"This was, and is, a complete misreading of the nature of radical evil. Sometimes, you don’t need to 'understand' — you need to resist. Again, if the Naval Academy Satanists were proposing to revive Nazi occult rituals, nobody would have to give this a second thought..."
A reader affiliated with the US Naval Academy said that people there received this e-mail yesterday:
My source comments:
Obviously, the email raises more questions than it claims to answer. How can this chief claim no sponsorship or endorsement from the Satanic Temple, even as he admits he’s a member? He claims not to conduct or promote symbolic evil, when that’s what Satan is in literature (and he’s the closest thing to evil incarnate in the real world). The website he links to talks about Black Masses and “unbaptisms,” but they don’t engage in ritual sacrifice. The list goes on.
This source said that the command chaplain, a Catholic priest, had no idea any of this was going on, and is furious. The Satanists did not go through proper channels, it appears, so this event might not happen.
Given all this, I thought this story couldn’t possibly get any more interesting, but then something else happened that made me decide to write you. This afternoon, a midshipman who is very involved in one of the Protestant organizations on the Yard wrote an open letter to leaders of other Christian organizations. I’ve reproduced it here, with his name redacted:
(Disclaimer: My opinions do not represent the Department of the Navy, the Department of Defense, the Naval Academy, or any government institution. The opinions expressed here are solely my own and in my personal capacity as a Christian.)
Open Letter to Christians on the Yard
The Satanists have come to the Academy! As much as that tagline may elicit strong reactions in even the most casual believers, one should examine the phenomena occurring beneath the surface. The Satanic Temple (TST) as it were is calculated for shock value. It is a clever exercise in narrative building and optics manipulating. In the present culture, there is nothing the media loves to hate more than a group of angry Christians. What’s more, there’s nothing the media loves more than to prove these angry Christians wrong. TST is just such a ploy.
If one examines the literature and tenets of the group, overt worship of the devil is not one of the core beliefs. Rather, its principles would be right at home in a meeting in the Temple of Reason of revolution era France. It is a simple repackaging of old humanist ideas that have been around for centuries. The insidious trick is that the Temple has opted for symbolism designed to rile up the Church. In this fallen world, there certainly are individuals who worship the supernatural being of Satan. However, the Satanic Temple is not an organization of these individuals. In fact, TST denies the existence of the supernatural altogether.
The use of the pentagram, Baphomet, black mass, and other overtly anti-Christian themes is meant to throw Christians into a rage. After all, there is nothing more antithetical to the worship of Christ than the worship of the Deceiver. The gambit is that angry Christians will not examine TST’s beliefs and merely attack it for its symbolism. In contrast, the TST members will appear very level headed and cooly point out that they do not worship the devil. Granted, the humanist path is equally under condemnation, but dealing with humanism necessitates much different tactics. Humanists take great pride in their portrayal of religious types as superstitious troglodytes itching to burn people at the stake. It is no small coincidence that TST is headquartered in Salem, Massachusetts, the site of a series of witch trials in the early colonial days. As such, when Christians are thrown into a blind rage at the sight or thought of a group calling themselves the Satanic Temple, they play right into the trap.
The question remains, how do we respond as Christians? The first thing that should come into our minds is Matthew 5:11. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount provides a wealth of examples for Christians to follow in these types of situations. Jesus also said in Matthew 10:16, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Satan is the father of lies. The ploy used by TST to bait Christians into vitriolic hatred should come as no surprise given our adversary’s deceptive nature. He is the master of spiritual irregular warfare and we should by no means expect a symmetrical attack. TST is just such an asymmetrical bait and switch intended on catching us off guard.
My views on TST should not be construed to mean a condemnation of individual members. As Jesus said, the greatest commandment is love. I do not believe that the individual attendees are actively trying to deceive Christians. However, their actions as part of the organization contribute to the phenomena I described above. The response should not be to call for exorcisms, protests, or any forms of direct attack. Instead, one should engage with the individuals on a personal basis and genuinely explore their beliefs. Engagement in civil dialogue and apologia is a Christian’s greatest asset.
On another note, the TST’s presence at the Naval Academy is likely to be rather short lived anyway. Yes, the first meeting will be exceptionally well attended due to the hype generated. However, one should remember that it is an incredibly small minority of midshipmen that asked for this service. Next week, one can expect barely half of the original attendance. By the third week, the fad will likely have fizzled out. This progression will only happen if we let it. If we fall for the bait, come out with guns blazing, and use symmetric attacks against an asymmetric opponent, TST’s recruitment goes up and attendance is sustained by controversy.
Detractors may say, did not Jesus drive the money changers from the Temple? Did not Jesus instruct his disciples to carry a sword when going out to the dangerous countryside of Judea? Did not Jesus say, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34)? The answer is yes. Jesus never stood by while evil took place. He actively fought, “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). The course of action I have outlined above exactly answers Jesus’ example. By engaging in civil discussion, spreading the Gospel Truth, and not falling for the deception, we are indeed struggling against the spiritual forces of evil. We should look to Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees. Whenever they endeavored to trick Him with a question or hypothetical, He would not engage on their terms. Instead, he would attack the underlying motive behind their deceptions and defeat them. The Satanic Temple is a stumbling block in the same way if one is not careful. Therefore, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can make your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11).
Brother in Christ
My source adds:
(Obviously, his disclaimer applies to this email as well.)
As I read the letter, I thought to myself: “This is David French-ism.” He outlines the situation perfectly, calls for dialogue and non-confrontation, and writes exquisitely well. I respect the viewpoint, and am happy that he was compelled to write such a letter. However, the Christian response to SATANISM is civil discussion? That’s how we got abortion, gay marriage, etc, etc. I’m not about to start beating people up or anything, but I feel like a large group praying outside the room (if they meet), asking the Catholic priests on the Yard to do exorcisms, and other supernatural tactics, ought not to be abandoned, and might even witness to other midshipmen that Christians don’t just get pushed around all the time. I think Christians should force the decision on people: God or Satan? Anyway, I think this is another case of Sohrab Ahmari getting the big picture right even as French nails the details better, and would be interested in your thoughts. …
Leaving aside whether the real-life David French would respond the way the Protestant midshipman did — I have no idea if he would or would not — I take the reader’s point. How far does classical liberalism go? Should it tolerate actual Satanism? More to the point, should believing Christians tolerate it?
When I say “tolerate,” I am not talking about taking illegal direct action to stop the meeting. We could have that discussion, but that’s not what the Christian reader who wrote to me is suggesting. He is suggesting not “civil discussion,” but spiritual warfare.
He’s right. If those Satanists declared themselves to be members of a reconstituted Thule Society, an Aryan neopagan group that included some early Nazis, or the Ahnenerbe, the racial-mystical think tank supported by Heinrich Himmler, I wonder if the Civil Discussion Protestant would have the same response. At some point, one has to recognize that one is dealing with actual spiritual evil, and that there can be no compromise with it. Does the Protestant midshipman believe that Satan exists, as all small-o orthodox Christians do? If so, then he must recognize that whatever the Temple of Satan people say, they are doing homage to the spiritual being who is the source of all evil, hatred, cruelty, and defilement that exists.
“Civil dialogue”? “Engag[ing] with the individuals on a personal basis and genuinely explore their beliefs”? This response is almost comical in its inability to take evil seriously. Praying against this evil, both openly and privately, and stigmatizing it in every way, is exactly the correct Christian response.
Note well, in this case we’re not talking about heathens, or other pagans. We are talking about Satanists. They are not the same thing. And, we are talking specifically about what the spiritual response of Christians in this particular community should be to the affirmative presence of Satanists among them. This unnamed Protestant midshipman must think that Satanists are nice liberals. It reminds me of what some good-hearted, genuinely decent liberal Christian friends of mine used to tell me ten, fifteen years ago, when I was mixing it up with radical Islamists: that if I could just sit down at the table with the Islamists, we could work out our differences and come to a mutual understanding.
This was, and is, a complete misreading of the nature of radical evil. Sometimes, you don’t need to “understand” — you need to resist. Again, if the Naval Academy Satanists were proposing to revive Nazi occult rituals, nobody would have to give this a second thought.
The matter of Satanists meeting at the USNA raises the broader question of the limits of tolerance in a liberal society. Is Satanism a religion like every other? Theologically, I would say no. But as a matter of public accommodation in a pluralist polity, a liberal one in which there is a formal separation of Church and State, it is hard to see how lines can be drawn to defend society against this evil. The phenomenon reveals the instability at the heart of classical liberalism. And the reader who wrote me is correct: the Satanists-at-Annapolis case does speak to the philosophical dispute between Sohrab Ahmari and David French. At what point does liberalism cross the line from being a tool that can be used to defend the Good when it has become unpopular, and becomes instead a clear and present danger to the Good?
According to [USNA spokeswoman Cmdr Alana] Garas, a group of midshipmen “with beliefs aligned with those practiced by The Satanic Temple” (which the U.S. government officially recognized as a tax-exempt religion in May of this year) had requested a space for a “study group” to discuss their satanic beliefs — and not, as the email in question indicated, for holding satanic religious services.
“The USNA Command Religious Program provides for the exercise of diverse beliefs,” Garas said. “Arrangements were being made to provide the Midshipmen with a designated place to assemble as chaplains facilitate for the beliefs of all service members.”
The problem with the request isn’t the focus on, well, satanism: it’s that The Satanic Temple in particular represents, as Garas put it (emphasis ours), “a non-theistic religious and politically active movement,” the type of which U.S. military personnel are broadly forbidden from engaging with.
“The Command Religious Program at the Naval Academy facilitates the opportunity for the free expression of diverse beliefs, but without endorsing any particular belief, [and] Midshipmen have the right to assemble to discuss their beliefs as they choose,” Garas said. “But, to be clear, in accordance with Department of Defense Policy, military members will not engage in partisan political activities, and will avoid the inference that their activities may appear to imply DoD approval or endorsement of a political cause.”
If I’m reading this correctly, the Academy deep-sixed the request because these particular Satanists aren’t satanic enough (meaning they profess not to believe in a supernatural entity called Satan), and too engaged with politics. The day is coming, though, when theistic Satanists who are not involved with a politically focused form of Satanism are going to ask for the right to have their rites at the Naval Academy. What will the USNA do then?