Hail Satan?: Devilish Denomination Seeks Religious Plurality

Satanism is a form of civil disobedience. The Satanic Temple is not your father’s Satanism. Founded in 2013, this is a sociopolitical counter-revolution formed around religious pluralism. It defies the early doctrines of Anton LaVey’s The Satanic Bible, the chief text of The Church of Satan, and weaponizes the tenants for the means of progressive causes. The group consists of self-described trolls expressing their constitutional rights for freedom of religion, progressive politics under the guise of ritualistic ceremony. It’s performative religion, sans theism, to create positive social change.

Hail Satan? asks the question for you: should you? Penny Lane’s documentary has good humor and good faith in its subjects. It frames the upstart religion in objective terms, showings the ups and the downs of religion as protest. It works to its advantage that the members are as colorful as they are diverse. They have found an endearing cast of characters to create this offshoot of the original Satanic brand.

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Hail Satan? Dir. Penny Lane.

Do not be surprised if the mission statement is politically encouraging. The Satanic Temple have made waves by becoming necessary allies. They support LGBTQ rights. They protest groups speaking out against Planned Parenthood. They would never waste a productive clash with such a publicly lecturing group as the Westboro Baptist Church. Controversy is a means of exposure and expansion. The members protest for the causes of common folk, they may share some liberal tendencies with the reader.

The association with Satanic principles lies in the individual. It does not make very much sense that they would organize in groups. If the initial ideas of The Church of Satan were about doing what is pleasurable and having accountability and worship of self, then the new idea extends this into a publicity stunt. It is good marketing but is still faith as marketing. They hope to embrace plurality of religion and rightly accuse the government of only advocating for religions that benefit them (would a Satanist not say that is the only choice?) but then the otherness of the group may attract fringe members. At one rally, a member calls for violent action and the murder of the President, promoting a kind of hate speech. The member was disavowed by the group, but it causes concerns that leading members will go unchecked and have such radicalized thinking that may be internally driving their brand.

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Hail Satan? Dir. Penny Lane.

The Satanic Temple is no longer closeted seances over a black candle and blacker metal. It’s no longer punk, now defined by politics over anarchy, neatly formed and not freeform, but remains sufficiently counterculture. The subject works due to its sense of humor. The Satanic Temple’s leader, a cloudy eyed Lucien Greaves (Fox News pronounces “Graves”), is both funny and wise with words, broadly convincing and the advocate you’d want to lead such a movement. The documentary takes his lead on humor and does not take itself terribly seriously either. It understands the nature of trolling anyway and has a bit of fun with subjects that are having some laughs at others expense. The joke is certainly on everyone outside the group, making assumptions about the people within. There is something satisfying in their comic resiliency, that they persevere through all the obvious challenges that make founding something like this a terrible risk, even to be associated with. It broadly helps that some members do not want to be shown, one man wearing devil horns and requesting to be blacked out, casts a far more intimidating presence than had he shown his face to begin with. There are so many likable people involved. Even those that seem to defect from Satanic principles, may have your political sympathies (or conversely, may cause the intended violent whiplash as you come to terms with what they’re doing).

So, should we Hail Satan? Penny Lane seems to think so, and may convert some fence-sitting viewers. It’s an inherently provocative kind of documentary. This subject’s just burning to be captured and shared with the world. The want for pluralized religion is a noble enough cause, one even Satan would sign off on.

7/10

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