Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The highway to theocracy

Two stories popped up just in the last couple of days that have me shaking my head.

First, we have a story out of New York City, where the local Satanic Temple is trying to crowdsource a project to acquire funding that would allow them to be part of the state's Adopt-a-Highway program.  [Source]

The Church of Satan, whose actions in this regard are being chronicled by Spectacle Films, Inc. for a possible documentary, is soliciting donations through the crowdsourcing site Indiegogo.  (Here's a link to the donation site.)  According to the article linked above, written by Sarah Wilson of Illuminati conspiracy theory fame, the church claims to have innocent motives:

Why would the Satanic Temple wish to join the adopt-a-highway program? The group says that they would like to use the opportunity to enhance the public's understanding of Satanism, and hopefully gain a bit more acceptance within the community. The Satanic Temple would uphold the voluntary upkeep (including ridding the area of garbage) of a stretch of public highway for at least two years. They also plan to do a little landscaping as well.

In order to adopt their own piece of highway and maintain clean-up duties for the two years, the Temple must pay an estimated $10,000, which is why they are accepting donations by using the crowd-source funding option of
Of course, Wilson isn't buying that they're really just trying to do their part to care for the community:
If the group gains approval, the New York Department of Transportation will post the all-too-known blue-and-white sign acknowledging the adopting party (in which case, it would say Satanic Temple), and in the end, gain promotion for a group that is not readily embraced by the general public. Why? Because although the Satanic Temple hopes to use this action to spread their message of "Satanic civic pride and social responsibility," those associated with the Temple still believe in and worship Satan.
You should keep in mind, however, that Wilson is the same person who thought that BeyoncĂ© made magical Illuminati signs at the Superbowl this year and that's why they had a power failure, so anything she claims should be taken with a grain of salt.  Be that as it may, she is undoubtedly correct that having signs that say "This section of highway has been adopted by THE CHURCH OF SATAN" isn't going to go down well with a good many people.  In fact, I can say with some certainty that 34% of Americans are going to take serious issue with it, which brings me to our second story.

A story in Huffington Post yesterday describes a YouGov Omnibus poll taken this spring in which a random sampling of Americans were asked two questions:
1) Would you support a measure that would make Christianity the official religion of your state?

2) Would you support a constitutional amendment that would make Christianity the official religion of the United States?
34% of the Americans polled answered yes to the first one, and 32% to the second.

"This was a national poll," writes the author of the article, Fred Rich.  "Imagine what the numbers must have been in Alabama, Kansas, and Oklahoma."

So, once again we have the mystifying desire on the part of one third of Americans to turn the United States into a theocracy.  Which, of course, makes it abundantly clear why this group is consistently the same bunch that howls about claims that Sharia law will be instituted in the United States, and are certainly the ones who would flip out if "Adopt-a-Highway: Satanic Temple of New York" signs appeared by the roadside.  The problem is not (in the first case) that people are using an antiquated book of bizarre, arbitrary, and inhumane rules to govern their behavior, nor (in the second) that some group of people who worship an almost certainly nonexistent being want a chance to throw that fact in the public's face.  No, the motivation is just fine with them.

The problem is that it isn't the right book of bizarre, arbitrary, and inhumane rules, and the right almost certainly nonexistent being.

Now, I'm not going to debate the second part; I've gone into the reasons for my atheism in enough detail here that anyone who is a regular reader will not need to be reminded in that regard.  But if you objected to the first statement -- that the Christian Bible is just as weird and bloodthirsty as the worst sections of the Qu'ran -- I would suggest that you that you haven't read it very carefully.  People like to quote the happy parts of the Bible, such as Matthew 19:14: "Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.'"  They conveniently forget Psalm 137:9:  "Blessed shall he be who takes your babies and dashes them against the rock!"  People who call the Muslims barbarians for stoning people for having sex outside of marriage forget how many offenses in the Bible called for stoning to death, including teenagers being rebellious (Deuteronomy 21:18-21) and gathering firewood on the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32-36).

Even people who are fond of using the bible to justify their hatred of gays and lesbians, who cite Leviticus 20:13 as their support -- "You shall not lie with a man as one does with a woman" -- conveniently don't mention that the next bit goes, "They are both to be put to death, and let their blood be on their own heads."

So, tell me honestly, those of you who would love to see the United States become a Christian theocracy; are you really eager to institute biblical rules for governing life?  I doubt seriously whether even the most devout Christians are "living biblically" right now.  If they were, they'd be in jail.

As far as I'm concerned, I have no problem with the Church of Satan adopting a highway in New York.  We've got too much damn litter and too few people who are willing to pick it up, and I don't see how it matters if it's picked up by someone who thinks it makes sense to worship a guy with horns and goats' feet.  If you think that the biblical God is somehow better than Satan, I suggest you go through your bible and do a body count -- count up the number of people killed by Satan and the number killed by God directly, or on his command.  One writer, with far more patience and time than I have, has combed the bible, and found that the count puts God in the lead, at God's 2,476,633 people murdered as compared to Satan's 10.  So if Satan wants to catch up, in the evil department, he'd best get busy.

Of course, in my opinion, they're both imaginary friends, but I suspect you knew I'd say that.  I guess the bottom line is that you need to be picking up trash for the right imaginary friend to get any kind of approval.

And to those of you who really think that a theocracy is the way to go, I suggest you look, honestly and impartially, at how such a method of governance has worked in places like Saudi Arabia and Iran.  Then go, and read your bible, and consider carefully what life would really be like if those rules were instituted, not just for true believers, but for everyone.  Consider what life was like when the religious leaders did run the government and the justice system, and created such wonderful institutions as the Inquisition and the Crusades.

If at that point you still tell me that we'd be better off having Christianity as the state religion, then I suspect that either (1) you're lying, or (2) you're batshit crazy.  And in neither case should we take what you say seriously.


  1. 34% of your citizens scare the living crap out of me and this article is reason #1,867 I am glad to be Canadian. Even with our current government's Reformist roots (think, Tea Party Republicans but WAY more polite) Canada has done a pretty good job with the separation of church and state. Sure, we have our fair share of religious nutbars, but for the most part the religion folks keep to themselves and things run pretty smoothly.

  2. Clearly the writer of the objection to the Church of Satan adopting a stretch of highway doesn't know a thing about the CoS. Nor, clearly, do you. Not that that's surprising. The name the group chose make that pretty much inevitable.

    However, the CoS does NOT worship Satan. In fact, they don't believe in either Satan or God.

    Here is a link to the Fundamental Beliefs on the CoS website:

    Brief excerpt: "Why do Satanists worship The Devil?

    We don’t. Satanists are atheists. We see the universe as being indifferent to us, and so all morals and values are subjective human constructions.

    Our position is to be self-centered, with ourselves being the most important person (the “God”) of our subjective universe, so we are sometimes said to worship ourselves. Our current High Priest Gilmore calls this the step moving from being an atheist to being an “I-Theist.”

    Satan to us is a symbol of pride, liberty and individualism, and it serves as an external metaphorical projection of our highest personal potential. We do not believe in Satan as a being or person."

    I dislike the self-centered nature of the CoS (and their statement of belief makes it seem to me that they don't really care about cleaning up highways, it's just a publicity ploy), but wanted to clear up the misconception about the group.

    1. Thanks for the correction, and I appreciate it. I never want to be laboring under a misapprehension.

      Thank you for the comment.

  3. If the the Constitution was amended to make Christianity the state religion, which one of the 40,000 different churches would that be ? Even breaking down to major churches, there are at least 5.

  4. Naming your Religion after the evil incarnate construct of another religion you defy is funny, and will gain you the publicity that results in membership... though I have zero sympathy when you have trouble endearing yourself to the status quo.

    Might as well make a band with the name "Don't listen. We suck." and then wonder why you can't sell records.

    1. "Hey, Tiny, who's playing today?
      Jolly Green Giants and the Shitty Beatles.
      Shitty Beatles? Are they any good?
      They suck."

    2. Hilarious!

      "If you're gonna spew, spew into this."

  5. I suddenly had a vision of Angus Young seeing that Adopt-a-Highway sign from the tourbus and yelling back to the guys, "Hey! Guess what effin' highway we're on..."

  6. The term "state religion" is not as loaded for everyone as it is for atheists.
    If you asked the average joe what a "state religion" should entail, they might think it no more significant to name Christianity their state religion then to name the spotty-tailed wood-thrush their state bird.
    That doesn't mean they support a birdocracy where people who like other birds (or no birds at all) must needs be persecuted.

    I would guess that the same thirty-some percent if asked the question "should Christianity or Christians enjoy any special privilege in your state that is not extended to non-Christians? You would get fairly close to a unanimous "no".

    Taking the leap that 30+ percent of Americans would support a theocracy based on this pole is, I think, a bit of a stretch.
    It hangs your whole argument on semantics that are almost certainly not universal among those poled.

    BTW: I love your blog and read it regularly.

    1. Considering your reworded question, you may be right, but actually no, you're not. As of 2011, 65% favored teacher-led prayer in public schools, and I suspect very few of those would say it was okay if it were a Buddhist or Muslim prayer. As of 2012, 46% believe the creationist myth, and as the continuing battle over this shows, many of them would like it taught in schools.
      I believe you may be falling prey to the common illusion that nearly everybody is pretty much like you. People with strong religious beliefs generally do want their religion to be privileged over others, because their religion, unlike the others, is The Truth, and deserves special treatment.

  7. Hi Tyler, or Mr. Tork.
    I just happened upon your reply.
    I suppose I am often disposed to the common illusion you describe. Most people use themselves as the common frame of reference when trying to understand or interpret
    the behavior of another. (how can I not?) to any extent that I've allowed that illusion to cast a shadow of question on our excellent blogger's credibility, I humbly beg his and the reader's pardon.

    That being said, and while I appreciate a well-placed example of sarcasm by exaggeration, I think that the use of the pole mentioned to conclude that over 30% of Americans support a theocracy is an unlikely strain on the evidence.
    Further, I find your examples ,while disturbing, do little to support the conclusion.
    America is a nation that not long ago (culturally speaking) HAD christian prayer
    in most of it's schools and and close to 100% of the population believed in the myth of creation. I would posit though, that the nation was not at that time, a theocracy.
    So support (even if it were majority.) of those points doesn't lead to any convincing degree that 30 plus percent of Americans would support a theocracy.
    Not that I think we were better off in, say, the 1890's mind you, but the common belief in Christian virtues and allegories didn't lead America immediately into a scientific dearth of wretched ignorance and chaos from whence an oppressive theocracy emerged which ground scientists under it's iron boot.
    The trend under this flag has been in the opposite direction. Let's not forget that in the attempt to keep it that way.

    1. Please note that all my above comments are meant respectfully.
      I am pleased to make the online acquaintance of Tyler Tork and enjoyed
      reading his reply. :)

  8. Has anyone actually asked Americans directly if they would support a theocracy?

    The perception of this highly educated and semi-informed Canadian is that an alarming number of Americans would.

    1. "An alarming number", would be any more then 2. :)
      But the alarm needs to be in context to have meaning.

      No as far as I know, nobody has polled using that question.

      A pole regarding school prayer leads some to start spouting that
      "secular-progressives are declaring WAR on religion", taking over the government and soon you'll be shot in the street if you pray. and others spouting that religious fanatics are declaring a "WAR on science", taking over the government and soon you'll be shot in the street if you don't pray.
      Most of these noisy hacks out saber-rattling have more to gain from the problem, then from the solution as it generates fear to consolidate their power base.
      There's a great deal more common ground out there then the hacks will admit,
      but that's not where the money is, so you'll seldom hear about it.

      Another reason why skeptical thinking and reason such as the kind encouraged by this blog is so important.

      Don't be led off to an imaginary war.

    2. That's a fair point, Sterling, thank you. No need to worry about being led off to war. From where I sit, it's all just entertainment and news fodder - until it crosses the border :)

    3. I didn't mean you personally Andrew.
      Nice to meet you, by the way.
      I'm not sure what it's like in Canada, but here in the states, people are always trying to sell you on one war or another. Sometimes literally a real war, sometimes a "culture war". If they can pitch well and often enough, It's a self-fulfilling proposition, they get the war they want and fortune and glory.
      (such as it is) regardless of weather they really have a case.
      The secret is to convince people to have and be guided by contempt over reason.

      Of course it's worth standing up to the jackassery on both sides of any issue, one just can't let contempt make oneself an easy mark for someone to sell a war that need not be.

      But anyway, the point of all my rambling is that I just don't see a good case here that 34% of Americans would favor turning in the old representative democracy in favor of a theocracy.

      On the other hand, theocracies DO tend to have the snazziest clothes,
      it would be way more fun if the President had to dress like the Pope.

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