A new documentary is showing the rise of the Satanic Temple religion around the country and explores if the followers are truly evil — or just misunderstood.
“Hail Satan?” is directed by Penny Lane, who said the creation of the documentary took her on a spiritual and educational journey.
“What you see in the film is that it began as, literally, three people with an idea in Cambridge, Massachusetts,” she told InsideEdition.com. “Then within three years they had at least 50,000 members. And within six years, which is the amount of time the film covers, they have over 100,000 members. Dozens of chapters have popped up all around the United States and increasingly abroad, as well.”
Lane’s goal was to debunk the myths about the religion and showcase that its members are not what mainstream religious followers might think they are.
“Modern Satanism is an atheistic religion. There's no sort of belief in supernatural deities at the core. What they do have is a shared belief and understanding of the power of mythology, art, ritual in everyday life, and in forming community and in allowing you to do good works in the world. That was a big surprise, because who knew that's what Satanists believed? I didn't know,” Lane said.
Lane said that since Atheism has been on the rise, its followers are still longing for community. The Satanic religion, she said, helps fill that hole.
“Atheism is on the rise and has been for several generations. That arrow points in one direction, and in the wake of that comes this continuing need for community, for meaning, for all the things that organized religion has given us for millennia. And young people especially are looking for something to fill that gap, and they don't want to fill that gap while pretending to believe in invisible people in the sky,” she added.
A major part of the religion is activism, and one of the major moments of the documentary comes when the group fights for equal representation in government.
For instance, members of the Satanic Temple at one point explain that there are invocations or prayers before city council meetings in Phoenix, Arizona. However, the members of the Satanic Temple were met with protests when they wanted to give an invocation at a city council hearing. Members of the group received death threats and opted not to show up to the hearing.
The Satanic Temple has made headlines in the past. In 2015, members unveiled a bronze goat-headed Baphomat statue in Detroit. The 9-foot, 2,000-pound statue was placed at an industrial building near the Detroit River as supporters chanted, "Hail Satan." They were met with protests.
The sculpture of a Baphomet, which features a goat’s head on a human body with children gazing at it, was originally supposed to be placed near a 10 Commandments monument in Oklahoma in 2012. But the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled the 10 Commandments monument violates a section of the state constitution that bans the use of state property for the benefit of a religion.
“If you're going to erect an explicitly Christian monument on the public grounds, that's cool. You just have to now open it up to other religious faiths to have their voice as well, but Satanic Temple's intention is not to erase religion from American culture,” Lane said. “Here are two religious faiths that disagree with one another about some fundamental things. What do we think the role of the government should be? Should it be to allow each of those groups to have equal representation, or should it be picking sides in a battle and saying, 'Well we like this religion more than that other religion?' I mean that's what the Satanic Temple does is they kind of perform a stress test on the American public for how well we are upholding the first amendment in every case.”
Lane interviewed many members across the country who say they found a place in the Satanic Temple after feeling out of place in other religions.
“For many of them also having had kind of scarring experiences with organized religion in their youth, being told they were sinners, being told they were evil for being gay, being told that they were the wrong skin color to get into the kingdom of Heaven, these were really bad experiences that many of them had had,” she said. “For them to come together and find communion and find fellowship, and find an organizing principle around which to develop their ethics and good works, to find one another and to feel like they belonged for the first time in their lives was really moving to me.”
While Lane was fascinated by the religion, its members and their cause, she did not convert.
“It made me respect religion in a whole new way. It made me think about the possibilities for what religion could be in the future. I always thought religion was essentially an anti-modern phenomenon that would be better off in the trash can. I don't feel that way anymore. I think religion's great,” she said.
"Hail Satan" was released April 19 and is playing in select cities across the country.