How not to get hysterical about a pentagram


Pentagrams and walls seem to go hand in hand — like bored teens and vandalism. Photo by Flickr user The Trousered Ape.

As the weather turns warmer, kids in suburban and rural areas go outside. They’re bored. They’re looking for something to do. They’re angry, or at least irritated. Maybe they have a magic marker in their back pocket. They’re walking through town, maybe past a church, and an idea strikes them.

Churches in Santa Rosa, California, and Prairie Grove, Arkansas, have suffered recent vandalism — one more seriously than the other. In Santa Rosa, The Church of the Incarnation was tagged with a few pentagrams and other designs. In Prairie Grove, the Illinois Chapel Baptist Church has been vandalized repeatedly over the years, culminating with arson late last month.

Two different cases, in two different parts of the country, reported in two very different ways. Let’s look, shall we?

From Arkansas Matters:

A church is set ablaze in Prairie Grove and officials find satanic symbols spray-painted on the building.

From the Santa Rosa Press Democrat:

The Church of the Incarnation on Mendocino Avenue in Santa Rosa was tagged with possible Satanic graffiti on Wednesday afternoon, and police said they may have a suspect.

Hmm. One seems more cautious than another. Let’s look again.

Prairie Grove:

“Devil worshiping signs, you know, and stuff, this is nothing but the Devil … People that does this stuff, they are lost … They haven’t the slightest what hell is really about.”

But everyone we spoke with said, there is one thing still standing strong, and that is their faith.

“The Devil can’t beat us down, not as long as we hold faith in Him … I know the good Lord is with us,” said Burnett.

Santa Rosa:

[Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Mike] Lazzarini said the suspect also tagged St Luke Evangelical Lutheran Church, as well as other buildings and signs.

“It’s not church specific,” he said.

A pentagram is a five-pointed star connected with lines considered by some to have magical connotations, and to have satanic meaning when inverted with two points up.

Lawrence said while the pentagrams are potentially upsetting to members of the church, “it’s not enough to make us feel threatened.”

You could chalk up the sensationalism of the Arkansas article to the fact that the crime is more serious, but there have been plenty of times when graffiti like Santa Rosa’s has been reported in a tone more like Prairie Grove’s. In fact, more alarmist reporting tends to be the norm. The Press Democrat reporters offer something refreshing: a report of the crime that doesn’t hysterically imply that the Devil controlled the vandal’s hand — or did the dirty deed himself.

The fact remains, most such vandalism is made by bored, aimless people — kids especially — and not Satanists with an anti-Church agenda. Reporters should write their articles this way, unless they know for certain who the suspect is, and what his/her motives are.

And yet, it’s still plenty interesting to read. Factual reporting that doesn’t descend into fear-mongering. When’s the last time you saw that in a story like this?

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