“Satanic hysteria” is such an interesting phrase, with so many possibilities. The coffee clerk who brought it up at a Revealer reading in Ann Arbor, Michigan, though, seemed to have only one meaning in mind, and a decidedly mundane one at that — she was concerned with what she saw as the media-made fear of Satanism. Not because Satanism isn’t scary, she explained, but because it simply does not exist. “It’s just a silly name,” she insisted.

The clerk’s concern arose from the case of the “West Memphis 3,” a trio of teenagers convicted for murdering three second grade boys in 1993 — alledgedly as part of a “Satanic practice.” Without weighing in on the questions surrounding their guilt, it’s still worth noting that there seems to have been some kind of “Satanic panic,” as described on this support site for the convicted.

As it happens, The Revealer is acquainted with a self-professed Satanist, and not only is she not a murderer, she’s a sweet, civic-minded small businesswoman. Of course, she’d call herself a “Luciferian,” and she likes to remind those of us who receive such information with arched brows that her personal Lucifer is simply a god of change.

You say Lucifer, we say the devil…

What, after all, really is in a name? And particularly the names we call God (or not-God)? John Kearney raises the question in an op-ed for The New York Times, “My God is Your God.” It’s a rare bit of religion writing for the “Grey Lady” (simply a goddess of things staying the same) in that Kearney challenges the mainstream press representation of the Muslim deity, whom, he argues, should be called — simply, of course — God, not Allah. That way, he says, Christians, Muslims, and Jews will realize that they all pray to the same god.

Two cheers for Kearney for noting the popular misunderstanding of “Allah” as somehow different than the monotheistic tradition; but a big raspberry for peddling the even more erroneous notion of monolithic faiths. How can Christians and Muslims pray to the same god when not even Christians and Christians pray to the same god? Is the pacifist Christ of the Quakers, for instance, the same Jesus as the war god praised by General Boykin?

Robert Spencer, an anti-Islam writer who nonetheless knows his Koran, points us to a helpful bit of scripture: “‘The Christians call Christ the son of Allah. That is a saying from their mouth; (in this) they but imitate what the unbelievers of old used to say. Allah’s curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth!’ (Sura 9:30).”

Even when the name remains the same, differences bubble to the surface. Consider, for instance, this piece from The Orange County Weekly (also brought to our attention by Spencer, on his rather rabid blog Dhimmi Watch): the story of Bill Baker, a former neo-Nazi leader who reinvented himself once as an advisor to Robert Schuller and now a second time as a speaker on the American Muslim circuit, peddling a vision of Muslim-Christian unity titled“More in Common Than You Think.”

Indeed — both Islam and Christianity are afflicted by false ecumenism, the kind that ignores the sharp edges of language, the way words — and names — can be more dangerous than the devil, real, imagined, or Luciferian.