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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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?”

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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Jordan Peterson, Satanic Factions, and Anti-trans Memes

Welcome to Sunday Curiosities: the blog series where I bring you the interesting, bizarre, and insightful tidbits I’ve collected over the week.

Jordan Peterson is Incomprehensible

A hilarious video of edited footage from the Joe Rogan show has Jordan Peterson arguing with himself. I was once enamored of Peterson, but I now understand him to be at best boring and at worst incomprehensible and an accessory to sexism, transphobia, and patriarchy. What amuses me about this video is how it is just slightly more indecipherable than his regular videos.

Continue reading “Jordan Peterson, Satanic Factions, and Anti-trans Memes”

The False Binary Between Atheism and Religion

Church against a beautiful night sky

For the past year or so now, I’ve been caught in the strange, lonely, interstitial space of no longer believing in the existence of a personal God but still deeply valuing the role of religion in my life.

Looking back, I realize that I’ve been quietly grieving for my faith in a literal, personal God for most of my twenties, and that it was only in 2017 that I finally accepted the death of my personal God. It took a long time to grieve, to even to build up the courage to pull the covers back and peak into a world without God. God felt more fundamental than my skin, breath, and blood. To lose Him felt like the loss of everything.

Continue reading “The False Binary Between Atheism and Religion”