September 02, 2017

I was wrong about the Satanic Temple

King Saul falling on his own sword.
This past January I wrote an essay about the stupid things I've seen Satanists do. It touched on a lot of different subjects, but the principal point of the essay is that I believe that it's more important to work toward one's own success than it is to try and ensure another's failure. 

Before I start, let me be clear that generally speaking I'm not opposed to accusation and opposition. I think that if somebody has done something that's materially impacted the quality of my life, then he or she has justly earned the time and energy I spend punishing him or her. But for the record, let it also be said that I'd rather spend my time eating grapes from the vine than forcing somebody else to drink vinegar.

Regarding the Satanic Temple, two of the specific criticisms I made are:
  1. They've contributed nothing new to Satanism.
  2. I oppose their test of radical inclusion.
The first criticism I made is that they haven't contributed anything new to Satanism, and that their approach to Satanism is no more than an appeal to Milton and other Enlightenment-era interpretations of Satan (or Lucifer) as liberator and rebel against tyranny. I said that this isn't new because these interpretations of Satan (or Lucifer) are already present within the canon literature of the Church of Satan, but what I also implied is that these documents aren't "valid" because the Satanic Temple is unable to claim any new literature that didn't already exist. 

At the time I wrote that criticism, I did not regard their adoption of The Revolt of the Angels by Anatole France as legitimate. To my eyes, such a literary adoption was nothing more than sifting through the dusty footprints of the Church of Satan to find something of value left behind on the road to success. And would you believe that I made that criticism without having actually read The Revolt of the Angels?

Looking back, I'm astonished at myself that I could make such a criticism without having actually read their foundational document. That's a fair bit of stupidity on my part, huh? After all, if somebody said something outlandish about the Church of Satan that was easily resolved by actually reading the Satanic Bible, I'd call them stupid and tell them to go read the Satanic Bible.

So shame on me for committing my own stupidity. The point where I realized I'd succumbed to my own dogma was when I listened to the Black Mass Appeal podcast in which the hosts shared some favorite lines from The Revolt of Angels. Who'd've thunk it? If you actually look beyond your assumptions, you'll find something worthwhile. I never thought that the Satanic Temple was only a parody of Satanism which exists for the sole purpose of trolling Christians, but I did often think that they were a bunch of empty hats using the thinnest literature to achieve the impression of depth.

I was wrong: the Satanic Temple isn't an empty hat or a collection of poseurs. Listening to the Black Mass Appeal podcast, plus watching some videos of Satanic Temple-oriented rituals and events (not the protests) showed me that they're not only sincere and committed to Satanism-as-religion and world-view, but that they've got the depth of knowledge to back it up and are well versed in modern Satanism. 

This sudden shift in perspective was an interesting experience for me. If I may still be permitted to do so, I consider myself fairly intelligent and don't believe that unquestioning dogma plays a role in my decision making, but what else other than willful ignorance or dogmatic opposition can explain me blindly avoiding their foundational documents and irrationally characterizing their entire organizational membership as empty hats?

What I'll also add is an emphasis on my criticism that they don't contribute anything new. In hindsight, that criticism says more about me than it does about them. After all, if the chief criterion which I'm using to determine "value" is whether the Satanic Temple is following an original foundational document, or is doing something so radically different that it has no precedent, then I guess I should start removing all the Shostakovich and Verdi from my music collection.

Something need not be "new" to be "worthwhile," a point made by those who admire the writing of Dr. LaVey who frequently opined for the past and made no effort to conceal his contempt for innovation. Some people want to go forward in time, but everything I've ever read taught me that Dr. LaVey only ever wanted to go backward in time. There are so many treasures of the past which have been buried by disposable consumer culture. Going by this logic, it's preferable to look to the past for the enduring gems than to look to the future and sift through the rubbish.

The second criticism I made against the Satanic Temple is that I oppose their test of radical inclusion:
I oppose all private religion in all government places, therefore I don't feel like I can logically support an organization which uses state- and federal-level RFRA style laws to insert private religion into government places. If this test of radical inclusion works, then religious plurality in government places is protected and we still have private religion in government places. If it fails, then this strengthens the position of existing private religion in government places. For me, neither outcome feels like a victory and this is why I prefer to support organizations such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation which are already working toward the goal of removing private religion from government places without inserting private religion into government places.
Generally speaking, I feel the same now as I did then. I oppose all private religion in all government places - even when that religion is my own. But specifically, I've come to see this differently.

Now let it be said that there are critics of the Satanic Temple's monument campaigns (both the Baphomet monument to compliment the 10 Commandments, as well as the Bowl of Wisdom to compliment veterans' monuments) who characterize the Satanic Temple as jealous victims who whine in front of the cameras about how they're not being represented. I have always thought that this characterization is ignorant, and I reject it.

Instead, what I had always thought is what I said above: I feel like it's hypocritical to insert private religion into government places in order to oppose private religion in government places; however, in hindsight, I've come to feel differently and have two thoughts on my second criticism.

First, I'm forgetting the stubbornness of religion. I can't find any of them to link right now, but I've heard several atheists make the argument that religion can never be defeated. If I'm mis-remembering the argument, then somebody is welcome to correct me, but the way I heard it is that judging by all of recorded history, human beings not only appear to need religion as a tool to satisfy a variety of internal needs and desires, but persistently create it despite all efforts to eradicate it. So I remember the argument going, the goal of the atheist then is not in fact to eradicate religion or steal away people's cultural traditions, but to encourage rational, science-based public policy so that the consequences of private religion are confined to the private individual.

I agree that a private religious monument in a public government place gives the appearance of preferential treatment, but the goal to remove all private religion from all government places might not be achievable. Going by the argument that religion itself is not the primary target, the goal then becomes respect for religious pluralism in government places. If other religionists are able to accept the presence of other religionists, then - even though I personally oppose all private religion in all government places - it's fair enough to say that everybody wins. But if the barest measure of tolerance (or even recognition) for other religions is cause for those already represented to have a conniption fit, then they're welcome to agree to change the rules so that no private religions may be represented in any government places.

What I've said above isn't a new discovery. If a member of the Satanic Temple read the above paragraph (and I'm skeptical that many of them do read my blog), he or she would say, "No shit, stupid. That's what we've been saying all along." So even though I've heard this argument almost verbatim in the past, what was it that prevented me from understanding the logic of it? I'm inclined to think that I was biased in my opinion based on a sort of Satanic tribalism which encouraged me to reject any argument put forward by the Satanic Temple no matter how much I would agree if it were being put forward instead by the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I'm willing to cop to my stupidity, but again - if I may presume to do so? - I like to think that I'm an otherwise intelligent person who's frequently observed that nothing happens in a vacuum. If I'm having this reaction to the Satanic Temple, then I'm willing to bet money that there are other Satanists having the same reaction, too. The root cause for that reaction is worth discussing.

Second, Satanism is a religion which supports the social contract and encourages respect for law and order. I personally believe that what is legal may be wrong, and what is illegal may be right. I also accept that unquestioning obedience to plastic rules is a poor substitute for critical thinking. Put all of this together, and you start to see my worldview: if as a society we agree that laws are important for the protection of hard-won social order, then each of us are to an extent obligated to respect the laws of the land. If we accept that as a society we've created laws which allow for the display of private religious monuments on public government property, then this law must be applied equally. 

There's no room for special pleading in this scenario: either all private religious monuments are accepted for display, or all are rejected. Barring displays which glorify universally rejected wrongs (such as raping a baby) or promote activity which is itself against the laws of the land, then there is no middle ground. When the Satanic Temple petitions to have its monuments displayed, this isn't a crybaby routine full of crocodile tears for the media, but a test of the laws of the land. Do we as a society accept the rules by which we've allegedly agreed to play? Or do we as a society accept the special pleading of the dominant religionists?

The Satanic Temple's test of radical inclusion is a parallel to the battle in which the Philistines fought against King Saul. When King Saul realized that he would be overtaken by the Philistines, he refused to die by their hand and fell on his own sword. This isn't a great example since the Satanic Temple doesn't want to kill anybody, but it's an apt metaphor. 

When the Satanic Temple petitions the court to be treated equally under rule of law, they're forcing Christians to fall on their own swords, and that's an outcome which I can support. I can't speak for Dr. LaVey - he's been dead for 20-some years - but as much as Dr. LaVey cared about the rule of law and enjoyed antagonizing Christians, I think that using the rules of the game to force Christians into rage-quitting is an outcome he could have supported, too.

As for my other criticisms of the Satanic Temple - that they're purely rational and totally skeptic, and that they're deeply committed to moral, upstanding behavior - I suppose that says more about me than it does about them. I have not been in the past and I am not now in the present a member of the Satanic Temple, and I have not in the past nor do I now in the present oppose the Satanic Temple. For reasons that I made clear in the original essay linked at the opening to this one, I don't think that the Satanic Temple is worth opposing.

But I do think that their goals - no matter who achieves them or how they're achieved - are worth supporting.

13 comments:

  1. No shit, stupid. That's what we've been saying all along. :)

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    1. I was very impressed by the Satanic Temple's clever method of eluding Christian protesters during the official unveiling of the Baphomet statue. First, getting to the venue was a treasure hunt type thing, they used three different addresses. Then, you had to sign over your soul to Satan at the door.

      There is no way in Hell any Christian would do that. I liked that so much, I joined.
      Hail Satan!

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  2. We do read it sometimes. Thank you for saying we are worth supporting. Sounds like you're following our 6th Tenet well.

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    1. (laughing) Well, I can't claim to be following the Satanic Temple's 6th tenet since I'm not a member of the Satanic Temple, but I'll definitely claim to avoiding the Satanic sins of stupidity, solipsism, and herd mentality. Different strokes, and what not. I like to think that Satanists of any variety could agree on holding Christians - or anybody, for that matter - accountable to the law of the land, but judging by what I've seen it's an unreasonable assumption. Hail Satan.

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  3. Sutter Cane9/3/17, 7:22 AM

    It's probably also worth pointing out that many Satanists in The Satanic Temple were already such long before the organization itself emerged. One of the most common misconceptions that detractors of the Temple like to peddle is that it's just "atheist trolls" playing with Satanic imagery and that it just popped up overnight ready to piss Christians off.

    In actuality, the Temple has attracted people who were (and are) already Satanists of many different stripes and backgrounds. A significant number started out initially with LaVey and the Satanic Bible but others have come from a variety of alternative groups or traditions. The point is that they came to the table with a pre-existing understanding of Satanic philosophy and simply agree with the aims and agendas of TST, finding the Seven Tenets compatible with their existing values. So they weren't just atheists who crawled out of the woodwork and thought Satan was "cool and edgy" when TST suddenly showed up several years ago.

    For new members of TST discovering Satanism for the first time, Miltonic or "Romantic/Satanic" literature is certainly a great kickoff point for them to understand the Temple's representation of Satan but it is no means the end all. They are often encouraged - not compelled - to devour a fairly broad range of other works to further supplement and enrich their understanding of Satanic philosophy (even some of LaVey's back catalog if they have an interest in it). As Ash Astaroth from TST NYC pointed out: "Our canon is a list of varied authors and media, it is a collection of diverse ideas and works into a cohesive vision, and it is adaptable because of that".

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    1. Or in my case, someone who always identified very strongly with the Satan myth and with the mainline LaVeyan Satanic tenets of materialism, irreverence, subversiveness, and happiness through carnal experience, but who was turned off by the archaic politics of a rapidly aging central text and the surprisingly steadfast dogma of the modern followers.

      I never was a Satanist--or so I thought--because Peter Gilmore told me "You must agree with everything in this book or else you are not." So I wasn't. Until someone finally broached the seemingly radical position that, you know, perhaps there is another way after all. That's why one of the early working titles for "Black Mass Appeal" was "Satan For the Rest Of Us."

      And you know, I later regretted reading that page from "Revolt" on the first episode because I worried it sounded pompous. But I guess it was a smart rhetorical gesture after all.

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    2. I'm enjoying the thoughtful and conversational format of the show. Your team's general self-awareness and lack of pretentiousness is refreshing. Thanks for putting it together.

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    3. Since threaded comments have a way of not functioning on occasion, this reply is to Sutter Cane.

      Yeah, I find it amusing the way some Satanists think that the Satanic Temple is apparently composed of only 10 actual people and the rest of the membership is composed entirely of names written in accounting records to document the supposed stampede of all the gay, vegan, communist, hipsters who are only there because it's supposedly fashionable right now to take the devil's name.

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  4. I respect your willingness to change your mind and thank you for your support. Hail!

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    1. Counter-productive pride and willful stupidity are a bad look. I like to think that willingness to admit or at least correct past ignorance is something anybody could do, but judging by what I see in the world around me I think it must be a rare quality. At any rate, Hail Satan!

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  5. Grouping people who enjoy or find meaning in the rebel archetype to humans who engage in criminal behavior is black and white thinking. I have always affiliated with the rebel archetype in its many forms and enjoyed many of the other symbols that reflect human nature (Pan, Jesus, Inner Child). The scriptures of Islam command death to infidels....find one comparison to that in popular Satanic literature other than revenge on your enemies. People who harm children who are affiliated with systems of thought (satanic, catholic, Islamic) should be addressed for what they DO WITH that knowledge or belief system. Satanic imagery is just art reflecting human nature and useful in ritual AS MUCH as any other system such as Christianity for whatever purpose a person wants to use it for. Crime is crime in whatever name it is packaged in.

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  6. Seeing someone change their mind and admit a past mistake on the internet makes me confused and frightened.

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    1. It's all part of the master plan. (cue evil laughter)

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Freedom of Expression =/= Freedom from Consequences