It really happened. This is story about David Suhor from the Satanic Temple and how he delivered a rather unique invocation at a Pensacola City Council meeting deep in the heart of the US Bible belt a couple of weeks ago. As you might perhaps anticipate, it provoked a reaction and so we also had protesters in the mix as well.
Did this really happen?
Yep it did, here it he is. During his first attempt the protesters surround him and start their chanting. Once removed, he then proceeds …
Well, the answer to that is perhaps the key point being made. It did indeed have an impact, so much so that The Washington Post wrote it all up …
Gerald Wingate didn’t think a man in a cheap-looking Halloween costume would rattle him.
After four years as a Pensacola, Fla., city council member and another 25 as an Army officer, Wingate has seen his fair share of battles.
But as David Suhor, 48, the co-founder of the West Florida Chapter of the Satanic Temple, stood before lawmakers on Thursday and began his invocation — his pale face hooded and arms raised high like Darth Sidious in Star Wars — Wingate decided he had enough.
As Suhor called on lawmakers to “embrace the Luciferian impulse to eat of the tree of knowledge,” Wingate quietly exited the chamber, passing by anxious citizens holding crosses and reciting the Lord’s Prayer.
“You’ve got somebody who is worshiping Satan and who is coming in when the majority of us in this area serve God,” Wingate, who is Christian, told The Washington Post. “It wasn’t good for me to stand there and I got a little bit emotional. I was offended.”
That last comment “I was offended” is the key that unlocks an understanding.
OK, let’s step back for a second.
Does David Suhor actually believe that Satan is real and worship such an entity? Nope, he views that as superstitious nonsense.
Is the Satanic Temple a real organization? Actually yes it is, but it is not what you might think it is. They are in reality a political group that utilises a religious facade to promote egalitarianism, social justice, and the separation of church and state. They basically embrace liberal values such as gay marriage, pro-choice, separation of church and state, then claim that this is all part of their religious belief. The beauty is that if they maintained it all as a political stance then they are ignored and shouted down because others play the “You are violating our right to freely practise our Christian belief” card. So with that thought in mind, they now play the same game and level the playing field by moving such issues up a notch into the same arena and claim that these basic liberal values are all part of their religious belief.
So why the rituals and satanic chants, how does that achieve such goals?
The point is this, City Councils should not be in the business of endorsing any belief, and yet within the Bible belt and also in other places they often do exactly that when they opt to open council meetings with a prayer as an official item on their agenda. It is at that point that secular ideals kick in and people point out “Hey, you can’t do that, church and state need to be kept separate”. The counter argument to that is, “Its OK, we do not discriminate and are open to any religious group within our community doing the opening invocation”. To then drive the point home, the Satanic Temple test that stance to destruction by deploying the most highly offensive and yet utterly harmless form of belief they can possibly find.
“Any belief, no discrimination … OK, how about this specific belief then?”
As a result those involved choke on it all and end up being offended, and that is not only quite frankly hilarious, it also drives the point home.
We live with a vast diversity of beliefs. In addition to the rather obvious Christian variations such as Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal and many others, we also have a vast diversity of Islamic thinking, Hindu and lots more. That is reality. Beyond all that we also have a rising tide of non-belief as well.
History reveals that mixing religion and politics always ends very badly, especially for minorities, hence the road that led to Jefferson’s wall separation between church and state is not built upon abstract idealism, but rather was reached via a path that was washed with centuries of blood and bitter conflict.
In the US it is quite literally illegal for church and state to mix. This is because written within the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States we have the phrase that reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”. Marking a prayer as an official part of a council meeting is to in effect officially establish one variation of the vast diversity of belief and that crosses the line.
One objection is the popular myth within some quarters that the US was founded as a Christian nation, hence a Christian prayer is fine. Not true, the US was in reality established as a secular Republic with this principle of complete religious neutrality enshrined within the constitution.
In other words, what is actually happening here is that the Satanic Temple are a political group who strive to maintain that wall of separation and to police it in a rather humorous manner that very successfully draws media attention to it all.
A few More Points …
If you truly doubt the wisdom of keeping church and state separated, then ponder over the rather stark illustration of what happens when you walk down the road of mixing Church and State. European history need not be your only example of what it leads to, because we can also look beyond our borders to see what goes on within the various religious theocratic states such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and others that permit religious clerics to dictate the manner in which the state operates. Religiously inspired intolerance and violence is in effect not just endorsed by the state but is enforced by the state.
You might be tempted to think, “We are Christians, we would never behave like that”. But hold that thought, because while I’m sure you might indeed be a decent human and would not behave in such an obnoxious manner, you need not look too far to find variations of Christian belief that would happily dictate to all if permitted and enabled to do so. What would be rather immediate and quite obvious is that LGBT rights would evaporate and being gay would become potentially a crime if such thinking was in the position that enabled them to enforce such views. Ted Cruz is an example of exactly this and that is why he would have been far worse than Trump. Science fact would be also replaced by religious myth within the education system and reproductive rights and choices would vanish.
There is also one other rather vital point that needs to be appreciated. Secularism is not about the suppression of belief, but rather is the complete opposite. The basic principle is that whatever your belief, or lack, you should be free to exercise it without any interference being permitted by either the state or others. What guarantees religious freedom is that wall of separation between the state and all beliefs. As long as it is maintained then no belief will ever be in a position to impose its thinking upon you by force and that includes all the vast diversity of beliefs that would take a strong stance against yours.
That is perhaps why many religious people are also secularists.