by Hope Madden
Who’s up for a Satanic Temple recruitment video?
If you’re thinking Christopher Lee and blood-drinking, virgin-sacrificing minions planning to summon demons forth and end humankind, well, you’re not alone. But you are off the mark.
And while I’m not sure documentarian Penny Lane intended recruitment with her film Hail Satan?, it’s really hard not to find yourself rooting for this scrappy group of idealists.
Lane and her subjects trace a brief history of Satanic grotesquerie in America. From Anton Lavey’s psychedelic Church of Satan (“a rat pack carnival”) to the “Satanic Panic” of the 80s and 90s through the abominable behavior inside the Catholic Church, the film notes how the devil has been used in American popular culture.
But for TST, “Satanism” is simply a way to rework a pejorative term used historically to mark the outsider—a group to which members certainly relate.
Lucien Greaves (a pseudonym) devoted himself to establishing The Satanic Temple as a simple societal outgrowth, a tumor, if you will, on the ass of a state of Christian theocracy he saw in our country. He doesn’t worship Satan. He doesn’t even believe in Satan.
Greaves believes in the religious pluralism promised by the US Constitution, and what better way to convince a state house to remove its ten commandments statue than to insist on the erection of an 8 foot statue of Baphomet on the same lawn? Because, as far as the laws of the US are concerned, if you can’t have one, you can’t have the other.
Lane documents the organization’s growth from theatrical political activist cell to global network of connected communities. Her wry delivery matches the sensibilities of the Satanists in question, but their outrage and their unexpected sense of community fuel the film.
As Lane’s investigation uncovers, The Satanic Temple’s surprising surge in popularity owes itself not just to a citizenry troubled by a sudden swing toward theocracy. It’s also due to the organization’s ability to represents a unified voice for outcasts.
Those very people most vilified by a conservative “Christian” point of view find acceptance here. And while there may be no better way for them to stick it to their oppressors, this is also their opportunity to make a difference.
If the point of a documentary is to enlighten while it entertains, few docs have succeeded on both fronts as entirely as Hail Satan? In turns frustrating, funny and provocative, it is always a clear-eyed image of America as defined by our citizen’s imperative to challenge our government to better realize the ideals of our Constitution.