What Satanists Wish Other People Understood About Satanism

Few religious groups are as misunderstood as Satanists. While I’ve done a great deal of explaining and pontificating about my own Satanism, I haven’t featured many other Satanic voices on this blog. I thought I would reach out to a few prominent Satanists and ask them what they wish non-Satanists understood about their religion. I found their answers enlightening and lovely.

Priest Penemue, a blogger and public face of Satanism, had this to say:

I wish that when people who are new to Satanism try to understand and critique it, they held it to the same standards that they consciously or unconsciously have for their own religion. Most Christians have an intuitive understanding that the fact that one person does a terrible thing “in the name of Christ” doesn’t make Christianity bad, nor does it even mean that person was genuinely a Christian. Yet I see those same people pointing to weirdo killers who sport Satanic t-shirts and construe it as evidence that Satanism itself must be “that way”. I’m not expecting non-Satanists to understand our religion thoroughly, and I’m not even expecting them to do “work” in the form of research. It’s much simpler than that: I wish they would take the time to simply process whether their assumptions about Satanism even make sense in the context of their assumptions about how people work in general.

National Councilmember of the Satanic Temple, Chalice Blythe, wanted to clarify some common, if ridiculous, stereotypes about the religion:

Common misunderstandings of Satanism typically fall within the theistic narrative of Satan being a literal entity that requires worship through human/animal sacrifice. This of course is not the case with the majority of self-identifying Satanists (there are some outliers), as we are atheistic and identify with the literary Lucifer that exemplifies ultimate rebellion against tyranny and represents Enlightenment values such as reason, science, progress and liberty. We couldn’t call ourselves anything else because no other figure or body of thought best exemplifies all aspects that sets us apart from atheism or humanism.

However, one of the biggest misconceptions I feel is important to correct in light of Satanism’s recent rise in popular culture is that unlike the theistic religions of our upbringing, being a Satanist is more than just a statement of what someone is or rejecting the views you no longer hold. It is a deep understanding of what it means to embrace this identity and the history behind it, as well as a journey of self-discovery, acceptance, and honesty that requires a lot of breaking down of societal pressures, indoctrination, and false morals that suppresses our individual wills and inhibits us from being unapologetic to our true selves.

This is a theme that arises again and again in conversations with Satanists. My observation is that many Satanists do not feel that they are deliberately trolling Christianity, or that they are even opposed to Christianity as a whole. Instead, they have moved beyond Christianity and are pioneering their own positive and empowering religion.

Mason, who is prominently featured in the recent documentary Hail, Satan? agrees:

Of course I think the obvious is that I don’t worship a literal Satan. I had a coworker ask me exactly that the other day. I would also want people to know that being a Satanist is very much a “glass half full” belief system to me. I’m a positive person. I love to laugh, I love to smile, I love being alive. I’m not mad at god or all bitter at Christianity. I’ve let all that go. I’m in a high state of being. Being a satanist is unbelievably liberating. I am free of dogma, free of irrational beliefs, and not a slave to an imaginary dictator in the sky. I’m a happy Satanist.

My friend Joseph Laycock is not himself a Satanist, but he has been studying them over the past several years. He is also an expert on New Religious Movements, and is editor of the journal Nova Religio (he also happens to be the most interviewed guest on my podcast Sacred Tension.) He has this to say:

There is so much I wish the public understood about Satanism. The most important thing is that the organized criminal Satanic cults described in Satanic conspiracy theories do not exist. Figures such as Mike Warnke, John Todd, Michelle Smith, and William Schnoebelen are liars. They have made up ridiculous stories that have been debunked with the slightest investigation, often by other Christians. But their lies have destroyed innocent people’s lives. Second, self-described Satanists do not “worship evil” as is frequently claimed. If you actually want to know what Satanists do and believe, you should reach out to an academic who has published peer-reviewed books and articles on Satanism, not self-declared “occult crime expert” or a pastor. The reason for this is obvious: If you wanted to know whether to buy stock in Coca-cola, you wouldn’t ask the CEO of Pepsi. Unless they are also trained as scholars, Christian leaders do not know anything about Satanism and are incentivized not to learn to share accurate information. Third, I wish people understood that there are always ulterior motives when people tell horrible stories about hidden conspiracies of evil. The acts attributed to Satanic conspiracies––incest, cannibalism, harming children––are the same things that medieval Christians falsely accused Jews of doing and Romans falsely accused Christians of doing before that. There is a reason people keep making up the same horrible stories. In 1951, the philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote that, “Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all unifying agents.” When someone tells you a story about an invisible group of people that commits evil for the sake of evil, they are not trying to protect the innocent, they are trying to control you. Instead of panicking about Satanists, stop and try to figure out what exactly they are trying to get you to do.

Instead of running away in fear from groups that frighten us, I find it much more fruitful to practice radical hospitality, and to lean in with curiosity. Instead of assuming you know everything about a religious minority, take the time to ask questions. Clarifying questions make the world a better place.

Do you have any thoughts or questions on Satanism? Let me know in the comments.

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Living as Satan

I’ve discussed in great detail the ways in which Satanism works for me. I’ve explained that I see self-aware, non theistic religion as healthier and more enlightened than theistic and un-self-aware religion. I’ve explained that Satan is not a real figure, but a metaphor for the unbowed will and icon of the outsider, and that my Satanism is not necessarily anti-Christian, but rather a positive and separate post-Christian concoction.

And yet, I realized recently that one of the most crucial aspects of my Satanism, and religious life in general, has been neglected in these explanations.

Continue reading “Living as Satan”

I Won’t Leave the Church Because I’m a Satanist

Note: If you have been following my work for any amount of time, you know that I do, in fact, consider myself a Satanist. I’ve written a great deal on the subject, and you can read that wealth of information by following the Satanism category. If this is the first time you are encountering my work, I suggest exploring that category so you will (hopefully) be less confused.

Despite my self identification of Satanist, I don’t leave the church. Many of my dearest friends are devout Christians, I still interview Christians, I still review Christian books, and I still work at a church (which shall remain nameless, so they don’t get hate mail about me.) Why?

Continue reading “I Won’t Leave the Church Because I’m a Satanist”

Giving Up On Calling Myself Christian

I love Christianity. I love the symbolism, the myth, the ritual. I love Augustine, and Chesterton, and C.S. Lewis, and T.S. Eliot, and Thomas Aquinas, and the Saints, and the story of the cosmic Christ who came to earth to save us all. To my very core, I love it. But I feel it’s time to let go of the label Christian altogether, primarily because I’m exceedingly tired.

Continue reading “Giving Up On Calling Myself Christian”

Why Satan?

After my recent article, I Don’t Care What You Think About My Satanism, I received this email from reader and listener Pyrrole Crimson:

Hi Stephen – I’m sticking with you. But, I’ll be honest, the enthusiasm for Satanism gives me pause. OK… creeps me out, actually. But, as is the case with each topic you explore, I am learning things I did not know. I did not know, for instance, that the Satanic Temple is non-theist. Nor did I know that the Church of Satan is a separate & different organization from TST. I had assumed that anyone who affiliates with any Satanic group is doing so to worship Evil & Chaos. No Thank You! But, you are informing me otherwise. Yet I wonder, why Satan, a word/entity that elicits fear & revulsion in many people, myself included? If TST doesn’t worship Satan, indeed, doesn’t even think he exists, why use that name?

This is an excellent question, and this is the sort of conversation I want to have. As we move deeper into an interconnected, multi-cultural world, conversations in which our divergent views collide is necessary. It is paramount that, even if our intuitions and convictions don’t change, we understand where our fellow human beings are coming from.

This is the question I get asked the most: why Satan? Wouldn’t it be easier, more effective, more expedient to use a label that doesn’t fill the public with revulsion? The answer is probably yes — it would be more effective. And that speaks to how this is not a ploy or strategy, but rather a deeply held religious identity.

Continue reading “Why Satan?”

I Don’t Care What you Think About My Satanism

I have a track record of alienating my fans, and I think we are in the middle of another mass departure. Over the past 2 weeks, there has been an alarmingly high number of unsubscribes from my work, and many people who were once vocal supporters have now withdrawn. Where once there was standing ovation for my work on LGBT equality in the church, there are now crickets.

For those of you who are still with me, thank you. For those of you who have just discovered my work by way of atheism, Satanism, and the occult, I’m delighted to have you along for the ride. And for those of you have have decided to opt out, I hold no ill will towards you. I thank you for your time with me, and I wish you all the best.

Continue reading “I Don’t Care What you Think About My Satanism”

Hail, Satan?

The excellent film Hail, Satan? released to select theaters over the weekend (Easter weekend, no less) and to celebrate I had director Penny Lane come on to Sacred Tension to talk atheism, religion, and Satanism.

Hail, Satan? is a marvel of a film: funny, provocative, beautifully shot, and unexpectedly moving. It chronicles the rise of The Satanic Temple (of which I am a member) and it was everything I hoped it would be. In this episode, Penny Lane talks about what led to her interest it the Satanic Temple and how the process of making the film challenged her atheist preconceptions about religion.

Continue reading “Hail, Satan?”