This is a guest post by Greg Stevens. Greg Stevens is a longtime leader in The Satanic Temple, and currently acts as Director of Ministry and Executive Producer of TST TV.
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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9 thoughts on “Guest Post: The Seven Tenets Are Not a Sword”
I agree with this article for the most part. I try and live by the 7 tenets to the best of my ability. I do take some issue with part of the article with regards to an individual using the tenets in a harmful interpretation. I do not think that it is fair for us to interpret what is harmful. Looking strictly at this from the perspective of tenet 4. I look at it as of a person wants to use the tenets in a corrupt or harmful manner, that’s their prerogative, no matter how much I disagree with it. It’s the same way I view Freedom of Speech. The example I use for this is the Westboro Baptist Church protesting soldiers’ funerals. I disagree with them completely and think they are scum for doing so, BUT I agree and defend their right to do so. It’s because of this that I personally don’t think that a person can corrupt the tenets. It would be our judgement and us infringing on their rights making them “wrong”. By doing this I see ourselves as violating tenet 4. Then again this is simply all my interpretation of the tenets.
When I was a Christian I could barley follow the 10 commandments, lol. I am new to Satanism and the TST and use the 7 Tenants as a guide and interpret them to fit to my journey. I think having to conform and follow them word for word would be restricting to my free will. By the way, I love your podcasts!
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Thanks so much for your comment! I agree – I think the 7 Tenets are far superior to the 10 commandments. Also, I’m glad you enjoy my podcast.
Beautiful interview, thank you both
Thank you for writing about this. The element of Satanism as practiced by TST that most resonates with me is the individual agency of embracing and living the Seven Tenets, and their ethical foundations, as one best sees for oneself.
Trying to alter any other person’s chosen path by attempting to force them to see the Tenets as you do is fundamentally oppositional to Satanism and self-direction. It is the very illegitimate authority that I repudiate as a Satanist.
I came to TST recently, and joined this religion to explore these Tenets and how they naturally align with the principles I have long lived on my own. I seek space to forge my own way and want never to take another’s space to do the same away from them.
I’m a couple years late to the party, but I’ll post this anyway.
I’ve spent a huge portion of my life exploring different religions. Growing up in Southern California I have had the pleasure of making friends from a plethora of cultural backgrounds. I went to a Jewish temple with my best friend as much as I could throughout Jr. High school. Not that I felt drawn to Judaism rather I was infatuated with the idea that this entire culture even existed and felt compelled to understand why. My grandmother would drag me to midnight mass and no matter how hard I tried to understand Catholicism, it’s origin, or it’s part in modern day society, my brain just couldn’t come to any conclusion other then brain washing. I felt sorry for my Muslim friends who could never do the things they wanted, I would cry for my Mormon neighbor who would confide in me that all she wanted was a pair of jeans and to know what it was like to kiss a boy in high school.
I never felt that the idea of any God really made sense. I believed in scientific facts, personal experiences, and my own inner intuition. I formed my own belief system. For years I’ve lived by my own moral code. As long as you are happy and not hurting anyone, do it. If someone around you is hurting or hurting someone else, do something about it. Be kind, be loving, be happy.
Then I met my first “Satanist”. I laughed. He read the Satanic Bible and formed his own twisted belief off of what he thought a Satanic person should be. He preached, he pushed this “fuck everyone” mentality on me and I walked away from him…. But I couldn’t walk away from the idea that I haven’t actually taken the time to research what Satanism was. I bought every book I could find, I read though every article and jumped in every chatroom.
From that day on I was fascinated by The Satanic Temple, I still am. I have never found anything in this world that I could agree more with then the Seven Tenets. To me, they are a perfect guideline to being a decent human being. They are open to interpretation yet clear enough to define a basic set of morales.
I would like to become a more active member of TST and look forward to whatever comes next.
This is a wonderful comment, thank you so much for sharing. I think a lot of people share this experience.