Gotta love the new style of opinion journalism out there these days. Here we have articles that look like a news piece, present as news but are actually public relations.
Such is a recent piece in the Boston Globe about the Satanic Temple setting up shop in Salem, Mass., site of the 1692 witch trials. The Temple’s national headquarters is breaking local zoning regulations to move there, but that is brushed off. I’m not sure another house of worship –- or unworship –- could get away with that but, well, the devil is in these details.
When The Satanic Temple officially opens its doors on Friday, Salem will become home to the organization’s international headquarters.
But pitchfork-wielding mobs protesting the move seem unlikely, as the fire-and-brimstone theology of the Puritans who once populated the city has given way to a “live and let live” attitude in present day Salem.
Less than a mile from Gallows Hill -- the notorious spot where villagers executed more than a dozen people accused of witchcraft in the 1690s -- an 1882 Victorian on Bridge Street will serve as The Satanic Temple’s first physical headquarters, said Lucien Greaves, the temple’s spokesman.
“The history of Salem is also part of the history of Satanism,” Greaves said. “I feel that [Salem] is a very appropriate place for this” temple.
The Satanic Temple building, which is zoned as an art gallery, will open to the public with art installations, lectures and film screenings, said Greaves, a Cambridge resident.
Then comes the theology insert:
Dating back centuries, Satanism has been misunderstood by wide swaths of American society, Greaves said. Satanists do not worship an Antichrist, or any other deity. Rather, Satanism preaches independent thought and using evidence-based science as a basis for understanding the world, and views Satan as a literary figure representing an eternal struggle against authoritarianism.
Yes, the narrative of modern-day Satanism (at least in this case, with this circle of people) is that its followers are atheists who do not believe in the Judeo-Christian doctrine of Satan. Is the above description the reporter’s own thoughts or something borrowed off some talking points? In the world of traditional journalism, it’s considered professional to attribute such statements to the Temple as to what they say their beliefs are. You can find all this on their web site.
I know that's so 20th century. Also, not everyone might agree that Satan is a mythical figure taking Ayn Rand-like stands against the evil state –- or God -- and for free will.
Eight miles north of Salem is a famous seminary where there might be people with different views about Satanism –- or at least the Satanic Temple -– and who know enough theology to give the temple folks a run for their money. In fact, there are at least five seminaries in the greater Boston region (left, right and middle) where no doubt there’s lots of folks who’ve given some thought to the witch trials, the Satanic Temple or both.
I’m raising the mirror image question that’s been raised elsewhere on these pages this year to ask that if a different sort of group had moved into a historic house in Salem and tried to pass off their international headquarters as an art gallery, wouldn’t the Globe have polled some folks who were against the idea?
Instead, we get an ending that reads as follows:
Rather than worrying about public reception, Greaves hopes the influx of tourists will result in a high volume of temple visitors, he said. As for locals, anyone with doubts or fears will likely come around in time.
“We’re not going to be going door to door proselytizing,” Greaves said. “We don’t want to cause any controversy in the community in Salem.”
Maybe any doubters will likely come around in time, but is it the place of a newspaper to say that?
At least the Associated Press hinted that not all Salem residents are on board with the Temple's arrival. Other coverage by the New York Daily News and the Salem News likewise didn't connect with other local religious institutions although the News at least tried to explain what Satanism is about and was much more direct about the Temple's flouting of zoning regulations.
The Globe story is a case of a reporter wanting to write a tongue-in-cheek article that cleverly wraps up the town's past with the arrival of a Satanic group. What he should have done is ask harder questions about how the Temple could end up in the middle of town with none of the local officials knowing about it. The newspaper that brought us "Spotlight" can do better.