At this stage, with a small flock and no defined structure, Mesner remains the primary mouthpiece of the Satanic Temple. (The Temple only has about 20 active members, according to Mesner, and most of them presumably joined in the same highly ritualized way I did—by filling out a basic email form.) The group’s stated theology is vague and benign: Its website lists seven main tenets, including the devilish notion of “acting with compassion and empathy towards all creatures in accordance with reason.”
The group purports to view Satan as “the ultimate icon for the selfless revolt against tyranny, free & rational inquiry, and the responsible pursuit of happiness.” Its website doesn’t directly reference Anton LaVey, the Chicago-born occultist who founded the Church of Satan in the 1960s and inspired a national “Satanic Panic.” In fact, its canon section lists just one text: a 1914 book called Revolt of the Angels, which frames Satan as a theological metaphor meant to bolster the human power of free inquiry.
When it comes to actual devil worship, Mesner has little faith. “I think that idea is silly,” he said. “I can’t even conceive of that actually being the case.” Then he added politely, “I mean, I try to respect other people’s beliefs as far as that kind of thing goes.”
Mesner refuses to distinguish politics from religion, even though that separation seems to be the very cause his organization is championing in Oklahoma. “To say your religion is completely separated from your politics is asinine,” Mesner said. “To me, there’s no way to disentangle the two and I think the way our philosophy works, it ties in even more so. Our political actions are our religion.”
To bring the Oklahoma project to life, Mesner created an IndieGogo page to raise an estimated $20,000. As of January 22, that fundraising goal had been exceeded, with 1,041 people contributing a total of $28,180. People seemed less enthralled with the Temple’s previous fundraising effort to “support religious diversity”—it involved adopting a New York highway in Satan’s name for the price of $15,000. The deadline has long passed and the Satanic Temple raised just $2,244.
Mesner says he hopes the monument will strengthen the position of the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a lawsuit in August challenging the constitutionality of the Ten Commandments statue. “When the government literally puts one faith on a pedestal,” wrote Ryan Kiesel, the ACLU of Oklahoma’s executive director, in the press release announcing the suit, “it sends a strong message to Oklahomans of other faiths that they are less than equal.”
But the ACLU has mixed feelings about the Satanic Temple’s efforts. “For us, it’s not about the notion of picking sides between different religions and different religious ideas,” Brady Henderson, legal director of the ACLU of Oklahoma said. “Our whole position is that the state shouldn’t be in the monument business at all. And so, because of that, we oppose the Temple’s application—as we would anyone’s application who thinks that the government needs to speak for their religion, whether that be the Ten Commandments or a statue of a Hindu deity or a Satanic statue.”