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  • Speak of the Devil: How the Satanic Temple is Changing the Way We Talk about Religion by Joseph P. Laycock
  • Brian C. Wilson
Speak of the Devil: How the Satanic Temple is Changing the Way We Talk about Religion. By Joseph P. Laycock. Oxford University Press, 2020. 272 pages. $35.00 cloth; ebook available.

Joseph P. Laycock’s Speak of the Devil is a fascinating account of the rise of The Satanic Temple (TST), a new religious movement that, unlike earlier forms of modern Satanism, has endeavored to change the reputation of Satanism from one of hedonistic individualism to that of benign social and political engagement. Despite its recent founding in 2013 and the small size of its membership, the TST is worth studying, according to Laycock, because the organization has been very successful at driving public discourse concerning religion in American public life in the brief time of its existence. Thus, like Catholics in the nineteenth century and Jehovah’s Witnesses in the twentieth, TST demonstrates the powerful role minority religions continue to play in the United States of the twenty-first century.

Laycock’s book is roughly divided into two parts. The first charts the history and development of TST, while the second addresses how TST has shaped national debates on several fronts.

In March 2012, Florida governor Rick Scott signed into law a bill “allowing students to read ‘inspirational messages of their choosing’ at assemblies and sporting events” (31). In order to push back against what they viewed as a violation of the separation of church and state, three friends, Malcolm Jarry, Doug Mesner, and David Guinan, decided to stage a public rally for a fictional organization called The Satanic Temple, praising Scott for finally allowing Satanists a public voice. Other publicity stunts followed, but by this time a creed had been created and TST began to coalesce into a real organization. This process was accelerated by TST’s decision to protest the installation of the Ten Commandments in front of the Oklahoma State Capitol by demanding that a giant bronze statue of Baphomet, a pagan deity, be placed along-side them, and threatening legal action if denied. (Early deep-pocketed allies of TST included the Freedom from Religion Foundation and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.) All of this garnered national attention, leading to the proliferation of TST branches, which resulted in growing pains such as power struggles within the organization and, perhaps inevitably, multiple schisms, contributing to the rise of more varieties of Satanism than ever before. As a coda to [End Page 134] this part of the book, Laycock looks back at the pre-history of TST, specifically the Church of Satan (CoS) of Anton LaVey, founded in San Francisco in 1966. Here, the author highlights how different TST’s left-leaning progressive social agenda is from the CoS’s libertarian social Darwinism, as well as how difficult it has been to overcome LaVey’s charismatic legacy in order to convince the public that TST is indeed a “kinder, gentler Satanism” (99).

The second part of Speak of the Devil is more theoretical and deals with the larger issues that TST has provoked. The chapter “Religion or Trolls?” asks whether a religion invented specifically to discomfit (“troll”) existing religious traditions can be regarded as an “authentic” religion, a question frequently raised in TST’s lawsuits and in their pursuit of tax-exempt status from the IRS. To establish TST’s bonafides, Laycock invokes Carole Cusack’s concept of “serious parody” and Catherine Albanese’s “four Cs” (creed, code, cultus, and community), all the while acknowledging just how far the group has pushed the ideological limits of what Tisa Wenger has dubbed “religious freedom talk” in this country. In the next chapter, “Satanic Bake Sales,” Laycock details TST’s political uses of “culture jamming,” that is, the inversion of traditionally negative symbols by associating them with good works such as “Satanic philanthropy” (150) or “Satanic after-school programs” (50). Although successful in some situations, voices within the organization have “suggested that combining respectability with outrage is a self-defeating position for Satanists” since it dilutes the transgressive power of Satanic...


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pp. 134-135
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