IS SATANISM A RELIGION?
Well is it?
This seems like a simple question. And my simple answer is yes. But that leads to a harder question: WHY do I say it’s religion? Why is this even in dispute? And I’m not sure I can successfully answer that.
Some people disagree with me about this, including even a few Satanists. This despite the fact that very little disagreement about the relevant facts is even possible.
The secret is that although most people think they know what the word “religion” means, possibly none of us are right.
And thinking too hard about that possibility can put cracks into the foundations of a lot of things that we take for granted. Which presumably is why most of us don’t do it very often.
This question came up over drinks after our most recent Satanic Bay Area org meeting at Wicked Grounds.
One person at the table said no, it’s not. And another said yes but had very different reasons than I did. Which got me to thinking.
In the past I’ve heard some Satanists in online spaces—mostly Sixties Satanists I notice—express the opinion that Satanism is a “philosophy” or “lifestyle” rather than a religion. It’s a minority opinion, but it persists.
The thing is, defining religion is actually very difficult. Religion is slippery, like a mongoose. And it can go in unexpected directions, like a mongoose. And it often has a vendetta against snakes. …like a mongoose!
Some people seem to think the US government has a hard legal definition of religion. But as we noted on Black Mass Appeal last year, courts actually try very hard NOT to strictly define faith.
As Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Georgia Nathan S. Chapman explained while wading through that fucking stupid Hobby Lobby case, “the government may not evaluate the accuracy or plausibility of a claimant’s religious beliefs.”
The only thing that courts care about is “whether the claimant holds those beliefs sincerely.” A very lucky break for followers of the Great Pumpkin.
Philosophically speaking…well, no sentence that has ever started with the phrase “philosophically speaking” has ever been easy. They’re a cagey bunch, those philosophers. Like feral mongooses.
Frederick Ferre, onetime president of the Metaphysical Society of America–fuck me, just imagine how long they spent debating that name–said that religion is simply, “a way of valuing that is most comprehensively and intensively experienced.”
That would mean my religion is Satanism and my mother’s religion is Janis Joplin. So Fred might have been on to something.
Paul Tillich, the noted existentialist Lutheran theologian–there’s one in every crowd, amiright?–said that religion is “the state of being ultimately concerned.”
Which again means that my religion is Satanism, whereas Tabitha’s cat’s religion is sitting on the counter and demanding treats. Again, this checks out.
Today the site Simply Philosophy just says, “There is no common definition of religion that scholars agree on.” Also, “Ordinary people dont know what it is either.”
For fuck’s sake, you mean I could have just read that one first and skipped the rest? Quit jerking me around, academia, I can make an egghead omelet before you know it.
Most Americans assume atheism and religion are antonyms, but this is not so. Buddha didn’t believe in gods; now some people worship him. That’s like if after I died people started thinking of me as proof of Tucker Carlson’s integrity.
Pew Research says one percent of American Christians don’t believe in god. Neither do 11 percent of Jewish Americans. But they still identify as Christian and Jewish.
Well, who’s going to tell them they’re not? Definitely not god, right? It’s the, “Not touching, can’t get mad” answer to theology.
Atheistic religions have existed for centuries. Revolutionary France had its Cult of Reason, for example; it didn’t catch on, but neither did Betamax and people still remember that.
Documentarian Penny Lane’s upcoming film Hail Satan? about the Satanic Temple poses the question, “I’m following a code of ethics after having fellowshipped with brethren; why can’t that be a religion?”
In my mind, Satanism provides me with the things people demand from their religion: guidance, community, peace of mind, ritual, meaning in life and the universe.
And I get these things not arbitrarily or subjectively, but from the same place almost every other religion does: myth and storytelling. The myth of Satan invests me with these values in the way that atheism, humanism, or materialism alone never did.
In my mind, the question is open and shut. And yet, I cannot say that those who disagree with me are necessarily wrong. Because it’s a deeply personal judgment.
It has to be personal to everyone, because there’s no one else. No gods, no kings, no prophets. Just us, and our lack of faith.