As a strong believer in the separation of church and state, I’ve had a personal history with The Satanic Temple (TST), an organization that, despite its intimidating name, has absolutely nothing to do with worshiping the devil. TST is a nontheistic religious and political activist group that uses Satanic imagery to promote egalitarianism and social justice, and it’s about time they had their own documentary.
I can’t think of a better director to handle this subject matter more than Penny Lane (“Nuts!”), a filmmaker with a wicked sense of humor herself. Here she’s made a wildly entertaining film that charms as much as it educates. It’s refreshing to see a documentary with no agenda, just one that’s factual and, believe it or not, a bit inspiring.
TST excels in trolling the evangelical right (including bonafide hate groups like the Westboro Baptist Church) who push their Christian beliefs on the rest of us, and they’re a group that’s become the face of fighting for true religious liberty. The organization is currently at the center of several legal battles that started as means to remove secular Ten Commandments monuments from government land that’s evolved into a judicial debate over what constitutes a real religion.
Lane keeps things breezy with a fast-paced storytelling flow, one that’s interspersed with talking heads as well as television clips of conservatives flipping out on Fox News. It’s funny yet sad to watch Catholics show up at rallies with signs and rosaries in an attempt to cast out the evil (the irony isn’t lost on TST members). It’s clear that the devout simply don’t get that freedom of religion also means freedom from religion.
The documentary clears up misconceptions some may have about Satanists too, like the fact that they don’t really worship the devil and that they are a community of non-violence. Rogue so-called “Satanists” who preach bloodshed and hate are forcefully disavowed. TST co-founder Lucien Greaves makes it clear that The Satanic Temple is “the polar opposite of the Church of Satan.” In fact, you may be a closeted Satanist yourself. (No, really: take a look at their seven tenets and you’ll find that you’re in agreement with many, if not all, of them).
At the heart of this film are the smart, hilarious subjects, all from different walks of life with varying reasons as to why they joined The Satanic Temple. One of the best segments of the documentary comes when each member explains how they chose this path (most, unsurprisingly, came from religious backgrounds and upbringing). Some were former atheists but turned to TST because, as one member puts it “atheists are so boring.”
Religion thrives on fear, and it’s encouraging that this advocacy group devotes their free time to rebelling against arbitrary authority in the name of religious freedom. Non-believers have rights too, and it’s important to take a stand so all faiths are represented and respected in this country.