And ye shall overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and burn their groves with fire; and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy the names of them out of that place. – Deuteronomy 12:3
A recent article at the Republic Sentinel noted that members of the Satanic Temple of Iowa – yes, there is a Satanic Temple chapter in Iowa, because we don’t live in a secular culture anymore; we live in a neo-pagan one – recently received permission to erect a statue of the occult idol Baphomet on the first floor of the Iowa Capitol building near Christmas displays of the Nativity. Baphomet was surrounded by candles and holding a pentacle – an occult talisman containing the inverted pentagram associated with Satanism and that is the logo for the Satanic Temple.
As an organization, the Satanic Temple has been around only for about ten years. It views itself as a sort of alternative religion for people who resent the “oppression” of traditional religion, especially Christianity, which the Satanic Temple regularly mocks and taunts by demanding equal time with Nativity scenes at state capitols at Christmastime. Are Satanic Temple members devil-worshippers? Sort of. As I’ve written before,
Contrary to popular assumption, only a small minority of Satanists actually worships Satan. Most of them reportedly do not believe in a higher power; they see Satan himself as more metaphorical, a symbol of rebellion. They view their religion as a worshiping of the self, and believe that each individual is free to define his or her own moral code.
Today’s Satanism is largely what author Carl Trueman, Professor of Biblical and Religious Studies at Grove City College, calls expressive individualism, which holds that “human beings are defined by their individual psychological core, and that the purpose of life is allowing that core to find social expression in relationships. Anything that challenges it is deemed oppressive.” Sects of the self today include a revival of paganism and Satanism.
The Temple’s mission is ostensibly one of working toward “benevolent and compassionate” social justice, with a generous helping of such self-worship thrown in. But an unstated yet obvious part of its mission is to disempower Christians in the public and political square – hence its challenges to Christmas displays in political buildings.
Michael Cassidy is a Mississippi man who served as a pilot in the U.S. Navy, works as a flight instructor, and ran for Congress a year ago in his home state. His campaign website describes him as a “Christian conservative who loves our nation and is committed to preserving the blessings of liberty.” The Sentinel reported that Cassidy wanted to see the Satanic Temple display for himself. “I saw this blasphemous statue and was outraged,” he said. “My conscience is held captive to the word of God, not to bureaucratic decree. And so I acted.”
Indeed he did. He took it upon himself to tear down the profane display, remove the idol’s head, and toss it in a trash can – after which he turned himself in to police officers and was charged with 4th-degree criminal mischief.
Cassidy told The Sentinel that he destroyed the shrine in order to “awaken Christians to the anti-Christian acts promoted by our government”:
The world may tell Christians to submissively accept the legitimization of Satan, but none of the founders would have considered government sanction of Satanic altars inside Capitol buildings as protected by the First Amendment. Anti-Christian values have steadily been mainstreamed more and more in recent decades, and Christians have largely acted like the proverbial frog in the boiling pot of water.
Correct on all counts. Yes, the Founders did not want the establishment of a “state religion,” but they would have found it incomprehensible that this wariness would result in government buildings hosting altars to Satan-worship. And yes, our culture has gradually marginalized Christian values and carried out what author Rod Dreher (Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option) calls a “soft persecution” of Christians who have too passively endured it without enough righteous pushback. That day at the Iowa state Capitol, Cassidy decided to push back.
Cassidy also cited 1 John 3:8 as a motivation for smashing the false idol: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” He told the Sentinel that “Scripture exhorts us to think and act like Jesus Christ.” Many people think acting like Jesus means being supremely tolerant and nonjudgemental, but remember, Jesus angrily overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the Jerusalem Temple and ejected the blasphemers from that holy place. A state capitol building is not a sacred space, but Michael Cassidy found the Satanic Temple’s occupation of it with symbols of evil and the occult to be a perversion of its purpose to serve the public good.
For many, even some conservatives, this incident raises a serious point: what about the separation of church and state? What about the perceived hypocrisy of conservatives who condemn the left’s tearing down of monuments and who then turn around and tear down monuments they don’t like?
Some conservatives tried to straddle the fence on this issue. Iowa Republican Governor Kim Reynolds wrote in a statement that she found the display “absolutely objectionable” but believes that in a free society, “the best response to objectionable speech is more speech.” Iowa Republican State Rep. Jon Dunwell, who is also an ordained minister, said that as a “follower of Christ” he found the statue “objectionable” but said he does not want “the state evaluating and making determinations about religions.”
As the Republic Sentinel noted,
Others nevertheless questioned whether the Constitution or the original intent of the founding fathers would allow for the existence of the shrine. Andrew Walker, an associate professor of Christian ethics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, noted in an analysis that the Satanic Temple does not maintain any “sincerely held Satanic beliefs.” He also asserted that the state should not promote any “outright celebration of evil, darkness, and perversity” and that “moral evil has no intrinsic rights” within a Christian and historically Western legal framework.
Rod Dreher, author of Live Not By Lies and The Benedict Option, among many other books, mused about this issue on his Substack page, and it is worth quoting him at length because he thoughtfully sums up the truth about the Satanic Temple’s intent and Michael Cassidy’s protest:
The United States is a country now where we oversee the removal of statues of figures — even Founding Fathers, like Thomas Jefferson, whose statue was taken out of New York City Hall in 2021 — that the woke find intolerable… but we erect statues, however temporary, honoring Satan.
There’s no point in pretending that what Cassidy did is compatible with a liberal political order. It’s not — but then, the mobs tearing down Confederate statues (as distinct from elected officials removing them lawfully) aren’t either, but many people in our society celebrated the latter. I am personally troubled by this, in the sense that I believe that a diverse society like ours requires a significant degree of religious tolerance…
Yet the abstractions of liberalism must reach a limit at some point. We reached and passed it a long time ago with regard to the teaching of sexuality and gender theory to children, under the guise of tolerance. And the construction of a statue honoring Satan crosses a line that I think none of us should be willing to cross.
I believe, of course, that Satan is real, and that there are, and will be, real world effects to honoring him in this way… If Christians believe that Satan exists, then you would no more tolerate that vile effigy in the legislature than you would tolerate a statue paying homage to Adolf Hitler. The Satanic Temple has admitted that it doesn’t see Satan as a real being, but rather as a symbol. I think they’re lying about that, but never mind. Michael Cassidy understands that the spiritual power of that evil statue is real, and that there are higher obligations on the Christian than are allowed for under liberalism’s rules.
Even if you don’t believe that Satan actually exists, and you consider him to be merely a symbol, then why would you tolerate this statue? In the symbolic matrix that produced the figure of Satan, he symbolizes ultimate evil… Not just evil, but Evil…
Religious tolerance has worked in America for so long because nobody ever thought to push the boundaries like the Satanic Temple does. If sustaining liberalism means tolerating an image honoring a deity who symbolizes things like the rape of children, Auschwitz, the gulags, chattel slavery, and any and all evil you can imagine, then to hell with liberalism.
If being a good classical liberal means that I have to tolerate reverence in a public space to a god that stands for Evil, then I am not a classical liberal… There is no society that can be called “good” in which an effigy of Satan is honored in the public square.
Like Dreher, when I learned of this controversy my reflexive classical liberalism kicked in and I initially wrestled with the philosophical and moral quandary of it; but I quickly came to wholeheartedly endorse Dreher’s conclusion and Michael Cassidy’s protest. Classical liberalism should not be a suicide pact. A society that gives equal weight to Good and Evil out of a misguided sense of fairness and tolerance and diversity will quickly find itself overrun by Evil, because Evil will exploit the fair-mindedness and tolerance of classical liberals in order to get first a foot in the door, then to smash the door off its hinges and subdue the whole of a classically liberal civilization. The Republicans like Iowa Gov. Reynolds and Rep. Dunwell, who think Evil will respect or be restrained by their fair-minded neutrality, are not spiritually prepared for the winds that will blow then.
When Michael Cassidy trashed the Satanic Temple’s mocking altar, he took a courageous, righteous stand in defense of the Good over Evil, and in defense of Western civilization (which used to be known as Christendom) over the narcissistic amorality of today’s paganism. And I stand with him.
Follow Mark Tapson at Culture Warrior.