I wrote recently about the setback suffered by a prisoner who said that he was a member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and wanted religious privileges that corresponded to those given to members of other religions. The judge denied the request, saying that the record was clear that the Church of the FSM was intended all along as a parody.
This is where Satanists have an advantage in their efforts to separate church and state because the idea of Satan worship goes back well into biblical times and thus cannot be easily dismissed as not a religion. The group that has brought them the most publicity is The Satanic Temple that emerged on the scene only in 2013 and now claims 17 chapters around the country and about 100,000 members.
They have all manner of symbols and rituals and their doctrines have a much greater level of authenticity. For example, take the Seven Tenets of The Satanic Temple.
- One should strive to act with compassion and empathy towards all creatures in accordance with reason.
- The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
- One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.
- The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo your own.
- Beliefs should conform to our best scientific understanding of the world. We should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs.
- People are fallible. If we make a mistake, we should do our best to rectify it and resolve any harm that may have been caused.
- Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word.
These are much better than the Ten Commandments in that they are all worthwhile and pretty much anyone could sign on to all of them as desirable ideals, with the possible exception of #3 that could be problematic for those opposed to abortion, contraception, drug use, or euthanasia. #5 and #7 would also be problematic for fundamentalists who take religious texts as the ultimate source of knowledge.
Because The Satanic Temple seems more like an actual religion and cannot be easily dismissed as satire, it may well be, as Joseph P. Laycock argues after recounting the history of the group, more effective in advancing the cause of church-state separation.
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.”
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).
Laycock provides a fascinating account of his visits to the group’s meetings and conversations with members and says that the group understands the power of symbolism to change attitudes.
But irrespective of the level of legal success that the Satanists achieve, as Valerie Tarico writes, “self-proclaimed followers of Satan seem more sane and kind than self-proclaimed followers of Christ.”
Indeed, the Satanists took umbrage with former speaker John Boehner castigating Ted Cruz as ‘Lucifer in the flesh’, saying that it was a slur on them.
“Cruz’s failures of reason, compassion, decency, and humanity are products of his Christian pandering, if not an actual Christian faith,” [Satanic Temple spokesperson Lucien] Greaves responded. “It grows tedious when pedophile priests and loathsome politicians are conveniently dismissed as Satanic, even as they spew biblical verse and prostrate themselves before the cross, recruiting the Christian faithful. Satanists will have nothing to do with any of them.”
Even Republican congressman Peter King said that Boehner was giving Lucifer a bad name by equating him with Cruz.
How effective the Satanists can be in effecting change remains to be seen and there is always the danger of their tactics backfiring. As Laycock says:
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.
The risk of an extreme reaction is always present whenever people push the boundaries of dissent. But if we allow that fear to stifle activism, then we will also achieve nothing.