A couple of days ago the Satanic Temple unveiled a nine feet tall statue (pictured above) to a crowd of hundreds who had turned up to see this in Detroit. When compared with other events it was a tiny gathering, and yet at the same time was also culturally huge, so much so, that Time magazine felt that it merited an article and so they have written it all up, and many other media outlets also reported it and so we have the story in The Guardian, The Independent, along with a myriad of other sources.
Signing Away your soul
One interesting twist is that those attending were asked to sign a document in which they … well here is how Boing Boing described it …
Anyone was welcome at the event, but everyone who attended — including the fundamentalist Christians who wanted to picket — had to agree to “a lasting and eternal contract” that included irrevocably pledging their eternal souls to “The Fallen One, aka The Father of Lies.”
I agree that by signing this document under any name, given or adopted, actual or pseudonymous, I am hereby avowing my soul to Satan (aka Abbadon, aka Lucifer, aka Beelzebub, aka The Antichrist). I do so knowing that He (aka The Fallen One, aka The Father of Lies) or any of His representatives may choose to collect my eternal soul at any time, with or without notice. I understand that my signature or mark representing any name, real or made up, upon these papers constitutes a lasting and eternal contract, and that there will be no further negotiations on the matter of my eternal soul.
Oh but Wait …
All is not quite as it appears to be, because this is not about a new Satanic religious group at all and is in fact a rather brilliant protest against religious belief imposing itself in the public square. If you surf on over to the Satanic Temple website then what you find is not a site filled with descriptions of blood sacrifices to a dark lord, nor does it contain recipes for eating babies, but rather a few ever so non subtle hints that they are not in any way religious at all, nor do they actually believe that Satan is real, but instead we find this on their FAQ …
WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE?
We believe in the pursuit of knowledge and freedom of Will. We believe in our Seven Tenets:
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 forego 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.
Materially, we believe in nothing that is not demonstrably true, and hold to even those beliefs with an understanding that they, too, must remain open to revision in the light of new scientific understandings.
… or to translate, this is one huge very organised troll that is targeting Christian believers who are attempting to impose irrational beliefs by force upon all. In other words, wherever religious belief is granted a unique special privilege then the Satanic Temple will pop up and leverage that with “Oh so if you are granting religion a special status here, then how about this religion”.
OK, so why the statue then?
Easy really, it is a response to the deployment of religious monuments on state property, and so the statue of Satan is now ready to be deployed. The plan is that it will not stay in Detroit but will instead .. well, let’s permit Time to explain …
One witnesses in the Satanic Temple militia a certain knee-jerk reaction to encroachments upon personal liberties, especially when those encroachments come with a crucifix in hand. The Baphomet statue is the Satanic Temple’s defiant retort du jour.
“We chose Baphomet because of its contemporary relation to the figure of Satan and find its symbolism to be appropriate if displayed alongside a monument representing another faith,” Blackmore said.
The monument she refers to is a six-foot marble slab engraved with the Ten Commandments, controversially situated on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol. In 2012, state representative Mike Ritze fronted $10,000 out of his own pocket to have the marker installed in the shadow of the capitol’s dome, prompting the ire of those who believed it flagrantly violated the separation of church and state. The American Civil Liberties Union sued the state of Oklahoma; the Satanic Temple fought fire with fire. If the Christians could chisel their credo onto public property, the argument went, why couldn’t they?
A more traditional response to the erection of religious monuments upon state property, or the deployment of religious legal privilege (The Hobby Lobby case) might involve a protest or even a legal challenge and would not really make much impact, but this is beautiful in that it creates a huge splash that ripples right out across the media and in so many ways is wholly appropriate because it plays the same game on an even playing field.
In the end the ultimate fight here is not for the suppression or oppression of some quite frankly daft religious practise, but rather is to police and maintain the wall of separation between state and belief. Secularism is not anti-religious but is instead really all about complete neutrality such that no one belief should ever be permitted to dominate and impose itself by force. People who believe should of course be free to continue to believe and if they do indeed wish to erect huge monuments to manifest a considerable degree of religious insecurity then that is just fine, but only as long as it happens on private property and is completely decoupled from the business of the state. This in the end is the only way that true freedom can be guaranteed for all, because the alternative, the promotion and preference for a specific variation of belief is to in essence oppress any and all other alternatives; once we start down that road then we are truly lost.