I thoroughly enjoy the passion I see in members of The Satanic Temple when they are unraveling the finer points and applications of The Seven Tenets. These tenets express strong core ethical priorities, while at the same time being general enough to allow each individual to develop and explore their own interpretation. For some people, the phrase “compassion and empathy toward all creatures” in Tenet I resonates naturally with their choice of veganism. For them, veganism is a part of their Satanism. But people may also interpret Tenet I differently, and many Satanists are not Vegan. So it goes with other moral questions, as well: from addiction intervention to euthenasia. It fills me with joy when Satanists talk through scenarios, often making discoveries: not only about the way other people interpret and balance the tenets, but oftentimes also about their own, often unconscious, assumptions and priorities.
On the other hand, I start to feel uncomfortable when I see members of The Satanic Temple bring up The Seven Tenets in attempts to impose their will on others. This doesn’t happen often, and when it does happen it can be soft-spoken and covert. I don’t see anyone out there holding up stone tablets engraved with The Seven Tenets, and threatening those who don’t comply. (Thank Satan.) Yet, from time to time, I see the tiniest hints of authoritarian impulse creeping in to the way some people talk about The Seven Tenets.
It can appear in subtle phrasing. When a person says “The tenets require you…” instead of “Because of the tenets, I feel obligated to…” it can shape the tone of a conversation. A joyous intellectual exchange of ideas can become a gesture toward authoritarianism and exclusion. That may make it sound overly dramatic: it is only a small gesture, to be sure. I would never condemn a person for simple slips in phrasing that we all participate in from time to time.
Nonetheless, having a non-authoritarian mindset about The Tenets is an important part of how I practice my Satanism. I try to train myself to think of The Seven Tenets as something that I have adopted for my own use, not as something that I’m trying to get everyone else to do. Viewed through the lens of my Satanism, my Seven Tenets do not “require” other people to do anything at all. They are guidelines for myself.
It can also appear in the way some people talk about non-Satanists. I’ve seen people criticize politicians who are climate change deniers for not following Tenet V. Make no mistake: we should absolutely criticize politicians who are climate deniers! But it makes me sad to frame that criticism in terms of Tenet V, because those politicians are not Satanists.
The decision to adopt The Seven Tenets as core ethical axioms is part of our own Satanism as members of The Satanic Temple. It is voluntary. I see the Seven Tenets as a source for personal inspiration, not a standard to which we should coerce others to conform.
This mindset is reflected in the political activism of The Satanic Temple, as well. With the Religious Abortion Ritual, for example, the central argument for exemption from restrictive laws is not that other people should be following the tenets of scientific reasoning and bodily autonomy. Rather, the argument is that the restrictive laws surrounding abortion prevent you, the Satanist, from practicing your deeply-held beliefs. With the Protect Children Project, the argument for exempting students from corporal punishment is not that everyone else should accept the tenets about bodily autonomy and compassion. Rather, the argument is that children who already agree to those tenets must not have those religious beliefs infringed.
Satanists love edge cases, so whenever I’ve spoken to this issue I hear certain other objections:
Don’t I think the world would be better if everyone followed The Seven Tenets? Not if they haven’t voluntarily adopted the Tenets as their own. Going out into the world and trying to convince people to follow the Seven Tenets is proselytizing; trying to force people to follow them is even worse.
Don’t you think certain things, like bodily autonomy, should be protected by law? I absolutely believe laws should be in place that will protect bodily autonomy; but it should never be because bodily autonomy is one of the Seven Tenets. I believe in a secular government, and I don’t believe the moral axioms of any religion should be enshrined in law.
What if somebody has a stupid or harmful interpretation of The Seven Tenets? This one is tough, because someone could claim that they are “following the tenets” while promoting all kinds of things that we, as members of The Satanic Temple, are overtly against, from bigotry to violence. But when I’m confronted with a person like this, I simply don’t see the value in trying to “prove” to that person that their understanding of the tenets is somehow objectively wrong. It is that I recognize the interpretation as stupid and harmful. If they insist on holding beliefs anathema to most of the members of The Satanic Temple, that’s their business. I just hope they don’t expect to be invited to a lot of parties.
Committing to a strongly non-authoritarian stance on the Seven Tenets is difficult. Even as I’m writing this article, I find myself pausing to reflect and rewrite certain sentences multiple times. It is so easy to find myself saying, “One shouldn’t…” or “One should…” But when I reflect about what is important in my own personal moral philosophy — my Satanism, my interpretation of the Seven Tenets — I can only conclude that it’s worth the effort. It’s my own way of making sure that I’m living the Seven Tenets.
Do you agree? Disagree? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below. If your comment is excellent, it will be featured in the monthly Best Comments series.
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