And Civics Lessons.
Modern Satanists may be the single most miscast, misunderstood and mistaken subculture in the world. The “Satanic Panic” of the 80s and 90s has led to a stigma that “devil worshippers” are a cult group of violent maniacs devoted to human sacrifice, cannibalism and the like. In reality, modern Satanists believe in freedom of expression, bodily autonomy and scientific understanding. They are peaceful trolls who delight in using imagery and symbols to provoke and offend in an effort to drive conversation and preach inclusion and personal freedom. And people get so hung up on the images that scare them that they ignore the message and focus on what they assume Satanists engage in, projecting the horrors of their own religion’s past onto others who simply do not share such a disturbing, violent history.
The point here is simple: America is a secular nation, not bound to any single religion but espousing freedom for everyone to worship who and what they please. In the 1950s, fueled by the Red Scare, the US began to push Christianity on the masses by doing things like printing “In God We Trust” on our money and added the phrase “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance and mandating kids to repeat it in school every day. Forcing one religion on everyone is precisely the opposite of what America stands for and was built upon, but the national conversation reinforces it at every turn when they hear the term “Satanism.” Never mind the fact that Satanists may or may not even believe in Satan to begin with, they are scary and we must save our kids from them at all costs.
Penny Lane does a great job with this film, giving us an insightful portrayal of a group we may not know much about, and shining a light upon a massive example of hypocrisy in this country. How can we allow the Ten Commandments to be posted outside federal courthouses (which, by the way, are largely thanks to Paramount’s promotional efforts for the film of the same name starring Charlton Heston) and still pretend we are free to practice religious freedom? The Satanic Temple commissioning a Baphomet statue to rival this monument is the perfect example of the religious inclusion we are supposed to strive for, but can’t seem to because of people’s preconceived notions (that are based on misdirection and outright lies). Lane balances the film a bit (though surely not enough for Christian viewers) by spotlighting a rogue chapter of the Temple (based in Detroit), but even when faced with a hard example of the Temple going too far (even calling for domestic terrorism), the true face of the group is shown. They outright reject and ostracize those who would seek to use their platform of individual expression as one of violence.
Equality is supposed to be a central American value. So how has this group been denied such a basic right, especially when they do not in any way endorse what their detractors pretend that they do? Even the title of the film is a clue to where the discussion will lead, with the very important question mark at the end. Framing the movement (and film) as a religious discussion to mask the underlying theme of political activism is a tactic dripping with the sneaky intelligence that Christians can’t stand to think that Satanists are even capable of. This is a very smart, important film that is also extremely entertaining and engaging. Whether or not you agree with The Satanic Temple’s co-founder Lucien Greaves in his tactics, to assert that his message is false or that his heart is in the wrong place is as best willfully ignorant and at worst blatantly deceptive. If this is indeed the land of the free, it has to be such for everyone, not just those we agree with and pray next to on Sundays.
Hail Satan? is Directed By Penny Lane
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