godless?

I’d like to look at some issues around belief and representation in modern Satanism. People most usually approach the subject of Satanism with a great deal of imaginative and scandalous baggage, which can be very enjoyable and stylish (a little mystery and glamour can go a long way), but if they get beyond the horror movie/exorcist reflex, they find a philosophy that eschews normal religious categories.

Far from all being believers in a literal anti-god, they’ll find the founder of modern Satanism proclaiming a largely rational “religion” of atheistic individualism and moral liberation, albeit with a seemingly paranormal aspect of magic, psychodrama and “intellectual decompression”. Go more fully into the range of modern Satanism and you will however find atheists and theists, pranksters and devotees, demonolaters, magicians and counterculturalists. For some it is a religion, for others it is a questioning, liberating critique of religion and society, a philosophy, a way of life. All though will call themselves “Satanists”. Can we all be Satanists while being so seemingly different, and if so, how does that hold together? How does that work out?

The answer for me is yes we can be, because Satanism has a philosophical core which is incisive, simple and individual enough to have brought this about. Individual sovereignty, self-fulfilment and self-realization, questioning of moral consensus and restriction. The details are left up to you. The conclusions can only be your own, as is the responsibility for the freedom you gain. Becoming a Satanist is a journey someone takes, not a club you ever have to join. So the answer to “how does it hold together?” is that it doesn’t in the ordinary, organized, sense of religions and societies. It grows, it lives as much as individuals do, and it is they who communicate and act, and live their lives. In a sense there isn’t any Satanism, there are just Satanists. Where it does hold together, it is the creative and experimental actions of individuals, just as satire might be, or a prank, a performance, an art form. You might notice a paradoxical quality here, and I think that is about right. A sense of humour is a very Satanic thing to have, and humour to some extent is based upon paradox and incongruity. It’s the ripple of laughter that signals the exposure of The Emperor’s New Clothes.

The above considerations do have some follow through in general cultural terms. Satanism as a philosophy has an inherent opposition to the tyranny of the irrational and the sentimental, as these are commonly the rope, the cosh, the shackles and the blackmail that hold together the moral restriction of an individual within society, that keep people infantilized and in a controlled, extended childhood. The common reflex is that we must have unquestioned moral restriction as a safeguard; and the Satanist’s answer is “what do you fear so much about yourself?”. That you are incapable of adult maturity and responsibility? This is also why the baby eating, serial killer Satanist of fantasy fame makes absolutely no sense. He (usually a “he” in the danger stranger imagination – gotta remember that sacred sentiment) would be the perfect antithesis to philosophical Satanism: irrational, uncontrolled, psychotic, incapable of self-responsibility or maturity. It’s actually an “anti-Satanist”! This figure is just what Satanists see bottled up inside the imagination and nature of conventional society; a caged, repressed, tortured animal. Our animal is neither caged nor repressed, but free and grown healthily to the best of our ability. That is why we believe in both freedom and responsibility.

But notice I say the tyranny of the irrational and the sentimental, because many Satanists are no strangers to the joys of the trans-rational, nor the appreciation of feeling. We try to enjoy a full life in general. That is why I consider myself a secularist, and oppose religious privilege, but not religious experience as such. People can believe anything they want (including myself), experience all manner of altered states or “peak experiences”, and so long as they take responsibility for themselves that is fine. So long as you don’t interfere with other people’s sovereignty, or abdicate reason in the arena where it is essential (such as the running of public life, the assessment of science, or care of the vulnerable), it is your own business.

Sentimentalism is a bit like irrationalism lite, and the worst thing about it is probably the dishonesty, the disingenuousness and the manipulativeness. People ensure their sense of entitlement is serviced, their traditional privileges defended, their capacity to use maximised, all through appeal to traditional sentiment. And the used acquiesce in their coerced sense of owing their users something they just don’t. You see both these traits (irrationalism and sentimentalism) used in religion and politics. The bottom line is if you want to be a sheep, you’re gonna get fleeced, or maybe turned into someone’s guard dog. If you don’t genuinely enjoy it, just don’t do it. If you do enjoy it, well there are people who could get you off at a much better price.

The Satanic Temple have done some pretty effective PR and performance pieces for modern Satanism in recent years, and I applaud them for that. I like them. Even if they turned out to simply be a bunch of pranksters, they’d still have done some inherently Satanic things philosophically. I heard something from them a few years ago where they said that they accepted Satanists of different kinds, including theistic ones, but they presented Satanism as an atheistic philosophy, and felt that was the appropriate approach. I maybe wouldn’t go as far as that personally, but it is effective for their purposes within their culture, and I see their point, in as much as there is no necessity whatsoever for Satanism to be theistic, so if you wanted to characterize the core philosophy you would probably term it as non-theistic in essence (as you would Buddhism for instance, even though there are forms of Buddhism that have guardian and wrathful deities etc). But importantly, Satanism plays with the culture of religion and spirituality in an individualistic and humanistic fashion.

Not so much godless as daemonic.

Crucifixion of St. Peter by Caravaggio [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. The Cross of St Peter came to be associated with Satanism thanks to some esoteric mud slinging in 19th Century France

Crucifixion of St. Peter by Caravaggio [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. The Cross of St Peter came to be associated with Satanism thanks to some esoteric mud slinging in 19th Century France. Image digitally enhanced.

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