Satanism as a Counter-Myth: a Correspondence With Priest Penemue

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.

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The Satanic Conversion

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.


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I Didn’t Leave Christianity Because I Was Hurt

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.)

Continue reading “I Didn’t Leave Christianity Because I Was Hurt”

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.

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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.

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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.

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Leaving Evangelicalism, Calling out Sam Harris, and Hail, Satan?

This week’s curiosities: Steve Shives calls out Sam Harris, Melissa Wilson writes powerfully about leaving the Evangelical World, and Hail, Satan? documents the rise of The Satanic Temple.

On Walking Away From Evangelicalism

My dear friend Melissa Wilson wrote a moving article on why she left the Evangelical Christian world. She writes of her conversion to Evangelicalism:

I was 16, growing up in the height of the nineties near Los Angeles, and someone presented the evangelical “gospel” to me, “Admit that I was not always right, believe that Jesus had a better way, and commit to living my life in a beautiful and pure way”. My teenage mind found the message intoxicatingly counter-cultural and I followed with reckless abandonment. I went to Christian camp, enrolled in Christian college, and found a new life across the country in the heart of Billy Graham’s hometown. My life became wholly devoted to two primary aims– loving God and loving others. I messed up daily and was caught in my “sins” by a community that I thought loved me. I married at 21 and went to Church every Sunday. Our life was not simple or easy and our prayers felt rarely answered, but we loved so deeply that place and community in the mountains of Montreat, North Carolina.

And then it all fell apart. I had the honor of watching some of Melissa’s process, and she carried herself with inspiring integrity and truthfulness. She recounts how, after being asked to sign an affirmation of “biblical truth” as a professor at Montreat College (my alma mater), she started to question what was true. She writes, with gut wrenching honesty,

I loved my gay friends and I longed to go to their weddings. I sometimes wished that abortion was legal, because I had worked with hundreds of sexually abused foster kids that were never adopted by the Church. I had watched a colleague make fun of hispanics, women, and environmental concerns with no reprimand. I watched my former pastor addicted to opioids and alcohol go on missions trips to purchase more pills. I watched the elders of my Church mock women, environmentalists, hispanics, and gay people openly on Facebook with hundreds of likes streaming in. I heard an administrator state that he would not accept my Harvard University credits because he did not know that Harvard had a credible hybrid program. I listened to my girlfriends proclaim that Trump was the only answer, because Hillary was the anti-Christ. I cried as my closest friends ridiculed me and my adopted daughter in the Women’s March, because Franklin Graham had led Trump to Christ and endorsed him.

Please read the rest of the article. It is convicting, inspiring, and should incite all of us working against theocracy to further action.

Waking up to Sam Harris Not Making Sense

Atheist YouTube Steve Shives released a diatribe about how Sam Harris is a dangerous douchebag.

I was once an adoring acolyte of Sam Harris. He was instrumental in my religious deconstruction, and he has helped me immensely in thinking about God, consciousness, and spirituality. But then, in 2017, Sam Harris had professional racist Charles Murray on his show to promote the fallacious and racist notion that black people are genetically predisposed to have lower IQs than white people.

Sam Harris was my gateway drug to the alt-right. Just when I was about to fall off the alt-right cliff, he defended Charles Murray, and I woke from my trance. I then understood that he is an arrogant, frequently unkind, and thoughtless “public intellectual” who takes his presumed magisterial intelligence for granted. Watch Steve Shives’ video for all the details, and it’s a good explanation for why I broke up with Sam Harris.

Hail, Satan?

Last night I had an advance screening of the documentary Hail, Satan? which chronicles the meteoric rise of the Satanic Temple. I won’t spoil anything, and I plan on doing more shows and posts about the film, but for now I will simply say this: I was deeply and unexpectedly moved by the film. It is a beautiful, cleverly made film about societal underdogs asserting their rights. Stay tuned for more content about Hail, Satan? For now, my friend Jack Matirko over at For Infernal Use Only has written a review of the film:

I think for people in the larger secular and Atheist world who frequent the blogs here at Patheos there’s still a lot of misconceptions about what TST is and does that the film does a great job of clearing up. It also makes the point very clear that the organization isn’t going anywhere and that Satanism continues to be a growing component of the larger discussion on religious freedom, Church/State separation, and free-thought. It’s as in-depth as one can possibly pack into 90 minutes and gives TST the fair shake I think is long overdue.

Obligatory Cat Picture

Eli and Luna being adorable af:

Please share your thoughts in the comments below. I’d love to hear back from you. 

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Is Satanism a Real Religion?

Ever since I’ve discovered and enthusiastically thrown myself into the Satanic fold, a fascinating contention has emerged in conversation with my non-infernal brethren: is Satanism a “real” religion? Is it satire? Is it trolling? Is it a lifestyle instead of a religion? A few people (usually religious) have gotten quite angry with me when I insist that Satanism is, in fact, an authentic religion. I though I would address this question once and for all in this post.

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