God, if you’re to believe the hype, is everywhere. Of course God is like the Ben & Jerry’s of the world of religion, in that he/she/it comes in many different flavours around the globe. Christianity’s version is seen as the most popular, with around 70% of the world’s population subscribing to those particular religious leanings.
But what if Christianity isn’t your thang? Or even the very notion of a God for that matter? This absorbing documentary follows the rise of one particular new ‘religion’ to spring from the predominantly Christian plains of the US of A, that hasn’t exactly been greeted with open arms by its god-fearing folk.
2013 saw the birth of a new religion in the States, going by the name of The Satanic Temple. Its name does the movement somewhat a disservice however, mainly due to the connotations associated with Satan. It was born as an alternative to religious beliefs, concentrating instead to focus on interpersonal relationships between one another, regardless of religion, colour, sexual orientation etc. So if you’re into the whole human sacrifice thing, you’re all out of luck.
The thing is, as soon as you choose Satan as your group’s figurehead, the media will have a field day. And did. The group soon come under fire from all the major networks as being satanic worshippers, and face a constant barrage of vilification, that wasn’t wholly accurate, surprise, surprise.
This documentary examines the membership of the group, who are all seemingly liberal types with big hearts and questionable taste in metal music. It also follows the battle within a number of States, where stone tablets with the ten commandants etched into them are on display within the grounds of government buildings, which shows a lack of impartiality where religion is concerned. So when they request that a statue of Baphomet - a goat-headed, angel-winged demon - be placed next to them for the sake of religious parity, they’re met with some resistance.
Director Penny Lane’s film begins almost as if it were a mocumentary, in the style of 2014’s We Live in the Shadows. It takes a minute or two actually come to terms with the fact that it’s actually a genuine documentary. Once you get over the initial absurdity of the premise, a fascinating look at the idea of religion in the States today unfolds.
Many of the members appear to have a lot in common; they’re social misfits and outcasts, clearly struggling to get a sense of belonging from the society around them. Many of them turned to the dark side for solace, which included playing the nerdtastic Dungeons and Dragons, and listening to said metal music.
It’s when you realise that they are just members of a lost generation with a willingness to do some good, that this need to belong to something kicks in. Many of their gatherings are fundraising exercises for their local communities, as well as promoting blood donations and picking up litter on their highways. Not quite what you would expect the devil's work to be.
They are seen as the sensible ones, particularly when confronted with the religious types, who are affronted by their very existence, who come across as the truly doo-lally here.
There’s also a fascinating account as to how many of these Ten Commandments statues ended up in these government plots in the first place.
By focusing on this one new ‘religion’ – deemed such for tax exemption purposes – Lane’s film promotes a welcome conversation regarding what role religion has in the 21st century, with splinter groups like this, Jedism, etc clearly wanting something that it fails to deliver.
It also offers an argument that it’s not necessarily these new groups that we should be concerned about, but the aggressive reactions by existing religions to them, that are ultimately far more telling.
We’re of the mind to subscribe to the old adage that we wouldn’t be a member of any group that would have us as members (sorry God), but on this evidence, if we had to plop for one, signing up with Satan wouldn’t be the worst decision ever made.