Updated: May 15, 2019
Last night I watched the CNN series, This is Life with Lisa Ling. The particular episode I saw was about the Satanic Temple.
Like many things, most people’s perceptions about Satanism or the Satanic Temple are based on ignorance. Contrary to popular belief Satanists do not believe in or worship the Devil or hold any belief in the Christian notion of Satan, which also means that the idea that Satanists participate in animal sacrifice or ritualistic killing in satanic worship is a farce. In the 1980s and 1990s, American talk shows and news programs linked reports of animal sacrifice and ritualistic killing to satanic worship, most of which proved to be unfounded. You will not find a satanic church in your community because Satanists do not have actual church buildings, which would be a violation of their individualist approach to living. The Church of Satan once had "grottos," or local chapters, but it disbanded those after deeming them "unnecessary." Satanists do not solicit memberships nor proselytize.
The Satanic Temple is an international association of likeminded people who subscribe to the following seven tenets:
One should strive to act with compassion and empathy towards all creatures in accordance with reason.
The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.
The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo your own.
Beliefs should conform to our best scientific understanding of the world. We should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs.
People are fallible. If we make a mistake, we should do our best to rectify it and resolve any harm that may have been caused.
Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word.
Satanism is anchored primarily in Atheism although there are some Satanists who are agnostic. The underlying belief is that there are no supernatural entities, either a Devil or God. For Satanists, “Satan” is a symbol and metaphor. Satan in Hebrew means “an adversary, oppose; one who questions." Satan represents the ultimate rebel. The symbol of Satan especially represents the rejection and opposition to the fundamental premises and mindsets of religion and religious authority. Since leaving organized religion, my own thinking about Satan has changed and evolved, which I write about in Wide Open Spaces. With respect to Satan, the official position of The Satanic Temple is as follows:
"Satan is symbolic of the Eternal Rebel in opposition to arbitrary authority, forever defending personal sovereignty even in the face of insurmountable odds. Satan is an icon for the unbowed will of the unsilenced inquirer… the heretic who questions sacred laws and rejects all tyrannical impositions. Ours is the literary Satan best exemplified by Milton and the Romantic Satanists, from Blake to Shelley, to Anatole France."
A line from the Satanic Bible reads, “Satan has been the best friend the church has ever had, as he has kept it in business all these years!”
Dr. LaVey’s seminal book, The Satanic Bible published in 1969 lays out basic principles of Satanism. Though The Satanic Bible is not considered to be sacred scripture in the way the Christian Bible is to Christianity, most Satanists hold it in high regard. LaVey's Satanism represents a rejection of Christianity which denies its basic principles and theology. It views Christianity – alongside other major religions – as a largely negative force on humanity. Satanists often refer to themselves as I-theists, which puts self at the center of one’s life, motivations and values. This is not unique to Satanism. Abraham Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs idenitfies "self-actualization" as the highest human desire - the desire to reach one's fullest human potential. In the field of ethics, "egoism" (not egotism) is the theory that one’s self (as opposed to God, tradition, authority, etc.) is, or should be, the motivation and the goal of one’s own action. This is not the same as selfishness; notice in the above seven tenets of the Satanic Temple the principles of compassion, empathy and social justice.
There is much more that could be said in clarifying and describing what Satanism is and isn't. From my own knowledge and exploration of the subject and personally knowing a few satanists, here are five valuable lessons I have learned:
Don't judge something or others from a distance
The most prominent stereotypes and perceptions about Satanism are wrong and based on ignorance. Hopefully by now you have learned that you can't trust everything you hear or been told. Rather than judging something or someone from a distance based on hearsay, take the time to do some up close and personal exploration. This is why I enjoyed what the Lisa Ling show did with this topic of Satanism. My views about were singificantly influenced by personal knowing people who are Satanists. Just about every religion or philosophy has some small perecentage of people who give the group at large a bad name by being radical extremists and this also applies to Satanism. Do your homework. Take time to know the people behind the labels.
The need for defiance
Satanists embrace blasphemy as a legitimate expression of personal independence from counter-productive traditional norms. Satan is viewed as the ultimate symbol for rebellion. Too often religion turns people into nice, complaint, repressed, timid, inhibited, mannerly, obedient, fearful, amiable, submissive people. By the way, I would not use any of these words to describe Jesus. You can be a loving, compassionate, respectful and kind person AND be a rebellious, defiant, passionate, disobedient, subversive, nonconformist, mischievous, self-willed, fully expressed, freethinker, heretic, and free spirit human being. In my most recent book, Inner Anarchy, I use the unruly notion of anarchy to convey the idea of dethroning religious or societal beliefs, mindsets, narratives and ideologies that we are basically indoctrinated into and rule us from within. This necessarily leads one to divest themselves of as well as subvert and oppose false beliefs, mindsets, narratives and ideologies afoot in the world. A lot of people would be well-served by taking a page from their book in terms of questioning the most fundamental premises on which we have learned to base our lives. "Herd conformity" is one of the nine Satanic sins.
A section from the Satanic Bible reads:
“Stupidity—The top of the list for Satanic Sins. The Cardinal Sin of Satanism. It’s too bad that stupidity isn’t painful. Ignorance is one thing, but our society thrives increasingly on stupidity. It depends on people going along with whatever they are told. The media promotes a cultivated stupidity as a posture that is not only acceptable but laudable. Satanists must learn to see through the tricks and cannot afford to be stupid.”
Accepting and defending the outsider
A very poignant moment of Lisa Ling's show on Satanism involves her interview with a woman who shares about the suicide of her gay son. She partly blames the wound of religious intolerance and condemnation upon him that led her song to take his life. This mother found a place of acceptance, compassion and humanity among Satanists. Satanism fully accepts all LGBTQ people, and virtually all others for that matter who are rejected, marginalized and disenfranchised by mainstream society. Hmmm... sounds a little like Jesus to me. It's a bit twisted to consider the fact that Satanism - often condemned by Christians - may be a greater expression of unconditional love and acceptance than Christianity, which sort of raises this strange paradox that "Satan" accepts everyone and "God" doesn't. Like the saying goes: "The world doesn't want to be saved. It wants to be loved. That's how you save it."
The power of symbolism and art
Satanism places a high value on symbolism and art. For example, the photograph above of the Baphomet statue has a lot of symbolism for Satanism. The Satanic Temple has used symbols of Satan to draw attention to what it sees as the hypocrisy of Christian symbols on government property. This aspect of Satanism made me pause and wonder what the symbols and art that express and represent the tearing down of false beliefs, mindsets, narratives and ideologies that rule, divide and imprison humankind and all living things, and the symbols and art that point toward a world of liberation, harmony and oneness.
I’ve observed how religion often kills off and shuts down a person’s free self-expression. The idea seems to be that what we most deeply think, feel and want to do must be controlled and restrained or we will commit the worst of evils. What I have found instead is that people carry entire worlds of beauty, goodness, love, creativity, brilliance, magic and mystery within them, waiting to be spoken, written, painted, sung, played, inked, performed, sculpted, photographed, choreographed, engineered, programmed, planted, posted, and created. Every religion identifies a creative energy and power as a fundamental aspect of God or the divine. There is no calling more sacred than releasing and expressing those worlds that lie within us, waiting and groaning to be born.
Celebration of individuality
A core principle of Satanism is personal freedom, autonomy and individuality. Within every human being is a self-actualizing tendency. At the root of our human personhood, we long to grow, evolve, deepen, and expand into the fullness of who we are. Too often religion denies and thwarts this self-actualizing tendency at every turn by demanding that we remain in a very small, tight, limited, and restrictive space. We are made to fear ourselves and our fullness, and fear keeps us from exploring any further than the confined place religion puts us in. You will find as you are shedding religion that this self-actualizing tendency will revive, strengthen, accelerate, and will reach it’s zenith. Some characteristics of this self-actualization include:
1. Dissatisfaction with one’s staus quo
2. Intolerance of inauthenticity
3. Casting off of rules, regulations, and restrictions
4. Resurgence of individuality
5. Openness to new possibilities
6. Desire to grow, learn, and expand
7. Freedom of self-expression
8. Establishment of personal boundaries
9. Reshaping of your relational world
10. Greater acceptance and love for others
This post is not a defense of or a promotion for Satanism. Not all the teachings and practices of Satanists promote love, peace and harmony. As mentioned previously, I'm sure there are people who claim to be Satanists who are selfish, hateful, divisive, destructive and worse. But I also know some Christians who are too. I watched Lisa Ling's show about The Satanic Temple and it motivated me to investigate it more thoroughly, and reflect upon my own personal experiences with those who are Satanists. Based on what I know and have learned, as well as my own personal experiences, I'd have to say that I can think of a lot of Satanists I would want on my team. Their principles of compassion, empathy, humanity, social justice, free thinking, defiance, tolerance, acceptance, individuality and creative expression make them the kinds of people I'd want to hang out with. I wonder if these are the sort of folks Jesus got lambasted by the religious crowd for hanging out with.
“We have never heard the devil's side of the story, God wrote all the book.” - Anatole France