It doesn’t take much to be called a Satanist these days. Just run for office, become an atheist, complain about sexual assault, or be gay or trans and a fundamentalist will dutifully brand the horns on you.

For those of us who goes through the extra trouble of actually being Satanists, it’s almost annoying.

But we can’t get too angry at the fundies. This is just what they do. Birds must fly, fish must swim, etc.

In fact, the entire reason we have the words “Satan” and “Satanist” is because nut jobs needed to know what to call the people who scare them the most.

In her book The Origin of Satan, Princeton professor Elaine Pagels argues that the devil began his life as a political tool.


origin of satan elaine pagels

Somehow, them just being Romans wasn’t considered bad enough…

Satan doesn’t get much spotlight time in traditional Jewish belief; other than in Job, he’s a bit player. But when a Jewish splinter group needed something extra to vilify their Roman occupiers, Pagels says they seized on the devil.

“Radical groups want a clean break,” Laura Geggel writes on Live Science. “So they describe their enemies as devils who will face god’s wrath.”

And without knowing it, the ancient radicals founded a proud fundamentalist tradition that has endured for many obnoxious eons now.

Ironically, fundamentalist kooks have forced the  “Satanist” label on Jewish folks more than anybody else. Which has got to be a pain, since most Jews (sensibly) don’t even believe in a literal devil.

But that’s how it goes. Just as god always conveniently hates whatever his worshipers do, Satan very dutifully champions whatever cause pious people already hate.


origin of satan elaine pagels

Scapegoat? Nah…

This is handy, since it means that your prejudices are not your fault. It’s not that you’ve got anything against gays, you just hate the devil is all. How could you not?

There’s actually a pretty easy formula for loving Satan. First, stop believing that he exists. (Most of you have this covered already.)

Second, become very comfortable with the idea that fundamentalist whackos, bigots, and nutters don’t like you. If anything, consider becoming overweeningly proud of it.

I am perfectly happy if people like Ben Carson consider me the ultimate evil in the world. If they didn’t, I might wonder if I was doing something wrong.

Just like in Roman-occupied Judea, the kooks want a “clean break” from people like you and me. Well, the feeling is mutual.

As distasteful as their paranoid natterings about Satan are, I’m glad they’re still at it. It’s what makes Satanism such a powerful tool against them.

Originally published October 2016.

origin of satan elaine pagels

This doesn’t look like our kind of party anyway.