What do the Pilgrims and Satanists have in common? Not much on the surface. The Pilgrims, the mythical and historical founders of America, were the first settlers of the nation. They came over from England in search of religious freedom, or so the story goes. Satanists, well, supposedly they are evil, worship the devil, wear a lot of black and possibly drink blood and encourage orgies and other immoralities. How could there possibly be a connection between these two groups? Right now, in Detroit, Michigan, a group of Satanists are fighting to exercise their right to free exercise of religion which they believe have been limited. To that end, a Detroit Satanist temple has erected a 9-foot Baphomet statue in their city despite outcry and protests from other religious groups denouncing them for immorality and disrespect.
Jex Blackmore, the director of the Satanic Temple of Detroit, said that most of the furor comes from a misunderstanding of what Satanism really is. “Satanism and the term ‘Satanic’ has been used a political tool to demonize individuals who have rebelled against systems of authority and power,” she said during a local FOX channel segment called “Let It Rip.” Satanists, according to her, do not worship the Judeo-Christian concept of the Devil that most people think of when they hear the word “Satan.” Instead, Satan is “a symbol of man’s inherent nature, representative of the eternal rebel, enlightened inquiry and personal freedom,” reports The Christian Science Monitor. So for religious persons who believe they are worshiping the devil, they can rest assured that that is not what is happening at all. More or less, Satanists are worshiping a humanist ideal of humanity, the best qualities of man as they see them.
From the Satanist perspective, the 9-foot bronze statue of Baphomet, a winged, goat-headed being with a man’s body, is “a testament to plurality and the power of collective action.” But this statue is more than a symbol of collective action. It is also its product. The statue was originally supposed to be erected next to a statue of the Ten Commandments in Oklahoma, but its application was denied in 2012. Undeterred, the Satanists have erected it on private land in Detroit, unveiling it in what CBS News notes is being billed as “the largest public satanic ceremony in history.”
Protesters have spoken out against the statue for various reasons, some calling it disrespectful of other religions. Others simply object to how the Satanists are trying to create a dialogue. They say that the best way to create discussion is not to make an in-your-face statue. “It’s not creating a dialogue at all. It’s actually polarizing a large number of folks in the city of Detroit,” said Reverend David Bullock. It is unclear how much polarization is actually occurring however. Only 100 or so protesters showed up during a Saturday afternoon protest. That hardly constitutes a great outcry.
As fascinating and rebellious as the statue and the Satanists seem, though, it clouds the real issue that is at stake here. Satanists have been saying that they seek to exercise their first amendment rights, the freedom of religion that this nation was supposedly founded on. Like the Pilgrims, however, they have run into official opposition from government officials. In an opinion piece published by the Detroit Free Press, one observer argued, “Recognize this, Laws that protect practitioners of one religion must protect the practitioners of every other, including Satanism.”
The article notes the disparity of opinion between people who seek to exercise their religion freely in public spaces but seek to deny Satanists the right to do the same. “Want to ensure that corporations can design health insurance to privilege particular religious beliefs? Or shut lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender families out of the adoption market? Want to insist on prayer in schools? Then get used to Baphomet.” That seems like a pretty reasonable argument in a country whose founding myth is religious freedom.
Opinion by Charlie Carlisle
Photo Courtesy Satanic Temple of Detroit