To hear Lucien Greaves tell it, Satan has gotten a bad rap, so Greaves founded a church to correct that injustice. Director Penny Lane’s new documentary Hail Satan? looks deeper.
Greaves is the founder of the Satanic Temple and the principal subject of Hail Satan? (and yes, Penny Lane is the director’s real name). But the Temple’s mission is not what you might expect, as the documentary quickly makes apparent.
The Satanic Temple is actually a nontheistic religious and political activist group based in Salem, Massachusetts. It was cofounded in 2013 by Malcolm Jerry and Greaves (also the group’s spokesperson) and has grown to have chapters in 13 states and Canada. The group uses Satanic imagery to promote egalitarianism, social justice, and the separation of church and state. Its stated mission is "to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people.” The Satanic Temple has utilized satire, theatrical ploys, humor, and direct legal action in its public campaigns to "generate attention and prompt people to reevaluate fears and perceptions” and to "highlight religious hypocrisy and encroachment on religious freedom.”
In addition to painting a profile of the Temple, its members, and its mission, Lane follows the group as it goes up against the entrenched religious establishment in the state capital of Arkansas, Little Rock. Arkansas lawmakers had erected a monument of the Ten Commandments on the state capitol grounds. In response, the Temple commissioned a nine-foot bronze statue of Baphomet, a leading figure in Satanist mythology, and sued to have the statue placed next to the Ten Commandments monument, arguing on First Amendment grounds.
While the Temple didn’t exactly succeed, they didn’t exactly fail, either. Their First Amendment arguments carried weight. While the statue of Baphomet wasn’t allowed on the capitol lawn, the Ten Commandments monument was ordered to be removed. (Arkansas lawmakers promptly found space elsewhere to erect their monument, and the case continues.)
Not devil worshippers
Lane makes clear that the Temple’s focus is primarily political, social, and cultural, not religious. Unlike other Satanic “churches,” there’s very little actual devil worship involved. While some Temple members do participate in various theatrical Satanic rituals, they’re more symbolic and social than religious.
Nevertheless, groups like this tend to attract individuals with strong personalities. As the Temple has grown beyond the founders’ expectations, they have to deal with other prospective leaders whose vision does not always align with theirs. Even Satanists, it seems, are not immune to internal politics.
Those who come to see Hail Satan? expecting to see a titillating expose on ghoulish devil worshippers holding debauched midnight masses or orgies will be sorely disappointed. Granted, there is a little bit of that. But Greaves has a clear, issue-based agenda centered around maintaining church/state separation, promoting religious tolerance, and advocating ethical living through respectful secular principles. For him, Satanism is a tool for promoting social justice—and maybe having fun outraging the Christian establishment.
What, When, Where
Hail Satan?. Directed by Penny Lane. Opens in Philadelphia at Ritz East on April 26. For showtimes, click here.