Comments on Dawn Perlmutter's Fall 2001 paper
"The Religious Practices of Modern Satanists and Terrorists"


by Diane Vera

Copyright © 2006 by Diane Vera. All rights reserved.

In the fall of 2001, shortly after September 11, Dawn Perlmutter wrote a really awful paper titled The Religious Practices of Modern Satanists and Terrorists (, which was published in the Fall 2001 / Winter 2002 issue of an academic journal called Anthropoetics ( Yeah, just what we always needed:  someone likening us to terrorists - especially right after 9/11, given the PATRIOT act and all....

Below, I'll first zero in on the parts of Dawn Perlmutter's paper that I find most objectionable. I'll then examine the paper as a whole.

In the section on "Models," subsection "Typologies of Satanism," there's a subsubsection on "Traditional / Intergenerational Satanists":

Traditional Satanists are considered a highly organized international secret cult network actively engaged in a variety of criminal activities, including arson, ritual abuse, sexual abuse, incest, kidnapping, child pornography, and ritual murder involving mutilation, dismemberment, and sometimes cannibalism.

As we'll see below, Perlmutter believes in this alleged "highly organized international secret cult network" but does not present any good reason for believing in it.

I strongly object to the use of the term "traditional Satanists" to refer to this alleged gigantic conspiracy of child rapists, torturers, and murderers, for two reasons:
  • Referring to it as "traditional Satanism" suggests that it is somehow the heart of Satanism, when in fact there is no good reason to believe that it even exists. In fact, there's not even a generations-old "tradition" of anti-Satanist scaremongering literature about it. In anti-Satanist literature, Satanists have always been alleged to commit various crimes, but the focus on child sexual abuse was new as of 1980, with the "recovered memory" fad and the publication of Michelle Remembers by Lawrence Pazder.
  • There do exist people in the Satanist scene who call themselves "traditional Satanists." By that term, typically they just mean that they are Satanists in the traditional sense of the word "Satanist," i.e. one who worships Satan. They don't mean a tradition of raping and mutilating children. I myself would be classified as a "traditional Satanist" by some, although I personally prefer the term "theistic" instead of "traditional." A few "traditional Satanists" also claim a generations-old family tradition, but this too, in most cases, should not be assumed to involve violent criminality.

Anyhow, Dawn Perlmutter goes on to say:

Similar to religious Satanists, traditional Satanists are also known as "true believers"; they are exceptionally devoted to their beliefs, which comprise an extreme fundamentalist version of Satanic religion. They are also referred to as generational or intergenerational Satanists. Many members contend that they were raised in this belief system, going back as far as several generations.

Note her reference to "many members" rather than "many people who claim to have been members." Evidently Perlmutter believes them. Elsewhere in the article she says that there is controversy over such claims, but nowhere does she point out the thoroughly dispreputable sources of nearly all these claims, namely: (1) "recovered memory therapy" clients; (2) evangelical Christian hucksters, of whom the best-known have been exposed as frauds; and (3) little children who were questioned by overzealous social workers. (For details and documentation, see the many links on my pages about "Satanism" scares and their debunking: A brief introduction ( and The "Satanic Ritual Abuse" scare (and the larger child sex abuse panic) of the 1980's and early 1990's ( Nor does Perlmutter mention the FBI's conclusion that there was no evidence for any of the cases that they investigated. (See the well-known report by FBI Special Agent Kenneth Lanning, 1989 ( and 1992 ( editions.)

Ideologically, traditional Satanists worship Satan as the evil deity described in the New Testament; their religious practices include blood rituals, animal and human sacrifice, and a variety of sadistic sexual rites for the glorification of Satan. The previously described religious Satanists all vehemently deny engaging in these activities and consider the allegation as a form of defamation. Because of a lack of empirical evidence, many scholars, Satanic church members, mental health professionals, and a large portion of the general public consider these assertions to be urban myths, false memories, and a form of satanic panic. Although studies have not been conducted to determine the frequency with which it occurs, there is factual evidence that the practice of traditional Satanism exists.

What factual evidence? Perlmutter doesn't provide any.

Examples of criminal cases involving alleged traditional Satanists include the infamous McMartin preschool trial that lasted six years and was the first multi-victim multi-offender child abuse case. Beginning in March 1984, 208 counts of child abuse involving 40 children were directed against 7 adults; the two owners of the school, one owner’s son, and four schoolteachers. By January 1986, a new district attorney dropped all charges against five of the adults; remaining were 52 charges against Ray Buckey and 20 counts against Peggy Buckey, with one count of conspiracy. After several years, in August 1990, another jury was hung and the prosecution gave up trying to obtain a conviction.

In 2005, one of the children in the McMartin case, now grown up, came forward and admitted, "I lied." (See I'm Sorry - An Introduction ( and McMartin Pre-Schooler: 'I Lied' (,0,285518.story?coll=la-home-magazine) by Kyle Zirpolo, as told to Debbie Nathan, LA Times, October 30, 2005.) He said he had told tales of abuse just to tell a bunch of overzealous social workers what they wanted to hear, having been questioned by those social workers for hours on end. Long before then, it was evident to many people that zeal against child sexual abuse had gotten way out of hand during the 1980's.

This case spurred many similar prosecutions, which were referred to as witch hunts by people who argue that this type of abuse does not occur. This trial was also a national media event, the subject of many books, studies, and films. Other famous controversial descriptions of victims of Satanic ritual abuse and entire Satanic communities practicing traditional Satanism are found in the classic non-fiction (although some claim, fictional) books Michelle Remembers and Satan’s High Priest. Both books describe in detail heinous ritual practices of traditional Satanists. The web site lists 41 multi-victim multi-offender court cases with allegations of ritual abuse ( ( Hyperlinks to more details about the cases are provided by the authors; however, the reader should take note that their viewpoint is that satanic ritual abuse does not occur.

Not all the alleged "ritual abuse" cases involved allegations of "Satanism." Nearly all of them did involve either (1) inappropriate questioning of children by social workers caught up in 1980's fads, or (2) "recovered memories" on the part of adults.

For an objective and informative description of the debates and issues concerning satanic ritual abuse, see: . As an example of the debates on satanic ritual abuse, an article entitled "Satanism: Skeptics Abound" can be viewed at .

The above two URL's are outdated. Up-to-date links are here:

  • Research resources on Satanic and/or Ritual Abuse and related issues ( on Apologetics Index, an evangelical Christian site
  • Satanism: Skeptics Abound ( by John Johnson and Steve Padilla, Los Angeles Times, April 23, 1991

On might expect the Apologetics Index page, which Perlmutter recommends as an "objective and informative" resource, to provide or at least refer to the "factual evidence" which Perlmutter claims the existence of but does not provide. In fact, the Apologetics Index page does not lend any support whatsoever to Perlmutter's claim.

As I mentioned earlier, Perlmutter's statements about "Traditional / Intergenerational Satanists" are part of a subsection on "Typologies of Satanism," in the section on "Models." In the first paragraph under the heading "Typologies of Satanism," she writes:

... after reviewing proposed typologies from a variety of sources, I have been able to detect four general categories, although they may be referred to by different names or only for purposes of condemnation.(7) These categories are: religious / organized Satanists, traditional / intergenerational Satanists, self-styled Satanists, and youth subculture Satanists. These classifications are broad and not mutually exclusive.

The above typology is naturally favored by anti-Satanist scaremongers such as Perlmutter, given its focus on crime and violence. By using that typology, Perlmutter is following in the footsteps of the many long-ago-discredited "occult crime experts" who went around giving police-training seminars back in the 1980's. To see how skewed it is, compare it with Five types of Christians ( on my Theistic Satanism ( site.

Her subsubsection on "Religious / Organized Satanists" ends as follows:

Although the ideologies of these groups may be highly offensive to more traditional religions, it is generally thought that religious Satanists are on the whole law-abiding citizens whose known practices rarely constitute illegal activities. However, this has been questioned in statements of the many survivors and victims of occult-related crimes, who claim that these groups are simply covers for criminal acts.

Again note her reference to "the many survivors and victims" rather than "the many alleged survivors and victims."

Anyhow, if indeed the CoS and the ToS and the FCoS were just "covers for criminal acts," why haven't they been busted by now? How did the CoS and the ToS manage to survive through the 1980's, when anti-Satanist scaremongering was exceedingly fashionable? After all, even many bigtime Mafiosi, despite all their money and despite all their payoffs to cops and judges, nevertheless do get caught eventually.

Her subsubsection on "self-styled Satanists" begins as follows:

Self-styled Satanists are either individually involved with Satanism or belong to small, loosely organized groups. Self-styled Satanists are sub-classified either as "dabblers," people who are intermittently and experientially involved in occult activities, or as "true criminals" who use the occult as an excuse to justify or rationalize their criminal behavior.

In other words, if you're an adult Satanist but you aren't a member of one of the bigger Satanic organizations and you aren't just a dabbler either, then you must be a criminal.

Well, I guess we can't fault Dawn Perlmutter too heavily for that one. Even a lot of the better scholarly books on Satanism and "Satanic crime" scares - most of which were written before the Internet became popular - do not acknowledge the existence of the many independent Satanists who are serious about their beliefs and who are not criminals. After all, until the advent of the Internet, we independent Satanists just weren't very visible. Back then, the only Satanists who were likely to come to the public's attention were the bigger organizations plus those who got into trouble with the law. But, yes, we law-abiding independent Satanists do exist. There are plenty of us. We need to become more visible. (See To scholars of new religions:  Suggestions for research on Satanism ( on my Theistic Satanism ( site.)

The fourth and last type she talks about is "Youth Subculture Satanists," about whom she says:

Youth subculture Satanists are similar to self-styled Satanists; however, their interest in Satanism is usually transitory and may not evolve into criminal activities. Youth subculture Satanists are sub-categorized as dabblers; they are teenagers and young adults who are usually introduced to Satanism via music, film, the Internet, and other media. Most often, these young adults turn to the occult because of a deep sense of alienation from mainstream culture and spiritual traditions. They either eventually return to more traditional beliefs or are recruited into one of the many Satanic religious organizations. Their rituals usually escalate depending upon the length of time they are involved in Satanism, beginning with simple magical incantations and sometimes evolving into animal and human sacrifice.

Here she implies that the longer a kid remains interested in Satanism, the more likely that kid is to commit crimes. It's my impression that the reverse is true:  that those kids who are interested in Satanism mainly as an excuse to commit crimes are likely to have only a transitory interest, whereas those with a serious and longterm interest in Satanism are less likely to see it as an excuse to commit crimes. I should add that those kids with only a transitory interest are by no means necessarily criminals either, but my point is that there's no reason to assume a positive correlation between criminality and longevity of interest in Satanism.

Alas, I can't prove my claim here any more than Perlmutter can. As she correctly notes at the beginning of the "Typologies of Satanism" subsection, "the study of Satanism is in its infancy; basic demographic and ethnological data have yet to be compiled, and it is unclear whether accurate information is available." However, according to everything nonsensationalistic I've ever read about about juvenile delinquency involving Satanic trappings, the kids' interest in "Satanism" was almost always transitory, an impression confirmed by people I know who have known such kids. (I'll be adding more specific info to this website later.)

Toward the end of Perlmutter's paper is a section on "Sacred Violence." The subsection on "Satanism and Sacred Violence" begins with a subsubsection on "Sacrifice." In it, Perlmutter talks about the "Order of the Nine Angles" (ONA) and its advocacy of murder. Never does it even occur to her to ask whether the ONA is for real.

The ONA literature also advocates that Satanists get involved in neo-Nazism. Therefore, if indeed the ONA were a genuine and serious organization, we would almost certainly have heard quite a bit about it from the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center, both of which are well-funded watchdog organizations keeping a close eye on all things violently racist and anti-Semitic. And, if the ONA folks really were killing people and not just blowing smoke, surely they would have been busted by now; there are more than enough people out there who take groups of violent Nazi sympathizers very seriously.

To their credit, the ADL and the SPLC and similar organizations have always refrained from jumping on the Satanic panic bandwagon, despite justified concerns - which they have not hesitated to voice - about the "National Socialist Black Metal" scene and the neo-Nazi leanings of a minority of Satanists.

In an earlier section on "Rivalries," near the beginning of her paper, Perlmutter refers to a "vehement debate among new religious movement scholars" and says:

These usually fall into three general categories: Anticult scholars, who emphasize potential harms among new religious groups, cult apologists, who emphasize religious freedom, and countercult organizations, who oppose religious groups on theological grounds. The debate is complex and ongoing. The anticult position on Satanism is that it exists in a variety of individual and group religions, some of which are responsible for serious crimes. The cult apologist position is that it is a benign new religious movement and that allegations of crimes are due to satanic "panics" and urban legends. The countercult position is that, from an orthodox perspective, any group other than the true religion is heretical and/or satanic. Thus, Satanism is a culturally relative construct that varies in place and in time and is intrinsically intertwined with issues of religious freedom, even if that freedom entails the subjugation and harm of others.

First off, "cult apologist" is a term used by anticultists to refer to those new religion scholars who disagree with the anticultists. As far as I am aware, no one self-identifies as a "cult apologist."

Second, Dawn Perlmutter oversimplifies the positions of the three camps.

Anticult and countercult scholars hold a variety of views on the topic of Satanism. Although most of them disapprove of Satanism, many of them have rejected a lot of the taller and more sensationalistic tales that Dawn Perlmutter has evidently swallowed whole. Some Christian countercultists, such as Gretchen and Bob Passantino, have even played a leading role in debunking the "Satanic Ritual Abuse" scare. And some well-known anticultists, such as Lorna Goldberg, regard the "Recovered Memory" movement as being itself rather cultlike.

Also, no one claims that all "allegations of crimes are due to satanic 'panics' and urban legends." There are criminals in almost every religion, and Satanism is certainly no exception.

But there have been many baseless - and in some cases demonstrably false - allegations of "Satanic crime." And there is no evidence for the existence of a generations-old organized conspiracy of Satan-worshiping murderers, torturers, and child rapists. Most importantly, those people who do commit violent crimes in the name of Satan are not representative of Satanism. They are at most a despised fringe.

And, yes, there certainly was a Satanic panic during the 1980's and early 1990's.

I'll now review the remainder of Dawn Perlmutter's paper, starting at the beginning.

It begins with a paragraph full of jargon derived from the writings of a Roman Catholic philosopher named René Girard. (See my page on René Girard, "sacred violence," Christianity, and "anthropology": Dawn Perlmutter's philosophical background, as best I can figure it out ( I won't comment on it for now, since my concern here is not with Girardian theory but with what Dawn Permutter says about Satanism. So, let's start with her second paragraph:

While the theme of terrorism has been consistently and appropriately addressed in media accounts of the American tragedy that occurred on September 11, 2001, there is another relevant concept that intermittently appears in the press but has seldom been specifically considered. The Islamic extremist position that the United States is the "Great Satan," the thousands of reports of the face of Satan seen in the photographs of the smoke coming out of the World Trade Center ( or, and the essentially evil nature of this act suggest that Satanism needs to be examined.

Here, she doesn't make a good case for any relevance of Satanism to the events of 9/11. What clearly did play a role in the events of 9/11 was the Christian/Islamic view of Satan - not any Satanist's view of Satan. Now, an understanding of the Christian/Islamic view of Satan could be deepened by comparing and contrasting it with the way many Satanists view Satan. But Dawn Perlmutter doesn't do that in her article, except very superficially.

The concept of Satanism is just as disturbing, frightening, and elusive as the concept of terrorism.

"Disturbing" and "frightening" are subjective feelings, revealing only the author's own personal bias. I do wonder why she finds us to be just as disturbing and frightening as terrorists, especially right after 9/11. As far as I am aware, no Satanist has ever crashed an airplane into a skyscraper, deliberately or otherwise. Well, I guess I shouldn't be too surprised by her feelings, given her belief that some of us live in families that have been raping and torturing children for generations. Would she still find us so "disturbing" and "frightening" if she didn't believe in SRA?

For some, Satan is a personified evil being, for others, he is a metaphor for the existence of evil, and, for many more, Satan is a myth that arose out of biblical literature. Whatever views you may hold concerning the reality of Satan, there is no question that Satanism exists.

Well, yeah, we exist. Hi there!

Her article then has five sections titled "Personifications," "Rivalries," "Models," "Religions," and "Sacred Violence." Each of these five sections has two subsections, one on Satanism and one on terrorism, with as much parallelism between the two subsections as she can possibly muster. She claims that "the similarities are striking, compelling, and significant." In fact, many of the similarities she finds are either artificial or pretty trivial. Most of what real similarites she does find are characteristic of plenty of other religions, social movements, and subcultures too, not just Satanists and terrorists. And she overlooks key differences. At the same time, there are also a few real parallels that she overlooks - perhaps because she hasn't yet done any truly in-depth study of Satanism.

In the section on "Personifications," Perlmutter devotes one paragraph each to "Modern Satanism" and "Modern Terrorism." About Satanism she says, among other things:

Satanism is present in American culture as a religion, as a genre in film, music, and art, as a political ideal, and as a popular subject in the media.

As a political ideal? What political ideal? Different kinds of Satanists hold very different political ideals.

Satanism is a religion, acknowledged by the US Federal Government, that maintains ethical doctrines, specific rituals, and true believers. This religion is widely practiced in Western society, both individually and communally, through Satanic churches, covens, and grottoes.

Widely practiced? How widely? She doesn't give even very rough estimates, let alone sources for same.

As with other organized religions, beliefs vary among different sects and congregations, ranging from a form of ethical egoism to worshipping a specific deity. In most sects, Satanism is a reversal of Christianity, and similarities are found between the symbolism and ritual practices of each group.

Instead of saying that "Satanism is a reversal of Christianity," it would be more accurate to say that most forms of Satanism have reverse-Christian themes. Most form of Satanism also have other themes too, derived from sources other than Christianity. They are far from purely reverse-Christian.

Perlmutter's paragraph about "Modern Terrorism" is worded in as close to exactly parallel a fashion as possible, e.g. "Terrorism too is present in American culture as a religion, a genre in film, music, and art, a political ideal, and a popular subject in the media." Wait a minute - since when was terrorism a religion? One of the three "terrorist religions" she'll talk about later - Aum Shinrikyo - isn't even in the same general family of religions as Christian Identity and Wahhabi Islam, both of which are at least Abrahamic, though otherwise very different from each other.

Her paragraph on "modern Terrorism" also mentions one aspect of terrorism that is, in fact, fundamentally different from most forms of Satanism, although she chooses not to highlight this fact:

Similarities are found in racist, elitist ideologies that advocate violence, terrorism, and genocide and view every other group as satanic or the evil Babylon. ... I will describe how terrorists justify their violent acts theologically by claiming that American culture is completely satanic.

Most forms of Satanism do not single out any outside group as some grand, collective Evil that must be destroyed wholesale.

The most influential form of Satanism, LaVeyan Satanism, does encourage an attitude of disdain toward "the herd." I personally find LaVeyan-style "Satanic elitism" to be a bit silly. But, unlike hatred or fear, LaVeyan-style disdain does not inspire an obsessive desire to destroy. Instead, LaVeyan Satanism encourages people to mind their own business and to seek their own personal advantage.

Alas, I have to admit that there are exceptions to the above. Within the Satanist scene there do exist some neo-Nazi groups that promote an obsessive and paranoid hatred of Jews; and there are also some silly, immature kids who imagine that someday they'll be fighting in a war against all Christians. But these folks are the exception, not the rule.

The section on "Rivalries" has subsections on "Defining Satanism" and "Defining Terrorism." In the latter, Perlmutter rightly observes, "one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter." She goes on to say, rightly:

The concept of violence is intrinsic to the definition of terrorism, but that only further complicates the issue because not all acts of violence are considered negative. One political view will consider an act as terrorism and another will deem it justifiable retribution. Furthermore, the distinction between terrorism and retribution is dependent upon the perception of who was violated first. This is exemplified by the similarities in the post-September 11 speeches by President Bush and Osama bin Laden, in which each accuses the other of being a terrorist.

Her parallel observations regarding Satanism are:

Basically, one man’s God is another man’s devil. From a fundamentalist Christian theological perspective, any practice other than Christianity is considered satanic, and from a fundamental Islamic perspective, any practice other than Islam is considered satanic. ...

Historically, Satanism was attributed to groups designated as heretical simply because they deviated from strict Christian or Islamic practices. Today, many non-traditional religions, especially those that entail occult practices, such as Santeria, Voodoo, Wicca, and Druidism, are often still categorized as Satanic.

Here, she missed a parallel that she could have pointed out regarding Satanism itself, not just other religions that have been mistakenly labelled "Satanism." "Evil" is a relative concept; and most Satanists - including most theistic Satanists - do not think of themselves as worshipping an "evil" being. Rather, most theistic Satanists embrace ethical values that are, in one way or another, very different from traditional Christian morality. (See my article Satan and "Evil" in Christianity (and Satanism) ( on my Theistic Satanism ( site.) Evidently Perlmutter has missed this key point, because, several places in her article, she describes theistic Satanists as worshipping Satan "as a personified evil being."

Next comes the section on "Models," with subsection "Typologies of Satanism," on which I've already commented at length. Just one further comment. Under "Religious / Organized Satanists" she says:

There are so many Satanic web sites that there are several awards given to the best sites, including Lucifer’s Top List and Tomb of Darkness.

A "top list" is not an awards site. It's a competitive variant on the idea of a web ring, ranking sites based on how many people click on the top list from the listed site.

The next section, "Religions," begins with a subsection on "Modern Religious Satanism." In the first paragraph, Perlmutter says:

Just as Christianity is manifested in a number of diverse Christian religions, there are many varieties of Satanism and Satanic sects, sometimes pejoratively designated as cults. Most practitioners of Satanism proudly acknowledge the designation of Satanists, others admit that their religion entails occultism, magic, and worshipping specific deities but do not consider it specifically Satanic;

Say what? Does Dawn Perlmutter consider all religions involving "occultism, magic, and worshipping specific deities" (other than the Abrahamic God, I would imagine?) to be forms of Satanism??? For example, as of the time she wrote this article, did she consider Wicca to be a form of Satanism? Evidently a bunch of people must have hollered at her for this, because, in the article she wrote two years later on "The Forensics of Sacrifice," she says that "Neo-Pagan principles do not entail illegal activities and, significantly, "Witches" as they refer to themselves, do not engage in animal sacrifice or other blood rituals." (See my Comments on "The Forensics of Sacrifice: A Symbolic Analysis of Ritualistic Crime" (Fall 2003) (

In her article on "The Religious Practices of Modern Satanists and Terrorists," she insists on classifying the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO) as a Satanic organization. Who else does she classify as Satanic, I wonder?

Next is a section on "Sacred Violence." The subsection on "Satanism and Sacred Violence" begins with a subsubsection on "Sacrifice," which I discussed earlier.

The next subsubsection, on "Violent Scripture," quotes Aleister Crowley's Book of the Law. Not being an expert on Crowley, I won't comment. If any knowledgeable Thelemites happen to be reading this, I would be interested in their comments.

Then comes a subsubsection on "Vengeance." She rightly notes that LaVeyan Satanism emphasizes vengeance. But then, near the end of that subsubsection, she says, "The Satanic emphasis on revenge also serves as an excellent recruiting device, since revenge is exactly what alienated teenagers are often seeking." Likewise, near the end of the next subsubsection on "Satanic Responses to September 11, 2001," she says, "Unfortunately, many Satanic groups used the tragic events of September 11 as an opportunity to recruit young Americans by appealing to their fresh emotions of revenge, disillusionment, and insecurity."

First, most Satanists don't believe in trying to convert people to Satanism. Church of Satan folks will even say, "Satanists are born, not made." Insofar as Satanist groups aim to recruit people, they usually aim to recruit only people who are already Satanists, in competition with other Satanist groups.

A friend of mine who was very active in the online Satanist scene during late 2001 and early 2002 does not recall any Satanist groups using the events of 9/11 in an attempt to recruit, although he does recall some young people sharing gruesome fantasies about what they would like to do to Osama Bin Laden.

On the other hand, a lot of Christian evangelists certainly have used and continue to use 9/11 in their attempts to recruit people. Many of those evangelists are also very pro-Republican and pro-militaristic.

Anyhow, I don't think LaVey's and many other Satanists' emphasis on vengeance is a primary reason for Satanism's appeal. It may well be part of Satanism's appeal to many Satanists, but I seriously doubt that very many Satanists were drawn to Satanism solely or primarily on the basis of the vengeance issue. After all, Satanists are by no means the only people in the world who believe in vengeance.

It is true that the Satanist scene has grown and diversified quite a bit these past several years. But I doubt that the events of 9/11 had much if anything to do with it. Most likely, the main factor in Satanism's recent growth has been the emergence of the Internet.

Anyhow, regarding LaVeyan Satanism and vengeance, there's a key point that Perlmutter has missed:  Despite all their macho chest-pounding about "vengeance, not turning the other cheek," LaVeyan Satanists - influenced by Nietzsche - tend also to be very leery of the "victim mentality" which is in fact a prerequisite for serious vengeance-seeking. The whole point of vengeance is to fight back against harm to yourself or to someone important to you. Therefore, in order to seek vengeance, you must first admit that you have been harmed, i.e. that you are a victim - and that is something that many LaVeyans and LaVeyan-influenced Satanists are loath to admit, even when they really are victims or at least potential victims. Somehow, a lot of Satanists have managed to convince themselves that they are some sort of elite supermen who should never be a victim of anyone or anybody. Hence, for example, it is very difficult to get most Satanists interested in fighting back against Satanic panics. Much like Satan Himself in my own theological view, many Satanists would rather just laugh at their accusers' fears. And that, though they apparently don't realize it, is a form of turning the other cheek.

At the end of Permutter's paper is a section titled "Skandalon," which begins as follows:

The similarities of the religious practices of modern Satanists and terrorists are striking, compelling, and numerous.

Not really. Let's look at all these allegedly "striking" and "compelling" similarities:

All of the previously mentioned religions legitimize violence with the principle that the end justifies the means, whether the end is individual gratification or the establishment of an ideal world. This is evident from a brief review of the five sections of this paper.

The only people who don't "legitimize violence" - under at least some circumstances - are pacifists, who are a small minority even among Christians. Christianity traditionally does have the concept of a "just war," and many Christian philosophers have written about the question of when war is justified. Also, the vast majority of Christians believe that criminals should be punished.

LaVey's emphasis on "vengeance" should be put in historical perspective. The Satanic Bible was written in the late 1960's in San Francisco, which, at that time, was Hippie Central. In my opinion, LaVeyan Satanism can best be understood as a response to the hippie movement, in some ways reacting against it while in other ways carrying its ideals further. One of the things LaVey reacted against was hippie pacificism, especially of the superficial, naive, "All you need is love!" variety.

In my personal opinion, LaVey's emphasis on vengeance is outdated. These days, almost everyone accepts the idea that vengeance is appropriate in at least some contexts. I also feel that an overemphasis on vengeance can be counterproductive. We need to choose our battles carefully. And, whereas the more naive kinds of pacifists are just annoying, the more serious pacifists can teach the rest of us conflict-resolution skills, which are extremely valuable even if they aren't the panacea some would claim.

However, even if LaVeyan Satanism can be said to overemphasize vengeance, it still advocates vengeance only against people who have caused you actual harm. Under no circumstances does LaVeyan Satanism condone crashing an airplane into a skyscraper full of innocent civilians. And, as I observed earlier, LaVeyan Satanism undercuts its own purported emphasis on vengeance by scorning "victim mentality."

Anyhow, another of Perlmutter's allegedly "striking, compelling, and significant" similarities is this:

Personifications demonstrated that Satanism and terrorism are present in American culture in many forms.

So? A lot of other things are even more present in American culture, in many forms.

Rivalries showed that Satanism and terrorism are relative concepts determined by the theological, moral, political, and legal perspectives of each group and intertwined with issues of religious and political freedom.

Again, so what? Almost any subculture - including even academia, for example - is going to have subgroups that see things in different ways, plus various groups of outsiders who see the subculture in different ways. And, for any unpopular religious or political minority, no matter what the reasons for its unpopularity, there will be "issues of religious and political freedom."

Models demonstrated that typologies of Satanism and terrorism are defined by antithetical ideologies and that the concepts are culturally constructed.

In other words, Satanists and terrorists have both been written about by outsiders, and the views of outsiders have had more impact on the popular imagination than the views of insiders. Well, that's true of any highly stigmatized group. Consider, for example, gays before the advent of today's gay rights movement.

Religions provided insights into the variety of religious practices of six different Satanic and terrorist groups and demonstrated that they do not consider themselves cultists or terrorists. Finally, Sacred Violence demonstrated that, regardless of how heinous, irrational, or inexplicable, religious violence is always felt to be justified and never thought of as sacrilege or terrorism by the groups that practice it.

What is "religious violence," exactly? Does she mean any violence condoned by a religion? By that definition, any war qualifies as "religious violence" if the more popular churches support it or at least don't disapprove of it. Only in a very broad sense can most forms of Satanism be said to approve of any kind of "religious violence." In any narrower, stricter sense, most Satanists do not approve of any kind of religious violence. LaVeyan Satanism advocates vengeance, but for our own sake, not for Satan's sake.

Throughout this article it is apparent that both Satanists and terrorists are in continual conflict with opposing ideologies.

So is any nonmainstream religion or subculture, including even pacifistic Christian heretics like the Jehovah's Witnesses.

In short, most of the allegedly numerous "striking" and "compelling" similarities she sees between Satanism and terrorism are "striking" and "compelling" only to someone who either (1) is unfamiliar with nonmainstream subcultures in general or (2) believes that mainstream Christianity is a pacifistic religion, which it isn't.

According to their writings, these groups essentially desire what most individuals and cultures desire: respect, acknowledgment, power, control, and so on.

Satanists desire some of the same things everyone else wants. Many of us also desire some different things too.

Then again, Dawn Perlmutter is heavily influenced by the ideas of René Girard, one of whose weaknesses seems to be a distinct lack of appreciation for human variety. Admittedly I'm not deeply familiar with Girard's ideas, but the idea that humans are essentially all alike - or at least that only our similarities are important, whereas that our difference are all unimportant - seems to be a major theme in what little I've read by him and about him so far. (See my page on René Girard, "sacred violence," Christianity, and "anthropology": Dawn Perlmutter's philosophical background, as best I can figure it out (

However, their goals are not easily achieved, since their absolutist ideologies are in direct opposition to the absolutist ideologies of mainstream Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, with each accusing the other of worshipping false gods. In Girardian terms, these phenomena are referred to respectively as mimetic desire and mimetic rivalry.

If I understand correctly, she's claiming that Satanists, in our rejection of Christianity and its God, are merely mimicking Christianity's own rejection of the gods of other religions as "false gods." Moreover, she's claiming we mimic Christians in this manner merely because we want the same things they want (respect, acknowledgment, power, control, and so on).

This is an extremely one-dimensional of looking at things. This kind of analysis completely overlooks such factors as (1) any actual, real disagreements we might have with Christianity and (2) all manner of possible reasons why we might be drawn to Satan, including spiritual experiences.

Here, Perlmutter seems to be blindly spouting Girardian abstractions rather than looking closely at reality. If our sole aim were to attain the same things everyone else wants (respect, etc.), there are plenty of different possible ways to get those things. No need to become Satanists just for those purposes. And, if our aim were simply to mimic Christians, there are plenty of better ways to do that, too.

Perlmutter is also assuming here that Satanists have an "absolutist ideology," which some of us do, but many of us do not.

The manifestation of these rivalries was visibly evident in the previous sections on Rivalries, Models, and Religions. The section on Sacred Violence demonstrates that these rivalries eventually escalate to reprehensible acts of violence, provoking violent reprisals which then evoke violent retaliation, in an endless cycle of mutual revenge, with each group righteously proclaiming that they are justified. According to Girard, it is at this point that a mimetic crisis has been reached, "the war of all against all."

Here again she's blindly spouting Girardian abstractions rather than looking closely at reality.

If we Satanists were as prone to "violent reprisals" as she claims - and especially if some of us were also part of a well-organized, generations-old conspiracy - then anti-Satanist crusaders like Dawn Perlmutter would have very short lifespans. The very fact that she herself is still alive is strong evidence against her claims about how murder-prone we are.

It is very unlikely that Satanists will ever get into any full-fledged physical war with Christians. Admittedly there have been quite a few immature young Satanists who have claimed to want such a war, perhaps having watched too many Omen movies. But it is obviously unfeasible, and any Satanist with any intelligence at all knows this.

At most, Satanists can find ways to challenge Christianity from within our culture. And what's wrong with that? Surely Western culture has evolved, in many worthwhile ways, via challenges to its ideas.

"Violent reprisals" by Satanists against Christians in general - or even just against anti-Satanist scaremongers - are clearly not going to get us anywhere in today's world. And it seems to me that most Satanists do understand this, fantasies to the contrary notwithstanding. We'll need to find legal means of putting the scaremongers out of business or at least banishing them to the lunatic fringe. To that end, we'll need plenty of help from other people outside the Satanist scene. We should not hesitate to accept help even from Christians, a few of whom played a key role in discrediting the previous swarm of scaremongers back in the early 1990's. (See my page about "Satanism" scares and their debunking: A brief introduction ( Luckily there were plenty of non-Satanists who opposed the last round of Satanic panic for various reasons; we Satanists barely had to lift a finger. This time around, we'll probably need to do more of the work ourselves, but still we probably won't be alone.

So there won't be any escalating cycle of "violent reprisals," though there will probably be an escalating cycle of rhetoric. And there's no reason for it to turn into a "war of all against all"; it will more likely turn into a political tug-of-war between Christian would-be theocrats and those who believe in separation of church and state and have the guts to carry that belief to its logical conclusions. In the meantime, alas, probably at least a few innocent people will be imprisoned thanks to cops taking seriously the likes of Dawn Perlmutter.

Girard describes how the mimetic crisis is resolved by a scapegoating process that he refers to as the "single victim mechanism." The single victim mechanism assigns blame to a single individual so that the community can avoid social chaos and unity can be reestablished. "The resulting violence of all against all would finally annihilate the community if it were not transformed, in the end, into a war of all against one." (Rene Girard, I See Satan Fall like Lightning (New York: Orbis Books, 2001) xii, 24)

When I first read this, my reaction was, "Whoa!  Do Girard and Perlmutter believe that scapegoating is the only way a conflict between groups can be resolved???" After doing a little background reading about Girard, I realized that that's not the case. However, the above seems to be Perlmutter's way of claiming that the subcultures she dislikes are inevitably and necessarily prone to committing ritual murders. For my critique of this whole way of looking at things, see my Comments on Dawn Perlmutter's claims about various "dark" subcultures (Goth, Vampire, Fetish, BDSM, Body Art) (

Next, in her article on "Satanists and Terrorists," we'll encounter still more Girard-ese:

The inability to walk away from these mimetic rivalries, escalating violence, assignations of blame, and endless cycles of mutual violence is referred to as skandalon.

To quote Girard, "In order to designate the exasperation of mimetic rivalry, the Gospels have a marvelous word that, at times seems almost synonymous with Satan, skandalon. The idea comes from the Bible and it means the obstacle against which one keeps stumbling . . . The skandalon designates a very common inability to walk away from mimetic rivalry which turns into an addiction . . . The skandalon is all kinds of destructive addiction, drugs, sex, power, and above all morbid competitiveness, professional, sexual, political, intellectual, and spiritual, especially spiritual." (Rene Girard, Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1978) 198)  In The Scandal of the Gospels, David McCracken refers to skandalon in terms of offense: "A scandal may titillate or outrage us; either way, the titillation or moral indignation effectively prevents any challenge of the sort that offense brings to the assumptions and truths we hold most dear and the idols we cherish most deeply. Offense violates our assumptions about what our world is or what we think it ought to be. Whatever is unofficial, unestablished, or non-normal, deviant or nonstandard, in our view, carries with it the possibility of offense." (David McCracken, The Scandal of the Gospels, Jesus, Story and Offense (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994) 7)  McCracken’s concept of skandalon as offense treats scandal as a personal affront that incites one to action. There can be no doubt that most individuals find the religious practices of modern Satanists and terrorists to be a form of scandal that is highly offensive and seriously provocative.

"Most individuals" including Dawn Perlmutter herself, evidently.

An examination of the religious practices of modern Satanists and terrorists allows us to reduce the fundamental basis for all rivalries, scandals, and violence to one concept: the transgression of the prohibitions of idolatry.

What??? Is she really claiming she can "reduce the fundamental basis for all rivalries, scandals, and violence" - in all times and places - to any one particular concept, let alone a concept like "the transgression of the prohibitions of idolatry"??? Assuming that she really means this and that the above sentence does not contain a meaning-changing typo, how on Earth does "an examination" (and a not-very-in-depth examination, at that) of just two modern categories of people allow any such sweeping generalization?

Yet again she seems to be getting carried away with Girardian abstractions.

The prohibition on "idolatry" is, itself, far from universal, thus certainly not a universal basis of anything. At least if one is using the term "idolatry" in the same sense common among Christians, it has no meaning outside of a monotheistic religion. Only in a monotheistic religion is it a sin to worship other gods besides the "one true God." Therefore, the idea that one can universally "reduce the fundamental basis for all rivalries, scandals, and violence to one concept: the transgression of the prohibitions of idolatry" is just plain ridiculous.

Admittedly I haven't yet read the books she's quoting; I've only read online summaries thereof. Perhaps Perlmutter is using the word "idolatry" in some arcane technical sense, rather than to mean what Christians usually mean by that word? Perhaps she's using the word "idolatry" in some very generalized abstract sense such that the idea of a "prohibition on idolatry" could indeed be applied to the taboos of other religions even if they don't have a prohibition on "idolatry" in the usual sense of that word?

Be that as it may, the idea that "all rivalries, scandals, and violence" can be "reduced to" any one particular concept (even a concept that was truly universal to begin with, unlike prohibitions on idolatry) strikes me as a vast oversimplification.

I'd love to see how other kinds of reductionists, such as Marxists, would view this controversy. Most likely they would just dismiss the entire topic as nothing more than a bourgeois plot to distract the working class from more important issues.

Hey, you know what? Maybe I should write a big long paper titled "the inter-religious attitudes of terrorists and Dawn Perlmutter." The two do seem to have an awful lot in common, notably a propensity for reductionism, dehumanizing the people one disapproves of by stuffing them into oversimplified boxes....

Below, I'll assume that Perlmutter is using the word "idolatry" in the traditional sense, or at least in some sense reasonably close to the traditional sense. Based on that assumption, the rest of her paper makes very little sense at all.

Girard recognizes idolatry as the quintessential scandal in the Old Testament: "idolatry, which means the scapegoat given sacred status in the form of a solid and material object--the obstacle made divine. Idolatry is the quintessential stumbling block."(64) Girard describes the paradox of scandal, "The words that designate mimetic rivalry and its consequences are the noun skandalon and the verb skandalizein. Like the Hebrew word that it translates, scandal means, not one of those ordinary obstacles that we avoid easily after we run into it the first time, but a paradoxical obstacle that it is almost impossible to avoid: the more the obstacle, or scandal repels us, the more it attracts us."(65) Modern Satanists indulge in the worst form of idolatry, worship of other gods, and the ultimate offense, the aspiration to be God.

By "the worst form of idolatry," does she merely mean "what the traditional religion of our culture traditionally considers to be the worst form of idolatry," or is she herself endorsing the traditional Christian value judgement - and, if so, on what grounds? She does seem to be endorsing it, but doesn't state her grounds.

The first time I read her essay on "Satanists and Terrorists," I was shocked to see Dawn Perlmutter making, in an academic paper, a value judgment such as "the worst form of idolatry." I was initially under the wrong impression that Anthropoetics, the online journal in which her paper was published, was a scholarly journal of anthropology. And I always thought that the discipline of anthropology was supposed to be about just describing and understanding a variety of cultures and subcultures, not making value judgments about them, especially not about specifically religious issues. But it turns out that Anthropoetics is not a journal of "anthropology" in the social science sense after all. (See my page about René Girard, "sacred violence," Christianity, and "anthropology":  Dawn Perlmutter's philosophical background, as best I can figure it out (

Anyhow, she then says:

On the contrary, most extremist fundamentalists desire stricter enforcement of Biblical or Quranic prohibitions. Satanists and terrorists represent two extreme responses to the laws of idolatry, complete indulgence versus austere rejection of all objects of desire, both culminating, ironically, in acts of sacred violence. A primary characteristic of idolatry is the simultaneous attribution of attraction and repulsion also found in the concept of skandalon.

Is she saying here that the "simultaneous attribution of attraction and repulsion" is a "primary characteristic" of the prohibition on idolatry, or is she saying it's an inherent "primary characteristic" of the worship of any other god besides the Abrahamic one? Neither interpretation of her statement makes much sense. There is simply no reason why "simultaneous attribution of attraction and repulsion" should necessarily be a characteristic at all, let alone a primary characteristic, of the worship of any and all gods other than the Abrahamic one. It is a characteristic of most prohibitions in general, not just the prohibition on idolatry.

The fundamental nature of idolatry entails transgression and taboo.

Here, she must mean that the fundamental nature of a violation of the prohibition on idolatry entails transgression and taboo. "Idolatry entails transgression and taboo" only in the context of a religion which has a prohibition on "idolatry" in the first place, which many religions don't. And, yes, a violation of this prohibition does "entail transgression and taboo," but so too does a violation of any other prohibition. So, it's not clear what her point is.

Desiring the transgression creates the need for the prohibition; the transgression essentially defines the taboo,

She has it backwards here; the taboo defines the transgression. A transgression wouldn't be a transgression (let alone have transgression as a "primary characteristic") were it not for the prohibition. Does Perlmutter believe that the mere fact of people desiring something is reason enough to prohibit it???

As for where the prohibition on idolatry came from, I don't know. Offhand, I would guess it came from competition between the priesthoods of different gods.

which explains how religious groups with diametrically opposing doctrines can fall into the same trap.

As we have seen, her explanation doesn't make any sense; therefore, it doesn't explain anything at all.

Satanists embrace sin consciously because, in their arrogance, they assume that if they accept scandal they can control it, which is how they are trapped.

Trapped in what, exactly?

Modern terrorists embrace prohibitions because, in their self-righteousness, they assume that if they can control scandal they can avoid it, which is how they, too, are trapped. Idolatry is the perfect obstacle; it causes believers to stumble through both sin and righteousness. Skandalon, the personification of Satan, the father of lies, seduces extremist fundamentalists through righteousness and Satanists through sin, trapping them in rivalries that cause accusations leading to scandals and escalating into an endless cycle of reciprocal violence. Although scandal cannot be altogether avoided, we must do our best to recognize the snares it lays for us in these two serious and dangerous contemporary manifestations of idolatry.

Agreed that "scandal" does lay "snares." It would be highly desirable if more people - including academics like Dawn Perlmutter - would "do our best to recognize the snares" of reductionism, black-and-white thinking, scaremongering, and blind conformism. By labeling Satanism as a "serious and dangerous contemporary manifestation of idolatry," Perlmutter herself is succumbing to what Girard would call "the falseness of mimetic contagion," echoing popular prejudice without looking deeply at the facts. Methinks Dawn Perlmutter needs to learn a lot more about a variety of nonmainstream subcultures, and she needs to learn to see people as complex multi-dimensional individuals rather than just as alleged instances of simplistic philosophical abstractions.