Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Satanic Temple Statue Faces Opposition

What, again? Of course! Now that the Oklahoma Supreme Court has ruled that the Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the state capital must come down, the Baphomet statue created by The Satanic Temple as a counterpoint has been looking for a new home. The group now plans to unveil the statue in Detroit - that is, if Christian extremists don't succeed in preventing them from doing so.

The statue’s first home in Detroit was to have been Bert’s Market Place, but owner Bert Dearing returned the Satanic Temple’s rental fee after he learned that the group was affiliated with satanists. “When I rented the place, I just thought it was a church,” he told ABC News. “I didn’t know about the unveiling of a statue. We weren’t aware they were into devil worshipping.”

The Satanic Temple’s co-founder Lucien Greaves isn’t buying that, because as he told Hemant Mehta Thursday evening, “the very contract specified that we are the Satanic Temple.”

Greaves believes that Dearing backed out because of pressure from local Christian groups — pressure that would make any venue wary of hosting the unveiling. “IT IS EVERY CHRISTIAN’S DUTY TO DESTROY THIS IF YOU SEE IT DESTROY THIS STATUE DESTROY THIS STATUE DESTROY THIS STATUE” reads one Facebook post Greaves provided to Mehta. “Let’s burn the statue down!” reads another.

The person responsible for this campaign, Greaves told Salon, is most likely Pastor David Bullock of the St. Matthew Baptist Church. “The last thing we need — in a city where we’re fighting against violence and fighting against economic problems and unemployment and the water crisis — is a statue dedicated to Satan right downtown,” Bullock told Christianity Today earlier this week.

It really does take a special kind of stupid to not realize that when you rent to a group that calls itself The Satanic Temple, you might very well be renting to a Satanic temple. It's funny how these expressions for communicating information called "words" work. To be fair, though, Dearing is almost certainly feigning ignorance in order to present himself as innocent in the eyes of those opposing the group.

One of the questions that came up back when this whole thing started was "why Satanists?" After all, the members of The Satanic Temple are basically LaVey Satanists - that is, they're secular atheists who like to spook and shock people. They don't literally believe in a being called Satan and don't actually worship anything in the conventional sense. For that matter, Baphomet is not Satan. So there isn't any coherent spiritual motive behind their actions aside from demanding equal space for non-Christian religions in general.

But even though a more serious minority religion could engage in similar tactics, the point of self-proclaimed Satanists doing so is that their entire identity is constructed to offend the Christian majority - particularly literalists who believe that the presence of a statue somehow threatens them or their beliefs. The message is simple - if they want their religion represented in the public square, the cost is that by definition they must also tolerate representations of beliefs that they consider to be maximally offensive in the same space.

The Satanic Temple is not really in favor of any sort of public religious plurality. In their public statements the group has made it very clear that their preferred position is for the public square to be kept free of all religious influences. And in several cases, such as the bible distribution debacle in Florida that they countered with a "Satanic coloring book," they've succeeded.

Still, my own preference would be a public square in which all religious and philosophical perspectives, including those of believers and unbelievers alike, could be represented on an even playing field. That's a much harder task than coming up with something so super-offensive that religious groups trying to co-opt public spaces just give up. But in the end, I think it would ultimately prove more rewarding.

UPDATE: So The Satanic Temple announced today that the statue will be unveiled this Saturday, July 25th. I can't be there because I'll be here in Minneapolis, but if you happen to find yourself in the Detroit area, tickets for the unveiling can be purchased from a link at the bottom of the article.

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