You must have heard of these guys right? “Pink Masses“, Satanic Holiday displays, Satanic children’s literature, and that big old beautiful statue of Baphomet they are working on for the Oklahoma State Capitol. Most of these actions directed with unerring aim at (defending) the American separation of Church and State, and with the kind of humour that Monty Python could learn from.
Naturally they have not gone unnoticed by the Pagan community, and I’ve seen some heartfelt appreciations of what they are doing, along with the more predictable “we’re not like them, they’re not even religious, they’re atheists, and they’re Satanists, and we’re not Satanists” type stuff. Indeed they are atheists, as are many modern Satanists. They also have some very clear ethical principles (and ditto). And their actions have been very well thought out, focussing so far on gay rights, women’s reproductive rights, and children’s rights, in the face of religious and traditional teaching to the contrary.
The Satanic Temple got criticism from The Church of Satan, as well as Christian groups, and might have seemed in its early days, despite the audacity of its public actions, to be potentially a flash in the pan, or a joke, or a publicity stunt. Indeed I think they turn humour and publicity generation into an art form, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t serious. I’m rather reminded of what Joan Baez once said about Allen Ginsberg in the 60s; “Allen could behave like a nut, but he was serious about something. He was very colorful and very crazy. And we need that”. The Satanic Temple have a wryness and an organization that is unlike Allen, but I think we need them as well.
With TST growing in numbers, and maintaining it actions and presence in the media, some Pagans have been asking themselves what we can learn from them, in terms of effective PR and political application. But here’s the thing. TST’s effectiveness doesn’t just come from its organization, its media sense, and its exploitation of taboo iconography (which as Satanists they are supremely entitled to use). You could indeed try these things, but you’d probably get eaten alive by “the community”, and it would just be a stunt really. What TST has had in addition to that though is a consistent and focussed pushing of sound secular principles, and a sense of humour which its members are ok with. The “stunt” is part of the point, but the serious underlying meaning is a secular opposition to religious power. That just happens to extend religious freedom for everyone (including freedom from religion).
If we were to learn anything from The Satanic Temple, I would say it should be that you extend religious freedoms for minorities by pushing secular principles, and it is only secular principles that ensure real religious freedoms (plus a few others). I actually doubt that many Pagan communities are ready to take that on board, because Paganism is so full of fantasies of origin and identity, that I don’t know if popular Paganism is mature enough to understand the nature of religious social delusion, rather than perceived religious victimhood. To put it bluntly, I’m not sure that we’re bright enough to learn from TST, though I live in hope. But if The Satanic Temple could help Pagans wake up to where their freedoms actually lie, that would be great, and oddly appropriate, given the romantic and poetic nature of their un-god.