The Misinformed Opinions of People Who Don’t Know You

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  April 18, 2009 — 20 Comments

I’ve seen some pretty bizarre reporting and editorializing in my day, but this particular instance exists on a plane all its own. Remember my story last week criticizing how assumptions were made by law enforcement concerning Santeria and animal sacrifice? At the time I dinged the Newport Beach police for chalking up the dumping of several dead animals on the beach to Santeria (and then ignoring the matter on “religious grounds”) despite a scholar warning that the deaths were inconsistent with Santerian ritual.

Paul Apodaca, who specializes in folklore, mythology, American Indian studies, and California, Southwestern and Mexican culture at Chapman University, said the inconsistencies in the incidents raises questions. “The different manners of the disposal of the remains of the animals, some careful, others not, some beheaded, some not, some interred with other materials, some not, makes this description seem not to be a Santería ceremony carefully following a ritual but someone with a disturbed personality making personal variations,” he said. “Bona fide religious sacrifices are highly ritualized methods and the remains of the animal are carefully disposed of to preserve the sanctity and affective power of the ritual.” Police said Apodaca is entitled to his opinion, but there’s nothing to lead police to believe the killings are malicious and they are not investigating the incidents.

So the same paper that ran the initial story, The Daily Pilot, then decides this would be a great opportunity to ask the following question to a Religious Science New Age church leader, a United Church of Christ pastor, and a Jewish Rabbi.

“Recently, the remains of a few animals have been found in Newport Beach. Officials say they were likely beheaded as part of a Santería religious ceremony that includes animal sacrifice. Authorities say they won’t intervene because the courts have protected this sort of practice. What do you think of this and should the law regulate this sort of ritual?”

Notice that the question doesn’t mention the fact that an expert (quoted in their own paper) thinks these killings were done by a disturbed individual and not Santero/as, only that “authorities” think it’s “likely” they were part of a Santeria ceremony. So how does this panel of people, who know next-to-nothing about Santeria, respond to “what they think” and if the practice should be “regulated”? The Religious Science pastor gives a rather hedged defense, but claims Santeria will have to eventually change its practices, the UCC pastor (who seemed to actually read the initial report) has “mixed feelings”, while the Jewish Rabbi unleashes with both barrells at those evil, evil, practitioners of Santeria.

“The rituals of the remains of animals is familiar to what the Germans did to the Jews years ago. The experiments carried out by German scientists on Jews who then were considered to be sub-human animals is thus come to life again. Both cases are cruel and inhumane, not to speak of immoral. For obvious reasons, such acts today should be stopped by us. They are unethical, unhealthy for our planet and serve no purpose but to disgust people. Foolish experimentation or sacrifice of parts of animals is barbaric. Human rights are being flagrantly disregarded, and such acts should be stopped immediately: No cruelty to animals. The atrocities committed by the German in World War II of experimentation and mutilation should be so abhorrent, we should never consider using similar rituals ever to be repeated on animals in our society today. Also, the animal’s remains is a violation of Earth Day as well. I feel that appropriate laws should be enforced to stop the performance of these disgusting rituals.”

Do Jewish Rabbis get some sort of special dispensation for making reductio ad Hitlerum arguments? I think this may be the first time I’ve seen practitioners of Santeria compared to Nazi scientists. It is also strange that this outraged religious leader doesn’t mention the fact that his own faith practices ritual slaughter on a massive scale. Too bad the paper didn’t think to let him in on the fact that there is some doubt that these killings were even performed by a Santero/Santera, and that the cops may be claiming “religious exemption” to avoid doing a lengthy investigation, his response might have been a bit more measured in tone concerning a faith he obviously knows nothing about.

Before I was simply criticizing the police for chalking up these animal killings to “Santeria”, but now this newspaper is culpable in damaging relations between faiths by blithely spreading misinformation in order to spice up an editorial feature. How many people are now going to be convinced that pracitioners of Santeria are lawless amoral killers? This is highly irresponsible journalism, even for an editorial feature. How will this affect the law-abiding Santeros/Santeras who quietly practice their rites in private? There a serious consequences for labeling every dead and dumped animal as beloning to a “Santeria” (or “Voodoo”) ritual, and we are starting to see the fruits of that lazy reporting.

Jason Pitzl-Waters