If you’re reading this you’ve probably heard something like that. Maybe it was Harry Potter, or Luke Skywalker, or Bilbo Baggins but the central idea is there. If it’s fake, and the adherent knows it’s fake, what exactly is separating their religion from a fan-club?
The answer mostly has to do with sincerity and (to a lesser extent) tax evasion. As I am not an accountant, I want to focus on the sincerity part.
Satanists Get a Bad Rap for Being Non-Theist
Recently, my friends at The Satanic Temple Arizona adopted a stretch of Interstate 10 as a clean up project. Make no mistake, this is a calculated maneuver. By demonstrating the willingness to do the work, and by citing Satanism as the inspiration that drives them, TST-AZ is pushing back against the narrative that non-believers have no morality or ethics. But, and this is a big but, they are also pushing back against the idea that religion shouldn’t be that motivating factor.
Since TST-AZ’s adopt-a-highway made the news it’s been interesting to watch the reaction, which has been largely supportive and thank you for that. What is telling though is the (frankly far too long) comment threads I’ve read between theists and atheists about what Satanism actually is. Theists tend to default to thinking that Satanists worship Satan in the same way they worship god. That is wrong. Atheists on the other hand, tend to default to saying that Satanists are ‘just humanists’ who are ‘just using Satan as a metaphor to mess with the religious.’ That too is wrong. I have a very particular issue with the word ‘just’ in that context. I don’t speak for everyone and I wouldn’t want to; but it’s important that other non-theists understand … no one is just doing this because Satan is expedient.
Question: Is it possible that there could be no God, yet Satan would remain? Having read the Satanic Bible by Anton LaVey, it would seem that Satan needs God as much as God needs Satan! In religious lore, neither appears to be capable of making their case, prima facie. And the believer needs both so that he/she may replay, in his/her own way, the story of Job! One must be saved from the other! The Abrahamic God requires the Devil, and His Satanic Majesty must make war against God. Both are fictional characters, worthy of their places in the myths, legends and fairy tales of human history.
As an atheist I do not use religious words or vernacular in logo or claim to be one. It is just a fun way of getting a point across, I see that, but Satan, the devil etc are just cute bible beings. the Church of Satan in England, as I understand , used the name just to get the attention hopefully bringing people in to ask why the name.
I don't identify as a Satanist, but I've read The Satanic Bible. I get that Satan symbolizes Freedom, Equality, Individuality, and Empowerment. I admire all of that. There are many more virtues that intimidate Xtians, but mostly what they fear is taking responsibility. Satanism, as I understand it, isn't relying on a "higher power" or false humility, but accepting responsibility for your own actions and their consequences without excuses.
Just because I can't pass up an excuse for shameless self-promotion:
My forthcoming novel SCAPEGOATS (Golden Fleece Press March 2018) has a role for Satan. He's the Jewish HaShatan (named Stan), in my book, he's the quality control officer. We get to see him play off against Nick, the Christian Devil, who keeps trying to shmear people for their souls.
Modern Satanism is a diverse affair. To lump them as righteous humanists or baby eating sex fiends is to graze the subject. It is somewhat amorphous in a sense, people project their default views upon it. For myself, I have little need of fictional superheros, much less new ones.
Literature nerds will have heard that name before. Some of you love him; some of you hate him. Either way you can’t deny the effect he’s had on storytelling because you’ve seen it. Youtube is full of videos pointing out how our culture’s most popular stories like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings map to Campbell’s theory. Joe was a comparative mythologist and he wrote a book called “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” in which he lays out a basic story structure that, he believed, all stories follow.
Basically the gist of Campbell’s Hero’s Journey is this: A character (the protagonist) has circumstances that send them on a quest. They find some sort of catalyst to send them in the right direction, they meet a guide, face challenges, acquire the thing they sought, change, and return having changed. That, for the most part, is every story you’ve ever read.
Yes, Satan … and Jesus Too
For people who don’t hang out with literature and are just part of modern culture it’s pretty easy to see how Jesus fits Campbell’s structure; he’s even got epicycles. Most people don’t think about it but Satan fits that too. In our culture’s prevailing mythology Satan (by way of John Milton):