Thank You, Satanists

Last week in a blog post here, I suggested that those of us disheartened by the Hobby Lobby and Wheaton College verdicts protest by getting ordained in the universal-ordination church of their choice. Astute readers asked whether more people legally qualified to preside over weddings and funerals by the Church of Universal Life could possibly have an impact on the pervasive redefinition of “religious liberty” being put forward by the religious right. It’s a symbolic effect, I grant you. But the idea is to make clear that if “religious liberty” is to be attached to some “religious” beliefs like opposition to contraception, it should be attached to all beliefs that proclaim themselves to be religious, whether or not those in power agree with them, or even know what the Church of Spiritual Humanism is. The more “out there” the religion, the stronger the rhetorical impact, throwing into stark relief just how un-American it is to allow individuals to impose their religious beliefs on others.

So I was happy to hear a similar line of argument come up this week from the Satanic Temple, a New York-based religious organization (although non-tax-exempt, because it doesn’t believe religious organizations should be), announced an ingenious response to the Hobby Lobby verdict. They have created a letter of exemption for women  to show their doctors in hopes of getting out of the requirements of the “informed consent” laws now applied to abortion procedures in 35 states. It reads, in part:

As an adherent to the principles of the Satanic Temple, my sincerely held religious beliefs are:

  • My body is inviolable and subject to my will alone.
  • I make any decision regarding my health based on the best scientific understanding of the world, even if the science does not comport with the religious or political beliefs of others.
  • My inviolable body includes any fetal or embryonic tissue I carry so long as that tissue is unable to survive outside my body as an independent human being.
  • I, and I alone, decide whether my inviolable body remains pregnant and I may, in good conscience, disregard the current or future condition of any fetal or embryonic tissue I carry in making that decision.

Since the bearer of the letter sincerely, religiously believes in science, they must be allowed to follow their conscience. It’s twisted, but it’s brilliant.

Yes, this is the same group best known for its efforts to erect a statue of Satan in front of the Oklahoma State Capitol, just like the 10 Commandments, and for their attempted Black Mass at Harvard.  Pre-Hobby Lobby,  both stunts had struck me as mildly amusing but not very effective. Some of these actions are actually a little mean-spirited, like Pastafarians gaining the legal right to wear their “religious headgear,” the colander, in driver’s-license photos. The civil-religion hot-button they’re pushing is from a lawsuit of Sikhs and Muslims against the MTA. And haven’t the Sikhs and Muslims suffered enough without being compared to people who believe sarcastically in a Flying Spaghetti Monster? Likewise the atheists who delivered the opening prayer at the infamous Greece, New York, town meeting, after courts ruled that such prayer was somehow legal. The fact that it was atheist prayer seemed meant to “prove a point,” and that point, to me, was that New Atheists have become just another religious sect, and they should get off their high horse. (Note: atheists get REALLY MAD when you  say this.)

But now that SCOTUS has ushered in a new religious order, I’m inclined to see the Satanic Temple’s efforts as sincere, and a little less self-serving. They certainly want to be seen that way, as witness a very interesting interview with a Satanic spokesperson in Salon.

“Given the current state of things, given those dominant religious voices that we’re hearing right now, it is still infinitely better that a diversity of faiths and beliefs are respected and granted rights and privileges, rather than letting one set of beliefs co-opt the authority of the government.

A lot of organizations have worked hard to get religion out of the government, and I think that it’s clear that it’s not necessarily working. So there’s other alternatives.”

But just because they are sincere doesn’t mean I expect them to have the results they set out to. The Religion News Service recently published an admirably straight-faced explainer of the campaign, quoting legal scholars from Mormon and Catholic institutions to the effect that the exemption “may face legal hurdles,” starting with, you guessed it, whether the Satanic Temple is actually a religion at all. The reporters’ conclusion struck me as a) the understatement of the week, and b) not the point. The point is that ridiculous verdicts call for ridiculous responses, and the more “alternatives” the better.