Report by Prof. Joseph E. Armstrong
On October 25, 1994, perhaps just coincidentally before Halloween, Jon Rittenhouse lectured on "Satanism and the Occult: Doorway to the Supernatural or Dangerous Dabblings" to about 1,000 Illinois State University students at Braden Auditorium.
According to the flyers, Rittenhouse is a national lecturer on Satanism and the occult, a guest instructor from 1988 through 1990 in the Police Science Department at Fox Valley Technical College (Appleton, Wisconsin), and the author of an unnamed book and various materials on these topics. The lecture was sponsored by the Campus Crusade for Christ and The University Forum. Rittenhouse's current affiliation or employment was not mentioned.
Rittenhouse started his presentation by stating flatly that he was a Christian who believed in "the literal truth of the Bible and in Satan, as a God-created angel, a real being," so there would be no misunderstanding about "where he was coming from."
What followed were a series of slides showing satanic graffiti emphasizing phrases about death and killing and his explanations of various satanic symbols and paraphernalia. Next came several case histories of troubled teenagers who murdered someone or committed suicide and who had satanic paraphernalia or art. Rittenhouse concluded that this all pointed to a societal problem - hate groups, Hitler, etc. Next was an evangelical sermonette. While an inspirational slide filled the screen, we heard about Rittenhouse's personal relationship with God.
Throughout his presentation Rittenhouse made frequent references to the Satanic Bible and its author, and he gave very brief, but fairly accurate, accounts of various occult groups and practices (Wiccans, Ouija boards, tarot cards, etc.), and then mentioned almost in passing that none of these groups promoted Satanism. However, he then claimed that involvement with these occult groups and the drug culture, black heavy metal music, fantasy role-playing games, certain movies, comics, and fiction was dangerous because they could open the door to Satanism. The formal presentation ended with clips from a disgusting Hollywood movie depicting sacrifice of a baby.
In the question-and-answer period that followed, we learned that Ouija boards lead to evil because they can be controlled by demons, which are real because the Bible says so. Several times, Rittenhouse referred to empirical evidence of his claims, but when asked about what he meant by empirical evidence, he waffled and said there are different definitions and his weren't the same as scientists. No truer statement was uttered by Rittenhouse all evening. He then argued that there was overwhelming evidence that the Bible was factually, historically, and scientifically correct, and that historical analysis was equally valid for determining truth as the scientific method.
Most rational people would agree that disturbed and impressionable teenagers might be adversely affected by drugs, satanic images, heavy metal rock, and the occult, and many other things as well. Although Rittenhouse insinuated several times that a huge satanic underground existed and accounted for all the satanic graffiti, child disappearances, and animal mutilations, no actual evidence or direct connection was established. Rittenhouse presented the audience with a classic version of a false dichotomy: you either tolerate, condone Satanism and the occult, or you must adopt his brand of religion. Rittenhouse clearly stated and demonstrated his willingness to believe in the supernatural, a devil, angels, and demons.
On the whole, a rational, skeptical observer would find very little of substance in Rittenhouse's presentation. I was certainly surprised by the large crowd, and Rittenhouse claimed this was common, evidence of general interest and concern about the growth of Satanism. It could also be attributed to pretty good promotional materials.
However, while fairly polite, the audience was far from completely sympathetic. His statements about demons and Ouija boards drew considerable incredulous laughter. Lots of people were shaking their heads at many of the more blatant statements about the supernatural.
With Rittenhouse, you basically got precisely what you would expect of someone who avowedly is not going to critically evaluate anything consistent with his belief system. Satanism and the occult, featured on a nifty flyer, were used actually to draw a large crowd of the curious for a bit of proselytizing, pretty much what you would expect from a program sponsored by the Campus Crusade for Christ.
As an informative, educational program, this was a pretty sorry presentation.
[Joseph Armstrong is a professor of botany at Illinois State University and a member of REALL.]