Right-Winger's Weird Proposal to Ban the Sale of Food That Contains Aborted Fetuses Trips on Ancient History
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In the 19th century, Catholics were a popular target of sharp and false tongues in the U.S. The most widely read book of that century here was Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Also widely read was a memoir by a woman calling herself Maria Monk titled, Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk: or, The Hidden Secrets of a Nun’s Life in a Convent Exposed, published in 1836. The book claimed to be the first-hand account of a former nun in a Quebec convent, and to provide an insider’s view of Catholics. One of her claims was that there were libraries packed full of books and not one bible. Another allegation: Not only were the priests having sex with the nuns, the unsuspecting narrator had stumbled upon a room where the convent kept baby corpses. Yes, the Catholics, who already ceremonially drink the blood of their Savior, also were killers of babies. Piles of them. Because that way the illegitimate but baptized infants would ascend to heaven more rapidly—without any further sinning.
The book was a sensation—perhaps the most widely read book in America before Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published, according to Richard J. Hofstadter’s seminal 1964 essay, “ The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” And its tale was, of course, false. Even basic facts about the convent where “Monk” claimed to live were not true. The book was totally debunked—but not before it had burrowed into the popular imagination. Most of the century’s immigrants, the 19th century underclass, were from Catholic countries, and any justification for scorning them was welcomed. The Nativist movement and the Know-Nothings thrived on anti-Catholic sentiment. And remember, the Klu Klux Klan was not just terrorizing black people in the south—they were also terrorizing Catholics.
An example closer to our own time was the Satanic Panic of the 1980s. That decade saw widespread allegations of very specific type of Satanic cult conspiracy which, in retrospect, had all the elements of a classic Blood Libel. On a 1988 ABC special, the channel’s then-resident schlock hawk, Geraldo Rivera, did his utmost to enlighten the general public about something evangelicals had held true for years. “Estimates are that there are over one million Satanists in this country,” Rivera declared in prime time. “The majority of them are linked in a highly organized, very secretive network. From small towns to large cities, they have attracted police and FBI attention to their Satanic ritual child abuse, child pornography and grisly Satanic murders. The odds are that this is happening in your town!”
The Satanic Panic was a whiplash from the cultural revolution of the 1970s, a cultural spasm that oddly united therapists and evangelicals. The Christian community had some self-proclaimed former Satanic Priests in their ranks dishing about all the children’s blood they used to drink and the therapists had some new and “innovative” (read: questionable) ways to “recover memories” of being the victims of the Satanic conspiracy. Both schools took over a decade or two to completely discredit.
A 1989 study by the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion published in the book Satanism in America: How the Devil Got Much More than his Due by Shawn Carlson, Gerald LaRue and others reported there were 33 organizations and 90 individuals who were actively promoting the Satanism scare. This was a conspiracy all right—just not the one depicted on talk shows with depressed-looking teenagers. Nevertheless, these Satan experts were not only on news programs and at conventions—they were teaching law enforcement seminars on how to spot and investigate Satanic crimes.
The Satanic Panic was barely mentioned in the recent release of the West Memphis Three, the three now thirty-somethings who have spent nearly 20 years in prison for little more than wearing black clothes in a small southern town in 1993. Three 8-year-old boys were murdered in May of that year. And because Jessie Misskelley, 17, Jason Baldwin, 16, and Damien Echols, 18, fit the profile of what was thought at the time to be a Satanist (as in someone who killed children for sport and listened to heavy metal), they were railroaded, found guilty and sentenced to life. Echols was sentenced to death. It took two decades and dozens of celebrities to get them out of jail. Blood libels are far reaching.