Documentary filmmaker Penny Lane has covered everything from sea monkeys to Richard Nixon in her acclaimed career. In her latest film, Hail Satan?, she trains her lens on The Satanic Temple, its history, and its cause.
Founded during the Bush administration, The Satanic Temple was meant to be seen as a religious organization that was somehow repugnant to the administrations “values,” such as they were.
They hit upon the idea of Satan as “the adversary” and in no time, they had formed their organization using as their centerpiece the Baphomet iconography with a mission to strengthen the separation of church and state and the idea that freedom of religion is freedom for all religions.
Lane’s expertly interweaves the story of the groups creation with interviews from members across the country who have taken up the cause of TST, and two things become almost immediately clear.
- The members of The Satanic Temple often find their way to its symbolic doors while in search for meaning and belonging to a group of people that holds them up and supports them for who they are.
- They are also almost immediately energized with an activist’s spirit, ready to fight for the rights of other who have felt similarly lost and shut out of the system.
This seems especially true in Lucien Greaves, the public face of the organization and a man who somehow comes across as both charismatic and reserved simultaneously. One moment he boldly speaks to religious leaders and conservative news anchors, and the next he nervously reads and re-reads notes for a speech that he’s prepared to give in order to make sure he says exactly the right thing.
Greaves and the Temple’s high council gave the filmmaker almost unfettered access to the group while filming, and as such, she is able to take her viewers inside both organizational meetings and group ritual observances some of which may shock some viewers, not because of their nature–though some definitely run to the extreme–but more by the all too mundane quality of some.
In fact, it is the meetings in backyards and on beaches where we get a real glimpse of the membership of The Satanic Temple as a diverse, wholly accepting group of people who just want to make the world a better place without relying on some all-powerful deity to tell them the way they should do it.
These are not terrifying people. They aren’t making sacrifices to Satan. In fact, the majority of the membership does not believe in “Satan” as an actual being to whom they pray.
Rather, largely, they are atheists and humanists who have taken on Satan as a symbol of defying those who seek to take away freedoms and force their beliefs on others.
Not only is Hail Satan? illuminating, however, it is also educational.
The Satanic Temple have made a name for themselves opposing the inclusion of Ten Commandments monuments in courthouses and on other state-funded and owned properties. They do this, cleverly, not by demanding that they be taken down, but by asking that their own rather impressive statues of Baphomet be included alongside them.
When opposed, they bring up the point that not including other religious iconography sets up Christianity as a more legitimate religious belief. This gets their foot in the door to discuss the separation of church and state.
One of the most revealing bits of information to come out of this, however, is that many of these monuments were actually gifted to various states when Cecil B. DeMille was promoting his religious epic, The Ten Commandments.
Lane even includes footage of Charlton Heston performing a little gifting ceremony, unveiling one such monument at a press event.
Through all of this, the director includes footage of conservative, fundamentalist religious news anchors, pastors, and more talk as they about the fictitious evils of the organization and its followers. She dives into the Satanic Panic of the 80s and how the fantastic, and false, stories written about “Satanists” actually reflected the abuses that were going on in more traditional religious organizations.
There are so many things to pick apart and to discuss as the credits roll on Hail Satan? which is the mark of any good documentary really.
What’s more, the organization itself was recently granted status as an official church by the IRS in the United States adding a layer of legitimacy in their arguments.
Hail Satan?, distributed by Magnolia Pictures, will screen in an exclusive engagement Friday, May 10, 2019 at Landmark’s Hillcrest Cinemas before moving to wider distribution. To learn more about the film, visit their official website.