Satanists are winning the fight to keep the devil in Christmas
Thomas Jefferson swore religious freedom for everyone. One group is making sure America keeps his promise.
It’s December 2030. A little girl with a hopeful look in her eye gazes at Denver’s City and County building through the chilly winter air. She takes in the bright MERRY CHRISTMAS lights, smiles at the holographic snowmen. As she waits for the annual parade, her look briefly pauses at the nativity scene — same Jesus every year. “Boring,” she thinks to herself.
Then quickly, her head snaps up. New holiday attractions have been added this year. They’re finally here. HAIL SATAN, one neon sign flashes. PRAISE BAPHOMET, says another. There’s a shiny pentagram next to Santa, and a statue of a goat-headed demon on the steps close to Joseph.
“Look, mommy, look! It’s Baphomet!” says the girl tugging on her mom’s sleeve. “Can we take a picture?! Pleeease! When I grow up, I wanna be a satanist!”
If one group gets it way, this version of the holiday season just might happen. And, if we’re keeping things fair, experts agree it totally should.
“The government is supposed to represent everybody, not just Christians,” says Jay Wexler, a law professor and author of the new book “Our Non-Christian Nation: How Atheists, Satanists, Pagans, and Others Are Demanding Their Rightful Place in Public Life.” In it he proposes an idea some find crazy. If there is Christian stuff on city property, there should be symbols that are Hindu, Buddhist, Atheist and, yes, Satanic too.
The First Amendment to the Constitution, written by hemp farmer Thomas Jefferson, says Congress can’t establish a national church, and can’t stop anyone from practicing any religion. Jefferson wanted to build a “wall of separation between Church and State.”
And, yet, in America’s courthouses and city halls, it’s noticeable the symbolic walls aren’t that high. On the grounds of Colorado’s state Capitol in Denver, for example, the wall is more of a nice green lawn. A short stroll from the governor’s office sits a stone tablet engraved with the Ten Commandments. At Christmas, that same nativity scene hovers — with a blue-eyed Jesus and a Joseph who looks awfully serene for a man who just watched a baby born to a wife he’d never slept with.
For more than 40 years, activists in Colorado have been asking the government to take down both the Ten Commandments and the nativity scene. In court decision after court decision, judges have ruled to let the state keep its Christian stuff. Their legal reasoning is complicated, boring and — to a lot of scholars — completely wrong. But it boils down to the idea that the government is not establishing a religion here; the displays are just some interesting historico-cultural knick-knacks.
So now comes a new player: Satan.
The Satanic Temple, a national non-theistic religion and one of America’s fastest growing faiths, is taking a new tack. They don’t want the government to take down the religious monuments, they want to be allowed to put Satanic stuff up.
One satanist driving for a satanic monument near the state capitol is Viktor LaMent, 36, spokesperson for the Colorado satanists. LaMent, like all the satanists in this story, asked to use his fake name, what they call “demonikers.” (Demon meaning demon, moniker meaning nickname.) The Satanists use demonikers because many don’t want their bosses and grandmas to know they’re satanists, and because, although 95 percent of the messages the Colorado chapter receives are positive, LaMent says, “We probably get a death threat a week.”
For example, one Christian wrote them: “I’m gonna burn down your temple with all of you in it! Love to you!”
In short, LaMent and his peers are part of the anti-church church. Where Christians believe in the supernatural, Satanists are mostly atheists. Where Christians try to be chaste and straight, the Satanic Temple is full of “sluts” (their words, not ours) and polyamorists and queers. Where Christians often spank their kids and support the death penalty, the Temple says it’s wrong to hurt others. Where Christians spurn drugs, Satanists often love to get high. Where Christians often say Satan is a real dude with horns who lives under the Earth and is evil, the Satanic Temple sees Satan as a metaphor, a role model, the ultimate rebel against arbitrary authority, an imaginary anti-hero like Deadpool or Punisher.
“We’re definitely a resistance movement,” says Lucien Greaves, the Satanic Temple’s co-founder. “We stand in stark opposition to this idea that we must unify under a single religious banner.”
The national Satanic Temple first made major headlines in 2013 after it trolled the Westboro Baptist Church — a group that liked to hold up “God Hates Fags” signs outside dead soldiers’ funerals. Greaves led a crew of to the cemetery where Westboro founder Fred Phelps buried his mother. Greaves draped his naked ballsack on her headstone, and — after lesbians french kissed over mom’s final resting place — declared that the founder’s “mother is now gay in the afterlife.”
The temple’s most important work, however, is on the separation of church and state. When Oklahoma allowed Christians put up a Ten Commandments monument on the state capitol grounds, the satanists responded. They crowdfunded a statue of a goat-headed demon named Baphomet the size of a gorilla to place next to them. A court battle ended with a decision: Oklahoma had to remove the Ten Commandments.
In the crowning moment for The Satanic Temple so far, the Baphomet monument stood for one full day on the grounds of the Arkansas State Capitol. A Ten Commandments monument stands there, too.
And in Colorado two years ago, a satanist convinced Grand Junction to let him give a satanic invocation — a non-religious prayer — before a city council meeting. Normally a Christian
does it. The satanist, Andrew Vodopich, finished by saying, “... in the name of rebellion against theocracy. Hail Satan.” Twenty Christians gathered out front of the meeting to form a prayer circle.
“We already have enough problems with drugs and gangs and suicide,” said Grand Junction local Kevin McCarney to news media at the time. “We don’t need any more evil.”
With each stunt, the temple attracts more members. It now claims 100,000 worldwide. It has branches in dozens of cities. It has a documentary streaming on Hulu called Hail Satan? A massive online store funds the temple selling “Friend of Satan” coffee mugs and nightlights with witches — perfect for the kiddos.
The Colorado chapter of The Satanic Temple didn’t exist three years ago. Today, it has three dozen official members and 200 regular attendees to weekly meetings in Northern Colorado, Denver and Colorado Springs.
In Denver, they meet every Wednesday at Black Sky Brewery, a death metal bar with flags and posters of Slayer and Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. They say hello and goodbye with “Hail Satan” — laughing a lot for people who risk spending eternity poked by demons.
Why temple ranks are growing is anyone’s guess at this point, though more and more people disbelieve the stories told to them as kids — Santa’s real, Noah’s ark happened, heaven exists — and grow upset at the corruption of faith. Humble Protestant pastors in personal jet planes? Pious kid-diddling Catholic priests?
As church attendance plummets, Pew research reports that a quarter of Americans now say they have “no religion” — which by the group’s standards means atheist or agnostic or just doing their own thing.
In these tough, directionless times, says Greaves, “People have a desperate need for something to rally to.”
Northern Colorado’s Harry Hoofcloppen, for example, had no religion for a long time. “I had consigned myself to being a lonely atheist,” he says. “Then I saw the Satanic Temple and I said, ‘Holy shit, this is cool!’”
Colorado Springs satanist Mandie Doom is striking: bat wings are tattooed on shaven temples. She feels unwelcome in the Baptist Church of her childhood, but beloved in the temple. “People are scared of bats but they’re fucking fabulous,” Doom says. “Bats mean you can be beautiful and scary at the same time.”
To Viktor LaMent, the guy pushing hardest to put satanic monuments near the state capitol, the movement “has been a bit of a coming home.” As a kid in Fort Collins, LaMent was different, a little fem. He liked dissecting animals, didn’t mind talking about death. As an adult, he ran for county coroner. And so he was bullied a lot. And he found that dressing satanic intimidated the intimidators. “We might not want to mess with him,” went the bullies’ thinking, “because who knows what he’s into.” Now, as the spokesperson for the temple, LaMent thinks part of his job is “reminding everybody that we all have a place.”
Though LaMent’s dream of Satanic monuments next to the Ten Commandments isn’t an easy win. Wexler, the law professor, says past court decisions mean the satanists have an uphill battle.
“The Satanists can ask the city to put up their monument, but the city has no constitutional obligation to do so,” says Wexler. Although he agrees, the government really should. “If the state of Colorado is going to put up any kind of religious display, it should open that property as a public forum for speech, where religious and nonreligious groups can put up their monuments, as a way of signaling that everybody in the community matters, not just those who believe in Jesus.”
Even if the city disallows their monuments, the satanists won’t slow down. Their calendar is packed with public outreach, speaking engagements and community events like picking up trash on the side of the road. Their biggest fundraiser and satanic event of the year, Saturnalia, is this month, and they hope to attract 400 people. Also on the list: to one day have a physical temple.
Most recently, to raise money for their causes, Black Sky brewed up a grog for them called Ale Satan.
Alcohol content: 6.66 percent.
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