The Satanic Temple: Religion, Cult, or Parody?
The Satanic Temple Logo
What Is The Satanic Temple?
The Satanic Temple (TST) is many things, but it not a cult of devil worshipers. TST describes itself as an atheistic religion that engages in pro-democracy political activism, fosters a humanistic and scientific outlook on life, and offers community to its members.
According to their website: “The mission of The Satanic Temple is to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense and justice, and be directed by the human conscience to undertake noble pursuits guided by the individual will.”
The Satanic Temple was founded by Lucien Greaves and Malcolm Jarry in Salem Massachusetts in 2013. Today the group has many chapters in the United States and across the world.
Is the Satanic Temple a Religion?
The answer from The Satanic Temple (TST) is an emphatic yes, but I would call it a “quasi-religion,” because although it has many features in common with religion, it lacks the most important one—there is no belief in supernatural entities or occurrences.
The Satanic Temple rejects my definition of religion. It rejects the idea that religion belongs only to those who believe in a supernatural deity (or deities). TST contends that just as the more widely–practiced religions do, it provides a narrative structure to guide their members in their lives while providing a sense of identity, a shared culture, and a community of shared values. They strongly oppose the idea that only groups that are faith-based should be able to claim the honor and privileges that society accords to religion.
The Satanic Temple is deliberately trying to construct a new religious identity, one aligned with progressive beliefs and scientific principles, which can enjoy all the protections granted to more long-standing religious traditions.
Jex Blackmore, the director of the Detroit Satanic Temple, explains it this way: “Restricting religious protections to the majority view is an attempt to delegitimize and control alternative beliefs. If religious legitimacy is determined by a biased government, we are effectively in bondage to the beliefs and practices of those in power.”
The Satanic Temple has a 501(c)(3) tax designation, so it is officially recognized as a religion by the United States government.
Religions of the World
Do Members of TST Worship Satan?
Far from worshipping Satan, the members of the Satanic Temple are atheists and do not even believe in the literal existence of Satan.
Why, then call themselves “The Satanic Temple”? Satan was chosen, again according to the website, because Satan represents the “Eternal Rebel”—one who opposes arbitrary authority and defends personal sovereignty against tyranny. Satan is symbolic of the “Unsilenced Questioner” and “the heretic who questions sacred laws.” He is the literary Satan best exemplified in the works of Milton, Blake, Shelley, and Anatole France.
The founders and members of TST are not oblivious to the emotionally-laden connotations of their chosen symbol. They embrace the term “Satanists” as a deliberate poke in the eye to other religions, particularly Christianity. They embrace what Christians would call “blasphemy” in order to support freedom of belief and religious authoritarianism.
Ms. Blackmore explained: “According to a common misperception, organized religion embodies the highest moral virtues, and the figure of Satan as an adversary must therefore stand in diametric opposition to decency itself… We have no interest in accommodating these misperceptions nor being apologetic for them. We call ourselves Satanists with pride, because Satanists we are.”
TST is not a cult; it is an anti-cult. It does not seek followers; it wants to train leaders. It seeks to teach people to recognize cultic influences and to use critical-thinking skills so as to avoid falling under the sway of mystical charlatans.
This is not to say that there are not some misguided groups who have latched upon the idea of Satanism as a way to demonstrate their anti-social impulses. These groups and individuals have nothing to do with The Satanic Temple.
What Are the Principles of the Satanic Temple?
The Satanic Temple does not do “evil.” Quite the contrary, it denies the existence of personified evil. It seeks to be a force for good in the world.
The Satanic Temple has put forth seven tenets of their religion. I list them here as they appear on their website.
- One should strive to act with compassion and empathy towards all creatures in accordance with reason.
- The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
- One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.
- 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.
- Beliefs should conform to our best scientific understanding of the world. We should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs.
- 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.
- 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.
TST states that members “believe in nothing that is not demonstrably true, and hold to even those beliefs with an understanding that they, too, must remain open to revision in the light of new scientific understandings.”
The principles of TST sound a lot like those of humanism. However, TST website notes that there are a few important differences. They maintain that they, unlike humanism, give paramount importance to the principles of individual sovereignty and rejection of tyrannical authority. I would add that they also have a younger edgier vibe and are more politically active in seeking social change.
One of the Seven Principles
What Are the Origins of The Satanic Temple?
TST did not begin as a full-fledged religion. It began as a protest stunt. But if you think about it, don’t most religions begin as a protest movement? Think of Christianity, for example. According to the Biblical stories, Jesus was protesting the Temple of Jerusalem. He wanted a less autocratic Judaism.
TST began with a protest organized by Lucien Greaves. He showed up at a rally in Florida pretending to thank Governor Jeb Bush for bringing religion into schools. Now, because a benefit given to one religion must legally be given to all religions, TST could bring Satanism to school children. It began as satire to make a point about the dangers of allowing religion in public schools, but eventually it became an organized religion.
Lucien Greaves (a pseudonym for Douglas Messner) and TST often engage in protests which use satire because Greaves maintains that humor can be a part of religion.
What Kind of Political Activities Has TST Engaged In?
Douglas Messner (also a pseudonym) is a Harvard graduate and cognitive scientist who became alarmed by the Satanic Panic that began around 1980 and finally died away around 1995. Countless lives were ruined as courts accepted testimony from pseudoscientific mental health “experts” who cited “recovered memory” testimony about a hidden satanic threat that, in fact, never existed at all.
Messner, appalled by this persecution of innocent people based on nutty beliefs about Satanism, sought to use Satanism to combat ignorance, prejudice, and religious privilege. TST does this through some loony stunts, but mostly through serious lawsuits.
Here are a few of TST activities.
The Pink Mass
In 2013, The Westboro Baptist Church, known for protesting against gays at the funerals of soldiers, has been a target of TST. Messner performed a “Pink Mass” over the grave of the dead mother of founder Fred Phelps, Jr. He proclaimed that Phelps’ mother was now gay in the afterlife, playing off the Mormon practice of baptizing dead Jews into the Mormon religion. The ceremony included recitations, candles, and same sex couples (one male and one female) kissing each other over her headstone.
Florida Capitol Holiday Display
In 2014, a diorama depicting an angel dropping from the sky into a pit of flames graced the rotunda in front of Florida’s state capitol building in December in an area set aside for displays sponsored by community organizations. It was the same display that had been denied the previous year, but this year TST arrived with lawyers. Other displays included a Flying Spaghetti Monster display and a Festivus beer can pole. (This arose because a nativity scene was being displayed each year so other religions demanded to be represent also.) Holiday displays are no longer being placed on government property. (People can still see nativity scenes on the lawns of the churches found on practically every street corner.)
Oklahoma Ten Commandments and Baphomet
In 2014, after a statue of the Ten Commandments was placed outside the Oklahoma State Capitol, TST requested permission to donate a statue of Baphomet (a goat headed demon deity). They argued that Oklahoma was engaging in discrimination by favoring the views of one religion over others. The Oklahoma State Supreme Court ordered the removal of the Ten Commandments statue, and The Satanic Temple then withdrew its request.
Missouri Abortion Lawsuit
In 2015, TST filed both federal and state lawsuits against Missouri’s 72-hour waiting period for abortion and the mandate to give women seeking an abortion a religious- based pamphlets about abortion. TST objected to these laws on religious grounds because they violate its own religious belief in the inviolability of one’s body. The lawsuits site the First Amendment’s establishment clause and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Arkansas Ten Commandments and Baphomet
In 2017, a six-foot-tall Ten Commandments monument was installed outside of the Arkansas Capitol, prompting TST to request permission to install a statue of Baphomet. American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas is suing to have the Ten Commandments monument removed as an unconstitutional endorsement of a specific religion. TST is still in the process of trying to get its Baphomet statue installed. The best outcome is for all religious displays to be ruled to be illegal on public property, but if the Ten Commandments stay, I’m looking forward to the installation of the Baphomet. It’s a really nice statue.
What Is the After-School Satan Club?
Evangelical Christian groups are providing Good News After-School Clubs in many public schools. These clubs exist to indoctrinate children with fundamentalist religious beliefs—they have called schools their “mission field.”
TST is now offering an alternative. If a school has a Good News club, they must allow clubs from other religions to offer an after school club also. The After-School Satan Club is now available in some schools. This club is not focused on religion; it offers games and thinking exercises designed to help children understand the scientific view of the world. All the teachers are vetted for professional educational skills and all undergo a background check.
The video below spoofs horror movies while conveying the idea of the pursuit of scientific knowledge and the joy that children find in learning..
Are There Other Satanic Religions?
Currently, I am aware of only one other major group claiming to be a Satan-based religion, The Church of Satan (COS). This group, founded by Anton LaVey in 1966 is older than TST, but it is practically defunct now except for a website.
Both groups are atheistic and use Satan as a metaphor, but be careful not to confuse the two groups; they are very different, and even somewhat antagonistic, to each other.
- The COS incorporates rituals and a belief in magic. It is based upon the outmoded views of Social Darwinism, looking upon man as a “carnal beast.” LaVey wrote The Satanic Bible, based upon a book published in 1980 called “Might Is Right: Survival of the Fittest” written under the pen name, Ragnar Redbeard. It takes a self-centered view of the world stating that each individual is his own god.
- TST rejects many of the ideas of the COS. in favor of science–based beliefs. TST is non-authoritarian, it projects a positive view of mankind, and it seeks to be a force for good in the world. Unlike the COS, there are no scriptures, no prescribed rituals, no belief in magic, and no priests with TST.
Questions & Answers
© 2017 Catherine Giordano