Against Satanic Panics > To humanists > Dawn Perlmutter
A big thanks to the organized atheist/humanist and skeptical communities
by Diane Vera
Copyright © 2006 by Diane Vera. All rights reserved.
In the late 1980's and early 1990's, the organized atheist/humanist and skeptical communities played a key role in debunking the "Satanic Ritual Abuse" scare. As far as I am aware, the first full-length book debunking the scare was Satanism in America: How the Devil Got Much More than His Due by Shawn Carlson and Gerry O'Sullivan, published by Gaia Press in 1989, prepared for the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion. Soon afterward, in 1991, Prometheus Books published In Pursuit of Satan: The Police and the Occult by Robert D. Hicks. Meanwhile, articles critical of the scare appeared in both The Humanist (Giving the Devil More Than His Due by David Alexander, from The Humanist, March/April 1990) and Free Inquiry.
More recently, one of the very few pieces of skeptical commentary I've seen so far regarding Italy's recent Satanic panic is The Devil's Workshop? Vatican Cranks Exorcism Mill Amidst Sensationalist Headlines, Religious Rivalry - February 21, 2005, on the American Athiests site.
For this I am quite grateful, although I'm not an atheist and barely qualify as a "skeptic" in the sense in which that term is used by today's organized skeptical community. I do have some paranormal beliefs based on my own personal experiences. Furthermore, I reject metaphysical naturalism, though I do believe that methodological naturalism is essential in science.
Despite my personal philosophical disagreements with both atheism/humanism and modern "skepticism," I nevertheless see both these communities as playing an essential role in today's society, by encouraging critical thought and acting as a counterbalance to runaway superstition. And, as the example of the SRA scare shows, runaway superstition and an absence of critical thinking can be extremely hazardous. So, despite my disagreements, I would encourage everyone to read skeptical literature from time to time, including:
In addition, by being a staunch defender of separation of church and state, the organized atheist/humanist community has done a lot to help protect the rights of minority religions in general.
It is my hope that the organized atheist/humanist and skeptical communities will again act as champions of reason in response to today's growing wave of renewed Satanic panic.