In January 2013, Lucien Greaves — co-founder and spokesperson for the Satanic Temple — held a “Pink Mass” over the grave of the mother of Fred Phelps, the founder of the “God Hates Fags” Westboro Baptist Church, in a ritual meant to posthumously turn her gay. The mass involved lighting candles, reading scriptures and same-sex couples kissing over Phelps’ mother’s headstone while Greaves looked on in a two-horned ceremonial headdress.
While Greaves was later charged with desecrating her grave, his ritual was quite similar to real-life ones conducted by Mormons to turn dead people into Christians, and this gets to the heart of why the Satanic Temple exists.
Anyone who grew up during the 1980s era of hysterical “Satanic panic” led by the homophobic Christian fanatics of the so-called “Moral Majority” might wrongly associate Satanism with murdering kids, drinking goat’s blood and playing heavy metal music backwards, but that’s stupid and bears no resemblance to actual Satanism.
The history of the Satanic church, Greaves says, contains no incidents of criminal violence. The Temple’s conception of Satan doesn’t involve worshipping some fantastical, fiery, red-skinned fawn that tempts people into doing evil, but rather an identification with a metaphorical conception of Satan. In the Bible, Satan is a the rebel angel who defiantly stands up to God’s autocratic structure and subsequently becomes concerned with the material world — this is the concept of Satan that the Satanic Temple observes.
“The broader goal of the Satanic Temple in general,” Greaves told Vice magazine in 2013, “is to advocate for all of those who are unjustly maligned, demonized, or marginalized—victimized by conspiracy theorists and dogmatic supernaturalists.”
He continued, “The idea was that Satanists, asserting their rights and privileges where religious agendas have been successful in imposing themselves upon public affairs, could serve as a poignant reminder that such privileges are for everybody, and can be used to serve an agenda beyond the current narrow understanding of what ‘the’ religious agenda is.”
So it captured our attention when we heard about the Satanic Temple erecting a veterans memorial in Belle Plaine, Minnesota. The city’s park used to have a veteran’s monument featuring “a black metal silhouette of a soldier with a rifle kneeling before a 2-foot cross,” but the Freedom From Religion Foundation argued that the city-approved monument violated the U.S. Constitution’s first amendment prohibiting the government’s establishment of religion.
The city has approved a new monument from the Satanic Temple, “a black steel cube adorned on each side with a golden inverted pentagram and adorned at the top with an empty soldier’s helmet … wherein remembrances and messages to the fallen may be placed in their honor.” The Temple is currently raising money for its construction, shipping, installation, and maintenance and are $8,322 away from their goal.
If they succeed, Greaves says, “This will be the first Satanic monument erected by Satanists on public property.”
We spoke with Greaves about the monument and what he hopes it will accomplish.
Why is the Satanic Temple interested in erecting a veteran’s monument? Is the temple actually interested in veterans’ issues, or is this monument just a way for the Temple to assert its right to a public voice?
We have a fairly high number of veterans and active service members within the membership of The Satanic Temple. When our bids for inclusion in First Amendment-protected forums have been met with resistance, it has often been veterans who have spoken up in our defense at public hearings. Our troops overseas are generally made to understand that they are defending liberal democratic principles, recognizing the value and meaning of true religious liberty. Upholding the right of The Satanic Temple to have a voice in the public forum is not, in any way, an insult against the freedom our veterans fight for and have fought for; it’s a celebration of that freedom. With our growing support from active service members and veterans, we are happy to have the opportunity to display something in appreciation for them.
The design of the proposed monument seems less ostentatious than the Baphomet statue that the Satanic Temple proposed for the grounds of the Arkansas State Capitol. Why is the monument’s design so much more understated than that statue?
For one thing, the size restrictions on monuments in the Belle Plaine Veterans’ Park called for something much smaller than the Baphomet. For another, the circumstances called for a more subdued design that would do justice to the monument’s purpose: a memoriam to the fallen, a focal point for remembrance and reflection.
The Baphomet, however, was made to contrast a bit of insulting ostentation in the form of a 10 Commandments monument on the State Capitol grounds in Oklahoma. The counter-constitutional commandments — mostly theocratic fiats demanding subservience to the Judeo-Christian god, placing prohibitions upon Free Exercise, Expression, Speech, and insultingly equating a failure to “respect the Sabbath and keep it holy” with murder and theft — were to be counterbalanced by the Baphomet’s presence.
The design of Baphomet might strike some people as shocking at first glance, but it is rife with meaning. The binary elements embodied in the imagery signifies a reconciliation of opposites; alongside the 10 Commandments, it was meant to send a clear message in support of real religious liberty, pluralism and freedom of conscience.
Ultimately, the 10 Commandments monument in Oklahoma was ruled illegal and it came down, so we withdrew our bid to erect Baphomet. We’re fighting the same battle now — to place Baphomet on the capitol grounds in Arkansas — where the legislature recently approved a 10 Commandments monument in total disregard of its established illegality.
It seems inevitable that someone will try to vandalize or destroy the monument, doesn’t it?
Naturally, we’ve insured the monument. It’s not entirely unlikely that some asshole will try to destroy our veterans’ memorial, and more than a few people have posted comments online suggesting or threatening that they’ll do exactly that. I’m not particularly worried about it, I must admit. The destruction of the monument, if that should happen, will become an important part of narrative surrounding the cultural relevance of The Satanic Temple. Reasonable observers can see the hypocrisy in the acts of destruction and the threats of violence we incur from people who claim moral superiority to us. In many ways, they poignantly illustrate our case for us.
Below is local news coverage of the proposed Satanic Temple monument.
(Featured image by LifeJourneys via iStock Photography)