Humanity’s belief in a God, or gods, and other spiritual powers, is as old as our species. Contestants on Jeopardy produce the names of gods and demons from multiple ancient cultures. Every possible human characteristic is attributed to these divine beings, from goodness and love to malignant hatred to stern judgment and punishment for offenders. And the idea of these beings watching the lives and behaviors, even thoughts, of lesser beings like ourselves has permeated popular culture to the extent that we even make them up now: Santa Claus, according to the song, “sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good so be good, for goodness’ sake.” Even though adults acknowledge Mr. Claus to be a myth, we still strike fear into our children through this song. Perhaps Santa is a replacement for the “cosmic policeman” God about which J.B. Phillips wrote almost seventy years ago in “Your God is Too Small” (Phillips, 1952).
Organized groups who sexually abuse children have been quick to take advantage of these belief systems. The implied spiritual power of Roman Catholic priests has intimidated those who have tried to speak out against those who are abusers, delaying the revelations which are now shocking the world. The implied involvement of spiritual entities in abuse ranges from: “God meant us to be together” (allegedly spoken by music superstar Michael Jackson to his victim Wade Robson); to a cult leader calling himself “God”; to “Satan’s eye is always watching you”, a common message of ritually abusive perpetrators to the children they abuse (reinforced by pictures of this all-seeing Eye.) There is nothing like an invisible, omniscient and omnipotent watcher, with a capacity for severe punishment, to intimidate a child into loyalty and silence.
Abuse in the Catholic church is currently at the forefront of our news, but the misuse of religion in child abuse is not just a Christian problem. For example, some branches of Hinduism have had a practice of young girls in a role of temple prostitutes (Shingal, 2015). A recent U.S. study of forensic interviews in child sexual abuse cases revealed the use of religion to justify abuse and silence children in many different religious groups (Tishelman, A.C. & Fontes, L.A. 2017). Ritually abusive groups take this a step farther. They “educate” children with books and films about the demonic. They set up staged scenarios in which costumed abusers impersonate the beings of Western Christianity, including God, angels, Satan and demons. They also impersonate beings from other traditions, including Egyptian and Norse deities and even made-up ones such as “Lady Luck.” They dress children up as “little demons” and teach them how to behave as demons, resulting in alter personalities who believe themselves to be demons.
Whether they are genuine Satanists and Luciferians (who do exist, and have organized networks), or secular pedophile rings using religious trappings to intimidate the children makes no difference. The purposes of such impersonation include devastating a child’s self-esteem, leading the child to believe s/he is evil and complicit with the abuse, making sure the victims will never talk about the abuse, making pornographic films featuring the apparent occult, and making sure that disclosures will not be believed, as the preposterous trappings make the abuse seem unbelievable (Miller, 2014, 2012).
A young child does not know how to distinguish reality from fantasy or from story: that is why we are able to convince our children that Santa Claus is real. Abuser groups are easily able to convince young children of the reality of the spiritual beings they teach about. And when they deliberately traumatize those young children, parts are split off who remain at that developmental stage and believe all the lies they were taught, resulting in terror and silence. In working with clients who talk about these supposed spiritual realities, we need to be gentle with those young parts, while assisting the older parts of the clients to recognize and unmask the deceptions and develop critical thinking.
Miller, A. (2014). Becoming Yourself: Overcoming Mind Control and Ritual Abuse. London: Karnac. Chapter 20.
Miller, A. (2012). Healing the Unimaginable: Treating Ritual Abuse and Mind Control. London: Karnac. Chapters 5, 7 and 15.
Phillips, J.B. (1952). Your God Is Too Small: A Guide for Believers and Skeptics Alike. London: Epworth Press. (Book now republished in many editions.) Shingal, A. (2015) The Devadasi System: Temple Prostitution in India, UCLA Women’s Law Journal, Vol.22(1), pp.107-123
Tishelman, A.C. & Fontes, L.A. (2017). Religion in child sexual abuse forensic interviews. Child Abuse & Neglect, 63, 120-130.