The Current

How the Satanic Temple aims to promote pluralism in the U.S.

We speak with the director of the new film 'Hail Satan?' about a group called the Satanic Temple, and hear from the organization's co-founder about how it's working to defend pluralism.

Hail Satan? documentary explores mission and message of Satanism

Members of the Satanic Temple don't believe in a personal Satan, rather the 'metaphorical construct' of the figure, the co-founder says. (Jonathan Bachman/The Associated Press)

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The Satanic Temple aims to promote the separation of church and state by "defending pluralistic democracy" in the U.S., according to its co-founder, Lucien Greaves, featured in a new documentary. 

The controversial and often misunderstood nature of the religious movement is the focus of Hail Satan?, which premiered Friday in Canada. 

"We're non-theistic so we don't believe in a personal Satan. And a lot of people think our tenets are rather humanistic and straightforward," Greaves said of the temple. 

Satanism gets its name from the "metaphorical construct" of Satan, who represents blasphemy in the face of strict religious upbringings, he told The Current's guest host Matt Galloway.

"A lot of people in the Satanic Temple came up in a Judeo-Christian background; embracing blasphemy is very cathartic and enriching to them. And, we have built what we feel has all the elements of a religious community."

Penny Lane, director of Hail Satan?, explained that she wanted to explore the largely misunderstood mission and message of Satanism in the documentary.

The Salem, Mass.,-based temple bills itself as a non-theistic religious and political activist group that uses imagery to promote egalitarianism, social justice and the separation of church and state "to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people." 

It was officially recognized as a religion in the U.S. last month, when the temple received notice from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) affirming their status as a house of worship.
The Satanic Temple has erected several Baphomet statues in the U.S. alongside Ten Commandment statues to advocate for religious equality. (Ted Siefer/Reuters)

In recent years, the Satanic Temple's main goal has been advocating for a separation of church and state.

Its co-founder, Greaves, argues the border between religion and politics is not properly put into practice in the U.S.

"What people see public-facing from us, of course, is our church-state battles which are, to us, an act of engagement with our religious deeply-held beliefs," he said, referring to the temple's recently-unveiled monument at the Arkansas State Capitol.

The goat-headed, winged statue called Baphomet was erected as a demonstration of the First Amendment. The decision was a response to the capitol's previous installment of a Ten Commandments monument, which the Satanic Temple pegged unconstitutional and discriminatory.

"We wanted to assert that pluralism was still alive and well and we respected diversity in the United States," Greaves said.

"We really feel that we're kind of on the frontline defending pluralistic democracy from encroaching theocracy … We're trying to bring tangible positive change."

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.

Written by Émilie Quesnel with files from The Associated Press. Produced by Matt Galloway, Julie Crysler, Karin Marley and Geoff Turner.