Even though it is yet another unplanned interjection between working on my article about Revolutionary Demonology, I just can’t say no to the opportunity to address some common secular conceptions and misconceptions about Satanism by responding to YouTube commentator Big Joel’s short ramble about Satanists and why he seems to dislike them.
Joel, obviously, does not “love the Satanists”. That much is not in question. What, though, are misgivings towards Satanism? Joel recounts a video he previously uploaded where, in a larger discussion about Christianity, he briefly discussed Satanists as defined within the Christian imaginary. This apparently was a cause of offence to certain Satanists, who insisted that Satanism is not about worshipping or loving Satan, but instead is about atheism, rationality, and “free thinking”. Joel thinks that this is actually false, and perhaps something of a facade: he thinks that the “Satanism” of his Satanist critics is actually not Satanism, that it’s just an edgy way of saying you’re a “normal” atheist, and that “real” Satanists are just people who, in some way, love Satan. To him, that most consistently means worshipping Satan. The funny thing is, I can say with confidence that there are Satanists who would completely agree with this assessment.
In its own way Joel’s understanding of what Satanism is is not incorrect. True, it lacks the sense of distinct philosophical subtext by which Satanism is usually defined and presented in contrast to other religions, but in many ways it presents a much simpler way of looking at Satanism, as an internally diverse contemporary religious phenomenon. The only thing is, it does still invite the obvious question of “what does it mean to worship, revere, or honour Satan?”, which must be up to individual Satanists to answer. But, if Satanism is simply any belief system centering around Satan in some way, and that really means any way, then even the very atheists who Joel considers to not be Satanists would indeed be Satanists. Of course, since I connect Satanism to the concept of a distinct Satanic philosophy, I can think of atheists for whom their Satanism is in fact nothing but a provocative facade. But, that being said, the rejection of God as entailing atheism was at least a part of Eliphas Levi’s concept of Satan himself, though as far as I can see Levi himself had no doubts about the existence of either God or Satan.
There’s really not much to what Joel says here except that he then complains about how, in his opinion, Satanists are solely interested in looking for ways to correct people who say that Satanists are people who worship Satan, looking for every opportunity to butt in and assert that Satanists are not Satan-worshippers and instead just love rationality and atheism. It would seem that he is talking strictly about LaVeyan Satanists, or even more specifically just the official Twitter account of the Church of Satan.
His objection, in this light, is a curious one. He asks, perhaps somewhat facetiously, “then why do you name yourselves Satanists?”, followed by the suggestion that they do this simply to get a reaction from non-Satanists. The funny thing about it is that, as much as I am loath to say it these days, this was an argument that Anton LaVey already addressed within The Satanic Bible. LaVey predicated the distinction his own brand of Satanism from standard secular humanism, and attendantly the justification for calling his philosophy Satanism, on the argument that .
“Satanism is based on a very sound philosophy,” say the emancipated. “But why call it Satanism? Why not call it something like ‘Humanism’ or a name that would have the connotation of a witchcraft group, something a little more esoteric – something less blatant.” There is more than one reason for this. Humanism is not a religion. It is simply a way of life with no ceremony or dogma. Satanism has both ceremony and dogma. Dogma, as will be explained, is necessary.
As elaborated further:
Inevitably, the next question asked is: “Granted, you can’t call it humanism because humanism is not a religion; but why even have a religion in the first place if all you do is what comes naturally, anyway? Why not just do it?”
Modern man has come a long way; he has become disenchanted with the nonsensical dogmas of past religions. We are living in an enlightened age. Psychiatry has made great strides in enlightening man about his true personality. We are living in an era of intellectual awareness unlike any the world has ever seen.
This is all very well and good, BUT – there is one flaw in this new state of awareness. It is one thing to accept something intellectually, but to accept the same thing emotionally is an entirely different matter. The one need that psychiatry cannot fill is man’s inherent need for emotionalizing through dogma. Man needs ceremony and ritual, fantasy and enchantment. Psychiatry, despite all the good it has done, has robbed man of wonder and fantasy which religion, in the past, has provided.
Satanism, realizing the current needs of man, fills the large grey void between religion and psychiatry. The Satanic philosophy combines the fundamentals of psychology and good, honest emotionalizing, or dogma. It provides man with his much needed fantasy. There is nothing wrong with dogma, providing it is not based on ideas and actions which go completely against human nature.
In this context, the argument is essentially a psychological one, albeit one carried from a rather optimistic view of the institution of psychiatry and flat rejection of religion (except, of course, for Anton LaVey’s religion!). LaVey and LaVeyan Satanism treat religion as a psychological structure which, in selfish terms, fulfills the emotional needs or desires of humans, specifically the ones that all connect to the practice of ritual. It’s all taken as “fantasy”, or psychodrama, the specific form of which can unlock certain instincts and satisfy certain needs. The LaVeyan view in this sense is that most religions are psychodramas that satisfy a few specific needs or desires, but require the denial many others, often of a basic variety, and in the process elicit a tendency towards aggressive self-denial, whereas Satanic psychodrama is meant to satisfy the whole complex of the needs of “human nature” in its religious alignment with flesh and its wants. It’s an argument that is in many ways central to LaVeyan Satanism in particular, and I think this argument has sort of fallen out of focus in contemporary discussions of atheistic Satanism. I suppose that’s almost just natural as the Church of Satan, for all its internet presence as a notable Twitter gadfly, gradually slipped out of media relevance as The Satanic Temple eventually eclipsed it.
But as to the other atheistic Satanists, who may not be LaVeyans and in the overall may or may not share the LaVeyan view of religion as psychodrama, one may indeed still say, on a case by case basis, “why even call yourselves Satanists?”. The Satanic Temple is in this respect all the more hollow, lacking a larger philosophy of Satanism and preferring instead to take up aspects of the mythology of the Romantic Satan in service of an opportunistic commitment to egalitarian secular humanism. Yet, as obnoxious as the insistence on correction must seem in view of the particular attitude of the LaVeyans and their successors regarding “real Satanism”, if we’re being fair, it seems a tad natural that contemporary Satanists might bother to correct any sort of record at all. Popular culture, still driven latently by the Christian imaginary, contains many misconceived or simply tropey ideas about Satanism, at least some of which can be traced to some rather old and often fascistic conspiracy theories, which then occasionally, often subtly, still feed back into public consciousness. Thus, in principle, Satanists do have an imperative to push back against popular conceptions of Satanism. For one thing, it is an essential part of our broader struggle against the Christian imaginary, and Christianity as a whole. For another, at least some of these ideas and narratives are, in themselves, weapons against us, and they do often support actual social persecutions against Satanists as carried out typically by Christians.
In this sense, there are pretty much only two problems. The first is the fact that some Satanists are doing it in the wrong way, like the Church of Satan insisting its own distorted narrative and narrow definition of Satanism as the sole truth, or the far more general flat denial of all historical or pre-1960s expressions of Satanism on the grounds of their non-atheism. The second is that the media at large, whenever it does not cover Satanism through stories of criminal sects and neo-Nazi “accelerationist” cults, focuses pretty much all vaguely sympathetic or at least non-hostile coverage on atheistic Satanism: whether that’s the Church of Satan, The Satanic Temple, or the Global Order of Satan, to the exclusion of many esoteric or theistic tendencies within Satanism.
I will say that in the overall Joel’s video was more underwhelming than offensive, and I find it embarrassing that, even as a joke, he feels the need to insinuate that we might be itching for a fight with him over his ill-informed commentary. But I suppose I could close this with an answer to the question of why I embrace the label of Satanist, and I promise to keep it brief. For one it’s because it is the natural expression of religious egoism, hedonism, and “active nihilism” at least in our context, and for another its solar myth and philosophy of inversion has always been, for as long as it has been known, the key to your own inner freedom. Satan is the being who himself is the primordial spiral of insurrection, a solar myth denoting the “other side”, the inner and outer of life, the darkness, that is nonetheless life’s true basis. While I am Pagan, I am a Satanist because I see the war of all against all in the cosmos, the insurrection that ceaselessly propels life, and thus recognise and in turn honour Satan as its divine-demonic apogee, and to follow his black light. In short, I am a Satanist because I honour the war of all against all, and aspire to fight in it on my own side, just as he did.
One thought on “On Big Joel’s “Satanists””
I agree with every sentence you wrote. Since Satanism is in the news these days everybody feels they have to weigh in, but they miss all the nuance. Part of the problem is that “Satanism” is in flux, different “Satanists” disagree with each other, and both the CoS and TST like to scrub their past, confusing everything. The thing is, when you say “Satanists do X Y Z” then you are usually right – for at least someone who lived some time. There are empathic rationalists who hearken to Romantic era thinkers, and they have more than enough basis of texts to make that easy. There’s early LaVey and late LaVey who contradict each other, since late LaVey believed in literal magic. There’s people who believe they have to do evil in order to purge “false” morality from themselves. There are people who worship a literal Satan but redefine him as good. There are people who worship a literal Satan that might actually look familiar to Christians. The one thing that is missing from the historical record is the Christian idea of child sacrifice and whatever pedophilia rings and nonsense. And there’s even value in discussing the Christian idea of Satanists, both from a modern and definitely from a historical perspective. I reject the label of Satanist because I want to be fully free from Christian ideas of dualism, purity, etc., and carrying around Christian imagery is counterproductive, but I carry the texts.