What Happens When Christians Lie about Satanism

by Michael J. Mazza

Although I frequently find myself shocked and disgusted by the rhetoric of the Christian Right, I nevertheless defend the right of these religious fundamentalists to express their opinions. After all, First Amendment rights belong to all Americans, even those who use that right to promote intolerance. But does the First Amendment give Christians the right to lie? A number of Christian investigative journalists have been forced to ask this question in response to the publication of several controversial books.

These books were all alleged exposes of the criminal activities of Satanic cults. The granddaddy of this genre was Mike Warnke’s 1972 work “The Satan Seller.” Warnke’s book told the story of his scandalous past as a Satanic high priest, along with his subsequent conversion to Christianity; the book became the foundation for the author’s highly lucrative career in Christian recording and ministry. Equally influential was the 1980 book “Michelle Remembers,” coauthored by Michelle Smith and Lawrence Pazder. The book describes, in lurid detail, Smith’s alleged abuse as a child at the hands of a Satanic cult. The authors allege that Satan himself assaulted young Michelle, burning her with his fiery tail! These two books helped open the floodgates for a plague of anti-Satanic propaganda. Most of these books were written by Christian authors for a Christian audience. Typical of this highly marketable genre was Lauren Stratford’s 1988 book “Satan’s Underground,” yet another tale of surviving the horrors of “Satanic ritual abuse.” Christian booksellers reaped profits as the testimonies of the devout were strengthened by these dramatic texts. But there was a problem with these anti-Satanic books. And it took a quartet of crusading Christian journalists to uncover the real threat to their community.

Suspicious of the outrageous claims of Mike Warnke, Mike Hertenstein and Jon Trott mounted a massive investigation of the alleged ex-Satanist. After researching his college and military records, as well as interviewing his past associates, Trott and Hertenstein concluded that Warnke’s story was a fabrication. Their exhaustively documented 1993 book, “Selling Satan,” exposed the pious Warnke as a liar who shamelessly exploited the fears–and the wallets–of naive Christians. “Selling Satan” also questions the veracity of “Michelle Remembers” and other texts. Another pair of Christian researchers, Gretchen and Bob Passantino, exposed Lauren Stratford’s book as a similar hoax. In their online article “Satan’s Sideshow,” the Passantinos, with coauthor Jon Trott, demonstrate that there is no evidence for Stratford’s story. Despite the work of ethical Christians like Trott, Hertenstein, and the Passantinos, other Christians continue to spread unsubstantiated accusations of Satanic crimes and conspiracies. While I respect those Christians who express honest differences with Satanic philosophies, I am disgusted by those who promote lies and hysteria. Such mindless anti-Satanic propaganda is, in my opinion, nothing more than religious bigotry in action.

The responsible leaders of the many different Satanic churches and fellowships share my disdain for such irrational hatred. The Rev. Michael Margolin, High Priest of the Sinagogue of Satan, notes on his website that he’s seen this breed of Christian bigot attack Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and Jews, as well as defame other Christians! He adds, “I’ve seen the same tactics of fear and lies used by Joseph Goebbels, obviously their mentor and teacher in the art of propaganda.”

Sadly, those Christians who spread lies and hatred against practitioners of other religions are part of a very old tradition. Medieval Christians, for example, accused Jews of kidnapping and murdering Christian children. Geoffrey Chaucer’ 14th century classic “The Canturbury Tales” includes such an anti-Semitic narrative; the tale is told by Chaucer’s fictional prioress. In a religiously pluralistic country such as the United States, it is natural for there to be tensions between different religious communities. And I think it is acceptable for members of one religion to respectfully critique the theology and practices of another faith. But ignorance and lies help nobody. Ugly anti-Satanic propaganda, like hysterical anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism, degrades us all. I salute those responsible Christians who have exposed anti-Satanic frauds. And I invite all members of our community to join me in creating a world free of religious bigotry.

– Mike Mazza would like to thank both the Satanists and the Christians whose insights contributed to this column. This column appeared in “The Pitt News”, the official newspaper of the main campus of the University of Pittsburgh, on October 25, 1999.

Note: The First Amendment is the provision of the United States Constitution that guarantees freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press to United States residents.