Worship Satan? Who Would Sign Up?

Worship Satan? Where Do I Sign Up?

During the recent Thanksgiving dinner I attended one of the guests remarked that she knew someone who had, as a child, suffered abuse in a Satanic cult. At first I didn’t really know how to respond. I was skeptical to say the least. I ended up providing the argument below for why the existence of Satanic cults would have been highly unlikely.

First, Some Background
There was a bit of a crazed “witch-hunt” in the 80s and early 90s where parents, social workers, police, and prosecutors were making startling claims that children were being ritually abused in Satanic cults. This phenomenon was labeled Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA). The most famous case of supposed SRA was the McMartin Preschool trial of 1983. The staff members supposedly conducted Satanic rituals with the children which included the worst imaginable acts of abuse. It was the first ever multi-victim/multi-offender child abuse case in California history. It was heavily covered by the media at the time but was later proven to just be a giant scare. Many of the children supposedly abused at the time are now adults and have come out saying that they were tricked or coerced into testifying against the school’s staff. It’s important to note though that this coercion was most likely not done maliciously by the police and DA, but was an unfortunate result of using the then standard interrogation techniques, meant for adults, on young impressionable children.

Here’s how one of the accusers from that case described it in 2005:

Anytime I would give them an answer that they didn’t like, they would ask again and encourage me to give them the answer they were looking for. It was really obvious what they wanted. I know the types of language they used on me: things like I was smart, or I could help the other kids who were scared.

I felt uncomfortable and a little ashamed that I was being dishonest. But at the same time, being the type of person I was, whatever my parents wanted me to do, I would do. And I thought they wanted me to help protect my little brother and sister who went to McMartin.


The SRA cases continued into the 90s, and yet, none have ever been shown to have actually happened.
This has been well chronicled. There were other cases around the same time that fit similar profiles but without the Satanic rituals. Arguably, society still hasn’t recovered and modern fears of abuse and child abductions are blown out of proportion due to these cases.

Satanic Cults? Really?
All of this has been covered on other skepticism sites before though, and I have no great insights or new details to add other than the obvious: Who the ‘hell’ would sign up with a Satanic cult? Did anyone involved in prosecuting or covering these cases ever take a minute to consider what would be needed for a Satanic cult to exist? Is it even plausible for there to be a cult dedicated to the most well known symbol of evil?

Sure, there exists a Church of Satan, but it’s largely a tongue-in-cheek gag run by a bunch of atheists and definitely does not appear to be involved in anything truly demonic or ‘evil’. There are also lovers of heavy metal music that pay a large amount of lip service to the “Dark Lord”, but again, these types of people use the Satanic imagery for shock value and don’t actually believe in a real devil that needs blood sacrifices to be happy (I hope).

How would someone go about starting a cult dedicated to Satan? Most of the well known cults of the past couple centuries were led by charismatic individuals that claimed to either embody Jesus Christ, offer a new testament of Jesus, or some other kind of gimmick completely orthogonal to mainstream religion. That is not an exhaustive list of types of cults, but it’s meant to show that there are no cults that overtly preach evil. They may be harmful to their followers, and to others, but they don’t attract people with promises of evil, and this is for good reason. Members of cults think they’re joining something positive. If their leader once said that he was the reincarnation of Jesus and then all of a sudden said that he’s now the reincarnation of Satan, do you think he’d retain many followers? The idea that people would get together to worship an evil deity only makes sense in a crappy Dan Brown novel (wait a sec, was that redundant?). Think of any group (past or present) that you consider evil. They may have in fact been evil by your (and everyone else’s) definition but they probably thought that they were doing God’s work.

The concept of a group of people consciously in favour of a Satanic style of evil just strikes me as highly improbable, if not impossible. The only exception I could think of are a group of psychopaths gathering together in order to better conduct their psychopathic activities. But even then, psycopaths are so rare in society that the odds of them finding each other, and then getting along (a hallmark of psychopathy is the inability to get along with others), would be astronomical. You would think that the unlikelihood and novelty of a Satanic cult would have made the authorities and media skeptical. You would think that before publicizing these accusations against teachers, school staff, and parents (and therefore ruining their lives) they would have demanded some kind of physical evidence (there was none). There are still claims being made of undiscovered hidden tunnels carved by Satanic cults. The fact that the hidden tunnel theory has a level of popularity shows us the length to which believers in SRA will go to explain/rationalize why no physical evidence exists.

Conclusion
If you didn’t buy my dry, wordy, and hyper-link heavy argument for the implausibility of a true evil Satanic cult then maybe this Mr. Show sketch will sway you. Hail Satan!

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  • Jonathan Abrams

    Jonathan Abrams is the latest founder and president of the Ottawa Skeptics. He organizes local events, makes media appearances as the token skeptic, and is one of the website maintainers. He is the host of the skepticism podcast The Reality Check. When he’s not thinking about science and skepticism, he’s working as a computer engineer, playing pinball, or doing the dishes.