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.”

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“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).

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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.

Russell Moore is the editor in chief at Christianity Today and the director of its public theology project.