“The devil went down to Detroit, he was looking for a point to make . . .”
So might have begun the Charlie Daniels’ Band famous ditty “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” if it had focused not on a fictional fiddle-fight between a talented human musician and the Devil himself, but on a curious incident that occurred in Detroit this time last year.
For a brief moment that summer, the Motor City slightly resembled Pandemonium, the capital of Hell in John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, when the Michigan metropolis hosted an iron statue of the Satanic icon Baphomet. Nine feet tall, with the head and hooves of a goat and the torso and arms of a man, and emblazoned with a pentagram, the statue, when unveiled, attracted a crowd of self-proclaimed believers (who chanted “Hail Satan”) and some curious—and appalled—onlookers. “The last thing we need in Detroit is having a welcome home party for evil,” said Reverend Dave Bollock, a local pastor, in reaction to its unveiling.
Yet these stunts are hardly worthy of the attention they get (a similar incident occurred earlier this month in Florida), much less of immortalization via Charlie Daniels’ fiddle. For those responsible for them resemble not so much demons as they do that very modern (and sadly common) creature of Internet repute: the troll.
It is difficult to determine whether these acolytes of Baphomet are sincere in their beliefs. Yet even if they are, in stunts such as these, belief takes a backseat to sheer shock value. Miffed by what they see as state-sanctioned displays of Christianity, such as a marble monument on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol, or, more recently, a replica of Noah’s Ark that serves as a Kentucky state tourist attraction, these followers resort not to argument but to trolling. “We chose Baphomet because of its contemporary relation to the figure of Satan and find its symbolism to be appropriate if displayed alongside a monument representing another faith,” Jex Blackmore, the pseudonymous organizer of the Detroit Baphomet display, said.
A curious decision, that. In the late 60s, the Beatles advised their left-wing contemporary revolutionaries that “if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow.” Well, to adapt the Beatles: Even in this increasingly non-Christian country to which the patina of a religious past nonetheless clings, “if you go setting up statues of Baphomet, you ain’t gonna control the government.”
Alas, they are unlikely to change their ways. For if the accounts of this and other such stunts are anything to go by, trolling is all these so-called devil worshippers have going for them. They are not much inclined—or, at least, not willing to admit publicly—to some of the more typical accoutrements of the occult, such as human and/or animal sacrifice, blatant perversions of Catholic ritual that nonetheless at least require some knowledge of it, and the like.
They instead profess a warmed-over creed of self-worship that barely distinguishes them from the consciously irreligious. The group that organized the statue’s unveiling “holds to the basic premise that undue suffering is bad, and that which reduces suffering is good. We do not believe in symbolic ‘evil.’ Nor do they even profess a literal belief in, well . . . Satan. He is for them, instead, as described in Nancy Keffer’s account for the Daily Beast, “a literary figure, not a deity—he stands for rationality, for skepticism, for speaking truth to power, even at great personal cost.” Their “creed,” in other words, to the extent that it exists at all, boils down to a self-worship of inwardly-affirming cool, well-practiced among sarcastic, faux-edgy high schoolers who think that revolting against their parents makes them a rebel in the mold of Satan in Paradise Lost.
To be sure, this kind of vacuous Satanism is, in a sense, preferable to the out-and-out Rosemary’s Baby variety. But there’s at least a clarifying honesty to that brand, one that illuminates the stakes rather than trying hide behind innocuous-seeming slogans brainstormed in a cynical teenager’s basement. Both are insidious. But both are also the creeds of losers. For just as the Devil lost his fiddle match against Johnny in Charlie Daniels’ opus, Satan’s works and all his empty promises make him the biggest loser of all.