Theistic Satanism: Home > Popular > Witchhunt > Ted Peters
Ted Peters - a mainline Protestant theologian
Comments on Ted Peters's article Satanism: Bunk or Blasphemy? (1994)
by Diane Vera
Copyright © 2004 by Diane Vera. All rights reserved.
- A mainline Protestant theologian looks at "Satanism"
- Classifying Satanists
- Peters on the SRA controversies
- Peters on "blasphemy"
- Mainline Protestant theologians and other religions?
- A mainline Protestant theologian looks at "Satanism"
I bumped into Ted Peters's article while doing a web search for something else entirely. When it first appeared in my browser window, I skimmed the first couple of paragraphs and then clicked on the author's name and read his bio: "Ted Peters is a professor of systematic theology at Pacific Lutheran Seminary and the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. He is editor of Dialog and author of The Cosmic Self (1991), GOD--the World's Future (1992), God as Trinity (1993), and, most recently, Sin: Radical Evil in Soul and Society (1994)."
Ah, good, I thought. Someone who likes to think about religious matters. I certainly did not expect to agree with him. But I did expect to read something coherent, well thought out, and intellectually stimulating. I did not expect Peters, a Christian, to approve of Satanism in any form; but I did expect him to avoid the kinds of gratuitous sloppiness that were common in writings about Satanism in the early 1990's (even in writings by some of the folks he calls "anti-anti-Satanists").
When I read Peter's article itself, I was very disappointed.
After reading his Satanism article, I then did a search using strings like "Ted Peters Lutheran theology" to find other writings of his. I found articles on various topics including creationism vs. evolution (he's a theistic evolutionist) and some ethical issues pertaining to DNA research. On these topics, he said some things I didn't agree with, but his statements did seem coherent, insightful, and reasonably well-thought-out, as one would expect from a professional scholar.
His article on Satanism was not up to his usual standard. Well, some parts of the article are pretty good - notably the parts where he talks about the "recovered memories" controversy. But, in the parts where he talks about Satanism itself, his thinking becomes simplistic, jumbled, and generally sloppy. His sheer carelessness on some key issues is downright infuriating. It's as if the very idea of Satanism somehow makes his I.Q. drop temporarily, by about 30 points.
I was surprised. After all, this guy is no fundy. As far as I can tell, he seems to be a middle-of-the-road mainline Protestant. And he is, well, a professor of theology. Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, where he teaches, is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America - the relatively more liberal of the two main Lutheran denominations in the U.S.A. His article on Satanism was published in Theology Today, published by Princeton Theological Seminary, an institution of the Presbyterian Church (USA). I had not expected that the topic of Satanism would fry his brain to the extent that it apparently did. In this regard, he is actually worse than the better-educated fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals who have written about Satanism. (Admittedly, though, I'm comparing him to some truly exceptional fundies, such as the folks at Cornerstone magazine.)
Well, Peters did say that Satanism "has been roundly ignored by mainline theologians." He then wrote:
To the extent that spiritual trends in the wider society outside the church should rightfully command theological attention, belief in angels and in the Devil should appear on the theologian's list of items to examine. In what follows, I plan to outline briefly the skeletal structure of one of these current phenomena, Satanism, and then suggest a category-the category of blasphemy-whereby theologians might bite into and begin to digest it.
That's his excuse for writing an article not up to his usual standard, I guess.
Also, of course, the misinformation in his article is by no means unique to his article. It can be found in lots of other places too.
Let's now plow through his article....
It starts out by making a few good points, including the following:
One way a theologian might comfort himself or herself for ignoring an important topic is to assume at the outset that it is bunk, that it consists of outdated superstitions held only by a gullible few and exaggerated by the press. However, reliance on unproven assumptions about unstudied topics renders such a theologian subject to the criticism of narrowminded dogmatism, a criticism that most of us have tried to overcome since the Enlightenment.
Indeed, one should not jump to conclusions about a potentially important topic without examining it first.
Peters also says, "Satanism as a social phenomenon is protean, frequently changing its visage in recent history." Well, that's certainly true.
In an earlier paragraph, Peters refers to Satan as "the supreme malefactor." But that's only to be expected. Peters is Christian, after all. (One point I'm not absolutely clear on is whether Peters himself believes in a Devil. The article strongly suggests that he does, but he does not state this unequivocally. Mainline Protestants vary on this question.)
So far, nothing really bothersome.
But then he starts talking about the "four faces" of Satanism.
- Classifying Satanists
In the section titled "SATANISM'S FOUR FACES," Peters wrote:
Since 1980, it has had at least four faces. The first is classic Satan worship, continuing a pattern begun probably in eighteenth-century France, which mimics and repudiates everything Christian. The Devil replaces Jesus Christ as Lord and the black mass replaces the eucharist. This form of Satan worship appears to exist in our era in small highly secretive groups and is responsible for torture and ritual murder. In almost all contemporary cases, Satan worship is associated with illegal drugs. The purpose of ritual murder and the subsequent eating of human flesh is twofold: to gain magical power from the victim and to desensitize cult members, readying them for criminal assignments. Classic Satanism is the form that skeptics in our time say does not exist, the form that many contend is bunk. I believe there is sufficient evidence to prove that such groups do in fact exist, but I suspect they are self-styled independent groups and not organized in any comprehensive conspiracy.
Aargh!!! A total of four very misleading, ill-thought-out, and extremely offensive (to Satanists, at least) claims, all tangled together. Where to begin?
- As an example of "sufficient evidence to prove that such groups do in fact exist," Peters later cites the Matamoros murders. However, according to every non-sensationalistic account I've ever read about the Matamoros incident, the killers were not so-called "classic Satanists" but practiced an antisocial variant of Palo Mayombe, one of the African Diaspora religions.
Elsewhere in the article, Peters quotes one Larry Kahaner, a police investigator, as mentioning "a homicide where the decapitated victim is surrounded by colored beads, seven coins and chicken feathers." Colored beads, etc. are hallmarks of the African Diaspora religions, not so-called "classic Satanism."
I should point out that human sacrifice is certainly not typical of the African diaspora religions either. The Matamoros killings were the work of what was primarily a criminal gang and only secondarily a religious "cult."
Now, it's not at all unlikely that some criminal gang, somewhere, could adopt some variant of Satanism too.
But Peters has apparently jumped to the conclusion that anyone who would practice "human sacrifice" must be a Satanist. That's one of the things that bothers me here.
- Peters's use of the term "classic Satanism" is, in itself, both misleading and extremely offensive to law-abiding Satanists.
To refer to those who practice "torture and ritual murder" as "classic Satanists" is to imply that their activities somehow set a standard for other Satanists, which is certainly not the case.
Back in the days before Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, Christians too were rumored to commit all manner of atrocities. Should these alleged atrocities be called "classic Christianity"? Of course not -- even though many Christians, through the ages, have in fact committed various atrocities in the name of their religion. One could correctly point out that, for many centuries, Christian atrocities (e.g. the Inquisition and similar persecutions by Reformation-era Protestants) were even sanctioned by the official Christian churches. (In contrast, so-called "classic Satanists" - if they exist at all - have never been in any position of authority over Satanists in general.) Worse yet, Christianity today - worldwide - now seems to be returning to an era of religious wars, wtichhunts, etc. (See The Next Christianity by Philip Jenkins.) Still, it's obviously unfair to smear all Christians by referring to Christian atrocities as "classic Christianity."
The idea that "ritual murder" is somehow a quintessential form of "Satan worship" doesn't really make sense even in terms of a Christian understanding of Satan. (See my articles Why "Satanic ritual crime" doesn't make sense even from a Christian point of view.)
Anyhow, why should something whose very existence is questionable be considered a "classic" form of anything?
My own preferred term for Satanism's violent criminal fringe, be they gangs or lone nuts, and regardless of the nature of their crimes, is "black circle boys," after the 1997 movie of that name.
- Let's look again at the first part of what Peters says about the alleged "first" of Satanism's "four faces":
The first is classic Satan worship, continuing a pattern begun probably in eighteenth-century France, which mimics and repudiates everything Christian. The Devil replaces Jesus Christ as Lord and the black mass replaces the eucharist. This form of Satan worship appears to exist in our era in small highly secretive groups and is responsible for torture and ritual murder.
Note that he defines "classic Satan worship" as follows: "... mimics and repudiates everything Christian. The Devil replaces Jesus Christ as Lord and the black mass replaces the eucharist." In other words, a form of theistic Satanism involving frequent Black Masses or other rites of blasphemy. (Technically, Peters's wording - "The Devil replaces Christ as Lord" - limits his definition to former Christians, ruling out alleged intergenerational "Satanic cults," although I somehow doubt that that's what Peters intended.)
Peters then claims, "This form of Satan worship ... is responsible for torture and ritual murder."
Wrong, in probably the vast majority of cases. There certainly do exist theistic Satanists who perform Black Masses and/or other rites of blasphemy, but who are not criminals.
The majority of theistic Satanists perform rites of blasphemy only occasionally, if at all. (See my article The purpose of blasphemy in Satanism.) A minority do perform them more frequently. (See my article For blasphemy fetishists.) But, even in the latter case, it should not be assumed that these people are also practicing "torture and ritual murder."
- Peters then claims, "In almost all contemporary cases, Satan worship is associated with illegal drugs." Definitely wrong. There are plenty of theistic Satanists who neither use nor sell illegal drugs.
What is true is that any contemporary group which does practice "human sacrifice" (in the name of whatever god or gods) is likely to be primarily a criminal gang and only secondarily a religious "cult." And criminal gangs have a high probablility of being involved in drug trafficking, that being one of the most profitable forms of organized crime.
Peters himself comes close to admitting that such groups are primarily criminal gangs: "The purpose of ritual murder and the subsequent eating of human flesh is twofold: to gain magical power from the victim and to desensitize cult members, readying them for criminal assignments." Yet he contradicts himself, saying that "Satan worship" is "responsible for" the crimes.
Back to "Satanism's four faces." Peters says:
The second face is public Satanism. The present tradition begins with the teachings of Aleister Crowley (1875-1947), a hedonist who declared himself the beast with the number 666 of the book of Revelation and said that Satan's second coming was imminent. If Crowley gave us the prophecy, then Anton Szandor LaVey gave us the fulfillment. The Crowley tradition lives on through LaVey's Church of Satan, which declared in 1966 that the Satanic Age had begun. LaVey served as consultant to the 1968 movie hit by director Roman Polanski, Rosemary's Baby, which parodies the birth of a Satanic messiah on the birth of Christ. One of LaVey's early disciples, Michael Aquino, broke away to form the Temple of Set, hoping to capitalize on the name of the Egyptian god Set and declare independence from the habit of negating Christ. What contemporary Crowleyism teaches is that Christian morality is oppressive because it blocks expression of our more genuinely human propensities for unbridled pleasure through sex and power.
Crowley was much more than just a "hedonist." Peters's summery of "contemporary Crowleyism" is, to say the least, a vast oversimplifcation. For a brief, balanced introduction to Crowley's ideas, see Introduction to Crowley by Tim Maroney.
Crowley was not primarily a Satanist, though he was fond of using symbols and terminology that had both an obvious Satanic meaning and a more esoteric occult meaning. He did have quite a bit of influence on the entire Western occult scene, including Gardnerian Witchcraft as well as LaVeyan Satanism.
Satanic ritual seeks to invoke supranatural power to perpetrate revenge on one's enemies, revenge being dubbed one of humanity's greatest pleasures.
Does Peters think that all "Satanic rituals" are destruction rituals? In fact, Satanists use ritual for many different purposes.
These public organizations demand protection from prosecution, claiming first amendment rights for freedom of religion and, regardless of what they teach, argue that they themselves do not engage in criminal activity.
Peters makes it sound as if LaVeyans and Setians advocate criminal activity, even while not engaging in criminal activity themselves. They do not advocate criminal activity.
The third face is the lone teenage dabbler who fantasizes through role playing games and identifies with heavy metal music. These interests may be combined with indulgence in drugs and sexual orgies, though not necessarily. Mental health workers tell me that such teens have a distinct profile: They are loners who begin to explore esoterica by themselves. This may lead to mail order purchase of Satanic paraphernalia and the reading of Anton LaVey's Satanic Bible, which they take much more seriously than its author did. Such teens are very susceptible to suicide and patricide. They may also team up with a small number of close friends to experiment with the occult and sometimes antisocial activity, such as desecration of churches.
Mental health workers would know only about those "teenage dabblers" who have seen mental health workers, not "teenage dabblers" in general. So, it's unlikely that there has ever been any truly scientific study of "teenage dabblers." (See my comments on "When the Devil Dares: Teenagers and Satanism" by Bob and Gretchen Passantino.) A truly scientific study will likely become more feasible in the future, as Internet use continues to become more and more widespread.
In rare cases, dabblers may become serial killers such as Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker, famed for holding up the number 666 inscribed in his hand palm during his trial. At this writing, Ramirez has been convicted of thirteen murders and is facing trial for another. In a gesture of obvious self-justification, he told a television audience that "serial killers only do what governments do, but on a smaller scale." He added, "I gave up on love and happiness a long time ago."1 This is the fourth face, the self-styled serial killer. These are criminals who borrow satanic themes as a rationale for their anti-social behavior.
Well, at least he acknowledges that "dabblers" who become serial killers are "rare" and that they are "criminals who borrow satanic themes as a rationale for their anti-social behavior."
One point he doesn't mention is that the number of serial killers who actually worship Satan is probably smaller than the news stories would suggest. At least some serial killers have used claims of Satan worship as part of a Devil-made-me-do-it insanity defense.
Still, I wouldn't deny that violent criminals who worship Satan do exist, alas.
Peters's classification scheme is derived from various books about "Satanic crime." Thus, it disproportionately emphasizes criminals. The relatively few murderers and child rapists among us are allotted a full two out of four categories devoted exclusively to themselves, plus whatever overlap they may have with the two remaining categories. As Peters goes on to say, "The self-styled Satanic killer may overlap with the teenage dabbler and with public Satanism."
At least Peters's categorization isn't quite as bad as the one in Colin Ross's book Satanic Ritual Abuse, which gave the murderers and child rapists a total of three out of five categories all to themselves, plus overlap with the remaining categories. (See my Open Letter to Colin Ross.) And at least Peters doesn't arrange the categories into a linear hierarchy of "levels." But still....
Like most other "Types of Satanists" lists, Peters's list leaves out the many independent Satanists who are not members of any organized Satanic church, yet who are serious about their Satanism (i.e. they are not "dabblers"), and who are also, in most cases, not criminals. Peters's list, like so many others, suggests that any Satanist who is not a member of a Satanic church must be either a dabbler or a criminal.
Such "expert" opinions are exceedingly dangerous to the well-being of any lone law-abiding Satanist, or any small group of law-abiding Satanists not affiliated with one of the major Satanic churches.
Admittedly, back in 1994, when Peters wrote his article, not very many law-abiding independent Satanists had found their way into any publicly accessible venue. I was one of the very few. So, the "experts" of the 1980's and early 1990's can't be blamed for ignoring us. But, since then, a lot more of us have found each other on the Internet and can be found in public Internet forums such as my own Theistic Satanism email groups. Others have websites, such as those listed here.
Peters can't be blamed for his classification scheme. Similar schemes can be found in nearly all the books by alleged "experts on Satanism" that were around at that time. However, as far as I can tell, these schemes had their origin in law enforcement seminars given by fundamentalist/evengalical Christian "experts" on "occult crime." So, naturally the schemes are quite biased.
Also, since their original target audience was law enforcement personnel, it is only natural that these schemes would focus on profiling various categories of people in terms of their potential to commit various kinds of crimes. This is a very one-dimensional way to look at people, and not very useful for purposes other than law enforcement. To see why, see my own list of Five Types of Christians, intended as a parody of "Types of Satanists" lists. It is also a very insulting way to look at people who, in most cases, are law-abiding citizens.
I don't blame Peters for his classification scheme, but I do blame him for his sloppy use of language - such as his tendency, in later parts of the article, to use the word "Satanism" as if it were a synonym for so-called "Satanic Ritual Abuse."
I also blame him for assorted other sloppy thinking, including his unexplained treatment of certain specific criminal allegations as unquestioned truths, even while acknowledging that the whole topic is controversial.
For example, Peters repeats a bunch of allegations that have been made by popular sensationalistic writers about the Process Church of the Final Judgment (not really a Satanist group at all, but rather an offbeat, Scientology-influenced Christian group which interpreted "loving your enemies" as including Satan). He mentions these allegations as if they were all well-established fact, which they are not. See the following:
- the process church of the final judgment by Nick Namatas, on disinformation
- THE PROCESS - Church of the Final Judgment (Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance)
Peters on the SRA controversies
The best parts of Peters's article are the parts about the controversy over the truth of alleged cases of "Satanic Ritual Abuse." But, even in these sections, his thinking suddenly gets sloppy whenever he has occasion to say anything about Satanism itself. For example, near the end of the section on "SATANISM'S FOUR FACES":
Closely tied to these four faces of contemporary Satanism is the as yet inadequately understood problem of cult survivors. To date, our only access to such survivors, three quarters of whom suffer from multiple personality disorder, is through psychotherapy.
The alleged "cult survivors" that he is speaking of (the folks with "recovered memories") are "closely tied" to only one of Peters's "four faces of contemporary Satanism," not to all four of them. Well, maybe they can be said to be "closely tied" to two of them, if you count public Satanists who have written articles critiquing the SRA scare. But why does he say that they are "closely tied" to all four? Guilt by association?
He then talks briefly about the case of Michelle Smith - the very first published story of "recovered memories" of full-blown "Satanic Ritual Abuse" - including ritual murder, child rape, torture, and assorted other horrors, all perpetrated by an alleged multigenerational supersecret "Satanic cult" made up of outwardly respectable people. Her psychiatrist, Lawrence Pazder, coined the term "ritual abuse."
Peters correctly notes, "It may turn out in retrospect that many of the images that have come to be identified with contemporary Satanism have been stimulated by this and similar books." (Of course, he's talking here about the popular image of Satanism. Real-life Satanists do have other sources.)
In a footnote, he quotes Philip Jenkins and Daniel Maier-Katkin as saying (in "Occult Survivors: The Making of a Myth," The Satanism Scare, pp. 141-142): "We can already discern the early stages of a troubling process that permits the almost unlimited manufacture of survivors and their grisly tales. Ideological and theoretical changes within the therapeutic community have contributed to a dramatic increase in the numbers of self-described occult survivors…. As survivor tales proliferate, the sheer volume of apparent evidence may convince some of the truth of the charges. We would suggest, however, that many of these stories should be seen as little more than derivative of the first few accounts, and that those first few accounts are themselves highly questionable."
Therefore, the truth or falsity of Michelle Smith's account, in particular, is pivotal to the whole controversy. But Peters doesn't mention that her case has been investigated by various people, including the Catholic Church. As far as I am aware, no one has found any evidence to corroborate her story. See the following articles:
- The Debunking of a Myth by Denna Allen & Janet Midwinter, in The Mail on Sunday London, England, September 30, 1990, Page 41
- Michelle Remembers: The Second "Survivor" Story by Kerr Cuhulain
The next section of Peters's article, "TREATING SATANISM AS A PHENOMENON," begins with the following reasonable observations:
Whenever we deal with a phenomenon, we are concerned about how something appears to someone. Deriving from the Greek word, phaino, meaning to appear, a phenomenon includes what is perceived plus the perceiver-that is, a phenomenon includes both the object and the subject. In the case of contemporary Satanism, what is perceived is determined in part by who is doing the perceiving. In addition, we can identify not two but three levels of the phenomenon: (1) the Satanism movement, (2) the anti-Satanism movement, and (3) the anti-Satanism movement [sic - must have meant "anti-anti-Satanism movement"]. Because our access to Satanism is severely limited to these three competing layers of the phenomenon, a simple, factual apprehension of the situation is quite difficult at the present time,
We have already reviewed what seems to be widely accepted as the four faces of Satanism in North America. What is in dispute is whether Satanists exist at all and, if they do exist, whether or not they constitute a broad conspiracy that can be blamed for a long list of crimes. What the anti-Satanists perceive leads them to say yes to both questions.
What's in dispute is not whether "Satanists" exist, (Of course we exist. Hi there!) What's in dispute is whether "Satanic Ritual Abuse" exists. This is one of the many places in his article where Peters uses the word "Satanists" as a synonym for "perpetrators of SRA," completely forgetting about the existence of the other "faces," despite having mentioned them in that very same paragraph.
His use of the word "Satanist" as a synonym for "perpetrator of SRA" is extremely irritating to any law-abiding Satanist. Alas, he's not alone. Even some otherwise excellent skeptical writers have continued to use this same obviously mistaken terminology, even after acknowledging the existence on Satanists who are not criminals.
Peters then identifies the anti-Satanists as including sensationalistic journalists, therapists working with MPD patients, groups of parents of kids in day care centers, law enforcement agencies, evangelical and fundamentalist preachers, and "a scholar such as Carl Raschke."
He then quotes Larry Kahaner's book Cults that Kill: Probing the Underworld of Occult Crime (New York:Warner Books, 1988), p. vii. Note the terminology "occult crime," which refers not just to SRA but to alleged criminal activities by adherents of a variety of minority religions, not just Satanism. Yet, for some reason, Peters has chosen to call all these alleged criminal cults "Satanism." Why does Peters, who is a professor of theology and not a fundy, have this annoying habit of confusing one religion with another?
Peters then briefly summarizes the allegations of SRA proponents.
He then says:
Now, who are the anti-Satanists [sic - must mean "anti-anti-Satanists"]? This group is a curious amalgam of academic social scientists, skeptics belonging to the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, law enforcement personnel who are disenchanted with their anti-Satanist colleagues, and Satanists themselves.
He left out five other categories of opponents of the SRA scare: (1) A handful of evangelical Christian writers who sought to raise journalistic standards within the evangelical subculture; (2) some adherents of minority religions, such as Wicca, who fear being scapegoated along with Satanists; (3) the many people (nearly all of them non-Satanists) who have been accused of "Satanic Ritual Abuse" and in some convicted, on the basis of at-best very flimsy evidence; (4) civil-liberties-minded journalists, concerned about false accusations; and (5) retractors - people who came to realize that their "recovered memories" of abuse were false and, in some cases, sued their therapists. Retractors are probably the single most important category of SRA skeptics, in terms of success in persuading the psychotherapeutic community to think twice about "recovered memories."
Elsewhere in his article, Peters quotes some evangelical Christian SRA skeptics who wrote for Cornerstone magazine, so it's a bit surprising that he left them off his list of "anti-anti-Satanists." Likewise the many accused parents who joined the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, which he also mentions later. I'm starting to get the feeling that he wrote this article piecemeal and never bothered to re-read the whole thing. I'm surprised his editors didn't catch these inconsistencies either.
Peters then says:
Many anti-anti-Satanists doubt that Satanism exists at all in the form of an underground conspiracy; what may exist are sporadic copycat manifes tations that mimic the image presented by the anti-Satanists. In other words, the anti-Satanism movement is accused of being the author of the Satanism movement
Again he's using "Satanism" as a synonym for "SRA." <sigh!>
The anti-anti-Satanist group either finds the anti-Satanists to be a curious phenomenon to study or, more seriously, dubs the anti-Satanists to be in fact the dangerous element in our society. Anti-Satanists are identified as dangerous because they allegedly represent evangelical or fundamentalist Christian beliefs in what is supposed to be a secular society and because they are said to be ideologists who are scapegoating the Satanists.
He neglects to mention the most important reason why the anti-Satanists are considered dangerous: Lots and lots of innocent people - of whom only a very few were Satanists - have been accused of horrible crimes. A false accusation can ruin someone's life, you know. (Peters does mention the problem of false accusations later, so it's a bit surprising that he didn't include it in his explanation of why the anti-Satanism movement is considered dangerous.)
Another, related problem is that "memories of abuse" have caused many middle-aged adults to cut off ties with their elderly parents, often in a rather cruel fashion, even when no criminal charges were filed.
In the next several paragraphs, which I won't bother to quote, Peters makes an excellent summary of the arguments against the SRA scare -- excellent, that is, except for his continued use of the word "Satanism" as a synonym for SRA.
Then, in a section titled "THE CONTROVERSY OVER MULTIPLE PERSONALITY DISORDER," he makes a good summary of the controversy over "recovered memories."
Peters on "blasphemy"
The final section of Peters's article is titled "BLASPHEMY." It begins with yet another reference to the controversy over whether "Satanism" exists -- yet again conflating "Satanism" with SRA -- even though, in that very same paragraph, he acknowledges that "the existence of the three other faces - public Satanism, teenage dabbling, and serial killing - is easily confirmable."
He then says:
My twofold conclusion is, first, that Satanism exists on sufficient scale to be considered by theologians as a distinct form of evil and, second, that, as a phenomenon, theologians should consider analyzing the cultural perception of Satanic practices as it surfaces in the media, in evangelical preaching and literature, and especially among MPD therapists and anti-anti-Satanist scholarship.
Well, I can see why Peters would be more interested in the public image of Satanism than in Satanism itself, since the public image of Satanism impacts more people. But he then writes: "In conclusion, I will look at the form of evil we find in Satanism and analyze it in terms of blasphemy." If he is going to purport to analyze "the form of evil we find in Satanism," then surely he ought to consider Satamism itself, especially those forms of Satanism that definitely do exist - including their own primary source material. Peters's talk about "Satanism as a phenomenon," with an emphasis on appearances, is no excuse for excluding Satanism's definitely real forms from his analysis. Satanism does not exist purely in the eyes of its outside beholders.
The remainder of the article consists of his theological analysis of "Satanism," i.e. SRA. For purposes of his theological analysis of "Satanism," he completely ignores those forms of Satanism that are definitely real. For example, nowhere does he bother to critique even a single statement by Anton LaVey.
Why, I wonder??? After all, if he's looking for "blasphemy," couldn't he have found it in "easily confirmable" real-life forms of Satanism too? But no, he's much too fascinated by "cults of sacrifice with all their blood-shedding horror."
Perhaps he avoided talking about definitely-real kinds of Satanism (especially the many Satanists who are not criminals) because real-life Satanism would complicate his analysis? For example, depending on exactly how he defines "good" and "evil" (terms whose meanings are a substantial point of disagreement among different kinds of Christians), he might no longer be dealing with a clearcut case of what he calls "radical evil." At the very end of his article, he says:
Let me stress that, by far and away, most of our human sin is of the self-justification or hypocritical type. We normally pursue evil in the name of the good. Only rarely do we pursue evil in the name of evil. The overt and conscious employment of the symbols of Satan is rare, to be sure; yet it constitutes evil in its most radical form, blasphemy against God while destroying the human soul.
He seems to be assuming here that "the overt and conscious employment of the symbols of Satan" could only be "evil for the sake of evil." Wrong. As far as I can tell, the vast majority of Satanists do not accept the Christian value judgment of Satan as purely "evil." (See my articles Satan and "Evil" in Christianity (and Satanism) and Elliot Rose on the absurdity of "Evil" as a principle. See also Tim Maroney's article Hekate and the Satanic School.) I should also mention here that, from a non-Christian point of view, the "goodness" of the Christian God is far from incontrovertible. (See Bible-sanctioned cruelties and other Biblical nastiness and Heaven, hell, "love," and "justice" on my Counter-evangelism site.)
Furthermore, in my experience, the few people in the online theistic Satanist scene who do perceive Satan as "purely evil" are more likely than other theistic Satanists to end up converting back to Christianity. (Good riddance, from my point of view - the Satanist scene is better off without them.) Therefore, it would seem that the most "radically evil" forms of Satanism are the least likely to separate someone permanently from the Christian God, if that's what Peters means by "destroying the human soul."
Also, if Peters were to consider the many real-life forms of Satanism, he would probably have a much harder time justifying his idea of "blasphemy" as the extreme ultimate step in an alleged sequence of seven steps (anxiety, unfaith, pride, concupiscence, self-justification, cruelty, and blasphemy) via which "sin" supposedly develops into "radical evil." He doesn't discuss this alleged sequence of seven steps in his article on Satanism, but it's apparently the main thesis of his book Sin: Radical Evil in Soul and Society, according to the reviews on Amazon. (I haven't read the book itself.) If the reviews are accurate, Peters's model seems to imply that anyone who would blaspheme the Christian God must also be cruel, incapable of recognizing one's own shortcomings, greedy, etc. Not necessarily so at all, as he would discover if he were to get to know a variety of real-life Satanists.
Be that as it may, his analysis of "Satanism" assumes not only that SRA exists somewhere out there, but, also, that the one specific case he focusses upon - the case of "Jenny," described in Suffer the Child by Judith Spencer - is real. Peters narrates Jenny's story as if it were known to be factual. He does not follow the normal journalistic convention of using words like "alleged" when talking about alleged crimes that have not yet been brought to trial.
Here is a review of Judith Spencer's book by LeRoy Schultz in the IPT Journal (Institute for Psychological Therapies). See also the paragraph about it in The Satanism Scare in the USA by JD, citing Jenkins, P., & Maier-Katkin, D., "Occult Survivors: The Making of a Myth" in J. Richardson, J. Best & D. Bromley Eds.), The Satanism Scare (1991), pp.127-144.
Perhaps Peters doesn't actually believe that Jenny's memories are necessarily factual, but is only assuming them to be factual for the sake of argument. As he explains:
Regardless of how the controversy over MPD is finally settled, the twisting of symbols in such an account must be addressed. Whether the source of this symbol twisting is objectively that of a ritual cult, or perhaps subjectively, the coming to expression of a matrix of mythologemes lurking either in the collective unconscious of Jenny or in the collective unconscious of the therapists and their professional community or a combination, the blasphemous structure requires assessment.
What is striking in the case of Jenny and in countless other examples of Satanic practice is the direct attention given to manipulating symbols. It is vital for the theologian to investigate this, because symbols of the divine provide us with access to the reality that transcends our daily world.
However, wouldn't the theological significance of the "blasphemous structure" be affected, in at least in some ways, by the question of whether the accompanying horrific activities did in fact take place? Nowhere does Peters say anything like, "If Jenny's memories are true, then their theological significance is X; whereas, if her memories are false, then their theological significance is Y." He just treats Jenny's "memories" as if they were all true. Perhaps he regards their truth or falsity as theologically irrelevant? But, in that case, how could that possibly be? If such horrible crimes have any theological significance at all - or, at least, if they have enough theological significance to warrant ignoring definitely-real forms of Satanism in favor of SRA - then how could their theological significance not be affected by the issue of whether they really happened or not?
I can only guess that, in this particular section of his article, all he wanted was to have a stark and graphic example of what he calls "radical evil," without having to consider any subtleties - at least as far as Satanism is concerned. (On the other hand, he does address a few subtleties as far as Christianity is concerned.)
He defines "blasphemy" as follows:
There are two kinds of blasphemy. Both seek to sever the tie between the name of God and the grace of God. The first form of blasphemy is the subtle form. It uses the name of God directly or indirectly in order to hide evil behind a veil of righteousness. It is hypocrisy. It presumes the goodness of God and then tries to steal the appearance of God's goodness to cover over insidious injustice. What is dangerous here is that victims who see through the hypocrisy may get the false impression that language about God has deceit as its only function. The name of God becomes so tarnished that we no longer think to use it to call upon God and ask for divine grace.
The second kind of blasphemy occupies us here. This is the non-subtle form, the form to which the biblical definition belongs. Blasphemy (Greek: blasphamia) is the dishonoring or reviling the name, being, or work of God through slander, cursing, or showing contempt.
His first example of "blasphemy" in the context of "Satanism" - the parodying of a Bible verse - would indeed seem to fit his definition of the "second kind of blasphemy."
However, at the end of the article, he classifies "the overt and conscious employment of the symbols of Satan" as, itself, a form of blasphemy. This doesn't fit his definition, which has to do with direct insults against the Christian God, not reverence for some other spiritual entity. The latter too is traditionally considered a sin by Christians, but is not normally classified as "blasphemy."
In any case, most theistic Satanists do clearly distinguish between reverence for Satan and insults against the Christian God. Most routine rituals involve only the former, not the latter. A typical Satanist ritual would invoke Satan without parodying Christian liturgies, etc. Ritual formats are, in most cases, derived from other sources, such as the Western occult tradition. Only occasionally, if at all, would most theistic Satanists preform rites of blasphemy against the Christian God - or against anything else. (See my article The purpose of blasphemy in Satanism.)
Peters also wrote:
Perhaps the symbol most susceptible to blasphemous misuse is sacrifice. As a symbol of grace, the sacrifice on the cross communicates the profundity of God's love for us.
In the hands of the blasphemers, however, sacrifice becomes a means for pressing others into one's own service. The reason Satanists practice animal sacrifice and human sacrifice is to gain magical power, suprahuman power thought to be bequeathed by the Devil to his loyal subjects.
This is one of several places in Peters's article where he comes across as extremely ignorant about other religions besides Christianity. It's odd that he considers animal sacrifice to be a form of anti-Christian blasphemy, when in fact the practice of sacrifice - for the sake of gaining magical power or the favor of one's god(s) - is much older than Christianity, and is found in many cultures around the world. There are even plenty of instances of animal sacrifice - and some human sacrifices too - in the Hebrew Bible.
To this day, here in the U.S.A., there are plenty of people who practice animal sacrifice. The vast majority are not Satanists of any kind. Most are adherents of the African Diaspora religions. A few are Pagan Reconstructionists. In many rural locales, animal sacrifice is legal as long as the animal is killed in a sufficiently humane manner, and as long as the carcass is either eaten or otherwise disposed of in a sanitary manner, and so on.
Among Satanists, LaVeyans condemn animal sacrifice. And, as far as I can tell, most theistic Satanists don't practice animal sacrifice either. I myself do not. But some do. (See my article on Animal sacrifice.) Those theistic Satanists who do practice animal sacrifice are not, in most cases, likely to think of it as being a parody of or otherwise related to the Christian idea of sacrificial atonement. As Peters himself notes, its purposes are entirely distinct. Some theistic Satanists do practice (at least occasionally) rituals involving explicit anti-Christian blasphemy too. But animal sacrifice, for those who practice it, would most likely be thought of as being in a separate category.
Of course, the animal sacrifices "remembered" by Jenny weren't just ordinary animal sacrifices, but a particularly cruel and gruesome kind.
Apart from the obvious cruelty of the "sacrifices" and other abuses that were "remembered" by Jenny, let's now examine Peters's explanations of why he considers "blasphemy" (of the second kind) itself to be not just a bad thing, but the ultimate extreme evil. His thoughts on this topic are not presented in an organized fashion, so let's now try to organize them.
- In the same paragraph where Peters defines the second form of blasphemy, he adds, among other things:
It is a denial of God's holiness. ... It is a defamation of God's character.
Of course, nobody likes to hear one's own god being dissed.
- Peters also says, intertwined with the above statements:
It is a repudiation of God's saving work. It is a rejection of God's grace. ... It takes the form of employing divine symbols for the purpose of disavowing all loyalty to the God of love and salvation.
To make wrongful use of symbols in the form of names, titles, and stories of God alienates us from God.
Obviously this too would be a bad thing from a Christian point of view.
But I should point out that the very idea of "God's saving work" presupposes the truth of traditional Christian beliefs. As far as I can tell, the majority of theistic Satanists do not believe in Chirstian theology or some simple variant thereof. On the other hand, the alleged "Satanic cult" described in Suffer the Child does seem to have accepted traditional Christian theology with only a few minor variations, such as the idea that those who serve Satan will be rewarded with a relatively cool spot in a fiery Hell.
- Peters continues:
"Worse, it employs these symbols to prevent others from gaining access to the God of love and salvation."
I, for one, strongly discourage shoving it in the faces of Christians. (See my article The purpose of blasphemy in Satanism.)
- Later, Peters states:
To separate us from divine grace is the Devil's delight because, as Barth has said, "the grace of God is the basis and norm of all being, the source and criterion of all good."
It vitiates goodness at the roots (vitiatum in radice).
If I understand correctly, he's saying that humans are not capable of any good at all apart from the Christian God. If that's what he means, then he's making a more extreme statement than I've heard even from hardcore fundamentalists, even Calvinist fundamentalists. So, I'm wondering if it's what he really meant to say.
Calvinists talk about the "total depravity" of humans, but are usually quick to qualify this by saying that the word "total" is meant in an "extensive rather than intensive" way. In other words, they don't mean that we humans aren't capable of any good at all, but that no part of us can possibly be good enough for the Christian God.
There's also the question of exactly what is meant by "good" in the first place. Peters did not include his definition. If he were attempting a theological analysis of definitely-real forms of Satanism from a Christian point of view, he would need to consider this and other fundamental philosophical questions.
- Intertwined with the above-quoted statements, Peters also says:
Taking the words of Scripture that otherwise bear the power of salvation and pressing them into the service of Satan robs the victim of psychic access to symbols that could bring internal comfort.
The titles for God, such as Lord, King of the universe, heavenly Father, the Almighty, and the Eternal, remind us that there is a transcendent reality not limited by suffering and death. The descriptions of Jesus Christ at work, such as Savior or Redeemer, confront us with the news that God rescues us from the vicissitudes of our history fraught with suffering and death. References to God as Holy Spirit, Comforter, and Sanctifier communicate that we are not alone, that no matter how severely the forces of evil assail us. God protects us BV binding us to the power of ultimate reality. When we find ourselves victimized by stress and distress, such symbols of a transcendent and loving God work within our psyche to give us integrity, courage, and peace of mind. To deny us access to such symbols would leave us frightfully alone, terrorized not only by evil but also by the loneliness of our own suffering.
I speak of it as radical because it cuts the soul off from consolation.
Here again he seems to be making a more extreme statement than I've heard even from the better-educated fundamentalists. To say that repudiating the Christian God "cuts the soul off from consolation" seems to imply that Christianity is the only religion from which people can derive strength or "consolation," or that can help people deal with "stress and distress." If that is what he means, then he is displaying an extreme ignorance of all religions other than Christianity.
An educated fundamentalist would never deny that a person can derive strength, "consolation," or other benefits from other religions besides Christianity. A fundamentalist would claim that, in the case of all other religions, the benefits are only temporal and the person will be damned eternally. But that's different from denying the very existence of the benefits themselves.
- Peters then says:
To put it another way, the words we use to talk about God do not leave us unaffected. Talking about God simultaneously orders our soul. To blaspheme God destroys our soul.
If "destroying one's soul" is understood as Christian-ese for "alienating one permanently from Christianity," then Peters's statement does not seem to be true. Among the people I've known in the online Satanist scene, the folks who are the most obsessed with ritualized blasphemy are among the most likely to end up converting back to Christianity. (See my article For blasphemy fetishists.) As I mentioned earlier, the same seems to true of those who are obsessed with "evil."
Mainline Protestant theologians and other religions?
As we've seen in several different places in his article, Peters is apparently not a student of world religions.
This in itself surprised me. I would have expected "mainline" Christian theologians - unlike most fundamentalist and conservative evangelical theologians - to be reasonably knowledgeable about the world's many religions, including the more common non-Christian religions here in the U.S.A.
But I'll admit I'm not terribly familiar with contemporary "mainline" theology (I'm much more familiar with fundamentalist and conservative evangelical theology), so perhaps my expectation was naive. Somehow, I had the idea that "mainline" Christian theologians would be all-around better educated than fundy theologians. Perhaps that's not really true? Or perhaps they are better educated, but in a way that still focusses almost exclusively on Western culture and ignores all other religions besides Christianity and perhaps Judaism?
Peters did mention that mainline theologians have "roundly ignored" Satanism. Have they "roundly ignored" nearly all other religions too?
I should look into this question someday. It would be interesting to find out if the average member of my Theistic-Satanists-philosophical group knows more about world religion than does the average "mainline" Christian professor of theology.