The power of Satan to frighten the religious

The Satanists have been on a roll recently in showing that political pandering to the religious is a double-edged sword and that any special privileges given to Christians necessarily means that other religions should be able to walk through that same open door. Other groups like the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster have tried to do the same thing but with less success which prompts the question of why it is that the Satanists are more effective at using this tactic to expose the hollowness of those who claim they are fighting for general religious freedom when in reality they are pushing for special privileges for just their own religion.

I think it is because many religious people actually believe that Satan exists while the FSM does not, and they think that having Satanist symbols and literature and idols may actually encourage a visitation by the Lord of Darkness. They fear Satan but don’t fear the FSM.

One of the intriguing things about public discourse is the veneration that people have for the center of anything. In politics, for example the people who are hailed as ‘moderates’ are those who straddle the divide between the so-called extremes of conservatism and liberalism. Of course, this depends on how you define those supposed extremes. In the US, the two ‘extremes’ of acceptable political discourse is between right wing and extreme right wing which ensures that the center is also right wing.

This tactic of controlling the extremes and then elevating the center is used by the political and media establishment to help them serve the roles of gatekeepers to ensure that views that challenge the status quo are considered beyond the pale and excluded from debates over important questions. For example, when it came to the health care reform debate, it served to shut out the single-payer option and even the public option as extreme, because those were immediately labeled as socialist and thus, by definition, outside the range of reasonable discourse.

This process of limiting the range of ideas considered acceptable is what is known as the Overton Window:

Joseph Overton observed that in a given public policy area, such as education, only a relatively narrow range of potential policies will be considered politically acceptable. This “window” of politically acceptable options is primarily defined not by what politicians prefer, but rather by what they believe they can support and still win re-election. In general, then, the window shifts to include different policy options not when ideas change among politicians, but when ideas change in the society that elects them.

You can read more about the Overton Window here.

This is why it is important for those of us who can to use every means to expand the range of acceptable opinions by not being afraid to take stances that lie outside the accepted range and risk being called extremists. One benefit of doing so is that while those who are at the extremes will still be considered as going too far, those who do not go quite as far will become more acceptable. In the US, the presence of open Communists makes socialists more acceptable and people who self-identify as socialists (as I do) make progressive views more acceptable, and the existence of progressives pushes liberals into the accepted range of political views.

It is true in religion too. The emergence of outspoken New Atheists who think that science and religion are incompatible has now created a space where agnostics and compatibilists (those who are atheists but think religion and science are intellectually compatible) are seen as more reasonable and less threatening because they are not like those extreme New Atheists.

Being willing to take positions that are outside the acceptable range is a way to expand the Overton window. I don’t mind playing the role of an ‘extremist’ because I have nothing to lose and feel that that freedom makes it almost obligatory on my part to try and expand the Overton window and create room for others who are more constrained in what they can do. Using a metaphor from American football, such ‘extremists’ play the role of blockers, enabling others to have more freedom of movement.

That is why the people who are really stretching the Overton window in religion nowadays seem to be the Satanists. They are the ones who are making even atheists seem moderate. For example, when a Florida school district decided to allow a religious group to distribute Bibles to students (because in their minds the freedom of religion allows it), they were unfazed when atheists said they would do so too. But when Satanists announced that they too were going to distribute coloring books to students that explained their beliefs, the school district abruptly abandoned the entire policy and now no one will be allowed to distribute materials. They are scared of the power of Satan in a way that they are not about the atheist message or the FSM

I think that we should have an Overton Prize for that individual or group that does most to expand the window in any debate. I think the Satanists would be great candidates for it.


  1. Lassi Hippeläinen says

    I think the headline is wrong. It should be “The power of Satan to frighten the Xians”. Hindus or the Buddhists can be very religious, but still ignore Satan. Only the Xians care, because Satan is a Xian god.

    That also explains why the Xianists react so furiously to Satanists. They see a competing branch of Xianism, and civil wars are always the bloodiest.

  2. Mano Singham says


    I don’t know that I agree. I grew up in Sri Lanka that has about 70% Buddhist and 13% Hindu and taking measures to ward off the devil is common practice among the religious. Devils are a major part of the folklore. The Buddhism and Hinduism that got transported to the west tends to be an intellectual variant that lays more emphasis on philosophy and meditation.

  3. Lassi Hippeläinen says

    Various devils appear in many religions that have non-Xian roots, and some gods (Kali, Shiva, Loki) can be pretty satanic at times. But The Devil as a single evil personalised entity (a.k.a. Satan) is Abrahamic. All Satanists that I’m aware of base their ideas on Xian sources.

  4. Matt G says

    Lassi@5- That Jehovah guy can be a real jerk at times too, what with global floods and having kids killed by a bear for mocking a bald man. There may be other examples….

  5. lorn says

    Way back when I used to study religions from an anthropological and sociological view. More than one professor stated that Satanism was essentially nonexistent as an organized religion and the few people who dabbled in it were simply going through the motions as rebellious youths seeking to thumb their noses at existing power structures, or as a response and/or counterpoint to the overbearing nature of organized Christianity. In that sense Satanism is much like the FSM.

    Of course, there is one group of people who consistently and passionately deny that Satanism is just a bunch of kids making up stuff that they think might piss off their Christian parents, evangelical Christians. Just as hell exists as counterpoint to heaven Satanism is the notional, and rhetorical foil for their own efforts. Evangelical Christians can’t very easily laugh off Satanism as made up even as it is because they have long claimed otherwise.

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