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?”
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.
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.
Reader and Patron David got to the heart of this essential element of my Satanism when he asked the following question:
However, if I may, why not something more conventional like Buddhism? I always thought it would be nice to reach the ultimate state of nirvana. You really don’t have to believe in anything supernatural with that. Of course no one can tell you what you should do. It’s only that there might be a tendency for people to be put off by the notion of Satan, because they might think you actually are worshipping evil or whatever.
I can’t help but feel that my readers are going about this far more rationally than I am. People looking in on my Satanism assume that, because I’m a nontheist, I surveyed the vast array of religious options and deliberately and calmly chose the most inflammatory, offensive, and misunderstood path possible. Nothing could be further from the truth.
If I were going about this rationally, I would be a boring Unitarian Universalist, or a milquetoast Episcopalian. If I wanted to be the most palatable, approachable person I could manage, I’d be a Buddhist. Because I’m a nontheist, people assume that I don’t have any trace of intuition, mysticism, or religious passion. It makes sense, then, that they would wonder why I chose the most obviously controversial religion in the Western Hemisphere.
But something deeper than “choice” happened here. Something deeply inconvenient and confusing happened. I can only call it a Satanic conversion.
Against my better judgement I fell headfirst in love with the symbol of the Romantic Satan. When I first encountered The Satanic Temple in 2017 something inside me sang. This was deeper than choice or strategy, but was intuition, passion, and romance. G.K. Chesterton wrote, “let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.” My Satanism is all love affair.
The only other thing I can compare it to is my love of Christ when I was a Christian. Christ felt like a living being, and the object of my most earnest adoration and affection. Christ permeated my life. I couldn’t help it. Now, even though I’m a nontheist who does not believe in the supernatural, God, or an afterlife, I feel a similar passion. In the same way I fell in love with Christ, I have fallen in love with Satan. Not by cold, calculated choice, not out of a sense of what’s most politically expedient, not out of a desire to troll conservative Christians, and not because it makes my life easier.
My Satanism does make my life more difficult. Why lose friends, and be an object of fear or confusion? Why would I endanger my work and livelihood? Why would I jeopardize my relationship with my family? It’s irrational, you might say, and I agree. It is deeply inconvenient, and deeply irrational. In fact, when I first joined The Satanic Temple, I resolved to keep it a secret and to live and practice quietly as a Satanist, because I knew there would be repercussions.
But, as I started my journey as a Satanist, my passion for the symbol of Satan grew and grew. It flourished; it filled my soul. I found myself possessed of what I can only call, uncomfortably, a religious fervor, an overwhelming love.
I reached out to some prominent Satanists on twitter to get their comments on this experience. Satanic Temple International Council member Chalice Blythe had this to say:
Calling it a “love affair” hits really close to my own view of it and I agree that, though based in rationalism, being a Satanist didn’t come about from a hard, cold place. It’s an almost instantaneous, deeply connected passion that you just “know”. It’s coming home. And like most intense loves, the more you learn the deeper it solidifies within you.
When I expressed that the more it solidifies the more impossible it feels to communicate this love to those outside it, Satanic Temple founder Lucien Greaves agreed:
That’s exactly the problem I have. I can try to articulate it, but there’s no way I can make people feel it if it doesn’t really speak to them.
This is why I insist on calling my Satanism a religion. Religion touches our whole being — it envelopes us in a way nothing else can. My Satanism connects with me on a deep, irrational, intuitive level, while also engaging my mind and reason. It is a full body, mind-and-heart experience. It is also a shared communion, existing not just individually but in the space between other practitioners of this path. While it might make the more rational among us uncomfortable, I don’t know how to describe this journey as anything other than a path of physicalist mysticism which started with a Satanic conversion. In essence a living, religious fictionalism.
This might leave you with questions: how is it possible to feel such love and fervor for a mythic being who has no objective reality? How is it possible to be religious and nontheistic? How is it possible to be a physicalist and a mystic? (I’m open to using terms other than “mystic”, but it was the word that came most readily to me while I was writing this piece.) Satanism requires a profound paradigm shift into a different space: a place of wonderment and rationalism, religion and atheism. It breaks down these false binaries, ultimately with the goal of living a more fulfilled and joyful life.
Love my work and want to support it? Please consider becoming a patron so I can continue to bring you interesting content every week. Also, don’t forget to sign up for my mailing list so you don’t miss another podcast, blog post, or cat picture.
A few days ago, I realized that the intense feeling of religious and spiritual homelessness I’d felt for so long was gone. Since the beginning of my deconstruction, I’d begun to feel myself forced out of my Christianity, like a child being forced out of a womb. This left me with a profound feeling of existential homelessness — drifting away from my religious identity and family, and with little to cling onto as a home.
But, a few days ago, I realized that I no longer felt that homelessness — my home is now The Satanic Temple, my spiritual and religious identity is Satanist. (Does this surprise you? I recommend reading my articles on Satanism.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?