Allow Us To Compliment Your New Clothes
A commentary on public bias and reactions
We Satanists are observers of the human condition and have grown used to seeing people applying their own biases and politics to unrelated topics, obfuscating a clear perception of the issues as they are shoehorned into preconceived, ill-fitting paradigms. To combat such distortion, we advocate a “third side” perspective—challenging the widely accepted notion that there are two sides to every story. Recent events have provided a somewhat perfect hellstorm of examples that are worth further exploration: US President Trump’s Saudi Orb visit and the image of comedian Kathy Griffin holding Trump’s fake severed head. Headlines in competing political arenas suggested the Church of Satan quickly denounced both Trump and Griffin. These are calculated controversial soundbites that quickly spread far and wide, but neither is entirely accurate.
Let’s take the photo of President Trump along with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The optics on this photo shoot are questionable to begin with and it’s difficult to understand what the president’s press team expected to come of it. Very shortly after it was published people on social media started suggesting it was some kind of Satanic ritual. In general, we deal with inquiries on a case by case basis, but when we see untruths taking hold in the public mindset we often need to make a broad statement of clarification. This is why, on Twitter, we commented that this was not a Satanic ritual. Our words are clear and direct, and yet what followed was several days of stories about how “even the Church of Satan wants nothing to do with Trump.” Of course our publicly accessible policy on politics makes it clear that as an organization we’d never take such a position, in this case many on the left couldn’t resist that narrative and ran with it unchecked.
A week later, images of Kathy Griffin holding what appeared to be President Trump’s bloody, severed head were published online by the photographer Tyler Shields. These were obviously intentionally confrontational images, and they received the expected shock and outrage from the public. And while there is a valid argument to be made that purposely adversarial comedy could be considered Satanic, we’re fairly certain that when people started calling the images Satanic, that isn’t what they meant. When conservative author Mike Cernovich likened Satanism to ISIS we felt the need to correct him. We asked him to keep us out of it, and he responded that this was a fair request. However after that he posted that we disavowed Kathy Griffin and his right leaning audience ran with the “even Satanists are disgusted by Kathy Griffin!” narrative. Of course that was inaccurate and easily debunked by some brief reading, but it seem facts play very little role here. Other press jumped on it as well and even stories that got most of the details correct still ran with outrageous and false headlines.
Our actual position is much less controversial—in both cases these people should be able to do whatever they want. Comedians should be able to make any joke no matter how tasteless, without concern for who will or won’t find it funny; Presidents should be able to fondle glowing orbs to their hearts’ content—and all should be prepared to deal with the consequences of those actions. They are playing to a global audience, so clearly reactions will vary from mild to extreme, from support to revulsion. As Satanists, we strongly advocate individual freedom of speech and personal responsibility. The two go hand-in-hand, but that doesn’t provide a lot of ammo for partisan attacks, so that story doesn’t get passed along in our highly factionalized society.
This is amusing to us, because within the span of a week both the left and the right took much glee in severing an imaginary alliance. In both cases, people were delighted to imagine that the object of their outrage was somehow associated with us, and because they had crossed some invisible line we were now distancing ourselves from them. They laughed at their targets. We laughed at them. After all, our philosophy goes beyond simple right/left dichotomies.
Some may ask why we even care? In 1967 our founder Anton LaVey noted on the Joe Pyne show that before the Church of Satan no one had come forth to defend the idea of Satan, to stand up for the adversarial position. The concept of Satan had been employed entirely by the righteous as a means to condemn others. Religious historians agree that there was no longstanding tradition of Satanism before LaVey codified and defined it in 1966. Since it’s foundation, Satanism has been an atheistic religion, purposely named to immediately weed out the reactionary people who make gut judgments on face value. Abrahamic religions, Christianity specifically, are built on a foundation of deity worship and often people brought up in those faiths have a hard time understanding anything outside of their narrow worldview. But in the same way that Hinduism isn’t the worship of Hindu, Buddhism isn’t the worship of Buddha, Taoism isn’t the worship of the Tao, Shinto isn’t the worship of Shins or Toes, Satanism isn’t the worship of Satan. It takes literally seconds of research to learn this, but as is typical of people holding an ideological hammer, everything they see looks like a nail.
So we keep watch, chime in when we can, and continue to find humor in others’ willful ignorance. We watch the pendulum swing back and forth over decades as fears wane or grow, causing people to either embrace freedom or throttle it in search of security. We keep our sense of humor honed for it is essential when dealing with our ongoing efforts towards understanding the behavior of the beast called man.
—Reverend Joel Ethan