Thursday, January 09, 2014

Slate: "The Real Victims of Satanic Ritual Abuse"

Everyone's been talking about the proposal to put a statue of Satan on the grounds of the Oklahoma state house; it's timely then that we see this article at Slate magazine, reporting on recent affairs relating to one of the strangest, widest-reaching, and most damaging moral panics in America’s history: the satanic ritual abuse panic of the 1980s and 1990s."

From the article:
"[It] was literally a witch hunt," said Keith Hampton, pro-bono lawyer for the Kellers. "We say ‘witch hunt’ in this figurative way, but that was a modern-day literal witch hunt. They really were after people who they thought were worshipping at the feet of the Dark Lord."
The defendants profiled in the article seem to have been the victims of a bizarre and antirational social affair, but that isn't to say that child abuse itself is a figment of overactive supernaturalistic imaginations. I think here to mention the good work of the organization CHILD ("Children's Healthcare Is a Legal Duty"), that works to identify and lobbies to close legal loopholes that allow persons guilty of religiously-motivated medical neglect of children to avoid prosecution.

The example closest to home of this kind of abuse is seen in the Christian Science religion, whose teachings tell parents that prayer facilitated by a religious practitioner is enough to heal any ailment... as long as one's faith is strong enough, of course.

Related reading

  • "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds" by Charles MacKay
  • "Why People Believe Weird Things" by Michael Shermer
  • "A Delusion Of Satan: The Full Story Of The Salem Witch Trials" by Frances Hill and Karen Armstrong
  • Tuesday, January 07, 2014

    CBS Boston asks: Should we have religious monument in govt buildings?

    Continuing the conversation started by the proposal to place a statue of Satan at Oklahoma's state capitol, the Facebook team at CBS Boston has asked a question:
    Should commissioners approve the monument, or should religious monuments not be allowed at a government building?
    Well, no.

    The civic space should be equally accessible to all members of the community, since it is owned collectively by that community.

    Philosophy and ethics are determinedly private matters, and cannot be readily translated into public language that we can all partake in. It isn't about removing contentious symbols that might offend some people; it is about making sure our government does its work in a language we can all speak. (See John Rawls for more about the distinction between private and public language.)

    Here's an interesting thought: Why don't we think of the concrete absence in the public space of symbols that are religious or similarly "private" in nature, as a monument in itself? A monument that says something in its silence about our solemn shared commitment to a form of government in which persons of all and any creed can all participate equally.

    (cross-posted from the Atheology blog)