Why I'm not a Satanist
Without exception, the people I’ve met who consider themselves Satanists in the tradition of Anton LaVey are some of the most interesting people I’ve met. They tend to be ethical, intelligent, confident, honest, and nice…ooops…I mean evil! And a read through the Satanic Bible is enough to convince critics and skeptics alike that Anton LaVey was brilliant (besides being funny and brazen) in his own right. Yet, I still find much to be desired in modern Satanism and offer the following essay to Satanists and would-be Satanists alike as an honest critique.
For those unfamiliar with LaVeyan Satanism, please note that Satanists are atheists and do not believe in a real Satan/Devil.
But first, what I like about Satanism:
1. The Honesty
Satanism strives to be purely honest. It tells it like it is! A true Satanist does not stand for hypocrisy in others or in oneself. Satanism is a breath of fresh air in a society so tainted with blatant hypocrisy, the discrepancy between teaching and action.
2. The Independent Thought
Satanism requires one to think for oneself and this has a way of separating the intelligent from the stupid. Satanists understand the value of independent thought and are allowed to analyze and choose what to believe and do according to their own values and interests, not merely those instilled in them by social norms and culture.
3. The In-Your-Face Non-conformity
Satanists have practically invented new rules when it comes to nonconformity. I enjoy the fact that the average unthinking person is either offended or afraid of Satanists and their symbols. Satanists, like many alternative cultures and philosophies, unabashedly stands over and against the conforming masses of society while simultaneously challenging them, it just does so more extravagantly.
In a world where people are often driven to feel ashamed, guilty, or just plain negative about themselves, Satanism offers a key to uplift the individual to new heights of self-confidence, value, and consequently, empowerment. Satanists value themselves and embrace their own power and talents; they not only acknowledge them, they flaunt them. Most people long for the ability to embrace themselves in such overwhelmingly positive terms but cannot and will not. The Satanist can and does… and doesn’t hide it!
5. Ethical but not Dogmatic
Satanism offers a minimum ethical structure and trusts individuals enough to figure the rest out for themselves. This means that the average Satanist must, once again, think for themselves. This generally results in a more well reasoned, sensible, and sophisticated ethical way of life than the average person. Most Satanists are ethical and moral, but not out of guilt or conformity, they are so out of common sense.
6. It’s Just so much more Interesting
Yeah, this is one of my shallow reasons. But one has to admit, it’s much more intriguing and it raises all kinds of brows (and questions) to say, “I’m a Satanist” rather than some other anticipated response. It’s unusual and unexpected. I gather most Satanists dig this too.
7. A Sense of Purpose
This isn’t really unique to Satanism, but I do appreciate the fact that Satanism gives people a sense of meaning and provides something “worthwhile” to rally behind and support. All humans need something to believe in or we become apathetic and lethargic. Satanism lights a fire of passion and offers a sense of purpose.
My Criticism of Satanism:
1. Satanism is Reactionary
The fact is, the best philosophies are developed out of the embrace of something positive, not out of reaction to something negative. But Satanism is overwhelmingly reactionary. The “reactionary factor” is evident even in the name of “Satanism.” Satanism is a reaction to the hypocritical, stupid, tired, weak, boring, failings of mainstream philosophies and religions. Rather than developing concepts intrinsic to itself, Satanism gathers its strength and power by feeding off of the weaknesses and failings of other systems of thought. The great pitfall with this is that Satanism can only be as strong as that which it reacts to. Like the Radical Protestants whose power and persuasion relied solely on the evils of Roman Catholicism and later died when the Roman Catholics got their act together, Satanism depends on the ignorance and stupidity of modern Christianity and other white light religions.
If you don’t think Satanism is reactionary, just read a few Satanists’ websites. Many of the authors sound like enraged frustrated teenagers who need a target to pin their angst on and need one now. Satanism provides them an outlet. There are exceptions to this rule, but this is the general attitude I’ve observed.
2. Satanism is Mainly Rhetoric
Related to Satanism being reactionary, Satanism is “philosophy light” and “rhetoric heavy.” Anton LaVey’s greatest skill was that of a rhetorician. Satanism, if one scratches much beyond the surface, proves to be intellectually shallow. There’s just not a lot to it. My gut reaction to the SB was, “It’s Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People with an ‘evil’ twist and a large dose of Friederich Nietzsche thrown in. Satanism gets people motivated, excited, and impassioned…like all good rhetoric. But in the end, it’s not intellectually satisfying as a philosophy in its own right.
3. Satanism is too Dependent on Emotion and Human Ego
Just like Satanism’s forerunners, existentialism and gnosticism, Satanism’s main target is the human ego. Most people are drawn and remain committed to Satanism because it feeds their ego. If you’re told that you’re special or elite or some other warm fuzzy idea when you embrace a philosophy, then you’re more apt to buy into it and be blind to its shortcomings. Satanists thrive on the idea that they’re somehow “the few, the brave, and the proud.” In fact, Satanism uses the same rhetoric that the US Military and religious cults use to win and keep the loyalty of their followers. If your ego needs to be flattered and this need is met in Satanism, then your ability to be rational and have intellectual clarity has been short circuited on some level. This is the problem with all “feel-good” philosophies and religions. Like a habit one can’t give up, people become dependent on the stroking of their ego and critical thought is sacrificed.
4. Satanism Misunderstands Independence
People need people. Many of us wish it weren’t so because people have let us down, but the fact is, no man is an island. Satanists’ claim of godhood denies this fact which is fundamental and necessary to humanity. This is one area where Satanists seem unable to face reality effectively. While individuals do in fact have much more power and potential than most ever acknowledge or realize, no one is independently god or independently powerful. In fact, you can only attain power if people give it to you. And when I say people need people, I don’t just mean in terms of their usefulness, I mean people need the support and care of others. Babies will die if they receive no loving affection, and adults are no different. We all depend on others if we are going to be healthy and productive. Making independent claims of divinity, while it feels good, feeds one’s ego, and has some self-empowering results, leads to a denial of that reality. And denying reality is always a pitfall; those that consistently deny reality will eventually find themselves powerless.
5. Satan is an Unworthy Symbol
When Satanism was developed in the 1950’s and 1960’s in “Christian America,” calling it Satanism had more power and punch because people’s image of Satan was more heterogeneous, ridiculous, and stereotypical. Post the 1960’s hippie movement however, people are more clued in to what Satanists are saying and the title no longer carries the same impact on people (with the possible exception of Christian fundamentalists). That which is based on shock eventually becomes mundane. The Black Mass, for example, has become expected and uninteresting…no longer the subject of newspaper articles or “scandal.” Once again we see that Satanism, by being a purely reactionary philosophy, is dependent on the weaknesses of other systems of thought, or, in the case of the name, on the ridiculous stereotypes people hold of Satan.
And here is where I hold sympathies for Satanists. When “Satan” no longer shocks, one of the most “interesting” aspects of Satanism is lost. Satanism actually needs to grow into larger boots. I think if Anton LaVey were alive today he’d realize his short sightedness. Satanism needs to have the flexibility to change with the times. As our world grows more and more secular, Satanists will be left holding yet one more tired, reactionary philosophy.
I would add that “Satan” has already been given a thorough definition by the world which is not entirely in accord with the Satanist’s definition of Satan. Rather than merely redefining and recreating a “Satan” to one’s own liking as La Vey did, a more appropriate symbol should by chosen. Simple! Obvious!
6. Satanism Depends on False Caricatures of Religion
One of my continual complaints against LaVey and Satanists is that they thrive and make Satanism appear superior to all religions by simply mis-characterizing religious traditions through deliberate false descriptions and caricatures. One tactic often employed is simply to take the mistakes or radical extremes of religion that religious traditions have already denounced and hold those up as the "true" description of such traditions. What fool(s) would follow an anti-human, hypocritical, self-hating paths? And yet, according to Satanism, all religious traditions that have flourished throughout the millennia have nothing more to offer than such folly. LaVey wrote, "Most traditional religions have little or nothing to do with reality, are dependent on obfuscation, interpretation, guilt, and unreasoning faith - some more than others." Aren't we lucky we have the "enlightened" Satanists to tell us the way it really is?
7. Satanism's Self-Delusions
By setting itself over and above all religious thought, Satanism claims to be the pinnacle of thought that sees through all the 'mistakes' of religion and offers the corrective. It ignores and eschews the wisdom of the religious sages and prophets of the ages in favor of it's own 20th century philosophical underpinnings. Like all fundamentalist and extremist groups, Satanism claims to consist of the elite who alone have attained an "enlightenment" in contrast to the "blind and dumb" masses who surround them. Satanists claim to be gods, to be "their own God." Essentially, Satanists have a superiority complex. One Satanist named "Warlock" wrote, "The point is, Satanists are superior. We deserve the best. Period. ...We need to create a elite utopian community, and weed out all of the worthless slobs who dare try to be one of our kind. Destroy them all, and we will have a world full of Pretty Satanists."
Such an elitist position (for any group) requires an amazing amount of self-deception, delusion, deliberate misunderstanding, and the perpetuation of such misunderstanding among its proponents. Upon reading Satanist propaganda it is clear just how far such delusions will go: "I am a Satanist! Bown down, for I am the highest embodiment of Human life!" (LaVey).
Sorry Anton, but I'm not buying what you're selling.
Additional Commentary on the Satanic Statements
I was challenged by some Satanists on my point about Satanism's reliance on Christianity, and so, by way of example, demonstrate below how every one of the 9 Satanic Statements is reactionary to and/or dependent upon Christianity.
Satanic Statement #1: Satan represents indulgence instead of abstinence!
First off and most obvious, “Satan” is a Christian label for “evil” which Satanists stole from Christianity and redefined. Proclaiming indulgence is simply a reaction to the abstinence that most white light religions teach and honor. What the Satanist fails to recognize is that abstinence is not an end in itself, it is a means to self-discipline which allows one greater freedom and “indulgence.” I cannot “indulge” my desire to play the piano without having the control and self-discipline of piano lessons for instance: I just bang away at the keys and never produce music. But through lessons I am taught how to know “abstain” and “indulge” at the right moments. It can be frustrating and difficult, yet once I have learned how and when and have mastered my body/hands through such discipline and abstinence, then I alone have the “freedom” to play the most glorious concertos and to “indulge” myself musically, while the pupil who merely indulges their whims without learning abstinence is not free to play anything and continues to bang the keys without harmony. The same is true of the human body, the psyche, etc. A runner must abstain from all kinds of enjoyable things in order to indulge in great speed later on. Those who would be great would learn abstinence so that they can more fully indulge. All the religious sages understood this.
Satanic Statement #2:Satan represents vital existence instead of spiritual pipe dreams!
The “spiritual pipe dreams” LaVey refers to are those of religion, as in the Christian concept of the after-life. But Christianity arguably represents vital existence more than Satanism does. For the Christian, what you do here and now in your one lifetime is of eternal import and therefore carries with it much more significance than the Satanic life which is of the most fleeting and momentary import.
Satanic Statement #3: Satan represents undefiled wisdom instead of hypocritical self-deceit!
Now this is simply stolen from religion & Christianity in total. I can’t count all the verses that call people to wisdom in the Christian sacred texts. Hypocrisy and self-deceit are among the most serious “sins” in Christianity and in all world religions. This is very unoriginal of LaVey...but of course he and I would agree on the importance of abstaining from self-deciet and hypocrisy.
Satanic Statement #4: Satan represents kindness to those who deserve it instead of love wasted on ingrates!
This again is simply written in opposition to the Christian/religious value of loving everyone. What the Satanist fails to recognize is the power love has to conquer anyone and anything. The most powerful force is love, and that is what keeps us alive; not hatred or apathy. Any fool can hate, but only the great can love the unlovable.
Of course, what LaVey is getting at is that one can’t simply roll over and be victimized by everyone in an attempt to love the ungrateful. And he’s right. Even Jesus told the disciples to leave any town that would not listen to them and “wipe the dust from the bottom of your feet.”
Satanic Statement #5: Satan represents vengeance instead of turning the other cheek!
This statement is a direct reaction to a quote from Jesus himself. Jesus tells us to “turn the other cheek.” It is an intriguing metaphor. What LaVey never understood is what it meant to “turn the other cheek.” This explanation is from The Rev. Barbara K. Lundblad: “To understand, you have to know something about first-century Palestine: a person's left hand was used for “bathroom functions. “ This meant that you'd never strike a person with your left hand. If you were superior to another person, you would strike them with the back of your right hand, never with the palm of your hand for that would mean you'd see them as an equal. So, this is the picture Jesus is painting: If someone strikes you on the cheek, it will most likely be with the back of their hand, for remember Jesus is talking to victims here so your oppressor will not see you as an equal. He's likely to hit you with the back of his hand. If you turn your face to the side, you force your oppressor to see you as an equal for even your oppressor won't use his left hand. Some things simply weren't done. Jesus wants us to see an almost comical situation here. The oppressor's hand begins to swing but is caught in mid-air because he doesn't want to treat you as an equal by hitting you with open palm.“
Satanic Statement #6: Satan represents responsibility to the responsible instead of concern for psychic vampires!
Again, this statement is in contradiction to the religious teachings that we have responsibility for more than ourselves and those we deem ‘worthy.’ It is important to have concern for everyone because otherwise we perpetuate genocide, racism, sexism, etc. It is also important because the human race is interconnected and we will always rise and fall TOGETHER as a people. The strong are dependent on the weak and vice versa.
Satanic Statement #7: Satan represents man as just another animal, sometimes better, more often worse than those that walk on all-fours, who, because of his “divine spiritual and intellectual development,” has become the most vicious animal of all!
This statement is simply opposing the religious/Christian concept that humans have a “divine spiritual self” and soul. LaVey says we are merely animals. And he is half right. We are animals: humans are made of body, soul, and mind. In fact, religious tradition states that the reason Satan hates humans is because God dared place a spirit within an “animal” (material) body. Interesting twist considering the teachings of LaVeyan Satanism!
Satanic Statement #8: Satan represents all of the so-called sins, as they all lead to physical, mental, or emotional gratification!
Once again, “sin” is a religious concept. And indulging in sin for emotional gratification is a funny concept since the purpose behind describing sin was the human effort of trying to avoid things that lead to the disruption of emotional gratification and human well-being in the first place. Whether people sometimes are mistaken about what sin is is another question…but that was the original purpose nonetheless.
Satanic Statement #9: Satan has been the best friend the Church has ever had, as He has kept it in business all these years!
Here LaVey deals directly with the Christian Church, again demonstrating how heavily Satanism is based on the weaknesses of Christianity. And if one actually believes in evil from the true Christian perspective, one sees that Satan (the symbol of evil) has done nothing but corrupt the Church. There is a great deal of evil in the Church I assure you. There is also much good.
Read a response to my article here:
Updated 8-4-01, 1-5-03, 3-8-04