September 1, 2019

Satanists Trolling Conservative Christians

Satanic book

For someone who does not identify as a Satanist, I seem to get more than my share of questions and comments about Satanism. I think that is because I have posted about it on occasion and because I am sympathetic to some forms of atheistic Satanism. For example, I like much of what the Satanic Temple does. I agree with their seven tenets, appreciate their defense of church-state separation, and often enjoy the manner in which they troll conservative Christians. Strangely, characterizing some of what they do as "trolling" is one of the things that has prompted some negative reactions, so I'd like to address that here.

Most people who use the Internet these days have at least a passing familiarity with trolls and what it means to troll others. Those of you who write your own atheist blogs or simply visit some regularly are certainly familiar with Christian trolls. We understand that the troll does what he or she does to elicit a certain kind of reaction. Trolling is largely about pushing others' buttons. None of this means that trolling is necessarily bad or that it can't be done with other goals in mind.

Much of what I enjoy about what the Satanic Temple does is that it often seems like they are using Christians' many hang-ups to stimulate thought and demonstrate the absurdity of what many Christians believe. And yes, I'm talking specifically about the Satanic imagery. The Satanic Temple is one example of atheistic Satanism. They do not believe in a literal Satan; however, they use this imagery with great effect. As a fan of horror films and metal music, I suppose I may be predisposed to like this Satanic imagery. Of course, enjoying it doesn't mean I take it seriously (and neither do they).

There are two things I regularly hear from atheists who are unfamiliar with or negatively predisposed toward Satanism. The first involves the misconception that Satanists worship Satan. Most Satanists are atheists. Both the Satanic Temple and the Church of Satan, which are the most significant Satanic organizations today, are atheistic. They don't believe in gods or a literal Satan. They use the Satanic imagery for effect. And this brings us to the second thing I regularly hear from atheists unfamiliar with (or negatively predisposed toward) Satanism: why do they have to mess with all that ridiculous imagery?

I find this difficult to explain briefly, and I think that's because it seems so obvious to me. First, it is a whole lot of fun. Remember, they don't take it seriously. It is about theatrics and spectacle. For people (like me) who love dark art, film, and music, what could be better? Second, it is empowering. By embracing the stuff so many Christians still fear, Satanists are demonstrating that they will no longer live in fear or be constrained by what Christians think of them. Third, it highlights the absurdity of what many Christians believe. Too many Christians already think everyone who does not share their beliefs is Satanic. The Satanists are shoving this in their faces to reveal how absurd it is.

I could keep going for a while, as I think there are several other things that could be added to this list; however, I think I'd rather focus on the primary criticism I've heard from many atheists. By using Satanic imagery, aren't Satanists legitimizing Christian beliefs? Why use Christian imagery to oppose Christianity? I have heard this criticism so many times I am reluctant to dismiss it even though I disagree with it. Whether we like it or not, Christian beliefs are already about as legitimate as they could possibly be in the U.S. I don't think we need to worry that Satanists are going to make this any worse than it already is, and I think there might be some value in using the sort of imagery that elicits strong emotional reactions from many Christians. At the same time, I can understand why some atheists would prefer to have all religions just go away. It makes sense to me that some prefer plain old atheism to atheistic Satanism or anything else. Satanism isn't for everybody, and that's okay.

I think of modern Satanism as another way to oppose Christian theocracy and defend the separation of church and state. It is not necessary to accomplish these goals, but it may offer some benefits we don't find elsewhere. Consider the difference between a group of non-Satanic atheists showing up to protest the latest Ten Commandments display vs. a group of Satanists showing up to do the same. The Satanists command attention in a way the atheists never will, especially when their way of opposing the church-state violation is to demand equal space for their Satanic monument.

It is too bad that those surveys we are always hearing about that are used to assess Christian bigotry toward atheists, Muslims, and other groups almost never include Satanists. I would love to know whether contemporary Christians view Satanists as any more or less negative than they view atheists. Anecdotally, they seem to fear Satanists in a way they don't fear atheists, but I'm not aware of any data on that question.