Look among the holiday decorations at the Illinois Capitol this year, and you’ll find a sculpture from The Satantic Temple of Chicago.
But Satanists aren’t trying to convert you: Lux Armiger, chairman for the group, told McClatchy in an interview that “as an organization, we do not believe in proselytizing.”
Instead, Armiger said, “people will know us by our works.”
So, how did the group get approval to put the sculpture in the Illinois Statehouse, and what message are they trying to send?
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The State Journal-Register first reported on the sculpture, which sits near a Nativity scene depicting the birth of Jesus, a Christmas tree and a Menorah in the Capitol’s rotunda. It depicts a snake wrapped around a woman’s hand as she holds an apple.
It’s a reference to a biblical story in the book of Genesis, when a snake — which some interpret to be Satan — tricked Eve into eating the “forbidden fruit.” She then persuades Adam to eat the fruit, which the snake said will make them “like gods, knowing good and evil,” and God kicks them out of the Garden of Eden for not obeying his commands.
That, the Bible says, was the creation of original sin.
The sculpture in the Illinois Capitol also bears a statement that says, “Knowledge is the Greatest Gift.” It joins a sign in the rotunda that says “religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds,” according to The State Journal-Register.
Armiger told McClatchy that the sculpture is meant to push back against monuments about Christianity and Judaism that “have dominated the religious discourse in the state Capitol during the holiday season.”
But, he added, the sculpture has nothing to do with actually worshiping Satan, and is actually a statement about separation of church and state.
As explained on The Satanic Temple’s website, Satanists don’t actually believe in Satan as a supernatural being — but rather view him as a “metaphoric representation” of opposing “arbitrary authority,” religious tyranny and sacred laws.
“The Satanic Temple believes that religion can, and should, be divorced from superstition. As such, we do not promote a belief in a personal Satan,” the group wrote. “To embrace the name Satan is to embrace rational inquiry removed from supernaturalism and archaic tradition-based superstitions.
“Satanists should actively work to hone critical thinking and exercise reasonable agnosticism in all things,” the group further explained. “Our beliefs must be malleable to the best current scientific understandings of the material world — never the reverse.”
Dave Druker, a spokesman for the Illinois secretary of state, said the group was allowed to put the sculpture in the Illinois Capitol’s rotunda because “under the Constitution, the First Amendment, people have a right to express their feelings, their thoughts,” the AP reported.
“This recognizes that,” he said, according to the AP.
Members of The Satanic Temple have been planning the sculpture since December 2016, Armiger told McClatchy. Armiger and chapter spokesman Lex Manticore came up with the idea, which members Holiday Gerry and Rosa Posa turned into reality.
“Chicago’s Snaketivity display has been in the works for about 2 years now, and was the first action we began to develop back in 2016 when Chicago was still an unofficial chapter,” Manticore said, according to Patheos. “Seeing it all come together now is thrilling, and a perfect way to book end our first year as an Official Chapter of The Satanic Temple.”
Illinois Family Action, a group supporting “pro-family issues & candidates in Illinois,” stood against the sculpture in a tweet.
Despite some pushback, Armiger told McClatchy that response to the sculpture has been nearly all positive.
“Aside from the occasional critical comment on a news article or social media post, we have been met with near universal praise,” Armiger said, “which we believe demonstrates a desire for this sort of activism, not only in the Greater Chicago Area, but more broadly in the state of Illinois.”
The West Michigan Friends of The Satanic Temple are also raising money on a GoFundMe page to bring their own “Satanic holiday monument” to the Michigan state Capitol.
“The concept is a clean, bold shape of the Baphomet head as a star with solar LED lights shining up from the base for striking shadow and light, a flickering light emanating from the flame of universal balance will make the lines between them dance,” the page reads. “A nearly complete halo will connect the horns and ears but stop at the bottom to represent the inherent imperfection of the material form but also allowing the mouth of Baphomet to interact with the base to indicate the sharing of worldly knowledge.”
And earlier this year, The Satantic Temple brought a large goat-like figure of Baphomet outside of the Arkansas state Capitol as members shouted, “Hail Satan!”
“The event is intended to be an inclusive gathering where The Satanic Temple will be celebrating pluralism along with Christian and secular speakers,” Lucien Greaves, spokesman and co-founder of the Satanic Temple, wrote in a statement obtained by KATV. “People of many faiths will come together at the Capitol to reject the Arkansas State Legislature’s efforts to privilege one religion over others.”
They were protesting a 2015 law that allowed “the placement on the State Capitol grounds of a suitable monument commemorating the Ten Commandments.”