I’ve been a fan of The Satanic Temple for a few years now after learning about them in the book Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive by Kristen J. Sollee. The Satanic Temple (TST) advocates for religious freedom, as well as other social issues like women’s rights. They use their religious namesake as a counterpoint to the ever-growing permissiveness of Christianity in the United States government. They’re an activist group–not to be confused with the Church of Satan, which is a religious group.
When our elected officials forget that separation of church and state is a thing, The Satanic Temple is there to remind them.
When conservative leaders want to erect a monument of the ten commandments on government property, TST argues that, for the sake of religious equality, they too should be allowed to erect a monument representing their religion–Satan! Well, technically, Baphomet. And while we’re at it, every other religious should have a statue too. If you’re going to break the rules for one, you gotta do it for them all.
They’re hilarious on Twitter, too.
That 10 Commandments story is just one of a few specific cases covered in director Penny Lane’s 2019 documentary, Hail Satan? As Lane follows some of their main leaders and point people on specific cases over about a year, we learn how the group got started, how it began to expand, and how it plans its protests. We meet many members across the US who speak about how they found it and how it has become a group they feel they truly belong to.
It becomes a recurring, frustrating problem to watch though, as every conservative group in opposition latches onto the surface level “we must defeat Satan” tactics. It shows that many of these leaders are willing to fear monger and rally a base on shallow claims rather than actually understanding the issues. And then, when many of these people find themselves in a corner it just angers people more.
For me, it was a bit frustrating as it happens every time. Even when trying to explain that it’s primarily a protest group and is a self-proclaimed non-theistic group, people make up their minds and won’t change them. That’s our current climate overall, not just in America, but globally.
I felt that it might make more sense for a protest group with a less volatile spokesman than Satan/Baphomet be on the front lines, but of course, these people chose this from their own interests and backgrounds. The shock value is amusing for a second, before, as I said, it becomes frustrating watching them hit the same roadblocks. It feels like other groups that represent…less represented religions in the US might be more efficient, but even then it feels like a lose-lose. Any religious from the Middle East will have conservatives screaming Shariah law, Anti-Semitism is alive and well unfortunately. The only thing I could really think would perhaps be something lead by Native American voices, who had their spiritual beliefs colonized like the rest of us. This isn’t me suggesting TST pivot or anything, just me musing about what would help get past some of those surface area issues. Of course, that kind of confrontation does drum up drama and press, so I can’t argue that also isn’t part of their strategy?
I really love their position of fighting fire with fire, or attempting to use logic. Some of their more performance art-y protests don’t seem to ever land either. Like any group, they have their pros and cons for sure. But I’m glad that they exist as another voice calling out elected leaders and holding them accountable.
How To Critique a Documentary…?
I realize that I’m talking more about the subject matter of this film then the film itself…while also of course acknowledging that the film is nothing without said subject matter. I think it boils down to me being inexperienced with evaluating and reviewing documentaries.
I grew up watching animal documentaries non-stop, and with the rise of streaming came the rise of me watching a lot more, with a lot of varied topics. But I can’t say that I have much experience reviewing, critiquing, evaluating documentaries. Analyzing it…it was a fine film. Pacing was good, it showed the organization in a good light, but wasn’t afraid to show its struggles and some of it’s less flattering moments, such as when they had to expel a chapter leader whose views were becoming a little too radical (and violent) for the organization. As a lobbying group, they do have a code of conduct for members and chapters so as to not be discredited or face any legal troubles or scandals.
While I haven’t seen any of Penny Lane’s other feature and short documentaries, a quick browse through her filmography makes me want to watch all of them. It’s awesome to see this woman make films about social issues (The Abortion Diaries (2005), Our Nixon (2013), The Pain of Others (2018)) as well as just interesting topics (Nuts! (2016), The Voyagers (2010)). I value her activism through her films and her outspokenness. That she’s been doing this long before it became almost cool or easy to be armchair activist on Twitter, she was using her skills and medium to share parts of herself.