Satanic Temple – Smart Political Theater or Genuine Religion?

Satanic Temple - BaphometIf you have a society that grants religious privilege and exemption and you’re willing to give privilege and exemption to certain groups, then it’s unacceptable to give that only to people who believe in the supernatural.”

A small sect called the Satanic Temple has been giving the Religious Right fits by insisting that religious freedoms granted to Christians should apply to Satanists too. Is the group smart political theater or real religion? Both, says Temple co-founder and leader Doug Mesner, who also goes by the name Lucien Greaves.

Satanic Controversies

In Orange County, Florida, members applied to give out Satanic Coloring Books alongside Christian propaganda being distributed in Florida elementary schools by a group called World Changers. For three years, the school board had ignored complaints about the World Changer materials, but after the Satanic Temple applied to distribute their own child-friendly materials, the practice ended.

According to Greaves, “At first they tried to allay the fears of the public by saying they reserved the right to reject material if it wasn’t fit. They hoped our children’s activity book would violate community standards so it could be discarded without blatant discrimination. But our book has simple pro-social messages. When we gave that to them, they were utterly resigned. Their law was saying there was nothing they could object to. So they closed down the forum entirely.”

When the state of Oklahoma decided to display a version of the Ten Commandments, carved in granite, on courthouse grounds, members of the Satanic Temple again treated this as an open forum for religion in the public square. They raised $28,000 in crowdfunding and hired a sculptor who created a six-foot bronze monument depicting the Satanic avatar Baphomet blessing two children, with the Temple’s seven precepts below. The finished statue was unveiled in a dramatic ritual in Detroit last July.

The list goes on: In Western Washington, Temple members seized an opening created by a Christian coach who was leading football prayers in his public capacity on public school grounds. Members of the Seattle temple asked that they, too, be allowed to lead after-game prayers on the field. The school district responded by suspending both the coach and the prayers but not in time to prevent footage of black-robed Satanists and jeering Christian students from hitting national media.

In Missouri, the Temple has waded into the reproductive freedom fight by filing suit on behalf of a member, “Mary Doe,” who says she is entitled to religious exemption from odious abortion restrictions. The Temple’s “Seven Tenets” include two that provide the basis for the court case: One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone—and—Beliefs should conform to our best scientific understanding of the world. Lawyers for the Temple argue that forcing Doe to read scientifically-bogus warnings against abortion (for example, that abortion causes cancer) and then contemplate the warnings for three days prior to the procedure violates her religious freedom. Once again, the Temple is crowdfunding the campaign and to date has raised about half of the anticipated $80,000 in legal costs.

Using Privilege to Challenge Privilege?

Is the Satanic Temple simply a political or secular advocacy group using religious privilege to challenge religious privilege? Co-founder Lucien Greaves says it’s more complicated than that.

We’re not trying to destroy religious privilege and exemption; we are coming at it in a way that we can find a legitimate plateau on which religious privilege can work in a pluralistic society. During our Oklahoma campaign to place our statue of Baphomet alongside the Ten Commandments, people kept asking what were we looking for? What was our preferred outcome? For the Ten Commandments to come down or ours to go up? But either one of those outcomes was OK with us. What we were fighting against was that one perspective enjoyed the power of state government. We were just fighting against the worst-case scenario—that the Christian point of view had a preferred place in a government institution.

I’m not sure that people can make the appeal that because of deeply-held beliefs they shouldn’t be held accountable to laws. But the courts need to be prepared to acknowledge that if they can, then a diametrically-opposed claim can also be made on the basis of sincere belief.

Religion without Gods

Are the beliefs of the Satanic Temple really sincere, though? And given that members don’t ascribe to any form of supernaturalism, can they actually be called a religion? Greaves insists that the answer is yes on both counts.

Those who dislike us claim that we are not really a religion, but by what standard? These things beg for definition. In the Hobby Lobby case, there was no sincerity test at all, and no test that their exemption had some kind of spiritual basis. How could they relate the Bible to this idea that a corporation doesn’t have to pay for insurance for employees who then make their own choices about pregnancy? So, you have to wonder what kind of test they can possibly put to assess the religious or spiritual legitimacy of the Satanic Temple.

In regard to our atheism, if you have a society that grants religious privilege and exemption and you’re willing to give privilege and exemption to certain groups, then it’s unacceptable to give that only to people who believe in the supernatural. We are openly atheist but we have cultural identity and symbolic constructs that are deeply meaningful to our members. There are other atheistic religions in human history, from Jainism to Buddhism to Confucianism. . . . The litmus test should be: Is this something put forward for an individual’s personal convenience or does it speak to some communities’ deeply-held beliefs such that if the government impinges on that in some way it affects their sense of cultural identity?

Greaves argues, in fact, that his litmus test is the only one that is constitutionally feasible in the U.S. or in any pluralistic nation that claims to treat religious perspectives equally. As evidence of sincerity, he points out that even when butting heads with Christian Right opponents, Temple spokespersons seek to advance their own affirmative values, not merely to criticize other perspectives.

Lilith Starr heads the Seattle chapter of the Satanic Temple, a group with about 50 members and weekly meetings. She describes her role in the Temple as an act of spiritual service. Starr studied Buddhism, which she sees as aligned with Satanism in that the highest value in both is compassion. Starr still meditates daily, but she likes the fact that Satanism encourages more active engagement in social justice: “Personally, the figure of Satan is a powerful symbol of standing up to unjust authority for yourself and for those around you. To me, he is a figure of compassion. Fighting against the rage and jealousy of an unjust god or against an unjust government authority. He is fighting for the people. He represents liberation.”

Christian Right Inspires Satanist Activism

Although both Greaves and Starr see their political engagement as an expression of their own religious values, they give the Christian Right credit for activating them and for getting out the word about Satanism as a legitimate spiritual path. Without the Hobby Lobby case, Starr might have maintained a more solitary spiritual practice rather than stepping into the visible leadership position she holds today.

Greaves says the Satanic Temple owes much of its growth to the Liberty Institute, a Texas legal group working to insert Christianity into public life via “religious freedom” claims. “We came into this with no resources, no funding. We’ve gotten this far on the dime of the Liberty Institute that have opened the doors so wide that they can’t prevent us from walking in now. . . . Ironically if they would keep their stuff out of the public sphere that would be to their advantage, because we don’t have the real estate they have. When they open up a public forum, they do so to our advantage—to the advantage of minority religions. Who would have heard of us if it weren’t for idiots at the Liberty Institute? We should send those assholes a thank you.”

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org.  Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including AlterNet, Salon, the Huffington Post, Grist, and Jezebel.  Subscribe at ValerieTarico.com.

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About Valerie Tarico

Seattle psychologist and writer. Author - Trusting Doubt and Deas and Other Imaginings. Founder - www.WisdomCommons.org.
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41 Responses to Satanic Temple – Smart Political Theater or Genuine Religion?

  1. Alexander the GoodEnough says:

    doG love ’em!

    Like

  2. archaeopteryx1 says:

    Through their crowdfunding, they are proactively doing something, whereas the average atheist is not – I say more power to them!

    Like

    • Infid3L0712 says:

      That may be so; but what atheist creed compels its adherents to participate in any social justice activity? Your comment assumes that no “average atheist” contributed to the crowdfunding efforts, which makes you seem kind of judgmental and self-righteous. I’ll err on the side of that was not your intent.

      Like

      • archaeopteryx1 says:

        If we have a creed, Infid, I would have to assume it follows along the lines of Franklin’s advice:

        We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.
        — Benjamin Franklin —

        I, for one, prefer not to be the self-absorbed narcissist that many theists expect us to be – I reach out and do things – If you find that to be ‘judgmental and self-righteous,’ so be it.

        Like

      • archaeopteryx1 says:

        If we have a creed, Infid, I would have to assume it follows along the lines of Franklin’s advice:

        We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.
        — Benjamin Franklin —

        I, for one, prefer not to be the self-absorbed narcissist that many theists expect us to be. If you find that to be ‘judgmental and self-righteous,’ so be it.

        Like

  3. Neal says:

    I believe that is better than worshiping a dead Jewish man. I still prefer Inanna!

    Like

  4. Paul Douglas says:

    I am impressed! The arrogance of christianists in America is breathtaking.

    Like

  5. Sha'Tara says:

    I like the article, I agree with the premise and I endorse both previous comments. Thank you again, Valerie.

    Liked by 1 person

    • archaeopteryx1 says:

      “Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease, any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?”
      — John Adams —
      (founding Father and second President of the United States)

      Liked by 5 people

  6. Tim Miller says:

    Great article! Very clever group.

    Like

  7. I don’t see people running Liberty Institute as “idiots.” I suspect they know full well they’ve opened the door to minority groups, but how does that negatively affect their funding? Are Christian fundamentalists going to stop donating money?

    Like

  8. john zande says:

    Love these guys. And these guys.

    Liked by 1 person

    • archaeopteryx1 says:

      I know it’s not Thanksgiving yet (in the US), but since the stores began putting Christmas items on the shelves in October, I don’t think I’m jumping the season too much – especially in light of the decorations mentioned in the above video – by wishing everyone a Merry Christmas – OUR way —

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sha'Tara says:

        Hey Arch, what “way” is that? Bah, humbug! or Ho-Ho-Ho! instead of Angels we have heard on high? Or a Saturnalia thing? Maybe a sex orgy, huh? Always wondered what it’d be like, a bunch of people chasing each other naked in two feet of snow under the stars?

        Like

      • archaeopteryx1 says:

        Or a Saturnalia thing?” – Actually, that’s what Saturnalia was, naked people going door to door serenading – that was the somewhat inauspicious beginnings of our Christmas carolers – sans birthday suits. Then too, most of today’s carolers are sober.

        Like

      • Sha'Tara says:

        Oops, didn’t see the video window. Yes, not as good as the sex orgy, but close. I like the ending!

        Like

      • archaeopteryx1 says:

        And for those of us in the States (or in the Colonies, as some of you Brits seem to prefer), who are a about to celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow, let’s not forget to thank Jesus for our food —

        Liked by 1 person

      • Lowell Bushey says:

        Hi, archaeopteryx1,

        There’s nothing like starting the day with a good laugh; thanks!

        Like

      • archaeopteryx1 says:

        Lowell, I learned long ago, it’s laugh or cry – I made my choice.

        Like

      • archaeopteryx1 says:

        You can always start your day with a good cry, Lowell, or with a good laugh – I choose to laugh, keeps you young.

        Like

      • archaeopteryx1 says:

        Oops, Lowell – my computer crashed just as I wrote that first response to you, and I thought it didn’t post, so when I finally got it back up, two days later, I wrote a new one – sorry for the repetition, I hate redundancy, I hate redundancy —

        Like

  9. Lowell Bushey says:

    Hi, Valerie,

    By finding ways to impose religion on society, yet still be in conformity with the Establishment Clause, it appears as though the Supreme Court has opened Pandora’s box. :) Alito’s opinion in Hobby Lobby effectively stated that Hobby Lobby’s religious beliefs were its own, sidestepping the issue of rationality. Thus, it would be difficult to argue that the Satanic Temple’s beliefs were irrational.

    I also find it interesting that the Religious Right’s attempt to impose their ideas on the rest of us effectively provided the Satanic Temple with an opportunity for rebuttal. According to Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, the amount of money that the Religious Right has at its disposal is downright scary!

    I find it hard to believe that no one has challenged the Missouri abortion restrictions on free speech grounds. It seems to me that requiring a doctor to recite the anti-abortion spiel would be a clear violation of that doctor’s right to free speech.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Valerie,

    Once again an excellent article summarizing recent developments. I admire Lilith Starr’s activism. I too became incensed after the Hobby Lobby decision and decided to write a book about women’s journeys away from religion. Pitchstone is publishing it next fall. I think the U. S. Supreme Court’s five catholic men who wrote the decision might come to regret the activism the decision has spawned. At 65, I cannot believe we are still fighting for reproductive rights. It is a sad commentary on our country today. We have fallen well behind our European allies.

    Karen Garst
    http://www.faithlessfeminist.com

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Perry says:

    The Satanic Temple’s distribution of educational religious material to students is a brilliant humanist strategy. http://thesatanictemple.com/campaigns/religious-literature-for-schools

    They might consider including this book in that program:

    “Awkward Moments Children’s Bible” http://awkwardmomentsbible.com/

    Here’s a video promo for that book:

    Noah’s Ark – Awkward Moments Children’s Bible (Floaters)

    Liked by 2 people

  12. LMc says:

    I just can’t help but wish they didn’t call themselves Satanists. Perhaps they feel that provocative name is necessary to get attention, or that they need it to pass the legal hurdles to be considered a religion, but for most purposes it seems like an unnecessary distraction.

    Like

    • Lowell Bushey says:

      Hi, LMc,

      The Satanists have been much more successful than the Pastafarians. Besides, I rather like Lilith Starr’s claim that Satan represents the true “good person”, rebelling against an unjust and idiosyncratic being (or person, or government) who does awful things to people, for no other reason than “because he (or she, or it) can”.

      Like

      • LMc says:

        I agree that the “good person” argument is a potentially strong one, although I don’t know whether it is standard Satanism or if this group just made it up. And, while I am also somewhat sympathetic to the Pastafarians, my criticism of them is somewhat in the same vein — they appear to be more interested in being provocative than they are in being taken seriously.

        Like

  13. Hi, Valerie. Great piece (as usual), but I have a question. Many times in your blogs, you refer to the Bible as Iron Age. You probably know more than I do, but when I read the bloody horrific battles of the Old Testament, I picture bronze scimitars. Wouldn’t that make the Old Testament, at least, a random collection of Bronze Age oral histories?

    Like

    • Someone just corrected me on this so here is what I just learned. There were many religions in the Bronze Age – 3000 BC forward to Iron – like Babylonian’s myth Enuma Elish. But if you date the Israelites to the Merneptah Stella around 1200 BC (first mention of their name in any source – this was Egyptian) then early Judaism falls into the Iron Age which starts at about the same time in this area. Hope that is helpful.

      Liked by 1 person

    • archaeopteryx1 says:

      The Jews acquired writing around 1000 BCE, and began jotting down tales that had been handed down by word of mouth for generations, tales that (if they happened at all), occurred during the Bronze Age – one can attribute all of the Torah (the first five books) to this period, then we begin entering the Iron Age. The earliest iron smelting in Egypt and Western Asia took place around that same time – 1000 BCE – although smelted iron has been found in Anatolia (which includes Canaan and Western Turkey), dating as far back as 1200 BCE, but that doesn’t mean that it was widely in use at that time.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. allanmerry says:

    Wow; That set off a load of reactions. Excellent thought provoking questions Valerie poses! I guess, for now, I’d say two things. First, it looks like whether “belief in something supernatural is required to be a “Religion” remains to be litigated. Um, what does supernatural mean, again? “Something not yet discovered by cosmic science?” I’d say that’s super-the-natural-(real)- cosmos. Thus equivalent to “Religion.” (Said as someone who prefers the path of ongoing scientific inquire into Reality.) Second, I’d also say choice of “Satanic” Temple was unnecessarily provocative. And probably detracts from their claimed intentions & success.

    Like

  15. Lowell Bushey says:

    Hi, archaeopteryx1,

    You haven’t posted in awhile; it’s good to see that you’re back!

    Many who “preach the gospel” believe that, by doing so, they’re hastening the second coming of Christ, and their one-way trip to heaven. (Yes, some people actually believe this stuff. :)) I can’t think of anything more self-absorbed and narcissistic than that.

    Some religions have been good at promoting the fiction that Atheists are self-absorbed and narcissistic. While Humanism doesn’t necessarily, speak for Atheism, nor are all Humanists Atheists, Humanism does adopt the creed that an egalitarian society is better for all of us. This clearly isn’t altogether unselfish (A better world for you is also a better world for me.), but, IMO, it represents a big improvement over religion.

    Liked by 2 people

    • archaeopteryx1 says:

      Hi, archaeopteryx1,
      You haven’t posted in awhile; it’s good to see that you’re back!

      A little boy hadn’t spoken from the day he was born. His parents were distraught. One morning, when he was about ten, he looked up from breakfast and said, “Mom, the toast is burned.

      His mother was astonished! “It’s a miracle! You haven’t spoken in ten years and suddenly you can talk!” The boy said, “Up to now, Mom, everything’s been OK —

      Liked by 1 person

      • The version I heard was when the boy, quiet for ten years, said “Dammit, pass the butter!” Always a good story.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Lowell Bushey says:

        Hi, archaeopteryx1,

        You’ve (perhaps unwittingly) made the point about why the issue before us is so important.

        “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter” Martin Luther King Jr.

        While the groups fighting the Religious Right haven’t been silent, up to now, they’ve not been particularly effective. The “Pastafarians”, for example, play into what many non-atheists regard as the “standard Atheist spiel”, i.e., believing in a benevolent creator, despite overwhelming evidence to he contrary. (Of course, there is no “standard Atheist spiel”. :)) The Satanic Temple, on the other hand, puts the “powers that be”, should they decide to approve the distribution of religious literature, into the clearly unconstitutional position of deciding which religious beliefs are appropriate, and which are not.

        Like

      • archaeopteryx1 says:

        You make an excellent point, Lowell.

        Like

  16. metalnun says:

    LOVE it! I am SO glad they are doing this. It really makes the point. I’ve been trying unsuccessfully for years to explain to conservative Christians that they may THINK they want to tear down the wall of separation between church and State, but they are not going to like the consequences when demographics shift and a DIFFERENT religion – e.g., Islam – becomes the voting majority. Everybody is fine imposing religion on society as long as it is THEIR particular religion. Re: “Satanism,” as far as I know it is a bona fide religion.

    Like

  17. Pingback: What About Satanism? | Mere Atheism

  18. Pingback: The Seven Satanic Precepts Beat the Ten Commandments as Moral Guide : Waking Times

  19. Pingback: The Satanists are wiping the floor with Christianity when it comes to morals. | McBrolloks

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