Marr Duk is the Media Liaison for The Satanic Temple – West Michigan. Here we talk about his story and The Satanic Temple.
*Interview conducted on June 9, 2020.*
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Let’s contextualize this, what is the story of coming to TST or The Satanic Temple for you? These origin stories, as superhero movies are prominent now, are helpful in providing a different lens on how people come to different freethought views.
Marr Duk: Sure, myself, I was a black Southern Baptist growing up. I am originally from Detroit, Michigan. I grew up really strict Baptist, fire and brimstone, sinners are going to hell. I even went to a Christian college when I was younger.
Jacobsen: [Laughing] Which one?
Duk: I’d rather not say. It is a certain black Christian college. I won’t say to protect identity.
Jacobsen: Sure thing.
Duk: I went there, specifically to get closer to God and to study my theology from people that I thought were well-versed in the idea of forgiveness and the idea of Gospel as the New Testament might describe. In going there, it turned me around. I saw people who I did not agree with. I began to think for myself. I embarked on a journey to find the truth. I started to take truth more seriously and decided, “Maybe, I don’t believe this.” I broke away from the Christian church. I was only an atheist for about fours years and then found The Satanic Temple in early 2016. I joined The Satanic Temple in late 2016.
Jacobsen: So, this is a good point as well. Oftentimes, there’s a confusion between various branches of non-theism connected to ethical philosophies or political activism as opposed to a non-theist or atheist view as a neutral standpoint of rejection of, more or less, the supernatural, but in the guise of gods. A satanic temple as an advancement or building on the foundation. What tenets stood out to or for you? I should have this on the record. I do identify as a Satanist. It is a home team interview here. This is an important philosophy, especially in the context of America, with a lot of politically motivated religious fundamentalists.
Duk: You are a Satanist?
Duk: Of The Satanic Temple or a different branch?
Jacobsen: The Satanic Temple given the commitment to non-theism and around the orientation of some of its political activism with the After School Satan club or the statue of Baphomet to do protestation along the lines of church-state separation in terms of symbolism. Also, the stronger commitment around reproductive health rights for women. I think this is very important. I am a member of Humanist Canada. With Humanist Canada, our first president over 50 years ago was the one individual, almost, who set forth a lot of the rights revolutions and wins for reproductive rights for women, so, I think there’s a common theme in Canada with some of the women’s rights advancements farther along than in America while having some consistent threads in some of these freethought forms of philosophy building off of a non-theist framework. I mean, there’s flavours of non-theism. There’s flavours of atheism. But, more or less, those are splitting hairs. They do not have a direct impact on most people’s lives who have those kinds of stances. Unless, they develop an additional ethical framework around it. It could be the American Humanist Association, Black Skeptics Los Angeles, Black Nonbelievers, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the American Ethical Union, and so on. Those are accepting of non-theist views, if not affirming, while having an ethical or moral framework around them. They don’t agree on everything. They don’t take the same orientation on everything, but they have a lot of overlap. That’s the part that I’m interested in.
Duk: Right, good to know, it is interesting that you point that out. I do not have much background on women’s rights and different aspects of civil rights in Canada. There’s a lot going on here.
Jacobsen: [Laughing] Right.
Duk: [Laughing] I do not have a whole lot of time to look at Canada.
Jacobsen: You have my full sympathy as a Canadian looking at the context.
Jacobsen: I mean, where do you start? Where do you start? The good thing, people could use this obvious series of injustices converging on this singular movement, probably the largest protest in American history, into real criminal justice reform, real economic equality. Also, the work towards bringing about better lives for those who are more or less at the bottom in proportion to the increase of productivity of the general population, which has been the problem for 40 or more years in the United States with explicit, conscious policy to drive inequality farther along. Which, people become disgruntled with: African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanic Americans, especially women in those categories, get the shit end of an already shorter stick.
Duk: Correct, correct.
Jacobsen: That’s why I think the activism is important. And besides, why not? What is the actual counterargument if we are talking about the well-being of American citizens across the board?
Duk: The bottom line.
Jacobsen: Yes [Laughing].
Duk: The bottom line of individuals would be the only counterargument there.
Jacobsen: So, with the particular chapter of The Satanic Temple, what are some social activities in the context of a) the current moment, which is inflammatory, and b) before and after this moment? This is only a moment in time. There is going to be an ordinary life before and after for these various chapters. For yours, as a media liaison, what are some of the activities – political, communal?
Duk: Our chapter focuses a lot on the communal activities. I’m not sure how much you know about Michigan, but Michigan is a really, really conservative state. Even though, it is in the North. We are victim of the stereotype of the North as so much better than the South. Things of that nature. Michigan is really conservative. We focus a lot on being a safe haven for people who want to hear opinions; that are not conservative. Most of the members have family members who are really, really conservative and have very different ideas than their own. We act as a place where they can, basically, for lack of a better term, let the fruit flies fly. They can come and be whoever they are; we provide activities. Our biggest activity is usually Pride. It takes place in June. It is where we shine. We provide ritual for bystanders to be able to be themselves, act Pride, and be able to do things like destroy their names for people in the trans community or destroy identities assigned to them. Also, we started an annual camping trip called Camp Satan in Michigan here. We like to get together and hang out. What we have been doing lately with mostly virtual meetups, we have a happy hour every Sunday. We sit, talk, and try to be together in some way.
We have our meetings virtually. We plan different events. Our ways of activism are, usually, knowledge and education here. We have a book drive for prisoners. We do this all throughout the year. We make several drops to several prisons here. We give books on philosophy. We tend to stay away from religion. We provide books on different skills, history. Anything that we can provide to give prisoners some connection to the outside and a way to feel as if they are using their time wisely. Also, we do different clothing donations to a local shelter for homeless teenagers here. It might be different materials for reading, writing. We provide clothes to the shelter. We do a good mix of communal and activism-style activities. We try to make a really good set of activities for the members and the affiliates. So, when they come here, they get a break from the world around them. I think, we do a really good job of that.
Jacobsen: Do the texts coming to the prisoners come from dialogue within the Michigan chapter or within the desired texts that the prisoners suggest or want themselves, or both?
Duk: It is a little bit of both. One of our members here has a connection to a prison guard. They came up with the idea, “Hey, let’s donate these books.” They knew for a while that there was a need for books and getting subjects to the prison. This guy went and got the guidelines as to the kinds of books. We went through friends, family, and libraries and donated hundreds of books over the last year. It is thousands by now, to various prisons here in Michigan.
Jacobsen: What are some statements coming from prisoners getting books to enhance a) philosophical understanding and b) technical knowhow?
Duk: I have not heard directly from prisoners. However, we work with the Unitarian Universalist church to distribute these books to different places. They said themselves that they see the surprise on the faces on the people receiving the books. I wish I had a better grasp on personal speeches with prisoners, as to what came out of these books. Sadly, I don’t have that. As you might imagine, it would be hard to track down the books and the effects on prisoners.
Jacobsen: In a conservative state, what difficulties arise around extreme stereotypes about Satanists in general and TST in general?
Duk: The sterotypes comes on an individual basis, we try to go with the moment. You will find us in places really open to us. Different bars, restaurants, and bookstores are open to us. As individuals, though, even today, I had a shirt on today. It was a shirt from the camping trip last year, had a pentagram on it, and said, “Camp Satan,” and the date of the strip and the state of Michigan. All I got was scowls. Some people look at me sideways, pretty evilly.
Jacobsen: [Laughing] I can imagine.
Duk: [Laughing] I find it interesting. I enjoy it. Maybe, people may comment, scowl, etc., but it makes them think about different views. At events, we have no problems. At Pride, people are really happy to see us. It is a place where we are accepted. At the meetups, we are accepted pretty well. Most of the weirdness comes from the internet. People who message the page with prayers, etc. People try to infiltrate the group online. Online, it is connecting with people. Things like that. Locally, we don’t go where we are not wanted. We accept people’s choice to not have us around; that’s really it. Oh! I shouldn’t skip over this. The most interesting time of interaction with conservatives in the state with the stuff getting in the news was the goat monument at the state capitol in Michigan. It was on the holidays around Christmas. We left it for about a week. It is interesting the reactions that we get. There have been a lot of news stories. People say, “We should burn it down! We should vandalize it!” People went out and attempted to vandalize it. People send death threats. We have an affiliate member who works around a police station in some capacity and heard death threats. We anointed it with blood every day while it was there.
Duk: People made death threats. That they would do stuff when we went to the hotels. We took it down and put it up every day as the law requires. It was interesting the different threats received. That was the only time that I felt the conservatives really came out to play for whatever reason. It really bothered them for us to put out a nativity scene and perform rituals there. They referred to it as a nativity scene.
Jacobsen: Christmas is a pagan holiday. It was co-opted by the Christians, but, at root, it is a pagan holiday. This is a widespread misunderstanding, coming my way, listening to both Canadians and Americans. In many ways, the secular groups using the iconography of and images antithetical to a lot of the Christian iconography in the United States and Canada are more right.
Duk: Right, we think the whole idea of having religious iconography on the state capitol is [Laughing] ridiculous. They’ve spent a lot of time on rules for this and magic paperwork for it. If everyone is going to have their message on the capitol lawn, we will as well. [Laughing] People didn’t agree with that. Our goal was to get the message across. If someone is there this year, we will be there as well.
Jacobsen: What are the demographics of the local chapter?
Duk: I don’t get too much into the membership of the chapter. I will say, “It is diverse and represents every racial and sexual/gender representation in Michigan,” for the most part. We do a good job reaching out to different people in different walks of life. I am actually pretty proud of that.
Jacobsen: What have been the points of political activism over the two weeks or so of protests over the murder of George Floyd or others?
Duk: We have not taken a position as a chapter. In fact, The Satanic Temple National Council has the same position of the local chapter. It is not the time for Satanists to be present as Satanists. It is not our place to wave our banner and sticking our nose in this matter. As individuals, we participate in a number of levels. There are worries of Covid-19, etc. There are provacateurs of violence who frequently show up to the protests. Many members of chapters, affiliates, and so on, have gone to various protests, rallies, and be vocal with various ally groups. I have been pleased in that regard. As a chapter, we have decided to stay out of it. We asked, certain members have asked, various groups, e.g., local BLM groups and other affiliate groups how they’d like us to help. Individuals help where they can in that regard. As individuals, we are always involved in helping various minority groups, as far as donations to the teenage homeless shelter. Most of the homeless kids here are LGBTQ of some stripe and/or minority. That’s usually the case with statistics in Michigan. A lot of our efforts go to helping these individuals.
With the prison population here, a lot of the efforts go to individual prisoners. We try to spread the activism around in that way. But, as far as these protests as Satanists, we try to help wherever we are at.
Jacobsen: What principles tend to bring individuals into TST?
Duk: It is a broad spectrum of principles. It is really hard to say. TST, as you may know, is really sex positive. It brings a lot of people in, LGBTQ of all stripes. It brings a lot of people in. People who are humanist and want to say more about what they do believe rather than don’t believe. You find them coming into TST. You find individuals coming into TST who are sick of the scientific illiteracy running rampant in the country, and like to join TST to support efforts such as Grey Faction. So, you find a lot of people joining TST around many different ideals. Our chapter here, we have a lot of people who are LGBTQ of some stripe. We have a lot of people here who are here for sex positive reasons. Pride is the big event for us and people feel comfortable with us there, at the Pride booth. It is sad that we weren’t able to be there this year, obviously, as it was cancelled. Being present in the community around women’s rights stuff, we plan to do women’s rights stuff. We have a lot of abortion clinics, Planned Parenthood protestors locally.
Jacobsen: How can people get involved with the chapter local to the themselves or the main national organization?
Duk: If individuals go to www.satanictemple.com, they can find a list of different chapters and prism groups in the area. Prism groups are in the beginning stages and do not have the full chapter structure, but are the way to the full chapter structure. They can go online and find chapters on Facebook. Chapters function in different ways. Ours is mainly Facebook. We may be getting away from this soon. Facebook, though, is the main way. Chapters have different membership structures. We allow pretty much anyone to join the Facebook page, as long as they pass a basic quiz. Then from there, membership is decided by the members. Other chapters have different rules and regulations around each chapter. That is the best way to get involved – go to the website, find the local chapter, every state has a chapter or a prism group, even internationally, e.g., in the UK. Go there, find out what your local chapter does, how to find them, and contact them.
Jacobsen: Marr, thank you so much for your time.
Duk: Yes, anytime.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
*Associates and resources listing last updated May 31, 2020.*
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