As you’ve heard by now, next week The Satanic Temple (TST) will be hosting a rally in Little Rock, Arkansas that will be featuring an appearance by the organization’s statue of Baphomet. The event is planned to be an interfaith affair—featuring speakers from several different religions—not in support of TST’s legal fight to try and get the statue placed on the Arkansas capital grounds but as TST co-founder Lucien Greaves put it:
This isn’t a rally of secularists versus people of faith, Satanists versus Christians, or outsiders versus Arkansas. This is a rally for all people who hold sacred the founding Constitutional principles of Religious Freedom and Free Expression that have fallen under assault by irresponsible politicians like Senator Rapert. We welcome people of all backgrounds and religious beliefs to stand with us.
Rapert, for his part, stuck to his talking points, telling Christian outlet Charisma News that “The majority of the people living in Arkansas support the display of the Ten Commandments Monument on our state Capitol grounds to honor the historical and moral foundation of law that the Mosaic Code represents.”
That Opens a Door to Talk About Symbolism
Most of my, and for that matter all media’s, coverage of the battle for Arkansas’ lawn ornaments have focused on the legal principles at play, whether religious monuments have a place in the public square at all and if they do then on what grounds could any such monument be denied a place in an open forum. But over the course of the Dominionism series I’ve been republishing these last few weeks, one thing has become apparent. Many proponents of Christian religious monuments like the 10 Commandments genuinely believe that all monuments are somewhat religious in nature and part of some spiritual battle for the soul of America.
That being the case, it’s high time we actually take an artistic and symbolic look at the Baphomet and what it represents. Instead of focusing on the letter and spirit of the law, let’s think about the spirit of what America is for a minute and ask ‘Why not Baphomet?’
Many of the components of the Baphomet (as conceived by Elias Levi in 1856) are shared with another particularly prominent symbolic representation of the time. The highest point of the statue is a flame, symbolizing enlightenment, the torch of knowledge lighting the world and dispelling the shadows of ignorance. The figure’s right arm is held aloft while the left is held low, symbolizing, perhaps, the duality between the independence that comes with such enlightenment and the society we create together under a rule of law that ensures the least restrictive means to protect freedoms without infringing on those of others.
At this point, you’ve probably caught on that I’m trying to point out some thematic similarities to the Statue of Liberty (which began construction in 1875, scarcely 20 years after Levi’s Baphomet popularized the character). The comparison, especially considering the timing of their creations, is not so silly. Art is a visual and interpretive medium, and, at times like this, I’m struck by those similarities. There is, after all, a not insignificant portion of the the Dominionist Christian right who would even agree with me on that symbolism to an extent.
There are Dominionist Christians Who Believe the Statue of Liberty is a “Demonic Idol”
Back in 2011, then Texas Governor Rick Perry held a prayer rally in Huston as part of the run-up to his failed 2012 GOP nomination bid. At that rally he had some very fringe theocratic Christian speakers, including (as reported at the time by Right Wing Watch):
“…extremists who believe that tolerance for homosexuality caused the September 11th attacks, Oprah Winfrey is the harbinger of the Antichrist, the deadly Japanese earthquake was caused by the country’s Emperor having sex with a demon, the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell caused bird deaths in Arkansas and violence should be considered to overthrow President Obama, among many other extreme beliefs.
One self-described ‘Apostle’ who has signed on as an official endorser to Perry’s The Response prayer rally is John Benefiel of the Heartland Apostolic Prayer Network, a group affiliated with the New Apostolic Reformation with ties to other The Response endorsers including Cindy Jacobs, C. Peter Wagner and Jay Swallow. In a sermon last August, Benefiel argued that America is under a curse from God because the country possesses monuments to pagan idols and that Americans needs to renounce those idols if not destroy them. Benefiel claims that the Statue of Liberty is in fact a “demonic idol” because it represents a “false goddess.”
30,000 people attended that rally. A rally organized and advertised by people who think the Statue of Liberty is an act of spiritual warfare by European Freemasons. Thirty. Thousand.
So What Are the Secular Values These Competing Monuments Espouse?
Rapert’s assertion is that his 10 Commandment’s monument is a secular symbol about the history and foundations of law. Many, myself included, find that justification historically short-sighted at best. But let’s be honest, the vast majority of the supporters of said monument are doing so to symbolically assert the ideals espoused on that monument as fundamentally American. But they simply aren’t, at least not most of them. I wouldn’t be the first blogger on this or any secular platform to point out the 10 Commandments are ethically flawed from the perspective of championing individual freedom and liberty. Everyone from Christopher Hitchens to George Carlin have covered this topic with both serious evaluation and humorous dismissal.
Baphomet, on the otherhand, is a representation of the unification of opposites, a symbol of disparate notions unified as one. Much like how America’s great melting pot is predicated on the idea that though people may completely disagree about such things as the very nature of reality we can still come together and make an equitable and egalitarian society in which we all can live. E Pluribus Unum. Meanwhile the artistic features of the Baphomet, when compared to other great works of the time, like the Statue of Liberty, evoke the enlightenment principles on which this country was actually founded. No matter how vociferously the likes of revisionist theocrat historians attempt to say otherwise, America is a beacon of Liberty and predicated on the belief that disparate peoples with competing beliefs can live united in these values through the rigorous application of secular laws and values.
In Some Literature, Liberty is Even Satan’s Daughter
As another Satanic blogger, The Satanic Scholar, once very eloquently pointed out these symbols of Lucifer and Liberty are not entirely unrelated in 19th century literature:
“In Victor Hugo’s La Fin de Satan (The End of Satan, 1854–62; 1886), a feather from the archangel Lucifer’s wing falls from Heaven down to our world and becomes Liberty, Lucifer’s angelic daughter—a more positive offspring than Sin, the daughter born Athena-like from Satan’s head in Paradise Lost (II.747–58). Most significantly, Hugo’s Luciferian angel Liberty descends to Earth at the time of the fall of the Bastille in 1789, which launched the epochal French Revolution and ushered in the modern world, thus illustrating just how intertwined Romantic Satanism was with the revolutionary politics of the time.”
So, if we’re being truly fair about the history and symbolism that has made America what it is, we should accept that as America came of age in the industrial revolution it was these symbols—steeped in artistic and occult symbolism—that were representative of the values of the society that was being created. The Baphomet and Liberty are, in my humble estimation, far more American than the pronouncements of a celestial dictator could ever be.
The Ideas Baphomet Represents Deserve Their Place in American History
In 1875, when construction started on the Statue of Liberty, individuals so revered the idea of Liberty that they deemed it worthy of personification in the form of a 15 story statue in New York Harbor. The world gave it its own island to stand on. In our modern era, those same symbolic references—the flame that is the light of reason and justice, the raised arm, the crown: those artistic symbols of freedom—are being loaded onto a truck and driven down to Arkansas for a rally against theocratic over-reach to combat a cynical attempt to “bring America back to Jesus.”
So next week when TST has their rally, and Baphomet is rolled out into the public eye, remember that what it symbolizes is not just some mere tool to combat Rapert’s theocratic cynicism. The values and meaning enshrined in the Baphomet rightfully deserve their place as a part of what makes America America at least as much, if not far more, than a list of 10 things that make one religion’s petty god mad.