“Into the wild expanse, and through the shock
Of fighting elements, on all sides round
Environed, wins his way; harder beset
And more endangered than when Argo passed
Through Bosporus betwixt the justling rocks,
Or when Ulysses on the larboard shunned
Charybdis, and by th’ other whirlpool steered.” – John Milton, Paradise Lost Book II
We’re going on a trip.
Over the next several blogs so For Infernal Use Only will be going to select locations around the country and I’d like to use the blog as a road journal of sorts. It’s going to be a little weird. There’s things I can and can’t say until they actually happen, people who will wish to remain nameless (or at least pseudonymous), and when it’s all said and done … well frankly I don’t know how well this is going to go any more than you do, dear reader. But if all goes approximately according to plan there should be news, intrigue, valuable information, and no one will get hurt.
I suppose where we’re really at is that the best I can promise is an exploration of a religious sub-culture within a religious sub-culture. What is this upstart activist brand of Satanism that other Satanists insist isn’t really Satanism? What are these people like? How do all of them fit in with the growth of Atheism and the “nones”? What exactly is going on in this narrow band of the American fabric?
To begin to answer that what really needs to happen first is to establish the different groups who have played a role in all this. To do that we really have to talk about the ongoing feud between The Church of Satan (CoS) and The Satanic Temple (TST). Which is, in my estimation, less of an actual grudge and more frustration with one another because people on the internet still keep confusing the two despite constant correction from both groups. The Church of Satan’s claim is that Satanism exists only as spelled out in Anton LaVey’s Satanic Bible and that anyone else (TST in particular) is just appropriating the label for shock value. CoS maintains that TST is just a group of Atheist activists.
It’s hard to blame CoS too much for this being a touchy subject. They do have a longer history of dealing with all sorts of allegations of devil-worship and other nonsense. They have a brand to protect and you have to give them some credit for being able to do so through the 80’s and 90’s when parental hysteria was saddling them with lunacy like being responsible for everything from John Denver to Dungeons & Dragons and that these things were somehow poisoning the minds of their kids against Jesus.
Of course none of this matters to the theistic majority of the country, whose talking heads labels everything Satanic that isn’t them.
One thing both CoS and TST most certainly can agree on is a reverence for rationalism and facts. So if there’s anything that binds the two groups together besides imagery it’s that they’re both, along with the Atheist/Skeptic community, surrounded by people with crazy beliefs calling each other evil. The fringe beliefs tend to crop up a bit more for the Satanists though because of their loose association with witchcraft. You may know there are fringe Christians who think that Catholicism is secretly a Freemason Illuminati cult, but you probably haven’t had to deal with the flat-earth gnostic Wiccans (yes, that’s a thing … somehow), or the racism problem in Asatru, or the people who genuinely believe that humans were seeded on Earth by an alien race by an as-of-yet undiscovered missing 10th planet and that they’re going to come take us over the next time is swings back through the solar system.
The fact is, the fabric of America is riddled with a kaleidoscope of crazy nonsense that the majority of Christian culture is all too happy to lump together as Satanic, and the Atheist community unilaterally dismisses as just as silly as every other religion. So after 50+ years it makes sense the CoS is a little defensive. In that sense CoS and TST are both in the same boat as people who are just hearing about all this for the first time come to it with their preconceived confusion and lingering spirituality.
None of this is all that different than what the Atheist/Skeptic community has to deal with when debunking the same kind of crazy. Similar clashes happen within their community as much as any religious demographic. If you’re an Atheist you’d have to be pretty inattentive to not have noticed the clashes between Secular social justice advocates and their vocal detractors who’ve made careers out of complaining about other people’s advocacy on YouTube.
We see the same fights play out between liberal and conservative Christians, moderate and fundamentalist Muslims. I haven’t found and anti-choice Wiccan yet, but I’m almost certain they exist somewhere in all this mess.
When it comes to Satanism I’ve decided it’s best to apply what may not be but may as well be called the “Dillahunty rule” which is just not being overly concerned with how someone labels themselves and being more concerned with asking the question ‘what do you believe and why?’ In that sense, in the sprawling panoply of American culture anyone can call themselves whatever they want with regard to their religious or non-religious identification and purity testing is a pointless endeavor that only leads to an argument about semantics.
For me this whole strange adventure begins in the summer of 2015 when The Satanic Temple launched a GoFundMe for their Religious Reproductive Rights Campaign (still in court these three years later), it may have been earlier but I remember distinctly that I liked the strategy so much it was worth contributing to, and that the line of reasoning intrigued me. At the time I identified as just another run-of-the-mill Atheist with a nominally listened to podcast.
But like many an Atheist I had explored the more culturally ostracized religions of our culture in my formative years; and I had dutifully read my LaVey, Crowley, and even Buckland’s while trying to figure out where I fit before throwing up my hands in exhaustion and deciding on ‘none of the above’. LaVey had definitely left his mark philosophically though and anyone intrepid enough to dig through the old Atheist Nexus boards would eventually stumble across a younger me exhaustively railing against the myth of true altruism with the furor only a self-assured contrarian with an internet connection can.
The Church of Satan claims that they facilitate the intercommunication of members that want to work together on like-minded projects; that’s all well and good. But in a weird way that makes me almost sympathize with the sort of conspiracy theorist that tries to link Satanism to Freemasonry. The only thing I ever took away from the Masons is the idea that Masonic Temples are rooms full of people exchanging business cards so with a wink and nod they could gladhand each other into exchanging form 1099’s at the end of the year. “Be part of the club,” they both seem to say. “Because club members are members.” The benefits of being a member are, of course, not revealed until you sign up, but they assure you they are definitely there as long as you agree with the core of their ideology.
What always bothered me about LaVey though, was that he basically exists as a cultural relic. He was a contrarian to the San Francisco hippie movement of the 60’s no doubt, and I would even call him prescient in predicting its demise. That said I always found his theatrics to be a bit hokey and the whole ‘Might Makes Right’ thing never sat well. It wasn’t that it was wrong, but in my opinion it severely neglected the advantages of socialization. There’s a big difference between working towards shared goals and just cooperating when goals happen to align. LaVey’s prescriptions are just more solipsistic than I think they really need to be, to it’s own detriment. I don’t, and never really have, disagreed with the premise that he codified the label in a way no one ever had before him … but so what? Words change. Awful used to mean ‘something which inspires awe’, now it just means gross. One door opens, another one slams shut.
C’est la vie.