A young woman from Kenai named Iris Fontana caused a stir at a recent Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting when she gave a satanic invocation. Fontana is a member of the Last Frontier Free Thinkers, a local secular group that rejects incursions of religion into government. She is also a member of the unrelated Satanic Temple.
A lot of people have jumped to the conclusion that if it is "satanic," evil worshippers must be kidnapping babies and roasting them in late-night rituals on the Cook Inlet beach. Not so. According to their website, the mission of the Satanic Temple is "to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense and justice, and be directed by the human conscience to undertake noble pursuits guided by the individual will." They particularly take offense to the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church.
The satanic part is derived from the Adam and Eve story as depicted in Genesis 2. As every Sunday-schooler knows, God created Adam and Eve in his image and gave them free range over the Garden of Eden to eat what they harvested. But they were not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Satan temped Eve and she induced Adam to eat from the tree's fruit and henceforth humans have had knowledge of good and evil.
What Satanists recognize is the role of knowledge and free will in the human condition. To them, and to most non-Satanists, knowledge and the responsibility to make decisions is not a bad thing.
For years, perhaps since its origin, a de facto state religion has occurred in Kenai Peninsula Borough meetings through invocations by largely fundamentalist Christian pastors espousing a particularly narrow theology. Many forms of fundamentalism believe in a deterministic God usually reflected in the term "God's will." All things are divinely predetermined, in this view, and it is up to humans to pray to discover what they should do to realize God's will.
That's quite different from the humanist perspective of the Satanic Temple and most non-fundamentalist churches as well as all of academia where there is no predetermination and humans, through social institutions, bear full responsibility for their actions.
Invoking divine will is an age-old tactic to suppress dissent. For example, the first law code, that of Hammurabi, began with a listing of the gods of Babylon that sanctioned the code. Therefore, to oppose Hammurabi was to oppose the gods. Our Enlightenment founders recognized the danger of this practice and encoded separation of church and state in the First Amendment.
By invoking God's will in borough matters of local taxation, school budgets and zoning issues, the Assembly has unwittingly associated itself with Christian determinism. How can you argue with a vote of the Assembly if they are doing God's will?
So, taking advantage of a shift in policy allowing a broader range of perspectives, Iris Fontana got herself on the Assembly's invocation list and said this:
"Let us stand now, unbowed and unfettered by arcane doctrines born of fearful minds in darkened times. Let us embrace the Luciferian impulse to eat of the Tree of Knowledge and dissipate our blissful and comforting delusions of old. Let us demand that individuals be judged for their concrete actions, not their fealty to arbitrary social norms and illusory categorizations. Let us reason our solutions with agnosticism in all things, holding fast only to that which is demonstrably true. Let us stand firm against any and all arbitrary authority that threatens the personal sovereignty of one or all. That which will not bend must break, and that which can be destroyed by truth should never be spared its demise. It is done. Hail Satan."
On Wednesday evening, a group of Catholics tried to organize a public exorcism of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Building where the invocation took place. The exorcism didn't happen, but the group prayed in front of the building and the nearby Planned Parenthood building in protest of Satanism and abortion. They were surrounded by anti-protest protesters chanting slogans about separation of church and state and women's reproductive rights. It was intense but peaceful.
The tradition of separation of church and state is a principle to fight for. You don't have to be a Satanist to recognize its importance. If people want to pray privately to their god at a public meeting, they are free to do so. But public prayer, be it Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Islam or, for that matter, Satanic, has no place in a pluralistic democracy.
Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Community College.
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