Truth in Advertising for Satan Seller?
Siano, Brian, The Humanist
It's pretty easy to look at a Jimmy Swaggart or a Robert Tilton and wonder how in the hell anyone could put their trust in these guys. The temptation usually is to make some unkind remark about the people who send them money-they're scared, bigoted, or credulous to the point of derangement.
All too often, such comments are an exercise in ego-tripping; it's always gratifying to complain about how stupid other people are. This will be followed by the inevitable crowing about how anyone could start up a church and make a million bucks, how the history of religion is merely the history of con games and scams, and how no one ever lost money underestimating the intelligence of the public. Usually, you get sneering phrases like "the great unwashed" and sage pronouncements about how "stupid people shouldn't be allowed to breed" and we should "think of it as evolution in action." Have you heard this before? I sure have.
That's why it's gratifying to run across believers who can take a critical stance within their own faiths and try to weed out and expose the frauds.
David Alexander first reported in these pages on the Christian magazine Cornerstone. In the March/April 1990 issue of The Humanist, he summarized Cornerstone's examination of the claims of satanic ritual abuse made by Lauren Stratford, the author of Satan's Underground. Well, it's now my pleasure to report that Cornerstone has carried on this tradition, publishing a lengthy investigation of a far more influential evangelical figure: Christian comedian and professed ex-satanist Mike Warnke.
Who is Mike Warnke? According to Cornerstone:
A generation of Christians
learned its basic concepts of
Satanism and the occult from Mike
Warnke's testimony in The Satan
Seller. Based on his alleged satanic
experiences, Warnke came to be
recognized as a prominent
authority on the occult, even advising
law enforcement officers
investigating occult crime. We believe
The Satan Seller has been
responsible, more than any other single
volume in the Christian market,
for promoting the current
nationwide "Satanism scare."
Few stories play so well as the testimony of a former sinner who has renounced his evil ways, and Warnke's account of his pre-Jesus period in The Satan Seller is suitably wretched. An orphaned loner, Warnke claimed that extensive drug abuse in college left him sick and emaciated from hepatitis, jaundice, and hunger. After getting shot and pistol-whipped in the course of major drug deals, he was initiated into Satan worship--a life of cat mutilations, six-inch fingernails, waist-length white hair, membership in the mighty and powerful Illuminati, and lots and lots of "soft pink sex." Warnke claims that the satanists eventually drugged him and dumped him by a hospital, so he found Jesus, escaped into the navy, and has devoted his life to saving other damned souls ever since. Warnke Ministries pulls in $2 million a year from donations and the sales of books, tapes, videos, and albums featuring Warnke's "Christian stand-up comedy" act. Contributors are routinely told that the ministry helps others to escape from drug abuse and satanism.
This makes Mike Warnke one of the Ieast cost-effective evangelists around; according to the Lexington Herald-Leader, only $900 of the ministry's 1991 revenue was given to charity. Warnke's personal salary that year was $303,840; his former wife Rose was paid $291,840, and aide Neale Hall was paid $214,000. Warnke has said that the ministry cannot afford the people needed to staff its national, toll-free crisis line more than eight hours a day--and with salaries on Warnke's scale, it's not hard to see why.
The Internal Revenue Service revoked Warnke Ministries' tax-exempt status in 1991, saying that it improperly allots too much money and too many benefits to the Warnkes. …