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.
I’m frequently asked how I, as a Satanist, practice my Satanism. Whenever I get this question I struggle to answer it, because my Satanism is so all-encompassing for me I don’t know how not to practice it. It isn’t as if I’m just a Satanist when I’m writing about Satanism, doing Satanic ritual, or talking to other Satanists. I’m also a Satanist when I’m doing my finances or watching Netflix. Religion is not just something I do, but something I am, and as in most religion the boundary between doing and being is blurred.
But a central aspect of my Satanic practice comes down to something very private: what Cal Newport calls a Root Document. For years now I’ve kept what I can only call my own personal Sacred Text. It is a holistic document, containing the very mundane (checklists for work) and the very sacred (my guiding principles, meditations, and rituals.) It is also a living document, shifting according to what I learn and need.
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?”
I’ve spent a great deal of time explaining why Satanism works for me, and you can find that trove of information here. But, as I continue to explore my Satanism and receive questions from bemused readers, I’m starting to realize that there is an essential component of my Satanism that I’ve left out. So essential, perhaps, that it feels impossible to articulate. I feel intimidated trying to put this to words, but I will do my best in this post.
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.”
One of the challenges that I come across time and again in my journey as a public Satanist is having to differentiate myself from LaVeyan Satanism. For the un-initiated, Anton LaVey founded the Church of Satan in the sixties and shaped much of the public’s perception of what Satanism is.
Ever since coming out as an atheist, I’ve noticed a few recurring questions about my unbelief. I thought I would offer a few clarifications so I can refer people to this article when the questions come up again.
In this episode of Sacred Tension, I talk to Reverend Lori Walke: a badass lady preacher, public theologian, and social activist who is prominently featured in the new documentary American Heretics: The Politics of the Gospel.