The “Temple of Satan” makes its way into the US

The “Temple of Satan” is a strange case of a developing religious-cultural melting pot in the US. Extremely different from any popular image one can make about “Satanism”.
The United States in the hopes, intentions and expectations of the Pilgrim Fathers should have been the New Promised Land, a country on whose soil the foundations of the heavenly Jerusalem on earth would be laid and which would never experience the horrors of the wars of religion that they upset and shaped the identity of Europe in the post-Protestant reform.
Beyond the basic contradictions between the desire to stand as a new beacon of Christianity and the conduct of an extremely warlike foreign policy, legitimized by the self-belief of being the “empire of freedom” - a concept coined by one of the founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson - the United States was actually, until recently, a land with a strong Christian imprint.
Religious symbolism can still be found everywhere today: in the national motto (In God We Trust), which is printed on banknotes and coins, in the two-sentence seal of the United States of America (Annuit cœptis and Novus Ordo Seclorum), in the references to the divine and messianism present in the rhetorical and discursive baggage of every single president, in public schools (where the debate on the teaching of creationism is still alive and where until 1962 the state sponsored prayers in the classroom) and in the most dramatic and epic time of the country, such as the moon landing, the attacks of 11 September 2001 and the most recent pandemic.
United States continues to be Jesusland and the evangelical electorate is still a fundamental pool of votes and equally fertile continues to be the soil that produces political scientists and strategists who interpret international relations and the role of Washington in the world from a religious perspective, managing to intelligently mix geopolitics, economic interests and eschatological elements such as the second coming, the end of time and the expectation of the Apocalypse.
Yet, under this semblance of a country burning with faith, the reality is that Christianity is disappearing from the horizon of American society. The prestigious Pew Research Center has certified that from 2009 to 2019 [1] the number of those who identify with Christianity has experienced a significant decline, falling from 77% to 65% of the total population. A still high figure, of course, but which is further reduced if complemented by data on participation in religious services, on the observance of precepts, on the belief in dogmas - but this will be the topic of the appointments in the column dedicated to the weight of Protestant and Catholic electorates.
Moreover, it is in this context of rapid and apparently unstoppable de-Christianization that new cultural forces have appeared, managing to carve out room for maneuver that was unthinkable until the 1990s. One of these forces, however ridiculous it may sound and however irrelevant it may be, is Satanism.

The Satanic Temple gains popularity

First of all, before proceeding with the analysis, it is mandatory to reiterate that we will not be talking about the Satanist phenomenon 360-degree-view but about a specific organization: the Satanic Temple.
It is a religious organization founded in 2013 in Salem (Massachusetts), the famous city of witches, which operates in twenty-one states through the so-called “chapters” and which since last year has enjoyed the enviable title of church officially recognized by the public authorities. That title, the first ever for an organization that professes as Satanist, has enabled it to avail itself of the rights to tax exemption and legal protection that are guaranteed to every church, or association of churches and was conquered after a five-year battle.
Today, the Satanic Temple is an established reality in the American religious panorama, whose leaders and leading exponents are interviewed almost weekly by the great protagonists of the mass media. And, above all, is capable of moving votes, many votes, and represents a real electoral block, a monolith with a high degree of cohesion on a par with evangelicals and orthodox Jews.
Being an organization that has social justice as its statutory objectives (understood not as the fight against poverty and economic inequalities but as a focus on the rights of sexual minorities), the secularism of institutions and humanitarianism, the liberal galaxy has taken advantage of the rise of this sui generis cultural force, making an iron pact with it that contributed to social support for the Democratic Party in the November 3 elections.
Nonsense or crazy and / or exaggerated vision of the facts? In no way. It would be enough to follow with a certain diligence the publications of the great liberal press and the productions of the entertainment industry - which is also a liberal fiefdom, as shown by the Hollywood case - to understand that the Satanic Temple is a force not to be underestimate and that a significant amount of resources are being concentrated on it.
Among the English-language media that are highlighting the organization’s activities, speaking enthusiastically, are the BBC, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, PinkNews, The Irish Times, Daily Mail, and many others.

A “liberal” religion

The BBC article, entitled “Hail Satan? The Satanists battling for religious freedom” [2], starts quite eloquently: “Everything you know about Satanism is wrong”. Dated 2019, it also offers numbers on the composition of the organization: about 50 thousand members. A considerable figure, especially if we consider that, referring back to the introduction, we are talking about a Satanist entity in Jesusland.
Even more remarkable is the fact that the Satanic Temple thrives on donations - becoming a member costs the modest sum of twenty-five dollars, valid for the activation of an annual card - which apparently are constantly growing and are allowing the body to expand throughout the national territory, to open legal cases in every federated state in which it operates (in particular aimed at achieving an application to the letter of the First Amendment, reinterpreted in an ultra-secular key and at the elasticization of access to abortion), to set up sumptuous black masses with sparkling wines, dancers and fireworks and to finance the so-called “satanic after-school activities” in various public schools, especially in California.
When the Satanic Temple calls, an anonymous of particularly wealthy donors respond [3]: this is the case of the fundraising campaign inaugurated in 2018 on the eve of a protest to be organized in Little Rock (Oklahoma) against the installation of a monument of the Ten Commandments at the entrance to the Capitol. The heads of the institution had asked their followers and sympathizers to pay a voluntary contribution to finance the construction of a statue of Baphomet to be provocatively displayed next to the Christian monument, obtaining the requested 30 thousand dollars in a few hours. The protest, as well as the fundraising, had proved to be a success: thousands of participants, a lot of media visibility, the Baphomet exhibited in the Capitol for a day and the inauguration of a trial for possible violation of the separation between state and church that could lead the removal of the Ten Commandments.
The Conversation, in an in-depth study [4] dedicated to the legal, cultural and political battles of this group for the removal of all Christian symbols and references from public life, from statues to prayers, concluded that: “The Satanic Temple is important because it is making this type less sustainable verbal slipperiness [i.e. the rigidity of the concept of religion]. If this group can no longer be branded a scam, people could be forced to think a little more about what religion is.”
Equally worthy of attention is a long article appeared in The USA Today [5], also of an “advertising” nature towards the Satanic Temple: it explicitly invites readers to join it and support its battles. The introduction states that “challenging religious freedom in the public space could open the doors to Satan: good!” and, again, that “we should applaud, encourage and welcome the efforts of the Satanic Temple”.
But the most important passage, besides the subliminal recruitment campaign, is the following: “The Satanic Temple deserves attention […] and it is important to recognize that it is not alone. In fact, the actions of the Satanic Temple are part of a broader social movement resulting from two parallel developments that have taken place in recent decades ”.
Those two developments would be, according to the author, the popular reaction to a Supreme Court increasingly politicized and anchored on conservative positions - but this is not a fact, it is an opinion of the writer and it is also completely distorted: the literature agrees unanimously on the left turn of the judges of the highest US court in the last thirty years and this is demonstrated by the sentences on abortion, secularism and same-sex marriages - and an increasingly pluralistic religious landscape, within which the weight of militant atheism; on this last point it is impossible not to agree.
Then there is The Irish Times which, titled “Hell yeah! How the Satanists became the good guys” [6], published an interview with the official spokesman of the institution, Lucien Greaves, and described it, before the elections, as a “movement that he is fighting for human decency in Donald Trump's America […] progressive, inclusive, non-theistic, with a civic and anti-authoritarian dimension”. It is not known how truthful there is in the following passage - even if the figure of 50 thousand members is a clue - but the newspaper portrays the Satanic Temple as “one of the fastest growing religions in America”.
It is Greaves himself who has revealed one of the secrets of success in proselytizing: a targeted strategy, directed towards the rainbow community and all those who dream of an America that is the polar opposite of what Trump represented. The campaign, numbers in hand, would be working: over 50% [7] of the members of the Satanic Temple claim to be from the LGBT world.
Two other advertising articles appeared in The Guardian in 2019, just a few months apart.
The first, dated April 18, is an extremely positive review [8] of a documentary shot on the Temple of Satan entitled “Hail Satan?”, Presented at the Sundance Film Festival and distributed by Magnolia Pictures, which turned out to be the surprise of the year. The review states that “the revelatory documentary takes a rare look at the progressive values ​​of the Satanic Temple” which consist of “defending the right to abortion and fighting against those who have tried to insert religious convictions into the structure of the law”. The writer was also struck by “the principles of the temple, which are remarkably rational and legitimate, such as efforts for the compassion, empathy and freedom of others”.
The second article, symbolically released on August 15 [9] (ed. Day on which the feast of Mary's Assumption into heaven falls in the Catholic world), is possibly more explicit than the previous one and the content is widely understood from the title: “Devil's advocate: are Satanists now the good guys in the fight against the evangelical right?”.
Even this article, although written with a winking intent, offers some very interesting food for thought. The columnist, in fact, reminds the most inexperienced readers that Satanism was not born in 2013 and that the world of entertainment, in particular music, had tried to rehabilitate and popularize the figure of Satan since the 70s: an iconic figure, symbol of the rebellion par excellence, used in a period of social and cultural upheaval and, indeed, of rebellion. From the Rolling Stones to Led Zeppelin: their songs are full of subliminal messages, as are the covers of their albums and their own members had turned to the occult.
As for Hollywood, the article continues, it is a theater that was approached by Anton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan and godfather of contemporary Satanism, prolific author and friend of singers and actors / actresses, such as Jayne Mansfield and Sammy Davis Jr.
But the most recent article appeared on September 24 in The Huffington Post [10] in the aftermath of the disappearance of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a supreme court judge and champion of liberal battles.
In this case too, the content is largely anticipated by the title: “The Death Of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Pushed Me To Join The Satanic Temple “.
The timing was perfect: just over thirty days in the most divisive and contested presidential elections in US history, the squares and streets in chaos, a society increasingly polarized and unable to dialogue, only to assert its ideas for means of violence. The HuffPost article is nothing but gasoline on the fire, being composed of passages such as “I fear that American citizens are inching closer to living in a theocracy or dictatorship” and “Our democracy has become so fragile that the loss of one of the last guardians of common sense and decency in government less than two months before a pivotal election has put our civil and reproductive rights in danger like never before”. 
It is for these reasons that a solution was proposed with which to escape the barbarism of the Trump era: conversion to Satanism or, rather, joining the Satanic Temple.
As the interviewee explains, a lawyer who converted to Satanism after the death of Ginsburg, it would not be a question of believing in the physical existence of Satan but of fighting against injustices and loving one's neighbor, of fighting for the future of the same country. For example, she did it to “defend her rights and those of her daughters”.
The political world that responds to the liberal electorate, namely the Democratic Party, has shown that it is fully aware of the Satanist cultural phenomenon, to which the big press is giving great prominence and has started sending messages to her address.
This is the case of the mysterious and unusual tweet of 18 August 2017 by Chelsea Clinton [11], daughter of the most famous Hillary, in which we read: “The story of Lucifer-who rebelled against God-is part of many Christians' traditions. I've never been in a church with a Lucifer statue.” [12].
The message had not escaped the various Satanist organizations operating in the country, such as LaVey's Church of Satan, which had quickly relaunched it, and it should also be given due importance by the readers of this study, especially the most skeptical: Satanism, whether you want to believe it or not, will be one of the political forces of the America of tomorrow and has shown it in recent years by mobilizing thousands of people, obtaining favorable sentences in the courts, conquering the big press and, finally, entering the crosshairs of the Democratic Party.
Original column by Emanuel Pietrobon:
Translation by Costantino Ceoldo