It's only rock 'n' roll? A Los Angeles Times music critic reviews a satanic trend

It's only rock 'n' roll? A Los Angeles Times music critic reviews a satanic trend

Everyone loves cleverly written stories and August Brown’s recent story in the Los Angeles Times about the new breed of Satanists is most certainly that.

We learn the cool stuff about the edgy folks who are into this movement, but none of the inconvenient truths. In other words, there are complex religion ghosts hiding in this story. Surprise.

So yes, it is entertaining.

In November, in the candlelit basement of a house just above the Silver Lake Reservoir, Alexandra James walked over to an altar where her husband, Zachary, waited near a bleached human skull, teeth locked in eternal rictus. From the altar, she lifted a sword and drew points across his chest while a circle of onlookers watched solemnly (well, a few giggled too). An organist played eerie minor key chords and Alexandra turned to face the group.
"On this altar we consecrate swords to direct the fire of our unholy will," she said. "A human skull, symbol of death. The great mother Lilith created us all, and will destroy us all."
"Hail Satan! Hail Satan! Hail Satan!" The group chanted back.

The story describes how the attendees are mainly artists, writers and musicians who fling around words like “Satan,” “coven” and “witches” without really knowing their meanings.

But a bigger moment came a few hours later when word circulated that Charles Manson had died. Far from mourning a man whose crimes burned satanic imagery into the American mainstream, everyone cracked beers in celebration and jammed on psych rock tunes. ... It was a great night for a heterodox generation of new self-described Satanists who are upending old "Rosemary's Baby" and "Helter Skelter" stereotypes in service of radical politics, feminist aesthetics and community unity in the divisive time of Trump.

Alas, there is no mention, of the gruesome way the Satan-influenced Manson and his companions killed nine people in 1969.

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In nitty-gritty of journalism, the difference between a 'devil worshiper' and a 'known devil worshiper'

In nitty-gritty of journalism, the difference between a 'devil worshiper' and a 'known devil worshiper'

The devil is in the details.

Pardon the cliche, but that old bit of wisdom seems appropriate for this post.

Three years ago, a Satanic "black mass" in Oklahoma City made headlines and sparked a few here at GetReligion.

Now, one of the figures at the center of that controversy is back in the news. As we sometimes — OK, often — do at this journalism-focused website, I want to go old-school Journalism 101 and ask a simple question.

In the nitty-gritty of journalism, what difference do you notice between these two headlines?

The first one:

Devil worshiper files lawsuit against Putnam City Schools

And the second one:

Metro School District Sued By Known Devil Worshiper

I see a lot of you raising your hands, especially those of you who have been reading GetReligion for a while.

The distinction is simple: The first one (from The Oklahoman) simply states a fact. The second one (from an Oklahoma City-area television station) adds a value judgment.

For a journalist seeking to be fair and impartial — yes, even to a "known devil worshiper" — the first headline is better. It's neutral. It raises no eyebrows with the use of an adjective such as "known." Right?

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It's been a great 33 months: My swan song on GetReligion

It's been a great 33 months: My swan song on GetReligion

For more than two and a half years, I've been honored in more than one way to write for GetReligion, a feisty but literate blog on matters of faith in mainstream media. I thank tmatt for the opportunity and for his seasoned guidance. Now I'm taking leave to go local, eliminate a few deadlines and maybe smell a few flowers.

During my time with GetReligion I've learned a lot about media critiquing. I think I've always been good at critical thinking, but tmatt has distilled the tools via a few catchwords: Kellerisms, religious "ghosts," the Frame Game, Scare Quotes, Sources Say, the Two Armies approach. And, of course, his version of the Golden Rule: "Report unto others as you would want them to report unto you." I've learned much as well from the wise, incisive coverage of my fellow GetReligionistas.

Looking back, I think I've been drawn especially to some themes.

One has been persecution of Christians, especially in Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq and Syria. I used to call it one of the most under-reported topics in journalism. But major media, from Reuters to the New York Times to the Los Angeles Times to Agence France-Presse, have finally put the matter on their radar -- though much is left undone.

In the United States, a big focus of mine has been religious liberty, in all its forms. That's consistent with the editorial slant at this blog, with is radically pro-First Amendment (both halves it it). When legislators from Mississippi to Indiana to North Carolina have tried to pass religious exemption laws, they’ve drawn fierce opposition from the expected libertarian and gay rights groups -- but often from secular media, where journalists have often taken sides under a thin veil of reporting.

Clashes between Christians and atheists, whether the secular type or under the brand of Satanism, have also been interesting.

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Devil's advocate: Religion News Service reports on Satanist pitch

Devil's advocate: Religion News Service reports on Satanist pitch

The Satanic Temple has gotten lots of coverage from the Religion News Service. But its most recent story digs deeper into the group and its founder, Lucien Greaves. Which is not to say that the article doesn't have a laundry list of flaws. 

Most of the 1,600-word article is drawn from an interview with Greaves. Some of it is pasted from previous coverage. It makes some shaky claims about the causes of the Satanist movement. And it allows Greaves to attack Christianity again and again, without seeking out the other side.

This update does seem less servile than, say, the summertime feature in the Washington Post. It does more explaining, less campaigning. RNS seems to use a double peg. One is Greave's meeting with the Kansas City Atheist Coalition, seeking allies and kindred minds.  And Missouri is the home of the Child Evangelism Fellowship, which sponsors the Good News Clubs.

Hence the playful lede:

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (RNS) Lucien Greaves is the Good News Club’s worst nightmare.
Greaves is co-founder of the Satanic Temple, a group dedicated to church-state separation. And his organization’s latest campaign in launching after-school clubs for children, Greaves told RNS before a recent talk in Kansas City, is not so much about indoctrinating children into Satanism — he doesn’t actually believe in the devil as a real being, much less one to be worshipped.
Rather, the After School Satan clubs, as they are called, are about making a statement against the government providing facilities exclusively for Christian after-school programs such as the Good News Club.
A side benefit is that the publicity surrounding the After School Satan clubs is likely to bring far more attention — and maybe public understanding — to the Satanic Temple than anything else the group could do.

So we have a good summary of Greaves' grievance: not so much a defense of his faith, but attacking activities of another faith. And we have the story's first flaw: calling The Satanic Temple the "worst nightmare" of the Good News Club. That may sound cheeky, but RNS doesn't interview anyone connected with Good News.

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The Satanic Temple comes to Salem and the Boston Globe does a puff piece

The Satanic Temple comes to Salem and the Boston Globe does a puff piece

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.

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The devil you say: Washington Post helps boost Satanist school program

The devil you say: Washington Post helps boost Satanist school program

Satanists have announced plans for "After School Satan Clubs" in public schools, trying to compete with Christian clubs already there.  And the Washington Post is all too ready to help the campaign.

The WaPo guest writer strives to show that the Satanic Temple is not the devil you know. But the article has a clear twin purpose: dissing the "fundamentalist" Good News Club organization.

At least the writer is accurate about the look and feel of the After School Satan promotional video:

SALEM, Mass. —It’s a hot summer night, and leaders of the Satanic Temple have gathered in the crimson¬-walled living room of a Victorian manse in this city renowned for its witch trials in the 17th century. They’re watching a sepia-toned video, in which children dance around a maypole, a spider crawls across a clown’s face and eerie, ambient chanting gives way to a backward, demonic voice-over. The group chuckles with approval.
They’re here plotting to bring their wisdom to the nation’s public elementary school children. They point out that Christian evangelical groups already have infiltrated the lives of America’s children through after-school religious programming in public schools, and they appear determined to give young students a choice: Jesus or Satan.
"It’s critical that children understand that there are multiple perspectives on all issues, and that they have a choice in how they think," said Doug Mesner, the Satanic Temple’s co-founder. 

You've no doubt read about the Temple's skill in getting publicity. David Suhor of the West Florida branch got people upset in July for his invocation for Pensacola's city council. And last year, Mesner -- aka Lucien Greaves -- pushed to put up a Satan statue on public property in Oklahoma last year. (He gave up after the state supreme court said the Ten Commandments couldn't be set up, either).

The new video "feels like a mash-up of a horror movie trailer and a 'Saturday Night Live' sketch, the WaPo writer chuckles, but says the Satanists are serious about planting clubs in schools. She says chapter heads from four states attended the viewing, with others from at least six cities taking part online. How many individuals? We'll come back to that later.

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Hey journalists, if the Greater Church of Lucifer says it's not Satanic, check it out

Hey journalists, if the Greater Church of Lucifer says it's not Satanic, check it out

There's a new church in the Houston area — and it's drawing a ton of media coverage.

Protesters showed up at Saturday's first service of the Greater Church of Lucifer in Spring, Texas, and the Houston Chronicle gave the clash prominent play in Sunday's print edition:

The centerpiece headline on the City-State section front:

Protesters denounce Church of Lucifer

The subhead:

Spring group's first service marked by demonstrators against alleged Satanism

Alleged Satanism, huh? This ought to be interesting.

Let's start at the top:

Protesters holding signs in Spanish and English stood Saturday along the road leading to the Greater Church of Lucifer as the church in Spring held its first service.

The signs proclaimed the power of Jesus, and one protester blew a horn fashioned from antlers. They said they attended various Houston-area churches as well as a few from other cities and states.

The Luciferians, who use the name Lucifer because it is Latin for "light bearer," say they do not worship Satan or practice animal sacrifice. Most of the protesters refused to believe it.

"They said it was in the news that they were building a satanic church in Spring," said Esther Limbrick, 77, of Spring. She predicted that God would bring a flood that very day to wash away the Luciferian church.

"I'm here to stand against a satanic church," said Christopher Huff, 46, a deacon and self-described evangelist from the Conroe Bible Church. Huff joined others pacing uttering prayers - sometimes shouting them - at the intersection of Spring Cypress Road and Main Street a few hundred feet from the Church of Lucifer. Huff said he had seen the Greater Church of Lucifer web site and described it as filled with "satanic symbols and lies."

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Did the devil make an Oklahoma man smash into Ten Commandments monument? Or did mental illness?

Did the devil make an Oklahoma man smash into Ten Commandments monument? Or did mental illness?

When a man smashed his car into a controversial Ten Commandments monument outside the Oklahoma Capitol recently, it made national news.

Authorities reported that 29-year-old Michael Tate Reed II said "Satan told him to do it," and even though the suspect was taken to a mental health facility, predictable headlines followed.

But did the devil really make him do it? 

Or did mental illness?

My late grandfather Earl Nanney, a Southern Baptist, was a sweet man who rose before dawn on Sundays and played gospel music at an ungodly volume. But he battled mental illness all his adult life. My late grandmother Edith Nanney dealt with Grandpa’s frequent stints in jail and mental hospitals.

My family's experience makes me sensitive to others whose loved ones struggle with mental illness.

I was pleased to see The Oklahoman — in Sunday's edition — dig deeper into Reed's case and produce an in-depth piece of real journalism on the challenges that he and his family have faced.

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Devil's in the details: Oklahoma journalists cover Satanic 'black mass'

Devil's in the details: Oklahoma journalists cover Satanic 'black mass'

While most of her Godbeat colleagues were in Atlanta enjoying #RNA2014 this past weekend, The Oklahoman's longtime religion editor Carla Hinton remained in her home state of Oklahoma to cover a big news story.

If you're a regular GetReligion reader, you've seen our past posts on the national media attention leading up to Sunday's Satanic "black mass" in Oklahoma City.

For good background on the black mass, check out Tulsa World religion writer Bill Sherman's excellent interview with the Satanic organizer. Sherman produced a good story, too, on Monsignor Patrick Brankin, a Catholic exorcist who reports increasing demonic activity. From that story:

Bishop Edward J. Slattery of the Diocese of Tulsa said the practice of exorcism is gaining ground in the Catholic Church.

This summer the Vatican formally recognized the International Association of Exorcists, an organization of Catholic exorcists to which Brankin belongs. Exorcism conferences are held at the Vatican.

When Slattery arrived in Tulsa 20 years ago, he said, the diocese was getting about one call a year concerning demonic activity, and those callers were determined to have psychological problems, not demon possession.

“But in the last few years, we’re seeing more demonic activity,” he said, a trend he attributes to an increasingly secular society that has turned to Ouija boards, witchcraft, astrology, fortune telling and other occult practices that “open the door to the demonic.”

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