Regardless of belief, the name conjures an instant emotional reaction. The Biblical story of the angel’s fall is known throughout the world, and the image of his horned visage is etched deeply into our cultural subconscious, a complex symbol carrying with it the ideas of rebellion, evil, death, and torment.
Amongst those who believe in a spiritual world, Satan is feared and reviled as the enemy of God, and is considered the co-author of the world’s evils, guiding humankind’s hand as it writes its own tale of suffering with a blood-tipped pen. Any who align themselves with Satan are seen as pariahs in league with evil incarnate.
One group seeks to subvert that belief.
The Satanic Temple, founded by Lucien Greaves and Malcolm Jarry in 2014, has chapter groups throughout the country. A fully organized, atheistic religion, The Satanic Temple actively participates in public affairs, seeking to, as their mission statement reads, “Encourage benevolence and empathy among all people.” The group, among several other campaigns, seeks to organize After School Satan Clubs, much to the dismay of parents, community leaders, and the media.
The organization doesn’t actually promote worship of a supernatural devil, but rather rejects supernaturalism, using the imagery of Satan in the literary sense and as a metaphorical construct representing the rejection of all forms of tyranny. The After School Satan Club exists only in response to the Christian-based Good News Club.
Their emphasis? That multiple perspectives must always be allowed in the public arena.
But the question is this: why? Why would any organization appropriate satanic mythology and imagery to achieve its goals, when that imagery is so heavily weighted down with the baggage of two thousand years of association with evil?
It was this question, amongst others, that I put to co-founder and national spokesperson of The Satanic Temple, Lucien Greaves, in a telephone interview. So without further delay, let’s step inside the Satanic Temple and learn more about its mission, its methods, and what it might have to say about society and religion.
“For so I created them free and free they must remain.”
― John Milton, Paradise Lost
I’ve often thought that all activism is rooted in a dissatisfaction of some kind. What is the purpose of the Satanic Temple? What are you dissatisfied with?
“I would say activism is more rooted in a vision of a better world or a better culture. That necessarily implies that things aren’t as good as they could be, but I don’t see it entirely in the negative. We have to always work to maintain what we’re doing right, and work to fix that which we see as being wrong.
Essentially, The Satanic Temple stands for democratic purposes and pluralism, and we feel we stand for true religious liberty, and we want to see those things upheld so that no one voice becomes dominant in this dialogue and that the roots of theocracy never set in.”
It seems the goals of the Satanic Temple are altruistic, but the media seems to paint the organization as disruptive. Why the disparity?
“It’s shocking to see an alternative religious group outside of the mainstream asserting the same type of religious rights that have been taken for granted by mostly Evangelical Christian conservative groups.
And so I think the fact that it strikes people as very bombastic, and that whether it frightens them or makes them laugh, they think that the ultimate purpose of it is mere pranksterism or whatever else. But it’s usually our opposition that tries to color us as being disruptive or putting out some kind of malicious message or simply targeting individuals for their faith or whatever else. Those are usually criticisms of convenience.
Most recently we saw that coming out of Liberty Counsel. We’re doing our After School Satan Club program and it was Liberty Counsel that really fought to open the door to religious organizations being able to come into schools and do what we’re doing. So Liberty Counsel, trying not to seem like hypocrites, in their mission for religious liberty, which they claim to uphold, are still fighting against our presence in schools, fighting against us having equal access to public resources and facilities. They then speak to our intentions, and start putting out this propaganda thing that our only intention is to disrupt and mock and spread discontent and all the rest.”
How was the idea for The Satanic Temple conceived?
“Well, for me, it started really with the satanic canon. In the 80s and 90s, when I was a kid, there were these stories—and these were prevalent notions—there were these stories of Satanic cults and spirits that have these kind of global implications and that have insinuated themselves into world governments. It’s the Illuminati scare.