If there is one thing I find myself continually communicating about my Satanism, it is this: my Satanism isn’t about you. You might feel such a unique revulsion at my practice, or you might be so flummoxed by the religion that you can only assume that it is about deliberately provoking you.
This all assumes that you, the offended, are at the center of my religion. But my Satanism isn’t about you. You, the offended, don’t figure into 99.9% of my religious practice. It isn’t about offending, hurting, or provoking you. My Satanism is about me — my catharsis, my fulfillment, and how I choose to practice compassion toward all other creatures. That it offends you is incidental.
But offense, even if that is not my Satanism’s primary goal, does have its utility, and it is this: my Satanism is the test of your commitment to religious liberty.
In his book Speak of the Devil: How the Satanic Temple is Changing the Way We Talk About Religion, religious scholar Joseph Laycock writes,
The question for the radical pluralist is how we can accept and respond to the reality that members of our society — entitled to the same rights and freedoms as everyone else — pratice Satanism. In the Book of Job, Satan appears as the accuser challenging Job’s devotion to God. Satan tests just how much pain Job can bear before renouncing his core beliefs. TST adopts a similar role as accuser when American communities claim to support religious pluralism: how much discomfort can we tolerate before we abandon our professed values? The penultimate line of TST’s prayer vocation reads, “That which will not bend must break, and that which can be destroyed by truth should never be spared its demise.” If we cannot bear even a few black-clad gadflies before declaring that “equality has gone too far,” then our claims of tolerance have broken, and the accuser has won his case.
Talk is cheap. Mouth service to the ideals of freedom of speech and religion are usually just performative genuflections to bolster one’s standing with their own tribe. I roll my eyes whenever conservative American Catholics or Evangelicals spout nonsense about freedom of religion because they are almost always the first to abandon it when the natural consequences of that principle are revealed to them.
Charlie Kirk, conservative founder and president of Turning Point USA, wrote a piece in response to TST’s SatanCon claiming that although “the first amendment has long been a bedrock principle of my worldview” there are legitimate limits to free speech, and one of those legitimate limits is Satanism.
He writes, “some things are so objectionable—even downright evil—that they don’t merit society’s protection.” and later,
Satan worship is not what the Founders had in mind when they extolled the “fruits of liberty.” There is no perceivable public benefit to protecting it. True freedom is the pursuit of the good, the virtuous and the beautiful. Conservatives have for too long sat on the sidelines and allowed libertarian arguments to color our perception of the world. No longer. We can and should use the law to shut down Satanism. This is why we have obscenity laws to this day, and thank God for them.”*
If Charlie is Job, then Satan has won his case. Existing in a pluralistic society means legally adhering to objective standards of harm (threats of violence, slander, libel) and not whatever you deem mortally offensive to your individual moral code. Profound discomfort and experiencing offense that grievously wounds is the cost of living in a free and just society.
I believe that Charlie and those like him hold disgusting beliefs that directly harm the nation, the world, and minorities. I believe his ideology is an existential threat, not just to our institutions and epistemic order, but to the world as a whole. When stripped down and revealed for what it is, Charlie’s worldview is nothing more than theocratic authoritarianism, and there are only a few things more disgusting than that. His claim that governments should directly infringe upon the freedoms of Satanists is morally repugnant to me, and I hope to see such beliefs die away completely within our society.
And yet, despite all that, I will not demand that Charlie’s right to say absurd theocratic bullshit about my own religion should be legislated against by the government. That’s because, unlike Charlie, I have principles.
You believe in religious freedom? Ok. Overcome your disgust of my religion enough to defend my right to practice. If you don’t, then you never truly believed in freedom of religion to begin with.
*If you are new to Satanism, it’s important to understand that Satan is not a literal supernatural figure to most modern Satanists. We consider him a symbol. Charlie’s use of “worship” in this case is therefore misleading. I don’t worship Satan, but even if I did it would still be protected by the first amendment.