Looking for a religion that embraces freedom of speech, science, and compassion for others? Well, look no further than the Satanic Temple.
The Satanic Temple’s teachings, protests, and antics are followed in a new documentary entitled “Hail Satan?” which also documents the work of the Temple’s spokesperson, Lucien Greaves, a man who doesn't want to be known as any kind of cult-like figurehead but instead wants to be the mouthpiece for the controversial group and its not-so-controversial beliefs as a whole.
Greaves, also known by another pseudonym, Douglas Mesner, is both the spokesman and co-founder of The Satanic Temple.
He is 43, originally from Detroit, and graduated from Harvard, where he studied neuroscience with a specialty in false-memory syndrome. He doesn’t like to go by his real name because of the amount of death threats both he and the temple have received. (The new doc even features a scene of him feeling the need to wear a bulletproof vest to an event.)
Greaves doesn’t really like to talk about himself, either, which may seem counterintuitive to someone who runs a temple for Satanists. Aren’t Satanists supposed to be vain, after all?
Remaining mostly tight-lipped about his own life, he told Oxygen.com in an interview, “I want to avoid becoming any type of cult of personality. We try to be very careful to make this a story about the movement itself. This isn’t one person’s struggle or movement.”
Instead, Greaves said he’d rather be known for the collective work of the Satanic Temple. The Temple calls itself a socio-political counter-movement, which especially focuses on issues where religious freedom is being repressed, as highlighted in the new documentary.
The Satanic Temple is on the same level as other churches, at least in the eyes of the Internal Revenue Service. They even received tax exempt status from them back in February. Greaves provided Oxygen.com with a copy of that status, which means the temple is exempt from federal income tax just like most churches.
“It means that they are treated just like all religious charitable organizations under the tax 501c3," Charles Haynes, founding director of the Religious Freedom Center, told Oxygen.com. “The IRS has a system of identifying or approving groups that apply for tax redemption charities and religious organizations status. They have certain criteria that these groups must meet in order to be tax exempt and the Satanic temple meets these standards.”
Another self-proclaimed group of Satanists, the Church of Satan, think that tax exempt status goes against the separation of church and state. David Harris, Magister at the Church of Satan, told Oxygen.com the Church of Satan, founded in the 1960s, doesn't want tax exempt status for itself for that reason. He claims the Satanic Temple, founded in 2013, is merely appropriating Satanism for its own agenda, and can't really be Satanists then because there is no Satanic political agenda for Satanists.
“The reason there is no Satanic political agenda is there is no unified Satanic political position because you couldn’t get two Satanists to agree on a political issue ever. Satanism is a religion for the radical individual. What maybe politically motivating and/or Satanic to one Satanist may stand in complete opposition to another.”
Harris claimed Greaves used to be publicly associated with the Church of Satan and has since used imagery inspired by the Church of Satan to push his own political agenda. Meanwhile, the Satanic Temple has dismissed the Church of Satan as "irrelevant and inactive," according to an article that Greaves wrote earlier this year.
Regardless of whether or not political activism ceases to make a Satanist a true Satanist, the Satanic Temple definitely loves getting involved politically.
“Hail Satan?” shows how the Temple has challenged the assumption Christianity is woven into the founding structure of our country (such as asserting "In God We Trust" only started appearing on paper currency in the last half-century or so), and follows members of the religion as they protest various social issues around the country, from fighting against the notorious Westboro Baptist church to battling Oklahoma and Arkansas state legislatures over monuments of the Ten Commandments.
Greaves’ first introduction to the very idea of Satanism was the "Satanic Panic" of the 1980s and '90s, “when there was this idea that there were these homicidal cults, intergenerational families utilizing ritualistic abuse to indoctrinate people into this sadistic cult that was warping in the background to undermine the fabric of civilization,” he told Oxygen.com.
He called the pathology of it bizarre and claimed the Satanic Panic infiltrated the mental health system, explaining he thinks licensed mental health professionals helped create the panic by linking psychological issues to conspiracy theories like Satanic rituals. (Greaves actually talks about this quite a bit publicly. One such talk can be watched here.)
“I ended up having a growing affinity over time when I saw how people on one hand were totally victimized by this attribution of Satanism, but also coming to understand what it meant when people attributed it to themselves,” he explained.
He said because of the infiltration of “Satanic Panic” in mainstream culture, and because some may assume that at least a couple of these conspiracies were true, the older audience is often surprised by what the Temple does stand for, which includes “seven tenets” to morally follow, which focus on compassion, empathy, freedom, and reason. The group is also not theistic at all, meaning they don’t really believe in Satan.
“This is a metaphorical literary construct for the ultimate rebel against tyranny,” Greaves explained to Oxygen.com. “And it resonates for a lot of us who grew up with a Christian culture to have this symbology pre-existing in our mind, and it’s very powerful because it’s something we’ve been exposed to all our lives but now we're atheists who have this as this artistic raw material to set up this as a narrative thread that contextualize our community and our goals.”
He said while some are shocked by the group, many, particularly in the younger generations, are gravitating to them because of what they stand for. The group currently has over 100,000 members.
“A lot of people, they witness what we're doing and they intuitively grasp its relevance and also they kind of seem to intuitively grasp why it is what it is and why Satanism is attached to it,” he said. “Because they see what the theocrats are doing to impose themselves into the government trying to model public policies and when they see us standing in opposition to that it kind of gives them a clear framework to understand what our affirmative values are, not just what we oppose.”
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