The so-called Satanic Panic was a widespread preoccupation of certain American (typically conservative) groups in the 1980s and 1990s with allegations of satanic ritual abuse (or SRA) in a variety of settings. Essentially, some evangelical Christians and similar demographics became worried that satanic ritual abuse was a significant problem and that an underground network of Satanists had gained control of secular society and pop culture. The “panic” over satanic ritual abuse was fueled in part by media hype, popular Christian speakers, and the readiness of some to believe any allegation of demonic activity. The Satanic Panic therefore bore at least superficial similarities to the Salem witch trials, which were also largely driven by religious concern over the occult and its practitioners.
The general consensus about the Satanic Panic is that it was based on mostly unfounded fears and media hype. Looking back on the Satanic Panic from a biblical perspective, we can cite some lessons learned. One primary lesson is that we must not be too eager to allege (or believe allegations of) satanic or demonic activity. Instead, we should “examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21–22, NASB). Thus, only after we have confirmed any testimony or claim to be true should we evaluate the content of that claim, in order to assess whether it represents a good or evil state of affairs.
Balancing that, we must not be too reluctant to believe in the activity of Satan and his demons in the world. We must recognize that the “adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8, NASB) and that “even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14, NASB). Thus, there may well be genuine instances of SRA buried among a large number of false or distorted reports. Again, only a critical and thorough examination of the evidence can justify a conclusion one way or the other.
The gospel message is one of hope: Satan and his allies are powerful but defeated foes (2 Thessalonians 2:9; Colossians 2:15), in light of Christ’s victorious work on the cross. Christians need to be cognizant of the danger Satan poses as a deceiver (2 John 1:7) and a tempter (Matthew 4:3), but they do not need to fear that Satan will ultimately be victorious. Rather, we are assured by Scripture that he will be soundly defeated (Revelation 20:10). An attitude of panic or fear regarding Satan’s activity is therefore inappropriate for the believer. We can instead rest in the knowledge that God’s sovereignty extends even over the devil’s actions and choices (Job 1:6–12; 2:1–6) and that God will ultimately prove victorious over all evil.