Exploring the crossroads of religion, culture, and science through a Pagan lens

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Hidden Figures and Pussyhats

The new film Hidden Figures tells the story of three black women (among many) who helped to save the American Space Program.  In segregated Virginia, these women battled both racism and misogyny, deftly fended off micro- and macro-aggressions against both race and sex, and figured out the very mathematics necessary to launch Americans into orbit and bring them back safely.  Ultimately, their work helped to win the Cold War.


Their stories have been largely untold until now.  Their lives were mostly unknown by the general population.  Sadly, despite their incalculable service to their country, despite the fact that they fought against all odds and proved their value and their capabilities, the same fights are still being waged.  Racism is alive and well; misogyny is on its way to taking power in the White House.

After the movie, I happened to overhear two people discussing what they had just seen.  “They didn’t complain,” said one person.  “They just accepted things for the way they were and worked harder.”  These two moviegoers went on to praise the three main characters in the film, not for their genius or their bravery, but for being quiet and meek about the injustices they were forced to overcome.  It was, in their minds, good for these three black female heroes to remain hidden.

Someone clearly missed the point.

As a Pagan, I’m proud to be part of a religious community that is on the forefront of the fight for equality.  We aren’t perfect.  Racism and sexism and other injustices still crop up, but large numbers of our community believe in and actively fight for the equality of all people.  To the general public, we are often hidden.  They want us, and others who believe in equality, to remain that way.


With an administration that has openly insulted women and advocated racist and xenophobic policies, those who believe in equality can’t afford to remain hidden.  What is hidden needs to be revealed, and it needs to claim its power.

One way women are doing that is through the Pussyhat Project.  Inspired by President-Elect Trump’s now infamous claim that he can “grab” women “by the pussy,” knitters have created a hat design to bring their support for equality out of the shadows.  They are taking a term usually used pejoratively and taking back its power.  Many plan to wear the knit hats as they protest the inauguration in Washington D.C. and across the country.  It’s a simple, but visible sign of protest.  It’s a method of claiming power and refusing to stay hidden.


Contrary to the views of the ladies I overheard, remaining hidden does not help.  The three women who sent America into space may well have succeeded in changing the culture of NASA, but it took a larger and more visible fight to make progress against legal segregation.  There’s a larger, cultural reason that Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan were unknown before this movie.  The contributions of both women and African-Americans is largely absent from standard history books.  That leads to ignorance about their contributions.  Ignorance leads to hatred and fear.

The only remedy for ignorance is exposure and education.  I’ll be wearing a pussyhat proudly and I look forward to helping my black and female friends shine a light on their contributions to society.





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Virtues of the Goddess: Power

Virtues of the Goddess is a series on the eight virtues mentioned in the Charge of the Goddess and their relationship to the sabbats of the Wheel of the Year.  This is Part 5: Power.


Early in college, I took political science from a strange professor.  He was large and blustery, with a beet red face and an intense stare.  Although he identified as a Libertarian, he would often quote Adolf Hitler to us in German, then take pains to shame us for not understanding the subtle differences between the Fuhrer’s native tongue and the English translations of his speeches.  

As part of that class, we read A Parliament of Whores, an irreverent take on the U.S. government by Rolling Stone humorist P.J. O’Rourke.  O’Rourke’s political views differ from mine, but his book was funny, light, and mostly enjoyable. One particular section, however, still sticks with me.  While contemplating the nature of power and the type of person who seeks to hold political power, O’Rourke wrote:

“Authority has always attracted the lowest elements in the human race. All through history, mankind has been bullied by scum. Those who lord it over their fellows and toss commands in every direction and would boss the grass in the meadow about which way to bend in the wind are the most depraved kind of prostitutes. They will submit to any indignity, perform any vile act, do anything to achieve power.”

Parliament of whores o'rourke

To a young college student, not yet of drinking age, right at the height of the dramatic Bill Clinton vs. George H.W. Bush election, this passage hit me hard.  “But,” protested the young idealist in me who kind of liked that cool Democrat who wore sunglasses and played saxophone on the Arsenio Hall show, “some politicians really want to help people!”  O’Rourke had an answer for that too:

“Politicians are interested in people. Not that it is always a virtue. Fleas are interested in dogs.”

Is it any different now?  Look at this year’s downright frightening presidential race, and you almost prove O’Rourke’s points.  Both sides of the political spectrum have included a battle between candidates who swim in political power vs. candidates who tap into large groups who feel disaffected and alienated by existing power structure.  There is a large element on both sides that sees establishment power as the scum and the fleas that O’Rourke called them so many years ago.  Certainly, they all claim to be fighting for the people, but you have to wonder if their interest in the people is sincere or whether, as O’Rourke believed, they are simply looking to siphon a little blood off their hosts.

So how can power be a virtue, as the Goddess tells us it is?  We all have some relationship with power.  On the various stages on which we act throughout our lives, some have power over us, and on other stages we have power over others.  At work we have bosses and subordinates.  In school we have teachers and peers.  The police officer who pulls us over may have temporary power over us, but once she’s off duty, our powers are equal.  In social groups, covens, groves, or other voluntary groups, we often voluntarily recognize a leader.  Power is a part of our lives.

The problem is more about who seeks it and how they express it.  As we near the Summer Solstice, we come to the time of the Wheel when The God’s power is at its strongest.  He is sovereign at this time, but he uses that power to be a steward of the Earth.  Solstice rituals often involve a theme of standing in our own sovereignty.  Yet, with the God as well is in our lives, the king must be in harmony with the land he rules as well as its people, or his power will fade.  Just ask King Arthur.

The God’s sovereignty becomes a symbol of our own control over our lives.  His example helps us take charge of our own intentions, hopes, and dreams.  With his reminder, we are able to “manifest our change according to our Will.”  We can’t be true magicians unless we stand in our own power, in harmony with our gods and our lives, and the Green Man at the Solstice helps us do that.

It sometimes becomes fashionable in religious communities to deny your own power, to “give it up to God,” or “trust the universe.” Pagans don’t have to do that.  On the contrary, for Witches, “To Will” is one of the four base points of the Witch’s pyramid.  We don’t give up power over our lives to others; we strive to control our lives and manifest our intentions.  You can’t do that without accepting your own power. We can acknowledge our power to work with the universe or the gods and manifest the lives we wish for ourselves and our loved ones.  We can help others do the same.  

Witch's Pyramid

We can hold power without being fleas.  We can use our power to help others find theirs.  We can focus our power in ways that help us live better lives.  Power is dangerous, but so is electricity.  It can still benefit our lives,and the lives of others, immensely.

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Cuba: Breaking the Table of Silence

President Obama announced last week that the United States and Cuba are moving toward normalizing their relationship.  I may have the world’s strangest set of credentials to comment on this.  I have been there twice, both times legally.  I have visited Cuban schools and talked to the students.  I have presented on Cuba at professional conferences, universities, and to church groups.  I was doing research in Havana on the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution (nothing interesting happened).


I have seen Fidel Castro speak in person.  I sat there in the back of the Karl Marx Theater, my passport exchanged temporarily for a translation device, listening…listening….and listening. The man is legendary for his long-windedness.  He spoke for four hours and twenty minutes.  People from his retinue left the stage to use the restroom during the speech.  Smart people in the audience brought snacks.  I was not one of them.

In those hours he said something the to the effect of “Cuba is awesome; We’ve done some cool stuff since 1959.”  And they have.  Leave out his glaring problems for a moment and there are pieces of the Cuban experience that just make you step back and say “Wow!”   This is a Third World country with a 99% literacy rate.  That’s pretty fucking incredible.  They have the best health care in the region, which is freely available to all citizens.  It’s a highly educated, multilingual society that loans their doctors to other countries.  Granted, they often get some payback in the form of food, money, or oil, but that’s life in the big city.  Nothing comes for free.

Havana is not what romantic American dreams say it is.  Yes, there are 1950’s American cars on the roads, but few are left.  The classic cars that still work properly are used as public transportation.  You are far more likely to see a Chinese, Japanese, or Soviet vehicle on the streets than an 1955 Chevy.  Yes, the Copacabana is still there, but it’s falling apart, just like everything in Havana.  Yes, a walk along the Malecón is beautiful, especially when the tide is high and the waves crash over the seawall and out onto the street, but it too is crumbling.  Much like the people of Cuba, who persevere yet crumble under the U.S. embargo that keeps essential supplies away from the island, the island’s infrastructure appears to have very little steam left.


It’s not a fantasy vision of the 50’s.  It’s not a Vegas-style lair of gambling and showgirls.  It’s not a smoke-filled room crowded with evil communists.  It’s a real island populated by 11 million people who are very well educated.  They are guaranteed what they need to survive, but little else.  Buildings, sidewalks, and plumbing are falling apart.  Toilet paper is rationed.  In one public restroom a man guarded the only available roll, loaning it to whichever man or woman needed it.  The Cuban people must innovate, both on an illegal individual scale and on an officially sanctioned societal scale, just to survive.  Innovation and pluralism marks the Cuban society, and the rest of us could learn a lot from that.

There is greater spirit of religious pluralism in Cuba than here in the United States.  The country is officially atheistic, but religions are freely practiced by its people.  Practitioners of indigenous religions live beside devout Catholics, who attend services in beautiful but dilapidated churches.  The Church serves its people, helping them find spiritual peace and physical comfort despite their inability to tithe – just the way Jesus would have wanted it.

Public art installation combining Evil Eye protection, patriotic themes, and support for the release of "the 5." The last of the 5 were released last week.

Public art installation combining Evil Eye protection, patriotic themes, and support for the release of “the 5.” The last of the 5 were released last week.

New Santerians proudly don their white clothes and walk beside Voodoo practitioners, and magic is considered a fact.  Other syncretic and African diasporic faiths add to the rich spiritual diversity, but there is also a large Jewish population.  On Callejon de Hamel, an artist has beautified his neighborhood with colorful depictions of the Orishas, Santerian imagery, and patriotic Cuban symbols.  Every Wednesday afternoon they hold a public salsa dance.

Entrance to Callejon de Hamel, A public art installation that advocates for the practice of Santeria.

Entrance to Callejon de Hamel, A public art installation that advocates for the practice of Santeria.

Public salsa dancing on Callejon de Hamel.

Public salsa dancing on Callejon de Hamel.

Cuba’s spiritual alchemy offers a metaphor for the reintegration of our two societies.  We don’t have to agree.  We don’t even have to like each other.  But we can listen to each other.  We can find the beautiful wisdom in someone else’s worldview and incorporate it into ours, just as so many of the diasporic faiths incorporated the Catholic saints into their pantheons.  We can love without agreeing, just as a the island’s atheist majority is happy to offer housing and free healthcare to the Catholic population.  We can love our neighbor and exchange ideas just as the Cuban people have been doing with each other for centuries.  And certainly, we can advocate our own way of life without intentionally starving others.

Over a half-century of embargo has forced Cuba to implement sustainable agriculture and resource management.  Almost every home has a rain catching device on the roof.  Back in World War II, Americans were encouraged to grow “victory gardens” to sustain their families against the rationing forced by the war.  These kinds of personal vegetable gardens flourish all over the island.

To supplement their personal growing, organic farming has become a specialty of Cuban agriculture.  They don’t have access to the pesticides and fertilizers our farmers have, so they have embraced the organic movement, doing all they can to feed their people from within their own borders, minimizing the oil consumption and pollution caused by long distance delivery.  Farmland is limited on any island, and it’s hard to feed 11 million people with victory gardens and small, local organic farms, but we can learn a lot about sustainability and self sufficiency from Cuba.

Organic farm on the outskirts of Havana.

Organic farm on the outskirts of Havana.

The very idea of homelessness explodes the mind of a Cuban.  One person incredulously asked if it was true that there are people without homes in America.  How, he asked, could such a wealthy country allow its people to live without homes? Many Cubans see through the socialist propaganda, but they just don’t comprehend how we who have so much could allow our countrymen to needlessly suffer.  I wasn’t sure how to answer.  Whatever your political views, over 50 years of seeing your neighbor as a brother or sister has brought a deep sense of kindness to the Cuban people.  We can learn from their compassion.

John Lennon Memorial in Havana.  The inscription at his feet reads "You might say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one."

John Lennon Memorial in Havana. The inscription at his feet reads “You might say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”

Modern Cubans radiate a love of humanity.  My first experience with a Cuban citizen was at the Cancun airport.  On the tarmac, my plane’s pilot lovingly draped his arm around one of his (male) crew members.  There was a sense of mutual affection and comradery that I have seen play itself out multiple times on the island.

During my first trip, I wanted to ride in one of the classic 50’s cars that run public transportation routes around Havana.  I wedged myself in between a couple locals somewhere in the western portion of the city and verified that the car would take me to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Old Havana, the original Spanish colonial city.  I was in for a shock when I was dropped off.

Cuba has a complicated economy.  Tourists and locals use different money. Tourist money, at the the time, was around 26 times more valuable than local currency.  My fare was six local pesos, the equivalent of about 1/7 of a dollar.  All I had to give was five tourist pesos, which was well beyond 100 times the fare requested.  The driver wouldn’t take it.  Another passenger paid my fare in local currency, spending a significant portion of his weekly income to help me out of my awkward situation.  He wouldn’t accept my offers of tourist peso reimbursement, which amounted to a sum that was many times his monthly income.

These are good, generous people who deserve more than the privation of moldy U.S. policy that was born during the Kennedy administration.  The world is a very different place in 2014.

Normalization of our relationship will be good for both countries.  For Cuba, it will allow trade, tourism, and an influx of cash.  This will only help Cuba’s citizens.  History over the years has shown that when the island has more, the people get more.  You don’t have to like socialism, but Cuba has a track record of actually implementing it tenets.  When times are good, the people have more.  When they are bad, the people starve.

Times have been on a downturn since Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, a supporter of the Cuban revolution, died.  It was worse after the fall of the Soviet Union, but it’s pretty low right now.  In 2008, while Chavez was still helping out the Castros, the best thing I could get for dinner in central Havana was garbanzo beans with ketchup.  I hate garbanzo beans.

For the U.S., which is so concerned about not capitulating to a dictatorship, normalization removes what Hillary Clinton called Cuba’s “foil.”  For 55 years, the Castros have blamed all of their problems on the U.S. embargo.  It gives them a boogeyman to blame.  If the embargo were to end, that boogeyman would no longer exist.  Any continuing deprivation, then, could only be blamed on the economic system.  It would expose any cracks in the system.  If the economy continues to fail, it could potentially bring down the Castro regime.  Even Rand Paul admits it’s time to go beyond old, stale policies and try something new with Cuba.

As Pagans, we know what it means to me misunderstood and vilified.  Both countries have been doing that to each other for 55 years.  Born in 1959, the history of socialist Cuba has paralleled the growth of the modern Pagan movement.  Pagans have made their missteps along the way, but so has every other religion.  Castro’s Cuba has hurt a lot of people, but then so has the U.S. in its long blockade against the country.  In the modern Pagan movement, we often talk about experiencing the gods rather than blindly worshiping them.  Let’s allow the Cuban people to do the same.  With an experience of the U.S. that goes beyond their government’s caricatures, they may eventually be able to make their own educated choices.  Plus they’ll be eating again.  They deserve the same access to ideas and choices that we have made for ourselves.

Hidden within a church’s botanical garden in Old Havana is a sculpture so modern it’s hard to believe that it’s in  Cuba.  It’s called the “Table of Silence.”  It depicts a family sitting together at a table, but they are so wrapped up in their business that they don’t even notice each other.  The father reads the newspaper while the mother paints her toenails.  Their daughter bends over a handheld video game, although these days that could just as well be a smart phone she’s obsessed with.  The family doesn’t communicate.  They don’t see the damage they are doing to each other.  They blindly ignore each other and miss out on everything in each other’s lives.

The Table of Silence

The Table of Silence

The message is clear: silence is just as damaging as violence.  It tears apart a family it its own quiet, seemingly innocent way.  It accomplishes nothing and is counterproductive to any relationship.

The U.S. and Cuba have been sitting at the Table of Silence together for far too long.  As in the statue, that silence only gets more and more destructive to our relationship.  Our old policy has not worked.  It will not work.  We need to move away from the politics of obstinacy and petty revenge toward a new policy of love for and discussion with the 11 million people who call Cuba their home.  It’s not about punishing two elderly brothers; it’s about an entire population of kind, loving, needy people.  On this solstice day, let’s change course and work toward a brighter future for both countries.



Surviving Social Media’s Ocean of Negativity

Celebrity wife beating. Beheading. Bombing. Complaining. Outing. Doxing. Name calling. Name calling back. More name calling. Retribution. Cursing. There so much nastiness permeating the world and the internet right now.

So much of it is truly awful. Whether on a global scale, a pop culture scale, or within the small confines of the pagan community, many recent events have fully deserved the anger and attacks they created. Sometimes, as this cartoon about the NFL’s handling of the Ray Rice incident shows, inaction only leads to more pain:


Ray Rice

Photo: sbnation

But the problem I have is that most of the nastiness that circulates around social media, both within and without the pagan community, is petty and exhausting. There’s always someone complaining about life, the universe, and everything. They complain about their work day; they beat dead horses about situations that were resolved long ago; they call out friends for silly things.   We have all this amazing technology to build community around the world, and we use it as our personal bitching platform. If anger and argument were a drug, we’d need a national 12-step program.

Worse, when our newsfeeds are flooded with all that low level complaining, it’s all too easy to drown. And once our head goes under, it can be extremely difficult to re-emerge. So what do we do? We have two choices. Some dive in. They join the rush and ride the wave of constant nastiness. Others, like me, avoid it. We learn to skip over the attacks and anger just to save ourselves.

Either way, we rob the power out of those situations that truly deserve our attention- things like Ferguson, Ray Rice, and vicious personal attacks within the community. Those who are steeped in negativity begin to discuss these topics and the call to action goes out. Unfortunately, those people are often calling to action on every little thing they see in the world, so those issues that truly deserve it get lost in the ocean of all those other problems. Those of us who maintain sanity by skipping over negativity then skip over the really important stuff, and so we remain blissfully ignorant and unaware of them until it’s too late to provide help.

It sucks. We don’t do it on purpose. We want to help when our friends are in trouble, but we are so wary of newsfeeds that cry wolf that we sometimes miss out when the pain is real and action is vital. On the other side, as magickal people we know that the world changes in accordance with our will. When people dish out anger and pain, we will always see the world and angry and painful. It seeps into our consciousness. Research in social psychology has shown that your interpretations of people’s actions are influenced more by your own insecurities, goals, and expectations than they are by reality, mainly because you have no idea what the other person’s inner motivations really are.

There has to be a balance. For my side, I know I need to be better about engaging in causes and issues that that need immediate and decisive action. People like me need to acknowledge that our blissful ignorance is not a good thing. We need our more engaged friends to help us identify issues that need immediate action. We don’t want to be the NFL, conveniently ignoring a savage beating until forced to respond, then doing nothing to help the victim. Here are some thoughts on ways to help us more effectively identify these issues:

  1. Criticize behaviors, not people. When I see a personal attack on someone, I shut down. I have no interest in perpetual drama, witch wars, or personality conflicts. When a person is attacked rather than their behavior, the issue loses relevance.
  1. When people honestly apologize, accept it and move on. To do anything else is to admit you are a drama addict. Obviously, I’m not referring to halfhearted “I’m sorry you misinterpreted me” type apologies, but when a person admits wrongdoing and resolves to be better, give them that chance. How many times do you wish you were given a second chance?
  1. Post with intent. If you are having a hard time and need support, say so and accept the love that flows your way. If an issue needs attention now, post it. But tell us what can be done, and please try to avoid saying mean things about other people (or yourself) all the time. It gets tiresome. Look for solutions rather than perpetuating drama.
  1. Don’t take things personally. If someone does not respond, it is not an attack. Often, they are just busy with other parts of life.
  1. Remember that we are your friend because we love you. We want to see you happy. When you say good things about your life, we will respond with happiness and support. Of course we will support you in times of trouble. We don’t want to be fair weather friends. But brighten your own day and ours by including some fun stuff too.

I love what the Temple of Witchcraft is doing: filling up its own feed with pictures of flowers to disrupt the flow of negativity.  Here’s a pretty picture of a flower:

Rose to feel better


Feels good, doesn’t it?

I’m not trying to ignore the suffering of the world here. Actually, it’s the opposite. A call to action from someone who is constantly calling to action gets lost in the crowd, but a call to action from a good friend who needs help once in a while will get noticed. Friends will respond. You’ll get support. The issue will get action from more people. Everyone will be happier.

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Arizona: Religion under attack from an unlikely source

I used to teach a university course on diversity in education.  The main point of the course was to expose students to people, ideas, cultures, and religions that they knew very little about, while at the same time problematizing our own culture through a Socratic form of questioning.  The idea was to “Make the familiar strange and the strange familiar.”

I often invited speakers who were outside of our normal students’ comfort zones in order to put a human face on cultures that they may only have read about it books.  At the same time, I would invite speakers who were within what they thought were there comfort zone to surprise them with things they didn’t know about things that they thought were familiar.

One of these was an Episcopal priest.  She would start by asking the class what they knew about Christianity.  I always had a few students who were devoutly Christian, but most were agnostic or otherwise noncommittal.  Either way, the first things out of their mouths would always be answers like:


“No gay people”


About 2/3 through the exercise, they would start to say things like:


“Knocking on doors”

“Boring services”

Rarely did they mention the most important Christian themes of forgiveness, love, sacrifice, redemption, and eternal life.  Every semester, I learned that young people have an incredibly skewed understanding of Christianity that focuses on forcing morality rather than on the love the Jesus showed in the Gospels.  And since they grew up in this culture, these views pretty much extended out to all religion.  In their minds, to be “religious” was to be anti-gay, anti-abortion, conservatives who forced their own moral views on everyone else with the threat of eternal damnation.

I don’t believe any of these things, and I don’t believe most Christians do either.  I have enough of an understanding of the Bible to know that Jesus struggled greatly against the Pharisees, fellow Jews who were more interested in laws and rules than in God.  He taught that the most important commandments were to love God and love your neighbor.  Love was his message, yet much of modern society sees him as a poster boy for hatred.

Enter Arizona State State Bill 1062.  This bill would specifically codify the rights of business owners to discriminate against gay people based on their religious beliefs.  Restaurants, photographers, and presumably even Home Depot outlets could refuse to serve gay people because their religious beliefs do not agree with homosexuality.

In the midst of the controversy surrounding the bill, CNN’s Anderson Cooper interviewed Episcopal Reverend Tony Mendez, who bravely went on television to champion the Christian ideal of love, emphatically stating that hatred of anyone, no matter how much you disagree with them, is not a Christian value.  Cooper asked him if, as the bill’s supporters say, religion is under attack in America.  Rev. Mendez answers “No.”  He states that the first amendment gives us the right to practice any religion we choose, any Americans are doing so freely.

I love this guy – except I disagree with him on one point: Religion IS under attack in America.

It is under attack by people like the legislators who voted for this bill and the Center for Arizona Policy, who supported it.  It is under attack by the Conservative Political Action Committee, who just disallowed atheists a booth at their upcoming convention.  It us under attack by people like lobbyist Jack Burkman, who plans to introduce legislation that will ban gay football players from the NFL.  It is under attack by the very public, yet minority viewpoint that says that Christians – and they get the brunt of it as the majority religion – are supposed to hate and hurt other people.

It’s exactly the opposite of what Christ taught, but these people are teaching and preaching this awfulness in His name.  Christ ate with and healed the worst sinners of his day, but these people want to deny them a restaurant table – at their own financial cost – in His name.

Gay rights AZ SB 1062

In short, this minority group of one faith makes all religious people look like assholes.

As evidenced by the repeated results of the exercise in my class, this small but loud portion of the Christian community has poisoned religion across the country.  Christianity, and all religion by extension, has been nailed to the cross of hatred, intolerance, and bigotry.  The growing majority doesn’t believe in that, so they’re leaving.  More and more people are choosing to define themselves as “Spiritual but not Religious.”

Thankfully, Governor Jan Brewer just vetoed the bill.

Religion IS under attack, but it’s not by gay people who just want to secure the rights to visit their sick partners in the hospital.  It is under attack by the subset of Christians who are so obsessed with what people do in their bedrooms that they can’t see straight enough to love their neighbors.


A Devilish Protest in Oklahoma

The state of Oklahoma opened the door, and in walked Satan.  And the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  You can call them “poison pills”; you can call them satire, but they make a perfectly valid legal point.

After placing a monument to the Ten Commandments outside its capitol building, the state is now besieged by requests to place other religious monuments alongside the Christian one.  More mainstream faiths such as Hinduism and Buddhism have done so, but groups that is making the most waves is the New York based Satanic Temple.

Just like the Ten Commandments statue, the Satanic one is funded by private donors.  Outwardly quite peaceful looking but clearly meant to push the buttons on the Christian community, the statue depicts Satan as a seated Baphomet, lovingly accepting smiling children at his knees.  Replace the horned figure with Santa Claus or a religious prophet (and remove the inverted pentagram), and no one would bat an eye.

An artist rendering of the proposed monument from the Daily News article.

Everyone involved knows that the Temple has no real expectations for getting this monument erected.  The Temple has already been denied a holiday display inside Florida’s capitol building.  Florida tried to stay legal, allowing the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and even a Festivus Pole (from the Church of Seinfeld?) access to its holiday display.  But no holiday Satan.  They just couldn’t follow constitutional law all the way to its logical conclusion: everybody or nobody.

These challenges are just going to come more often.  States that continue violate the constitution by placing religious displays on public grounds are just going to keep getting challenged.  Plus, they are going to waste taxpayer money and state resources fighting legal battles to keep their illegal monuments, and they’re just going to lose.  I can guarantee you that no one will place a Pastafarian statue or a Satanic one on state grounds.  Their only choice will be to spend even more taxpayer money to remove the Ten Commandments.

I wonder if there is a fear of open competition in the marketplace of ideas.  The Ten Commandments include some pretty good ideas that should be remembered by politicians.  Certainly killing, stealing, and bearing false witness are good things to legally prohibit.  Avoiding adultery and coveting the possessions of others while honoring your parents seem like honorable behaviors, although I’m not so sure about legislating them.

It’s where you get to the rest that you get in trouble.  No one is ever going to be able to make a law prohibiting other forms of worship in this country, nor will they prohibit working on Sundays.  We tried that before.  It was called Puritanism.  It sucked.  People died.

Now, on the other hand, imagine if legislators dedicated themselves to these rules:

1. One should strive to act with compassion and empathy towards all creatures in accordance with reason.

2. The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.

3. One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.

4. The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forego your own.

5. Beliefs should conform to our best scientific understanding of the world. We should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs.

6. People are fallible. If we make a mistake, we should do our best to rectify it and resolve any harm that may have been caused.

7. Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word.

If these rules were proclaimed by a great leader rather than a group dedicated to Satan, most people would rally to their support.  Is this competition between ideas the real source of fear for those who continue to try to place religious monuments?

I hope not, because that’s also a losing battle.  By placing one religious monument on public property, you are always going to invite others in.  That brings them attention.  Very few people had heard of the Temple of Satan before this, but now they are all over the Internet.  The same with the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  You call attention to your enemy’s ideas.

In the end, religious displays simply don’t belong on public land.  Religion is a private matter between you and your gods.  It is something to be taught in homes and churches, not courthouses or capitols.  Legal institutions must remain bound to that pledge we still say in our schools: “Liberty and justice for ALL.”