November 2, 2009

Satanism, Atheism, and Anti-Theism

Anti-Christian/Satanic button taken from a pai...
Anti-Christian/Satanic button taken from a pair of pants. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I knew that this series was going to be controversial when I started it. Misconceptions about Satanism abound, even among atheists. And the suggestion that atheists might have something to learn from Satanists has already been criticized even though I have not written anything about it yet. In the first part of the series, I explained that many Satanists, at least those involved in the Church of Satan, do not worship Satan but are atheists who adopt a strongly anti-theistic position and use Satanic imagery and symbolism to shock. In this post, I'll examine the relationships among this form of Satanism, atheism, and anti-theism. The next post will discuss whether atheists could learn anything from Satanists.

Satanism and Atheism

Most atheists are not Satanists. It is true that some evangelical fundamentalist Christians love to claim that atheism and Satanism are the same thing, but this is clearly more of the bigotry we have come to expect of them. In fact, most atheists scoff at the very image of a Satanist. Such reactions are often based on the same misconceptions about Satanists that Christians hold (e.g., that Satanists worship Satan); however, there are valid reasons for atheists to reject Satanism.

Some atheists find nothing appealing about Satanic imagery and the desire to shock others. It strikes some as juvenile or counterproductive. For other atheists, the rejection of Satanism is based on the extremely negative connotation it has and the lack of interest in associating oneself with it. We atheists are fully aware of how much we are despised, and we recognize that part of this is due to the fairly common practice religious people have of equating us with "devil worshipers." Many of us understandably seek to avoid anything which might lend credence to this strange association. These are valid reasons for atheists to reject Satanism, and I imagine there are others.

What should be remembered, however, is that while not all atheists are Satanists, all Satanists are atheists (Note: Like I said in the first post in this series, I am using "Satanist" in this series to refer to one particular form of Satanism: LaVey's Church of Satan). Here is how the Church of Satan describes themselves:

We were established in 1966 c.e. by Anton Szandor LaVey, who declared it the Year One, Anno Satanas, thus opening the floodgates to a revolution designed to smash the hypocrisy and unreason of organized religions and mystical philosophies. We stand as a formidable threat to those who would halt progress in the name of spirituality. We are explorers on the untrodden paths of science, human motivation and mystery—all that is most truly occult. Our primary goal is to clearly disseminate the philosophy created by Anton Szandor LaVey to those who have an interest in understanding the truth regarding our beliefs and practices, and to encourage individuals who embrace Satanism to utilize this tool as a means for enhancing their lives and for leaving a legacy of creativity that demonstrates to human society the potency of our diabolical perspective.
Except for the part about disseminating LaVey's philosophy, this sounds a great deal like something with which many atheists can relate, anti-theism.

Satanism and Anti-Theism

Not all atheists are anti-theists, but all Satanists of the variety I'm discussing here certainly are both atheists and anti-theists (see note above). If you read the above quote again, omitting mention of LaVey if you like, you will recognize anti-theism. Magistra Blanche Barton wrote:

We are sickened by the complacency, hypocrisy, prejudice, and self-righteousness that most conventional religions (including “Wicca” and “paganism” as they are currently defined) encourage in people. When my back is up against the wall, I’m not strengthened by Jesus’ supposed martyrdom, or by the idea of praying and being saved, or of mooning over some glorious afterlife (so I don’t have to take responsibility for this one). Satanists’ scorn for such drivel is in our hard-wiring, and we could no more “give our lives over to Christ” than we could cut off one of our own limbs.
I suspect many of us feel the same way. I know I do. She also wrote about how humans create and define their gods. Again, these Satanists are atheists and anti-theists.

But I Thought Satanism Was a Religion

You are correct. While atheism is clearly not a religion, LaVey intended Satanism to serve as a religion. In essence, he suggests that the long survival of conventional religions suggests that humans have a need for both dogma and ritual. In Satanism, he seeks to provide both. Admittedly, his dogma reads far more like a philosophy than a religion, but the injection of ceremony and ritual does make it appear more religious. According to LaVey himself, Satanism can be distinguished from atheism in that these added components help to make it an actual religion.

Nobody is claiming that atheism and Satanism is synonymous (except many evangelical fundamentalist Christians). LaVey would certainly disagree with this, as would I. Satanism aspires to be a religion and deliberately incorporates ritual for this purpose; atheism does not. Satanism attempts to provide a coherent philosophy; atheism does not (although many atheists adopt some form of humanism or naturalism).


In the next post, I'll take a look at whether there is anything we atheists might be able to learn from Satanism.

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