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Hello, fellow wayfarers. What’s really worrying about a Satan statue in Iowa … Why grandparents matter … How to end 2023 … An Emmy Award–winning Desert Island Playlist … Pa rum pum pum pum … This is this week’s Moore to the Point.

Russell Moore

What a Satan Statue Says About American Religion

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Jack Frost nipping at your nose. Yuletide carols being sung by a choir. And folks lighting candles for a goat-headed satanic mannequin. Even the most wonderful time of the year is stranger than it used to be.

I’m referring, of course, to the public display of Baphomet erected at the Iowa state capitol by the local Satanic Temple. This erupted into the public debate in response to a social media post by Rep. Jon Dunwell, an ordained pastor in the Christian and Missionary Alliance.

Dunwell argued that he, like most Iowans, finds the figure to be repellent and offensive—but that the state allowed it to be placed there on the grounds of government neutrality on religion and First Amendment rights. The state did insist, he said, that the group not use an actual goat’s head.

Yet the goat god is not actually worshiped by Satanists. Most of them are, in fact, atheists for whom “Satan” is a metaphor for freedom from rules and norms. As Aleister Crowley and, later, the Satanic Bible explain it: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.” These Baphomet statues are often a performative ruse—tried several times in different states and localities—along the same lines as the atheists who claim belief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster to ridicule belief in God.

These gaudy goats exist to make a point in the culture war—namely, that public places shouldn’t allow Christmas crèches or Hanukkah menorahs and so forth. The devil displays are just a means to an end. It’s not so much about whom the followers love as about whom they hate, which is religious people—especially the kind that would be outraged by a devil in the capitol. Shock and repulsion from religious people aren’t merely unintentional byproducts; they’re the whole point.

That’s where the devil worship gets perilous, and not just for occultists.

C. S. Lewis, in response to a critic, argued that the fundamental problem of the age—one that he saw in the emergence of Communism, Nazism, and fascism—was devil worship. As Lewis explained, he did not mean that people would knowingly worship the devil. The temptation, he argued, was to accept an ideology to the point of concluding that “desperate diseases require desperate remedies and that necessity knows no law.” Because one’s enemies are so evil, the theory goes, one should see the side one is on as “the supreme duty and abrogates all ordinary moral laws.”

“In this state of mind men can become devil-worshipers in the sense that they can now honor as well as obey their own vices,” Lewis wrote. “All men at times obey their vices: but it is when cruelty, envy and lust of power appear as the commands of a great super-personal force that they can be exercised with self-approval.”

“It is under that pretext that every abomination enters,” Lewis wrote. “Hitler, the Machiavellian Prince, the Inquisition, the Witch Doctor, all claimed to be necessary.”

Whether one names the devil “God” or “Jesus” or “progress” or “history” or “the Race” is of no importance—for what one ends up with is Satanism all the same.

In an interview with Charlie Sykes, journalist Tim Alberta cites the three temptations Satan offered to Jesus in the wilderness. He notes that the language Jesus uses to rebuke the devil here is echoed later on, when Jesus says to his own disciple, the apostle Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!”

Peter did not have a goat-headed idol on the shelf somewhere. In fact, not long before, he was the first disciple to announce his belief that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). But, Jesus said, Peter was setting his mind not “on the concerns of God, but [on] merely human concerns” (v. 23). More specifically, Peter wanted to defeat the enemies who would crucify his Lord.

Yet what strikes me about that moment is not just what Jesus said but where he said it: in the region of Caesarea Philippi. Caesarea Philippi was, as New Testament scholar Craig Keener explains, “pagan territory, near a grotto devoted to the worship of the woodland deity Pan; Herod had also dedicated a temple for the worship of Caesar there.”

And this brings us back to the head-fake religion of the goat idol in Iowa.

We recognize the goat-man hybrid as satanic, even without reading the plaque placed on it. As historian Jeffrey Burton Russell argues, the image of the devil in our cultural memory—with horns and hooves—incorporates the imagery of the Greek god Pan: the deity of wildness and wilderness, sexual expression, and freedom from restraint.

Caesarea Philippi—which was bound up with goat-god worship, named by and for the very political system that would crucify Jesus—is where Jesus chose to ask, “Who do you say I am?” (Matt. 16:15) and where he promised Peter “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (v. 18).

If Satanism were as obvious as painted pentagrams and antichrist Nativity sets, we could denounce it and rest easy that we’re on the other side of it. But the more pernicious forms of Satanism are those that offer a what of “Christianity” with a how of something else, those with the goal not of persuading our neighbors but of defeating them. For when we surrender to this strategy, we end up with a culture that’s “Christian”—but only in the sense that a Christmas tree is, not in the sense that the cross is.

It’s awful when we name our idols Baphomet, but it’s also awful when we name them according to our side’s pet causes. And worst of all is when we ascribe worth to the ways of the devil while claiming the name of Christ, trying to convince ourselves that we’re fighting for God. You can do this from the Left or the Right, with hedonism or hypocrisy. It all leads to the same place. That’s the temptation of the moment—and not one of us is exempt from its lure.

The devil you know is awful, but the devil you don’t know can be far worse.

Why Your Grandparents Matter

I just finished recording an episode of The Russell Moore Show with David Brooks, talking about his new book How to Know a Person: The Art of Seeing Others Deeply and Being Deeply Seen. Somehow the topic of grandparents came up, and I mentioned how struck I was a couple of years ago hearing a friend say of his father, “He was not the best parent, but man, he is an amazing grandparent.”

As I told David, I’ve heard that from a lot of people, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard the reverse: “She was a great mother but an awful grandmother” or “He was fine as Dad, but as Grandpa he was terrible.”

And I’ve wondered why. Even in cases where one has a very good childhood experience with one’s parents, often the grandparents are still pivotal. That was the case for me—with both sides of grandparents.

David gave lots of reasons for why this is (which you can hear when the episode comes out). Among them is the fact that parenting is stressful and hectic and high-stakes but grandparenting, not so much. Also, he said, for many people there’s a kind of gratitude that comes with age—a sense of mortality that can, in the best of cases, lead to prioritizing what really matters.

I think that’s right.

I also remain convinced of what I’ve written about here before: that this phenomenon is desperately needed—not just in the family but in the church. We need spiritual fathers and mothers to disciple and to lead, but we also need spiritual grandfathers and grandmothers who can do the slower, but often much deeper, work of imparting wisdom and maturity and modeling what it means to have lived enough life to see what matters—Who matters—and what doesn’t.

If We Make It Through December, We’ll Be Fine

Way back in the 1990s (which I’m convinced, while knowing that my perspective isn’t trustworthy, was an idyllic time), a band called Counting Crows sang, “It’s been a long December, and there’s reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last.”

I wish I could say that. Instead, we have in front of us a dangerous year in dangerous times. We can be thrown by that, or we can remember what the stories of Christmas remind us: that fear can lead us to Herod-like rage and violence, or it can lead us to where the trembling shepherds were—hearing once again the voice that tells us, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10, ESV).

That voice still speaks, and it still points to the same place: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (v. 11, ESV).

The stories are true. Let’s remember them.

Desert Island Playlist

Every other week, I share a playlist of songs one of you says you’d want to have on hand if you were stranded on a desert island. This week’s submission comes from reader DT Slouffman, a six-time Emmy-winning filmmaker/director, who is working with David French, Curtis Chang, and me on an almost-completed major project. (Stay tuned.)

I normally don’t give this much space to the explanation of the Desert Island Playlist, but DT has won six Emmys. If you’ve won only five, I will edit you. DT writes:

When Domitian exiled the disciple Jesus loved to the isle of Patmos to choke out the apostle’s gospel work, the great evangelist recorded a vision that would become the epic poetic moment of the New Testament canon. While banished to island living, the old apostle’s imagination relied heavily upon the Hebrew scriptures and his remembrances from days spent with Jesus (a desert island playlist?). In fact, in the 404 verses collected in Revelation, John references or alludes to other scripture at least 518 times. Eugene Peterson had this to say about John’s recall of scripture during his time as a biblical Robinson Crusoe: “The Revelation does some of its best work when it sends its readers back to Genesis and Exodus, to Isaiah and Ezekiel, to Daniel and the Psalms, to the Gospels and Paul.” In other words, in John’s vision of God’s final word, you might say one thing led to another.

I understand that secular songs are not scripture. However, like the revelator on Patmos weaving a web of connectivity to get himself through those long days and provide us all with a new view of the entire biblical work, I chose to draw upon a different well of the imagination when curating this different kind of desert island playlist. I built a manageable ten-track song sheet, with a twist. Each of the songs linked below reminds me of dozens more. When I drop the stereo needle of my mind (probably my only option on a desert island) on any of these favorite tunes, I hear other versions too. Like John’s 518 scriptural references begetting other scripture, I cheated and picked songs that produce a playlist with a multiverse of covers.

Here’s a look at the flip cards inside the desert island jukebox of my imagination:

  1. If I Should Fall Behind” by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (Live in New York City)
    Other versions in the mental jukebox: Linda Ronstadt’s haunting take and the original by Bruce sans the E Streeters

  1. Trouble in Mind” as cut by Jerry Lee Lewis during his London session
    Other versions in the mental jukebox: Nina Simone’s 1961 recording and Johnny Cash’s Unearthed track

  1. Everywhere,” Lucy Wainwright Roche’s version (originally released on her 8 Songs EP)
    Other versions in the mental jukebox: Fleetwood Mac’s original and a most interesting take by Vampire Weekend

  1. Stories We Could Tell” performed by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (Pack Up the Plantation: Live!)
    Other versions in the mental jukebox: The Everly Brothers’ title track from the album of the same name and the recording done by the song’s writer John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful

  1. Orphan Girl” by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings
    Other versions in the mental jukebox: Over the Rhine’s live version and Emmylou Harris’s cut on Wrecking Ball

  1. If I Needed You,” Karl Blau’s version of singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt’s classic ballad
    Other versions in the mental jukebox: the Don Williams and Emmylou Harris duet and too many others to mention

  1. Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison
    Other versions in the mental jukebox: Zac Brown Band’s cover (part of a live medley) and Joe Cocker’s vocal masterpiece

  1. I Saw the Light,” as recorded by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band with Roy Acuff
    Other versions in the mental jukebox: Hank Williams’ original and Merle Haggard’s cut featuring the Carter Family

  1. Sea of Heartbreak,” recorded by Johnny Cash
    Other versions in the mental jukebox: Poco’s 1982 synth-country take and a mesmerizing duet between Rosanne Cash and Bruce Springsteen

  1. Always on My Mind,” as sung by Willie Nelson
    Elvis’s cut was a commercial success, the Pet Shop Boys charted with their take in 1987, and Eric Clapton and Bradley Walker just released a version in Willie’s honor. But Willie Nelson’s unique phrasing and believable contrition stand alone. In the words of Will McAvoy, the pragmatic evening news anchor in Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom (one of my favorite television shows), “A hundred covers of this song, nobody sings it like him.”

Thank you, DT!

Readers, what do y’all think? If you were stranded on a desert island for the rest of your life and could have only one playlist or one bookshelf with you, what songs or books would you choose?

  • For a Desert Island Playlist, send me a list of up to 12 songs, excluding hymns and worship songs. (We’ll cover those later.)

  • For a Desert Island Bookshelf, send me a list of up to 12 books. If possible, include one photo of all the books together.

Send your list (or both lists!) to, and include as much or as little explanation of your choices as you would like.

Be sure to tell me your city or town!

Quote of the Moment

Now there are some things we all know, but we don’t take’m out and look at’m very often. We all know that something is eternal, … and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.

—Thornton Wilder, Our Town

Currently Reading (or Re-Reading)

Bill Watterson and John Kascht, The Mysteries (Andrews McMeel)

Michael Shewmaker, Leviathan: A Poem (Louisiana State University Press)

Matthew R. Anderson, Prophets of Love: The Unlikely Kinship of Leonard Cohen and the Apostle Paul (McGill-Queen’s University Press)

Philip Yancey, Undone: A Modern Rendering of John Donne’s Devotions (Rabbit Room Press)

Jonathan Karl, Tired of Winning: Donald Trump and the End of Grand Old Party (Dutton)

Jorge Luis Borges, The Aleph and Other Stories (Penguin)

Matthew S. Vos, Strangers and Scapegoats: Extending God’s Welcome to Those on the Margins (Baker)

Currently Watching

Apple TV+ just released the fourth season of For All Mankind, so I’m watching that (as I do everything) five minutes at a time.

Join Us at Christianity Today

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Ask a Question or Say Hello

The Russell Moore Show podcast includes a section where we grapple with the questions you might have about life, the gospel, relationships, work, the church, spirituality, the future, a moral dilemma you’re facing, or whatever. You can send your questions to I’ll never use your name—unless you tell me to—and will come up with a groan-inducing pun of a pseudonym for you.

And, of course, I would love to hear from you about anything. Send me an email at if you have any questions or comments about this newsletter, if there are other things you would like to see discussed here, or if you would just like to say hello!

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Russell Moore

Russell Moore
Editor in Chief

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