Welcome to Part 2 of my series of introspective posts about Satanism, and the wider Satanic zeitgeist. In this post, we will have a look at the two Satanic organizations with the largest profile that I can think of – the Church of Satan and The Satanic Temple – and observe the differences between the two groups and the split that it represents in the wider zeitgeist of what is considered to be modern Satanism.
First, I think some essential background surrounding the two organizations is in order.
The Church of Satan was established in 1966 by Anton LaVey as something of an alternative to both Christianity and the hippie movement of the 1960’s, promoting radical individualism, egoism, rational self-interest and hedonism, using the figure of Satan as the embodiment of Man as a carnal being and as he ought to be, with some dark spirituality and occultism thrown in to some degree (though LaVeyan Satanism typically sees it as a pageantry, and the Church of Satan nowadays doesn’t emphasize these aspects, but we’ll get into that a little later). At first it was organization teeming with the potential of what might be called Satanic magick, which aspirants rising up the hierarchy through their own works, and there was sometimes even talk of some vaguely spiritual ideas surrounding Satan and magick, but it has since evolved into a more secular and outright purely atheistic organization.
The Satanic Temple was founded in 2014 by Lucien Greaves and Malcolm Jarry as an activist organization, using the icon of Satan as a window dressing for what is essentially secular liberal (or social liberalism) activism. They are known for encouraging (or arguably trolling) the US government and Christian groups into accepting the rollback of religious presence and activity in certain areas, perhaps most famously with their campaign to erect a statue of Satan on Oklahoma Capitol Hill in order to protest the presence of the Ten Commandments monument, which has since been removed (though apparently a bill has recently been passed allowing the monument to return).
There are a number of differences between the Church of Satan and The Satanic Temple. Perhaps the most notable is their focus. The Church of Satan is not focused on political activity or lobbying, and currently has no desire to change the world around them in that vein. The Satanic Temple, on the other hand, is well known for its political activism and has staged many events aimed at promoting separation of church state and numerous other political causes generally aligned with the “left-liberal” side of the political spectrum. Besides the Satan statue, they’ve raised money for the adopting of highways, launched an after-school program designed to counter the kind offered by Christians, held protests in support of Planned Parenthood, held a “pink mass” over the grave of the mother of Fred Phelps to make the Westboro Baptist Church think they were turning her soul gay (stay tuned for my thoughts on that shit), erected Satanic “nativity scenes” to counter the Christian tradition of the Jesus nativity piece, held a black mass at Harvard Church and held various ritual ceremonies to protest Christianity. The recently commissioned a public Satanic monument in Belle Plaine, Minnesota, over the presence of a Christian religious monument. The Church of Satan, however detached from LaVey’s original spirit it seems to be in modern times, stems from LaVey’s original philosophy, which stresses focus on self-empowerment, embraces an egoistic view in the mold of Ayn Rand, and prizes radical individualism over egalitarianism. The Satanic Temple, in contrast, asserts its primary goal as encouraging “benevolence and empathy” among all people. They keep the LaVeyan understanding of Satan as an embodiment of Man’s nature, implying they share LaVey’s philosophy of Man as a carnal and selfish being, but they also embrace what seems to be an altruist tack via the rather wishy washy conception of benevolence to all things (again, we’ll get into that in greater detail later on).
Now despite what I have said and will say against the organization, there is still much that can be said to the organization’s credit. I would still praise their Satan statue campaign targeting the Oklahoma Ten Commandments monument, solely on the grounds that a religious monument’s presence in a house of secular law might present a conflict of interest. After all, does this place represent secular law or the laws of “God”? I also approve of their general stance against child corporal punishment in public schools, and kind of support their After School Satan program because it involves nothing more than the insertion of an alternative set of ideas in a free and open market of ideas, though I don’t necessarily approve of their ad campaign. I also understand that they have a “Grey Faction“, which is devoted to debunking Satanic Ritual Abuse theories and anything of the like, I approve of their sentiment that religion can be divorced from the irrational thinking and pure superstition that is characteristic of the familiar organized religions and associated generally with faith (a sentiment which, if you think about, was also found in the Church of Satan back in the day and I suspect is also shared by organizations such as The Sect of the Horned God), and their founder Lucien Greaves is at least somewhat aligned with the classical liberal political tradition, as evidenced by his condemnation of other Satanists who tried to disrupt an event that Milo Yiannopoulos was holding because they didn’t like him spreading “hate speech”.
However, this is where my praise of The Satanic Temple ends, and my many criticisms begin.
Honestly, their most recent campaign (the Belle Plaine monument) seems to remind me that they might not solely be motivated by separation of church and state, or at least I don’t think they have the same view of what that means. In an article of Star Tribune, a local Minnesota paper, Lucien Greaves (who is referred to as Doug Mesner) says this about the group’s intentions.
“It’s a sad state of affairs when any one religious group feels persecuted because they don’t have exclusive privilege on the public grounds,”
What the heck does this mean, exactly? Is he trying to say that non-Christian religions are persecuted because of the lack of non-Christian monument? Does he want religious privilege? It seems kind of vague, but it come across as saying that the biggest priority here is a perceived religious privilege. This is a veteran monument we’re talking about here. I am pretty certain that the use of a cross, while it might be connected to Christian faith, may also be used to convey a more universally understood meaning pertaining to death. A cross, associated with funerary monuments, is instantly understood in popular imagination as being associated with death/passing away, though perhaps that is because Western culture is still undeniably influenced by Christianity in some way. Whereas with the Satan statue issue I sympathized with them because they objected to the presence of religious symbolism in a place of secular law, this issue seems to be them up in arms about the presence of Christian symbolism at a memorial park. I really don’t see the issue and I don’t care what religious symbolism is there. If I think about it, their way of opposing integration of church and state seems to amount to protesting the presence of Christian symbolism and acting like they don’t have the freedom to establish their own religious presence. Like with their counter-nativity scenes. I approve of The Satanic Temple creating their own nativity scenes, because it is just them putting their own cultural artifacts out into the public, but the motive here seems to be all about diversity of religious representation or railing against the mere idea of a Christian nativity being displayed in public. And these people actually went out of their way to protest a football game, dressed like goth rejects, all because a Christian led a pre-game prayer and they took it as evidence that one group has exclusive privilege, for which I do not see any proof. It’s almost like how SJWs look at how white people being the majority demographic in a given Western nation and somehow construe this as granting an intrinsic social privilege to that demographic, of course without offering any evidence beyond “white people in government and big corporations”.
Also, there’s something about their idea of the “pink mass” that bothers me. Besides the fact that they were basically dancing on the grave of Fred Phelps’ mother because they don’t like Fred Phelps’ thoughts on homosexuality (and neither do I, for the record), the premise of the mass is basically to, at least figuratively, turn the soul of a deceased person gay. My problem with this premise is that The Satanic Temple seem like the kind of people who would be against conversion therapy for turning homosexuals into heterosexuals, but because Fred Phelps was a vocal opponent of homosexuality that makes turning his mother’s soul gay a good thing? That seems like such a petty and pathetic thing to do over a man’s “hate speech”, as it would be termed by the media. Almost as petty is when they considered performing a similar ceremony for Fred Phelps himself after he died in 2014. It’s a bit like that notoriously bad Bill Nye Saves the World cartoon that depicts straight white men as a vanilla ice cream who proposes conversion therapy for his gay/bi friends and who needs to be turned gay through seduction so he can have a bisexual orgy with them.
Come to think of it, I can’t say I’m surprised that the same kind of media that praises Bill Nye’s stupid cartoon sketch as “slamming Christians” and “explaining the absurdity of conversion therapy” (by saying that it’s OK to push a kind of conversion therapy on straight white men) praises The Satanic Temple as bringing Satanism into the mainstream by showing their progressive credentials, shattering Christian intolerance by displaying public intolerance towards the mere presence of Christian symbols at any one time or place.
To be perfectly frank, I am annoyed with the fact that Satanists in general are being compared to Christians because of The Satanic Temple. “The truth is that Satanists are actually…saintlike” claims Comicverse for instance. Bullshit. Satanists are in truth more like cats than saints. I don’t strive to be a saint, not least by the standards of sainthood and morality put forth by both traditional Christian morality and the progressive ideology that so pervades modern media. Lest we forget that the Catholic idea of Sainthood allows for malevolent individuals like Mother Teresa (an ally of dictators and lover of the suffering of the poor) and Juniperro Serra (who seems to have converted the native population of California to Catholicism by force) to be canonized as Saints and treated as benevolent figures. Not to mention, if your idea of “saintlike” involves performing spiritual conversion therapy on people for merely having a bigoted opinion, you need to re-evaluate your moral compass. How would you like it if I dragged you to a clinic that provided actual conversion therapy, or had you mailed to Iran in hopes that you’d undergo forced gender assignment, because you think people who don’t like buttsex are evil? Are you going to say then that I am a saint for doing so, or for having the kind of mindset that would think this is OK? Salon (ever the most cogent outlet and totally not ideological driven at all these days 😉 ) actually ran an article back in 2015 claiming that Satanists are truer to the words of Jesus Christ, a sentiment echoed by many TST-obsequious articles on Patheos, at which point I must draw a line. I am nothing like Jesus Christ, and nor are most Satanists I know, nor do we try to be. I am not about loving thy enemies, I don’t want love for all things and all people without a shred of hatred in my heart, I don’t want religious pluralism to be replaced with hardcore traditionalism (Jesus, after all, advocated for Jewish conservatism as opposed to moderated and Romainzed forms of Judaism, and opposed the Roman Empire which, although it demanded the worship of an emperor, tolerated any religion that welcome a sacrificial rite to the Roman emperor), I don’t want universal benevolence in the name of the kingdom of the sky, and I don’t want your socialism-lite Christianity either. But crucially, I and most Satanists aren’t as violent and crazy as Jesus was according to the Bible. If you think that I and many Satanists have anything in common with Jesus, let alone your Bernie Sanders-esque conception of him, I’m sorry, but you are deluded I will treat you as such.
It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that the Church of Satan has expressed disapproval of The Satanic Temple’s activities. Their current leader, Peter Gilmore, went on record to denounce The Satanic Temple as “a parody of Satanism rather than a representation of some actual philosophical or religious organization”. Whatever else can be said of Gilmore and the modern Church of Satan, and not much of it is positive from what I have seen in the Satanic blogosphere, I honestly don’t blame him for expressing that sentiment, given what The Satanic Temple seems to be these days. I mean, what exactly is so Satanic, for instance, about stressing universal compassion and benevolence and particularly going out of your way to basically bodyguard random Muslims because you think they’ll be stigmatized, while the religion of Islam is so against Satanism that its practitioners would be punished with death if a society were run in accordance with Islamic doctrine. But, in fairness, am I so surprised that Gilmore got flak for this sentiment given the isolationist nature of his organization and the fact that he want so far as to claim that the Satan statue was “pedophilic” in nature? I would say no. I would say that Gilmore didn’t do the organization any favors, and in the eyes of many Satanists he served to deepen the image of both himself and his organization as cranky, cantankerous (in itself far from unrespectable in my opinion), isolationistic, intolerant and out of touch, which to me is kind of a shame because, while it is true that the Church of Satan has been dismissive of other Satanic organizations as as not really Satanic (or even just filled with bad Satanists), I do understand and respect the fact that part of Gilmore’s objection to the Satan monument is that he doesn’t like proselytism. He views Satanism as something that should come naturally to a person who reads about it and decides that he/she sees him/herself embodying that philosophy, and the literary archetype of Satan to some degree, and sees The Satanic Temple as doing the opposite – proselytizing their outlook through public political activism.
We actually get a curious snapshot of the division between the ideals of The Satanic Temple and The Church of Satan in the wake of, of all things, the election of Donald Trump as 45th President of the United States of America. According to Rooster, The Satanic Temple witnessed a sudden increase in membership within almost two days of the election. The Satanic Temple views this as an opportunity to push their organization as a vanguard of political resistance against a “theocratic” regime under the Republican Party. The Church of Satan (which apparently also saw its share of increased online interest), by contrast, is noted as being less opposed to the idea of a Trump presidency, with Church of Satan reverend Raul Anthony noted as a Trump supporter. Their article, I must mention, was about as obsequious to popular progressive narrative on the subject as many Western media outlets on the subject of both The Satanic Temple and Donald Trump, painting the Trump viewpoint as essentially theocratic, even though Trump himself seems to be less religious than the textbook religious Republican to the point that he does not oppose gay marriage and seems to be, if anything, pro-gay. And their characterization of the Church of Satan as endorsing “Trumpian” beliefs is about as uncharitable as it is borderline character assassination. What exactly does a Nietzsche or Redbeard-inspired might makes right style view have to do with the “America First” ideology, which appraised objectively amounts to essentially a populist, nationalist, perhaps paleoconservative outlook? What does exactly Trump’s rhetoric on “law and order” have to do with “If a man smite thee on the cheek, smash him on the other”? And if they are related, doesn’t that make him (gasp) a secret Satanist? Wouldn’t that rather undermine the whole “Trump is a Christian ideologue” narrative, especially given that Christianity is supposed to be a Bernie Sanders religion according to these American media outlets? And “greater men should rule over lesser men”? Quite a peculiar thing to say about someone who spent his campaign on a decidedly populist, anti-establishment tack. Though I must say, the quote from Raul himself doesn’t paint his side of the story in a good position. He is quoted as saying “you have to hate”, which I think is a misrepresentation. Yes, love is not the only thing in this world that you need, I agree with that, but you don’t *have* to hate anyone who doesn’t deserve it. Satanism simply says on this matter that you should be free to hate who you feel is deserving of hate – people who mistreat you, people have wronged you or your loved ones, people who do not give you your due as you toil in this world etc.
And speaking of Donald Trump, we come to my biggest problem with The Satanic Temple as of late: their alliance with feminism and progressive identity politics. I’ve covered this before on my blog, but the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration was marked by protests and riots in Washington DC, and I found out that The Satanic Temple had been seen attending the anti-Inauguration protests, claiming that they want to stop Donald Trump from “destroying all of your rights”. Immediately following this was the Women’s March, a giant incoherent virtual signal organized people with no unifying cause other than “fuck Donald Trump”, but happened to be led by anti-liberal ideologues like Linda Sarsour and Gloria Steinem, and perhaps most notorious for a crazy ass Ashley Judd’s slam poetry, one of the speakers having a criminal record and the elevating of the hijab as the symbol of women’s liberation, while the women of Saudi Arabia live with it as a symbol of religious oppression as is mandated by Islamic doctrine. And yet I find that, again, the Satanic Temple decided to join the Women’s March in solidarity with their nebulous cause. Not only that, but they also promoted a “civic engagement party” being hosted by three two-bit progressive bloggers, most of whom work for the Huffington Post (which I also covered in a previous post). In addition, when I look at the Satanic Temple’s website, it seems they have co-opted feminism not just for the purpose of supporting “reproductive rights” (which, judging from their support of Planned Parenthood, seems to amount to the belief that having abortion clinics sponsored by the tax payer and propped up by the state is a fundamental human right). And guess who is on the vanguard of “Satanic feminism”? None other than The Satanic Temple’s Jex Blackmore, the very same woman who took the folk horror movie, The Witch, and tried to co-opt it as part of some kind of progressive revolutionary agenda.
What is my problem with this, exactly? Well, in the case of The Witch, it basically amounts to them attempting to co-opt a piece of entertainment media as part of their own ideological movement, the same thing that progressives have been doing to video games and comic books in recent years. As for the rest, it is them deciding to embrace progressive ideology and embracing a philosophical/political identity that is proving to be increasingly divorced from actual Satanism. I will say it unequivocally, I think feminism has nothing to do with Satanism, nor should it. Feminism, at least in its current form, is an identitarian movement that regards women, and gender itself, as a social class, wherein all its members have shared interests (like how Marx viewed every member of the working class as having the same collective interests, or how white nationalists and supremacists view white people as all being part of one big family), wherein the ideologues who lead it claim that feminism represents women, and their interests, and an attack on feminism is an attack on women. I find that this is inherently anti-individualistic, and thus I find it is anti-Satanic. Progressivism in general is infested with much the same identity politics, except that it’s not just feminism. They have their own brand of identity politics wherein various groups of non-white people are treated as constantly vulnerable political classes that need to be shielded from a white supremacy that they themselves project onto a society that, when examined objectively, is not a white supremacist society. This too is anti-individualistic, thus is opposed to part of the core of Satanic philosophy. For the Satanist the individual, and the interest of the individual, matters more than any notion of a shared racial or sexual identity, and the individual is treated as an individual, with his/her own desires, interests and goals, rather than as a social class, let alone based on arbitrary characteristics. But apparently, despite being an organization ostensibly interested in promoting Satanism, The Satanic Temple views progressive identity politics and social justice as an acceptable component of its activism.
This puts modern Satanism in a lamentable predicament: Satanism as we know it began in the 1960’s as a rebellious alternative to the burgeoning flower power counterculture of the time, establishes itself as a movement opposed to both religion and political correctness in its time, placing individualism and egoism above of these values, only in to, in the 2010’s, have a public image that is not being dictated by a progressive organization that ostensibly seeks to reinvent Satanism and bring it to the mainstream, by divorcing Satanism from its original ideals, to the point that is seems like it is using Satanism as a means of militant atheist political activism. And the Church of Satan, despite Gilmore’s arguments, will not do much to remedy this situation, because they keep to themselves too much, resting on their past glory instead. In addition to this, the Church of Satan been shown to be kind of a money-grubbing organization. In order to join you have to pay the organization a $200 membership fee, for you receive a crimson card signifying your membership. That in itself would be ridiculous enough were it not for the fact that, according to my friend Satanicviews’ investigation of their finances, the money you give to the Church of Satan goes not to the organization and its cause but instead into the pockets of Peter Gilmore and his wife. And if you do decide to join the Church of Satan, your membership will take 16 weeks to process, and once you are a member you will be required by the organization to observe the doctrine/dogma of the organization itself, without fail, on pain of expulsion, which kind of violates the spirit of Satanism as embracing individualism over the dogmatism of organized religion. So, unfortunately, you are basically paying $200 to join an organization where you have to agree with Peter Gilmore’s version of LaVeyan Satanism and not diss other members of the Church of Satan or be cast out. And remember, if you’re not a member, CoS members will consider you to not be an actual Satanist, because their ideological prerogative demands it.
We are, thus, presented with a modern face of Satanism that is characterized by a stark factionalism between two established organized entities: one of them markedly conservative with regards to Satanic philosophy, despite itself being removed from LaVey’s original vision, plagued by elitism, isolationism, dogmatism and (I’ll say it) greed, and the other a bunch of progressive activists who use Satanism, or rather a form of Satanism divorced from its original ideas, to spread “equality for everyone” and fight for separation of church and state by pissing and whining about the merest breath of the American Jesus freak in public society, while embracing pepperings of the kind of identity politics and cultural infiltration that is currently killing the Democratic Party in America and the progressive movement in general, all so they can stick it the perceived Christian patriarchal order of things, which, when examined objectively, starts to become a shakier premise. This to me cannot be described as anything other than a farce. A weird psychedelic Satanic ashram led by the metalhead doppelganger of Osho would be a better public face of Satanism than this.
But hey, as bad as it is, at least there isn’t a giant Satanic Panic on top of all of this, like there was in the 1980’s. And at least if you don’t want to be in either organization, there is much less dependence on religious community in Satanism than there is in, say, Christianity or Islam.