Few religious groups are as misunderstood as Satanists. While I’ve done a great deal of explaining and pontificating about my own Satanism, I haven’t featured many other Satanic voices on this blog. I thought I would reach out to a few prominent Satanists and ask them what they wish non-Satanists understood about their religion. I found their answers enlightening and lovely.
Priest Penemue, a blogger and public face of Satanism, had this to say:
I wish that when people who are new to Satanism try to understand and critique it, they held it to the same standards that they consciously or unconsciously have for their own religion. Most Christians have an intuitive understanding that the fact that one person does a terrible thing “in the name of Christ” doesn’t make Christianity bad, nor does it even mean that person was genuinely a Christian. Yet I see those same people pointing to weirdo killers who sport Satanic t-shirts and construe it as evidence that Satanism itself must be “that way”. I’m not expecting non-Satanists to understand our religion thoroughly, and I’m not even expecting them to do “work” in the form of research. It’s much simpler than that: I wish they would take the time to simply process whether their assumptions about Satanism even make sense in the context of their assumptions about how people work in general.
National Councilmember of the Satanic Temple, Chalice Blythe, wanted to clarify some common, if ridiculous, stereotypes about the religion:
Common misunderstandings of Satanism typically fall within the theistic narrative of Satan being a literal entity that requires worship through human/animal sacrifice. This of course is not the case with the majority of self-identifying Satanists (there are some outliers), as we are atheistic and identify with the literary Lucifer that exemplifies ultimate rebellion against tyranny and represents Enlightenment values such as reason, science, progress and liberty. We couldn’t call ourselves anything else because no other figure or body of thought best exemplifies all aspects that sets us apart from atheism or humanism.
However, one of the biggest misconceptions I feel is important to correct in light of Satanism’s recent rise in popular culture is that unlike the theistic religions of our upbringing, being a Satanist is more than just a statement of what someone is or rejecting the views you no longer hold. It is a deep understanding of what it means to embrace this identity and the history behind it, as well as a journey of self-discovery, acceptance, and honesty that requires a lot of breaking down of societal pressures, indoctrination, and false morals that suppresses our individual wills and inhibits us from being unapologetic to our true selves.
This is a theme that arises again and again in conversations with Satanists. My observation is that many Satanists do not feel that they are deliberately trolling Christianity, or that they are even opposed to Christianity as a whole. Instead, they have moved beyond Christianity and are pioneering their own positive and empowering religion.
Of course I think the obvious is that I don’t worship a literal Satan. I had a coworker ask me exactly that the other day. I would also want people to know that being a Satanist is very much a “glass half full” belief system to me. I’m a positive person. I love to laugh, I love to smile, I love being alive. I’m not mad at god or all bitter at Christianity. I’ve let all that go. I’m in a high state of being. Being a satanist is unbelievably liberating. I am free of dogma, free of irrational beliefs, and not a slave to an imaginary dictator in the sky. I’m a happy Satanist.
My friend Joseph Laycock is not himself a Satanist, but he has been studying them over the past several years. He is also an expert on New Religious Movements, and is editor of the journal Nova Religio (he also happens to be the most interviewed guest on my podcast Sacred Tension.) He has this to say:
There is so much I wish the public understood about Satanism. The most important thing is that the organized criminal Satanic cults described in Satanic conspiracy theories do not exist. Figures such as Mike Warnke, John Todd, Michelle Smith, and William Schnoebelen are liars. They have made up ridiculous stories that have been debunked with the slightest investigation, often by other Christians. But their lies have destroyed innocent people’s lives. Second, self-described Satanists do not “worship evil” as is frequently claimed. If you actually want to know what Satanists do and believe, you should reach out to an academic who has published peer-reviewed books and articles on Satanism, not self-declared “occult crime expert” or a pastor. The reason for this is obvious: If you wanted to know whether to buy stock in Coca-cola, you wouldn’t ask the CEO of Pepsi. Unless they are also trained as scholars, Christian leaders do not know anything about Satanism and are incentivized not to learn to share accurate information. Third, I wish people understood that there are always ulterior motives when people tell horrible stories about hidden conspiracies of evil. The acts attributed to Satanic conspiracies––incest, cannibalism, harming children––are the same things that medieval Christians falsely accused Jews of doing and Romans falsely accused Christians of doing before that. There is a reason people keep making up the same horrible stories. In 1951, the philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote that, “Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all unifying agents.” When someone tells you a story about an invisible group of people that commits evil for the sake of evil, they are not trying to protect the innocent, they are trying to control you. Instead of panicking about Satanists, stop and try to figure out what exactly they are trying to get you to do.
Instead of running away in fear from groups that frighten us, I find it much more fruitful to practice radical hospitality, and to lean in with curiosity. Instead of assuming you know everything about a religious minority, take the time to ask questions. Clarifying questions make the world a better place.
Do you have any thoughts or questions on Satanism? Let me know in the comments.
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