The rise of the Satanists


I wrote recently about the setback suffered by a prisoner who said that he was a member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and wanted religious privileges that corresponded to those given to members of other religions. The judge denied the request, saying that the record was clear that the Church of the FSM was intended all along as a parody.

This is where Satanists have an advantage in their efforts to separate church and state because the idea of Satan worship goes back well into biblical times and thus cannot be easily dismissed as not a religion. The group that has brought them the most publicity is The Satanic Temple that emerged on the scene only in 2013 and now claims 17 chapters around the country and about 100,000 members.

They have all manner of symbols and rituals and their doctrines have a much greater level of authenticity. For example, take the Seven Tenets of The Satanic Temple.

  1. One should strive to act with compassion and empathy towards all creatures in accordance with reason.
  2. The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
  3. One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.
  4. The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo your own.
  5. Beliefs should conform to our best scientific understanding of the world. We should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs.
  6. People are fallible. If we make a mistake, we should do our best to rectify it and resolve any harm that may have been caused.
  7. Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word.

These are much better than the Ten Commandments in that they are all worthwhile and pretty much anyone could sign on to all of them as desirable ideals, with the possible exception of #3 that could be problematic for those opposed to abortion, contraception, drug use, or euthanasia. #5 and #7 would also be problematic for fundamentalists who take religious texts as the ultimate source of knowledge.

Because The Satanic Temple seems more like an actual religion and cannot be easily dismissed as satire, it may well be, as Joseph P. Laycock argues after recounting the history of the group, more effective in advancing the cause of church-state separation.

As a religion scholar, I find TST fascinating. Not only do their campaigns raise serious questions about the First Amendment and religious pluralism, they also challenge the public to think about what counts as a “religion.”

Whether or not TST is a “real” religion has been a subject of debate. But some members insist that while the movement is atheistic, the group, like other religions, has a shared set of values, concerns and symbols (like Satan as a symbol of rebellion).

Laycock provides a fascinating account of his visits to the group’s meetings and conversations with members and says that the group understands the power of symbolism to change attitudes.

But irrespective of the level of legal success that the Satanists achieve, as Valerie Tarico writes, “self-proclaimed followers of Satan seem more sane and kind than self-proclaimed followers of Christ.”

Indeed, the Satanists took umbrage with former speaker John Boehner castigating Ted Cruz as ‘Lucifer in the flesh’, saying that it was a slur on them.

“Cruz’s failures of reason, compassion, decency, and humanity are products of his Christian pandering, if not an actual Christian faith,” [Satanic Temple spokesperson Lucien] Greaves responded. “It grows tedious when pedophile priests and loathsome politicians are conveniently dismissed as Satanic, even as they spew biblical verse and prostrate themselves before the cross, recruiting the Christian faithful. Satanists will have nothing to do with any of them.”

Even Republican congressman Peter King said that Boehner was giving Lucifer a bad name by equating him with Cruz.

How effective the Satanists can be in effecting change remains to be seen and there is always the danger of their tactics backfiring. As Laycock says:

But Jonathan pointed out that this dialectic can swing both ways: revolution begets counterrevolution. For example, in the 1970s, the New Christian Right formed, in part, as a response to the perceived excesses of the 1960s.

Likewise, there is a risk that an openly satanic presence in American politics will energize the very forces TST opposes. Right wing news sites such as Breitbart.com and LifeSiteNews have given TST heavy coverage precisely because their rhetoric can be used as fodder for antiabortion activists.

Conservative voices have claimed TST “proves” what they have said all along – that God is with them and their political opponents are literally demonic.

The risk of an extreme reaction is always present whenever people push the boundaries of dissent. But if we allow that fear to stifle activism, then we will also achieve nothing.

Comments

  1. says

    I don’t particularly like the idea of fighting bullshit with bullshit. It just seems like a recipe for getting shit all over the place.

    But – the beauty of the current emergent attack against religion and religious privilege is that it has no central organizing principle or leaders that can be attacked or demonized (so to speak). That’s basically the counterpoised strategy to the religious who retrench into alleged belief in the woo-god as a way of avoiding attack in detail against their belief. So, whether it’s the pastafarians, the satanists, or the atheist dawkinsbros, it’s still pressure against the forward edge of battle. In my opinion it’s a good thing that atheism hasn’t crystallized into a movement, because then we’d have to deal with the internal contradictions within the movement (I am referring to the “deep rifts” between atheists who believe social justice is a part/consequence of atheism and the atheists who believe that atheism is solely deconstruction of religion) I don’t believe it’s actually possible to build a movement out of that – but since we’re all pushing in the same direction, we can attack useful targets without having to coordinate operations.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    For example, in the 1970s, the New Christian Right formed, in part, as a response to the perceived excesses of the 1960s.

    Specifically, all that integrating-the-public-schools business. So excessive!

  3. Randall Lee says

    Mano writes, “These are much better than the Ten Commandments in that they are all worthwhile and pretty much anyone could sign on to all of them as desirable ideals, with the possible exception of #3 that could be problematic for those opposed to abortion, contraception, drug use, or euthanasia. #5 and #7 would also be problematic for fundamentalists who take religious texts as the ultimate source of knowledge.”
    .
    I am glad that you and I agree with number four, the “freedom to offend”.
    .
    I know you were extremely angered and offended, but since you now express agreement with this Tenet let’s apply it to StevoR and the subject of what constitutes grounds for banning.
    .
    There is no actual “freedom” to offend if one must pay the price of banishment.

  4. brucegee1962 says

    Gee willikers, Randall, way to be willfully obtuse. I will cheerfully defend your utter freedom to be a jerkwad, but that doesn’t mean I am therefor obligated to invite you to be a jerkwad in my living room. You’ve got an entire internet to go be a jerk on with nobody stopping you.

  5. doublereed says

    @3 Randall

    Give it a rest, you bizarre weirdo. Literally no one else has your strange view of free speech. You’re just an idiot or a troll. Go away.

  6. NL says

    I don’t like number 4, at least not as it written here. It gives free reign to any racist fool to say whatever they please.

  7. Randall Lee says

    @ brucegee, you wrote, “You’ve got an entire internet to go be a jerk on with nobody stopping you.”
    Does “entire” in your dictionary include this comment section of the internet?
    .
    Bruce, to my knowledge, no one asked you for your two cents, which I value very generously measured by your personal attacks and name calling, however I want you to know that this sort of sophomoric participation says a lot about you.

  8. Randall Lee says

    NL writes, “I don’t like number 4, at least not as it written here. It gives free reign to any racist fool to say whatever they please.”
    .
    Are you suggesting that racist fools do not have the unalienable right to express themselves?
    .
    I sure hate racist fools, probably as much as you do, but I hate speech control do gooders even more. Now you aren’t one of those are you?

  9. Randall Lee says

    Doublereed writes,
    “Give it a rest, you bizarre weirdo. Literally no one else has your strange view of free speech. You’re just an idiot or a troll. Go away.”
    .
    Speaking of “strange views of free speech” you managed to call me three names in three short lines of text.
    .
    I would say that is a very strange way to make a legitimate argument if you ever want your position to be taken seriously.

  10. doublereed says

    @10 Randall

    I apologize. You see, I used up all my civility on people who don’t waste their time whining about amazingly light moderation in a blog comments section. Next time I’ll use at least four names to call you. At least then I get some entertainment from your childish, moronic nonsense. Schmuck.

  11. doublereed says

    @6 NL

    It is important to uphold racist free speech rights. Any rules against such rights will absolutely be used against marginalized groups. Liberals generally should favor getting these ideas out in the open because, after all, reality has a liberal bias. Liberals generally win the war of ideas, when it isn’t swarmed with censorship and propaganda. Discussion and debate is always good for liberal ideas.

  12. chigau (違う) says

    PSA
    Doing this
    <blockquote>paste copied text here</blockquote>
    Results in this

    paste copied text here

    It makes comments with quotes easier to read.
    also just FYI
    <b>bold</b>
    bold
    <i>italic</i>
    italic

  13. Seth says

    I guess Randall hasn’t found any of those offs he’s been meaning to fuck, yet.

    To the point of rule 4, I’d much prefer it if it was framed not as a right to offend, but as a right to be offended. As a thinking citizen of the world, I have the right to encounter ideas which might upset me, and I do not need other people telling me what I should and should not read. Other than that, I agree with the tenets of the Satanic Temple as stated. Indeed, I can’t imagine myself fully respecting someone who didn’t agree with these tenets.

    But I am not a Satanist, and I never shall be. Satan is a character in a story I’m not interested in telling.

  14. says

    I have to say I generally like #4 as well, but my first thought upon seeing it is that many will ignore the second half. And, yep, sure enough, Randall Lee wasted no time ignoring it with comment #3. So, let’s make it clear how that second part reads:

    To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo your own.

    Now, going back to Mano’s post on banning StevoR:

    His post justifying the throwing of Muslim off planes because they made some non-Muslims uncomfortable, and even suggesting that they fly on separate planes, was simply the last straw.

    If this is true, StevoR was ready “to willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another,” even if they did not actually do so, and, therefore, forwent his own freedoms. The banning of StevoR looks to fit within the spirit of #4. (Yeah, I probably would want it expanded to say that even suggesting unjust encroachment is enough to lose one’s freedoms.)

  15. says

    To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo your own.

    Unfortunately, that sort of nice-sounding deepity depends on us sharing a notion of “justice” and “freedom” – it’s begging the question, and that’s the whole problem.

  16. Holms says

    #6 and #9
    Sure, but then any reasonable private venue kicks them out because they too have their own relevant freedom: to determine the limits of behavior for any guest that wants to remain welcome.

  17. John Morales says

    Holms, heh.

    Yeah, freedom to offend* is not the same as being freedom from the consequences of offending.

    * Which is properly expressed as freedom to be offensive, since offence cannot be guaranteed.

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