Satan as the Hero

This whole blog is a weird gig. I’m a Satanist, the only Satanist on a non-religious channel of an interfaith website. I find myself in a situation where the channel I’m on doesn’t agree with my having a religion, on a platform owned by people who don’t particularly care for the religion I have chosen. In a civilized world under profession on my 1040 I would just write ‘it’s complicated’.

So I want to Talk About Story

It’s not uncommon to hear atheists question a religion’s validity based on the factuality of the events that play out in that religion’s mythology. This comes up whenever someone questions the historicity of an actual Joshua of Nazareth, or more snarkily as “New York is real, so do you believe in Spiderman?”.

If you’re reading this you’ve probably heard something like that. Maybe it was Harry Potter, or Luke Skywalker, or Bilbo Baggins but the central idea is there. If it’s fake, and the adherent knows it’s fake, what exactly is separating their religion from a fan-club?

The answer mostly has to do with sincerity and (to a lesser extent) tax evasion. As I am not an accountant, I want to focus on the sincerity part.

Satanists Get a Bad Rap for Being Non-Theist

Recently, my friends at The Satanic Temple Arizona adopted a stretch of Interstate 10 as a clean up project. Make no mistake, this is a calculated maneuver. By demonstrating the willingness to do the work, and by citing Satanism as the inspiration that drives them, TST-AZ is pushing back against the narrative that non-believers have no morality or ethics. But, and this is a big but, they are also pushing back against the idea that religion shouldn’t be that motivating factor.

Since TST-AZ’s adopt-a-highway made the news it’s been interesting to watch the reaction, which has been largely supportive and thank you for that. What is telling though is the (frankly far too long) comment threads I’ve read between theists and atheists about what Satanism actually is. Theists tend to default to thinking that Satanists worship Satan in the same way they worship god. That is wrong. Atheists on the other hand, tend to default to saying that Satanists are ‘just humanists’ who are ‘just using Satan as a metaphor to mess with the religious.’ That too is wrong. I have a very particular issue with the word ‘just’ in that context. I don’t speak for everyone and I wouldn’t want to; but it’s important that other non-theists understand … no one is just doing this because Satan is expedient.

Once There Was a Man Named Joseph Campbell

Literature nerds will have heard that name before. Some of you love him; some of you hate him. Either way you can’t deny the effect he’s had on storytelling because you’ve seen it. Youtube is full of videos pointing out how our culture’s most popular stories like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings map to Campbell’s theory. Joe was a comparative mythologist and he wrote a book called “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” in which he lays out a basic story structure that, he believed, all stories follow. (He was also a devout Christian and would probably be a little off-put by what I’m about to do with his theory. Oh well.)

Campell’s Hero’s Journey. Image credit: Public Domain via Wikimedia

Basically the gist of Campbell’s Hero’s Journey is this: A character (the protagonist) has  circumstances that send them on a quest. They find some sort of catalyst to send them in the right direction, they meet a guide, face challenges, acquire the thing they sought, change, and return having changed. That, for the most part, is every story you’ve ever read.

Yes, Satan … and Jesus Too

For people who don’t hang out with literature and are just part of modern culture it’s pretty easy to see how Jesus fits Campbell’s structure; he’s even got epicycles. Most people don’t think about it but Satan fits that too. In our culture’s prevailing mythology Satan (by way of John Milton):

  1. Realizes he’s working for a tyrannical dictator
  2. Rebels (the war in heaven)
  3. Is cast out into an unfamiliar place (hell)
  4. Meets allies and cohorts (the denizens of hell [this would be the Abyss part of Campbell’s chart])
  5. Devises a solution
  6. Struggles to journey from Hell to Earth
  7. Finds Eden
  8. Returns to god’s presence, having changed, and is therefore capable of causing change, which he does by convincing humans to eat of the tree of knowledge.

Keen eyed writing geeks will notice that this 8 point structure based on Campell’s Hero’s Journey was developed by Dan Harmon of Community and Rick & Morty fame. But the general idea goes back a long way and at least some of us think the reason for that is because there’s something inherent in the human condition that makes a story recognizable as a story. It’s the narrative, metaphor, and parable that make these stories compelling. To Satanists, that narrative is best represented by Satan’s quest from heaven to hell to Earth. Christians look to the stories of Jesus. All of this is fine so far. Where we seem to run into trouble is when people start believe those stories literally happened.

So If You Admit It’s Fake Why Call It Religion?

We live in a world where there are self-identified adherents to Jediism, so let’s not pretend this isn’t without precedent. However, it’s a fair question to ask what makes adherence to a set of values expressed in a story a religion instead of just a run-of-the-mill fandom. That is a complicated question. In law, we’ve settled on the phrase ‘deeply held beliefs’, but there’s certainly more to it than that. I like the Muppets but I don’t call myself a Hensonist. I think, and I’m speculating at this point, that it has a lot more to do with a shared understanding of what the story represents.

This leads us into interesting territory, because now what we’re really talking about is the nature of truth claims that are only testable in the context of ‘how humans act … mostly’. It’s sociology and anthropology, not a harder science like chemistry or physics. Sure, there are factions of atheism that claim emotional responses are just chemistry at work, and that might even be true. But is calculating the chemical interactions of the entire population really the most efficient way to explore those feelings? I say no. We’re into the realm of art, not science. Much of the atheist community ignores art and symbolism, preferring to stick to hard facts. But that’s not everything we are and I think that ignoring our … let’s call it “non-logical processing and output” leads to real world problems. We are intellectual creatures, but we’re emotional and intuitive ones too.

We actually do this all the time. When you throw a ball to a friend playing catch part of your brain is doing extraordinarily complicated physics equations. You don’t think “I need to throw this ball with x lbs of force at y angle to hit target z”. That math is done on the backend. You also don’t think “I love person x because if I do y then z” … if you do you’re a monster.

So one can say, to a Satanist certainly (to some members of other religions not so much), that these stories that add value to our lives are fake and made up. They are made up; I’m not arguing that. They are definitely stories though, and to say they’re fake is akin to saying that a painting isn’t beautiful because the image it depicts never really happened. What stories do (the good ones anyway) is provide a framework through which we contextualize our experience to one another, a shared syntax through which we can communicate feelings, and a community of like minded people with whom we can collaborate to achieve our objectives.

A few months ago in an interview Lucien Greaves said “never let your activism be artless”. Ultimately what makes Satanism a religion, and makes religions religions instead of mere fandom or parody, is that sense of artistry which engages with the emotional part of what we are as humans. Don’t get me wrong, facts and reason are terribly important and should never be denied. But what I see from many in the secular community is an almost dogmatic adherence to the idea that logic and intellectualism demands the repression of emotion and feeling, which sounds to me like the polar opposite of a theist denying facts because of their faith.

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  • Nos482

    I can’t believe you linked a Community vid but none for Rick & Morty… this calls for drastic measures.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UtwqUO_oljI

    =P

  • mea culpa 😉

  • Don’t get me wrong, facts and reason are terribly important and should never be denied. But what I see from many in the secular community is an almost dogmatic adherence to the idea that logic and intellectualism demands the repression of emotion and feeling, which sounds to me like the polar opposite of a theist denying facts because of their faith.

    Great point. I too get a little disturbed by the notion that understanding the universe is just a matter of data processing. In fact, things like narrative, metaphor, values and emotion are crucial for humans to function at any level in society, or come to an informed understanding about the way things are.

  • Great episode!

  • Gary Whittenberger

    “However, it’s a fair question to ask what makes adherence to a set of values expressed in a story a religion instead of just a run-of-the-mill fandom.”

    GW: A religion is not an “adherence to a set of values expressed in a story.” Instead, a religion is a worldview which consists of one or more beliefs in the existence of God, gods, and/or the supernatural. Your brand of Satanism, as you describe it here, is not a religion.

    “What stories do (the good ones anyway) is provide a framework through which we contextualize our experience to one another, a shared syntax through which we can communicate feelings, and a community of like minded people with whom we can collaborate to achieve our objectives.”

    GW: That may be, but good stories are still not religions.

    “Ultimately what makes Satanism a religion, and makes religions religions instead of mere fandom or parody, is that sense of artistry which engages with the emotional part of what we are as humans.”

    GW: Sorry, but your brand of Satanism is not a religion. Artistry and emotion are correlates, but they are not the core of religion. Beliefs about the nature of reality are the core of religion, particular kinds of beliefs.

    “But what I see from many in the secular community is an almost dogmatic adherence to the idea that logic and intellectualism demands the repression of emotion and feeling, which sounds to me like the polar opposite of a theist denying facts because of their faith.”

    GW: I see that trait in only a small percentage of the secular community, less than 5%. For example, most atheists have strong emotions and feelings about a lot of things, especially ethics. Faith is pretty useless. Faith is belief untuned to evidence and/or logic, and usually tuned to authority, majority opinion, peer pressure, tradition, intuition, wishes, or some combination of these.

  • Gary Whittenberger

    But it all boils down to beliefs, well founded or not well founded.

  • “A religion is not an “adherence to a set of values expressed in a story.” … isn’t it? I certainly don’t believe the values expressed in the stories that others adhere to; we both agree those stories are made up. Are you implying that religion (by your definition, certainly not mine) requires suspension of disbelief and a blind acceptance of the fantastical? Why does it have to?

    “Beliefs about the nature of reality are the core of religion” … I believe the three fundamental laws of logic serve that function unless you’re prepared to argue for hard solipsism.

    “less than 5%” … show me your data because that number doesn’t correlate w/ my experience. And even if you can validate that number with statistics it only serves to add to my point that we are simultaneously thinking and feeling creatures who will make plausibly rational justifications to support their own emotional biases.

  • Gary Whittenberger

    GW1: A religion is not an “adherence to a set of values expressed in a story.

    JM2: … isn’t it? I certainly don’t believe the values expressed in the stories that others adhere to; we both agree those stories are made up. Are you implying that religion (by your definition, certainly not mine) requires suspension of disbelief and a blind acceptance of the fantastical? Why does it have to?

    GW2: No, I don’t think I am implying that. That characterization is too harsh. Religion requires at least one belief in the supernatural, by definition. That is how we are able to distinguish a nonreligious worldview, e.g. secular humanism, from a religious worldview, e.g. Catholicism.

    GW2: “Beliefs about the nature of reality are the core of religion”

    JM2: I believe the three fundamental laws of logic serve that function unless you’re prepared to argue for hard solipsism.

    GW2: Those laws of logic could be the core beliefs of a worldview, but not a religion. They don’t entail the supernatural.

    GW2: “less than 5%”

    JM2: … show me your data because that number doesn’t correlate w/ my experience. And even if you can validate that number with statistics it only serves to add to my point that we are simultaneously thinking and feeling creatures who will make plausibly rational justifications to support their own emotional biases.

    GW2: I didn’t get that 5% from a scientific study. I know hundreds of people in the secular community. I estimate that less then 5% repress emotion and feeling. I think your view on this is based on a stereotype — maybe Spock.

  • I just don’t think I agree that religion requires a belief in the supernatural. It requires a positive belief claim in something[s] non-tangible, certainly. But does that thing have to be supernatural? One could believe in justice, mercy, or compassion too. Are those things quantifiable or testable? No. Are they supernatural? Definitely not.

  • ORigel

    The Satan of Paradise Lost is not a hero, nor is he a villian.

    Satan had always been selfish, and after God punished him, he became hateful, largely because God put a Hell in his mind.

    God seemed to want the Fall to happen and most people to suffer eternally. With the Hell in his mind, Satan was compelled to want revenge. God gave the key to Hell to Sin, and she capitualated to Satan. God helped make a path through Chaos to Earth. He put a Wall around Eden knowing it would not stop Satan. He created the Tree of Knowledge….

    The epic testifies to Milton’s failure to justify the ways of God to man. He had a chance to justify God’s ways. He couldn’t. Instead he started a paradigm of the heroic Satan. Because even though Satan wasn’t the hero of the poem, he was the character who came closest to being a hero. The epic revolves around Satan. This set the stage for the genuinely heroic Satan of The Revolt of the Angels.

  • Gary Whittenberger

    JM3: I just don’t think I agree that religion requires a belief in the supernatural.

    GW3: Well, that’s a bottom line for me. We’ll just have to agree to disagree. Belief in the supernatural is the feature which allows differentiation of religious and nonreligious worldviews.

    JM3: It requires a positive belief claim in something[s] non-tangible, certainly.

    GW3: Electrons are non-tangible. Belief in them is not a religion. Democracy is non-tangible. Belief in democracy is not a religion.

    JM3: But does that thing have to be supernatural?

    GW3: Yes.

    JM3: One could believe in justice, mercy, or compassion too. Are those things quantifiable or testable? No. Are they supernatural? Definitely not.

    GW3: Belief in them is not a religion. They might comprise a worldview, belief system, life stance, ideology, or philosophy of life, but not a religion. Beliefs in God, gods, angels, demons, ghosts, spirits, souls, afterlife, heaven, hell, etc. would be beliefs for a religion.

  • I dunno Gary, that feels like a No True Scotsman i.e. “All REAL religions require a supernatural element” just because that’s your preferred definition. Whereas if I say my belief system with all it’s symbolism, ritual observance, aesthetic, community, and principles is a religion that lacks supernatural elements you must understand it’s kind of dismissive (not to mention somewhat counterproductive) for you to just say ‘no it’s not.’

  • Gary Whittenberger

    JM4: I dunno Gary, that feels like a No True Scotsman i.e. “All REAL religions require a supernatural element” just because that’s your preferred definition.

    GW4: I am very familiar with the No True Scotsman fallacy. I’ll give you an example from my main field of clinical psychology: A patient is diagnosed as an “alcoholic” by a competent and licensed psychologist. After receiving therapy, this patient goes on to become a controlled drinker. However, an advocate of Alcoholics Anonymous says “That can’t be. He wasn’t an alcoholic. Alcoholics can never become controlled drinkers.” I don’t see how my definition of religion has anything to do with the No True Scotsman fallacy. If you think otherwise, then give a clear and specific explanation.

    JM4: Whereas if I say my belief system with all it’s symbolism, ritual observance, aesthetic, community, and principles is a religion that lacks supernatural elements you must understand it’s kind of dismissive (not to mention somewhat counterproductive) for you to just say ‘no it’s not.’

    GW4: I am not being dismissive or counterproductive. I’m being attentive and productive. Some worldviews are religions, and some are not. What distinguishes the former from the latter? Beliefs in the supernatural! Here’s one thing you can try — gather about 50 dictionary definitions of “religion” and see what elements show up most frequently. I think you will see that one of the most prominent elements will be “supernatural” or its equivalent.

  • Well ok, let me give you a different example. One can say that ‘all cakes must contain eggs’ … but that’s not really true. Protein and the coagulant properties properties of albumin are what’s required. Eggs are an affordable and readily available supply of those components and they are therefore ubiquitous, but so is blood. So you can make a cake without eggs if you really want to; it’s just very uncommon and people think it’s weird. In the same way I say you can have a religion without supernaturalism (like Satanism) even though it’s uncommon and a lot of people think it’s weird.

    As to what separates a religious from a non-religious worldview I would say it’s adherence to a set of values, cultural identity, art, and symbology irrespective of any supernatural connotation. For example Atheism is a worldview but says nothing about shared morals, ethical values, traditional practices, community, and art through shared symbolism. Now, that differs from political opinions like liberalism or conservatism because, as Douglas Adams would say, those beliefs are “largely concerned with the movement of small green pieces of paper”. In my context I would consider Secular Humanism to be a religion. We disagree on that point. But to argue that the most prevalent recipe for what is a religion includes supernatural elements is just a different fallacy, isn’t it?

    I say you’re being dismissive because here I am claiming Satanism as my religion, to which you say ‘no, it’s not a religion’. I beg to differ and think that by accepting a definition that requires supernaturalism as a component of religion you’re playing into the hands of theocrats that seek to carve out a special exemption from our laws for themselves, which I think is a disservice to your ideals and ultimately to your own causes.

  • Gary Whittenberger

    JM5: Well ok, let me give you a different example. One can say that ‘all cakes must contain eggs’ … but that’s not really true. Protein and the coagulant properties properties of albumin are what’s required. Eggs are an affordable and readily available supply of those components and they are therefore ubiquitous, but so is blood. So you can make a cake without eggs if you really want to; it’s just very uncommon and people think it’s weird. In the same way I say you can have a religion without supernaturalism (like Satanism) even though it’s uncommon and a lot of people think it’s weird.

    GW5: That’s not a very good example, IMO. I started with a clear, rational, authoritative, useful, and common definition of “religion.” You did not start with a similar definition of “cake.” Satanism, as you have described it, is not a religion; it is a nonreligious worldview. As you have acknowledged, you have a vested interest in it being considered a religion by the IRS. So, in discussing definitions you have a conflict of interest here.

    JM5: As to what separates a religious from a non-religious worldview I would say it’s adherence to a set of values, cultural identity, art, and symbology irrespective of any supernatural connotation.

    GW5: I disagree. A non-religious worldview may have all those things. Secular humanism does.

    JM5: For example Atheism is a worldview but says nothing about shared morals, ethical values, traditional practices, community, and art through shared symbolism.

    GW5: I disagree. Atheism is not a worldview. Atheism is the absence of theism or the absence of any belief in God, gods, and/or the supernatural.

    JM5: Now, that differs from political opinions like liberalism or conservatism because, as Douglas Adams would say, those beliefs are “largely concerned with the movement of small green pieces of paper”. In my context I would consider Secular Humanism to be a religion. We disagree on that point. But to argue that the most prevalent recipe for what is a religion includes supernatural elements is just a different fallacy, isn’t it?

    GW5: I don’t think liberalism and conservatism are worldviews, religious or nonreligious. Secular humanism is a worldview, but not a religion. Unitarian Universalism, as presently conceived, is also not a religion. Your brand of Satanism is not a religion, but there are other brands which are. Likewise, there are some brands of Buddhism which are not religions, but other brands which are. You can tell the difference by examining their core beliefs.

    JM5: I say you’re being dismissive because here I am claiming Satanism as my religion, to which you say ‘no, it’s not a religion’.

    GW5: I recognize and understand your claim, so I am not being dismissive. I just think you are mistaken. Your brand of Satanism is not a religion. I think you and Mr. Greves are in the same camp. I recently heard him speak at a convention. I was convinced then that his brand of Satanism is not a religion. You guys may succeed in convincing some people that your brand of Satanism is a religion, e.g. the IRS, the SCOTUS, etc., but you won’t convince most rationalists or philosophers, including myself.

    JM5: I beg to differ and think that by accepting a definition that requires supernaturalism as a component of religion you’re playing into the hands of theocrats that seek to carve out a special exemption from our laws for themselves, which I think is a disservice to your ideals and ultimately to your own causes.

    GW5: Well, religion is treated in a special way in the First Amendment. I think you are trying to get your brand of Satanism treated like Christianity. I think that is a huge mistake, philosophical and tactical. You are also kind of misleading the public. When they hear “Satanism,” they think you worship Satan – an opponent of God.

  • I’m sorry, I didn’t realize I needed to define “cake” to your satisfaction before talking about it. Cake is a breadlike food made from a dough or batter. I assumed you’d heard of it but I’ll be sure to explain every little thing to you in the future if you insist on being willfully obtuse. Our discussion is about whether or not religion requires a supernatural component and it seemed to me the analogy to eggs not being necessary to cake was quite clear.

    I have no such vested interest in Satanic organizations being tax exempt. I really don’t care whether CoS or TST pays taxes or not, that’s their business and I work for Patheos.

    “When they hear “Satanism,” they think you worship Satan” … When they hear “Atheism” they believe you’ve been deluded by the devil too; that doesn’t make them right.

  • The Broker

    GW5: That’s not a very good example, IMO. I started with a clear, rational, authoritative, useful, and common definition of “religion.”

    TB: No, Gary, you pompous asshole. You started with a self-serving and far from useful or universally accepted definition of “religion” because you’re trying trying to justify your infantile “I don’t like it” foot-stamping.

    This is one of the most radically ignorant statements I could imagine a self-proclaimed “rationalist” or “philosopher” making: “I think you are trying to get your brand of Satanism treated like Christianity. I think that is a huge mistake, philosophical and tactical.” Really, Gary? It’s a “mistake” to challenge a legal preference for supernaturalism? Let’s forget your pseudo-intellectual pretenses to a universal “philosophical” definition of “religion” aside for a moment and consider the vague legal definitions. In fact, in the legal world, there has been a reticence to clearly define religion, as there are so many religions with added or missing components that always seem to defy strict definition. The idea, generally, is that if people identify with it as their religion, it is. That may sound basic, but I also think it’s appropriate philosophically. You, of course, have your assumptions (like the true asshole you clearly are) and seem certain that if it weren’t for the “tactical” aspect, we’d pack up and go home with no need to identify with Satanism. In fact, that’s not true. A hard definition of religion could be handed down by the Supreme Court that would exclude us, but we’d still carry on identifying as Satanists, having events and rituals, organizing and interacting — but then what would we be? Eventually, we’d become recognized as a religion in time anyway, and if you think that’s inaccurate, I think you’re clearly stupid. But let’s think more directly about the spirit of religious exemption and privilege. Is it truly just to preserve the superstitions of fools, or is it to protect their deeply-held beliefs and values? Why are values and beliefs arrived at by dysfunctional superstitious thinking to be preferenced over any other? Do you think we don’t truly believe in personal sovereignty and bodily autonomy because we’re not deranged enough to think Satan is speaking to us? Are Christians who don’t believe in the Second Coming or don’t believe in Biblical Literalism not “real” Christians? For “rationalists” or “philosophers” who are worth either of those titles, any type of narrative construct that contextualized one existential grounding and provides the framework for their non-negotiable values is a religion. Nobody give a shit whether or not that fits with your sophomoric attempts at religious philosophy or not.

  • Gary Whittenberger

    JM6: I’m sorry, I didn’t realize I needed to define “cake” to your satisfaction before talking about it.

    GW6: If you wanted to present a good analogy, yes, you’d have to do that. Otherwise, your analogy does not work in the present case.

    JM6: Cake is a breadlike food made from a dough or batter. I assumed you’d heard of it but I’ll be sure to explain every little thing to you in the future if you insist on being willfully obtuse.

    GW6: Save the sarcasm. You don’t need to explain “every little thing,” but you do need to explain essential things, which you did not do with your analogy.

    JM6: Our discussion is about whether or not religion requires a supernatural component and it seemed to me the analogy to eggs not being necessary to cake was quite clear.

    GW6: Your analogy is now clear, but it’s a poor one. Eggs are not a necessary part of your definition of “cake,” whereas “supernatural beliefs” are a necessary part of my definition of “religion.”

    JM6: I have no such vested interest in Satanic organizations being tax exempt. I really don’t care whether CoS or TST pays taxes or not, that’s their business and I work for Patheos.

    GW6: Jack, you did say this in your essay: “The answer mostly has to do with sincerity and (to a lesser extent) tax evasion.” And so, this means that my comment about taxes is certainly relevant. Do you belong to this branch of Satanism? Are you a leader of it?

    GW5: “When they hear “Satanism,” they think you worship Satan” …

    JM6: When they hear “Atheism” they believe you’ve been deluded by the devil too; that doesn’t make them right.

    GW5: You are missing the point. When they hear “atheism,” only a small percentage of religious people believe that atheists worship gods of any kind. But a very large percentage of religious people do think this when they hear “Satanism.”

  • Gary Whittenberger

    GW5: That’s not a very good example, IMO. I started with a clear, rational, authoritative, useful, and common definition of “religion.”

    TB6: No, Gary, you pompous asshole.

    GW6: That is a personal attack, entirely out of bounds in a discussion like this. That’s strike one.

    TB6: You started with a self-serving and far from useful or universally accepted definition of “religion” because you’re trying trying to justify your infantile “I don’t like it” foot-stamping.

    GW6: That’s another personal attack. You aren’t making an argument to support your disagreement. You are just engaged in “foot-stamping.” My definition serves me and everyone else very well. It’s not universally accepted, but no definition of “religion” is. It is widely accepted. Please present what you believe to be a better definition.

    TB6: This is one of the most radically ignorant statements I could imagine a self-proclaimed “rationalist” or “philosopher” making: “I think you are trying to get your brand of Satanism treated like Christianity. I think that is a huge mistake, philosophical and tactical.” Really, Gary?

    GW6: I disagree with you. I stand by the statement.

    TB6: It’s a “mistake” to challenge a legal preference for supernaturalism?

    GW6: That’s a straw man. But the answer to your question is “No.”

    TB6: Let’s forget your pseudo-intellectual pretenses to a universal “philosophical” definition of “religion” aside for a moment and consider the vague legal definitions.

    GW6: No, let’s not forget my fine definition of “religion.” If you think you have a better one, present it.

    TB6: In fact, in the legal world, there has been a reticence to clearly define religion, as there are so many religions with added or missing components that always seem to defy strict definition.

    GW6: That is not a sufficiently good reason for the reticence.

    TB6: The idea, generally, is that if people identify with it as their religion, it is. That may sound basic, but I also think it’s appropriate philosophically.

    GW6: I disagree with that idea. It is not appropriate philosophically.

    TB6: You, of course, have your assumptions (like the true asshole you clearly are) and seem certain that if it weren’t for the “tactical” aspect, we’d pack up and go home with no need to identify with Satanism. In fact, that’s not true.

    GW6: Your personal attacks are unethical and irrelevant. Try to stay on the topic.

    TB6: A hard definition of religion could be handed down by the Supreme Court that would exclude us, but we’d still carry on identifying as Satanists, having events and rituals, organizing and interacting — but then what would we be?

    GW6: A nonreligious worldview, of course.

    TB6: Eventually, we’d become recognized as a religion in time anyway, and if you think that’s inaccurate, I think you’re clearly stupid.

    GW6: There you go again – another person attack. Being mean doesn’t add any value to your disagreement; in fact, it detracts value.

    TB6: But let’s think more directly about the spirit of religious exemption and privilege. Is it truly just to preserve the superstitions of fools, or is it to protect their deeply-held beliefs and values?

    GW6: Please present one example of religious exemption you’d like to focus on.

    TB6: Why are values and beliefs arrived at by dysfunctional superstitious thinking to be preferenced over any other?

    GW6: I think we agree that they shouldn’t be, so why ask “why?”

    TB6: Do you think we don’t truly believe in personal sovereignty and bodily autonomy because we’re not deranged enough to think Satan is speaking to us?

    GW6: You guys don’t believe in Satan. Do you guys believe in rights to personal sovereignty and bodily autonomy? If so, do you believe those rights are absolute?

    TB6: Are Christians who don’t believe in the Second Coming or don’t believe in Biblical Literalism not “real” Christians?

    GW6: People are either Christians or they are not. There are no “real Christians” or “artificial Christians.” What is your definition of a “Christian”?

    TB6: For “rationalists” or “philosophers” who are worth either of those titles, any type of narrative construct that contextualized one existential grounding and provides the framework for their non-negotiable values is a religion.

    GW6: I totally disagree with you. Such postmodernist, wishy-washy, vague views of religion are an obstacle to the proper scientific and philosophical study of the phenomenon.

    TB6: Nobody give a shit whether or not that fits with your sophomoric attempts at religious philosophy or not.

    GW6: You mean you don’t. Speak for yourself. I get it – you don’t like my definition of religion or you don’t agree with it. So what? So far, you’ve presented no better definition. I’ve looked at many, and I haven’t seen a better one yet. Instead of ranting on and on and making personal attacks against me, please try to present what you believe is a good definition of “religion.” Don’t waste our time.

  • I disagree with your definition of religion, and I think you should too. I am a non-theistic Satanists and a member of TST, but no I wouldn’t call myself a leader as such. I am a council member with TST’s Arizona Chapter but I am not a Chapter head nor do I have any leadership role in the organization nationally. I am not and have not been compensated in any way by TST for my opinions … I mean, we had a pizza party the other week and I ate so in terms of full disclosure I guess there’s that. I’m not sure what your point is Gary, other than you don’t want to call my religion a religion because … something.

  • Gary Whittenberger

    JM7: I disagree with your definition of religion, and I think you should too.

    GW7: I agree with my definition of religion, and I think you should too.

    JM7: I am a non-theistic Satanists and a member of TST, but no I wouldn’t call myself a leader as such. I am a council member with TST’s Arizona Chapter but I am not a Chapter head nor do I have any leadership role in the organization nationally.

    GW7: If you are a council member, then I’d call you a leader in your group.

    JM7: I am not and have not been compensated in any way by TST for my opinions … I mean, we had a pizza party the other week and I ate so in terms of full disclosure I guess there’s that.

    GW7: So you are an unpaid leader.

    JM7: I’m not sure what your point is Gary, other than you don’t want to call my religion a religion because … something.

    GW7: From what I can tell, your worldview is not a religion, and so I wouldn’t call it a “religion.” I could be mistaken. I would change my opinion if there were some good evidence to do so. Maybe you could provide that evidence. First, does your worldview include any supernatural beliefs? If so, specifically what are they? Second, please provide a link to a website where your worldview is described.

    GW7: Right now, I suspect that you represent a protest movement rather than a religion.

  • Again, I only represent myself. That said, you don’t get to define what I am to me. I call it a religion; you’re free to disagree. But I think that’s a mistake.

  • Gary Whittenberger

    I get to define “religion” and then tell you that I believe that your Satanism, as you define it, is NOT a religion. I think you are making a mistake, philosophically and strategically, as I have explained. You are free to disagree. I think we’ve had a polite, respectful, and civil disagreement on this topic.

  • Larry Leeder

    “A religion is not an “adherence to a set of values expressed in a story.” Instead, a religion is a worldview which consists of one or more beliefs in the existence of God, gods, and/or the supernatural. Your brand of Satanism, as you describe it here, is not a religion.”

    This may be your belief, but it’s certainly at odds with Webster:

    “2 : a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices”
    [https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/religion]

    or Oxford:

    “1.2count noun A pursuit or interest followed with great devotion.”
    [https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/religion].

    Unitarian Universalism is another non-theistic religion. You don’t get to define the religion of another.

  • Gary Whittenberger

    GW1: A religion is not an “adherence to a set of values expressed in a story.” Instead, a religion is a worldview which consists of one or more beliefs in the existence of God, gods, and/or the supernatural. Your brand of Satanism, as you describe it here, is not a religion.

    LL2: This may be your belief, but it’s certainly at odds with Webster:

    “2 : a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices”
    [https://www.merriam-webster…]

    or Oxford:

    “1.2count noun A pursuit or interest followed with great devotion.”
    [https://en.oxforddictionari…].

    GW2: My definition is consistent with the first dictionary definition you presented.

    LL2: Unitarian Universalism is another non-theistic religion.

    GW2: I disagree. UU is another nonreligious worldview. BTW, I belong to UU.

    LL2: You don’t get to define the religion of another.

    GW2: Other people define their worldviews, and I and others get to decide whether or not they are religions, according to the best definition of “religion” which I presented.

  • Larry Leeder

    Electrons certainly are tangible, just ask anyone who’s been struck by lightning and survived.

  • Larry Leeder

    “2 : a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices…
    3 archaic : scrupulous conformity : conscientiousness
    4 : a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith”
    [https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/religion]

    “1.2 A pursuit or interest followed with great devotion.”
    [https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/religion]

  • Gary Whittenberger

    I disagree. Electrons themselves are not tangible. For example, you can’t touch and pick up a single electron. You can experience the effects of large groups of electrons.

  • Gary Whittenberger

    I can play the dictionary game too.

    “1 b (1) : the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2) : commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance”
    This is a definition of Merriam-Webster at
    https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/religion

    My definition is fully consistent with this prime dictionary definition.

  • Frank

    “Life stance” is a transparent weasel-word for “religion.” It’s used exclusively by secular humanists to mean “something that’s basically like religion, but without the things we don’t like about traditional religion.”

  • Frank

    Anatole France’s Satan is my favorite Satan.

  • Gary Whittenberger

    I disagree. “Life stance” is a synonym for “worldview” which I like better. A life stance may be religious or nonreligious.

  • ORigel

    I like the idea, briefly suggested in Paradise Lost, that they can make a Heaven out of Hell. I think Satan and the fallen angels would have made Hell habitable before they started teaching humanity.

  • “The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) is the central organization for the Unitarian Universalist (UU) religious [emphasis mine] movement in the United States.” – UUA’s about page.

  • Gary Whittenberger

    Well the UUA webpage and the author of it is making the same mistake you are making — claiming that a nonreligious worldview is a religion. This is misleading to the public. It is partly to gain a tax advantage.

    Read the seven principles of UU. Look for the supernatural elements. I don’t think you will find any.

  • The thing about words is if sufficient people use a word a certain way that becomes a valid definition because language isn’t static. You seem to be stuck on this idea that the definition of ‘religion’ is an absolute that requires supernaturalism because dictionaries list it as a common element of religion. But dictionaries don’t codify the meaning of words, they attempt to illustrate how words are used by a population. These meanings change over time, region, and social group. That’s why they have to keep printing new editions and many words have multiple definitions (including definitions of religion that don’t require a supernatural belief). That one definition is more prevalent does not make it ‘more correct’; it just makes it more common.

    Here we’re talking about two prominent and sizable organizations (one of which you are an adherent of) calling themselves religions versus your (frankly somewhat obstinate) assertion that they are not because that usage doesn’t conform to your personal lexicon’s more narrow definition. Your refusal to accept a broader definition might carry some weight if you were an authority on linguistics, rhetoric and composition, or lexicography and you could explain why you feel that definition isn’t valid. Hell, I’d even give you a few points if you were an editor at a prominent publishing house … but you’re none of those things so your authority on the subject is both arbitrary and at odds with a rather large population’s understanding and usage. Perhaps, rather than just flatly asserting that your definition is authoritative you should consider revising your understanding of the word’s meaning.

  • The Broker

    Well, here’s dipshit Gary, shown that he’s a member of a religious organization that he doesn’t even understand. At what point does this thick-skulled fool recognize that “religion” still best defines non-theistic religions even though the lack of superstition confuses him so greatly?
    GW: “Read the seven principles of UU. Look for the supernatural elements. I don’t think you will find any.”
    No kidding, dumb shit, this is where we rest OUR case and revel in the fact that you’ve reduced yourself to looking like the complete idiot that you are. This is the part where we’re laughing at you for your obstinate ignorance. Were you not following the conversation, Gary? We don’t agree that “religion” is defined by supernaturalism. You still haven’t mentally digested that basic point yet? Why don’t you try thinking for a little while before typing next time? You’re embarrassing yourself.

  • Gary Whittenberger

    You have made a personal attack against me. This is totally out of line. That’s strike one! If you want to make your points without being uncivil, then I will listen to them and respond. Otherwise, not.

  • Gary Whittenberger

    J2: The thing about words is if sufficient people use a word a certain way that becomes a valid definition because language isn’t static.

    GW2: We agree on that point.

    J2: You seem to be stuck on this idea that the definition of ‘religion’ is an absolute that requires supernaturalism because dictionaries list it as a common element of religion. But dictionaries don’t codify the meaning of words, they attempt to illustrate how words are used by a population. These meanings change over time, region, and social group. That’s why they have to keep printing new editions and many words have multiple definitions (including definitions of religion that don’t require a supernatural belief). That one definition is more prevalent does not make it ‘more correct’; it just makes it more common.

    GW2: On those points we agree. However, I have given you a clear, concise, and accurate definition of “religion” which according to dictionaries is not only the most popular among lay persons, but is also the most accepted by philosophers of religion. I’d love to see the other definitions of religion go out of use so that we’d have just this one. This would improve overall communication, the scientific study of religion, and legal decision making.

    J2: Here we’re talking about two prominent and sizable organizations (one of which you are an adherent of) calling themselves religions versus your (frankly somewhat obstinate) assertion that they are not because that usage doesn’t conform to your personal lexicon’s more narrow definition.

    GW2: I am being consistent and persistent, not obstinate. I am using the best definition of “religion,” and you are using a worse one, which should be retired, IMHO.

    J2: Your refusal to accept a broader definition might carry some weight if you were an authority on linguistics, rhetoric and composition, or lexicography and you could explain why you feel that definition isn’t valid. Hell, I’d even give you a few points if you were an editor at a prominent publishing house … but you’re none of those things so your authority on the subject is both arbitrary and at odds with a rather large population’s understanding and usage.

    GW2: I am an authority in only four areas – psychology, corrections, philosophy, and religion. But I am hardly alone in my concept of religion. Philosopher Daniel Dennett said “Religions are social systems whose participants avow belief in a supernatural agent whose approval is to be sought.”
    Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, 2006.

    J2: Perhaps, rather than just flatly asserting that your definition is authoritative you should consider revising your understanding of the word’s meaning.

    GW2: I have spent many years investigating the meaning of the word “religion,” and I am very satisfied with the definition I presented to you. I think you should consider revising your understanding of the word’s meaning.

    GW2: By the way, I see you are a moderator on this blog. I wish to call to your attention the personal attacks against me by “The Broker” (see above) and request that you take corrective action against this. Also, I am grateful for the civil manner in which you and I have communicated, even when we don’t agree.

  • The Broker

    I haven’t properly attacked you at all, Gary. I’m a Satanist. A non-theistic Satanist. That’s my religion. I’ve been denigrated, assaulted, and marginalized for this. But this is who I am. This is my religious attachment. I couldn’t be but a Satanist. You saying this isn’t a “real” religion, when I’ve fought and suffered for it, daily, is similar to telling a minority that your definition of “human” does not include them. If you told me that my religion wasn’t a religion to my face, Gary, then I would attack you. Then I would break your fucking jaw.

  • We are at an impasse. You want to see other definitions of the word expire and abandon the entire concept to supernaturalists. I think that’s a terrible idea, so your definition is not ‘best’ to me because we’re using different metrics and I don’t find it satisfactory. To my mind the only definition that matters in practice is the one that has the weight of law, because in every other sense the beliefs of others, rational or otherwise, have no method for compelling anyone else to act in accordance with them. So, from a legal perspective a ‘deeply held set of beliefs’ is about as narrow a definition as I’m personally willing to accept.

    But, since you bring up a ‘scientific definition of religion’ we run into a different problem as I’m not quite sure how you expect to arrive at one since science is concerned with the physical world and religions are abstract human cultural constructs, but if we are to give it a go I’d imagine the appropriate discipline would be anthropology. To that end, I spent about a decade working with anthropologists so while not an expert I would say I’ve picked up a pretty good working knowledge and probably the most influential definition anyone has come up with would be that a religion is “(1) A system of symbols which acts to (2) establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men [and women] by (3) formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and (4) clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that (5) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.” (Clifford Geertz, 1973, The Interpretation of Culture). This definition doesn’t concern itself with whether the beliefs of a particular religion are supernatural or not because it’s irrelevant to the effect of the beliefs and the sincerity with which they are held.

    That, I think, is about as scientific a definition as you’re going to get as one can’t very well test for sincerity in a scientific way, at least not ethically.

  • Alright, a bit of name-calling and ad hom is all well and good in a heated discussion but let’s not go talking about hypothetical fist fights with 70-year-old retirees who are thousands of miles away. I know this whole discussion is really angering but I think maintaining composure is a better strategy here.

  • Gary Whittenberger

    Now, you threatened me, which is another unethical uncivil remark. That’s strike two! You have one more chance. I will respond to your points if you can make them without being uncivil.

    You’ve broken the first rule of civil discourse – don’t be mean to people with whom you are disagreeing.

  • Gary Whittenberger

    I thank you for your correction of The Broker about his threatening. I will save his post as potential evidence in case I am assaulted or murdered one day. He could be a suspect.

    However, I believe that you should also correct people who engage in “a bit of name-calling and ad hom.” It is not “all well and good,” especially in a heated discussion.

    Uncivil remarks are very often false (they can even be true), but that’s not the reason they are unethical. They are unethical because they are the irrelevant, unnecessary, unhelpful, counter-productive, selfish expressions of anger, hostility, or hatred, aimed to intimidate or demean.

  • Gary Whittenberger

    JM3: We are at an impasse.

    GW3: We might be. Is it time to agree to disagree and move on?

    JM3: You want to see other definitions of the word expire and abandon the entire concept to supernaturalists. I think that’s a terrible idea, so your definition is not ‘best’ to me because we’re using different metrics and I don’t find it satisfactory.

    GW3: No, I don’t want to abandon the definition to supernaturalists. I want everybody, not just supernaturalists, to continue to use the word in just one way, with one meaning. This has advantages to communication in general and to the scientific study of religion. I’d like the same thing to happen to the word “god.” Unfortunately, this word is used in declarations like this: “Basketball is his god.”

    JM3: To my mind the only definition that matters in practice is the one that has the weight of law, because in every other sense the beliefs of others, rational or otherwise, have no method for compelling anyone else to act in accordance with them. So, from a legal perspective a ‘deeply held set of beliefs’ is about as narrow a definition as I’m personally willing to accept.

    GW3: I strongly disagree with you. Laws should be developed or modified to use the best rational definitions of words.

    JM3: But, since you bring up a ‘scientific definition of religion’ we run into a different problem as I’m not quite sure how you expect to arrive at one since science is concerned with the physical world and religions are abstract human cultural constructs, but if we are to give it a go I’d imagine the appropriate discipline would be anthropology.

    GW3: That or sociology or evolutionary psychology. But philosophy of science is also relevant.

    JM3: To that end, I spent about a decade working with anthropologists so while not an expert I would say I’ve picked up a pretty good working knowledge and probably the most influential definition anyone has come up with would be that a religion is “(1) A system of symbols which acts to (2) establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men [and women] by (3) formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and (4) clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that (5) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.” (Clifford Geertz, 1973, The Interpretation of Culture). This definition doesn’t concern itself with whether the beliefs of a particular religion are supernatural or not because it’s irrelevant to the effect of the beliefs and the sincerity with which they are held.

    GW3: Sounds like a horrible definition to me. It is too long, vague, general, and imprecise. It fails to distinguish between worldviews which are religious and nonreligious. It would classify the Batman movement as a religion.

    JM3: That, I think, is about as scientific a definition as you’re going to get as one can’t very well test for sincerity in a scientific way, at least not ethically.

    GW3: Sincerity can be tested in a scientific way, and done so ethically. Observe the BEHAVIOR of people who declare specific beliefs. And yet, the definition of religion I presented said nothing about sincerity. Also, I am not questioning the sincerity of your particular beliefs. I just don’t think nontheistic Satanism is a religion, even when the beliefs are sincerely held.

  • I’m not saying you want to abandon the definition to supernaturalists, I’m saying you want to (and apparently have) abandoned the concept of religion to supernaturalists. Which I and many others won’t do and you can’t force a definition on people because that’s just not how language happens. Geertz’s definition doesn’t fail to distinguish between religious and nonreligious, it just calls a lot more things religious than your definition does; it’s also still very widely debated after close to 50 years. I suppose that’s kind of my point, you’ll never get everybody to agree on one definition for religion, so you may as well accept that and we’re certainly not going to settle it here.

    Despite that I think you’re pretty much just wrong about this whole thing it’s been an interesting and engaging conversation. Take care.

  • Not likely, he’s just upset that you’re minimizing his lived experience, thoughts, and feelings to try and shoehorn us into your worldview because you believe it to be superior. Please understand that is deeply offensive and we get that a lot; it’s super frustrating. Surely you’ve experienced this with theists treating you the same way at some point, have a little empathy.

  • Gary Whittenberger

    JM4: I’m not saying you want to abandon the definition to supernaturalists, I’m saying you want to (and apparently have) abandoned the concept of religion to supernaturalists. Which I and many others won’t do and you can’t force a definition on people because that’s just not how language happens.

    GW4: That’s not a very good description of my position. I’m not trying to “force a definition on people.” I don’t even know how that would be done. However, I am recommending that people reduce the number of definitions of “religion” to one – the one already the most prevalent among laypersons and experts and the one which I explicitly stated. Rational thinking people should lead the way.

    JM4: Geertz’s definition doesn’t fail to distinguish between religious and nonreligious, it just calls a lot more things religious than your definition does; it’s also still very widely debated after close to 50 years.

    GW4: It’s wider scope makes it a worse definition. I think it is terrible for the reasons I gave.

    JM4: I suppose that’s kind of my point, you’ll never get everybody to agree on one definition for religion, so you may as well accept that and we’re certainly not going to settle it here.

    GW4: Oh, I don’t expect everybody to agree to use just the definition I recommended. That would be a too ambitious goal. But oddly enough, those most supporting this change are strange bedfellows – the very religious and the very rational, which is fine by me.

    JM4: Despite that I think you’re pretty much just wrong about this whole thing it’s been an interesting and engaging conversation. Take care.

    GW4: Thanks for an interesting and civil discussion.

  • Gary Whittenberger

    JM1: Not likely, he’s just upset that you’re minimizing his lived experience, thoughts, and feelings to try and shoehorn us into your worldview because you believe it to be superior.

    GW1: What is not likely? I’m not minimizing his experience. I’m simply disagreeing with his classification of his worldview as a religion. I have made no statements at all that my worldview is superior to his. However, I do believe that our nontheistic worldviews are superior to others’ theistic worldviews.

    JM1: Please understand that is deeply offensive and we get that a lot; it’s super frustrating. Surely you’ve experienced this with theists treating you the same way at some point, have a little empathy.

    GW1: If he disagrees, feels offended and frustrated, this is no excuse at all for making uncivil remarks — name-calling, ad homs, and threats. I think in your position as a moderator, you have a responsibility to correct and reduce this kind of talk. We should have empathy for victims, not for those who speak uncivilly.

    GW1: Also, when I am frustrated with theists and disagree with them, I try very hard to be civil, and I am mostly successful.