Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.
First Amendment to the United States Constitution
It’s a summarized chronicle of the rise of the Satanic Temple in the United States in the last few years, but more than anything else, the film Hail Satan? is a lesson in patriotism and civics. It’s also a lesson on how pendulums swing: the more militant the Christians become, the more of a need for a militant atheism there will be in the society, and that niche is beautifully filled by TST, as well as many other organizations.
The Satanic Temple is unique in that it is many things, not just a religious movement with its own re-imagined mythos. It’s also an activist organization and an artistic movement that embraces its own aesthetics and sometimes uses art (including performance art as well as sculptural pieces) in the service of activism. The activist tactics involve being the alternative presence in public, taxpayer-funded spaces wherever there are prominent displays of Christian supremacy and hegemony. If those spaces have not been colonized by the Christians, TST is not interested in making their point. It is only where the state is obviously favoring one religious viewpoint that TST intervenes. For instance, they have sought to take their Baphomet statue to wherever there are Ten Commandments monuments in front of a capitol or courthouse, and they have sought to participate (with various degrees of success) in state-sponsored prayer prior to town hall meetings in places as varied as Alaska, Arizona, and Florida.
As TST has grown, it has had to adapt and become similar in many ways to established religions. In recent days, it was announced that the Satanic Temple now enjoys tax exempt status like all mainstream churches. In the film, we learn that the Satanists had been arguing that the Hobby Lobby decision–which gave its blessing on religion-based discrimination and declared, among other things, that the government is not in a position to judge which beliefs deserve tax exemption–opened the way for the recognition of the Satanic Temple by the IRS. What’s beautiful about this is that, through its work, TST is utilizing the legal precedents set by theocrats in our government in their fight against encroaching theocracy. Like them or not, their tactics are a paradigm shift in the fight against theocracy.
TST leadership claims that their tax exemption fits within the scheme of challenging religious privilege by utilizing it to advance a secular agenda. More importantly, tax exemption means that Satanism is here to stay and that it will continue to be part of the American cultural landscape for the foreseeable future. As for the documentary, it was highly enjoyable and educational and I think everyone should watch it.