February Feature Interview

Features Lucian Greaves
Co-Founder of and Spokesman for The Satanic Temple
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Lucien Greaves is the co-founder of and spokesperson for The Satanic Temple, an organization whose stated mission to facilitate the “communication and mobilization of politically aware Satanists, secularists, and advocates for individual liberty.” Presenting Satanism as a non-theistic religion, The Satanic Temple has fought to ensure plurality is respected wherever the line between Church and State has been breached. The Satanic Temple is best known for its ongoing efforts to erect a Satanic monument alongside a 10 Commandments monument at the Oklahoma State Capitol building.

JRK:  Can you give Diversity Rules readers an idea of who Lucien Greaves is — where you are from and all that good basic information?

LG:  I grew up keenly aware of the moral panic permeating the talk-show culture during the 80s and into the 90s related to claims of Satanism. Self-proclaimed “survivors” were coming forward with stories of forced involvement in secretive, murderous cults that would breed babies for the purpose of ritual sacrifice, had mastered the art of subliminal mind-control, and were working with twisted religious zeal to undermine everything deemed good and moral in Civilized Society. Claims of a Satanist conspiracy vast enough to have covert support in every community, official agency, and into the highest reaches of Government — a tin-foil hat narrative of the most delusional kind — actually, for a time, enjoyed mainstream attention, igniting nothing short of a literal witch-hunt. Without any credible evidence at all people were sent to prison — some of them stayed there for decades — accused of taking part in Satanic activities that were completely fabricated.

Somewhere in the time that this was all going on, I was growing into my own person, increasingly skeptical of supernatural claims, and especially appalled by the grotesque behaviors of institutions that claimed to hold a monopoly upon moral decency. In fact, given the scandals of the Church, it increasingly appeared that the false claims against Satanists were but guilty projections.

For many years before co-founding The Satanic Temple, I sought out, spoke with, and learned about, self-identified Satanists of all types, developing an understanding of the common elements that draw people to identify as Satanists. This was an introspective act as well, as my own feelings of alienation from mainstream culture and antipathy toward authority helped foster in me a deep affinity for the marginalized and obscure. I naturally identified with Satanism as a way of embracing an outsider status. Clearly, the claims put forward in the Satanic Panic were false, but there is a subculture for whom Satanism holds real meaning.

I became deeply motivated to seek the instigators and learn the causes of the Satanic Panic. What I found was a deeply disturbing failure in our mental health care system that leads back to the general irresponsibility of the American Psychiatric Association (APA). The Satanic Panic was largely spurred along by so-called “recovered memories” brought to light in the course of Multiple Personality Disorder treatment. A delusional conspiracist fringe grouping of licensed mental health professionals, invested in the idea of repressed trauma, is convinced that most any sign of psychological disturbance or malaise is indicative of past trauma concealed in the memories of alternate personalities coexisting in their client’s mind. Hypnosis and other methods are used to draw forth the hidden memories, just as some hypno-therapists believe they can regress clients to remember past lives or episodes of alien abduction. It’s a debunked and dangerous “therapeutic” practice that is still advocated by bullshit organizations like the International Society for the Study Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD). The “memories,”of course, turn out to be bizarre somnambulistic confabulations that tend to align with the therapist’s own leading presumptions. All credible Research Psychology refutes the theory of Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD)(now re-branded as Dissociative Identity Disorder [DID]), and even the head of the American Psychiatric Association’s chair for the 4th edition of their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) agrees that diagnosis is bunk, yet the APA — ever spineless, and increasingly disgraceful — still includes it in the current DSM. To this day, delusions of a Satanic conspiracy are burdened upon the mentally vulnerable by way of licensed mental health professionals. Many of the propagandists for the Satanic Panic — which, again, destroyed lives– suffered no real censure, nor did they correct their harmful practices. Many of them can be found still promoting their “recovered memory” paranoia through the ISSTD. Learning about this, understanding the horrible, evil roots of the anti-Satanist claims themselves — from perverse projections constructed by religious zealots to ignorant therapists promoting pseudoscience — further solidified my resolve to stand in defense of the Satanic. Much of my research into the deranged DID subculture can be found on process.org.

JRK:  You are the co-founder of and spokesperson for The Satanic Temple.  Can you tell us about the Temple, why it was started it and what its mission is?  You also have stated that you helped develop the Temple into “an atheistic philosophical framework that views Satan as a metaphorical construct by which we contextualize our works.”  Can you also explain that more?

LG:  When we initially started The Satanic Temple, we felt we were less starting an organization and more starting a movement. I was quite aware of the varying perspectives on Satanism, and I thought that our taking action, politically, out in the real world, might help rally them to stand and be recognized. I had no interest in being a central figure, or even a spokesperson. In fact, I envisioned that we could be more like Anonymous, in that we would engage in certain actions, fight certain causes, but that we could conceal our identities and remain devoid of a central authority — as our philosophy generally eschews such authority anyway. Public actions, ideally, would be taken on, as needed, on a case-by-case basis, under the banner of The Satanic Temple, wherever deemed appropriate by the people responsible. That being the case, we didn’t care to put too fine a point on our beliefs. It was enough that we were Satanists and we were fighting to be heard. In the context of our First Amendment battles, our beliefs were really quite irrelevant anyway. It’s simply not the place of the Government to judge the legitimacy of beliefs, or give some beliefs preference over others. We had a finite project in mind: We’d make an activist film that would document The Satanic Temple asserting its rights in certain cases for religious liberty, and then, hopefully, the idea would take on a life of its own. That original thinking was quickly overturned, however, when the movement rallied to us directly, as an organization, and my own identity became generally known. We established The Satanic Temple as a legal religious organization, and we’re here to stay.

In putting forward Satanism as an atheistic religion, we’re asserting the legitimacy of Religion as a narrative construct that can be divorced from superstition. It’s strange that this should be seen as radical, and shows to what extent a needlessly limited perspective has co-opted the dialogue. One’s religion is no less important to one’s life and values if not viewed from a literalist perspective. In fact, I should think that a reasoned and critical exploration of one’s beliefs, without blind deference to divine fiats, should serve to further strengthen their justification. In any case, our values, our sense of cultural identity, are no less deeply held for the fact that we don’t worship a personal Satan. To insist that a Religion must be defined by supernaturalism is to concede that supernaturalists deserve certain privileges and exemptions that aren’t enjoyed by non-believers. It implies that atheistic values aren’t as critical to one’s fundamental sense of purpose and being as values held by those who choose to believe that an ethereal power commandeth so.

JRK:  When people hear the word “Satan” or “Satanist” they immediately think of the darker connotation of the word.  The Temple is far from this stereotypical perception in that it is much more of a socially activist organization promoting many progressive causes.  Can you address how you overcome the stereotype and get your true message out about what you do.

LG:  It has been a very happy surprise to find that some of our campaigns have gotten no small amount of support from significant segments of the public. People see the progress we’ve made in ensuring government viewpoint neutrality, and the efforts we’ve made to counter-balance flagrant theocratic agendas, and they are realizing that we promote rational-thinking and hold legitimate, noble values. The dissonance between what we are and what Satanism has generally been believed to be has caused some to assert that we aren’t authentic Satanists. Others, finding their values generally aligned with ours, but finding the idea of Satanism itself to be overly-offensive, decry the fact that we don’t simply call ourselves something else. But the fact of the matter is, this is Satanism and, to us, it couldn’t be called anything else. The reason our Satanism doesn’t look like the Satanism of the Satanic Panic (or previous witch-hunts) is because that Satanism never actually existed. The mythology of Satanism authored by inquisitors and paranoiacs has been constructed of horrific libels and propaganda meant to justify brutal out-group purges. To insist that Satanism is too problematic, too offensive to be openly invoked, serves to tacitly lend credibility to the conspiracy theories that surround the notion of a Satanic threat. It suggests that there is a proper interpretation of Satanism that demands destructive, criminal, and anti-human beliefs and behaviors. Further, it strengthens the perception that all that is Just and Moral is in the domain of mainstream religious belief, and opposition, or a mere failure to pledge fealty, to mainstream religious belief is, by its very nature, evil and immoral. We think it’s important to confront the stereotype of Satanism head-on so as to break people out of this false, dangerous, deeply-entrenched divisive thinking.

JRK:  How is The Satanic Temple different from other satanic organizations?

LG:  The fact that we are openly politically active is a departure from other Satanic organizations. Traditionally, Satanic organizations have been almost exclusively concerned with establishing a monopoly upon the label “Satanism,” which is neither practical nor productive. Not a day seems to go by without some sullen Satanic philosopher trying to impress upon us a more finely-tuned, purer brand of Satanism. I don’t pay any attention to them. The Satanic Temple has its goals and tenets, and we’re here for those who align themselves with those. Nothing we’re doing now in any way hinders or prevents any pre-existing organizations from continuing to go about doing nothing, as they’ve always done before.

JRK:  The issue which prompted me to contact you for this interview was related to religious liberty and the Florida school board’s distribution of religious materials and the Temple countering this by demanding that your literature be included as well.  The separation of church and state was ultimately upheld because of the Temple’s efforts.  Can you give us some background on this issue?

LG:  It was actually The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) who originally apprised us of the situation in Orange County, Florida, where the School Board had, for years, been allowing an “open forum” that allowed for the passive distribution of religious materials to students. FFRF and other secular groups had fought against this clear violation of the Establishment Clause to no real effect. FFRF had submitted atheistic materials to the forum only to be denied on the grounds that the proposed literature was anti-religious and offensive. FFRF filed a lawsuit and the School Board yielded, claiming they would then respect multiple perspectives. Of course, they weren’t anticipating Satanism. Almost as soon as we indicated we should like to participate, controversy plagued the School Board with one chair bemoaning a massive deluge of outraged emails pouring into his office. The School Board tried desperately to allay the fears of the local parents by reminding them that the ultimate approval for which materials could and couldn’t be distributed was in their hands. This, of course, was only true to a certain extent. The School Board could have denied our materials justifiably if it was vulgar or pornographic, but it simply wasn’t legal for them to deny our materials on the grounds of viewpoint discrimination, simply because it was Satanic. I can only imagine their disappointment and despair when we submitted an activity book that was entirely pro-social and altogether above reproach. Now, suddenly, the School Board is struck with the belated revelation that perhaps public schools are no place for religious proselytization.

JRK:  Diversity Rules Magazine is an activist publication that seeks to enlighten people on issues of equality and justice for all in the context of the gay community.  Has the  Temple ever addressed or do you ever see it addressing religious liberty in the context of the gay community’s current battle to fight the religious community’s attempts to not serve gay people because of their convictions which clearly are grounded in discrimination?

LG:  One of the earlier ideas that we had, but haven’t yet had the opportunity to act upon, was to perform a Satanic gay wedding in a state that refuses to recognize gay marriage, and then sue the state for recognition of the union on the grounds that their failure to do so would violate our constitutional guarantee of religious liberty.

In the case of Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) impositions into certain states, the concern is that religious business owners may discriminate based on their simple-minded superstitions. While The Satanic Temple isn’t interested in mirroring the petty behavior of religious bigots, we do have some creative ideas as to how we can use RFRA rulings to our benefit, and we have a particularly exciting idea as to how we will leverage RFRA if it passes in Michigan, where it is now under consideration. Unfortunately, I don’t want to show our hand just yet, but be sure to keep watch of us. Needless to say, The Satanic Temple is gay-friendly, and believe me when I say we can use RFRA to our advantage.

One of the first events we manufactured for which we received media attention was something we called a ‘Pink Mass,’ which we performed in Mississippi. The Pink Mass was a provocation against the Westboro Baptist Church, in defense of Gay Rights, performed by The Satanic Temple at the grave of the mother of WBC’s founder, Fred Phelps. The WBC is, of course, famous for protesting at soldier’s funerals, scenes of tragedies — wherever their fundamentalist rantings against homosexuality might be most offensive. Thankfully, Fred Phelps died last year, but at the time he was alive, and we took a couple of gay couples — one male couple and one female couple — to his mother’s grave to perform a homoerotic ceremony whereupon we declared Fred’s mother to be a lesbian in the afterlife. In fact, I don’t believe in the afterlife and, as I explained to the press at the time, our belief was that due to WBC’s own superstitious beliefs, WBC themselves were obligated — following our ceremony — to believe that Fred Phelps’s mother was gay in the afterlife. We asserted that our beliefs were inviolable, and that regardless of what the WBC might say, we believed that they believed that Phelps’s mother was gay in the afterlife. It’s an admittedly confusing perspective that much of the press chose not to describe at length. The idea of dictating the WBC’s beliefs with our own beliefs about their beliefs seemed particularly poignant given the WBC’s argument, that they have used with some success in court, that belief is inviolable.

Anyway, at one point during the Pink Mass ceremony (which I officiated), I gently — and, I might add, respectfully — rested my scrotum on the gravestone. This act, more than anything, provoked an uproar. By the time the media got hold of the story, we were already well far away from Mississippi, but the local Sheriff publicly announced that our arrests were imminent. He was seeking warrants for, I believe, Trespassing, Vandalism, and Indecent Exposure. None of those allegations seemed to make any sense. For one, the cemetery was open to the public, so it was impossible to see how “trespassing” applied. For another, no material damage was done. We left everything just as we found it, so a charge of “vandalism” would be asinine. Indecent Exposure? Who was I exposed to? The Sheriff continued to make a fool of himself, at one point stating in an interview that our Pink Mass was a bizarre “crime”, one that he had “not come across in a while” — clearly implying that he’d come across Pink Masses in the past. According to reports, the judge refused to sign off on the Sheriff’s charges, but did sign off on a warrant for “desecration” of a grave.

When Vice asked me to comment on what I felt would happen if I were arrested, I replied that “my very presence [back in Meridian, MS] would raise unholy psychological Hell among the sheriff and his colleagues. Just as medieval demon panics gave rise to episodes in which repressed people took the opportunity to act out in mindless abandon—exonerated from their own deeds by the idea of ‘possession’—I believe it quite possible that I could find myself in a holding cell witnessing the Meridian Police devolve into a sweaty, grunting, savage orgy of uncaged homosexuality… all influenced by the idea that they were utterly powerless against my sexual conversion magic. Perhaps they are merely looking for such a scapegoat.”

Finding himself an object of mockery in the press, the Sheriff began to tone down his rhetoric, admitting that I would only be arrested if I returned to MS, and that the charge carried the maximum of a $500 fine with no jail time. Considering that, we contemplated going back and facing the charge, if only we could be guaranteed that the Sheriff could not detain me. Given my comments to the press, I didn’t have confidence I would be treated with dignity. My lawyer looked into it and found that the MS could have me jail for up to a year if found guilty on the vague and ill-defined charge of desecration. With that in mind, we thought no further of returning to Meridian. The actual warrant, however, is only hearsay. I’ve never been served.

JRK:  Another visible effort was related to the statue to be placed next to the one of the 10 commandments in the Oklahoma state capital.  Can you tell us how you got involved in that and what the status is?

LG:  In Oklahoma, at the State’s Capitol Building, there is a 10 Commandments monument that was installed by the Capitol Preservation Commission. As with the case of the “open forum” in Florida, secular groups were in an immediate uproar, and State officials disingenuously claimed the same opportunity for exhibition was available to any private donor who wished to submit a monument. Again, of course, they weren’t anticipating Satanists. We sent a letter to the Commission stating that we should like to submit a monument and they only replied with a request for our proposed design.

The Capitol Preservation Commission didn’t send any guidelines, restrictions, or specifications in their request for our design. We were careful to come up with a design that would meet any community standards, be aesthetically pleasing, and serve a functional purpose. In this case, the functional purpose resides in the fact that the lap of Baphomet can act as a chair. Visitors can sit and have their picture taken at the monument. It’s a great tourism opportunity that Oklahoma should welcome.  In its purest form, it should be noted, Baphomet is supposed to have breasts. The image of Baphomet is one which suggests various binaries and their reconciliation. Baphomet has both male and female elements. The issue of the breasts has been a difficult one in the construction of this monument. On the one hand, I hate to give the sculpture a male chest, on the other hand, I have no doubt that Oklahoma would be delighted if we were to prove stupid enough to give them a sculpture that they could reject on the puritanical grounds that an exposed female chest constitutes “pornography.” The original work-around that I proposed was a toga cloth draped over the breasts. The artist felt that an uncovered male chest looked far better, as did a TST co-conspirator of mine who is directly overseeing the sculpture’s construction. After seeing the various images they sent me, I ultimately came to agree with their position. It was easily the fourth most heated dispute regarding the merits of a pair of breasts I’ve ever been involved in.

We’ve seen (in the press) that Oklahoma has declared a moratorium on new monuments pending resolution of their lawsuit with the ACLU, which contests the legality of the 10 Commandments. But, again, the Capitol Preservation Commission has failed to reach out to us directly, aside from soliciting us to submit our design — which resulted in our expending a good amount of time, money, and resources — so we don’t feel that this moratorium can be retroactively applied to us. After all, the 10 Commandments still stand at the State Capitol (and was even replaced recently after a crazed Christian demolished the monument with his car). We are fully willing to place our monument at the Capitol, even while the ACLU suit is fought, with the understanding that a judgement against the 10 Commandments will have ramifications for our monument as well, likely resulting in the removal of both. If Oklahoma wants to take down their 10 Commandments in the interim, only then do we lose the grounding on which we make our case.

Our own monument is now completed, and we are putting together a legal case against Oklahoma for their de facto rejection of our monument request, due to their failure to reply to our inquiries. Within the next couple of months or so, we will have a monument unveiling event at a respectable Boston-based venue.

JRK:  What are some of the other social causes The Satanic Temple has worked on?

LG:  Children typically don’t receive very humane treatment under the care of traditional religious organizations. In fact, in the United States, many states offer exemptions to basic standards-of-care regulations for religious organizations. Children have literally died in religious daycare centers because of their exemptions from basic health codes. This should be a national outrage. Of course, religious superstition also kills children when their brain-dead parents subject them to faith-healing at those times when actual medical treatment is necessary. As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, I don’t need to further elaborate on their disgusting record regarding children. We would love to find a way to attack these exemptions and have them repealed, though we haven’t initiated such an effort yet.

We have, however, drawn up an exemption letter for children in public schools who don’t care to be beaten or placed in solitary confinement — if that child happens to be unlucky enough to live in one of the 19 states where corporal punishment is legal, or attend any of the many schools that utilize “seclusion rooms”. The child can print our letter of exemption from our website, protectchildrenproject.com, that they then sign and submit to us. We present this letter to their school, placing the school on notice that the child’s religious beliefs are such that their personal sovereignty is protected, by free exercise, from punitive beatings. One of our fundamental tenets is, “the body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.” If a child registers this letter with us, and some savage disgrace still beats that child, we will happily pursue legal action.

Similarly, we have drawn up exemptions for women who would like to bypass narrated ultrasounds and mandatory “informed consent” materials — both meant to dissuade them from abortions — in the event that they should go to have an abortion performed. These exemptions also fall under protection from our bodily inviolability tenet. Ironically, in the case of the exemptions we’ve offered in defense of abortion rights, the Hobby Lobby ruling helped bolster our case. Hobby Lobby argued that they did not have to fund contraceptives that they believed to be abortifacients, when in fact they were not abortifacients. Because of that, it is now pointless for anybody to argue against our exemptions on the spurious claim that informed consent materials or narrated ultrasounds have any medical legitimacy, because it’s been established that what matters is simply whether we believe they have medical legitimacy or not.

JRK:  Do you have any parting thoughts you wish to relay to Diversity Rules readers?

LG:  The time is now.

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