The Satanists are coming! Some schools in Florida will soon be hosting an after school program run by volunteers from the Satanic Temple. Of course, the good people of Florida are all in a tizzy, what with the Prince of Darkness being associated with evil and mayhem, but there are times when Satan is the good guy. While the Satanic group is particularly choosing schools that also host Good News Clubs, which encourage Bible study and Christian-oriented spiritual growth, the Satanists are not just mindlessly poking at an opening in the First Amendment to be jerks. They have a real point.
Increasingly, kids are going to school hungry and relying on “free” (taxpayer subsidized) school meals in order to meet their nutritional needs and to be able to study effectively. (Sixty percent of children in Florida qualify for free or reduced price lunches.) The Satanists’ after school program “will include a healthful snack, literature lesson, creative learning activities, a science lesson, puzzle solving and an art project.” It’s not hard to imagine how a combination of academic enrichment and some food in the belly could be helpful to underserved kids.
This difference in approach from the Gospel-centric Good News Club is what attracted Amy Jensen, a professional educator from Tucson, to lead an After School Satan Club. She claims that the secular-minded group “encourages benevolence and empathy among all people, and advocates practical common sense.” It would seem that whether this group is perceived as good or bad depends heavily on the perspective of the observer. Once you get beyond the scare words and look at what they’re doing, it’s clear that the Satanists are acting as a kind of social welfare group.
What the Satanists are doing is reminiscent of another social welfare group from a generation or two ago, the Black Panthers. The name may generate images of angry Black people calling for revolution, but they also provided free groceries to families and fed free hot breakfasts to schoolchildren, began an early version of the Head Start program, as well as many other benefits to their communities. These efforts outraged J. Edgar Hoover, who labeled the Black Panthers a hate group. I suppose any group that is working to subvert the dominant paradigm and support self-determination in their communities is going to be called some ugly names and be the target of (at best) mockery and disdain from the privileged class.
Perspective, and the ability to easily perceive the perspectives of others, is a useful skill to carry through life. Who is good and who is bad in these examples? Is a movement good simply because they are one of the accepted, socially approved brands of religion, even though they may sow distrust and rejection of other groups? Is a group traditionally considered “evil” really evil if they’re feeding children and providing educational opportunities, or only if the children receiving these services are from an out-group you don’t like? Once you can see the Other within yourself and yourself in the Other, the incentive to consider them evil begins to dissipate. If you can understand their actions and motivations from their perspective, even if you don’t personally like or agree with them, it is harder to hate or become angry. And less hate and anger is what the world desperately needs just now. Such strange times, when Satan is the good guy.