‘Hail Satan?’ — Satanic Temple Documentary Released; Media Loves It
By TOM GILSON Published on April 27, 2019 • 34 Comments
I haven’t seen Penny Lane’s new documentary, “Hail Satan?” It’ll be at least two weeks before it reaches any theater within a hundred miles of here. I’ve only seen the trailer. There’s plenty there, though — enough to know that I’ve seen enough. That’s in spite of — or because of — the film’s overwhelmingly glowing reviews since its premiere at Sundance earlier this year.
Its subject is the Salem, Massachusetts-based Satanic Temple group, famous for erecting a statue of Baphomet in front of the Oklahoma capitol. They don’t believe in Satan, they say, but they sure do hate Christianity. And they’re hardly alone in that, judging from the reviews.
“Basic Human Rights” or “A Poke in the Eye”?
Blake Edwards, writing for The Humanist, says the group’s efforts “are responses to Christian indoctrination and monopoly over public spaces.” He stands firmly in agreement with them: “Shoulder to shoulder against traditionally religious conservatives in America, the Satanist and the humanist are not just reluctant allies but enthusiastic comrades in rebellion against the Christian notion of a deity.”
Humanists and Satanists, enthusiastic comrades? I could stop right there. Except it gets worse. The Satanists have plenty more allies.
The Hollywood Reporter gushes over both the film and the Satanists: “Wickedly funny, fascinating and niftily made, this crowd-pleaser will reign at festivals.” It will “prove, yet again, that the devil always has the best tunes.” The group itself, says the review, is “a religious organization dedicated to protecting basic human rights in modern America.”
NPR informs us the Satanic Temple is “a fully sincere spiritual movement itself, one advocating principles of nonviolence, religious pluralism, scientific inquiry, individual liberty and Dungeons & Dragons garb.” Gush, gush.
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But which rights are we talking about? They call it religious freedom. In reality, they’ve aimed their horns straight at one group: believing Christians. NPR calls it “a poke in the eye of religious conservatism.” I just love getting poked in the eye, don’t you? Sure, it’s a metaphor. I can roll with it. But there’s more.
Entertainment Weekly minces no words, speaking of the group’s opposition to “the increased presence of Christian theocracy in America’s public spaces,” which “they see as contra to the foundational ideals of a country that offers not just freedom of religion, but freedom from it.”
Still, Come On, They’re Really Nice!
That’s the Satanic Temple’s view. Here’s Entertainment Weekly’s own opinion: “The group has a lot on its side; the Constitution, for one.” The Temple’s leader, Lucian Greaves, is driven only by the purest motivations, they say: “Justice — along with science, reason, and the right to reject the adjudicating of public life in the name of Jesus Christ.” It makes me wonder if that writer is heading off to join the Satanic Temple this weekend.
The Washington Post loves them, too. They are “A brave, idealistic band of misfits and rebels dedicated to such values as reason, personal liberty, bodily autonomy and secularism in the public square.” And if that’s not good enough, they’re also “a collection of thoughtful, creative, passionate people.” Possibly the nicest people in the world, even: Their “core tenets,” says The Post, “include compassion, empathy, rectification of harm and respect for scientific understanding.” And to cap that off, a masterpiece of misunderstanding: Those tenets “coexist happily with the most humanistic impulses of traditional religions.”
The NY Times’ take on the group’s tenets is that they’re “well, pretty nice.”
Did I say they were nice, though? I’ll have to admit I borrowed the word. From The NY Times, whose take on the group’s tenets is that they’re “well, pretty nice.”
So it seems if you’re writing for any of the country’s major media, you think it’s a great film. And it’s about a really nice group of people. They must be: a lot of them are animal lovers! Even if they’re not so happy working together with other humans (5:12 here).
Maybe human cooperation doesn’t matter that much, though, for “trolling the culture wars” (per Reason.com). They don’t need it, apparently, in order to be “more than just a middle finger to the evangelical right,” as Greaves put it.
Taking Direct and Hateful Aim at Christianity
They’re freedom fighters, says The Washington Post, “waging front-line battles on behalf of free expression and the separation of church and state.” Their method is clear: “to present Satanism as a religion that deserves equal time with Christianity, in order to call attention to the un-Constitutionality of Christianity in public spaces” (The Wrap).
They do wrap their story in constitutional language. But there’s more to it than that, and it gets a lot uglier than you’d gather from the reviews. You do get a hint of it in their warnings (in the trailer) of “Christian theocracy creeping its way into our government … it is our duty to stand up to this.”
The subtext is clear enough: the media love this.
What that word means in the wider conversation is that the Christian right is a Handmaid’s Tale world, an “American Taliban” currently led by at least one “ anti-science, anti-women, anti-LGBT, radical religious extremist, a cold, cruel, Christian extremist.”
Nice? This sounds a lot more like their admitted inability to play well together with others, if you ask me.
Far more so, however, does their including the Hallelujah Chorus, in their movie trailer. Worse yet, it’s playing while men and women on screen are intoning “Hail, Satan!” Honestly, it’s one of the most hateful things anyone could do to a fellow human who believes in Jesus Christ. Short of physical violence, I have trouble thinking of anything to match it.
But there is tragedy here. It applies to more than the Satanists; for the subtext is clear enough: the media love this.
Jesus —Not Satan! — Is the One Who Cares
But I refuse to take offense without grieving for them at the same time. For one of the key voices in the trailer says, “Satanism is looking out for the other, because we are the other.” I’m sorry, but no. That’s just prettifying a sentiment that’s actually quite self-centered: “Satanism is looking out for people like us — people who don’t like Christianity.” Not so other-oriented after all, is it?
Meanwhile there is one person who stands out among all the rest for His care and concern for others. He is the one Person in all history — and even all of literature! — whose entire recorded life is focused entirely on giving to others. Bonhoeffer rightly called him the “man for others.”
They’ve chosen Jesus’ enemy as their symbol, not knowing he’s their enemy, too.
Granted, we Christians have come nowhere near to living up to the standard He set. Still, if looking out for others were this group’s true goal, they would never set up Jesus’ chief adversary as their symbol. They’d be looking to Jesus instead as their guide and model. He came to give His life for them, too. He died for them, just as He did for us all. Even though they’ve made themselves as “other” from Him as they know how to be.
They’ve chosen Jesus’ enemy as their symbol, not knowing he’s their enemy, too. May they come to know the true Jesus for who He is.
Tom Gilson is a senior editor with The Stream, and the author of A Christian Mind: Thoughts on Life and Truth in Jesus Christ. Follow him on Twitter: @TomGilsonAuthor.