In the wake of the Dobbs decision I’ve been reading up on religiously-based legal challenges to the Supreme Court’s new orthodoxy about when life begins (and thus when the state has a compelling interest in a pregnancy). Most of the stuff I run across is about Jewish and Muslim objections, since those traditions answer the question of when life begins differently from conservative Catholicism and fundamentalist Protestantism. One challenge based on Florida’s abortion restrictions was recently filed by a Jewish organization. But then I found that a non-Jewish, non-Muslim religious group has launched a pair of lawsuits challenging abortion restrictions in Texas: the Satanic Temple.
The Satanic Temple started in Salem, Massachusetts in 2013 but has chapters across the United States and in several other countries; total membership recently passed 700,000. The name is misleading because adherents do not worship Satan. Rather, they take Satan as a metaphor for the spirit of the “Eternal Rebel in opposition to arbitrary authority.” That can be a childish stance, but the core of the Satanic Temple’s worldview is enunciated in seven tenets that, though vague in crucial places, seem adult and salutary:
- One should strive to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures in accordance with reason. I’m on board except for those last four words, which, depending on how you define reason, could twist compassion and empathy into something I wouldn’t recognize.
- The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions. This time justice is the concept that needs defining before I go along.
- One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone. We’re good!
- The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo one’s own. I’m good on this one too, with a caveat I’ll explain shortly.
- Beliefs should conform to one’s best scientific understanding of the world. One should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit one’s beliefs. We’re up to three out of five.
- People are fallible. If one makes a mistake, one should do one’s best to rectify it and resolve any harm that might have been caused. Four out of six!
- 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. Very confusing. I take it (but am not sure) that by every tenet, they mean the six tenets that precede this one. If so, why does the first sentence need stating? The vague phrases I pointed out earlier aren’t fixed by tying them to another vague phrase like “nobility in action and thought.” Also, I’m very partial to the written word so I need to think long and hard before going along with the second sentence.
A quick preamble to the seven tenets states that the Satanic Temple believes in reason, empathy, and pursuit of knowledge, which contextualizes those vague phrases a bit, but not enough. And it would be better if the Satanic Temple replaced its fourth tenet with a more encompassing principle first articulated two millennia ago by Rabbi Hillel: “do not do unto others what you would not want done to yourself.”
So am I a Satanist? Nah. Even if I found the seven tenets more congenial, I’m not a joiner. Still, the Satanic Temple is on a potentially promising path. It will be interesting to see how it — and its litigation strategy — evolve over the next few years.