gruesomely murdered by the followers of mad anti-prophet Charles Manson – who laid great stress on the fact that his name, reversed, was “son of Man”.

The devil likes grim jokes, you see. ”

Sharon Tate’s murder was the devil’s little act of cosmic irony? What am I missing?

As to the rest of the article, no dramas. Satanism isn’t an appealing philosphy for social harmony and personal happiness. Cool. Just that weird and unnecessary leap at the end strikes me as tasteless as best. And I stand by that.

I never said anyones point of view is worth less respect than mine. Don’t think it, wouldn’t say it. (Not in that post anyway. I may have said it somewhere else in the heat of the moment. Got me paranoid now. But I don’t actually think it. We’re all riders on this train.) “Nutty” and “serious” weren’t my words, but I think the difference between how and at which point people differentiate between “nutty cults” and “serious religions” is an interesting one. Time and power does have lot to do with it.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

I’ve emailed Sophie Masson, so I might leave it to her to defend/explain her position if she has time to visit. If she meant that having a Satanist in one’s film is enough of a flirt with the devil to open the way to become the victim of one of his grim jokes, it’s a viewpoint I wouldn’t defend. Nevertheless, I think the rest of her article is fair enough (leaving aside Jason’s point about Nietzsche, which again I’ll leave to others).

saint
saint
2021 years ago

Francis – re Halloween – if you read American press or American religious sites, you get the same brouhaha about Halloween every year. And despite 80% of Americans claiming to be Christian, Halloween is still the biggest holiday after Christmas and the merchandisers love it.

Don asks: “Are they just funny or are people really afraid that political correctness will mean it’s impossible to discriminate between serious religions and nutty cults?”

I raised the same point obtusely recently on a post about Madonna’s Kaballah and her visit to Israel.

I think the answer is both and then some.

There are a lot of DIY religions out there. The New Age movement is full of it.

We’ve also seen some of that ‘impossibility’ in for example, attempts to question Scientology as a religion, Bahai being denied religion status in countries like Belgium but accepted as a religion here etc etc. See also here.

Sometimes I wonder if there is also a deep seated fear involved. We can tolerate notions of some impersonal ‘force’, some sort of benevolent non-interventionist deity, a few harmless nutters. But start thinking there may really be a holy personal god who may have some claim on us, or some evil spirit that may be beyond our control yet weilds some influence and it is a bit too scary to contemplate. Better to laugh it off because thinking about it seriously makes one realise just how powerless they are. Not good for fragile human ego.

When I was thinking about writing about the Satanist article, I wondered too about the reaction to Safran’s “exorcism” on his vs. God series. Freaked out more than a few people and confused Safran himself a bit if you heard some of his later interviews.

[And yes, I note that the exorcist in question claimed Safran ‘accepted Christ’ (the guy clearly didn’t ‘get’ what Safran was on about, and his claims are nevertheless contra to Safran’s subsequent interviews) and touted the Australian TV exposure on his website as God’s blessing of his ministry. Oh if it were all so easy.]

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2021 years ago

Ken
I’d also add that it would be one thing if she could furnish any evidence that the Satanists’ incitement to ‘kill’ and ‘overthrow the goverment’ were actually taken seriously and literally. As it is, aside from some isolated incidents I see no evidence that Satanists proportionately commit more crimes or are responsible for any recent killing sprees (just as priests rather than pornographers seem to be more likely to be involved in child molestation). If we are to hold a religion accountable for the death and destruction wrought around the world (and therefore withold Royal Navy approval) then perhaps we should be looking at some of the organised religions. Yes, there are people out there killing for their faith, or more indirectly causing untold suffering and misery (for instance by hampering the use of contraception in 3rd world countries) and maybe we should withold official sanction of them but they’re not Satanists. FWIW the satanists just seem to be a bunch of harmless geeks who would not be out of place at a Star Trek convention, and that, it seems, is a more telling criticism.

I agree with Amanda’s interpretation – Ms Masson’s skills as a fantasy novelist do not necessarily carry well into op-ed journalism.

Zoe
Zoe
2021 years ago

I read it the same way Amanda did, ie thought it was a shocking leap at the end of any otherwise fairly unremarkable article.

Martin Pike
2021 years ago

If you want to be strictly rational then all religions are human constructs. If we accept the right to believe in God I don’t see how we can splice off particular beliefs. The actual story of Lucifer’s being cast out of heaven is rather mild- that he challenged God’s authority. Sounds perfectly reasonable to me, in itself.

Satanism that I have encountered was in the world of ‘death metal’, and was a direct reaction to stifling christian conservatism- the two epicentres of that movement were Norway/Sweden (highly homogenous Lutheran communities) and Florida USA, which I understand nurtures some pretty full-on Christian groups.

I think it’s pretty nutty, but can’t find a more rational defence of christianity either; I just accept that some believe what I don’t.

As to the wiccan loons not being historically or theologically accurate- hullo, been to a church near you lately?

Let the poor Navy bugger do his stuff, he’s defending our country.

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2021 years ago

Saint, you wrote:

“Sometimes I wonder if there is also a deep seated fear involved. We can tolerate notions of some impersonal ‘force’, some sort of benevolent non-interventionist deity, a few harmless nutters. But start thinking there may really be a holy personal god who may have some claim on us, or some evil spirit that may be beyond our control yet weilds some influence and it is a bit too scary to contemplate. Better to laugh it off because thinking about it seriously makes one realise just how powerless they are. Not good for fragile human ego.”

If you want your fundamentalist personal beliefs to go uncommented on, please do not bring any presumptions that you may share in analysing the motivations of the rest of us. Science already tells us that we are fairly insignificant creatures, there are wonders and unfathomable monstrosities not just in the cosmos but even on our earth alone that would be ‘fragile’ for the human ego. Nature and the pursuit of testable truth is already an occasion for sufficient awe. If anything we secularists tend to attribute belief in personal immortality, the divinity of humanity etc to vanity amongst such believers who cannot bear to accept that one day they will be nothing. If we do not accept belief in ‘dark forces outside our control’ that also happen to transcend the natural world it is probably because we find such beliefs plain ridiculous and unnecessary, especially in light of the deep difficulties resolving more prosaic moral dilemmas. So spare us your religious psychobabble

saint
saint
2021 years ago

Thanks Jason,

I wouldn’t mind if you returned the favour and didn’t bring your presumptions that you may share in analysing my motives or the basis of my belief.

But in doing so, you also provided another possible reason as well.

saint
saint
2021 years ago

That being: failure to check on the facts!

LOL!

Peter Murphy
Peter Murphy
2021 years ago

It’s a lesson to all of us to know when to shut up. Or hire better PR consultants. Karen Hughes, the spokesperson for the Puyallup school district, gave the following two reasons first and second:

The superintendent made the decision for three primary reasons, Hansen said. First, Halloween parties and parades waste valuable classroom time. Second, some families can’t afford costumes and the celebrations thus can create embarrassment for children.

Both of those reasons seemed sensible to the parents who spoke to ABC News affiliate KOMO-TV in Seattle.

If she had halted there, then there would have been no story. No prizes for guessing what the third reason was.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

Interesting debate. I’m broadly in accord with Jason on the interpretation of Nietzsche, who like many challenging thinkers, is open to a variety of appropriations – but I’d argue there was little foundation in his work for the Nazi reading (to the degree that it was serious at all). A lot of Nietzsche’s most caustic aphorisms are reserved for “the Germans”.

Martin, I’m not sure that “wiccan loons” is appropriate. I’d like to make two points here briefly. I’ve actually been thinking about writing a post on Wicca and Neo-Paganism – stimulated to some degree by some of Don’s thoughts and now by the controversy over Sophie’s piece. So I’ll save my arguments up.

I wanted to assert, as a matter of fact, two things. The first is that Wicca is a legitimate religion which ought not to be stigmatised by its popular representation. Sociology of religion is one of my interests, and as far as I’m aware, I’m one of only three Australian sociologists to have done some empirical research on Wicca and published the results.

The second is that we have to be careful about collapsing the ‘Church of Satan’ with Satanists more generally. A very well resourced inquiry by the British government in the 1990s demonstrated that events like cemetary desecrations were not perpetrated by any organised Satanist cult, but were the isolated actions of individuals. The inquiry found that the moral panic that often hit the media (in NZ at one stage linked to pedophiles operating in kindergartens) about Satanists was groundless. One of my colleagues at the University of Auckland has done some extensive research into all this. I can dig out the reference if anyone’s interested.

Ken Miles
Ken Miles
2021 years ago

That reminds me. Also in NZ, there was a big scare when a Satanist attacked a cop, tied him up and placed a bomb in his house (he managed to escape). It got the local fundamentalists (including the mayor of Palmerston North) all worked up about Satanic cults, baby sacrifices and the like.

Turns out it was all an insurance con job on the cop’s part.

Niall
Niall
2021 years ago

If christianity is considered the norm, I’m everlastingly grateful I’m not ‘normal’

mark
2021 years ago

Good point, Peter. I think we all have a tendency to go one sentence too far at times…

Niall, Christianity is the norm. You grew up in it, embraced it, without ever knowing. However, the extremes of Christianity — fundies, Hillsongers, Southern Baptists, whatever — are far from normal when compared to either modern society or Christian values.

DrShrink
2021 years ago

I think the key line to Sophie’s piece is as follows :
The most frightening thing is that our society has seemingly become so disconnected from meaning”

The “meaning” she refers to is her own classifying of superstitions/Religions. For her piece to work you have to agree with her definitions that Believing in god & Christ its inherently good, believing in Satan its inherently evil or wrong.

The reason “our society has seemingly become so disconnected from meaning” is because of the actions of those who apply those labels to themselves. These labels however many positive or negative connotations they imbue, don’t translate into behavior.
Satanists don’t always run sacrifice fluffy animals, Christians sometimes kill people. And atheists can be good people.

Because of this our society long ago decided to judge people on what they do, over who they claim to believe in. Hence the Navy will allow a Satanist the tolerance to practice just as it will a Christian.

So because we cant say a Christian is inherently a better person than a Satanist, and as the paraphernalia of the Christian bible and the church of Satan website can be as gruesome as each other, its rather ill-advised for S.Masson to claim special privilege for her labels, or rather demand society denies this tolerance to others.

If she wants to see society change its definitions, then the way to start is to begin making society link Christians with good behavior. To elevate their own behavior & return that “meaning” she believes they deserve, rather than simply trying to deny the rights her beliefs has to others.

Fyodor
2021 years ago

Mark,

I look forward to your demonstration that wicca is a “legitimate religion”, and not the ahistorical role-playing crap spouted by credulous new-agers that it appears to be.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

Fyodor, coming to these pages soon – I think most Wiccans would differentiate themselves from the New Age movement – and rightly so – but there’s inevitably a bit of crossover and it hasn’t been helped by the appropriation of modern witchcraft through popular culture (ie Buffy, The Craft, etc) and the sort of “Ten Love Spells Kit for Teenage Girls” thing that you can pick up in newsagents now!

Jesus's messsenger in Doc Marten boots
Jesus's messsenger in Doc Marten boots
2021 years ago

You know…speaking of lunacy, I’ve been accused of being insane and talking utter nonsense, just for beliefs and because I’m overly passionate about my faith in christ—but regardless of what some narrow-minded people think, I am not insane and my faith is not based on lunacy. And I speak for others who are truly in the faith as well.
I take my faith seriously and I could care less of what people think, or that I’m truly hated by satanists. I already have a bunch of satanists after my head, because of my beliefs and because of preachings, but they’ll never be able to hunt me down—considering the fact that I’m not even in the same country that they’re in.
LOL!!

So my response to this question is this:

I think people are interested in stories like this, because it brings some interesting knowledge into their lives, and because it depends of where they stand in religion.
But if you ask ME, I think Halloween is satanic considering that it’s based on pagan beliefs and sacrificial killings.