Last week the BBC published what someone on Twitter called a “comprehensive, light-heartedly warm guide to Satanism.” The Tweeter—mercifully—was upset that the BBC would do such a thing. Other people, rightly, wanted to know where all the good reporting has gone. Why pay to send a reporter all the way to America to this year’s SatanCon, have that reporter interview the worshippers—oops! sorry! They say they’re not actually worshiping Satan—and then not encourage that same reporter take some additional trouble to probe a little more deeply into what all those people said? Is there no one who has come out of this Satan Cult who might have another point of view?
It is important, of course, to remember that the 700,000 people who belong to the church of Satan don’t actually believe in Satan. They’re just “embracing” logic and empathy:
“As a gay child, being told you are an abomination and should be destroyed, warped a lot of my thinking. Finding The Satanic Temple has really helped me embrace logic and empathy.” The Satanic Temple is recognised as a religion by the US government, and has ministers and congregations in America, Europe and Australia. More than 830 people snapped up tickets for its late April convention, dubbed SatanCon. Members say they don’t actually believe in a literal Lucifer or Hell. Instead, they say Satan is a metaphor for questioning authority, and grounding your beliefs in science. The sense of community around these shared values makes it a religion, they say. They do use the symbols of Satan for rituals – for example when celebrating a wedding or adopting a new name. That might include having an upside-down neon cross on your altar while shouting: “Hail Satan!” For many Christians, this is serious blasphemy. “That’s not wrong,” agrees Dex Desjardins, a spokesperson for The Satanic Temple. “A lot of our imagery is inherently blasphemous.”
All these devotees of Satan, who don’t actually believe such a person exists, still do have to take Christian symbols and blaspheme them for some reason. They are just exercising their pure reason to create shared values. That’s what makes what they’re doing “religious.” Don’t worry, they’re not worshiping the Father of Lies. They are all really nice people doing nice things. It’s not spiritually dark or anything, don’t worry. Strangely, though—but still, don’t worry—the Satanists are thinking hard about the catechizing of children. They have a bedtime storybook called Goodnight Baphomet, and they’re working busily on their after-school Satan clubs:
Another project drawing headlines is After School Satan Clubs – slogan: “Educatin’ with Satan”. The Temple would rather keep religion out of schools, but wants to counter faith groups coming in to evangelise to pupils. So where local people have asked it to, it tries to launch an After School Satan Club, focused on community service, science, crafts and critical thinking. Opponents say it’s frightening children, but TST says its content is demon-free. They have a kids’ song – My Pal Satan – with a bopping animated goat, and the lines: “Satan’s not an evil guy, he wants you to learn and question why. He wants you to have fun and be yourself – and by the way there is no hell.”
One of these clubs is being pushed into a local school near me. Funnily enough, I’ve spent some time praying against it, because there is a hell, and I’d prefer the little children around here not to go there. There’s a lot to be disturbed about, but one thing that I find surprising is that there isn’t any more social stigma associated with dabbling in overt devotion to God’s greatest enemy. Apparently, it’s just funny and cute. And especially for the children. It isn’t at all low-brow and grotesque.
Today, if you were looking for somewhere to go other than some déclassé hotel to hobnob with a lot of “humanists” who have tied Satan horns to their heads and painted themselves with rainbows, and attached super long, super uncomfortable-looking claw-like black nails to their fingers, and who are feeling both deeply free and happy about their choices but also aggrieved about a lot of things, you could just go to an actual church. Instead of tearing pages out of the Bible, you could do the more stunning and brave thing of opening it and reading it. You don’t have to leave your reason at the door. On the contrary, there are a lot of fascinating things to think and wonder about, and people to get to know.
Today is Pentecost, that unsettling moment when the Holy Spirit came and indwelt that small group of men and women who had been following Jesus so persistently through his ministry, through the dark and despairing week of his Crucifixion, to his astonishing Resurrection where he crushed Satan under his heel, to his Ascension into heaven where he took his rightful place next to the Father to intercede and draw all those who love him up into the very presence of God day and night. Luke makes the important observation that “They were all together in one place.” Back then no one had to get online to buy a ticket and then fork over yet more cash to drive or fly and then arrive to settle into some outdated hotel. The “they” are the Christians living in Jerusalem at that time. And even though the Holy Spirit hadn’t yet come, they had already reordered their lives around being together for prayer and worship almost every day. The Apostles, at least, could always be found in the Temple telling every passerby about the Savior. But today is the Day of Pentecost, which is a Sunday, the day of the Resurrection, and so they were all together in the Upper Room.
And that is an important thing to notice, because quite a long time ago, long before Jesus began teaching and preaching, there were some people who thought that they would like to be all together. They wanted to exercise their pure reason and their empathy to come together and build something special. And they were able to do this because they all spoke the same language. The account of what happened next is not very long, so I’ll just put it here so you don’t have to click around or find your Bible:
Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.
It might be tempting to think that this is just some silly children’s story. How funny, the guy who looks up and asks for a donut, but the guy next to him thinks he’s asked for a hammer, and then they both get mad. Has this been done by Veggie Tales? And where is the BBC’s “comprehensive, light-heartedly warm guide to” Babel? If you saw the tower going up, you would have been so impressed. Imagine all those people, living for that day.
That way of thinking about all our human endeavors misses the deep pain written underneath these spare lines—“so that they may not understand one another’s speech,” “they left off building the city, ”the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.” These are a proper description of the alienation and despair that each and every person feels at least once in a while, no matter how light-hearted or happy you might normally be. You get up and go to work. You try to make sure all the people in your life have what they need. You drive back and forth and up and down. And somehow you go to bed having been misunderstood, knowing that you failed in some key points to be known or to know any of the people you’d like to feel connected to.
Babel is the great unraveling we experience all the time. It is the useful metaphor for the human experience of wanting to be accepted without having to do the work of accepting the One who made you for himself. Even so, the most difficult thing is to see that God is the person who brought it about. He “confused” our language. He made us go away from each other. Why would he do such a thing?
Because it is almost Pride Month, I typed “pride” into the Unsplash search box and scrolled for a while. Besides an unhappy number of pictures of children and the grotesque, overtly sexual and lewd posturing, many of the pictures are of people who are trying to be with other people. They want a name. They want affection. They want to be understood. It is right there in the eyes, staring at the camera. Wrapping oneself in the rainbow flag is just one of the many ways people try to get back together, to escape dispersion and alienation—but still, without God.
But God, unlike Satan, doesn’t do painful and difficult things just so that you can be sad and miserable. He dispersed the people on the plain of Shinar so that they wouldn’t be able to do yet more evil. They wouldn’t be able to get together and try to efface the image of God in their children and in themselves. They wouldn’t be able to organize themselves well enough to actually worship Satan in the way they wanted. They were forced to invent a lot of other complicated and incomprehensible religious practices for thousands of years until Pride Month finally came along.
Meanwhile, God took matters in hand and come to bind together the Church on that bright Sunday when those Christians were all together in one place. And he joined them to each other and himself by the Word of Christ and the love of the Spirit. He dispersed them into the streets of Jerusalem not in confusion, but with his own life-giving words to draw yet more people back to himself. You can go find him today if you want. You do have to get up and get there somehow. And the building might not be that amazing. But in spite of all the hassle, you can be sure that God himself will be there to show you who he is, and who you are, and to give you everything you need to be known and understood. Hope to see you there!
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