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SatanCon, poking at religion and government, opens this weekend in Boston

The mostly lighthearted convention will celebrate the 10th year of the Satanic Temple, a progressive church that doesn't worship the devil but instead uses the word to get attention.
A man stands on a later outside the Satanic Temple where a "Hell House" was being held in Salem, Massachusett on October 8, 2019. - The Hell House was a paradoy on a Christian Conversion center meant to scare atheist and other Satanic Church members.
A man works outside the Satanic Temple in Salem, Mass., on Oct. 8, 2019.Joseph Prezioso / AFP via Getty Images file

The Satanic Temple is celebrating 10 years of existence with its SatanCon convention in Boston this weekend, but it's not what you probably think.

The organization is as much a theater of American satire as it is a place for believers.

The temple, not be confused with the Satanic Church, does not formally deify Satan as the personification of evil, but rather it sees him as a literary character, a necessary rebel, while mocking traditional religion and calling out government’s embrace of institutions like the Catholic Church, co-founder Malcolm Jarry said.

“They believe in a literary representation of Satan,” Jarry said of the temple’s estimated 700,000 members around the world. “It’s a heroic figure who fights against tyrannical authority and for humanity, even if it’s a losing battle.”

Still, the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston seems shaken by the prospect of Satanic Temple members in red bodysuits and costume-shop devil's horns amassing near the Copley Place shopping center.

The archdiocese is counterprogramming with a weekend of solemn events.

The Baphomet statue is seen in the conversion room at the Satanic Temple where a "Hell House" is being held in Salem, Massachusett on October 8, 2019. - The Hell House was a parody on a Christian Conversion centre meant to scare atheist and other Satanic Church members.
The Baphomet statue in the conversion room at the Satanic Temple in Salem, Mass., in 2019.Joseph Prezioso / AFP via Getty Images file

"We are approaching it through a response balanced and focused on prayer," Terrence Donilon, a spokesperson for the archdiocese, told the Catholic News Agency last week. "We are finalizing a list of places throughout our whole archdiocese where we will gather."

The weekend convention at the Boston Marriott Copley Place is sold out, temple organizers say, boasting that it will be the largest satanic gathering in history.

The convention, which is scheduled to include the temple's rituals, a marketplace and a wedding chapel, also caps a successful 10 years for the organization, symbolically based in a Victorian house in Salem, Massachusetts, Jarry said.

It was established after Jarry met Lucien Greaves when they were studying at Harvard. The two agreed to launch a group with a mission of maintaining inclusive religious freedom while keeping alive the separation of church and state.

He described the typical temple member as "anyone who is nonconforming" and those who are "marginalized people."

These satanists support women's shelters, highway cleanup and addiction recovery centers, he said. A big issue for the temple is abortion rights. It recently launched a telehealth clinic in New Mexico that it says provides abortion medication via mail.

It's a legitimate church, according to the U.S. government.

In 2019, the temple persuaded the IRS to recognize it not only as a tax-exempt religion but as a proper church.

"To be recognized as a church by both the IRS and the legal system is a whole world of difference," said Jarry, who did not want to divulge personal details like his age.

The temple and the Catholic Church have clashed before. In 2014 the temple promoted a Black Mass at Harvard University that prompted the archdiocese to call on the institution to dissociate from the temple.

In 2016, the temple also unsuccessfully challenged the city of Boston to allow it equal time to deliver an invocation before a City Council meeting, as other churches had done.

The weekend event is dedicated to Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, who was on the City Council at the time. The temple has accused her of denying it equal access to public events and spaces. But not this time.

Wu's office did not respond to a request for comment.

"Public forums need to be open," Jarry said. "And they need to accept people of all faiths."