For the past several days, we have been chuckling about the Satanic Temple, a New York-based organization that has embarked on a campaign to gift the Oklahoma state capitol grounds with a seven-foot statue of Baphomet. Predictably, state house Republicans who worked to place a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds have reacted with outrage, which is probably the very reaction that the Satanic Temple intended to evoke. This story is really about a highly advanced act of trolling designed to highlight the dissonant hypocrisy of legislators who ban Sharia law and then build a monument to their Judeo-Christian pretensions.
The existing Ten Commandments monument, donated to the Capitol Preservation Commission in 2009 by Mike Ritze, a representative of the Oklahoma State Legislature and ordained Southern Baptist Deacon, has raised the ire of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) who filed suit in August of 2013, noting that, “the monument stands alone, with no other monuments or memorials in the immediate vicinity.” Also of concern to the ACLU is the “self-evidently exclusive” religious message “that supports and endorses the faiths and creeds of some churches and sects.” We believe that in being allowed to place our monument within the proximity of the Ten Commandments monument, we can appease the ACLU’s concerns.
By accepting our offer, the good people of Oklahoma City will have the opportunity to show that they espouse the basic freedoms spelled out in the Constitution. We imagine that the ACLU will also embrace such a response. Allowing us to donate a monument would show that the Oklahoma City Council does not discriminate, and both the religious and non-religious should be happy with such an outcome. Our mission is to bring people together by finding common sentiments that create solutions that everyone can appreciate and enjoy.
We are not ready to join a satanic church anytime soon, yet we had never looked closely at this religion before, so our curiosity was piqued. Reading the group’s website, we were struck by the libertarian tone of their boilerplate. Their Satan is not the evil Old Scratch, but a reinvented Prometheus who suffers character assassination for having liberated mankind from the dreary boredom of the Dark Ages.
Satanism is not mindless abandon and depravity, but a philosophy that drives us to lead fruitful and dignified, epicurean lives. Satan, the symbolic force of design that would urge humanity toward refined pleasures of the Arts and Sciences. Satan, who first brought the fruit of knowledge to Humankind that thereafter we might live not as naked brutes in the wild, but develop our cultural splendor into ever more aesthetically and technologically advanced heights. Ours is the Humanistic Satan who would sacrifice His own Heavenly residence so that Humanity might learn to understand and enjoy the physical world they inhabit.
Satanists are often natural aestheticians who revel in the grandeur of human artistic, architectural achievements while also often drawn to the idiosyncratic and bizarre that are all too typically misunderstood, feared, and discarded.
It turns out that Satanism has a lot in common with Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, and that this is no accident. Anton LaVey, the controversial author of The Satanic Bible, even spoke of his book as “Ayn Rand with trappings” and was accused of cribbing his Nine Satanic Statements from John Galt’s interminable speech. Even when Satanists draw distinctions between Objectivism and Satanism, they still acknowledge this debt. The main difference seems to be that Rand has no gods, whereas satanists believe they are gods themselves. It is in fact quite difficult to explain satanic philosophy without referencing Rand’s philosophy, and Satanism is basically Atlas Shrugged with better holidays and fun ceremonies. An atheist, Rand would have rejected all religious monuments on state capitol grounds, yet some of her most ardent fans on the right would insist that their graven biblical images are the only ones appropriate for government properties.
Discovering all this leads us to wonder just how it is possible that Rand’s ruthless social Darwinism has come to dominate modern conservative thinking. Representative Paul Ryan actuates his love of Rand in parsimonious budgets, the Koch brothers fund their hyper-capitalist libertarian and right wing causes, and the entire conservative movement has decided to dig in and fight to the death in order to keep poor people from getting Obamacare. Leading conservatives reject social justice and embrace inequality. How did this happen? Did Satan suck the evangelical soul of compassion out of the Grand Old Party, leaving only the crass spirit of materialism and the pro forma, reactionary morality of dogmatic political extremism?
To be fair, not all conservatives have swallowed the Kool-Aid. Some evangelical conservatives have tried to fight the strange tide of Rand’s satanic philosophy within their movement, and Paul Ryan has even disavowed Objectivism as a philosophy. But all their efforts amount to naught, as the dominant strain of conservatism tends to resemble Sandy Rios talking about illegal immigration:
“In Washington D.C., sometimes when we are in public places it’s hard to find any natural-born Americans, you are the minority,” she told Wildmon. “When I go through McDonald’s or whenever I interact with illegal immigrants — and like I said, they are legion — my responsibility is to be kind and gracious.” Rios went on to explain that biblical commands to treat immigrants with compassion should not impact public policy.
Would Rios separate her public policy position from her personal interpretation of biblical commands on, say, abortion? Of course not. Her convenient rationalization is only applied whenever conservatives default to their authoritarian impulses. The libertarian streak within conservatism only shows up in its economic principles of deregulation and tax cuts because compassion is for individuals, never government. God is an easy excuse when needed, and easily set aside whenever His commandments are inconvenient. Whether or not one approves of Satanism, the Satanic Temple of New York has certainly brought that hypocrisy into stark relief.