There’s a Satanic display in the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield this holiday season, near a Nativity scene and a menorah. It shows an arm, encircled by a serpent, winding up to a hand holding an apple, and below is an inscription: “KNOWLEDGE IS THE GREATEST GIFT.”
A spokesperson for The Satanic Temple of Chicago, which sponsors the display, says the art piece called “Snaketivity” is inspired by the biblical Garden of Eden, where a serpent sent by Satan tempts Eve with an apple from a Tree of Knowledge. Eve bites the apple and shares it with Adam.
“We see Satan as the hero in this story,” says the temple spokesperson, “because he gave Eve the gift of knowledge.”
Four of the last 10 governors and dozens of other public officials in Illinois have been convicted of public corruption. Temptation and Satan would seem already well-represented in Springfield, though I’ve never known an Illinois politician who could be bought for just an apple.
The office of the Illinois secretary of state explains the First Amendment guarantees the right of The Satanic Temple to mount this display. Atheist groups have provided exhibits across the country in past holiday seasons. But, a display by a group that calls itself The Satanic Temple has brought about a new round of public attention.
Yet, a few clicks into its website will disclose that The Satanic Temple are not truly Satan worshippers. They say they are a “non-theistic religious organization” that seeks to “encourage benevolence and empathy among all people,” which sounds almost discouragingly humanitarian.
The temple seems to take the name of Satan as a brand to make the point — as they put it — among its tenets that, “The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend.”
It’s irresistible to note that a group that says it does not believe in God still expresses its beliefs with an image from the Book of Genesis.
You don’t have to believe the Bible is literally true to see that it is powerful literature. It may have been written — as Christopher Hitchens memorably phrased it — in “the bawling and fearful infancy of our species,” but the Bible endures as beguiling, inspiring and insightful stories about children, parents, kings, queens, loss, triumphs, floods, flames and everlasting lights, heroes with fatal flaws and villains with human faces. Satan wouldn’t be a household name without the Bible.