The group that is trying to erect a statue of Baphomet next to the Ten Commandments at the Oklahoma state capitol represents a new strain of Satanism. It isn’t just about black masses, occultism, and deliberate acts of evil. The new Satanism is allying itself with atheism in an attempt to destroy traditional religions. And yet just as the atheists are having a schism, so are the Satanists, with orthodox devil worshipers complaining that the new groups are not real Satanists. So reports Joseph Laycock at Religion Dispatches, excerpted after the jump.
Think of it as an atheist Reformation, with a greater emphasis on spreading the bad news, replacing ritualism with a personal faithlessness, and de-emphasizing damnation by works.
In 2005, [pseudonym Lucien] Greaves had lunch with Peter H. Gilmore, high priest of the Church of Satan founded by Anton LaVey. Greaves felt that a cultural shift had occurred with the rise of the New Atheist movement, led by the likes of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, and that Satanists should participate in this new conversation about religion in the public sphere. As a cognitive scientist, he was suspicious of Dawkins’ claims that humanity can live without religion since he felt that humans are “hard wired” to interpret the world through a rich language of symbol, narrative, and ritual. So Greaves imagined Satanism as a religion that could combine Dawkins’ aversion to supernaturalism with powerful and compelling symbols—what might be called a “sacralized” atheism.
He also felt that organized Satanism had become moribund and needed to become politically active. “What is the point of an organization, if it doesn’t organize? You can’t advocate something and then not do anything about it.”. . .
Greaves was eventually approached by The Satanic Temple, a group that shared his political goals and saw Satanism as a “poison pill” that could be used to check the erosion of the establishment clause by reminding the public that privileges afforded to Christians could also be afforded to Satanists. The persona “Lucien Greaves” was created to be the face of the Satanic Temple. In his more mundane persona, Doug Mesner, Greaves was already receiving a stream of hate mail and death threats for attacking claims of Satanic Ritual Abuse and repressed memories. He assumed that openly endorsing Satanism would bring even heavier attacks. Strangely it did not. “My daily persona gets a lot more hate mail than Lucien Greaves,” he explainedIn January 2013 the Temple’s campaign began with a rally to support Florida governor Rick Scott, who signed a bill allowing religious “inspirational messages” to be read before assemblies in public schools. This was followed by the aforementioned “Pink Mass” at the gravesite of the mother of Westboro Baptist Church leader Fred Phelps, a service that would turn the woman’s spirit gay, according to the Temple. There have also been plans to adopt a highway. However, the most successful campaign to date has been the offer to build a monument to the historical significance of Satan on the grounds of the Oklahoma capital as a compliment to an existing Ten Commandments monument.
Greaves says he’s only getting started as the Temple continues to experiment and determine which tactics are most effective. They also have a growing legal team. Future plans involve legally ordaining ministers and using the free exercise clause to claim privileges for Satanists. Satanic ministers could, for example, illegally marry a gay couple and then, when the state refuses to recognize the marriage, claim that their free exercise rights have been violated.
Other projects involve the Satanic ideal that one’s body is sacred and inviolable. Expressing disgust that corporal punishment is still legal in schools throughout the South and beyond, Greave hopes to produce waivers for Satanic families providing a religious exemption from corporal punishment (an ironic reversal of SRA claims, in which Satanists would actually prevent child abuse). A similar exemption would be sought for Satanic women in states that implicitly require trans-vaginal ultrasound to receive an abortion—a policy that opponents have called “state-sponsored rape.” . . .
In an article for Time, the Church’s High Priestess Magistra Peggy Nadramia, claimed that Greaves is not an authentic Satanist and merely “riding the coattails” of the Church of Satan, adding that “The Church of Satan is decidedly uninterested in politics.” Greaves dismissed these attacks, asserting that preserving their status as the monolithic embodiment of Satanism appears to be the Church’s only goal. For his own part, Greaves claims he has no interest in being the public face of Satanism and that struggles over leadership are at odds with Satanism’s anti-authoritarian philosophy.
Interestingly, the claim that Greaves is not a “real” Satanist often hinges on his atheism, though he says, “If I were a fake, I would just claim a theistic belief in Satan.” Greaves rejects the idea that religion is fundamentally about faith in the supernatural. He explained, “Look at the Jews. They’re united by a shared sense of identity and ritual praxis, not belief. No one would question whether Judaism is a religion.”
Greaves feels that a community centered around Satan—not as a literal entity but a potent metaphor for values that he holds sacred—is more than just a philosophy and should enjoy the same Constitutional protections afforded to religion. If the Satanic Temple’s campaign has any traction it will force a public discussion not simply on the Constitutional issues surrounding religion, but on the perennial problem of what religion is.