The following is a guest post by Lucien Greaves, co-founder and spokesperson for The Satanic Temple.
Soon after the violent white supremacist protests in Charlottesville — and while the President was, for the first time in his political career, carefully moderating his words against those whom he was expected to denounce — opinionators began the usual drudgery of fitting the events into their preferred narratives, regardless of how square the circle. Conservative Sylvia Thompson declared that the entire fiasco had been staged by “fascist leftists” who had infiltrated the Unite the Right movement with “Deep State operatives” to sow racial animus.
Radio host Michael Savage took to Twitter to ask the question that was on no single reasonable person’s mind, “WHO STARTED THE RIOTS IN VIRGINIA? IS THE SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER AN INSTIGATOR OF UNREST?”
The groveling Christian apologist, conservative commentator, and insufferable little sh*t, Dinesh D’Souza was also quick to somehow put the unlikely blame upon his political adversaries tweeting, “Maybe if Democrats admitted their 150 year history of bigotry & apologized for it this country can begin to heal its divide #Charlottesville”
American Family radio host Bryan Fischer also took to Twitter to blame Democrats, offering a typical Fischerian historical revision, “White nationalism is not conservative but far left. KKK was a Democrat organization, Hitler was a socialist.@CNNhttp://cnn.it/2vXGi0j”
— Bryan Fischer (@BryanJFischer) August 12, 2017
The Ku Klux Klan is, and always has been, an openly, explicitly, Protestant religious sect, which also made the Twitter comment of author and Corporate Strategist, Eric Garland, who attributed White Supremacy to America’s “Satanic side” both senseless and infuriating:
That long shadow has tainted the hearts of those who cling to America's Satanic side. White supremacy. Hatred of rule of law. Violence.
— Eric Garland (@ericgarland) August 13, 2017
Evangelist Franklin Graham blamed the Charlottesville violence on the removal of a Confederate memorial, as well as on Satan, “Shame on the politicians who are trying to push blame on President Trump for what happened in #Charlottesville, VA. That’s absurd. What about the politicians such as the city council who voted to remove a memorial that had been in place since 1924, regardless of the possible repercussions? […] Really, this boils down to evil in people’s hearts. Satan is behind it all.”
Writing for the Washington Post, 14 August 2017, Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, described on his website as “the moral and public policy agency of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination,” further elaborated a position that white supremacy is “Satanic.”
“The church should call white supremacy what it is: terrorism, but more than terrorism. White supremacy is Satanism. Even worse, white supremacy is a devil-worship that often pretends that it is speaking for God.
It is the same old idolatry of the flesh, the human being seeking to deify his own flesh and blood as God. The Scripture defines this attempt at human self-exaltation with a number: 666. […]
The church should call white supremacy what it is: terrorism, but more than terrorism. White supremacy is Satanism. Even worse, white supremacy is a devil-worship that often pretends that it is speaking for God.
White supremacy angers Jesus of Nazareth. The question is: Does it anger his church?
As the co-founder of, and spokesperson for, The Satanic Temple, my irritation at such comments shouldn’t be surprising. However, to the unaffiliated there seems to be a tendency to view Moore’s comments as a triumph of progression among prominent American Christians. He is clearly denouncing the terrorism of the White Supremacists and, while I may identify non-theistically with a Miltonic Satan that defies all subjugation, exalts scientific inquiry, and promotes Humanistic, pluralistic values, I must also recognize that there is a general colloquial understanding of “Satanic” as synonymous with evil, cruelty, and abject depravity. What Moore is really saying is that Christians, and Christian Churches, should be clearly opposed to the mindless tribal thuggery of White Nationalists and they should also be clear that no such philosophy enjoys any of their support. While it may be thoughtless to ignore that self-identified Satanists very actively fight for individual and civil rights, is it not a relatively small crime given the overall picture?
No. In fact, Moore’s characterization of the situation is no small offense and, I would argue, one should be at least as offended by Moore’s assertion that White Supremacy is Satanism as they may be over Dinesh D’Souza’s implication that the violence in Charlottesville can be blamed on the Democratic Party, or Michael Savage’s unsurprisingly asinine speculation that the Southern Poverty Law Center was involved. There is more at stake here than a semantic battle over who defines “Satan.” Moore’s article, and the various comments from Christian leaders seeking to attribute Charlottesville to Satan or Satanism are nothing short of their Declaration of Refusal to confront the Protestant roots of the American Racist Right. Further, their invocation of the eternal adversary as a scapegoat comes with darker implicit assumptions that should be confronted and rejected outright.
In allowing the colloquial use of “Satanic” to stand unopposed as a blanket term to describe all that is reprehensible and morally corrupt, one also tacitly affirms the implied opposite, that Christianity defines — and has defined — all that is just and morally sound. Correcting this assumption is more than a matter of embittered punitive nitpicking, it’s a matter of maintaining fidelity to historical facts so that we might more appropriately confront the dire issues of the present. It’s a matter of undermining the destructive certainty of moral authority held by the superstitious.
Slavery in the United States was traditionally — and rather credibly, from a theological perspective — justified on scriptural grounds. The Ku Klux Klan is as much a religious Protestant sect as the Taliban or Al-Qaeda are Muslim. The doctrine of the Christian Identity Movement, with its spurious scholarship and militant apocalyptic urgency, forms the ideological backdrop of “virtually all white supremacist and extreme anti-government movements” in the United States. Allowing Christian leaders to merely disown Protestant radicalisation by fiat absolves them of having to confront the problem of radicalisation from amongst their own. It’s one thing to disagree with the scriptural interpretation of a movement, it’s entirely another to deny that the movement had any foundations in scriptural interpretations at all. Facing the problem of Protestant racism from within means acknowledging its existence and dedicating a certain amount of energy to maintaining a non-racist Church, not merely claiming that no such element exists only when politically convenient.
It’s well past time we stopped allowing religious authorities to pretend that their doctrines have guided the Rights Revolution, while in reality they’ve traditionally stalled and crippled it. Without a moment’s introspection, we find American Christian religious leaders claiming the glory of the 1960s Civil Rights movement while simultaneously fighting to prevent and undo any advances in LGBTQ rights. Believing they’ve never been wrong, and failing to be corrected by those who know better, they carry on assuming that “right” is not defined by that which is equitable, increases happiness, or reduces suffering, but rather “right” is defined by (their interpretations of) what is stated as such in their archaic yet allegedly infallible laws.
Further, blaming “Satan” for any misdeeds, whether real or imagined, has never been a victimless crime. Moore’s words are the very stuff of witch-hunts inspired by a guilty desire to purge one’s own sins in a conflagration the scapegoated “other.” In fact, Trump’s own conspiracist scapegoating, his cozy relationship with deranged paranoia-mongers, and his near-unanimous support among Evangelicals are all unquestionably factors that have contributed to the increasing flagrance of the Racist Right. Blaming Satanism for Charlottesville only adds fuel to the growing flames of conspiracist unreason while shifting responsibility from where it properly belongs.
Finally, it must be said that nothing could be more antithetical to Modern non-theistic Satanism than racist ideologies. We embrace a large diversity of individuals from a wide spectrum of political and cultural backgrounds, but we’re all unified by our respect for individual rights and pluralism. It is axiomatic within Satanism that individuals must be judged for their own actions and for their own merits. To unfavorably relegate individuals into arbitrary categories, or to take credit for the achievements of another based upon a shared classification, is to defy the very foundational principles of our ethics. We simply have no place for simple-minded Supremacist, Nationalist ideologues and, what’s more, it’s impossible to interpret our tenets otherwise.
Ironically, much of what Moore and other preachers of superstition claim to know about Satanism is derived of a mythology constructed from libels against minority out-groups by Christian majorities. Pagans and Jews were early victims of violent purges, their practices deemed Satanic and intolerable. Native Americans and black slaves were often suspected and accused of Satanic activity in early America. In fact, the vision for a “Christian Nation,” persistently fought for by Evangelical Theocrats, with its refusal to accept cultural diversity, holds that there is but one right way to live our lives, one lifestyle for all households, only one acceptable religious outlook that should be dictated to the nation at large, one god for one people. Is it really so mysterious that some among them might decide there’s a “right” race as well?
If we’re going to confront the violence in Charlottesville in any constructive manner, we’re going to have to do better than ‘the Devil made them do it.’