From Publishers Weekly
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.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
McGrath, a doctoral candidate in political philosophy at Oxford University, argues that modern culture differentiates between the physical world of mechanical laws and the symbolic universe of our thoughts and beliefs. In other words, modern people in the West make a distinction between the exterior observable universe and the internal psychological universe. This differentiation does not come naturally but must be taught in childhood. Because we remember our rich childhood fantasy life, we unconsciously suspect that dark, supernatural forces may break down this differentiation. Stress can cause these modern boundaries to slip, causing us to see "demons." In this context, McGrath compares earlier fears of witchcraft with other, more recent fears. He has written probably the first thorough review of modern demonology as represented by the 1980s hysteria over Satanism and alleged ritual abuse of children in day care centers and its 1990s replacement by tales of alien abduction. The author shows that organized satanic-ritual child abuse and alien abduction are unsupported by the evidence but that our fantasy life may permit these imagined practices to appear real when seemingly supported by "scientific" theories of child truthfulness and practices of "recovering" memories through hypnosis. The text needs better proofreading, but the content is superb. Recommended for all libraries. William P. Collins,
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.