Satanism vs. Atheism

Have you ever overheard a conversation on something that you’re passionate about, but for one reason or another, it would be out of place for you to interject? This happens to me all the time, and it’s immeasurably frustrating. In most groups I’m in, I’m considered “the atheist” of the group, but since I started my office job in March, this has not necessarily been the case.

I have a coworker who is a Satanist, and he is kind of known around the office as being “the anti-Christian one.” He likes to give Christians a hard time, and often feels like he is being treated unfairly when Christians in the office can proclaim their faith, but time and time again he’s been asked to not be public with his Satanism because it can make people uncomfortable.

To an extent, I can sympathize with this. It seems that a lot of the time, Christians can get special treatment where others don’t, but I’ve never really had problems with this at work or anywhere outside of my Christian college. I’m not really open about being an atheist at work, because I don’t see a reason to be. It’s not relevant. I don’t go out of my way to hide it, but we’re a diverse group of people who seem mostly to be religious “nones”, so I don’t usually give it a second thought.

But for some reason, it does bother me when my Satanic, Catholic-school-alumni coworker is recognized as and joked about being against Christianity. It’s probably petty, but every time I just want to say, “No! I’m an atheist, too! I went to a Christian college that I hated! I’m in the local freethought community! I write an atheist blog! I read atheist books! I probably know more about this than you do but I just don’t brag about it at work! Everyone thinks you’re the expert on religion and why it’s bad but you’re not!”

It felt amazing getting that off my chest. Thank you for reading my rant, but I digress.

After thinking that as my coworkers went on and on about how funny it would be to take the Satanist to a Baptist church, a thought occurred to me. Are he and I really in the same category? As an atheist and a Satanist, what do we really have in common beyond a contempt for our religious upbringings and an unwillingness to attend church?

I don’t know if my coworker belongs to any Satanic church, or if he just likes to scare people with references to Satan and images of Baphomet, but there are a few different “churches” with a Satanic figurehead. I’d heard of the Church of Satan and Anton LaVey before, but all I knew was that they didn’t believe in a literal Satan, and that they were actually atheists with values that contradict those of the Christian god (like freedom, autonomy, and independence). I had also heard of the Satanic Temple from some activism they had done for LGBTQ rights. I knew that some Satanic group or groups had been active recently on the religious freedom stage, but I couldn’t tell you which one.

There are dozens of groups throughout history who have followed Satan in one way or another. Not including the aformentioned Church or Temple, there have been theistic Satanists, also known as devil worshippers, which could be considered a form of Christianity, as it acknowledges a real belief in and real worship of Satan as depicted in the Bible. It gets even stickier when you realize that the original Church of Satan claims the term “Satanist” as their own, and it would not apply to anyone outside of their church. They try very hard to establish themselves as the “one true Satanic religion,” when in reality, the concept of Satan isn’t really something you can own.

Opposing the Church of Satan is, as I’ve mentioned, the Satanic Temple. The Temple is only six years old, and its mission seems to greatly resemble those of organizations like the American Humanist Association or the Freedom from Religion Foundation, who fight for religious equality. As I researched, I quickly found out that the Church of Satan and the Satanic Temple more or less hate each other. You can read for yourself what they think of each other, and how they’re different, here and here. I recommend perusing both websites and FAQ pages, as they’re pretty fascinating, and it’s outside the scope of this post to explain their histories in detail.

So the question that I asked myself when contemplating my coworker’s beliefs and my own was: why Satan? I understand that it’s edgy, and saying that you’re a Satanist could get a reaction from a Christian, but why not just say you’re an atheist or a humanist? My husband was shocked and upset when I told him that Satanists don’t believe in Satan. He said it was manipulative to put the label of Satan on something that’s not evil, just to mess with people. I definitely understand that. More sheltered Christians already think atheists are evil, and influenced by Satan, so why give yourself the extra work of trying to explain to people that not only do you not actually worship Satan, but you also don’t believe in God… or in Satan at all? How do you explain to them that it’s just humanism with a goat head?

I think that I have figured out what sets Satanists, specifically of the Satanic Temple, apart from atheists. It seems to me like a less silly-sounding version of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. No one (that I’ve heard of, anyway) truly believes in a Flying Spaghetti Monster, but it has a church with members who claim that it is a real religion. Pastafarianism isn’t recognized by the IRS as a legitimate religion, but do you know what is? The Satanic Temple.

wired.com

This gives the Temple an opportunity that the FSM, the Church of Satan, and secular humanists don’t get: to act as equal opposition to traditional religions. You would have a harder time fighting religious inequality as an atheist than you would a Satanist because you don’t have a religion that you want to be recognized. Famously, the Satanic Temple once erected a statue of Baphomet at the State Capitol in Arkansas next to a monument of the Ten Commandments when the state refused to remove the monument. Of course, seeing a manifestation of the Devil himself is unsettling, but for good reason. Seeing the body of a man hanging from a torture device everywhere is unsettling to me, and equality means that if that is okay to show to people, then so is the face of Satan.

I don’t identify as a Satanist, because it still feels like atheism but with extra steps, although my values pretty much align with those of the Satanic Temple. When it comes down to it, Satanism is practically identical to the religion of Humanism, but with the head of a goat.

18 Replies to “Satanism vs. Atheism”

  1. I have some criticisms regarding some of the statements made here:

    Based on what you wrote in this article, your friend sounds like he’s his own problem. He cannot really complain about being treated unfairly if he’s actively creating a hostile work environment. If the Christians at your workplace had been actively causing difficulties for him prior to this, he could have filed his own complaints. By responding with hostility, he worsened the situation.

    Later, you wrote:

    “It gets even stickier when you realize that the original Church of Satan claims the term ‘Satanist’ as their own, and it would not apply to anyone outside of their church. They try very hard to establish themselves as the ‘one true Satanic religion,’ when in reality, the concept of Satan isn’t really something you can own.”

    There is no concrete evidence to show any group calling their own religious beliefs Satanism or labeling themselves Satanists prior to April 30, 1966 when Anton LaVey founded the Church of Satan. Apart from being used as a pejorative label to denigrate the practices of pagans, non-Christians and competing Christian sects (see Protestants vs. Catholics), there was no systematized religious belief called Satanism. LaVey was the first to publicly declare what Satanism was and did so by breaking completely away from the stereotypes created by Christians against anyone they didn’t happen to like.

    The Church of Satan has never said the term Satanist would not apply to anyone outside of their organization. Their stance is that a person can call themselves a Satanist if they read the literature Anton LaVey created and found the religion’s ideas and philosophy resonated with them. Further, they never stated or attempted to claim to own the concept of Satan.

    The Church of Satan does not hate the Satanic Temple. They view TST for what it is – a left-leaning political activist group using an already established religion to sway people towards their agenda. Apart from their Seven Tenets, if you subtract their activist stance which actually erodes church/state separation, there really isn’t a whole lot there to support them being considered a religious movement, especially one which works in a completely contradictory fashion to the one it appropriated its name from.

    To suggest TST has more of a standing as a religion than the Church of Satan because they have a 501(c)(3) tax exemption misses the point. ALL religious institutions in the United States are recognized regardless of whether or not they have a tax exemption. The Church of Satan was recognized as a religious body when they incorporated with the City of San Francisco in 1966. They were also acknowledged as the contact point in the US Army’s Chaplain’s handbook from the 1970’s until the early 2000’s for Satanism.

    The Church of Satan COULD act in the same manner as TST; however, their mission is not political. They also leave politics to the individual to decide what is most pragmatic for themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I never really understood why someone would be part of a satanic movement if they didn’t actually believe in a literal devil, but you’ve shed some light on it here. Something for me to read up on later.

    When you consider all the nasty stuff Yahweh does in the Bible, Satan ends up looking pretty good by comparison, and he encouraged Adam and Eve to think for themselves, sorta 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have a hunch the resident Satanist is simply taking pleasure in annoying your workplace Christians. Does he deep-down actually believe in/worship a Satanic figure? Who knows? But it’s obvious he enjoys getting under their skin (which, by the way, is an extremely easy thing to do).

    Interesting post.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Rebekah, spot on. This is funny, and interesting, and cogent. It does appear that Satanism was ‘invented” to be a serious thumb in the eye of Christianity–not just not believing in something (it’s so hard to criticize something that doesn’t have anything to hang your hat on–oh, wait…), but so much more interesting if, instead of believing in nothing, you choose to believe in Something, and what annoys a Christian more than Satan?

    And where athetists just paddle along in the slipstream, happy to not have to believe in anything, Satanists just take up the banner and wave it gleefully, and REALLY annoy Christians…and now they’ve become a legal church, too. It can only get more interesting.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I always found it fascinating that Milton’s Satan of “Paradise Lost” is heroic, poetic, interesting, and memorable, whereas God, of the same work, is flat, unemotional, and intensely boring.
    Great post.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. Seems that a lot of members of TST revel in ghoulish and morbid activities. Whatever floats their boat, for sure, but it also seems that in doing so, they are promoting the concept of a dark force and idealizing it. They say they don’t truly believe or worship someone called satan, but I find that hard to believe. What is dark and sinister is not congruent to the beliefs stated on their website.

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  7. I can relate to your frustration. My last few years of work included limited interaction with a few religious folks. Fed government though, so pretty secular. The only thing I recall saying was that I did not believe any of it.
    Once again I will rely on your research and writing, and I agree with your spouse.
    I am happy as an atheist and I do not need to play games with things like Satanism or Paganism for any reason. I do have a bit of a burr about not being able to have open and calm discussions. As soon as we say that we doubt the existence of any god, someone gets all tight-ass over it.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I suspect they might be a bit scared and envious of non-believers who seem to be surviving quite nicely on their own terms. I’d say we were the thorn in their sock, and they don’t like it.
      It’s like we’re the kids on the block who get to go out and play in the park, unsupervised, and they’re the kids who aren’t even allowed off the front step without a guide…
      Where we live, religion is not a topic for discussion. No one asks out loud what church you belong to, and no one brings it up unless Aunt Mary died and the services will be next week at the Baptist church, and everyone goes, ahah.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. … as my coworkers went on and on about how funny it would be to take the Satanist to a Baptist church …

    He should accept — on condition that he can take them to a Satanic service. (And I would love to see the reaction to that).

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Have you ever overheard a conversation on something that you’re passionate about, but for one reason or another, it would be out of place for you to interject?

    Yes, often. I suppose that happens to everyone.

    And there — I just interjected when it wasn’t appropriate. (I’ve gotta do that once in my life).

    Liked by 1 person

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