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Students learn about Satanism at Program Board film screening and panel discussion


Jex Blackmore (right) speaks about satanism next to Laurel Zwissler (middle) and David Smith (left) during a Satanist panel and film showing on Nov. 7, in Pearce Hall, Room 127.

A panel and movie showing cultivated an educational atmosphere about the growing Satanist movement in the U.S., right next door to a Christian event at Central Michigan University.

Program Board worked with the CMU Philosophy and Religion Department to host a showing of the documentary, “Hail Satan?” and a panel about Satanism Nov. 7 in Pearce Hall Room 127. Jex Blackmore, a Satanism advocate from the Detroit area, was featured in the documentary and participated in the panel discussion. Philosophy and religion faculty members Laurel Zwissler, Megan Leverage and David Smith were also on the panel.

The documentary follows The Satanic Temple in its quest for religious freedom, in a comedic way. The film focuses on separation of church and state, removing the Ten Commandments from state properties and putting up a statue of Baphomet in the states that didn't. 

Bad Axe junior Mark Sheppard, film director for Program Board, said he chose to screen “Hail Satan?” because it is not only comedic, but is also educational.

The panelists also discussed misconceptions about Satanism. Blackmore said the biggest misconceptions are that they worship a literal devil, participate in rituals like human sacrifice and that Satanists are evil. 

Smith asked Blackmore if Satanism is a religious way of being an atheist. She said that there is truth to that.

“Satanism has all the defining features of a religion, minus the supernatural elements,” Blackmore said.

Blackmore was once the spokesperson of the Detroit branch of The Satanic Temple but was asked to step down by temple leaders after she made a comment in a private ritual. This comment was captured in the film, where she called to “execute the president.” 

She stepped down and left the temple altogether. She said there are fundamental differences between her and the national leaders about how the group should operate. Having the temple operate like a privileged church does not reduce oppression from majority faiths, she said.

Blackmore called the film “propaganda” for The Satanic Temple, saying it gives the wrong impression to people that they must be a part of an institution or group to practice Satanism. She also said it doesn’t represent the diverse practices and beliefs in the movement.

There was also a Christian event happening next door in Room 128: the winter conference for Cru, a Christian community that is “passionate about connecting people to Jesus Christ,” according to the group’s website. The operations leader of the CMU chapter, Jacob Wershing, said he thought it was great that two opposing events could happen right next to each other. He said he wished he could have worked with the situation by attending the Satanist event and having a discussion about their views.

“Isn’t that amazing?” Wershing said. “Isn’t that what’s beautiful about being on campus? That dialogue can happen?”

He said he wasn’t aware of the event until someone from Program Board stopped by to tell his group what was happening next door.

Some students liked and appreciated what the movie and panelists had to say. 

Birmingham senior Romy Ancog said he enjoyed the movie and thought it was insightful. He said he didn’t know much about Satanism before. He didn’t realize how politically active Satanists were and thought it was a fresh political ideology. 

Howell junior Madeline Lassitter was unsatisfied with the representation on the panel. She said she supports religious freedom and values learning other viewpoints, but was disappointed with the lack of other religious viewpoints on the panel. She said other religions weren’t covered on the panel and no opposing viewpoints were given.

Lassitter also pointed out what she believes to be a double standard with a recent incident with Chick-fil-A. After homecoming, President Bob Davies addressed backlash from students and faculty regarding a Chick-fil-A truck at homecoming tailgate, Central Michigan Life reported in October. 

The restaurant chain, which has been outspoken about its Southern Baptist beliefs and opposition to same-sex marriage, will not be invited back to campus any time soon. Davies said any future discussion about the company will be opened up to the campus community.

“I came because I thought it would be interesting to see why (CMU) is supporting these seemingly drastic views, but we’re not allowing corporate America to come to our school,” Lassitter said.

Zwissler, who is also the area coordinator for the philosophy and religion department, said the academic study of religion is not to persuade people to believe in one religious view over another. Instead, scholars look at the ways religion takes various forms in contemporary culture, which Satanism is an example of. She also said dominant versions of Christian perspectives are heard all the time, so giving space for those viewpoints in the same way as minority religions is not necessarily needed.

Program Board's Graduate Assistant Girard Brown said he appreciated the welcoming atmosphere of the discussion. He said questions students asked were respectful and came from a place of wanting to learn more.

"People were willing to listen and take in different opinions," Brown said. "The whole goal of an event like this is to try and open people's eyes up to new things, or different perspectives that they might not regularly get."

Blackmore and Zwissler said a group of young people formed a prayer circle outside the lecture hall before the documentary started. Blackmore said this has happened to her several times on college campuses, but backlash tends to follow her anywhere she makes appearances. 

However, Blackmore said she likes coming to college campuses. Speaking to students in an academic setting is important because the environment allows the free flow of ideas. She also believes having conversations with young people is important because they often are the ones to bring about change.

“The future of America is in the youth,” Blackmore said. “Youth movements have actually been the unifying and driving force in revolution and change throughout history.”

Blackmore said if anyone has questions about Satanism or “Hail Satan?" they can contact her through her website.