IT MAY seem absurd to start the column with a discussion of American Satanists this week. Isn’t there enough real evil about? But, in a way, that’s the point. Helen Lewis’s wickedly funny piece in the magazine The Atlantic shows up, among other things, just how smug and shallow the secularist assumptions of American progressives are. “The last time Lucien Greaves got into this much trouble over a photograph,” it starts, “he had his genitals out.
“In July 2013, Greaves gained nationwide media attention for resting his scrotum on the gravestone of the Reverend Fred Phelps’s mother — a stunt designed to protest the homophobia of the Westboro Baptist Church, an ultra-conservative group that was then regularly featured on the news.”
But, in June this year, he posed in front of a statue of Baphomet, a “nine-foot bronze deity which features adoring children gazing up at the occult goat deity” — but he did so alongside a former president of the American Atheists organisation, and this man, David Silverman, had been accused of sexual misconduct, which he denies. Worse still, he had tweeted that “Pat Robertson is dead and I don’t care, but a gentle reminder for everyone. This is what ‘anti gay’ and ‘anti trans’ looks like. Not people who support gay/trans marriage and adoption and living your life as you see fit, but stay out of women’s showers and don’t groom kids.”
It was not, of course, the rejoicing over the death of Pat Robertson which got him into trouble. What was judged insufficiently Satanic was the rest of the tweet. Simply to be photographed with such a monster was enough to cast doubt on Lucien Greaves’s mala fides.
“There were calls for Greaves to apologize, to cede power, to reaffirm his support for trans rights. The Temple’s British congregation announced within three weeks that all of its members had voted to leave; they soon rebranded themselves as Satanists in the Wilderness. In the United States, the Temple’s Sober Faction, which had been providing [court-ordered] sobriety programs for people who disliked the quasi-religious structure of Alcoholics Anonymous, also objected strongly to the picture. The faction’s Intersectionality and Diversity Outreach Legion held a Molotov Mocktails event on Zoom to air the concerns of trans and nonbinary Satanists.”
What these Satanists really hold sacred is the Constitution, and, in particular, the clause that prohibits the creation of a state religion (though it appears in practice to mandate the worship of the Constitution itself as an infallible scripture).
Her piece ends: “I came back to something that Joseph Laycock had told me, that the rebellious ideology of the Temple made it particularly prone to internal dissent: ‘How can you have an organization of people dedicated to total individual freedom and empowerment?’”
Although the movement claims to gain inspiration from Paradise Lost, it is another piece of Milton which seems to sum it up better: his preface to The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce: “For though it were granted us by divine indulgence to be exempt from all that can be harmfull to us from without, yet the perversnesse of our folly is so bent, that we should never lin hammering out of our owne hearts, as it were out of a flint, the seeds and sparkles of new misery to our selves, till all were in a blaze againe.”
THE London Review of Books had a balanced piece by the historian Sir Richard Evans on a book by David Kertzer, The Pope at War (OUP), on the evergreen subject of Pope Pius XII (Comment, 15 July 2022).
“If Pius XII was not an agent or a supporter of the Nazi regime, neither was he a heroic resistance figure,” Sir Richard writes. “When [Hitler’s personal emissary] Hessen raised the Nazi propaganda campaign against alleged paedophile priests, the Pope said such cases were deplorable, ‘and when they happen the Church acts immediately.’ As secretary of state a year earlier, he had indeed acted, as a folder discovered [in the archives] reveals. ‘Vienna’, it is labelled: ‘Order to burn all archival material concerning cases of immorality of monks and priests.’”
PROSPECT magazine had a long piece by the Revd Professor Jane Shaw on the Church’s reparations for slavery (News, 13 January). It is notable that she uses the term unashamedly, which the official bodies have avoided for obvious political reasons.
“Not everyone in the Church of England likes the choice the Church Commissioners have made to set up a fund for — let’s call it what it is — reparations,” she writes. “The Save the Parish movement was especially upset that this was a new focus when Church of England parishes are struggling to survive. ”
I worry about the idea implicit in much discussion of reparations that the injustices that really matter are those of the past, and that today’s horrors are merely transient imperfections. What is happening in the Middle East will not be transient.