First of all, constantly yelling about how other people are going to hell does not give you an evil face at all. Second, the face of evil broke into a wry grin this weekend, when The Satanic Temple performed a “pink mass” over the grave of Catherine L. Johnston, intended to turn the spirit of the Westboro Baptist Church founder’s deceased mother gay. Obviously, Phelps’s mom is in heaven, because she did such a great job with Fred. Also, according to Temple spokesman Lucien Greaves (real name: Todd Feldman,) a Pink Mass properly performed at a gravesite “changes the sexual orientation of that person in the afterlife.” So now a gay person is in heaven, which is a real coup for Satan. Or it’s satire from a source you’d least expect. Probably the second one.
This is not The Satanic Temple’s first foray into irony. Back in January, they organized a rally in support of Florida Governor Rick Scott’s plan to allow prayer in public schools. That idea would have left the appropriateness of any “inspirational message” at a school function to the discretion of the students, which essentially meant putting religion to a majority vote. The Temple ostensibly supported the idea because it would “allow our Satanic children the freedom to pray in school,” which opens up three possibilities:
- The Satanic Temple is mocking the argument of Christians who claim that not allowing their majority religion to impose itself on schools infringes upon their rights.
- Satanists know that any cause to which they attach themselves will become slightly less popular as a result.
- They mean it.
Of all these options, #3 is the least fun. Option (2) seems the most workable explanation in the Florida case, but it doesn’t apply very well to Westboro Baptist and Fred Phelps’s dead gay mom. It does seem to explain The Satanic Temple’s purchase of the domain name Westboro-Baptist.com, but even that does not fit cleanly within the rubric of tarnishing by association. Westboro-Baptist.com is very clearly the Temple’s website, and it does not express support for Phelps’s church. Like the pink mass, The Satanic Temple’s straight-faced presentation of itself as a religion seems to indict Westboro Baptist and similar groups indirectly, along the lines of option (1).
For the purposes of this discussion, I’m assuming that nobody believes you can actually turn the soul of a dead person gay by performing a Satanic ritual. I suspect that, even among people who practice Satanism according to an established body of literature and rituals, the pink mass is made up. To the non-Satanist, it is patently ridiculous. It immediately calls to mind the derided Mormon practice of posthumous baptism. By extension, it indicts any belief system that claims the levers of the afterlife can be pulled by earthly rituals.
From there, it’s a short trip to questioning the legitimacy of any organized religion, particularly Phelps’s nutso church. Westboro Baptist’s claim that casualties of war and disasters at home are expressions of God’s distaste for gay rights is not significantly more ridiculous than The Satanic Temple’s claim that making out on an old lady’s grave turns her ghost queer. In this sense, The Satanic Temple functions as a parody of religion in general. Support for this interpretation can be found on their primary website. Quote:
The Satanic Temple seeks to separate Religion from Superstition by acknowledging religious belief as a metaphorical framework with which we construct a narrative context for our goals and works. Satan stands as the ultimate icon for the selfless revolt against tyranny, free & rational inquiry, and the responsible pursuit of happiness.
Personally, I think Thomas Paine or Copernicus might be better icons for rational inquiry and the revolt against tyranny, but whatever. The point is that The Satanic Temple appears to have set itself up as a kind of parody religion. By professing belief in the a cosmological scheme that is both well-known and rejected by virtually all educated people, including the religious, they draw attention to how absurd more accepted faiths are, too.
Or is that exactly what Satan wants you to think? As Verbal Kint reminds us, the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. Probably, Satan wants you to believe that The Satanic Temple is all a joke, and he definitely wants you to question the truth of larger organized religion. Doubt is his principle weapon. His minions in The Satanic Temple are the only way he can obscure what is otherwise an incontrovertible fact: that God does want you to persecute a small percentage of the population, just as He has directly told His representatives on earth. Irony of ironies, all is irony.