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A satanic movement seeks political change

“The Satanic Temple” unveiled its proposal for a monument it intends to erect next to another religious statue: a depiction of the Ten Commandments on the Oklahoma State Capitol. Illustration courtesy of The Satanic Temple

Robert Eggers’ period horror film “The Witch” has been one of the surprise hits of 2016. It’s even gained a second wind since its February 23 release: the first weekend of April it played on 666 screens around the country, raking in an additional USD$465,000.

The tale of a Puritan family turning on each other as they attempt to root out the supernatural evil plaguing their farm, the film won Eggers the award for best director at Sundance – and even frightened horror master Stephen King.

But neither of these accolades has generated as much buzz as an endorsement from The Satanic Temple (TST), a satanic political movement that first appeared in 2013.

In December, TST and A24 studios began collaborating on a four-city tour called The Sabbat Cycle, which consisted of screenings of the film followed by politically driven satanic rituals. The stated goal of The Sabbat Cycle was to inspire a “satanic revolution.”

TST believes that the separation of church and state is currently under attack by radical religious conservatives. They also believe there is a silent majority that opposes this agenda, but remains too apathetic to do anything about it.

The Sabbat Cycle was an attempt to raise political awareness by piggybacking on “The Witch”’s appeal. This is part of larger PR model the group has used since its inception, in which the shocking and the frightening are used to lure media attention to their cause.

As a religion scholar, I find TST fascinating. Not only do their campaigns raise serious questions about the First Amendment and religious pluralism, they also challenge the public to think about what counts as a “religion.”

To learn more, I attended the Sabbat Cycle at its Austin stop, and spoke with attendees about their religious and political views.

Political movement, religion or both?

Since its founding, TST has waged a highly active campaign to demand greater separation between church and state, and to challenge the privileged relationship Christianity has with government.

A cornerstone of their campaign has been tongue-in-cheek “stunts” intended to show how government institutions favor Christianity in ways that would never be tolerated for other religions.

TST first made headlines in 2013, when it held a rally in Florida, ostensibly to congratulate Governor Rick Scott for passing a bill that would allow students to read “inspirational messages of their choosing” at assemblies and sporting events.

While Scott probably envisioned the law permitting Christian students to offer public prayers and Bible readings, it could not, constitutionally, specify what sort of “inspirational messsages” were allowed – including satanic messages. And so the rally featured a sign declaring, “Hail Satan! Hail Rick Scott!”

Whether or not TST is a “real” religion has been a subject of debate. But some members insist that while the movement is atheistic, the group, like other religions, has a shared set of values, concerns and symbols (like Satan as a symbol of rebellion).

Baphomet, a goat-headed idol, is a satanic symbol.
The Satanic Temple/Facebook

Religion or not, no one can question TST’s appeal or its sincerity about its political goals.

Today TST has 17 chapters in the United States and Europe and claims an estimated 100,000 members – a figure based on the purchase of membership cards and various forms of online support.

Masters of media attention

TST chapters across the country have launched campaigns demanding the same religious rights and privileges afforded to Christianity.


RELATED STORY: Phoenix opts for silence over prayers at public meetings


These have included the creation of satanic coloring books for distribution in schools in Florida and Colorado; bids to erect satanic “nativity scenes” on government property in Florida, Michigan and Indiana; offering prayers to Satan at a high school football game in Seattle; and demanding that a monument to the Ten Commandments at the Oklahoma State Capitol be accompanied by a monument to Baphomet (a goat-headed idol associated with witches’ sabbaths).

The 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) reinforced the religious freedoms outlined in the First Amendment. When the Supreme Court ruled that RFRA applied only to the federal government and could not be applied to the states, many states passed their own versions of RFRA. Several of TST’s campaigns involve using RFRA laws to claim religious accommodations for satanists.

For example, since 2014 TST has invoked state RFRA laws in Michigan and Missouri to demand a religious exemption from laws dictating that those who seek an abortion need to review literature or endure a waiting period.

The Satanic Temple performs a satanic ritual at the Michigan State Capitol in December 2015.
The Satanic Temple/Facebook

In January, TST’s Tucson chapter demanded that the Phoenix City Council include them in public prayers offered before their council meetings. The council responded with a new rule that only chaplains from the police and fire departments may offer the prayers before meetings. (TST has threatened to sue.)

Harvard Law Professor Noah Feldman has argued that James Madison would have supported the Tucson satanists. Madison was concerned that individual rights could be threatened by a “tyranny of the majority,” and saw laws guaranteeing individual rights as “paper barriers” that offered no real protection. Only a diverse coalition of minorities could effectively check a majority and protect individual freedom.

“We do not seek followers, but collaborators”

It was exactly this sort of coalition that TST spokeswoman Jex Blackmore hoped to forge through events like the Sabbat Cycle.


RELATED STORY: Satanic group unveils controversial statue in Detroit


In Austin, Texas, Blackmore took the stage before a screening of “The Witch” at the Alamo Drafthouse and explained that the film was a “microcosm of a patriarchal theocratic society that results in satanic revolution.” In Blackmore’s reading of the film, the titular witch was driven to witchcraft by Puritan oppression.

A promotional poster for ‘The Witch.’
A24

Afterward I got to chat with Drafthouse employee and film buff Laird Jimenez about this assessment. He noted that “escaping patriarchy” is currently part of a cultural zeitgeist that includes films like Oscar-winner “Mad Max: Fury Road,” which depicts women escaping – and then overthrowing – a patriarchal warlord.

Following the screening, everyone migrated to a bar and music venue called The Sidewinder, where TST held their ritual. Members from the Detroit and San Antonio chapters began setting up and handing out satanic American flags painted in only black and white. I mingled with a small crowd of Satanic sympathizers and the curious. Leather jackets, tattoos and pentagrams were in abundance.

During the ritual, a speaker played an excerpt from a speech by Baptist pastor Dr. Jeff Owens, in which Owens warned his congregation, “Satan does not want you to do what he wants you to do. Satan wants you to do what you want to do.” (Other eyewitness accounts of the ritual can be found here and here.) Owens had been warning that Satan uses people’s pride and selfish desires against them, but the ritual imposed its own interpretation onto his message: To TST, Satan represents moral autonomy and personal responsibility.

Blackmore eventually appeared from beneath a hood and took to a podium to deliver what can only be described as a “satanic jeremiad.” She warned that Christian theocrats were taking over America and that those present – atheists, satanists, fans of heavy metal and punk music – were allowing it to happen: “There’s too much apathy and not enough resistance!”

She told the audience, “We do not seek followers, but collaborators.”

Afterward I spoke with some young people from the crowd. One explained that he was attracted to Satanism because “It’s about knowledge,” not dogma.

Another, Jonathan – who identified as a witch – seemed the most likely to be sympathetic to TST’s politics. He said that when he attended high school in Virginia Beach, his classmates targeted him for openly identifying as a Pagan. Someone even pretended to be him and called in bomb threats to his school. The events attracted the attention of Detective Don Rimer, a notorious “occult crime expert,” who confiscated all of Jonathan’s books on witchcraft as evidence. There was an attempt to forcibly commit Jonathan to a mental institution.

I asked Jonathan if he thought TST was really a religion.

“Definitely,” he said, “Some people treat Christianity as a hobby. But no one thinks it’s not a real religion.”

Can the satanists win?

As the event wound down, I was able to interview Blackmore. Like Marx, Blackmore saw her revolution as inevitable: the Christian Right would naturally drive people to rebel against it.

She told me that she’d recently met a French journalist who said that nothing like TST could happen in France. The French model of laicité – a much more ingrained version of America’s professed separation of church and state – leaves nothing to rebel against. By contrast, TST wants to challenge the popular belief that America is a “Christian nation.”

Many TST members and allies I spoke to described strict Christian upbringings. In Blackmore’s assessment, progressive cities like Austin are paradoxically the most apathetic about resisting the Christian Right because people in progressive cities feel they are unaffected by religion-influenced laws. Blackmore saw “The Witch” as an opportunity to get more people involved and hasten their political revolution.

But Jonathan pointed out that this dialectic can swing both ways: revolution begets counterrevolution. For example, in the 1970s, the New Christian Right formed, in part, as a response to the perceived excesses of the 1960s.

Likewise, there is a risk that an openly satanic presence in American politics will energize the very forces TST opposes. Right wing news sites such as Breitbart.com and LifeSiteNews have given TST heavy coverage precisely because their rhetoric can be used as fodder for antiabortion activists.

Conservative voices have claimed TST “proves” what they have said all along – that God is with them and their political opponents are literally demonic.

In many ways, TST is the heir to the “New Left” of the 1960s and such figures as Abbie Hoffman and Allen Ginsberg. Events like the “exorcism” of the Pentagon in 1967 demonstrated an understanding of ritual and semiotics: the strategic use of religious symbols could change what the Pentagon represented to the public.

But the New Left also intentionally straddled the line between prank and sincerity in order to draw media attention to their cause. It is contested today what effect the New Left actually had toward the goal of ending the Vietnam War and it is similarly unclear what effect TST might have on America’s political center of gravity.

Nonetheless, millennials now outnumber baby boomers. They’re a more diverse generation than their predecessors, and major changes to the political landscape seem inevitable.

Still, supporters like Jonathan remain skeptical of TST’s true viability.

“It’s not that they’re wrong,” he said, “But this is Austin, and look how many people came out? And how many people here are actually going to do anything?”

The Conversation(Joseph P. Laycock is assistant professor of religious studies at Texas State University)

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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  • Love TST. My feelings are that what both the right and left (represented by TST) are fighting over is the opinion of the middle. I don’t feel there needs to be some great mobilization, but if TST (and others) can influence public perception – that would do a lot to remove any cover the religious right has had in the past.

  • More importantly they are deflating the pseudo-religious nonsense surrounding attacks on civil liberties by the ultra right-wing. Something progressive religious sects should have been doing.

  • what they didn’t say is the TST took the state of okla to court and got the 10 commandments monument removed. Their presence here in Phoenix at the city counsel first made them change to a moment of silence before they passed that unconstitutional law using only city chaplains. There pamphlets have been passed out at public schools along with bibles. People have sued to have their drivers license photos taken with spaghetti cauldrons over their heads to honor the flying spaghetti monster religion.

    There are major corporations that are finding, training, and funding preachers to run for political office so they can stack the legislatures and courts with extreme christians. This is an ongoing fight and as their numbers lessen christians will fight harder and scream louder to protect their prefered place in our govt.

    Christians want to be immune from laws the rest of us have to obey, because if they have to face a non christian or anyone who believes differently, they get their feelings hurt.

  • No one hates christians. Many used to be christians. They hate the nonsense of religion sure, but the real problem is very simple. Laws are being enacted on the basis of christian belief, and that is wrong. That is the sole reason for the anger. People will not be subjected to christian law. Christian law is for christians to follow.

  • Christians in their church are fine people. Christians in government are enacting the christian version of Sharia. That will not be tolerated by reasonable and logically thinking people.

  • Homosexuality and abortion are sins to christians, and they should not participate in either. Eating pork is a sin in Islam, but the christian is free to decide for herself. Religious freedom. Stop tampering with it by trying to make your sin illegal.

  • Social commentator and former alter-boy George Carlin sums it up, “Think about it. Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time! But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He’s all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can’t handle money! Religion takes in billions of dollars, they pay no taxes, and they always need a little more.”

  • I’m not sure it’s enough just to label the majority’s acquiescence to militant Christianism as “apathy.” In a lot of ways, that word is too … well, passive … to describe what they’re up to. Their thinking is more rational and active than that. Really, what they’ve done is to figure the angles, and they’ve decided there’s really no downside — for them, anyway, as they see it — in letting Christianists take over. Oh sure, non-believers will be harassed, marginalized, driven out, etc.; and so too will a lot of others, e.g. Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, New Agers. But most of the American majority doesn’t fit that description. So they’re fine with all of those people being persecuted and destroyed.

    No, what they’ve done is to assume that, as long as they act the part of good little Christians, those in control will leave them alone and will be well. Trouble is, it won’t be “well” for them. Not all of them, anyway. Once it’s been enshrined in law that every American must be a Christian, the question will change from “Are you a Christian?” to “How Christian are you?” and even “What sort of Christian are you?” Not all of them will be able to answer those questions to the Christianists’ satisfaction. And the Sectarian Holy Wars will begin.

    Among the earliest targets will be sects like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists, whom a lot of other Christians don’t think are “‘Real’ Christians.” Yeah, it’ll be real easy for them all to gang up on them and wipe them out. Next will come Catholics and Orthodox Christians, the traditional rivals of the evangelical Protestants who more or less control the Religious Right and set its agenda. Yeah, a lot of Catholics — including the bishops — have been aboard the Religious Right Express for years, but that’s no guarantee they won’t be kicked off once it’s convenient for them to be tossed aside. The Mormons will be next after that. And on and on and on it will go.

    It’ll be a bloodbath with only a few winners and a whole lot of losers. And suddenly that vast American majority, which originally had figured, “Well, why not let those Christianists go after the insolent atheists?” will find themselves regretting their mercenary decision. It won’t be pretty — but they won’t have anyone but themselves to blame for it, either.

  • The other thing besides apathy is that people might not like the TST’s tactics any more than they like the Christian right. There are plenty of Nones out there who might not be on board with putting up a Baphomet statue.

  • Carlin also joked about televised genocide in one of his specials. Joking or not, it’s straight up evil stuff he would laugh about at times.

  • Let’s pretend for a moment that there were no religion, I wonder how opinions might change about abortion if that were the case…just looking at it objectively.

  • Sorry, not buying that. If they find what TST does annoying, then by definition they should be equally annoyed with the R.R. Because TST is doing the same stuff the R.R. does, just in a different way. It’s called “illustrating a point.” If they object to TST putting up Baphomet statues, then why would they not object to Decalogue idols being put up, too?

    Oh, and TST would probably disappear tomorrow, if this majority would find the cajones to stand up to the R.R. for once. They’d eliminate two annoyances in one, if they just grew a backbone.

    But I still don’t think that’s what’s going on here. I think the majority has calculated that they will be fine under the reign of Christianists even if they won’t be.

  • I agree — part of it is privilege. They’ll be fine either way. Far be it from me to be political on RNS of course– but the same point has been put forth by Hillary supporters to the purportedly overwhelmingly white male “Bernie or Bust” contingent. If Trump or Cruz wins, they’ll really be fine. Women, Latinos, not so much.
    The end of your original post reminds me of Niemoller’s “First They Came…” poem.

  • Re: “The end of your original post reminds me of Niemoller’s ‘First They Came…’ poem.”

    There is quite a bit of that going on here. Really. You’d think people would have learned the lesson … but they haven’t. Sadly.

  • Which one? I must have missed it. I am a huge fan of Carlin. Even saw him live a few times.

    The best way to defuse psychotics who wrap themselves in the airs of legitimacy is to make fun of them. Ridicule does more harm to evil ideas than hatred.

  • We would not be discussing it. There would be none of the irrational and arbitrary fetus worship which poisons the subject. It would be considered a right which is unquestioned of a pregnant woman.

    There would also be far fewer incident of it. Practically none except in the most unlikely accidental way. As all the effective forms of contraception would be available with no effort.

  • Satan is definitely working overtime in these last days of a wicked era to turn mankind against God and follow him instead. He knows his time left is short (Rev. 12:12), and we can see the results of his exerted influence worldwide via immoral lifestyles and movies, books, media, etc. about spiritism. Thankfully, he and his demons won’t be around for much longer (Rev. 20:1-3, 7-10).

  • This is superstitious nonsense. Is it any wonder more and more people raised as Christians are abandoning it? I don’t mean to be rude, but your statement, backed by verses from a book you consider true, is a bad explanation for anything because a person can imagine any scenario involving invisible beings who no one has ever proved exist and tout it as truth. That’s why the Flying Spaghetti Monster gets traction these days. Explaining anything, any phenomena, any happening, using magic or quotes from a book filled with scientific inaccuracies and outright fables, fairy tales and myths is a bad explanation. No way exists to test it or to use data to explain it, or even to observe it empirically. It’s a bad explanation. It discourages questioning and criticism and brooks no disagreement. As David Deutsch puts it, it’s an anti-rational meme.

  • God, his Word, the Bible, and his promises will be proven true to everyone when God’s kingdom or government soon intervenes in man’s affairs and begins its millennial rule over man/earth. There will be no influence from Satan and his team during that entire time since they will abyssed. Let’s just see what happens then.

  • I do agree with you about “let’s just see what happens then”. Reality is what happens then. As gently as possible, and I don’t mean any disrespect to you, but your belief that a supernatural deity will intervene in the affairs of human beings is as unlikely as a leprechaun pointing you to a pot o’ gold at the end of the rainbow. I was indoctrinated into the same false explanation for reality as you are but I was able to escape because I was able to use reason, science, and the human capacity for understanding as a way to overcome the brainwashing that religious upbringing is. Again, your statement that God’s government will intervene in man’s affairs is a statement that has no true or false outcome because whatever happens can be attributed to God’s will. In other words, a bad explanation.

  • Wow you are really gullible. The Satanic Temple is really pushing your buttons and getting you to panic by just using the right imagery and a bit of dramatics. The bitter irony is that they have demonstrated a far greater understanding of morality, freedom, and decency than people likely to quote Bible verses as a response to a situation. Or worse, those who blame problems on a mythical personification of their own personal failings.

  • I am not a believer in the Satanic culture just as I don’t embellish everything that is Christian, but the freedoms we have must be shared by everyone.As for Christians going to the Satanic movement, than there must be something wrong within their culture. The problem I see is finding God is an individual movement,not one that you find in a group or religion. That should come later.

  • I am elated, joyful and grateful that the evil person, Satan, who was a major cause in bringing sin and death to the entire human family (and his goal of destroying mankind continues) will, in due time, no longer exist.

  • Blaming Satan is far easier than owning up to ones own failings. It is a very immoral belief because it tries to absolve one of responsibility for their actions. Why be honest and moral when you claim “the devil made me do it”.

  • I wonder if the reason why the Temple of Satan is recognized as a religion by the U.S. government, while the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is not, is because Satan is cited in the Abrahamic religions, while the Flying Spaghetti Monster is not.

    Maybe the U.S. government considers religions to be like those exclusive clubs where you have to be recommended by members in order to join.

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