If you want to know what The Satanic Temple is all about, look at the woman who got kicked out.
The documentary Hail Satan?, directed by Penny Lane, briskly summarizes The Satanic Temple’s efforts in recent years to enforce the constitutional separation of church and state. In two cases where monuments to the Ten Commandments were erected on government property, for instance, members of the Temple lobbied to have statues of an occult figure placed alongside them in the name of religious freedom. Via these and other stunts, they brought a “sociopolitical countermyth,” as described by one talking head, into the public sphere.
There isn’t much theology there—the tenets that Temple members recite at one point are all fairly benign expressions of secular humanism—but you get plenty of theology from Jex Blackmore. Head of the Detroit chapter of The Satanic Temple, Blackmore is eventually asked to separate from the group for publicly calling for the execution of President Donald Trump. (“We’re very keen to make sure chapters don’t put out the wrong message,” Temple co-founder Lucien Greaves explains, without a hint of irony.) In earlier interview scenes, Blackmore expresses a religious conviction that Greaves seems to be missing. Inverting the Genesis story, Blackmore says, “If we did not have that opportunity [biting the apple], we would have to be in total servitude, without free choice—and ultimate servitude is slavery.” I may disagree with her understanding of freedom (I’m more of a Galatians 5 guy myself), but you have to appreciate her honesty.
Hail Satan?, as its titular question mark suggests, is more interested in the prankish politics of the Temple than theological debate. With a mixture of cheeky stock footage (including, yes, Charlton Heston’s The Ten Commandments), ironic soundtrack choices, and abrupt edits that function as record-scratch exclamation points, Lane’s film breezily stays above the fray. At the same time, it astutely catalogs the many ways “religious freedom” in the United States has come to mean the hypocritical propagation of politicized Christianity. And that’s a phenomenon that’s been exploited by none other than—wait for it—Donald Trump. Talk about a deal with the devil.