Wednesday, January 08, 2014
Should Oklahoma Allow a Satanic Statue on Public Lands?
On Monday, the Associated Press reported that a New York-based Satanic Temple has applied to have a seven foot tall statue of Satan erected on the Oklahoma state Capitol so that "people of all ages may sit on the lap of Satan for inspiration and contemplation." According to the report, the group claims that the state of Oklahoma opened the doors to such a display when they allowed a privately-funded Ten Commandments monument to be erected at the Capitol in 2012. The next day, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to restore a cross to the county seal. Meanwhile, the battle for the cross on Mount Soledad continues to rage.
In a pluralistic society such as ours, should we expect to purge all public or government-owned lands of any religious symbolism? Or should we expect a religious free-for-all where petitions by Hindus, Satanists, and even atheists to place Flying Spaghetti Monster symbols in public locations will be commonplace? Are such things even reasonable to consider?
It is obvious that the requests by the Satanists and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster are really nothing more than publicity stunts. No one actually believes that such a thing as the FSM exists. The concept was used as a rhetorical device by a college student in a letter he wrote to the Kansas Board of Education, and that is definitely not a sound basis for a belief system. Their church and all that follows from it is just a joke. As for the Satanic Temple, even spokesman Lucien Greaves admitted the petition "is in part to highlight what it says is hypocrisy of state leaders in Oklahoma," according to the report. Greaves claims the Temple is serious about having a monument placed there, which is no surprise since if you can get your protest installed as a permanent structure, it lasts much longer.
What is clear, though, is that none of these requests are taking into account the function of what public monuments are supposed to perform. Communities place monuments in public spaces to provide a link to relevant actions or ideas that helped shape that community. As Wikipedia puts it, "A monument is a type of structure that was explicitly created to commemorate a person or important event, or which has become important to a social group as a part of their remembrance of historic times or cultural heritage." While the Ten Commandments can be explicitly shown to have shaped both the values of the citizenry in the state of Oklahoma and also modern American jurisprudence, the church of Satan, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, nor even earnest practicing Hindus can make such a claim. The state of Oklahoma is well within it prevue to reject these proposals even while allowing the Ten Commandment monument on just such reasoning.
Similarly, Los Angeles County Supervisors Antonovich and Knabe argued that the cross is appropriate on the LA County seal because the seal depicts a mission, which has historically boasted a cross on its steeple. California history is simply incomplete if one were to ignore Father Junipero Serra and the California missions. Whether the supervisors were themselves sincere in their desire, I don't know. However, I do know that the mission with its cross does accurately reflect the history and the cultural forces that shaped the county. Spanish Jesuits are why Los Angeles is so named.
It strikes me as I see more and more attempts to purge our cultural markers of Christian symbols that such motives are endangering our collective memory as a society. Monuments are important because they serve as remembrances of important influences. Public lands are not like AYSO leagues; not everyone should get a medal for simply being there. There are good reasons why certain Christian symbols belong on a county seal or a capitol lawn. I see no benefit from New York Satanists, nor how their ideas have contributed to the welfare of Oklahomans.