Friday, February 27, 2009

When the Care Bears were Satanic

I don't think I'll shock anyone by admitting that I'm not a regular reader of The Village Voice. Unsurprisingly, I wouldn't have seen an amusing blog entry posted to its website if reader Jen Sharp hadn't passed it along to me. The entry is a mocking retrospective on a book I don't think I ever heard of entitled Like Lambs to the Slaughter by Johanna Michaelsen. The book's sub-title is "Your Children and the Occult."

Given that the book's foreword is by none other than Hal Lindsey, one could safely predict -- far better than Lindsey ever could -- that it's going to be an embarrassing bit of alarmist doggerel of the sort that pops up with depressing regularity on bookstore shelves. And so it seems to be, based on the blog entry, which includes hilarious excerpts from the book itself. What's even more amusing is that Michaelsen seems to have it in for the Care Bears, which she ranks up there with D&D, He-Man, The Chronicles of Narnia, and My Little Pony as bearers of hidden Satanic messages. To me, it's all so patently ridiculous and yet there was a time when lots of people took stuff like this seriously, or at least pretended to do so.

I've said before that I never had any significant encounters with anyone who had a mindset at all like the author of this book. I played D&D all through my late elementary and high school years, sometimes at school, and only once ever met anyone who had a problem with it (and she was widely regarded as a Grade-A nutcase by one and all). My parents and relatives saw it as an imaginative pastime and my friends' families were similarly supportive of our shared hobby. In the case of many of my friends, D&D is what got them to read history and write creatively for the first time in their lives. It was certainly a positive influence on them, as it was one me, engendering a love of the Middle Ages that eventually took me to graduate school. And far from turning me into a Satanist, I'd say that D&D played a role in buttressing my moral philosophy.

So, it's always a bit strange when I read things like this blog post, because, though I know there really was a Satanism scare in the 80s, it doesn't reflect the world I inhabited at that time at all. There's an air of unreality to it for me, one that makes it much harder for me to accept its having happened than, say, World War II or the Battle of Thermopylae, events that occurred before I was born. Reading about it, I almost feel as if someone is just making stuff up and passing it off as something that really happened, but then, on a certain level, that's exactly what they are doing.


  1. You can always tell exactly which Christians are merely concerned and/or misinformed and which are foaming at the mouth: The former love C.S. Lewis, while the latter go after him for daring to write fantasy.

    For the record, I'm a Messianic Jew, raised in an evangelical household, and my parents never minded us playing the game. When they heard rumors about D&D, they just asked to see what the game was about and would occasionally listen from the top of the stairs to the rec room. It probably helped that my dad is an avid reader of sci-fi and fantasy and let me start reading his Heinlein novels when I was seven.

    Currently, I'm teaching the teens at my synagogue to play RPGs. We're using the Pathfinder rules set, both because it's a good update to D&D 3.5 and because nobody freaks out if they overhear the kids talking about playing "Pathfinder."

  2. Growing up in Northern Ireland, the only really religious part of the UK, I had a few minor experiences with this.

    Michael Bugg mentions Pathfinder. I've seen a (post) modern corollary to the Satanism scare - people on rpgnet attacking Castles & Crusades for being anti-Islamic, due to its use of the C-word. More generally, that whole 'killing orcs is racist' thing.

  3. I remember the "Care Bears = Satanic" story from back in the 80s but had forgotten about it until today. Haha.

  4. My parents wouldn't let me play D&D, not because of satanism, but because of the reports of kids losing their minds and killing themselves. I got into some other games though, that were similar. And eventually, my parents softened on the subject.

    I have a book similar to the one you blogged about, called "Turmoil In the Toybox", and they bash pretty much every toy or cartoon that ever came out. It's great fun to read though!

  5. Ug, I think I remember hearing about the CBs and their satanic leanings when I was a kid. D&D has nearly almost always been evil when I was in Jr. High and High School. MANY of our town's church youth groups railed against it and....Halloween! (GASP!).

    I remember being told not to wear costumes because it was devil worship. (Seriously.) The youth group leaders were in fact 'fearful' of children learning the ways of the devil from dressing up--which was the equivalent of lying and practicing an actual satanic ritual.

    On the flip side, when I was 8 my mom helped me make an elaborate Frosty the Snowman costume out of chicken wire. She made all my costumes and they were fantastic (2/3 of Frosty were reincarnated the following year as Mickey Mouse. Think, college mascot costume in level of detail.) So I had a hard time buying into these activities as satanic.
    For the record, she also bought me my first D&D books. That woman is a saint and my hero!

  6. For me personally, D&D probably did play a role in "buttressing my moral philosophy." It gave me chance to try out various moral dilemmas. But I can think of people whose experiences give me caution when I think about how/if I'll introduce the game to my kids. (I would like to go on, but one of them is right next to me, asking about "Death in Delhi.")

  7. I experienced this stuff. My parents were actually sophisticated enough to recognise that Rolemaster and MERP were the same sort of game as DnD and condemned them.

    It was really bad for me actually and denied me of the most redeeming social group I had at the time.

  8. I not only actually remember this book but another one from roughly the same time, The Aquarian Conspiracy which I actually read. Great for a laugh, although I had more contact with these kind of people back in the day.

    That said I remember the wise advice when I asked a Deacon at my Southern Baptist church circa 1978-1979 if D&D was sinful. His answer, which I've applied to a lot of life, was "Only if it becomes an obsession". Given that church had a lot of the types that would be into these books I have wondered what his position circa 1983 was (I had long moved). Did he give in to the paranoia or remember my question and the advice he gave me.

    And you still see it to a degree. Back in the service I had a fairly religious friend happy to play Teenagers from Outer Space, Tales from the Floating Vagabond, Traveller, et al but nothing that took its magic seriously like D&D. He denied thinking those who did were Satanic (I asked him point blank) but said his belief was "why look that closely at it". While I think he was misguided about what it actually entailed he was knowledge about RPGs and a generally thoughtful person so I just treated it as a reasonable personal choice.

  9. I remember finding a similar book called "Terror in the Toybox" at a used book shop in the middle of nowhere, once. It too recounted how action figures were essentially tools of the Devil.

    I also recall my old man - who was a wargamer who introduced my brother and me to D&D as kids because he figured we'd spend more time reading if we played a game like that - encouraging my brother and me to watch an episode of "A Current Affair", US "news" program, about the evils of d&d. My brother and I laughed at the misconceptions. (Huh, the PHB was really a book of spells?)

  10. I started playing D&D in a rural Kansas town. No one I knew cared or took the satanism scare very seriously except, unfortunately, the proprietors of the hobby/craft store who were the single sellers of D&D books in the town.

    One day they simply removed all the books and had a sign up saying they refused to sell them because of their blasphemous influence. Fortunately there were arcades and Apple II games to suck up my allowance money. And soon the mall was open and 2E was getting sold in bookstores, so it didn't really matter.

  11. I thought about including Care Bears as monsters in CARCOSA, but then I thought to myself, "That would be going too far."


  12. Narnia?
    Good lord. Good lord, I'm glad I wasn't born yet in the 80s.
    Ye Gods.

  13. @Rach, yes, ironic isn't it? Those same voices that aligned against Narnia later became it's biggest supporters of a fantasy "based on the Bible".

    Two extremes and both are wrong.

  14. Satanic Teddy Bears, oh dear... what will they think of next? That dinosaurs didn't exist? That man didn't land on the moon or that Earth is only about 5000 years old... those fundamentalist nuts...

    My parents were hostile to D&D, but not for religious reasons. Mom thought I should be trying out for the football tea instead, Dad thought that PH had the same fine print and had the same complexity as his college engineering textbooks, and that I should be putting my energies into something more worthwhile. He was not against high literature, mind you...

    Still, RPGs became my life long passion, and I am better off and more successful because of it. At one time I tried to see the logic behind the religious criticism of D&D, and it came to this: (their stated interpretation, Majestic, not mine): All the magical spells and abilities if they exist come from the devil. Anti-Christ, when he shows up will be performing magic and miracles. D&D conditions people to accept the world where magic exists, and, D&D is used by eviol to condition to accept magic and to be more accepting of the Anti-Christ, when s/he appears in this world. This view can be construed as criticism of "magical thinking", which D&D is alleged to promote.

    Another, more cogent criticism of magical thinking comes from a writings of a cop, who studied a group of Satanists when he wanted to better understand instancs of criminals who thought themselves to be Satanists. He was open minded. He characterized Anton La Vey's movement as being "actually a human potential movemenr based on Californian philosophy of the 1960's". He described Satanists in the local coven as being the type of people, who would "go about casting a spell to get an A on an upcoming exam rather than study for the exam the night before". I.e., people who withdraw from reality and engage in ritualistic behaviors rather than making a practical effort in the real world.

    The reason I this all came back now is that I am currently reading John Steinback's (Of Mice and Men, Grapes of Wrath fame) "The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights" Turns out, King Arthur was the first book he read, and he liked it a lot. In 1952 he started working ona project to translate King Arthur into modern English so that children today can comprehend it wihtout having to deal with the Old English language. As he worked on this, he got deeper and deeper into Arthurian literature moving to older and older sources. Steinbeck died in 1968 without completing or publishing this body of tales. Reading it now, I am amazed at how modern the insights and themes of these stories. The point of view reflected in some of the characters are more modernistic than 1950's in the US. You have to read it to see it. I am pretty sure it was written after the Battle of Crecy, because if the original work was written before, it is positively prophetic. The stories themselves are not fantasy at all, but rather deal with Manhood disguised as Knighthood, courage, strenght, and relationships with women (aka Ladies). What amazed me, is that I am half-way through the book, and every type of a bad relationship with women I ever had, has been touched upon! It os amazing if this was written in Renaissance! Anyway, thework is largely philosophical, NOT allegorical, like "Pilgrim's Progress", and there is a story about the Quest of Sir Lancelot and Sir Leopold, and it touched upon something that brought the whole criticism of "Magical Thinking" to mind: Labcelot has been taken prisoner by Morgan Le Fay and her four witch-queen sisters. They are competing to see which one can seduce him most effectively and completely. Morgan Le Fay captures him through Magic, and bound in a prison cell, Lancelot ponders the kind of a person who would get involved with Magic. Lancelot remembers how one day in his teens he jousted agaisnt Sir Gallahad, and Gallahad had unseated him and injured his back. Lancelot was laing in pain, squeezed between bags of sand to make sure that his back remains straight. He is terrified of having to fight Gallahad again and keeps reliving the moment he gets kicked out of the saddle and injures his back. Lancelot starts daydreaming tha on the side of his neck there is a knob that no one can see except him. Before going to battle, if Lancelot tirns it one way, he gets to be physically bigger than gallahad, and he turns the knob anothe way, he gets to be fatser and more agile than Gallahad, ansd if he presses it, he becomes invivible! Thiking about this, Gallahad realises how terrible it must have been for Morgan Le Fay, that she had to turn to Magic. WOW!

    One indication of how great this book is that I can take Lord Of The Rings, and I can run it as a D&D adventure. I could not do the same with the Steinbeck's book. I don't have the wisdom to role play his characters, nor the quickness of the wit to keep developing situations as they do in these stories, furthermore, I know for 100% that my players would not be able to acquit themselves as these knights or follow suit, as these characters did. And to me, that's an indication of a great book!

  15. "moral philosophy" = code for satanism!

  16. I think I may have posted this here before, but my parents were on the fence about D&D, since their social circles were infected with the "it's Satanic" meme, up until the day I started talking about gerontocracies and oligarchies and autocracies in the car.

    They looked at me funny, asked me if I'd learned about those government types in school, and after I said, "No, D&D, here in the DMG," I never heard another word against it from them.


  17. "talking about gerontocracies and oligarchies and autocracies in the car"

    I think this was the kind of thing that bothered my parents the most-- seeing my mind opened up to nerdism.
    As with Brooze, the thought was that if I was "playing a game," it should involve a ball and if I was poring over a book, then it should be for school.

    There are times I wonder if they were right.

  18. Nah, Brian, their concern was legitimate, adequate social developmet and all, but they weren't right.

    Linear effort will only bring linear results. Talent is non-linear and will beat technique with minimal training and discipline. The world belongs to true believers, who want something that no one can see. The key is finding oneself.

    The cure from Nerdness is not in conformity with others, but in social skills, which allow one to be accepted by one's peers and to handle social competition.

    It is said that people fear what they don't understand and hate what they fear. Then there are those who have social skills to wear masks of sanity to gain acceptance amongst peer and use their social skills to maintain thgeir grip on others. In the past, people such as these were feared, because humanity could not conceptualize or understand the social environment, and such people were called wer-wolves among he Anglo-Saxons and Vampires among the Southern Slavs. Bram Stoker did not have the knowledge to adequately chracterize it, so he painted his vampire in the trappings of an exotic aristicracy. It all comes down to what you'd rather go through life as.

  19. I sent the original link along because it really resonated with me and I wish I'd had the grown-up vocabulary to stick up for my hobby. (Well, my brother's hobby that I liked but didn't get to play much because even before the Satan thing my mom thought I should be barefoot and working at the E-Z Bake Oven.)

    The sad fact is this thinking was common in my town and my parents actually destroyed my brother's 2nd edition collection. They thought they were saving us. I remember this sadly for many reasons, but the two worst go beyond losing the game, which didn't effect us too much because our neighbor had one and his parents were cool.

    Those sad things are that I realized then I couldn't trust the adults I had been raised to trust, and that I renounced the church for life from that moment.

    That's part of why I play today and why I love this blog. I'm reminded of all the good times I might have had, and I'm slowly trying to have them now.

  20. It affected us even in the UK -- the private school that one of my friends went to had a fundie type headmaster, who believed that Dungeons & Dragons destroyed your brain, & convinced many parents of that.

    It meant we lost our favourite free site to do live-action roleplaying games on, as teenagers (the family's "back garden" included woods, hills, and a cave).

  21. I started gaming in Australia and this phenomenon didn't really happen here - I think reading about this, along with the scares about heavy metal music having back-masking, were the first time my youthful brain realised there Might Not Be Something Quite Right about America.

    But Oz did have a small strain of born again madness, and so that infamous 60 minutes report on people losing their minds and killing their friends was broadcast, which didn't help my hobby's reputation for a few years. And I did once know a guy who stopped DMing because his (religious) girlfriend didn't approve.

    Mostly though, in Australia, the big problem is that role-playing isn't sport. This can lead to trouble.

  22. I also have a copy of "Turmoil In the Toybox". It is an entertaining read. I bought it a Goodwill years ago. One of the reasons I bought it was to keep it out of the hands of someone that might actually take it seriously.

    I never suffered through the 'D&D is Satanic' phase luckily. My Mother did disapprove of D&D though. Because she felt it distracted me from school work. Which isn't really surprising. School work was really dull and gaming was really interesting. She went to the length of 'stealing' my gaming books. I still haven't really forgiven her for that. I eventually recovered them. And at age 44 I am still an avid collector of RPGs.

  23. Lucky you. I grew up in Alabama.

    In fact, I still have relatives who are hostile to the evils of D&D. They haven't forgotten.

  24. @Rach's reflections:

    It really isn't any different than "The Seduction of the Innocent" and the crusade against comics of the 1950s, although that had the imprint of "psychology" and not "Christianity" they are essentially the same event.

    Or the post-Columbine crusade against "goth" by people who so badly defined the subculture they actually identified plenty of things with it (such as Marilyn Manson) that are actively rejected by it.

    I'm sure some other pop culture fad is getting the same treatment right now but I'm just too out of the mainstream anymore to even had a clue what it is.

  25. Somewhere back in the eighties, I remember reading a book the purported to be written by a woman who had been held captive by a satanic cult, which kept a large cohort of women like her so that the members could impregnate them and sacrifice their babies to the devil. How such nonsense actually got published and disseminated without anyone seriously challenging it still baffles me.

    Ironically, D&D pushed me in the other direction. I used to arm myself with the old machete in the shed and sneak into the cemetery behind my house at night, hoping to come upon a satanic ritual and rescue the intended victim. I also remember crawling through abandoned buildings in town in hopes of finding a cult's lair. I wanted to be a hero, not a minion of the devil. Strangely, though, I never found anything.

  26. That same blog has another RPG reference in a new entry:

    "From Kirk: "I am a 13 year old boy who used to be closed off to the world. I didn't care about grades, I just didn't care that much about life. About the only things I did care about was God, Drawing, and if my D&D character could get passed 3rd level."