Lucien Greaves on How Satanism Can Build Empathy Between Religions

I recently had the pleasure of talking to Satanic Temple co-founder and spokesperson Lucien Greaves, and while the whole conversation was great, one thing in particular he said stood out to me.

Due to the phenomenon of ignorant familiarity, many non-Satanists who have never thought deeply about Satanism are all too eager to lecture me on what Satanism is all about. One of the claims of the ignorant non-Satanist is that we are nothing more than militant atheists appropriating religious symbolism as a troll — that we are fundamentally anti-religion.

While I certainly can’t speak for all Satanists everywhere, my experience within the Satanic community has been quite the opposite of this perception. I see many Satanists ready and willing to ally themselves with progressive Christian groups, and insisting that they are a completely separate religion from Christianity altogether. I see Satanists cultivating a thriving religious community, away from the public eye, where we practice rituals, social bonding, and fellowship — not for the sake of any onlooker, but purely for our own fulfillment. I see Satanists not trying to tear down other places of worship, but defending the right of all religions to worship unmolested by tyrannical theocracy. Most astonishing of all, I see many Satanists empathizing with and softening towards other religious groups.

When I brought up that I, as a Satanist, reject false binaries and refuse to cut ties with Christians — that I even still work for an Episcopal church — Lucien made this excellent comment which contradicts the intuition of many onlookers. (The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity. To hear his unedited words in conversation, please listen to the episode.)

It brings me back to something I find interesting also — those kinds of atheists who come to us and want us to be a prank, and feel that what the Satanic Temple really is, is “fuck you Christians” turned up to volume ten. I think what people find when they come to nontheistic religion from militant atheism is that this — at least for me — actually helps to reconcile myself more to that idea of religion and helps to kind of mitigate that feeling of animosity, because I know what they are getting. I know to a certain degree what their religion is — or at least I feel like I know what religion can be for people when they don’t have designs for authoritarian power, which was all I could see of it before when my viewpoint was more militantly atheistic. Now I’m not willing to just entirely disregard the progressive factions of these belief systems, but I am willing to work as an ally with them when they understand what I believe, who I am, and they don’t ask me do otherwise […] And I feel like when we really make some inroads in the fight against theocracy, we are going to make those inroads by alliances with progressive Christian groups, progressive Jewish groups, progressive Muslim groups, and other established religious organizations.

My experience mirrors Lucien’s: Satanism is a religion which stands on its own affirmative values, and has helped me empathize more with other religions. It helps me respect the healthy aspects of other religious traditions (including Christianity) rather than dismiss it all as ignorant and backwards.

It’s one thing for this sentiment to come from me — some idiot with a blog who has little clout in the world of religious discourse — but it’s quite another thing for it to come from the lips of the founder of the largest Satanic organization on this planet. The challenge is now put forward to the non-Satanist to either take what Lucien and I are saying seriously, or to continue making ignorant assumptions about what we think and feel.

Regardless of how non-Satanists see us, we will continue to practice our rituals, continue to stand for religious freedom, and continue to see ourselves as an authentic religious movement. Satanism is a religion and community to us, and that’s what matters. But, I hope onlookers will take this opportunity to see the sincerity in our religious practice.

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