Subversive Stigmata

Saints Thérèse of Lisieux and Gemma Galgani are the subjects of a review essay by Hilary Mantel in the London Review of Books that looks at the connections between holiness, anorexia and stigmata in a way that goes beyond reductionism into “hysteria” or merely dwelling on the morbid aspects of their illnesses and self-abasements:

The saint first affected by the stigmata was Francis of Assisi, but it has afflicted many more women than men. It insists on the likeness of the believer’s body to that of Christ. It argues that the gender of the redemptive body does not matter. It undermines the notion of a masculine God. It shows that Christ can represent women and women can represent Christ – no wonder it makes the church nervous.

Anti-Christ Sprouts in Brussels

The Rev Dr Ian Paisley’s website notes that there are 679 seats in the European Parliament, but that number 666 is unallocated. I suggest three possibilities:

1. Paisley is making it up.

2. No MEP wants the number – which would be an interesting concession to superstition, like the lack of row 13 on aeroplanes.

3. As Paisley suggests, the seat is being kept vacant for the anti-Christ, who will take it up in due course. Bit of a giveaway, though.

By the way, if A=6, B=12, C=18, D=24, E=30, F=36 etc. (a formula beloved of some fundamentalists), Ian Paisley is himself the anti-Christ.

Memories of Dr. Greenbaum

Rochdale council in the UK is being sued by the parents of four children who were among fourteen taken from their homes in 1990 by care workers obsessed with Satanism:

Sensational claims emerged of satanic rituals including sacrificing babies in cemeteries, children being locked in cages and being drugged by occult followers, and the slaughtering of animals. Then 18 months later, a judge ruled that there was no evidence to back up the bizarre claims and branded social services staff “amateurs”.

This was, of course, a transatlantic phenomenon, in which Christian fundamentalists in the USA and the UK (see works by Victor and LaFontaine) touted Satanic conspiracies that led to families being broken up and innocent people facing prison sentences for the most hideous of crimes. As accounts by Christian “survivors” of Satanism such as Lauren Stratford (endorsed by Hal Lindsey, by the way) and Doreen Irvine were discredited (although still available from Christian bookshops), those committed to the conspiracy theory turned to other forms of evidence: bizarre medical tests such as “anal dilation” and the notorious idea of repressed memories.

The latter idea is discussed at length by Frederick C. Crews in the latest New York Review of Books, in a review of The Trauma Trap by Richard J. McNally. The big question is, how did this idea ever get taken seriously? First, there was the question of the evidence:

McNally finds that no unanswerable evidence has been adduced to prove that anyone, anywhere, has ever repressed or dissociated the memory of any occurrence. Traumatic experiences may not always remain in the forefront of memory, but, unlike “repressed” ones, they can be readily called to mind again. Unless a victim received a physical shock to the brain or was so starved or sleep deprived as to be thoroughly disoriented at the time, those experiences are typically better remembered than ordinary ones.

This is the conclusion from studying Holocaust survivors and others.

Second is the question of credibility. Alan Scheflin, an “expert” on the subject, had presented a paper at a conference in Texas

held by the Society for the Investigation, Treatment and Prevention of Ritual and Cult Abuse, whose other speakers asserted, inter alia, that there were 500 Satanic cults in New York City alone, committing 4000 human sacrifices per year, that Bill Clinton was serving as the Antichrist in the worldwide Satanic fraternity of the Illuminati and that the False Memory Syndrome Foundation [an organisation opposed to the idea] is “a Central Intelligence Agency action.”

Meanwhile, D. Corydon Hammond, another “authority” manages to flirt with Jewish conspiracy theory when he argues that abuse victims who had repressed memories of trauma

will be slaves to a worldwide intergenerational cult that is organized into “Illuminatic councils.” The cult, said Hammond, is headed by a shadowy “Dr. Greenbaum,” a Hasidic Jewish collaborator with the Nazis who once assisted in death camp experiments and later used the CIA to further his nefarious ends.

Quoting Hammond directly:

My best guess is that they want an army of Manchurian Candidates, tens of thousands of mental robots who will do prostitution, do child pornography, smuggle drugs, engage in international arms smuggling, do snuff films, …and eventually the megalomaniacs at the top believe they’ll create a Satanic order that will rule the world.

Both Hammond and Scheflin contributed to a work titled Memory, Trauma Treatment, and the Law. It won an award from the American Psychiatric Association in 1999. McNally gives some reasons for why the ideas managed to gain currency, concerning the legacy of Freud and past failures by therapists to spot real (and remembered!) sexual abuse. However, the continued credibility given to these claims by therapists and the media suggest that there may be future tragedies inspired by self-serving panic-mongers.

PS – Crews notes that some day-care workers remain in prison even today in the USA as the result of accusations prompted by fundamentalist investigators, and cites Dorothy Rabinowitz, No Crueler Tyrannies: Accusation, False Witness, and Other Terrors of Our Times (Wall Street Press Books/Free Press, 2003).