recent, Religion, Review

Keep Calm and Hail Satan

On its surface Hail Satan?, directed by punctuation enthusiast Penny Lane (Nuts!) and distributed by Magnolia Pictures (Man on WireCapturing the Friedmans), is a straightforward if openly sympathetic report on the rapid growth of the Salem, Massachusetts-headquartered Satanic Temple and the Temple’s goading of heartland conservatives in the perennial debate over the Constitution’s Establishment Clause. All of which is entertaining enough. But, below the surface, Lane’s film is also a case study in the resiliency of religious identity and atheism’s waning power as a rallying cry, as a movement, as a flag worth waving in an age of identitarian politics.

A revealing line is delivered about halfway through the film when Mason, a clean-shaven, bow-tied Satanist from Little Rock, Arkansas (yes, there is such a thing; a central message of the film is that the Satanists aren’t who you think they are), explains that he’d been a “zesty little atheist” before becoming involved with the Temple. Mason’s disdain for his former identity is mischievous but unmistakable. So is his enthusiasm for a more positive, more nourishing philosophy. And he seems to be speaking for everybody. Here, in Lane’s film, are a group of people who, on one hand, have a recognizable scorn for conservatism and mainstream religion, and on the other consider themselves enthusiastically and committedly “religious.”

As a somewhat-late-in-life apostate of Evangelical Christianity, I would have found Mason’s conversion out of atheism, at least as an identity, interesting enough. But because Mason is my cousin, and because our evacuations from Christianity about six or seven years ago roughly coincided, I cannot stop thinking about it. In February, I accompanied him to a midnight screening of Hail Satan? at the Sundance Film Festival, where it had premiered the day before. Aside from the attempt to rejig preconceived notions, Lane’s film is also making a legal argument: in a secular democracy the government must remain neutral between specific religions, and Satanism is a specific religion, therefore Satanists too have their rightful place at the democratic table. This is tight enough as a syllogism. But is the Satanism of the Satanic Temple really a religion, as its adherents seem to believe?

According to the Temple, “religion can, and should, be divorced from superstition.” And the term “superstition” is used by the Temple interchangeably with the term “supernatural.” But do these terms really mean the same thing? Certainly, superstitions are supernaturalist. But are all supernaturalists really superstitious? What about the Enlightenment era belief in an “Uncaused First Cause,” for example? How can we conceive of “nature” as having a “natural” source? Doesn’t a philosophy have to tackle or at least acknowledge fundamental origin questions like these, if it is really to meet other “religions” on their own turf? For Temple members, however, questions of metaphysics—“supernaturalism and archaic tradition-based superstitions”—are subordinate to other characteristics of religious communities, all of which they say are present and correct.

In addition to its mythical figurehead, the group also has tight-knit communities affiliated, if loosely, under an international governance structure, the occasional candle-lit ritual, and even “Seven Tenets,” similar in form to early Christian creeds or Evangelical “belief statements,” but more prominently featured in the group’s ethos, like the Decalogue. All of this “faith” translates into an impressive list of “works.” A number of the Temple’s discrete projects are also mentioned, but the film focuses on the Temple’s political activism in Little Rock, where efforts to erect an eight-foot statue of the goat-headed Baphomet alongside the Ten Commandment monument already on the lawn of the State Capitol have involved the Temple in a federal court case. You come to the film tentatively: “Satanists? Really?” And then before you know it you are giggling as they run circles around their fanatical opponents.

So, who are the main players in Lane’s film? The unrivaled star of the show is the Satanic Temple’s founder, a soft-spoken, 43-year-old Harvard graduate from Detroit named “Lucien Greaves.” Of course, that extremely metal moniker is not Greaves’s real name. Greaves’s real name, Mason told me, is Doug, which, I thought, is exactly the kind of name you’d expect a Satanist to ditch. Only, it’s revealed in the movie that “Doug” isn’t actually Doug’s real name, either. I assumed when I saw the film that this was a double bluff on the part of Greaves. I assume, in retrospect, it was also a willful fib by the filmmaker: the revelation, delivered after a serious discourse on the security concerns necessitating Greaves’s primary pseudonym, is one of the funniest moments in the movie.

And, as the reviewers have testified, the film contains plenty of funny moments. It opens with hapless efforts by a caped Temple spokesperson in Florida to master a flame-thrower attached to his wrist. Later, Temple members in Arizona “adopt a highway” and pick up litter with pitchforks. When the Temple starts an after school educational program, the specter of a cartoon Beelzebub brainwashing the kiddies induces parental apoplexy. The humor, in all these cases, comes from the Satanists’ self-awareness. Satan isn’t real; the Satanists know that. The game is to rile up America’s superstitious and humorless conservatives by being simultaneously lighthearted and profane. Until the monument battle in Arkansas, the Temple had been most famous, perhaps, for a “pink mass” in Meridian, Mississippi, during which Greaves presided over two same-sex wedding ceremonies at the tombstone of Fred Phelps’s mother. According to Greaves, the Westboro Baptists’ own doctrine holds that this will turn her gay in the afterlife. The Temple brought home another memento from that trip, now disseminated in various censored forms online: a photograph of Greaves smiling as he lowers his testicles onto that same piece of carved granite.

I found myself occasionally wincing at this and other ploys so unlike the measured provocations Greaves has used to focus the religious freedom debate. It seems Phelps’s mother was not a political activist but a homemaker, and died at age 28 of throat cancer. Does a fact like that matter? Nietzsche wrote that “[l]aughter means: to rejoice at another’s expense, but with a good conscience.” Since its premiere in February, Hail Satan? has been described as “hilarious” by the New York Times and (inevitably) as “wickedly funny” by Hollywood Reporter. According to the Verge, an outlet apparently no less vulnerable to writerly temptations, the movie “puts the fun in fundamentalism.” In any case, someone judging the Temple by its own principles might argue the Seven Tenets, which set out to “inspire nobility in action and thought” and prioritize the “spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice,” counsel somewhat against tea-bagging dead cancer patients. But it’s so easy to laugh, even so, and so hard to pity anyone tied too closely, in whatever way, to someone as sinister as Fred Phelps. Like John Milton’s Arch-Fiend, the competitive advantage of the Satanic Temple, in the battle for the hearts and minds of various Adams and Eves, is the abject dislikeability of its self-righteous opponents.

Lane’s film too has a named foil: Arkansas state senator Jason Rapert, who led the charge to raise the Ten Commandments monument in Little Rock and is now squaring off with the Temple. Rapert is recognizable at once to the liberal audience: the middle-aged white male with a southern drawl and that carefully curated mouth-frame of facial hair popularized in the late 1990s by (I think? who else?) country music artist Tim McGraw. Here, the audience senses instantly, is an avatar for all that is retrograde, boring, and dorky in postmodern Middle America: one of those Guardians of Days Gone By who seems to be convinced that if he just keeps repeating a handful of sacred words (“values,” “heritage,” “Judeo-Christian”) with the right amount of self-assured, soft-edged swagger, then time-honored notions of “what’s right” will prevail.

Alas, I’ve been reading about Jason Rapert since long before the Satanists or a film crew came to Little Rock to cover the monument controversy. And not only because he’s the state senator from my own hometown. Mason’s previous identity as a “zesty little atheist” meant, as his Satanism does now, directing his zest at tough-talking, Bible-beating state legislators. I watched Mason and Rapert go at it online for years until Rapert finally blocked Mason across all social media platforms. That doesn’t stop Mason from sending his nemesis letters. Rapert is not only a state legislator but the head of “Holy Ghost Ministries,” which according to its website is dedicated to “impacting the world through Evangelism, Teaching, Missions, Leadership Training, and Honoring Israel” (capitalization in the original). Both Rapert’s senate offices and the ministry get their mail at the same P.O. Box. Occasionally Mason sends Rapert a Subway gift card with a handwritten note: “Have a sandwich on Satan.”

To Mason’s credit, this line has a little more bite than, say, “Have a bag of chips on Daniel Dennett.” And, indeed, watching the free press materialize like manna at the Temple’s invocation of the Prince of Darkness, it is easy to see Satanism as mere marketing gimmick. Aren’t these, in fact, just regular atheists, but with a transgressive edge? Greaves prefers to describe the group as “non-theistic.” Here he is, for example, in an essay published in January: “From its inception, modern Satanism, as it came to be defined in the Revolutionary era of Romantics, was very much a non-theistic movement aligned with Liberty, Equality, and Rationalism.” Have a cookie on Jean-Jacques Rousseau, then?

Greaves (in pink glasses) with Temple supporters who gathered to protest the Ten Commandments monument. [Pic: Mason Hargett]

One way to frame the narrative: the Satanic Temple is a data point in the decline of atheism. Another: atheism has never been that strong to begin with. Despite all the chest thumping that occurs mid-culture war, it turns out it’s rather hard to find any respected thinkers who are, on this point, committedly doctrinaire. In writing the first sentence of this paragraph, for example, all of my first choices were taken. It seems VoltaireCarl SaganBertrand Russell, and even three of the “Four Horsemen,” Sam HarrisChristopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins, have all, in quieter moments, disclaimed the term for one reason or another. In response to Hail Satan? mainstream conservatives might (and probably will) say what they’ve been saying for years: “Of course atheism isn’t working! Humans will always need religion!” Not even American conservatives are wrong about everything all the time.

I am not surprised to see Mason, at least, distancing himself from the term. While he and I have often taken mutual joy in the New Atheists’ denunciations of superstitious bullies and fear-mongering dogmatists, I’ve maintained my own reservations about the “atheist” label. I believed, and still believe, that the moral objection to the Christian Cosmos—something like Ivan Karamazov’s (better articulated in Dostoevsky’s Rebellion than in the more famous Grand Inquisitor chapter)—is more powerful, and far more important, than popular arguments from science. The New Atheist argument went something like: “The scientific method and principled doubt are the most important tools in the pursuit of truth, therefore God does not exist.” To which I always found myself thinking, “They’ve got to be kidding.” And if you read their own writings, on some level, they were. But I like Mason too much to take any satisfaction in this.

He’s having too much fun to notice, anyway. In fact, if I’m honest, this is the bit that’s bothering me a little. I was not surprised when I had a hard time explaining my apostasy to Christians. But I’ve been disappointed (and, in a way, disillusioned) at how hard it’s been explaining my former Christianity to the easy, urbane “non-believers” with whom I’ve surrounded myself in the past decade. Many of them, it seems, have managed to hang onto some form of religious identity: a progressive mainline Protestantism, a proud but proudly unideological Judaism, or, likewise, a vaguely ethnic identification as Muslim. But Evangelical Christianity? Young earth creationists who stay virgins into their 20s and elect as the leaders of both Church and State the fire-breathing mascots of all that is feared and loathed by most of the rest of America?

Mason and I know: the person who has grown up with Old Time Religion as commonplace steps out into the antiseptic sunlight of the wider world and feels embarrassed, bamboozled, betrayed. This version of religion must be spat out, scrubbed off until the skin bleeds. You are left standing in a no man’s land, and the feeling can be terribly isolating, never mind your social life or even how many loyal, close friends you have. Carl Jung said that loneliness “does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself.” In the last six or seven years I have felt better talking to Mason. I have felt better, at times, just knowing someone like Mason exists.

Is this Mason, in some sense, gone now? Regardless, I’m more aware than ever, as the kind of gun-shy apostate wary of “labels” and of my own isolation. Who would I throw in with, were I to do so? With another religion, like Mason? With the Socialists? The #resistance? The white nationalists? The Intellectual Dark Web, whatever that is? The vaguely mystical acolytes of Jordan B. Peterson? It would be nice to have somebody, somebodies. At the moment, I can only say for certain that I feel “Arkansan,” happily if nervously “American,” quietly if not quite apologetically “white” and “male,” but mainly, now that “Christian” is gone, and since I never did take on “atheist,” like nothing more than myself.

I guess being no more than yourself is not so much “no man’s land” as “no other man’s land,” but in any case, as it often does, the sea supplies the best metaphor. No one is just standing around, after all. In the years since the both of us jumped Christian Ship, I have, I think, watched Mason find rest on a buoy labeled “atheist.” And now that he’s swum to another nearby, labeled “Satanist,” I realize that for the sake of some sort of personal-ideological purity I am bent, still, on treading water. Last month, driving back to Salt Lake from Park City, the snow on the mountains painted, like the sky, with the rose colors of the magic hour, I asked Mason a question already asked by the only reviewer I can find, so far, to have panned Lane’s movie unequivocally: Was it really fair to call Satanism a religion? Absolutely, he said. Seriously though? Was he really “religious” again, just like that? Had we both been kidding ourselves to think anything else was sustainable? I didn’t chase down these questions. The scenery was too pretty. It was his weekend. I was happy just to have been invited.

The next night, around 1:30 a.m., I watched as Penny Lane stood before a packed theater and with tears in her eyes and the kind of lump in her throat you can hear from 30 yards away thanked the Temple members, at least a dozen of whom were in the audience, for all they had done for her. The Temple had changed the way she thought about religion, Lane said: as a lifelong atheist, she never really “got it” before; now she did. After the Q&A session was over, she and members of the Temple lingered on stage shaking hands, slapping backs, giving hugs. To others, this might have looked like the end of an SNL episode, but to me it was closer to some sort of hipster church service in a rented theater. Though we didn’t get back to our Airbnb until 3:00 a.m. that morning, Mason was up at 8:00 the next day, jotting down thoughts and, of course, working on a tweet:

Later that day, Mason and others we’d traveled with rented snowmobiles before heading back to Arkansas. I found a coffee shop to do some work, and to reflect on the weekend, before going back to L.A. Among Lane’s interviewees, Mason was, aside from Greaves, the Satanic Temple’s best spokesperson. I had witnessed this in person a number of times in Utah. In turning visibly skeptical and occasionally repulsed strangers into smiling supporters of Satanism’s pro-science, pro-human, anti-conservative cause, Mason needed five to seven minutes. Everyone in our party agreed he would’ve made a good missionary. But of course he already is one.

Where has my first Sundance experience left me, not just as a wannabe film critic, but as a person who is, though I very much dislike the term, on his own philosophical “journey”? I feel more strongly than ever that there is nothing much to be done with the Jason Raperts of the world, embarrassments to a heartland I still manage to love, except to defeat them. I sympathize with this cutesy reversal, which will surely be deployed a thousand times in response to Hail Satan?: in the battle against religious bullies and nationalists it’s the Satanists, these days, who are doing “God’s work.” I feel proud of Mason. I feel happy for him. And in a way that confuses and scares me a little, in a way I am still trying to understand, I feel jealous too.

 

Blake M. Edwards is a lawyer and writer living in Los Angeles. He runs Remote Mediterranean, a program for remote workers who want to live and work in the Middle East. You can follow him on Twitter @blakeedwardz

Featured image courtesy of Mason Hargett.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article mischaracterized the film’s depiction of the Temple’s “pink mass” in Mississippi.

71 Comments

  1. These being the people suing Netflix over a statue of Baphomet in ‘THE CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA’ which they allege is a copy of their statue.

    • could that be because… it IS a copy of their statue????? That case was settled in less than a week, which might tell you something.

  2. Hmmm says

    Memo to Quillette: you are in desperate need of an editor. If I were in charge, I wouldn’t have run this piece at all because it has nothing to say, but as long as it’s going to appear, there must be a thousand words of pointless incoherence that should be cut.

    I’ve been tempted to make this same comment several other times recently. I’m aware that editors cost money, and also that the online publishing model means you (feel you) have to post new pieces all the time, even if what you’ve got on hand is half-baked at best.

    But if the ratio of quality to quantity gets too low, I’m not the only reader who will start to check out. That would be a pity. I like Quillette, it’s a much needed outlet, and I’d like to see it succeed.

      • Algernon00 says

        Here here. And I would add that the quality of a sentence does not correlate with the number of parenthetical comments it contains. Easy to be an arm-chair editor… I know. Thank you for the article anyhow.

    • It would go a long way if comments like this included like three examples of pointless incoherence, and maybe some criteria for what constitutes pointless incoherence since it’s a rather lofty insult. Which isn’t to say I don’t find at least one spelling/grammatical error per piece (or occasionally that one paragraph in larger font), or that I wish to defend anything about this topic or review. But the subsequent discussion is far more likely to do me in as a patron than the content. Perhaps the world doesn’t really need yet another comments section.

      • Stephanie says

        WH is correct that you should support your claims, instead of lazily throwing around insults.

        However, if WH doesn’t like the comments sections, he should simply not read them.

    • K. Dershem says

      I agree. It’s an interesting article, but it’s also repetitive and unfocused.

    • Yes. Rambling nonsense with occasional forays into justifying contempt of others for their beliefs makes for a poor essay.

  3. jimhaz says

    Thanks for equating reasoned atheism with juvenile insanity.

    • David of Kirkland says

      Reason can only get you to agnosticism. It takes faith to declare there is no creator or other higher power.

      • Etiamsi Omnes says

        Up until know I thought I was an agnostic but… now I’m not sure anymore…

      • ” It takes faith to declare there is no creator …”

        Which is why atheists generally don’t do that, they simply lack faith.

        • K. Dershem says

          Philosophers have drawn a distinction between “strong atheism” (denial that god or gods exist) and “weak atheism” (absence of belief in god or gods). It’s also worth noting that atheism is relative to specific conceptions of god. Christians are atheists when it comes to Zeus, Ganesha, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, etc. In the West, of course, the “default” God is the God of the Abrahamic religions, so “atheism” generally refers to rejection of that deity.

          Most agnostics (like myself) are de facto atheists: we live as if God doesn’t exist, even though we’re theoretically open to the possibility that there’s some kind of Higher Power.

          https://www.learnreligions.com/strong-atheism-vs-weak-atheism-248406

        • Barney Doran says

          Why are people so afraid of atheism, or whatever you want to call it? We are simply people who have made up our minds on a subject, filed that decision away, and now just want to get along with our lives without bothering others and trying occasionally to do the right thing as we see it. Does that sound terribly different from anyone else? Jesus H. Christ!

  4. Harry Callahan says

    Looks like Quillette is joining the rest of media of being a clown show in a clown world

  5. IDW apologist says

    Looks like Quillette is joining the rest of media of being a clown show in a clown world

  6. Jean Levant says

    Freedom is not yet an idle word in US, it seems. In France, Satan’s worshipers have to hide in deep caves and it makes no good in my opinion. Don’t take me wrong; I have no sympathy for the devil. But I think the right way to handle with satanists, as any other believers, is to let them freely express their belief or cult as they want insofar it harms nobody else than themselves; it’s the only way for them to check or uncheck the value of their beliefs. In this case, I’m not convinced. This way works out only if you’re sincere in your beliefs and like the author, I’m not sure these satanists are genuine believers.
    By the way, Rousseau is certainly not “non-theistic” as the author assumes. In fact, his christian faith was the main cause of his disputes with his “good friends” des Lumières, Diderot, Voltaire and co.

  7. F' You Dad, I'm a rad 80s skateboarder with hook 'em horns. HAIL SATAN says

    “I feel more strongly than ever that there is nothing much to be done with the Jason Raperts of the world, embarrassments to a heartland I still manage to love, except to defeat them.”

    Wait till Blake Edwards (if that is his real name) finds out about Lucien’s connections to fascists and the far right.

    What an incredibly dumb article. Can’t wait to read the next Quillette film review from an aging gen-x’er that hates his dad.

  8. Dave M says

    The Satanic Temple was created to file lawsuits on the basis of being a religion, so it has no choice but to call itself a “religion”, or it will lose its purpose. It’s not an honest question merely to ask, “Is this really a religion??” You have to ask about their ulterior motives for making the claim, and if those motives reveal insincerity.

    I agree with Camille Paglia that art and culture are substitutes for religion, for those (like myself) who don’t believe. TST puts social activism in place of religion, and is therefore a menace. It’s also dishonest, and I resent being lied to. Their goal is to make religion legally and socially absurd, by doing absurd things in the name of religion. This is not what almost anyone would call religious work, or identity. Stop the trolling.

    • UJN says

      In which book did Paglia say art and culture is a religion substitute? I need this info for a research project.

    • David of Kirkland says

      Washington State just passed a bill that allows you to skip a vaccination for religious “reasons,” but not for personal or philosophical ones. We need power against this preference for religion over non-religion. I say stick it to them until equal protection is real, when religions are taxed for property just like other non-profits, and held to similar standards for consumer fraud.

      • y81 says

        Well, your “power” will have to include a revision of the First Amendment, which explicitly protects “religion,” but not personal or philosophical beliefs. For myself, I would be happy to see churches taxed if universities, hospitals, museums and libraries were taxed. I don’t think the chattering classes will be on board with that one, though.

    • Stephanie says

      Dave, as we were reminded this week, our most memorable art and culture sprang from religious inspiration. What has our post-religious culture produced that can compare?

      • Jean Levant says

        In some fields, like architecture, it’s particulary obvious (think to Notre-Dame by instance but you can choose a mosque or a Greek temple if you prefer). What are the fruits of the non-theist in that way? Libraries? Skycrapers ? The Tour Eiffel? Bof.

  9. DBruce says

    More boundary seeking behaviour – the search for adult authority.

    • Lightning Rose says

      Bingo, DBruce. That’s the first thing I thought, too–“can you top this” cultural transgression.
      But one thing they better bear in mind; when you run your freak flag up the pole, you don’t get to control who salutes, or which finger they do it with.

    • KAM says

      Indeed. At some point, one has to grow up, give up all the wry irony, and take a stand for something positive. I know nothing about him other than what I read here, but at least Jason Rapert gets that much.

  10. mitchellporter says

    “The Conspiracy leftists wreck everything… now they’ve even wrecked Satanism!” — Janor Hyper-q’lette, “Told the Judge to Give Me Gender Confirmation Surgery”

  11. Steve says

    “atheism’s waning power as a rallying cry”

    What possible “power” could atheism have as a rallying cry? Rally to what? To the vacuous notions of “science and reason” brandished by the legion of middlebrow pseudo-intellectuals who aren’t remotely capable of even comprehending Godel’s Ontological Proof, much less actually refuting it? The vast majority of self-professed atheists understand neither science nor reason, and they most certainly do not have a clue regarding the theistic position. Having lived as an atheist for 20+ years, I have some insight into this form of intellectual poverty.

    Atheism is a deficit. It is logically incoherent. Reductionist materialism, if “true”, would render Truth strictly impossible. Atheism is therefore self-undermining as a doctrine. The more advanced our science and rational capabilities become, the more obvious this is.

    As for these clownish “satanists”, beneath contempt.

    Many Quillette readers will suspect there’s something fundamentally awry with materialistic atheism. Well your instincts are not betraying you. Atheism may seem natural to the weak-minded (alas, Jonathan Kay comes to mind) but not to those who are able to think deeply and who seek clarity about the world.

    • “Reductionist materialism, if “true”, would render Truth strictly impossible.”

      No it wouldn’t.

      “Atheism may seem natural to the weak-minded …”

      Derogatory remarks and proclaiming themselves superior really is the best the critics of atheism can do.

      • “Derogatory remarks and proclaiming themselves superior really is the best the critics of atheism can do.”

        Obviously that’s no more true than the idea that atheism is adopted out of weak-mindedness.

      • Frank Knarf says

        Steve believes the universe to be a system of formal logic, the axioms of which are contrived to render his delusions invulnerable to challenge.

    • K. Dershem says

      The vast majority of self-professed atheists understand neither science nor reason, and they most certainly do not have a clue regarding the theistic position.

      I could make the exact same statement about Christians. Even if your claim were true — and you provide no evidence that it is — the fact that many people who hold a position fail to fully understand it has no bearing on its validity.

      Atheism is a deficit. It is logically incoherent. Reductionist materialism, if “true”, would render Truth strictly impossible. Atheism is therefore self-undermining as a doctrine. The more advanced our science and rational capabilities become, the more obvious this is.

      This is an interesting claim — could you provide an argument to support it? (I’m not being catty; I’m genuinely curious.)

      • phinehas68 says

        “Strictly impossible” seems a possible overstatement to me, but I could certainly see how reductionist materialism could render Truth improbable.

    • Frank Knarf says

      Godel’s ontological proof is meaningful if you have faith that the required axioms are true and form the basis for our reality. This is of course absurd and your argument is abject nonsense. The tactic of accusing those who see through the bs of a lack of sophistication is both common and tedious, the oldest trick of apologists.

  12. Anonymous says

    How cute that some jerks with nothing better to do with their time than try to troll and annoy Christians and conservatives are having some fun.

    I’d bet they would have a lot less fun if Muslims became alerted to the fact that their fake deity Baphomet has a historical derivation of insulting the prophet Mahomet.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baphomet

  13. Cato says

    So their religion seems to be nothing but an effort to troll people. It’s actually fitting for the social media age – people with no solid beliefs other than that there are a bunch of dorky other people to pester. Seems like a truly meaningful existence for sure.

    • It would be so bizarre if all they wanted was to troll people, and yet they put their lives and reputations on the line to defend the 1st Amendment rights of every American (including people who sit comfortably at home calling them names). Personally, I don’t know any trolls that courageous and committed. If you don’t know how they do what I claim they do, you can look up their activities. If you want to know what they believe, you can look up their beliefs. Or you can just make assumptions based on preconceptions, which is cool too. I know them and they don’t really care if you hate them.

      • Curious says

        “they put their lives and reputations on the line to defend the 1st Amendment rights of every America.”

        Which first amendment rights do you have in mind? Since it’s mentioned prominently in the piece, I can only assume you mean the display of the Ten Commandments outside the Arkansas statehouse. This is settled law (see Van Orden v. Perry). SCOTUS has ruled that intent matters in the display of the Ten Commandments, since they are history and law in addition to religion. If the intent is to send a message about the historical roots of the Western legal tradition, displaying the commandments is no different than displaying the Magna Carta. It is not “establishment” of religion, even by today’s expansive understanding of that term, let alone the original understanding. If the intent is not (or cannot be proved to be) the “establishment” of religion, neutrality with respect to other religions is meaningless. In this light it is perfectly clear that the Church of Satan’s protest is nothing but a stunt based upon their own ignorance, or, at least, hoping to prey on the ignorance of others.

        • The Satanic Temple is not the Church of Satan.

          TST has been involved with a lot of campaigns, not just the 10C. Not going to list them all here, they are amply covered if you search and also covered in the film. You seem interested in these topics so you might find their work is more interesting and more substantial than you are assuming.

          Anyway, the 10C came down in OK because the facts were not the same as in Van Orden. Perhaps most importantly, it was a new monument and not one that had been sitting there long enough to count as “historical”. The new 10C case in AR is pending, but it’s also a new monument, not one of the “historical” ones (which are also not all that historical, having been donated to local municipalities by Paramount Pictures to promote the Charlton Heston movie in the 1950s).

          • Curious says

            “The Satanic Temple is not the Church of Satan.”

            My mistake, but not important to my point.

            “Anyway, the 10C came down in OK because the facts were not the same as in Van Orden. Perhaps most importantly, it was a new monument and not one that had been sitting there long enough to count as “historical”.”

            On the contrary:

            “In authorizing its placement, the Legislature apparently believed that there would be no legal impediment to placing the monument on the Capitol grounds so long as (1) the text was the same as the text displayed on the Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol, and (2) a non-religious historic purpose was given for the placement of the monument. To be sure, the United States Supreme Court case of Van Orden v. Perry, 545 U.S. 677 (2005), ruled that the Texas Ten Commandments monument did not violate the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. However, the issue in the case at hand is whether the Oklahoma Ten Commandments monument violates the Oklahoma Constitution, not whether it violates the Establishment Clause. Our opinion rests solely on the Oklahoma Constitution with no regard for federal jurisprudence.”

            Oklahoma has since passed this law:

            “Every county, municipality, city, town, school or any other political subdivision is authorized to display, in its public buildings and on its grounds, replicas of historical documents including, but not limited to, the Ten Commandments, Magna Carta, Mayflower Compact, Declaration of Independence, United States Constitution, Bill of Rights, Oklahoma Constitution and other historically significant documents in the form of statues, monuments, memorials, tablets or any other display that respects the dignity and solemnity of such documents.”

            If the Oklahoma Supreme Court hears a challenge to this they will be forced to deal with Van Orden v Perry.

          • Curious says

            PS: “it was a new monument and not one that had been sitting there long enough to count as “historical”.”

            This is not the meaning of “historical” in Van Orden v Perry.

        • Rendall says

          @Curious

          “…Church of Satan’s protest…”

          Hol’ on there, Curious! Why are you picking on the Church of Satan, which had nothing to do with this.

          The Temple of Satan is under discussion, not the Church of Satan. They are different organizations, with different goals and philosophies. The Temple are political activists.

  14. Good article overall but I do have 1 major point of contention – the constant use of the word “conservative” when the author really means “religious”. I realize that there are a huge number of religious conservatives (possibly most) but just because someone is conservative politically it does not automatically follow that they’re religious.

  15. The New Atheist argument went something like: “The scientific method and principled doubt are the most important tools in the pursuit of truth, therefore God does not exist.” To which I always found myself thinking, “They’ve got to be kidding.”

    You’ve certainly got to be kidding if you regard that as any sort of a fair summary of the New Atheists’ argument.

    • I enjoyed the somewhat rambling thoughts of someone trying to make sense of the nonsensical world of religion, which in my heart is juxtaposed against the faith I can’t seem to shake that God exists. Of course atheists don’t get it. I’ve always been interested in Satanism although I’ve always suspected it’s mostly just performance art.

    • Rendall says

      “You’ve certainly got to be kidding if you regard that as any sort of a fair summary of the New Atheists’ argument.”

      It’s not the Motte, but it is the Bailey.

  16. Will says

    Christian dislikes atheism as defense mechanism. News at 11.

  17. Patrick says

    Who, or, if you prefer, what is Satan?
    The source of all evil?
    The source of all human advancement?
    Or both?
    Whatever the answer one thing seems certain Satan, even as a joke, not unlike whistling past the graveyard, has enormous staying power.
    One is almost tempted to say that somewhere, lurking behind Him, patiently waits God.

    • K. Dershem says

      Satan is a mythological figure, just like Yahweh. A decreasing number of people in educated countries interpret the stories about these characters literally. In my opinion, this is a sign of intellectual progress.

      • Patrick says

        Well a mythological figure is no less real for all the protestations to the contrary.
        Your assumption that because science has, in your opinion, provided benefits is just a sanitized version of might makes right.

  18. yandoodan says

    You could just as easily make a movie about honest working people, not well-educated, not too bright, rising to the challenge of raising a family on an income far from adequate. You could show them in fear of losing their jobs and the disaster that would entail. You could show them turning to a belief that all this is actually part of a plan, a plan that will eventually bring good to the cosmos, even if it brings disaster to you.

    You could then show rich kids, pretending to to intelligence and education they lack, seeking out these working people to ridicule them to their faces. Funny!

  19. Chester Draws says

    I can see most of the commenters here are American.

    Outside your country atheism is doing just fine. It’s religion that’s struggling.

    (There’s an argument that even Islam is feeling the pinch, which is why there are such extreme reaction in the believers.)

    • K. Dershem says

      Fortunately (from my perspective), religiosity is declining in the U.S. as well. Over a third of Americans under the age of 30 identity as “nones” (no affiliation with an organized religion) in opinion surveys. Unfortunately, some of them have embraced the Cult of Wokeness as a replacement.

    • Obscure Canuck says

      In most of the world Christianity and Islam are increasing significantly.

  20. Stephanie says

    Satanists lack the self-awareness to realise that they are an offshoot of Christianity, and that their “religion” is little more than a cri du coeur of adolescent rebellion. Their mythology and values are based on Christianity, with the benefit of 2000 years of maturation. It contributes nothing new, all edge and no point.

    Mason sounds like a cringy fellow. Getting into Satanism as an adult is sad enough, but he seems obsessed with that State Senator in an unhealthy way. The author’s own perspective on these Satanists seems a little warped, too. The photo he provides of them reminds me of why I left the counter-culture religious scene. In another life, while I was a pink-haired overweight leftist, I founded a pagan club that had a few Satanist members. It was clearly just teenage rebellion, for the Satanists and for the pagans (myself included).

    We went to a pagan convention once, and I got lost on the way and stumbled into a neuroscience conference while they were on a coffee break. It was in a lavish hotel, everyone was well-dressed, and the refreshments looked delicious. I vainly hoped for a moment I had found the convention, but of course not. It ended up being in a massive concrete basement that looked like a warehouse. Everyone was overweight, poorly-dressed, and peddling some kind of crap. Exposure to what kind of people hold onto these counter-culture beliefs into adulthood scared me away from the community, and eventually from the beliefs.

    It boggles my mind that an adult with varied and rich life experiences would see such people and want to be a part of this community. I don’t know what the Christian community is like in Little Rock, but they’d have to be such a monumental turn-off for these clowns to be a step up.

    • X. Citoyen says

      This comment is more interesting than the article. You should write up the whole story and submit it to Quillette. Somehow one never sees how absurd a movement is till one experiences it face to face.

    • Rendall says

      “Satanists lack the self-awareness to realise that they are an offshoot of Christianity, and that their “religion” is little more than a cri du coeur of adolescent rebellion. Their mythology and values are based on Christianity, with the benefit of 2000 years of maturation. It contributes nothing new, all edge and no point.”

      Satanists are atheists or non-theists, not devil worshippers. But you’re correct that people who “Worship Satan!” are probably confused Christian teens. That is not the Satanic Temple (nor the Church of Satan)

  21. Morgan Foster says

    I see little point in worshipping Satan if I am not to be rewarded in this life with immense wealth and power over my fellow man.

  22. Patrick says

    You miss the point.
    The identification with Satan is identifying with the arc of history.
    Satan, or history, call him what you will,
    is leading us to an inevitable conclusion.
    The opposing point of views says well maybe but that conclusion leaves nothing for the untold numbers who made the conclusion possible.

  23. Quillette, my dear, what has happened to you? A ten minute read on a pretty dull topic that could have taken three minutes to read, and which, among other inanities, conflates Christians with Westboro Baptist, a church of one single family?

    Your readers are pretty discerning. Out of the last six or seven articles I have read here, maybe one was interesting.

    It would be better to put out one great work a week.

  24. Hmmm says

    To those who replied to me earlier comment: It’s true that I didn’t provide concrete examples of what I disliked about the piece, and drive-by swipes aren’t helpful. I was less concerned about offering specific constructive criticism than about making my larger point that Quillette could use stronger editorial control and judgment. This is one of a number of recent articles that seem like first drafts that aren’t really in a publishable state: too long, meandering, still in search of exactly what they want to say and how to say it effectively. I’ll leave it there; I just don’t find this one interesting enough to look through it again to offer the specific examples a couple of people asked for. I will say that it left me completely unpersuaded of its main idea, that these faux Satanist pranksters are somehow emblematic of a thirst for religious belief — an important topic that asks for a more incisive, or at least more entertaining, treatment.

    • K. Dershem says

      I think you’re exactly right, and IV (above) is too. As a regular reader, I’d happily trade more quality for less quantity.

  25. The piece is a short memoir pondering on the meaning of a particular set of experiences. Most of the criticisms seem to be objecting what are fairly standard features of memoirs. Personally, I am comfortable with such pieces being interspersed with more tightly analytical offerings.

  26. ga gamba says

    The humor, in all these cases, comes from the Satanists’ self-awareness. Satan isn’t real; the Satanists know that. The game is to rile up America’s superstitious and humorless conservatives by being simultaneously lighthearted and profane.

    I have no objection to this. But is this game play not as provocative and divisive as what the progressives wail about when the conservatives like the Milo Yiannopouloses of the world perform their antics at progressives’ expense? Or is it here “harm” and “violence” that must be suppressed when it takes the piss out of “our side”?

    Being provocative and even divisive is often cast as a great crime. It isn’t. Hell, the jesters don’t even need to be sincere about it, which is another justification used to censor them. We needn’t goose step together in unison under one banner shouting our one vapid chant. This is the merit of a pluralistic society.

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