Theistic Satanism: Home > Popular > Witchhunt > Russ Wise
Russ Wise and his unwise research methodology
Comments on his article "Satanism: The World of the Occult" (1994)
by Diane Vera
Copyright © 2004 by Diane Vera. All rights reserved.
- Russ Wise, Probe Ministries, and "Leadership University"
- About the article itself
- Other stuff on that page
- Russ Wise, Probe Ministries, and "Leadership University"
In 1994, Russ Wise, who now runs Christian Information Ministries, wrote an article on Satanism that can be found at the following URL's:http: / / www.probe.org / docs / satanism.html http: / / www.leaderu.com / orgs / probe / docs / satanism.html
(To make these URL's work, delete the space before and after each slash.)
His article was published first by Probe Ministries, and then later by the misleadingly named Leadership University website - not an actual university, just a very big website sponsored by Christian Leadership Ministries, the "faculty outreach and training arm" of Campus Crusade for Christ.
The article is pretty awful. Despite academic pretensions of the websites on which it can be found, Wise's article does not list any primary sources in its bibliography, nor any reputable scholarly writings about Satanism. It lists only a sensationalistic book about Satanism (Johnston, Jerry, The Edge of Evil) plus assorted Christian writings about Satan, demons, and the occult. And the article was evidently written in a hurry. It is a disorganized jumble.
There are lots and lots of articles on the Internet that are as bad as or worse than Wise's article. I've singled out Wise's article because of its high Internet profile. It's on one of the top 20 pages that come up when you do a Google search on the word "Satanism," and it's on two websites that are well known as resources for Christian apologists.
- About the article itself
The very title "Satanism: The World of the Occult" implies that "Satanism" and "the world of the occult" are synonymous, or close to synonymous, which they are not. The vast majority of occultists are not Satanists.
The article begins with a panic-stricken ramble about "the growing problem." The opening paragraph says:
The occult is on the rise; many young people are seeking their spiritual identity through Satanism.
Again he seems to equate "the occult" in general with Satanism. The vast majority of those young people with an interest in the occult become modern Pagans, not Satanists.
Wise swallows the "Satanic crime" scare whole. He simply reports:
The news wires carry story after story about young children being kidnapped, only to be found later as victims of some bizarre ritualistic crime,
Never does Wise even mention that there has ever been any controversy about such allegations. Although Wise wrote in 1994, he apparently never heard of the 1989 and 1992 reports by FBI Special Agent Kenneth V. Lanning, for example.
Next, after a quote from C.S. Lewis, Wise says:
As satanic involvement among our youth increases, we begin to see the primary goal of such activity. It has become clear, according to the data thus far analyzed by those who investigate satanic involvement, that the primary goal is to alter people's values and turn them against themselves, their beliefs, family, God, and society.
Most forms of Satanism encourage people to take care of themselves, not turn against themselves. On the other hand, Satanism certainly does challenge people to examine previously-held beliefs and values. As for turning against one's family, that depends on how one's family reacts to one's Satanism. As for society, many of the values espoused by LaVeyans and by most other Satanists (e.g. the idea of enlightened self interest) are as American as apple pie, but are just given a slightly different twist.
Wise then jumps into a discussion about the meanings of the words "cult" and "occult," and then talks a bit about LaVey's advocacy of "selfishness."
He then claims, without bothering to cite any sources:
Young satanists believe that the strong will rule with Satan. Once they are sufficiently involved, they often make a pact with Satan. They commit themselves to a future date when they will take their own lives by suicide. They believe that if they submit themselves to Satan in death, they will come back in another life as a stronger being and rule with him forever.
What??? Where on Earth did that idea come from? I have never heard of any young Satanist pledging to commit suicide on a particular date.
Wise then says: "According to recent statistics, fourteen young people a day take their own lives." He says this immediately after the above-quoted nonsense about Satanism and suicide, right in that very paragraph, as if to insinuate that Satanism is somehow a leading cause of all those fourteen suicides per day, even though the vast majority of young people who commit suicide are not Satanists. Of course, Wise doesn't tell us where he got those "recent statistics" in the first place.
That same paragraph then turns into a sermonette about how "this generation is becoming detached and is losing all sense of morality" and how important it is for the church to convince people that Jesus is the only way. (As I said, Wise's article is a disorganized jumble. He desperately needs an editor.)
After the sermonette is a paragraph about personal power as a motive for young people interested in the occult.
Wise then says:
Likewise, Satanism offers its lure to the youth in our society. Drugs and sex have become the bait that so often ensnare the unsuspecting.
They use drugs and are sexually promiscuous. It is a rare occasion when these last two elements are not present in the mix.
In reality: (1) kids certainly don't need to become Satanists in order to have sex or do drugs, and (2) Satanists vary widely in both their sexual lifestyles and their attitude toward drugs. Russ Wise, like many other Christian writers about Satanism - even some of the better ones - seem to think we're all a bunch of drugged-out swingers. In fact, many Satanists - especially LaVeyans - reject drug use as incompatible with the goal of material success. Satanists also vary quite a bit regarding sex. Some do fit the stereotype, but there are also quite a few Satanists who have no interest in sex outside the context of a loving relationship.
Intertwined with the above-quoted statements about drugs, Wise says:
With the increase of satanic activity, a profile of those involved in Satanism has emerged. They are generally from a white, middle to upper-middle class family. In most cases they are bright and do well in school; however, they are often bored and are not challenged to meet their full potential. They tend to have a low self-worth and are unable to distinguish between right and wrong because of their relative ethical system. They often have problems in the home and in relating to other people around them.
Any "profile" of Satanists back then was premature at best. A truly scientific sampling of Satanists back then was impossible, given that most Satanists were and still are closeted and isolated. (For more about this, see my comments on articles by Craig Hawkins and Bob and Gretchen Passantino.) Only recently is this starting to change, thanks to the Internet.
Anyhow, the Satanists I've known vary quite a bit in their personality and background.
Next, Wise says:
Abuse, both physically and emotionally, is another aspect of this mix. Young satanists are often abused children who know no other way to relate to people. Some are a part of a multi- generational family involved in worshiping Satan as savior.
Here he swallows whole, without acknowledgment of any controversy, the allegations of multi-generational family cults that practice "Satanic Ritual Abuse."
As for worshipping Satan "as savior," I don't recall hearing this from any theistic Satanists - except for one poet who, for a while in 2003, ran a Yahoo group with the name "Satan Saves," apparently intended as a bit of droll humor.
Wise's article then contains an alleged quote from Anton LaVey's Satanic Bible: "We hold Satan as a symbolic personal savior, who takes care of mundane, fleshly, carnal things." No page number is given. I strongly suspect a misquote. I've read LaVey's SB (1969 Avon paperback edition) at least several times, and I don't recall ever seeing such a statement. I just now did a search on the word "savior" in an unauthorized e-text edition of the.SB, and I couldn't find the alleged quote there either. (If you do recall seeing it in any edition of the SB and can find it, please email me with the page number and the section in which that statement occurs.) The only statement I found containing the word "savior" was this one - "Satan, as a god, demi-god, personal savior, or whatever you wish to call him, was invented by the formulators of every religion on the face of the earth for only one purpose - to preside over man's so-called wicked activities and situations here on earth. Consequently, anything resulting in physical or mental gratification was defined as "evil" - thus assuring a lifetime of unwarranted guilt for everyone!" (p. 62 in the 1969 Avon paperback edition).
Wise's article also contains one other alleged quote from LaVey without specifying even which book of his it's from. I suspect that both quotes are second hand and that Wise has never actually bothered to read either the The Satanic Bible or any of LaVey's other books.
Wise then talks briefly about LaVey's belief in an impersonal God, and then makes the following claim - a stark reversal of reality, at least for many people who live in the Bible Belt:
Satanism leads one into bondage through mind control and fear, whereas Christianity allows the individual the freedom of choice.
After that, Wise leaves the topic of Satanism per se and spends almost a third of the article talking about other topics. First, rock music. (He blames the AC/DC song "Night Prowler" for Richard Ramirez's "Night Stalker" killings.) Then Ouija boards. Then Christian "spiritual warfare." He doesn't explain how these latter two topics are related to Satanism; he just rambles from one topic to the next.
Next comes a list of definitions of the terms "cult," "occult," "witchcraft," "white magic," "black magic," and "Satanism." Below, I'll just comment on his definition of Satanism, though I could critique some of his other definitions too.
Unlike Witchcraft, Satanism is the worship of Satan, formerly known as Lucifer, and the practice of Black Magic. Satanism is a reaction against the Christian church and the Word of God in particular. Satanism promotes a do-what-you-want attitude and is ultimately the worship of oneself.
He doesn't bother to distinguish between theistic Satanists (those who actually worship Satan) and atheistic/symbolic Satanists (those who worship themselves, using Satan as a symbol). In either case, for those who remain Satanists for any length of time, it is much more than just a reaction against Christianity.
Also, not all Satanists practice magic, or even believe in magic. Those who do practice magic are by no means limited to "black magic," defined by Wise as "The use of supernatural power to manipulate a person or an event to bring about evil or destruction." Those Satanists who do practice magic use it for a variety of purposes.
Then follows a list of four categories of "individuals involved in satanic activity":
- Multi-generational international organization
- National organizations
- Independent self-styled groups
- Individual dabblers
There is simply no evidence that a "multi-generational international organization" of Satanists exists. Well, actually, there do exist some second-generation members of LaVey's Church of Satan, but that's not what people usually mean when they talk about a "multi-generational international Satanic cult." Also, his list omits the many independent Satanists who are not members of any group but who are nevertheless serious about their beliefs, i.e. not dabblers.
Next is a purported profile of "the dabbler," whom Wise claims is "in most cases, from a middle to upper- middle class, caucasian home and is a user of drugs and other controlled substances." He doesn't say where this purported profile comes from. As I've already noted, any and all "profiles of the typical Satanist" are premature at best.
Wise then says:
Satanism centers around involvement in animal sacrifice, blood ritual, sex, the use of drugs and sometimes murder. According to "The Addiction Letter" (1/89),
Most Satanism revolves around a drug and alcohol dependent lifestyle which glorifies violence, hate, lying, stealing, and vandalism. The involved youngster craves a higher power to validate . . . chemical dependence and Satan fills the spiritual void.
Wise doesn't say who publishes The Addiction Letter. Anyhow, there do exist young people who fit the above description, but they are by no means characteristic of all or most Satanists.
Then Wise gives us some lists of alleged typical characteristics of Satanists, with an emphasis on violent crime, drugs, and assorted dysfunctional behavior. Among other things, he claims, "Drug abuse is the common denominator in all levels of Satanism." Excuse me, but I hardly ever use mind-altering or mood-altering drugs of any kind, not even coffee.
Russell then meanders on to various other topics.
According to scripture (Matt. 4:9, 2 Cor. 4:4, Rev. 12:9), Satan's goal is to deceive man by blinding him to the truth of the gospel and to receive worship for himself (Isa. 14:12-14).
Actually, the passage in Isaiah is literally about a king of Babylon, not about any spiritual being at all, though it has been interpreted symbolically as applying to Satan also. Anyhow, there is no Biblical justification for the idea that Satan wants to be worshipped by more than a small number of humans. In the Bible, only one person was ever invited to worship Satan, namely Jesus. On the other hand, the New Testament does state in several places that Satan aims to lead people away from Christ. Whether that is "deception" depends on whether Christianity's central beliefs are true.
But all of the above is really beside the point, since most Satanists do not rely primarily on the Bible for their ideas about Satan in the first place.
Next, Wise has a brief paragraph about LaVey's Church of Satan and Satanic Bible.
After that, a paragraph about secrecy, including the secret alphabets used by some occultists. Wise exaggerates how "commonly" they are used by Satanists.
Wise then talks about "Personal initiation":
Initiation plays a major role in group activity. Through initiation an individual is given a chance to declare total allegiance to Satan by participation. Often one will sever a portion of a finger or a toe to indicate their commitment to the unholy one.
As for cutting off a portion of a finger or toe, I've never heard of this being done by any real life Satanists. The idea seems to have originated in The Satan Seller by Mike Warnke, already discredited by the time Wise wrote his article in 1994. (See the 1992 Cornerstone series on Mike Warnke.)
Wise then says:
Other acts include being a participant in a ritual where mutilation of an animal or human is a part of the activity.
Animal sacrifice is not common among self-described Satanists at all. Human sacrifice (at least in a literal, physical sense) is even rarer. Again, the idea that violent crimes by Satanists are commonplace had long since been discredited amongst criminologists by 1994.
(See also my article on Animal sacrifice.)
An unholy communion of sorts is taken during initiatory rituals where a cup or chalice (usually stolen from a church) is used containing a mixture of wine, blood (human or animal) and urine.
Ewww.... This is part of the stereotypical Black Mass as described in sensationalistic literature, but is not common among real-life Satanists, even among those who do perform a Black Mass now and then.
The article then talks briefly about body markings, then ends abruptly.
Some Satanists actually do use body markings, usually tattoos or cutting rather than the "burning" that Wise talks about. But this is by no means mandatory for all Satanists. Of course, Wise can't resist throwing in the parenthetical comment, "it is important to note that body markings can be used for the preparation of a sacrifice, as well as initiation into a group." Aargh....
- Other stuff on that page
After the end of the article, in an "About the Author" paragraph, Russ Wise is described as having been "an observer of the occult and cults (both Eastern and Western) for over 20 years." Well, he must have spent those 20 years observing them only at a great distance, via second hand sources only, if the bibliography of his Satanism article is any indication.
Also at the bottom of the page are links to some email feedback.
- One msssage, titled "Satanism Has Nothing to Do With Satan!" says (1) that Satanists worship themselves, not Satan, and (2) that many of Russ's generalizations about young Satanists apply to teenagers in general, not just teenage Satanists. For example, "Almost every teenager is depressed, or has a low self esteem. Teenagers emphasize social acceptance and few get it, and it makes them feel bad." Likewise, "A lot of children like vampire movies, which doesn't mean they're satanic." The author of the message was a Wiccan.
In reply, Wise cites Richard Ramirez as an example of a person who "without doubt worshipped Satan." (Arrgh.... Couldn't he have cited Michael Aquino pre-1975 instead? Aquino has had much more influence on subsequent theistic Satanists.) He then devotes a few paragraphs to what he regards as Satan's "influence," which really has nothing to do with the question of whether Satanists worship Satan or not.
Then, regarding the stuff about teenage Satanists, he says, "My observations are simply those made by individuals in the field of psychology and law-enforcement." In fact, his bibliography did not mention even a single book by a reputable professional in the field of either psychology or law-enforcement. No wonder he never heard of the Lanning report.
- A second message, titled, "I'm a Teenage Satanist and I'm Not Evil!" objected to many of Wise's generalizations about teenage Satanists.
The reply to this one was written not by Russ Wise himself but by Sue Bohlin of Probe Ministries. She wrote: "It's unfortunate that you got so angry at the general principles the author outlined without reading the exact words he used. When someone uses the word "generally," he is allowing for exceptions to what he is saying. And to describe characteristics of a group of people isn't stereotyping if the characteristics are valid."
First off, Wise's wording doesn't always allow for exceptions. For example, "Drug abuse is the common denominator in all levels of Satanism." Second, even as generalizations about "most" Satanists, most of Wise's generalizations are at best premature, and some have been outright discredited. Third, falsely accusing people of illegal activity - even illegal drug use, let alone criminal activity - is, to say the least, potentially harmful to those people's well-being. Don't Christians supposedly have a commandment against "bearing false witness"?
Then, Sue Bohlin's reply ends with a sickeningly condescending evangelism attempt.
At the top of the article, on the Probe website only (not on the Leadership University site), the webmaster has added a bracketed forward saying:
[Note: Since this article was written in 1994, a "new face" of Satanism has emerged, consisting of pagans and atheists who claim to not believe in Satan yet who have appropriated the name "Satanist" for themselves. Many of these young "neo-Satanists" (to coin a phrase) deny the concepts of good and evil, worship themselves, and take great offense at articles like this that describe a Satanic-oriented description of their chosen set of beliefs.
Atheistic symbolic Satanism is not a "new face" that emerged since 1994. LaVey's Church of Satan was founded way back in 1965, and his Satanic Bible was published in 1969. There has been some dispute over what the Church of Satan believed it its earliest years. However, LaVey definitively proclaimed his disbelief in Satan as a literal entity after 1975, at least.
The forward continues:
Nonetheless, we believe Russ Wise's original article is still worth offering because of the high numbers of people drawn into the openly occult practices described herein.]
Here the webmaster, like Russ Wise himself, seems to be confusing "openly occult practices" with either the worship of Satan or with criminal activity. Again, most occultists are not Satanists of any kind. Also, neither most occultists nor most Satanists, including most theistic Satanists, are violent criminals.
Anyhow, on Christian Information Ministries, Russ Wise's own website, there is an article titled A Christian Witness Regarding Witchcraft. It contains the following paragraph:
The starting point is simply to gain a working knowledge of the craft. What do wiccans really believe and why do they believe it to be true. The above material is helpful, but you need a more in-depth understanding to adequately share your faith with a wiccan with any credibility. You don’t have to become saturated; you simply need to know what you are talking about so you can rightly discuss their beliefs. Whatever you do, do not misrepresent their beliefs through ignorance or become accusatory. You will not only offend your wiccan friend; you will likely do a great disservice in the name of God and thereby be written off by the one whom you wish to bring to Christ.
It would seem that Russ Wise has learned a few things since 1994. It will be interesting to see whether he follows his own advice in any future writings of his on Satanism.