After a South African girl was set on fire by friends, newspapers called the incident a “Satanic ritual.” Wrong. Photo by Flickr user gotsumbeers.
Today, I want to start out by looking at two headlines side by side.
Second: Satanic Ritual Planned in OKC
Now, if you read the first story, you might come to the conclusion (the very, very wrong conclusion) that Satanic rituals involve setting people on fire.
Then, if you read the second headline, you’d be pretty outraged. You wouldn’t want that event to take place, in Oklahoma City or anywhere else. You’d be angry at Satanists.
The problem, however, is that the newspaper with the first headline is taking some egregious liberties with the concept of “Satanic ritual.” Several newspapers are repeating this idea, though it’s not clear why. The girl was set on fire by some acquaintances after they went up a hill to drink and look at the view. That’s not Satanic. That’s an adolescent pastime. (Except for the setting-people-on-fire part. That’s not Satanic, either. That’s just horrible.)
Now, the second headline refers to an article about an upcoming religious event. This is the second such ritual — the first one, held last year, turned into a mess because it was so heavily protested. Unfortunately, the newspaper thinks it’s important to mention the former group leader, who had a dalliance with a prison inmate, as though that had anything to do with the group, its beliefs, or its ability to hold a peaceful religious observance. (It sounds like last year’s ritual would have been peaceful if it hadn’t been for demonstrators.)
I know there are plenty of “Satanists” who get into it to frighten people, to seem bad-ass, to “freak the normals.” But I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: media messages like the ones above, particularly the first headline, do very real harm. They harm respectful, peaceful Satanists who have not and would not hurt anyone. They make it more difficult for these people to be open, to find work, to sustain relationships, to keep their children in custody battles, and to stay out of jail for crimes they didn’t commit.
Some people would call this blood libel.
It has to stop.