Lucien Interviews Baphomet: Unveiling Day 2021
Any questions? Feel free to ask Baphomet next time you're at Salem Art Gallery.
LUCIEN GREAVES: Thank you for agreeing to do this interview with me. I know you have a busy schedule, meeting and greeting people from all over the world, 5 days a week, at The Satanic Temple headquarters here in Salem, Massachusetts. While I have been the spokesperson for The Satanic Temple since the organization’s inception, you, far more than me, serve as the iconic face of our religion and philosophy, and on this celebration of your Unveiling I am honored to be granted permission to conduct your first live on-camera interview.
BAPHOMET: Thank you.
LG: First off, I want to ask you about your current home and current life here in Salem. You were created to reside alongside another monument, or other monuments of religious significance that reside on public grounds as a means of establishing the balance that you yourself are symbolic of. We first sought to give you a home on the capitol grounds in Oklahoma City, withdrawing our request to place you there when the Oklahoma government yielded to a state Supreme Court ruling and removed a 10 Commandments monument from the capitol. We are currently litigating to have you placed on the Capitol grounds in Arkansas where a 10 Commandments monument still resides, and where government officials expressed blatant viewpoint discrimination in their justifications for preventing your presence there. Now, here you are in Salem where visitors come to have their pictures taken with you, and where you’re indoors protected from the elements and the hostile acts of theocratic terrorists. Do you regret that you are not currently fulfilling your function, or do you feel a sense of relief that your life has undoubtedly been prolonged by these circumstances?
B: I like to believe myself to be a living work of art, one that is not static and passive, forever only to be observed as a museum piece. I am a work of protest, and an object of reconciliation; I am a Trojan Horse with an olive branch inside; I am an idea that can never die embodied in a monument that can be destroyed. My current activities, location, and treatment will always be indicative of a larger state of affairs. For example, my residence in Salem says much about the glacial pace of litigation, and the unequal treatment of differing religious voices within the United States. I was never meant to be an isolated relic confined to its own room viewable only to those who seek me. My meaning becomes clear, and my function is complete, when I am discoverable alongside other religious monuments as both a symbol and result of pluralism. While my life in Salem is comfortable, it fails to do the work I was made to do, and I ultimately hope to spend the rest of my days fulfilling my original mission.
LG: Originally, we argued that we did not want you placed on public grounds unless another religious monument was also residing on those grounds at the same time. We’ve revised that position in light of Arkansas’s attempts to drag out our litigation while they consider every day that the 10 Commandments monument remains standing a victory. Now, if the 10 Commandments are made to be removed, we intend to demand an equal amount of time in which you are displayed at the capitol.
B: This is acceptable. But, as you suggested in your original question when you pointed out that my life has been extended by virtue of my residing in Salem, and as I further suggested by stating that I will spend the rest of my days fulfilling my original mission… you and I both know that it is extremely unlikely that, as a monument, I will survive an equal amount of time on the grounds where the 10 Commandments now sit.
LG: Well, how do you feel about that? How do you feel about the high probability that people will likely immediately set out to destroy you if you are on public grounds?
B: Just as my current location and activities tell a story of disparate legal treatment, hypocrisy, and bureaucratic tedium, my destruction on public grounds would tell a powerful narrative of intolerance, religious hostility, and militant zealotry. It would show, clearly and undeniably, the stark differences between those who approached a question of Equal Access peacefully, and with a solid legal rationale, and those who can not tolerate anything less than exclusive access, privileged treatment, and total control over society at large. I neither desire to be destroyed on public grounds, nor do I fear its probable eventuality if I end up at the Capitol in Little Rock or elsewhere. Whatever becomes of me becomes an important reflection of facts surrounding the political and social reality of the times.
LG: You are but a mirror.
B: Yes, if you want to make a failed attempt to be poetically philosophical about it.
LG: Oh, come on. “I am a Trojan Horse with an olive branch inside”? That’s just colloquial speech, but “you are but a mirror” is failed philosophical poetry?
LG: We were roommates for a while. I spent the initial Covid lockdown here at headquarters with you.
B: I remember it all too well, unfortunately. You walking around in your boxers, eating strawberry newtons, using the lecture room projector to watch your movie nights, and spending entire long nights watching the security cameras, convinced that somebody was going to come to try and destroy us both.
LG: Well, yes, in the run-up to the presidential election, the online chatter was getting pretty scary, and at one point, after riots broke out following the murder of George Floyd, even fairly influential conservative talking heads were openly floating the idea that you should be destroyed in response to Confederate memorials being torn down.
B: Yes, but if you remember, the audience they were appealing to revealed themselves to be too inept to even properly use an online search engine to figure out where we were. Many thought I was, in fact, on public grounds. Most often, they seemed to think that I was already living in Arkansas. Some seemed to think that I was living in Oklahoma, and still others thought I was in Detroit. Some of them thought that there were a whole series of mes, and that I was in all of those locations and more.
LG: The non stop barrage of people calling for your destruction provoked me to write an essay specifically to address the difference between you -- as a monument requesting Equal Access on public grounds open to religious expression, and already having a monument or monuments of that nature -- and a confederate memorial.
B: That kind of reaction has not been merely confined to the run-up of the election, however, so we can’t blame it entirely on bots and political trolls. There has been a good deal of hysteria anywhere we have gone, and both times we have requested Equal Access on public grounds so that I could reside next to the 10 Commandments, there has been public outcry from some elements of the local communities that seem to believe that I would rise up in the night and bring devastation upon them.
LG: So, when I was in Arkansas being deposed -- that is to say, I was interrogated by the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office’s lawyers -- regarding our request to place you on the Capitol grounds, they played footage of the original Unveiling event in Detroit and it appeared that after the performers had cleared the stage and the tarp that covered you was removed, Some of the attendees who were climbing on you and having their pictures taken were engaging in what appeared to me to be fairly mild sexual activity. This was a closed event for ticket-holders, but nonetheless, Arkansas seemed to be trying to make the case that your presence alone on public grounds would provoke debaucherous activity.
B: That’s funny. Did anybody worry that allowing a large cross to stay on public grounds in Bladensburg, Maryland would provoke anybody to nail somebody to it?
LG: Good point.
B: That said, however, I do seem to inspire debauchery in my presence. “Let’s fuck on Baphomet” has always been somebody’s brilliant idea any time any of them has had the opportunity. I could tell you stories, but I care not to relive the events.
LG: Oh, I won’t even touch you with my bare hands.
B: Oh, that’s rich.
LG: As mentioned previously, you are a symbol of balance and negotiation, diversity and reconciliation. The Satanic Temple tries to put these principles into action by fighting for equal treatment. Since your creation, a large community has formed within The Satanic Temple and around these principles. Are you proud of your community? Do you think we are doing a good job, or could we be doing better?
B: Well, how about first, you tell me. You have actively worked to create the structure of this religious organization. Are you proud of the culture that has formed within it?
LG: I am. I’m proud of the fact that we’ve built a religious community for many people who felt alienated and alone, people who may have previously felt that the benefits of a religious affiliation were unavailable to them because of their refusal to submit to superstition, because of their objections to the ethical deficits of many traditional religious organizations, or even because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. We’ve created a “home” for a lot of people who might otherwise have never had one. And of that, I will always be proud.
B: There is that.
LG: “There is that”? That almost sounds dismissive. You see it another way?
B: No. That is certainly something to be proud of, and I do not see it another way so much as I see the other side, and balance my assessment accordingly.
LG: “The other side.” Please elaborate. What’s the other side?
B: While we have attracted a large community of people who are as proud to accept The Satanic Temple for what it is in the same way that The Satanic Temple accepts them for who they are, you know as well as I do that we also consistently attract attention-seeking self-promoting narcissists whose sole interest is in using The Satanic Temple as their personal platform to elevate themselves in the public eye. Time and again, and from the very beginning, we have seen people come to The Satanic Temple trying to hijack the entire organization for their personal gain. We have had groups of people regularly rise up and demand that The Satanic Temple dedicate its organizational fealty to their cause, whether or not The Satanic Temple can be effective in fighting for that cause, whether or not The Satanic Temple has any business as a religion involving itself in that cause, even whether or not The Satanic Temple’s involvement could be counter-productive to that cause. And the threat is always the same: do as we say, or we will publicly declare you as adamantly opposed to the cause that we are asking you to champion.
LG: There is that.
B: You have people come to The Satanic Temple eager to build themselves into a cult of personality. They sometimes openly disparage the organization while a part of it, then when they have reached the point where they confidently feel that they have gained an audience from within The Satanic Temple, some of them loudly proclaim that they have broken away due to a philosophical dispute, even if they were removed from the organization due to clear violations of our Codes of Conduct.
LG: Things like this are going to happen in any organization. Especially in this particularly polarized era of social media-cultivated narcissism.
B: As you said. It has been this way from the start.
LG: Well, yes. Starting with you, actually. Originally, I was naive enough to think that those of us actually actively working on projects for The Satanic Temple could do so in the name of The Satanic Temple alone, which seemed appealing both for the sense of overall community achievement that it should inspire, but also as a security measure, as Satanism was still very much considered taboo at the time. So when Malcolm and I worked with Nicholas Crow and Mark Porter to create you, and then Malcolm and I fought to have you placed on Capitol grounds, we didn’t claim personal credit.
B: Until various people around you at that time, and even a few who were nowhere near you, began to claim that they were personally involved with my creation and mission, even when they literally played absolutely no role at all.
LG: Correct. Aside from the people already mentioned, nobody had a fucking thing to do with any of it.
B: But it did not end there, did it? It has never waned. The problem has persisted and, whether due to scale -- with the massive increase in membership -- or due to this allegedly uniquely polarized era we are in, it has arguably gotten worse.
LG: Are you suggesting that the problem is more in our internal culture than it is a problem of culture-at-large?
B: We are an anti-authoritarian organization that is particularly susceptible to schism due to this philosophical position, and the fact that we openly ennoble rebellion. Unlike theistic religions, we claim no hierarchical monopoly on absolute truth. We have a very large membership which, to the self-promoting fame-seeker, looks like a market for the taking. We are besieged on all sides by people who are eager to profit from The Satanic Temple, either monetarily or in social capital, and many of them do not care if they burn the whole thing to the ground, even if their own gains from the conflagration are fairly marginal.
LG: But I still can’t tell if you’re criticizing us, me personally for my management, or just offering commentary on current affairs…?
B: I do think you could do more to address it.
LG: I feel it’s tact and decorum that typically prevent me from speaking very openly about these things. But we have addressed these issues in various ways. A good portion of our Code of Conduct was created with personal experiences of this type in mind. We recently added language to address the problem of people beginning their own Satanic start-up groups while actively involved with The Satanic Temple because those that use The Satanic Temple as a platform to self-promote also have a tendency to start their own groups while in The Satanic Temple hoping that their group will appear to have some type of official sanction, after which they can break-off from the organization and try to draw attention to themselves by claiming some type ongoing dispute with us.
B: You can put new standards of conduct in the books, and you can use that to remove bad actors, but that necessarily only addresses the issue after the fact. We need to create an environment of mutual respect between the congregations and the National organization, the membership and the management.
LG: Those are platitudes. The Satanic Temple has done its best to allow the maximum autonomy for our regional groups at all times, only limiting them in cases where we think any of their activity might negatively impact the organization as a whole. It is a difficult balance, one that can never be fully resolved, but requires constant deliberation and negotiation. You, of all monuments, should understand that.
B: But you should not merely negotiate with your various Campaign heads and Councils to resolve the problems of lay membership and congregations. You need to speak to them directly to create the culture of mutual respect that you seek. You need to ask of them that they at least have the most basic loyalty to the organization that they do not seek to destroy it, or that they do not remain silent when others try to twist the organization to their own personal goals. You need to empower the ministers to feel confident in saying to the congregants who charge into The Satanic Temple and try to hijack it for personal use that they can go somewhere else. They can start their own thing without trying to take a piece of us with them to start. You need to encourage active members to feel comfortable defending the organization from the continuous internal assaults it suffers so often from people who feel discontent that we do what we have always done, and we do not do what we never should. You need to be more insistent that The Satanic Temple stands on principle and is consistent in its values, and we do not change our values to match the political fads of the times. We stand for Enlightenment values, even as those values have fallen out of favor with many. We stand against tyranny, even as many now claim only a type of benign tyranny can protect us from a tyranny of another kind. We stand for democratic principles, even as many insist that only violence can bring reform. You need people who understand and appreciate what we are, and you should actively discourage participation from those who do not. You can not manage that yourself, and you are not everywhere at once. You need the active community to take on that responsibility with you. If The Satanic Temple can not look upon itself with respect on the inside, it will forever appear inauthentic and unworthy from the outside. The future of The Satanic Temple depends on the internal culture of its congregations.
LG: I actively stay away from dictating behaviors --
B: I am not talking about dictating behaviors. This requires nothing more than letting these concerns be known. Currently, you have a lot of people who would defend the integrity of the organization, but they do not. They do not, based on the misguided notion that they are following the organizational principle of free inquiry, debate, and rebellion, by keeping their silence even when malicious slanders are being spoken, unsubstantiated claims of misconduct are being spread without attempt at seeking remedy through proper channels, and even when The Satanic Temple is senselessly disparaged from within. Of course, you do not want to stifle criticism or debate, but you have every right to point out when such complaints are untrue, unproductive, or fail to seek resolution, instead favoring the creation of discontent.
LG: I understand what you’re saying. It’s just difficult to know exactly how to approach this topic with everybody in a way that won’t be misunderstood, in a way that appropriately expresses that I am not making any demands and we’re not introducing new prohibitive standards of conduct that will inhibit internal discussion in any way, but that this is merely an aspirational goal for what becomes of our internal culture because, as you say, the future of The Satanic Temple depends on it.
B: I don’t know. Maybe you should interview yourself about it and let them all watch it.
LG: Well, there’s a novel idea. Thank you so much for speaking with me, and happy Unveiling Day, Baphomet.