LocalRobin Abcarian

Why Christians should embrace the Satan statue in Oklahoma

Why can’t the Satanists be just a little more tasteful?

There is no way the statue they’ve proposed for the Oklahoma State Capitol grounds is going to fly.

Even if it does have wings.

Does anybody anywhere want to have a 7-foot goat-headed, horned creature right out of the scary part of “Ghostbusters” staring at them when they walk across a deserted lawn at dusk?

“The statue will also have a functional purpose as a chair, where people of all ages may sit on the lap of Satan for inspiration and contemplation,” said Lucien Greaves, a co-founder of the Satanic Temple, which is behind the unusual proposal. (Why not for punishment? Parents could use it as a time-out chair.)

Greaves, whose real name is Doug Mesner, became interested in Satan after what he calls the "Satanic Panic" of the 1990s, when "recovered memories" about "Satanic rituals" led to spectacular and unfounded prosecutions.

In an interview with Vice, Mesner said that the Satanic Temple was conceived by friends of his who "envisioned it more as a 'poison pill' in the church/state debate. The idea was that Satanists, asserting their rights and privileges where religious agendas have been successful in imposing themselves upon public affairs, could serve as a poignant reminder that such privileges are for everybody."

And so they came up with the idea for a statue of "Baphomet," a cheeky and altogether deserved response to the Ten Commandments monument erected on the Capitol grounds in 2012 by legislators who tried to push the idea that prescriptions are secular, not religious. 

All stuff-of-nightmares aside, the Satanists make an important point.

“By accepting our offer, the good people of Oklahoma City will have the opportunity to show that they espouse the basic freedoms spelled out in the Constitution. We imagine that the ACLU will also embrace such a response. Allowing us to donate a monument would show that the Oklahoma City Council does not discriminate and both the religious and the non-religious should be happy with such an outcome. Our mission is to bring people together by finding common sentiments that create solutions that everyone can appreciate and enjoy.”

Or they can burn in hell. Ha! Not really!

As it happens, the Satanists aren't particularly interested in the afterlife. Their “Satan” is more a metaphor than a literal Prince of Darkness, a symbol of free thought, not an evil doer.

"We have this rejection of arbitrary authority and respect for personal sovereignty," Mesner told me Tuesday. "It doesn't matter if you are doing good in the name of Satan or the name of Jesus Christ, as long as you are doing good."

Unfortunately for the Satanists, however, the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma will not be stepping up to help Satanize the Oklahoma Capitol. That is because the civil rights organization has already sued the state to remove the monument, contending (correctly) that it violates the Constitutional separation of church and state. Fighting to get a satanic statue onto public property would be a conflict of interest.

“Our position is we’d like to see the government get out of the religious monument business altogether,” said ACLU of Oklahoma Legal Director Brady Henderson. “Our feeling is, more religious display doesn’t solve the fundamental problem that the government is wading into the religious realm.”

Not that he thinks the Satanic Temple is completely off base.

“If the government creates a forum out there, if we are allowing people to speak their mind, then of course people will speak their mind,” Henderson said. “And sometimes those people are not the ones that the state might want to speak their minds.”

This is not the first time the Satanic Temple has tried to be part of the public conversation about church and state. Over the holidays, the Temple tried to participate in an ecumenical free-for-all in Florida's Capitol building in Tallahassee. Responding to complaints about the rotunda’s traditional Christian nativity display, state authorities invited other traditions to create displays.

Pastafarians from the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster got space. So did a Festivus Pole, inspired by the great “Seinfeld” episode. But when the Satanists proposed a diorama of an angel falling into the fire, proclaiming “Happy Holidays from the Satanic Temple,” they were denied.

"I genuinely was surprised that they rejected us," Mesner said. "With the Spaghetti Monster and the Festivus Pole, I thought they would bite the bullet on that and not enage in discrimination."

Florida was wrong. And more than that, the state behaved in an un-American manner. When you open the public’s property to any expression of religion -- talkin' to you, Oklahoma -- you have to open it to all religious expression. You may not like him, but Satan is a legitimate religious figure. The Flying Spaghetti Monster? Not so much.

 

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Twitter: @robinabcarian

robin.abcarian@latimes.com

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