I live in a strange, interstitial space between atheism and theism. While I no longer consider myself a Christian, I refuse to cut ties with the Christian world and my progressive Christian community. At the same time, I feel a great deal of kinship with the pagan and witchcraft communities, as well as the atheist and skeptical communities. My own religious home is The Satanic Temple, and I consider myself a practicing Satanist. I call myself a nontheist and reject unverified claims of the supernatural.
To many people, the question of God’s existence is simple: either there is a magical sky daddy or there isn’t. For me, however, this question is getting increasingly complicated. God is about more than just existence or nonexistence: it is also about definitions, worldview, and culture.
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.
Unsurprisingly, Wallace can’t let go of his fantasy about how important he is and that an omnipotent being agrees with him. It doesn’t take much, just making up his god and his religion in his own image and ignoring the inconvenient parts.
Alright atheists, let’s talk. It’s time for a huddle. If the following rant doesn’t apply to you, then congrats. But if this rant does apply to you, then I hope it inspires some reflection.
In this episode of Sacred Tension, I speak with pastor, author, and astrophysicist Paul Wallace about his journey as an astrophysicist who can’t shake his faith in God. We discuss Galileo, quantum physics, the interactions between faith and science, why I personally don’t believe in God, and much more.
I recently wrote an article titled On Forfeiting the Word Atheist in which I explored how using the word “atheist” predisposes people to having the least charitable view of me. I’ve gotten so exasperated explaining again and again what the word “atheist” means that I’ve opted for the word “nontheist,” just because it has a different connotation and isn’t as poisoned by anti-atheist propaganda.
To be clear, I like the word atheist, and I see it as identical to the word nontheist. I don’t care if other people use the word atheist, I just find the word a stumbling block when I try to have productive conversations with theists. I have limited patience, and I personally find it more expedient to not use the word.
Along these lines, a reader sent me this question:
“Why then would you self-identify as a satanist when it seems (from your writings at least) that THAT label is also widely misunderstood?”
Since my Christian deconstruction I’ve started to try on various labels for size. Among these labels have been: post-Christian, nontheistic Christian, esoteric Christian, nontheist, Satanist, and, of course, atheist.
(Some annoying hippie in the back will, at this point, ask “why do you have to have a label, man? Why can’t you just be yourself?” Suffice it to say, I like identities, and I am pro-label. That other people are less comfortable with that is fine.)
Several weeks ago, a fellow named Elijah left a comment on my post Why Satan? The comment addresses concerns about Satanism which I think many people share. I was planning to write a full response, but I find that I just don’t have enough energy for that right now. I ended up corresponding with Satanic Temple Director of Ministry Priest Penemue on the subject. We had a lively discussion. Instead of writing a full response to the article, I will simply post the comment (it’s tedious, I’m sorry) followed by my correspondence with Penemue.
In The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, Eastern Orthodox Theologian David Bentley Hart writes that he believes true atheism must be “nurtured by an infantile wish to live in a world proportionate to one’s own hopes or conceptual limitations.”
David Bentley Hart’s ponderous tome The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss has been regularly touted to me as the book every nontheist must read. I’m happy to oblige, and I’m about 30% of the way through (including footnotes.) While I find Hart pompous, bloviating, and even an occasional bully, I’m also enjoying his erudition and mastery of the English language. As he makes clear again and again, he is not so much trying to defend God, but rather to describe the classical view of God, which he feels modern atheists have sorely missed.
If there is a God, he set me up for failure in the Christian world when he deemed it suitable that I be gay. Struggling with my sexuality in the church resulted in many well-intentioned people saying awful things to me. Now, I’ve left Christian belief behind and I’m a proud member of The Satanic Temple. Unsurprisingly, the comments haven’t stopped. I get called deceived, evil, damned, and much more on a regular basis.