August 03, 2016

Wielding Offense as a Weapon: After School Satan Clubs

Recently, the Satanic Temple began a program to put an after-school club in every district where there is a Good News Club presence. That would include districts like the one that I live in right now.

It's been met with comments like these, pulled from this CBSNews article:

Good job, Satanic Temple, for being the entire reason that the country is going to hell, according to one of these commenters.

Leading evangelicals are calling for schools to reject the clubs:

Which is illegal, by the way. If schools are operating a "limited public forum" by having Good News Clubs, they can't lawfully reject other religions, as this would show a preference for Christianity.

If I'm being honest--and I am to a fault, perhaps--it's been chuckle-worthy to watch the response from my own conservative community to this story. From people claiming that Christians never go after atheist groups (anecdata: we had a group in our state that had to change its name because it was being refused meeting places) to people claiming that this is only meant to cause offense, it's really run the gamut of reactions.

And the truth is: of course it's meant to cause offense.

Offense is a weapon. It's a way of getting noticed by a majority that is often oppressively religious. Many theists--and that's theists of different stripes, true, but mostly Christians as they are the majority in our nation--will automatically recoil from the very idea of Satan, and this is useful when we are looking at church/state separation issues. It sparks the conversation by making a powerful point.

Most of us are, I'd hope, familiar with the Satanic Temple by now. The Temple is an advocatory body for religious liberty and scientific rationalism, and in its current incarnation, it doesn't believe in any kind of supernatural being. Instead, they see Satan and the attendant myth as a metaphor or parable for the struggle of knowledge and reason in a world that often rejects them. Personally I find the seven basic tenets of the Satanic Temple to be among the most moral in the religious sphere:
  1. One should strive to act with compassion and empathy towards all creatures in accordance with reason.
  2. The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
  3. One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.
  4. The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo your own.
  5. Beliefs should conform to our best scientific understanding of the world. We should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs.
  6. People are fallible. If we make a mistake, we should do our best to rectify it and resolve any harm that may have been caused.
  7. Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word.
Compared to the Ten Commandments, this is demonstrably a more advanced form of moral guidance, not to mention more flexible and adaptable to changing circumstances. The second tenet alone recognizes what is widely considered the most advanced stage of moral development: the idea that laws can be unjust and that sometimes you must resist them in order to achieve a greater since of justice. This is one of the ideas that underlines the concept of civil disobedience that has been used to great effect in social movements, but it's not one that more conservative religions teach particularly well.
      I guess I don't understand why it's okay to teach children that they are broken, corrupt, and sinful, but not to teach them that they are capable of doing great things in the world even though they are flawed. I'm not really seeing the issue here.

      I've also seen commenters arguing that the Satanic Temple is being hypocritical by coming into schools when it objects to the Good News Club doing so. The Temple did an excellent job responding to this complain in its FAQ on the program:

      Don’t you think it’s best to keep religion out of schools? 
      Yes. But the worst case scenario, when religion is allowed in the schools, is an environment in which one religious voice enjoys the exclusive benefit of delivering its teachings to the children, promoting the understanding that their religion is endorsed by the school, or otherwise has special privilege within their community. The Satanic Temple does not advocate for religion in schools. However, once religion invades schools, as The Good News Clubs have, The Satanic Temple will fight to ensure that plurality and true religious liberty are respected.  

      Educatin' with Satan represents an opportunity for children to see that there are other belief systems, some of which are jarringly different than their own. The very presence is encourages religious diversity. It allows children a window outside of their own world, even if they never attend the club themselves. I'm curious to see how this would affect the way that children view other religions, either for good or ill.

      This is sure to cause a stir, but I'm personally glad for it. Let's shake things up and get the conversation started. Church/state separation protects us all. Let's continue to support it and build on the foundations left to us to keep our schools a safe and secular place for children.

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