The Satanic Temple Wants to Place a Monument Outside Oklahoma’s Capitol Building. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

I did a bit of a double-take when I saw this press release hit my inbox:

The Satanic Temple Offers Donation of Monument to Oklahoma State Capitol

This is the group, you might recall, that performed a “Pink Mass” over the tombstone of Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps‘ mother over the summer.

So what were they up to now?

The Satanic Temple, an established New York City-based religious organization, has offered to donate a public monument to Oklahoma’s Capitol Preservation Commission for display upon Oklahoma City’s capitol grounds. Described as an “homage” to Satan, the purpose of the monument is to complement and contrast the Ten Commandments monument that already resides on the North side of the building. The donation offer has been submitted and is currently awaiting the commission’s reply.

When other government buildings have played host to religious displays, atheists have come in to place monuments of their own. This is really no different, so more power to them! What better way to convince public officials that they’re better off not allowing government buildings to become a religious free-for-all?

That was basically the mindset of temple spokesperson Lucien Greaves:

[According to Greaves], “by accepting our offer, the good people of Oklahoma City will have the opportunity to show that they espouse the basic freedoms spelled out in the Constitution. We imagine that the ACLU would also embrace such a response. Allowing us to donate a monument would show that the Oklahoma City Council does not discriminate, and both the religious and non-religious should be happy with such an outcome. Our mission is to bring people together by finding common sentiments that create solutions that everyone can appreciate and enjoy.”

Sounds downright pleasant, really.

As you can imagine, I had a lot of questions — about the proposed monument and Satanism in general — and Greaves was kind enough to answer them all:

Has the temple done anything like this before (offering a monument to challenge First Amendment rights)?

We have not specifically offered a monument previously, but we have asserted our voice on other First Amendment issues. Earlier this year, we held a rally in Florida on the Capitol steps in Tallahassee in support of Governor Rick Scott for his passage of a Senate Bill [SB 98] which allows for “inspirational messages” at assemblies in schools. We took the position that SB 98 — while apparently an attempt to promote Christian beliefs in public schools — instead promoted religious diversity. We applauded the proposition that Satanic students (or students of any religion) could now let their beliefs be known publicly to classmates who might otherwise never be educated about them.

Obviously enabling Satanists to take advantage of the Bill was not considered when the legislation was drafted. The fact is that laws cannot be discriminatory. Ours is a religiously pluralistic nation, and we asserted that we are prepared to take full advantage of our religious liberties on behalf of an often ignored and marginalized demographic. We’ll let the courts decide whether or not a strong Separation of Church and State is preserved. We are happy to indulge in whatever liberties are granted to religious organizations.

What prompted you to offer Oklahoma the monument (when there have been other government locations with Ten Commandments monuments)?

We have many active members in Oklahoma. They were the ones who apprised us about the monument. These are people who are willing to sign affidavits or submit whatever paperwork is necessary to affirm that they are both residents of Oklahoma City and members of The Satanic Temple. This is necessary, as Oklahoma could reject our request to place a monument at their State Capitol if there were no Satanists there to establish a need for representation. We also have membership in other areas where 10 Commandments monuments stand, but Oklahoma City seems particularly appropriate as their Capitol Preservation Commission indicated — in light of the controversy over their 10 Commandments monument — that they were receptive to more monuments. In fact, the 10 Commandments monument is said to be but the first installment in what is envisioned to be a “monument park”. Word is, the State Capitol is also in the process of constructing a chapel on their grounds.

The Ten Commandments monument outside the Oklahoma State Capitol building (AP)

What will you do if your monument is rejected?

We are at a loss to think of a legal basis upon which they possibly could reject us. They have set the precedent themselves, and they simply can’t reject a monument on the grounds that it its being donated by Satanists rather than a Baptist Deacon (as was the case with the 10 Commandments monument).

When was the donation offer sent to them? (And to whom was it sent?)

Our request was addressed primarily to the Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission, but we copied the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office, as well as the ACLU representatives who had contested the 10 Commandments monument. The letter was sent by Certified Mail and was received by the commission on November 21, 2013.

At what point will you take your next step if you don’t hear back?

I can happily report that we have very recently heard back from the commission. The representative was extremely polite and friendly and sent us the form needed to accompany the design for our proposed monument. We have several designs in mind, and we are willing to adjust our monument to fit whatever pre-existing structural specifications they may require.

People will be freaked out by the name “Satanic Temple.” What do you say to appease them?

Some people will be put off by Satanism no matter how it is practiced, and we do not feel compelled to “appease” them. We are not apologetic for who we are. What we can do, however, is educate people so that they fear us for the right reasons.

We threaten to overturn a misguided sense of religious exceptionalism that has plagued the United States for a very long time. We promise to engage actively in political/cultural dialogues and re-assert religious pluralism. People who fear a challenge to the Judeo-Christian religiopolitical monopoly are correct to fear us. We assert that religion, at its best, is a narrative construct by which practitioners contextualize their lives. We believe that religious narrative should be malleable to conform to the best scientific evidence. We reject supernaturalism and strive to approach all things with reasonable agnosticism. Charlatans, mystic snake-oil salespeople, cults, pseudoscientists, witch-hunting conspiracists, and the like all are correct to fear us. We will be merciless in our debunking and discrediting of their exploitative practices. We will assert the rights of religious non-believers everywhere, and those who hold pious and pompous positions of arbitrary authority based on superstition and/or pseudoscience are wise to view us as a distinct threat.

What don’t people get about you?

Almost everything the general public thinks they know about Satanism is entirely wrong. Even in fairly educated circles it is sometimes assumed that there was some kernel of truth in the tales that emerged during the anti-Satanist “moral” panic of the 1980s. The conspiracy theory of a parallel society of homicidal Satanic cultists is nothing more than the delusional rantings of frightened mobs, the likes of which historically slaughtered Jews and presumed “witches” in the Middle Ages. We do not reject universal moral values — we reject arbitrary authority.

Satan, to us, is symbolic of our rejection of tyranny, and we bow to no God or gods. We stand with the unjustly accused, the slandered minority, and the unsilenced inquirer. We offer our counterforce against mob intolerance and demand reasoned solutions to all problems. We hold nothing so sacred as to be unquestionable; No Truth impervious to revision in light of new knowledge. We strive to reserve belief in only that which is demonstrably true, and hold to even those with the reservation that they, too, may ultimately be overturned. In this, we embrace the role of the heretic — heresy as it applies to the unceremonious discarding of archaic fetters which bind reason and would persist in counter-productive dogmas.

I don’t get how a Satanic Temple could encourage benevolence. Can you fix my ignorance here?

We feel that by forcing people to look beyond superstitious out-group categorizations — to judge people for their concrete actions, we naturally encourage benevolence. There is a term in social psychology, moral self-licensing, that refers to the phenomenon in which those who define themselves in terms of moral superiority tend to act more brazenly in an immoral manner. We are happy to confuse and upset simplistic White Hat/Black Hat Good Guy/Bad Guy notions that serve to ignore one’s real-world deeds in favor of their symbolic fealty to social norms. We start with the basic premise that suffering is bad, and should be reduced wherever possible. If you are working to that end, you are doing good… all else is just pomp and pretension.

I won’t pretend that I understand the group’s philosophy, but I understand their desire for church/state separation and I wish them the best of luck in getting their monument approved.

I mean, it totally won’t be, but I still wish them well.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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