More Than Philosophy: Satanism is “an Authentic Religious Movement”

After my think piece last week the conversation seemed to settle on whether Satanism is a religion or a philosophy. I’m going to address this purely from my own perspective while citing The Satanic Temple‘s Lucien Greaves, but I think despite disagreements most Satanists from other sects will be more-or-less on-board with this.

Why Not Both?

To settle this, to the extent that I can, let’s dip back into my podcast’s archives from the time co-host Andy Hall and I had Lucien Grieves on the Naked Diner Podcast back in June:

“I really do want people to understand that this is an authentic religious movement. For those of us who identify with it, that identification is not something you can take away from us and it’s certainly not something that’s arbitrary. Calling ourselves Satanists isn’t just something we do to shock the Christians. It’s something that’s very much a part of us.” – Lucien Grieves

Grieves expanded on this point in a recent audio recording he made for The Salem Art Gallery’s upcoming self-guided audio tours:

“We argue that religion cannot be defined to require a belief in the supernatural. At its best religion provides a narrative structure, sense of purpose, symbolic structure, identity, values, and a body of practice. Religions enjoy certain privileges that would be reprehensible, in a pluralistic society, to reserve for supernaturalists alone.”

Image Source: La Danse Du Sabbat, Paul Christian "History of Magic", Paris, 1870 via wikimedia
Image Source: La Danse Du Sabbat, Paul Christian “History of Magic”, Paris, 1870 via wikimedia

Religious and Non-Religious Critics

Critics of this view always seem to think it boils down to Satanism’s non-theistic nature because they look up ‘religion’ in the dictionary and read the first definition while ignoring the alternate definitions entirely. This line of argument, when made by theists, is aimed at bolstering religion’s privileged position in society. They will claim that religion requires devotion to a god and the religious freedoms afforded us under the constitution are only applicable to religion. They discount Satanism (and presumably Buddhism, Taoism, Jainism, and, yes, atheism) as a not being subject to First Amendment protections because they believe without god there can be no inalienable rights.

'define religion'
Image Source: Screenshot via google

This ‘god as the grantor of fundamental rights’ argument claims that to afford free-expression protections to non-theistic religions (and non-religion) undermines the justification for religious exemptions in the law. Which, correct me if I’m wrong, is what most atheists want. So I’m considerably more confused by atheists who claim that Satanism isn’t a religion, while also noting that atheism is just the lack of belief in gods. They seek to relegate Satanism to only being a philosophy. However, that greatly discounts what Satanism provides beyond a mere system of thought. Our sense of community and shared values, our beliefs and practices are enough to qualify Satanism as more than just a way of thinking about things.

Can people also find those things in non-religious contexts? Of course, and no one (at least not Satanists) are trying to compel you to have a religion, or redefine whatever it is you’re into as a religion. But this bias towards relegating religion only to theists and supernaturalists seems to undermine the very idea of freethought, which must accept all viewpoints to the extent there remain unprovable claims in the world and as long as we agree there is no one right way to conduct your life.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Eli

    More than even the non-theistic religions you listed, I feel like this might be closest to the religious humanism in Ethical Culture Societies since there’s no foundation in supernatural beliefs, yet still structured as and legally recognized as a religion, and treated as such.

  • Kevin K

    It’s my understanding, however, that you can’t really “join” Greaves’ version of the Satanic Temple. Am I wrong about that? How does that fit in with the notion of a religion, which practically demands that it have adherents?

  • http://www.zxh-creative.com Jack Matirko

    Eh, not all Satanists are going to be TST, or CoS, or any other group you can name. You don’t become a Satanist by joining a group. You decide you are one and then maybe decide that a group matches up with you, so you join it.

  • Kevin K

    Yeah, that makes my head hurt. Not that I really care; it’s more of a philosophical question.

    If you want to call whatever it is you’re doing a “religion”, that’s within the rules…because if not, then $cientology has a lot of back taxes to pay.

  • http://www.zxh-creative.com Jack Matirko

    I also advocate for churches paying taxes, which both TST and CoS do incidentally. Though my opinion on that could change if our current government messes with the Johnson amendment too much.

  • dagobarbz, fine Italian shoes

    Nobody gets to define what is or is not a religion. For example, look at the church of Scientology. They worship nothing, they act like a business, but they SAY they’re a religion, so…