January 8, 2016

Teenage Satanism

I've mentioned previously that I briefly dabbled in a cartoonish version of Satanism when I was about 17. My friends and I never took it seriously, but we found it both appealing and useful at this time in our lives. How so? It was fun, helped keep certain people at a distance while attracting others, and gave us a much-needed sense of power when we felt powerless most of the time. We didn't worship the devil; I was an atheist by this time. What we did was use Satanic imagery for its shock value and to express disdain for many aspects of the Christian culture in which we lived.

I never identified myself as a Satanist because I did not think of myself as a Satanist. This label was put on me by others. I guess I found it too ridiculous to deny. When word spread at my school that I did not believe in gods, some of my fundamentalist Christian classmates decided that this must mean I was a Satanist. I suppose I decided it was more fun just to let them go on believing this than to argue. I wouldn't have been able to talk them out of it. And besides, being thought of as a Satanist was much cooler than anything I could have come up with on my own.

I was thinking about this period of my life the other day and trying to remember where my limited knowledge of Satanism could have come from. I would eventually read The Satanic Bible and other sources on Satanism, but I had not done so yet. So where did what little I thought I knew about Satanism at the time come from? I think there were three primary sources:
  1. Horror films
  2. Heavy metal music with Satanic themes
  3. The mainstream news media
The first two probably aren't all that surprising, especially considering the version of Satanism we're talking about here. I was really into both horror and metal by this point (and still am). Both were influential in shaping my limited understanding of Satanism. The mainstream news media was probably even more influential though. I had lived through the hysteria of the PMRC trying to ban and then label albums they didn't like. The news featured plenty of Christian fundamentalists preaching about the evils of Satan. Fear of Satanic cults was growing too, and I remember the news stories aimed at parents that sought to help them recognize the warning signs of Satanism in teenagers and similar nonsense.

What became clear to my adolescent mind was that the people around me were terrified of anything Satanic and that Satanism represented a kind of freedom that was opposed by almost all the authority figures who were attempting to crush our freedom. On this basis alone, it had to be a good thing. If the alternative was oppressive Christian fundamentalism, I'd take Satanism all day long!

Where's church? How can church not be on the list? I was raised in a liberal Protestant church where we rarely heard about hell and Satan. My limited understanding of Satanism may have been indirectly influenced by what friends raised in fundamentalist churches told me, but I don't recall hearing much directly from the church I had been compelled to attend that would have affected me.

Clearly, my understanding of Satanism at the time was unsophisticated, inaccurate, and as I said above, cartoonish. It was also a lot of fun.

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