Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Jay Wexler's "Our Non-Christian Nation"

A professor at Boston University School of Law, Jay Wexler is also a humorist, short story writer, and novelist. A one-time clerk to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and former lawyer at the US Department of Justice, he has written for National Geographic, The Boston Globe, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Salon, and many other outlets. His books include When God Isn't Green and Holy Hullabaloos.

Wexler applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Our Non-Christian Nation: How Atheists, Satanists, Pagans, and Others Are Demanding Their Rightful Place in Public Life, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book consists of a partial description of the relatively new religious group known as the Satanic Temple (TST), a fast-growing atheistic Satanic organization founded in 2012 and now counting tens of thousands of members across the world, maybe as high as a hundred thousand total. On this page I describe some of the lesser-known activities of TST, both political and non-political, including its opposition to corporal punishment of children in schools, its work aimed at fighting misconceptions about Satanism borne from the “Satanic Panic” era of the 1970s and 1980s, and the various rituals that TST members engage in around the country.

Page 99, and continuing on for a paragraph onto page 100, is a very important part of the book, but it is not representative of the book as a whole. The point of the book is to describe the various ways that minority religious groups and Atheists have attempted to take advantage of a series of Supreme Court decisions to partake in public life alongside the Christian majority (by, for instance, giving invocations before town boards and putting up displays or monuments on public property) and to argue that this movement is one that should be celebrated and continued. TST is probably the most important organization that has participated in this movement—because Satanism is so misunderstood and feared by mainstream groups, TSTs demands to participate in public life are often met with a horror that demonstrates quite clearly how the majority tends to only favor Christian participation in public life rather than pluralism and religious equality.

Many people believe that TST is a parody group rather than a genuine religious organization and that they therefore do not deserve the respect of either the religious majority or the judicial system (TST often sues for equal treatment in the courts). I firmly believe that TST is a genuine religious organization that is multifaceted and does not exist purely to troll Christians and seek attention from the media. What I’m doing on page 99 of the book is making this important point. By explaining that TST does so many things other than fighting for separation of church and state through demands for equal participation in public life, I’m trying to argue that TST is a legitimate religious organization that deserves the equal respect that it has demanded.

In effect, then, page 99 is a bit of a diversion from the main argument of the book. Someone reading just page 99 would probably not get a sense of what the book is about or why I wanted to write it. So I guess I have to say that the page 99 test doesn’t really work for this book. But that’s okay—someone just reading page 99 of the book would still learn something important about my subject matter, and when that person at some point confronts TST in the news or in person, they will undoubtedly know something quite important about this fascinating organization.
Visit Jay Wexler's faculty webpage.

The Page 99 Test: Holy Hullabaloos.

--Marshal Zeringue