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.
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.