Copyright 1990 by Bob and Gretchen Passantino.
(Painted Black by Carl A. Raschke. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1990,
276 pp., $16.95)
"At last," we thought, "a book from an academic that both takes the
religious implications of satanism seriously and actually surveys field data."
We have been frustrated over the lack of well-documented, logically sound
evaluations of contemporary American satanism. Irresponsible sensationalism
abounds, and we're frustrated that there's no current book that deals
comprehensively with contemporary American satanism.
That's why we eagerly anticipated Painted Black by Dr. Carl Raschke,
professor of religious studies at the University of Denver. Raschke has a good
background in formal research methods, familiarity with current events involving
satanism, and experience in understanding religious values, worldviews, and
Sadly, Painted Black didn't meet our expectations, but it does have its
strong points. Foremost in its favor, Raschke has accumulated information on a
myriad of contemporary American activities, both legal and criminal, associated
in some way with satanism. For readers who are unfamiliar with the widespread
power of contemporary satanism, the various cases recounted are eye opening and
educational. Raschke details the Matamoros killings, the Newberry killing in
Missouri, the protracted McMartin Preschool case in California, the Fuster case
in Florida, and many others. Raschke's frequent references to social values and
activities throughout history also bring interesting perspectives to contemporary
However, the serious shortcomings of Painted Black far outweigh its few
strengths. The book is from a major publisher, and its flyleaf describes the
author as "America's leading authority on satanism and contemporary occultism,"
but it's another giant conspiracy theory with no more proof than Constance
Cumbey's New Age conspiracy, Alberto Rivera's Roman Catholic conspiracy, or Tony
Alamo's Catholic/Jewish conspiracy. Raschke writes like an inflammatory crusader
who will put his own biased spin on evidence, argumentation, and quotes. He
tries to prove his conspiracy of satanism plus drug rings plus organized crime
plus pornography by combining isolated facts and ambiguous evidence. Fallacious
argumentation abounds. Dismissing contrary testimony by implicit tautology is
a favorite technique of conspiracy hunters. Deny what I'm accusing you of, and
your very denial becomes a proof I'm right. After all, it's natural for a guilty
person to deny his guilt! (Of course, the avid conspiracy hunter neglects to
consider that innocent people generally deny their guilt, too!)
Satanism is real, powerful, and dangerous. It is enjoying unprecedented
success in America today. We can't afford to dismiss its very real threat. But
we also can't afford to mishandle our investigation and evaluation.