DEMONS OF THE MODERN WORLD

Malcom McGrath, Author, Robert A. Baker, Foreword by . Prometheus $32 (323p) ISBN 978-1-57392-935-6

In 1994, after a $750,000, four-year study, federal government researchers announced there was no evidence that ritual abuse or organized satanic cults ever existed in U.S. day-care centers. Comparing contemporary cult fears with 17th-century witch-hunts and the McCarthy era, McGrath, a doctoral candidate in political philosophy at Oxford University, contends that "the illusion of a world of demons lurking behind our day to day reality is built right into the structure of modern western culture." This concept of a "demonic illusion" is the book's central thesis. McGrath views satanism scares as akin to a mass hallucination, since psychological theories supporting such cults "were in fact no more than unfounded urban legends, spread about by therapists and social workers." He opens by juxtaposing the 1692 witchcraft accusations aimed at once-respected Rebecca Nurse, a 71-year-old grandmother, with the false 1984 claims of organized satanic rituals at California's McMartin Preschool, a case with no credible evidence and no convictions after a 28-month trial. Mapping boundaries between fantasy and reality, McGrath looks at modern-day witch-hunts generated through unreliable child witnesses, rumor mills, urban legends and pseudo-science, noting numerous linkages with popular culture—from Three Faces of Eve (1957) and Sybil (1973) to Michelle Remembers (1980), Psycho and The Shining. Dangers of false memories are detailed, alien abduction is dismissed, and the 1991–94 collapse of Multiple Personality Disorder and recovered memory therapy are picked over. Oddly, McGrath has chosen to ignore the massive misinformation circulating daily on the Internet, but this is a terrifically contextualized debunking that is sure to generate debate among the faithful. (Nov.)

Reviewed on: 10/15/2001
Release date: 11/01/2001
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