In 2013, a new organisation emerged in the United States of America which sought to support the separation of Church and state, and it styled itself after the Church of Satan as founded by Anton LaVey, most famous in the nineteen-sixties and seventies. But whereas that was justifiably suspected to be an ego trip for LaVey, this was something different, as it saw the rise of Christianity as a political instead of a religious force as a real threat to freedom in their country. Naturally, this ruffled a few feathers, with the fundamentalist Christians believing them to be actually advocating the worship of The Devil, but what they were doing was quite different - they did not even believe.
Director Penny Lane took a humorous approach to her investigation of the personalities at the heart of this documentary, but she had a serious point to make as well. While the Satanists here were quite upfront about not particularly believing in Satan as a genuine entity, despite their call of "Hail Satan!" at every opportunity, it was clear they had set their sights on the raging hypocrisy the Christian Church represented to them, basically one rule for the Christians and another rule for everyone else. Yet it went further, positing that their religious pressure was actively harmful and had been a source of the evil they claimed to be against.
Was this in any way a justified position? Actually, unless you were a fervent believer in God - and many people were who would not dream of watching a documentary with this title - there was a lot of rationality in this, as the Satanists-but-not-really were capable of arguing their case very convincingly. If you were not especially Christian but were sick of hipsters co-opting cultural artefacts then you might not feel so benevolent towards them, but there was an edge of deeply held outrage here that made sense the further this tale progressed. After all, the Christian churches of whatever denominations were keen to have control over the populace's bodies as well as their souls.
That control freakery led them to some very grim places indeed which made dressing up in black robes and doing the heavy metal devil horns gesture look positively innocuous in comparison (lest we forget, the religious have their own costumes to don as well, they just call it tradition). As far as the soul-crushing darkness went, we're talking about how the Church, and not solely the Catholic Church, not only covered up sexual abuse of children by its members, but actually allowed it to continue by protecting the criminals. Or how there was a Satanic abuse panic in the eighties that lasts to this day that was wholly invented, but that did not prevent many innocent lives being ruined because nobody was willing to stand up to these supposed holy people's self-serving lies.
As one man who was victimised for playing Dungeons and Dragons says, the religious were projecting: accusing the innocent of being abusers when they were the abusers themselves. The bulk of the story here is about placing a statue of Baphomet next to what turns out to be an illegal monument to the Ten Commandments (a minor craze kicked off in the fifties to publicise the Charlton Heston movie!), and they have a villain in a reverend turned politician, but perhaps with so much to cram in (politics, pranks, non-violent protest, women's rights, etc) this stood as a little scattershot. Nevertheless, thought provoking and refreshing - and funny, as their stunts were in humorous bad taste, a sense of humour vital in approaching this subject since being laughed at is the last thing the self-righteously oppressive want. While this was largely American in focus, though chapters have sprung up across the globe, the excesses of religion were universal enough for this to appeal to many doubters. Music by Brian McOmber.