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The Wide Paintbrush: Review of Painted Black

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 commitments.

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 satanism.

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.

The Lord's Servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will give them a change of heart leading to a knowledge of the truth
II Timothy 2:24-26

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