On Thursday, Religion Dispatches featured a guest editorial from Joseph Laycock, religion scholar and author of “Vampires Today: The Truth about Modern Vampirism.” Laycock examined the most recent crackpot theory from crackpot conspiracy theory king David Icke, he of the “reptoid hypothesis.” In short, the opening ceremony of the London Olympics were part of a brainwashing Satanic conspiracy, and in turn a rallying cry to the spiritual warriors, the “experts in evil” skilled in rooting out these hidden conspiracies. While Icke is largely a figure of fun, a comical nut who sees evil vortexes and reptoid hybrids under his couch, Laycock reminds us that this is no laughing matter.
“While the theories can be entertaining, when too much momentum forms behind them they have historically resulted in moral panic and the persecution of innocent people. The Satanic Panic that peaked in the 1980s and 1990s is constantly threatening to return.” “Constantly threatening to return.”
Joseph Laycock, scholar and author of “Vampires Today: The Truth about Modern Vampirism,” examines media coverage of the killing of two boys and one woman over the span of four years in Mexico, allegedly the work of Santa Muerte cultists. Laycock’s Religion Dispatches piece argues that “these murders will likely have lasting consequences for alternative religion in North America,” that they are a “Manson moment” that will have potentially harmful reverberations in the years to come. “It goes without saying these murders are unconscionable, and a tragedy. But attempting to find a grand pattern, or a reason, in a connection to so-called ritualistic violence brings authorities no closer to preventing such crimes—while greatly increasing the likelihood that innocent people will be persecuted. It is almost a certainty that at some point in the future the events that have unfolded in Nacozari will be presented as “proof” that Santa Muerte is an inherently violent tradition.
Since the 2010 elections, and some would argue since the election of Barack Obama in 2008, Christian social conservatism in the United States has been flexing its muscles. Anti-abortion legislation is at record highs, contraception is a hot-button issue once more, same-sex marriage (not to mention gay soldiers) continues to be used as a political football, and disturbing moments of Christian nativism have been creeping back into our national discourse. There are two popular theories as to why religiously-motivated culture wars have intensified at this moment. The hubris theory, which posits that Christian conservatives have already “won” in changing the American landscape and now are slowly pushing for even more, and the desperation theory, which envisions a demographically doomed conservative Christian rump fighting a rear-guard action against the inevitability of their inconsequentiality. “…contrary to the whims of lazy pundits, the waning of enthusiasm for battling over “social issues” is not due to higher concerns about jobs, the deficit, and the economic future […] Put simply, the Christian Right is getting old.According to the largest and most recent study we have of American religion and politics, by Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell, almost twice as many people 18 to 29 confess to no faith at all as adhere to evangelical Protestantism.
A recent essay by Jay Michaelson at Religion Dispatches, and a post by fellow Patheos blogger Fred Clark, shone new light into a phenomenon that I’ve pondered for a long time now: the general anxiety over America’s (and more broadly, the West’s) shifting spiritual practices and demographics. Michaelson, taking note of a recent anti-Yoga hit-piece in the New York Times, blasted a certain tendency to “ridicule any non-Western, non-rationalistic, non-neurotic spiritual practice.” “How ironic to criticize spiritually-minded people for indulging themselves, when what’s really indulgent is to coddle the fear of anything that might disturb the status quo, might actually attack the neurosis and doubt that make a successful reporter tick. Don’t lose your edge, that’s the important part. Don’t ever give in to—dare I say it—opening your heart.”
There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up. Back in October I wrote about Christian talk-radio host Janet Mefferd’s “Gay Pagan Hysteria,” criticizing her for comments about “pagans” wanting to “wipe out Christianity.” It seems my criticisms actually caught the eye of Ms. Mefferd herself, as she dedicated some time in November to discuss modern Paganism and the “ideology” of “paganism” with Peter Jones, editor of “On Global Wizardry: Techniques of Pagan Spirituality and a Christian Response”. How can I tell that she was reading The Wild Hunt?