It would be safe to say that Satanists have been fighting an uphill battle. The religion has made headlines recently with their attempts to have public Satanist statues installed alongside Christian ones. Recently they raised eyebrows by displaying a statue of the winged goat deity Baphomet outside the Arkansas capitol building, and paying for a statue to be showcased for the holidays alongside other major religious icons in the Illinois Statehouse. These installations were seen as major victories for both followers of the religion and for First Amendment activists who support freedom of worship. The statues were met with much criticism, however, as Christian protesters made their distaste apparent with bible verses written on cardboard signs. This response is nothing new, as Satanism has been fought against since its inception.
While Satanism dates back centuries, the Church as it exists today was founded in 1966 by Anton Szandor LaVey in San Francisco. He acted as the High Priest until his death in 1997. Followers of the faith refer to themselves as skeptical atheists and don’t believe in Satan or Satan figures as they exist in other religions. They instead choose to see Satan as a symbol of pride, liberty, and individualism (according to the F.A.Q section of their web page). LaVey started the Church with the intent to “smash the hypocrisy and irrationality which has reigned for the last 2000 years.” The Church of Satan is in every way a retaliation against the theistic religions that the Church sees as obstructing truth and intelligence. Even its version of the “Ten Commandments,” known as the “Nine Satanic Statements,” include statements such as, “Satan represents vengeance instead of turning the other cheek!” The Church endorses the practice of indulgence and promote the practice of personal freedoms, most notably in the area of sexual and gender identity, a topic that is a hot button issue in relation to most other major religions. The Church also allows its members to choose whether or not they use recreational drugs and alcohol. The only guidelines that the Church provides are that illegal activities are not endorsed, self-destructive practices are prohibited, and consent is required whenever two or more parties engage with each other.
The Church of Satan is just one option for those who commit themselves to Satanism. The Satanic Temple was started in 2014 by a former Church of Satan member, while both follow the basic teachings of Satanism, the Temple has some fundamental differences. The Satanic Temple has no centralized scripture, but shares its beliefs in individualism and knowledge. Both groups advocate for the proper representation of Satanism and seek to provide a place for members to “undertake noble pursuits guided by the individual will,” according to the Satanic Temple’s website.
On the surface, Satanism comes off as a progressive alternative to religion that fills the void for those who feel marginalized and rejected from mainstream theistic options. The issues arise from the confrontational nature of the organization. Its stark opposition to religion as an institution and the connotations that come with the name Satanism limit the number of people who might otherwise consider membership. The Church’s website makes it abundantly clear that Satan as he appears in the Bible has nothing to do with the beliefs of Satanism. It also stresses that the practices attributed to Satan worshippers, including sacrifice and blood rituals, are not endorsed by the religion, as such practices are theistic and therefore against what Satanists believe. These assurances have done little to quell the fears and concerns of those who oppose the belief.
Satanism has become increasingly relevant to the public in recent years as they attempt to exercise their First Amendment rights. Other than the statues, Satanists made headlines back in January of 2018 when they sued the state of Missouri. The lawsuit was filed by the Satanic Temple on the behalf of an unnamed woman. The case alleged that the state law requiring women to wait 72 hours before having an abortion, view an ultrasound, and read a pamphlet stating that “life begins at conception” violated her religious beliefs. Satanists don’t see an undeveloped fetus as its own separate entity and therefore framing it as such is religious discrimination. The case is currently being reviewed by Missouri’s Supreme Court. The Satanic Temple have also fought against corporal punishment in schools, and have attempted to create after school programs to run alongside ones run by other church groups. The Temple made national headlines most recently for filing a lawsuit against Netflix for its use of the statue of Baphomet as it appears in the show, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. The Temple demands $150 million in damages for alleged misuse of their “distinctive icon.” “Among other things, the Satanic Temple designed and commissioned the Satanic Temple Baphomet with Children to be a central part of its efforts to promote First Amendment values of separation of church and state and equal protection,” the suit alleges. The show’s focus on the occult practices that it associates with the statue only serve to tarnish the statue’s image as well as the Temple’s. The suit has had difficulty, and the Temple has demanded a redress by jury.
It is unclear how successful both the Satanic Temple and the Church of Satan will be when it comes to spreading their message and fighting back against what they see as the injustices of of a single faith society, but it is very likely that Satanism will continue to push for recognition through social activism and publicity stunts that put them in the media’s limelight.