Ethics Observations On “The After-School Satan Club”

It’s difficult to know how to begin…

Let’s start with the unfortunate fact that this is not a hoax, a joke, or a parody. The Jane Addams elementary school in the Moline-Coal Valley School District—that’s Illinois—has approved an after-school club called “The Satan Club.” Here is the flyer requesting parental permission:

Note that it is sponsored by The Satanic Temple, which released this reassuring statement:

After School Satan Club does not attempt to convert children to any religious ideology. Instead, The Satanic Temple supports children to think for themselves. All After School Satan Clubs are based upon a uniform syllabus that emphasizes a scientific, rationalist, non-superstitious worldview.

There, that should put everyone’s mind at ease!

Now here is the school district’s statement:

The Moline-Coal Valley School District understands that there is concern and confusion over an upcoming after-school club at Jane Addams elementary.

The District would like to provide information on the situation. The Moline-Coal Valley School District and Board of Education have policies and administrative procedures in place which allow for community use of its publicly funded facilities outside the school day.

The district does not discriminate against any groups who wish to rent our facilities, including religious-affiliated groups. Religiously affiliated groups are among those allowed to rent our facilities for a fee.

The district has, in the past, approved these types of groups, one example being the Good News Club, which is an after-school child evangelism fellowship group. Flyers and promotional materials for these types of groups are approved for lobby posting or display only, and not for mass distribution.

Students or parents are then able to pick up the flyer from the lobby, if they so choose, which is aligned to District policy. Please note that the district must provide equal access to all groups and that students need parental permission to attend any after-school event. Our focus remains on student safety and student achievement.

Observations:

1. This isn’t a joke, a hoax or satire, but it is a fairly typical stunt by the Satanic Temple, which is an anti-religious advocacy group rooted in mockery. If there is any actual Satan worship in the organization or intended by it, it must be well-hidden. The group’s website doesn’t hint at any Satan worship whatsoever, or any worship of any kind. Yes, it is based in Salem, Mass., which is all part of the joke. It is, as far as I can determine, a purely secular organization that ostentatiously advocates ethical values and conduct. The group’s “Fundamental Tenets,” for example, are firmly based in ethics, with a progressive tilt; the group is pro-abortion. (Satan would also be pro-abortion, presumably.)

2. The group’s ethics comprehension is, however, open to question. The self-aggrandizing Tenet Four, for instance, extols the “freedom to offend,” which is much of what the Satanic Temple exists to do. Intentionally offending people because you disagree with them or dislike them and want to see them upset isn’t ethical. It’s mean, and a Golden Rule breach.

3. The conservative media fell right into the trap, attacking the “club” as proof that “Satanism” was infiltrating the public schools. this, of course, is exactly what the smug Satanic Temple wants, for those with religious beliefs to look hysterical, gullible, and foolish. This is certainly a clever trap: is a club named after the Prince of Darkness that is open to first-graders supposed to be shrugged off as harmless by parents and others?

4. It is a clever trap, and an unethical trap. The group is using small children as props, triggering “Think of the children!” hysteria to make its legal and secular points while attracting publicity as well as new members.

5. The short term intention of the stunt is to get religious after-school groups kicked out of the Moline-Coal Valley School District, and, if that works, other school districts as well. I see no way a school can accept religious group-sponsored clubs and not accept anti-religious clubs.

6. The school is, clearly, terrified of a lawsuit. I’m sure its lawyers explained that the Satanic Temple had the First Amendment on its side. Given the expense of fighting the matter out in court, the decision to allow a faux-after school group that might well never have any students in it even knowing that doing so would mean more anti-public school fury from the Right seems like a prudent one.

Ethics Alarms once had a regular commenter who was prolific and perceptive, and who was also a vocal, atheist  opponent of organized religion’s prominence in society. I would love to hear his views on this episode.

And yours, of course.

 

23 thoughts on “Ethics Observations On “The After-School Satan Club”

  1. The ethical choice is not to play into their game. Deny them then they demand all religious groups be banned.

    It’s hard to have an after school program with only few kids whose parents will sign anything. Just like marchers in Skokie if you ignore them they will go away.

    • It’s a sign of extreme cultural rot, self-evidently. No one with a healthy mind has the time or energy to troll this elaborately against that which they hate. It requires both an extremely decadent society with tons of free time, and a lack of self-motivation to be about the kind of constructive and helpful things people generally use their time for.

      Note that the flyer is largely descriptors of how righteous, morally superior, and positive the club is. That’s the tell that this is a troll. Good people acting in good faith don’t talk about themselves like this. Imagine a club consisting of all of the most generous, selfless, sincere people you’ve ever known. They would never advertise themselves in this way; they’d be ashamed to. People who have done the hard work of introspection—the work necessary to be something akin to “good”— are keenly aware of their faults. Atheist communities (the militant, religiously tribal kind, not the people who simply don’t believe in God) often describe themselves in these sort of perfect, idealized ways — there was once actually an effort among atheists to market themselves with the name “brights” — but in reality, an on-campus anti-religious club is usually just a few white guys making uncomfortable sexual comments and talking about how awful religious people are. Eventually someone will start arguing against consent laws or say something racist, and they’ll start fighting each other. Few people are clamoring for this. There are science clubs for people who sincerely love science.

      The societal rot cannot be stopped once sociopaths start using the language of morality to stick it to non-sociopaths. For every person who wants to start a club on campus to advance a sincere worldview by which people are encouraged to challenge and better themselves, two narcissists will start a “Satan Rules Christians Drool” club to antagonize and confound them until people sour on the whole concept of private groups on campus. For every religious exemption to dress codes carved out to honor someone’s ancient tradition, some aimless troll will put a colander on his head and say, “I’m from the Spaghetti Monster Church, honor my religion, hyuk.” Eventually no one can have nice things and no one can respect anyone else.

  2. What this Satanic Temple is doing is unethical.

    Let us remember that our laws, customs, and traditions (especially the First Amendment in this context) limit remedies to unethical speech and unethical behavior.

  3. While as far as tricks go, it’s nowhere near the one Roger “Verbal” Kint AKA Keyser Söze (Kevin Spacey in The Usual Suspects) referenced: “The Greatest Trick The Devil Ever Pulled Was Convincing The World He Didn’t Exist“, they still put themselves in the Catbird Seat.

    But to paraphrase Wilford Brimley’s U.S. Asst. AG James A. Wells in Absence Of Malice:

    The Satanic Club, are you that smart?

  4. I’m only half-joking when I say it’s cultural appropriation. They don’t really believe in Satan; they’re just using the imagery in order to create an impression. They could just as easy call themselves the Freethinkers Club or affiliate themselves with an existing atheist or secular academic organization.

    In my experience, trying to get people to break down and respond stupidly is the last resort of those with good communication skills, and the first resort of everyone else. Either that, or they’re falling prey to the temptations of the motivation of boldness, trying to break things (in this case, breaking people’s comfort and composure). It’s possible to break things in a constructive way, but I don’t think this application of presentation mindset is doing that.

  5. I have pretty much been an Atheist for as long as I can remember. I don’t have a problem with this group, and I do not have a problem with more religious focused groups so long as everyone has equal access, and no one is pressured to participate in these activities.

    To me one comes with the other, if you want to allow for religious groups then you sort of have to accept that there are all kinds of religions, and things that may not be religions but will have to be treated as such based on how a court might look at it.

    I am a little unclear on the objection here. You note that “as far as I can determine, a purely secular organization that ostentatiously advocates ethical values and conduct.” yet seem to have some sort of objection to the name, or implication of the name?

    You also note that “The short term intention of the stunt is to get religious after-school groups kicked out” but it could just as easily be stated differently that The intention is to ensure that all groups are afforded equal access

    • “some sort of objection to the name, or implication of the name”?

      Seriously?

      Satan is the personification of evil. First graders don’t get satire. The Micky Mouse Club was for fans of Mickey Mouse. You’re unclear on the objection? You think kids under 12 should be offered a chance to join a club ostensibly promoting Satan/the Devil/ Evil?

      Why doesn’t the organization show some real guts and offer a Simon Legree Club? A Dixie Club? Yeah, the First Amendment presents all sorts of opportunities to make mischief: this bit will end with no clubs whatsoever. Is that really in the best interests of society and children?

      • Wow, I hadn’t even thought of that. The satan-as-mascot approach is akin to starting a Hitler club to inflame Jews because you can’t stand that there is already a Jewish club on campus.

        “But you see, we’re just fighting for everyone’s equal rights. We view Hitler as an empowering symbol representing artists, dog-lovers and vegetarians.”

        • Which is ultimately as far as I get with groups such as this. They can claim to be patrons of free-thinking, scientific, ethical curiosity all they like. They didn’t name themselves after Newton or Galileo. They named their group after the Father of Lies, the Great Adversary. They have a cute little cartoon mascot of him, to make it palatable to kids. And it isn’t just a nod to mischief or contrarianism, either. There’s never a cute Kali, offering a bright red knitted scarf to kids. (Which, as a personification of destruction and change, might actually make some sense, if questioning the old ways is truly a focus of the group.) It isn’t Shiva or Tiamat or Angra Mainyu at the top of their letterheads. They don’t hold Loki or the Morrigan up as models of the scientific mindset, for kids to emulate. No, they are not merely anti-religious, they are Anti-Chrisitan. Their snark betrays them, just as their hatred defines them. They intentionally use the figure held up by Christianity as Hatred Incarnate, because this is an Anti-Christian hate group masquerading as free-thinkers.

          Biblically speaking, Satan knows that he is doomed to destruction. He can read Revelation just as well as the rest of us, and he knows all about the Lake of Fire awaiting him. He does not tempt humans with evil so that he has a chance of winning the war – he tempts so that he has as many humans, whom God loves and created, as possible thrown in with him for the rest of eternity. This is the mascot they’ve chosen. What’s the line? “When someone tells you who they are, believe them.”

          Best case scenario, this is used to remove existing clubs, particularly Christian ones. Worst case scenario, clubs like this are used to teach children to associate Satan with Good (and conversely, God with Evil.) To muddle the distinctions between Good and Evil, and to confuse the two until befuddled people throw up their hands and declare that there is no difference between the two. Mickey Mouse Club, nothing – this is the equivalent of the Joe Camel Club, starring the Hilter Youthketeers, and your host – Jeffery Epstein! But you know, for health, peace, and love.

          • “Biblically speaking, Satan knows that he is doomed to destruction. He can read Revelation just as well as the rest of us, and he knows all about the Lake of Fire awaiting him. He does not tempt humans with evil so that he has a chance of winning the war – he tempts so that he has as many humans, whom God loves and created, as possible thrown in with him for the rest of eternity.”

            It’s like Hitler hunkered down in the bunker in the Spring of 1945, knowing he’s lost and there’s no way he can turn this around, Instead of backing down and making things easier on his people, he digs in his heels, bound and determined to bring as many down with him as possible. Not just his most devoted and fanatical followers – there aren’t nearly as many of them as people think – but also the opportunists who never really believed in that stuff but went along with it, the ones who genuinely believed they were doing something good, the ones who maybe didn’t agree with some of that stuff, but agreed with some of the other stuff and those who didn’t care one way or the other about politics. That last group naively believed that they didn’t have to make choice, not understanding that some struggles are important enough to require a choice to be made and that, by not making a choice, they actually did make a choice.

            All theological analogies break down somewhere because, frankly, human beings are not supernatural ones, but this is the closest I can get to explaining where Satan is and what his goal is.

  6. I see that they note on their flyer that students in attendance must have facial coverings to be at the ASSC. So, at least they acknowledge they’re the “ASS Club”.

  7. There are a great many non-religious people in the United States who are content to exercise their freedom to not believe in a particular religion or participate in the exercise thereof. They live their lives every day quite peacefully. Some of them intelligent, genuinely nice people who acknowledge the right of others to choose differently. The law does not allow for anyone to be forced to believe, affirm or participate in a particular faith or any faith at all. Those who wish to be non-religious have every right not to be and are not forced to be anything else.

    Then there are those who organize themselves into these Freedom from Religion activist groups. I’m sure that some certainly do want to make sure the non-religious are treated fairly. It’s been my experience, however, that the goal of these groups seems to be forcing religion out of public life and, ultimately, religious believers out of any position of influence or authority.

    It’s easy to start in schools which have been battlegrounds for the rights of children who are both religious and non-religious. Setting up a trolling club to try to force the hand of objecting community members into pushing back enough that all of the religious clubs are eliminated is exactly what I would expect. The ends justify the means to them. The religious clubs will eventually be eliminated as well as, probably, a great many other clubs to satisfy the Establishment Clause crowd. It doesn’t matter to them that the children have fewer clubs from which to choose.

    When that happens, you will continue to have the rights of believing students violated, as well as believing teachers harassed and, in a future in which the activists become more bold, pushed out out education entirely. It’s a short walk from there to advocate for the elimination of religious believers from academia, medicine, law and politics. The entertainment industry already marginalizes performers with the wrong religious faith or who take their faith seriously. It’s not a stretch that such a marginalization could be pushed across the board. It may take time, but it will continue to slide down that slippery slope because the activists have designated an enemy.

    Remember that it’s not enough to be validated these days. Once your side has been validated, it’s time to destroy those you’ve deemed your enemy. Remember the Facebook meme that had that pithy statement about how the only thing that will happen when gay marriage is legalized is that gay people will get married? That wasn’t the only thing that happened, was it? Memories Pizza in my home state of Indiana had itself cancelled before cancellation was a thing when a reporter decided to ask if they would cater a gay wedding (the place closed in 2018), The Masterpiece Bakery guy was probably the target of a similar Gotcha! All across the country, activists decided that equality wasn’t enough.

    Christians are the first targets. The easiest ones. The ones that the growing culture of intolerance permits discrimination against. Orthodox Jews will be next (remember that Holocaust comparisons are only allowed by Left-wingers). Eventually, the activists will remember that they hate Israel and go after liberal practicing Jews. Because of diversity, they’ll leave the Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus alone for awhile. Once they’ve pushed out the Christians and the Jews, the others will have their turn – their usefulness at an end.

    Because you have to have a target if you’re an activist. And religious faith is a pesky thing that is hard to make go away.

  8. It is easy to forget that, along with non-religious people who are content to go about their business and leave others alone, there is also a group of strident atheists who view religion as a poison that must be actively countered. The person who comes to mind for me is Christoper Hitchens and his book “God Is Not Great”. He, ironically, claims that he wouldn’t want to eradicate religion if religious people would simply leave him alone. This is difficult to relate to as, being a non-religious person myself, I have never felt even slightly sidelined (well, except at my Catholic high school) or pressured by a religious person to adopt their beliefs.

    I give him credit for one thing: who does not discriminate in which religions he attacks, they are all poisonous in his mind.

    • Gave him credit. He smoked and drank himself to death (cancer of the throat, I think) a few years ago, and the world was a slightly better place for it. Now he’s in hell, frying with the rest of the defiant, and hopefully guys like murderer Craig Stephen Hicks, full-time anti-religious asshole Dan Barker and pedophile approver Richard Dawkins will be joining him soon.

      If that sounds a little blunt, it is. I have often said that I don’t give a damn if anyone believes or not or what they believe, that’s their issue. The vast majority of non-believers spend their lives without being offensive. The vast majority of non-believers spend their lives without deliberately stirring up trouble. The vast majority of non-believers just want to do their thing and let everyone else do theirs. I don’t know why this small percentage of non-believers feels the need to be generally hateful and offensive toward religion. I also don’t understand why people don’t call this kind of behavior out for the hatred it is. If someone said something like “all Muslims are terrorists who have sex with goats,” you’d call him a hater, and you’d be right. If someone said something like “Jews kill unbaptized children to use their blood in making unleavened bread,” you’d say the same, and you’d be absolutely right. If someone said something like, “Catholics beat children when they aren’t raping them,” you’d say that was a gross over generalization of a problem and hatred, and you’d be right. I see no distinction between this kind of behavior kind of behavior that involves saying that all religious people are idiots.

      No one has ever been able to satisfactorily explain to me why hating one religion makes you a hater but hating all religions makes you an intellectual. No one probably ever will be. The only question in my mind is whether anti-religious haters are hateful because they are miserable people, or they are miserable people because they are full of hate.

      I say that because it’s a blunt and truthful fact. I have known plenty of people for whom faith was not a part of their lives who were well adjusted. I can’t think of any people who spend their lives hating anything that are well adjusted.

      I’d say more about it, but I think I’ve made my point, and presumably those people have an invocation to disrupt or a war memorial to file suit over. 😆

      • “No one has ever been able to satisfactorily explain to me why hating one religion makes you a hater but hating all religions makes you an intellectual.”

        Dang! I want permission to use that. A great post.

        • Permission granted. More people should use it, and more people should ask that question. Maybe our host can provide a little bit more analytical view of things, since he belongs to no religion but is also not hostile to religion generally.

      • “No one has ever been able to satisfactorily explain to me why hating one religion makes you a hater but hating all religions makes you an intellectual. No one probably ever will be. The only question in my mind is whether anti-religious haters are hateful because they are miserable people, or they are miserable people because they are full of hate.”

        Well, I’ll give it my best shot.

        People who object to the general idea of religion almost always do so because they fear the effects of dogma.

        Most religions developed because they provided a social order that helped a group survive. Their religion gave them stories as they grew up that told them who they were and to do with their lives. These stories also led them away from behavior that would cause the disintegration of the group. However, when people hold onto those stories over the centuries, even as they move to different environments, develop new technology, and meet new people with their own stories, that creates some weird interactions and side effects. (Not to mention all the side effects from the crude threats and bizarre events put into the stories to make people remember them and take them seriously.)

        Dogma is the overregulated form of stagnation: the practice of limiting what a person is allowed to think about. Among other purposes, dogma has been used throughout human history to counter decadence, the underregulated form of stagnation: the inability to resist immediate impulses and addictions. Dogma has its own problems, though. Because it requires you to believe certain things no matter what, even if they sometimes turn out to be empirically false or even harmful, the practice of believing them anyway warps your ability to think critically, at least for most people.

        When atheists or other secular people see religious people using warped reasoning to justify their existing beliefs, that’s deeply frightening to us. To us, any form of dogma is a delusion at best, self-sabotage at medium levels, and a cult at its worst. While dogma can produce beneficial consequences, we’re too aware of how sacrificing critical thinking has gone wrong for people to be comfortable with accepting that risk. We always look for other ways to get the benefits that people seek from dogma.

        To be willing to reject dogma even though it’s comforting is something secular people consider important and worthy of esteem.

        A member of one religion hating on another is doing so because their dogma told them to, or because they have some critical thinking but are still not applying it to their own religion. Of course secular people aren’t going to give them any credit for it.

        Some atheists are addicted to the feeling of superiority from being some of the few to be unbound by dogma. Those are going to be the ones who deliberately associate good qualities with a religion’s villains, just because they’re the villains. They are fools.

        Others like myself are genuinely concerned about the harm dogma had done and continues to do. To use the most obvious example, thousands and thousands of humans have spent centuries marching across the world lying, stealing, raping, and killing, all in the name of Jesus of Nazareth and Moses’s Ten Commandments. I think it’s been well established that Christianity is neither sufficient nor necessary for living an ethical life, so it’s clearly not as all-important as it claims to be. To hear people taking for granted that it’s the only thing worth building one’s life around is… unsettling.

        Depending on where you live it can feel like one of those creepy fictional towns where everyone’s cheerful, but when they find out you’re not brainwashed to be loyal to their deity they gut you like a fish. That’s just to illustrate the feeling, but parents have been known to abuse their kids because the kids’ critical thinking led them to reject the dogma their parents live by, and the nature of their dogma is that the parents have no idea how to constructively respond to that.

        Again, people fear dogma because it leads to cults. Fear leads to anger, leads to hate, leads to suffering, et cetera. (Praise Yoda.)

        Do I think people should address their concerns constructively? Yes, definitely. I think this “Satan Club” is a counterproductive idea born of spite.

        I hope that you can appreciate why people would feel such spite, though. That’s the first step towards dispelling it.

        Does that answer your question?

    • Christopher Hitchens had a fantastic mind and (I thought) a brilliant way of writing, though I disagreed with much of what he said and wrote. But he is foremost a tragedy. He spent most of his life saying God did not exist. His brother Peter – who is a Christian – talked with him many times, to no avail. Chris vowed he would never believe, not even on his deathbed. God was dead and that was it. He discussed it with anyone that would talk, debated it repeatedly on stage, and argued it over and over in his writings. Then, as 2011 concluded, God said Christopher Hitchens was dead…and God said it but once.

      I think I know the winner of the debate…

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