The Devil Made Me Write This
Who are Satanists? What do they believe? Where did the idea of Satan come from? Who believes Satan is real? Who worships Satan? Are atheists Satan worshippers? Are Satanists atheists?
When it comes to the dark lord, there’s a lot to unpack.
Let’s start with a list of SOME common names for this character:
Satan, Devil, Beelzebub, Antichrist, The Beast, Lucifer, King (or Prince) of Darkness, Father of Lies, Iblis, Shaitaan, Azazel, Maara, Mephistopheles, and my personal favorite Abaddon, which I like to imagine is pronounced like (a bad ‘un). This is in no way a comprehensive list. There are many more names, each with their own history that describe the immortal antagonist.
This character conjures up a wide variety of visual imagery, but for some reason he’s usually red, has horns, and some combination of goat features. He might have a tail with an arrow-shaped tip and is apparently a farmer as he has been known to carry around a pitchfork in case of a sudden need to tidy up a pile of hay.
Of greater consistency is what this character represents in religious canon. He is the personification of evil and all things bad. This is not simply a poor character development, but rather an attempt at balance. For a hero in any story, there must be a villain; something the hero must overcome. If the hero represents goodness, truth, light and justice, it’s not surprising the villain is created to represent the reverse. Consistent with his hircine visage, he is the ultimate scapegoat.
When it comes to the Christian Bible, there’s not a lot of nuance and subtlety to the author’s opinion. We’re repeatedly told that the God of Abraham is the source of all things good, he is wholly responsible for love, and never makes a bad decision.
Of course, if one looks at the actions of the god of the Christian Bible and compares them to our generally accepted human standards of benevolence, love, caring, and goodness, it would be fair to say there are inconsistencies. This character is presumed to know all. He created humans and all animals so they would reproduce, regretted it (even though he knew it would happen), killed all but two of every species, tortured anyone who questioned him, sent plagues, murdered children with bears (yes bears), and with a quick internet search, you can have a hundred more examples of how much of a prick he was.
Rather than look for ways to godsplain Yahweh as apologists do, a Bible reader outside the Christian faith won’t be far into the book before they make some alternative judgements regarding the benevolence of the great Creator and alternatively gain Sympathy for The Devil. This is exactly what one Anton Szandor LaVey presented when he founded the Church of Satan on April 30, 1966.
“Unlike the founders of other religions, who claimed exalted ‘inspiration’ delivered through some supernatural entity, LaVey readily acknowledged that he used his own faculties to synthesize Satanism, based on his understanding of the human animal and insights gained from earlier philosophers who advocated materialism and individualism. Concerning his role as founder, he said that, ‘If I didn’t do it myself, someone else, perhaps less qualified, would have.’”–Church of Satan website
Just like someone decided to do with the Karate Kid here, a small change in perspective can produce a big change in perception.
Just in time for Christmas, on December 1, 1969, The Satanic Bible was published and has been in print ever since. It’s a work offering simple philosophy rather than dogmatic instruction.
While sharing the theatrical elements of other religions including costume and ritual, The Church of Satan carried an important distinction:
Instead of claiming the existence of a hidden deity that requires worship, The Church of Satan carries no supernatural claims and instead affirms “all Gods are fiction”.
In other words:
Satanists in The Church of Satan do not believe Satan is real.
In true religious tradition, Satanism had it’s first big schism in 2013 with the establishment of the Satanic Temple. In contrast with The Church of Satan, which stresses it is not a political organization, The Satanic Temple appears to be primarily political.
In 2012, Lucien Greaves and Malcolm Jarry got together to create something different. Despite a clear legal mandate of the first amendment’s establishment clause, religious organizations (Christianity in particular) have continued to push for special treatment beyond the massive benefits they’ve already enjoyed. The Satanic Temple pushes back. This is the organization you hear about in the news with large Baphomet statues competing with the Ten Commandments for attention at courthouses and other public displays. While sharing some duties with the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), the Temple’s tactics go beyond the courtroom, irreverently challenging hypocrisies in the most public way manageable. To illustrate, I present the “pink mass” of their inaugural year.
The mission statement of the Satanic Temple is as follows:
The Mission of The Satanic Temple Is to Encourage Benevolence and Empathy, Reject Tyrannical Authority, Advocate Practical Common Sense, Oppose Injustice, And Undertake Noble Pursuits.
In addition to first amendment rights, the Temple works to fill some of the holes in secular offerings. This includes the “Sober Faction” which provides an alternative to the god-riddled twelve steps and an after-school program called “After School Satan”. Additionally, the Temple advocates for reproductive rights and the right to accurate medical information among many other causes.
Again, conspicuously absent is a deity. If you guessed that this church doesn’t believe Satan is real, congratulate yourself, because an alarming number of people don’t understand this.
Satanists in The Satanic Temple do not believe Satan is real.
So who actually worships Satan?
I googled it so you don’t have to. Theistic Satanism is the preferred term on good ol’ Wikipedia, and that makes sense. There’s a belief in a god absent in the flavors I’ve mentioned. While these devil worshipers have been around for about as long as angsty teens, it seems it’s primarily a phase born of rebellion and attention-seeking tendencies. Soooo edgy. On the other hand, if you listen to religious extremists, these people are EVERYWHERE! According to the movies, you can expect to find them made up of unexpected members of the community in black or purple robes meeting in some secret basement. In reality, you’re about as likely to run into them as you are to find a card-carrying antifa member. That is to say they’re a projection or straw man created to strike fear into the hearts of believers.
As much as most religious believers think otherwise, there is no valid reason to be fearful of the idea of Satan. If a god created all things including the devil, then he is knowingly responsible for his deeds. If he did not, then he either finds the devil necessary or lacks the power to defeat it.
It’s not the Satanist that ritually drinks the blood of her false god and feasts on his flesh. She doesn’t blame someone else for the problems of the world or make wild claims about traveling to realms of the dead. She doesn’t threaten you with eternal torture and doesn’t promise inconceivable reward for blind obedience. She doesn’t forgive you for what you did to someone else and doesn’t condemn you for what you did to yourself. She doesn’t teach her children that she holds an invisible truth about how they’re flawed and she doesn’t teach that there is a wrong way to love. She teaches them to take responsibility for themselves. Maybe she is the anti-Christ after all.
“I wore black because I liked it. I still do, and wearing it still means something to me. It’s still my symbol of rebellion — against a stagnant status quo, against our hypocritical houses of God, against people whose minds are closed to others’ ideas.”
― Johnny Cash