Satanists continue to excel at exposing theocratic bad faith
On the heels of their big win over a school district that was using a false “all beliefs are welcome” cover to distribute Christian propaganda, the Satanists are taking on an equally annoying bit of bad faith regarding holiday displays on government property. As Mark Joseph Stern at Slate writes, there was a series of Supreme Court cases that were intended by both the plaintiffs and the conservative judges to open the door to using government money and property to endorse religion. The excuse to work around the First Amendment is, “If the state opens a forum for a certain category of expression, it doesn’t get to choose who can express themselves or how they get to do it.” When it comes to religious displays on government property, in order to get that Christian display up, the city merely has to avoid the appearance of “favoring one religion over another”. To do this, “officials permit every applicant to construct a religious display” so “they can hardly be accused to preferring a specific religion.”
Why the theocratic-leaning members of our society thought this would work is pretty obvious: Christians are a majority and therefore have the time and resources to create monuments and displays, whereas other groups have different priorities. They likely assume that they can go ahead and have the lavish display of a nativity scene, knowing full well that there’s not likely going to be a mosque in town that has the money or interest in putting up something similar to celebrate their religion. They can say they are open-minded without actually having to put that claim to the test.
Or that was the hope, anyway. I think that many folks underestimated that there are as many Americans that are mischievous as there are Americans who are invested in puffed-up public displays of piety. And, as Stern reports, the state officials in Florida who want to justify a Christian display in the Capitol building have gritted their teeth and endured having atheists and Flying Spaghetti Monster lovers put up their own, competing displays. Because one is fairly straightforward and the other is a weird joke that most people don’t get, they probably figured it wasn’t worth fighting over.
Enter the Satanists. The Satanists decided to push it by demanding their equal right to put up a display of Lucifer being kicked out of heaven. Along with celebrating Eve for eating the apple, interpreting the story of Satan’s rebellion as a good thing is standard issue Satanist stuff. (They are, of course, right. It is creepy how the Bible condemns both intellectual curiosity and rejection of blind faith in authority, and a reasonable read of both those stories are that Eve and Satan are heroes standing up to tyranny.) The state rejected it, claiming that it’s offensive and so there. Never mind that nativity scenes that are obnoxious government endorsements of religion are also offensive. Funny how Christians think they are the final word on what is and isn’t offensive.
As Stern notes, however, there’s a great irony in all this, which is that the very bad faith decisions endorsed by the courts to cover for theocratic horseshit make it very difficult to argue against the Satanic display. The argument that the state has authority over what is and isn’t acceptable discourse? “If officials didn’t want the Satanic Temple erecting a display in the capitol rotunda, they shouldn’t have let religious groups in in the first place. Now that they’ve opened the gates, they have no right to stop the stampede.”
What about the argument that the Satanists aren’t sincere believers and instead are just a bunch of atheists who are pranking the fuck out of them? (Which is true enough.) The problem is that most conservative Christians argue in bad faith—saying, for instance, they believe birth control is “abortion” so they don’t have to admit that they really just don’t want women to have the right to prevent pregnancy—and so now the courts have decided that bad faith arguments are okay.
In the recent Hobby Lobby case, the court considered the claims of Christians who said they believed that IUDs cause abortions, even though they emphatically do not. The court’s five conservatives refused to even consider the plaintiffs’ sincerity, simply taking it on faith that their protestations were genuine. This credulity sets an interesting precedent and puts the court in something of a bind: It would look terribly unjust for the justices to trust Christian plaintiffs while skeptically interrogating non-Christians. With Hobby Lobby, the court may have inadvertently stripped itself of the ability to question plaintiffs’ beliefs whatsoever—unless the justices want to flagrantly favor Christian plaintiffs.
Well, there are a few of them who barely hide their belief that this should be a Christian theocracy, so the outrage that they all but admit it openly likely won’t stop them. But definitely the Satanists are cornering the theocrats, flushing these bad faith arguments out and making it incredibly hard to hide how much the faithful love bad faith. I hope they win, of course. But even if they lose, they’ve outed the hypocrites.