Posts Tagged ‘Wicca’

Ancient Christian Apologist Tertullian on Human Damage to the Environment

July 15, 2017

Some of the most vocal opponents of environmentalism and climate change in the US are politically Conservative Christians. They object to it, not just on the grounds that they believe it to be wrong scientifically, but also because they are highly suspicious of it on political and religious grounds. It is argued that the Green movement is really a pagan movement, or else a way of sneaking Socialism in through the back door through stressing the need for legislation and the regulation of industry to protect the environment. It’s also denounced as a form of Nazism, because the Nazis were also eager to protect the German environment.

It’s true that Green politics has strongly influenced some contemporary neo-Pagan religious movements, particularly Wicca, whose deities consist of an Earth mother and horned god. However, the scientific evidence on which the Green movement is based is separate and independent from any one particular religious or political group. And modern Green politics began with books such as Silent Spring in the 1960s and the Club of Rome, a gathering of concerned scientists, in the early ’70s, and not with Hitler and the Nazis.

Furthermore, writers and philosophers long before the Nazis were also acutely concerned with the threat of overpopulation and the damage humans were doing to the environment. One of them was the early Christian apologist, Tertullian, who wrote

‘Most convincing as evidence of populousness, we have become a burden to the Earth. The fruits of nature hardly suffice to sustain us, and there is a general pressure of scarcity giving rise to complaints. Need we be astonished that plague and famine, warfare and earthquake, come to be regarded as remedies, serving to prune the superfluity of population?’

This quotation was dug up by Adrian Berry, a fellow of the Interplanetary Society, Royal Astronomical Society and Royal Geographical Society. Berry is very much a man of the right, who used to write for the Torygraph. He used it to argue that people have always had exaggerated fears about the threat to society. Or alternatively, they could also be extremely complacent, such as the 2nd century AD Roman writer Pliny. Pliny wrote of the enduring splendor of the Roman Empire just before it began to collapse. Jonathan Margolis also cites in his chapter on predictions of environmental catastrophe, ‘Global Warning’, in his A Brief History of Tomorrow: The Future, Past and Present (London: Bloomsbury 2000) 89, where he also discusses the possibility that predictions of environmental collapse may be wrong.

At the moment, the majority of the world’s scientists are convinced that climate change and environmental damage caused by humanity are real, and a genuine threat to the planet, its flora and fauna, and ultimately humanity itself. Furthermore, archaeologists become increasingly aware how global changes to the environment have caused civilizations to collapse. The early Viking colonies in Greenland were destroyed in the 14th century, when the environment in the northern hemisphere became colder, making it impossible to practice European-style agriculture so far north.

Similarly, the highly developed Pueblo Indian cultures in the Chaco canyon in what is now the southwestern US collapsed and were abandoned when the climate became hostile in the 13th century. The cultures existed in an arid region of the US, using extensive irrigation canals to water their crops. The area suffered an intense drought, and unable to support themselves, the inhabitants moved away.

As for ancient Rome, one of the causes for the barbarian invasions may well have been climate change. The environment became colder from the 3rd century onwards. Central Asian tribes, such as the Huns, moved west, crossing the steppes into Europe and moving south to attack China. This displaced other tribes, such as Goths, who were settled around the Black Sea. The sea levels began to rise, so that the Frisians and other Germanic tribes settled in what is now the Netherlands, were forced to abandon low-lying farms and villages on the coasts. This may have been one of the causes of the Anglo-Saxon migrations to Britain.

In the Greek-speaking eastern Roman Empire, towns shrank, while in the west there was a movement away from the cities, partly through economic grounds. Historians have argued whether the Roman population was decimated by disease. Certainly in Rome itself, located amidst swampland, malaria was endemic, and the sheer size of the population meant that it was periodically subject to outbreaks of other diseases. And the city depended on a steady influx of new immigrants to replenish its population. And there was a constant threat of starvation. The free Roman masses depended on shipments of grain from Egypt and north Africa, and one of the elected officials in the city was responsible for securing the grain supply. Amongst the graffiti found scrawled on walls in Pompeii are election slogans urging men to vote for a particular candidate because ‘he gets good bread’.

Tertullian may well have been absolutely right about the dangers of overpopulation. And regardless of whether he was or wasn’t, the fact that he, one of the great defenders of Christian faith and doctrine in the Roman Empire, was prepared to accept and argue that overpopulation and environmental damage were a danger, shows that there is nothing inherently anti-Christian in the Green movement. This was shown a few weeks ago when the current pope, Pope Francis, criticized Trump’s government for ignoring science and failing to tackle climate change. There’s an irony here in a religious figure attacking the elected leader of a supposedly secular state for having an anti-scientific attitude. And it remains true that there is nothing fundamentally contrary to Christianity about Green politics regardless of the support for Green politics amongst peoples of other religions or none.

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Poverty, Class Conflict and the Satanism Scare

November 2, 2014

It was Halloween on Friday, and the Beeb has been marking the season with a series of spooky programmes. For the past few weeks BBC 4 has been running a programme Gothic: Britain’s Midnight Hour, on the rise of Victorian Gothic architecture, art and literature, presented by the excellent Andrew Graham-Dixon. On Friday night itself, BBC 4 also screened a programme on Goth pop music, covering ’80s and ’90s stars of the genre such as Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, and the other musical limners of the miserable, the uncanny and the undead. Yesterday, Strictly Come Dancing also presented a suitably Halloween-themed edition, with the celebs and their professional partners tripping the light fantastic dressed as ghosts, ghouls, zombies and witches. And tonight on BBC 4 again, the science broadcaster, Dr Alice Roberts, will be presenting a programme on the origins of the classic Gothic novel, Frankenstein. Roberts is professor for the public engagement with science at Birmingham University. A medical doctor, she was a regular member of Channel 4’s Time Team, examining the human remains excavated by the Team. She is, however, credited in the programme as ‘anatomist’. This is indeed what she was, a professor of anatomy at Bristol Uni before taking up her post in Birmingham’s great institution. It’s a suitable career description, considering the origins of the book’s monster in the charnel houses, and the book’s scientific basis in the dissecting rooms of the early 19th century. And so in the spirit of the season, I thought I’d write a suitably spooky piece for this blog.

The 1990s Satanic Ritual Abuse Scare

Some years ago I wrote a piece, ‘Satanism and Class Conflict’, for the sceptical UFO magazine, Magonia. Not only did Magonia critically examine the ‘modern myth of things seen in the sky’, to use C.G. Jung’s description, it also examined other forms of contemporary paranormal experience, vision and belief. This included the Satanism scare, which emerged in the 1980s and 1990s to disrupt and ruin the lives of many innocent children and adults. This was the belief that there are multigenerational sects of Satanists, responsible for sexually abusing and killing children in occult rituals. The F.B.I. investigated such claims and found that there was little evidence for such cults in America. In Britain the scare finally collapsed with the publication of the government’s Fontaine report, which also concluded that such a vast, occult organisation did not, in fact, exist. This was not before tens, perhaps hundreds of children had been taken into care, and parents, teachers, nursery teachers and religious ministers had been accused and sometimes jailed, often on the flimsiest evidence. Some of the testimony which provided the basis for prosecution was the product of false memories. These were confabulated memories created either through regression hypnosis or when the person remembering them was in a state of psychological shock and under considerable pressure. The F.B.I. had briefly experimented with hypnosis in the 1950s as a tool for recovering consciously forgotten memories, which they believed nevertheless existed subconsciously, from crime witnesses. They abandoned it because the process led to the creation of false memories. These could be produced from the unconscious promptings of the hypnotist and interrogator, who may not have been consciously trying to direct the witnesses’ testimony. In the case of the Satanism Scare, some of the questioning of the witnesses and victims was frankly farcical, consisting of leading questions from investigators who already believed they knew the answer. These included evangelical Christians and radical feminists, though much of the investigation that finally discredited the Scare was also done by Christian evangelicals. Many professional law enforcement officials were furious at the way these investigations were conducted. I remember reading that the Yorkshire police force were extremely angry after the case against one notorious paedophile collapsed. The man had been responsible for abusing something like twenty or thirty children. There was no religious or cultic dimension to the crimes. The abuser was a simple paedophile, and the evil he did was entirely human, not supernatural. Unfortunately, the Satanism hunters became involved in the questioning of a seven-year old victim, who then changed his testimony to state that he was abused as part of Satanic worship. As a result the trial collapsed, and the paedo escaped justice.

Religious and Ideological Reasons for the Scare

The immediate causes of the Satanic Child Abuse panic, and the related fears of terrible Satanic cults abusing and sacrificing children and animals were the fears of some Christian groups to the rise in secularism and atheism in the contemporary West, and the emergence of New Religious Movements, including modern pagan revivals like Wicca. Some feminists came to believe in these Satanic conspiracies through the work of social workers and child support agencies, which discovered that sexual abuse was far more prevalent than previously believed. This has led to some grossly inflated and frankly unbelievable claims of the scale of sexual abuse, such as that 1/3 of all girls have been sexually assaulted by their fathers.

Poverty and Economic Origins

Fuelling the anxiety were more secular, economic fears. The communities which experienced such panics were often poor, with a poorly-educated population, threatened with economic decline, joblessness and the failure of their businesses. Faced with these stresses, some in these communities began to look for scapegoats in illusory Satanic conspiracies. There was a paper in the academic modern folklore journal, Contemporary Legend, tracing the origins of one such Satanism scare in Louisiana in the 1990s. The paper described the state’s folk as ‘conservative and hard-working’. Louisiana was an oil-producing state, and it used the income from the oil industry to subsidise its citizens’ housing. Sometime in the late 1980s and early 1990s the state’s oil economy collapsed. As a result, house prices and mortgages shot up far beyond what many Louisianans could afford. Many were forced to pack up and leave, and it was not unusual for the banks to receive the keys to certain properties they had mortgaged posted to them and the homes themselves left vacant by their former occupants. In this atmosphere of real economic fear and anxiety, some of the state’s people were left vulnerable to fears of a Satanic threat to their communities. Thus, when dismembered animal carcasses appeared, they were blamed on the activities of Satanists, and the scare escalated from there.

The Satanism Scare and Conspiracy Theory

The sociologist Jeffrey S. Victor, in his book on the Satanism Scare, Satanic Panic, also notes that society’s need to find a scapegoat to persecute, whether Satanists in the 1990s or Jews in Nazi Germany, occurs during economic depressions when there is a widening gulf between rich and poor. This was certainly the case in post-Thatcher Britain and America. In many of the rumours, the Satanists abusing and killing the unfortunate children and animals were wealthy businessmen. These in turn were connected to fears of the occult orientation of particular companies. Proctor and Gamble, for example, were rumoured to be Satanists, based on no more than the design of their company’s logo, which shows a moon and thirteen stars. They attempted to counteract this by redesigning their symbol, and through a very aggressive legal campaign against those repeating the accusation. The Satanism scare was also part of a wider set of fears about the malign nature of the American government itself. George Bush snr notoriously referred to the world after Gulf War I: Desert Storm, as a ‘new world order’, echoing the words of Adolf Hitler, who also referred to Nazism as his ‘new order’. It also connected to conspiracist fears and theories about the origins of the American Revolution. The back of the dollar bill shows an eye in the pyramid, the symbol of the Freemasons, along with the slogan ‘Novo Ordo Saeculorum’ – New World Order. This has been seen as evidence that not only were the American Revolutionaries Freemasons, but that the Masons have been secretly manipulating the country and its leaders ever since for their own malign purposes. When Bush launched the First Gulf War, this was seen by some as part of the global ambitions and schemes of the ruling Masonic elite. I can remember reading a piece in the small press magazine, Enigma, claiming that the Gulf War was caused by a malign secret alliance of Freemasons and Satanists.

Fears of the Underclass in the Blairite ‘Jago’

At the other social extreme, the Magonians themselves noted several times in their articles that the Satanism Scare represented a return of Victorian social fears about the working classes and the emergence of the contemporary underclass. Just as the Victorian upper and middle classes viewed the lower orders with suspicion as ignorant, superstitious, vice-ridden and potentially seditious, so the underclass have been cast as malign, feckless, immoral and a threat to good social order but the guardians of contemporary respectable morality, like the Daily Mail. You can recognise a kinship between the Edwardian novel, In the Jago, written by a radical journalist about the Peaky Blinder street gangs terrorising the slums of London about the time of the First World War, and modern journalists describing the horrors of contemporary sink estates. Unfortunately, there is a difference between In the Jago and modern treatments of the underclass. In the Jago viewed the street gangs and their members as the products of the human misery created through the poverty and desperation of the slums and contemporary Edwardian society. With the notable exception of Owen Davies’ Chavs: the Demonisation of the Working Class, most contemporary journalists seem content simply to declare that the poverty and despair faced by today’s poor is simply their fault. At its very worst, this attitude has produced the garish freak show of Jeremy Kyle, in which a succession of the extremely dysfunctional poor and maleducated appear to accuse each other of stealing each others partners.

Real ‘Pseudo-Satanic’ Crime

The type of occult crime described by the Satan hunters doesn’t exist. Nevertheless, there are occult-tinged crimes that sociologists like Victor have described as ‘pseudo-Satanic’. These are perpetrated by sick and twisted individuals, either from their view of the world or simply to add an extra thrill to their abuse of children or animals. Some of these are maladjusted teens, sometimes from repressively religious families, who have come to believe that they themselves are evil and that evil is stronger than good. You can add to this category the extreme elements of the vampire subculture. At one level, it’s simply a subculture of otherwise well-balanced young people, who like dressing up as vampires and enjoy horror literature, like the kids who go to the Goth weekend at Whitby. Others have become convinced that they really are vampires, and have created an entire parallel society like that in Anne Rice’s novels. And a minority have committed murder, based on their conviction that they are indeed members of the undead.

Satanism Scare as 1990s Phenomenon

Looking back, it seems such fears of Satanic conspiracies, whether global or local, are a distinctly 1990’s phenomenon. Valerie Sinason and some of the others responsible for the Scare in Britain are continuing their work, unrepentant about the immense harm they have done, and occasionally drawing the attention of Private Eye. Yet despite the renewed war in the Middle East and the massive escalation of poverty and the gap between rich and poor under Blair/Brown and then – and especially – Cameron, there hasn’t been renewed panic about Satanists. Some of this may be due to the decline in organised religion in Britain and America. It may also be due to the increased acceptance of alternative religions, at least amongst young people. The Mind, Body and Spirit sections of bookshops include books on Wicca and Western witchcraft, and the religion has been presented sympathetically in a series of fantasy film and TV series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, also in the 1990s. There was some hysteria amongst some, mostly American Fundamentalist Christians, about the supposed occult content of Harry Potter, but this mostly seems to have died down. The Pope even thanked J.K. Rowling for her books’ role in stimulating children’s imaginations.

9/11 and Modern Conspiracy Fears

Some of the reasons why the Satanism Scare has not emerged again may be due to the real fears created by 9/11 and George W. Bush’s Neo-Con global campaign. Right-wing American fears that their government is still engaged in a malign programme of oppression, manipulation and exploitation of its own people, and expanding this to subjugate the other peoples of the world, is still very much present. It is the origin and raison d’etre of the ‘Truther’ campaign in America, and Alex Cox’s Infowars broadcasts. This is mostly secular, but it does take in some of the earlier fears about America’s supposedly Satanic elite. Part of this is based on the footage of the ‘sacrifice of dull care’, performed by America’s super-rich as part of their weekend of networking during the summer at Bohemian Grove. And rather than looking for the subversive activities of Satanists, much of the religious and cultural politics over the last decade has been taken up with the emergence of the New Atheism and its extremely aggressive attack on religious faith.

Threat of Radical Islamism, Immigration and UKIP

There has been the all too real threat of attack by radicalised Western Muslims, such as those responsible for the Boston bombing in America and the 7/7 bombing in the UK. This has served partly to direct Western fears of a terrible and subversive ‘other’ outwards, towards a global threat from militant, radical Islamism, and within to Britain’s Muslim minority. Finally, fear of a subversive threat from outside British society has also been concentrated on the continuing debate and controversy about immigration, and the rise of UKIP. Farage has regularly declared his party to be secular, non-sectarian and non-racist, but its major donors are all former Tories, and UKIP politicians have made a series of racist statements and comments while standing on an anti-immigration platform.

Real Need Now to Attack Poverty Caused by Cameron and Tories

Even if the Satanism Scare has largely vanished, there is always the possibility that it may revive, or the place of imaginary Satanists in causing abuse and destruction may be taken by another minority group. The material poverty and economic insecurity that created the pre-conditions of fear and anxiety that fuelled these fears is still very much present, and under Cameron getting worse. This needs to be tackled, and tackled now. Not by looking for Satanic conspiracies that don’t exist, and fearing your neighbour, but by fearing what the government will inflict next on the very poorest and most desperate in British society. It’s time to stop it.