Social media has been full of stories about the Satanic Temple challenging conservative trends in the government. But what do we know about the Temple? Who makes up their chapters? How did this all get started? What is their agenda? And the biggest question of all: Do they worship Satan?
Morality seems like an easy topic to discuss. Murder: bad. Helping the unfortunate: good. It’s rarely that black and white, though. Abortion is obviously a big trigger issues for many people, some saying it’s murder, others saying not allowing it is violating a woman’s body. I’m not here to discuss abortion today, however, I’m here to discuss morality among Satanists.
I grew up as part of the Church Universal and Triumphant. That’s what my parents raised me as, at least, and it made for an interesting childhood. They believed in karma, reincarnation, ascension to godhood once you balanced your karma; I used to call it a blender religion, taking the best parts of every religion, stuffing them into a blender, and hitting puree.
I rebelled from my parents in my teenage years by becoming an evangelical Christian, becoming so devout in my faith that I even went as far as telling them they were going to hell for their beliefs. When I graduated high school, I moved across the country to a mid-sized city called Elgin, where I attended a small Baptist school, Judson University. Going to chapel three days a week, and then church on the weekend quickly burned me out, not to mention the many injustices I was seeing within the church I was attending, such as their treatment of LGBTQ+ people.
Eventually, I left the faith and spent years not really knowing what I believed, just that the god I had been taught about in church wasn’t the one for me. I stumbled upon Pastafarians, which I still find both amazing and hilarious, flying spaghetti monster and all, and eventually, I found my way to The Satanic Temple.
The Satanic Temple in Media
Before I tell you about my research into the temple, let me tell you a quick story about how the media portrays Satanists.
When we were trying to sell our first house, and before we bought the house we live in now, we lived with my in-laws for about eight months. During that time, I commandeered the end of their kitchen table for watching television on my laptop. My in-laws didn’t have high-definition televisions at the time, so a 15” monitor was, in my mind, better than watching it on a 32” standard definition TV. That, and I didn’t have to share what I was watching with my 2-year-old baby girl.
One Saturday afternoon, I was sitting at the kitchen table watching the Netflix show Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, when a very strange scene came on. I don’t remember the particulars, just the chanting, “The power of Satan compels you, the power of Satan compels you, the power of Satan compels you”. It got louder and louder until they were all but screaming it. That, of course, is when my father-in-law entered the room. And since I had walked over to the kitchen to make some lunch, my laptop sat on the table, blaring “THE POWER OF SATAN COMPELS YOU” at volumes much, much louder than necessary. To his credit, my father-in-law didn’t say a word, just picked up whatever it is he’d come in the room for and walked out.
It’s been about 3 years since that moment, and my father-in-law and I have never once talked about it.
That’s how it is with modern Satanism. People don’t really talk about it. To be frank, they don’t want to talk about it. They’d rather pretend it doesn’t exist, and I think that’s mostly due to what immediately comes to mind when someone talks about Satanism. Goat headed devils. Blood rituals. Sacrifices in graveyards, a little red man with horns, a pointy tail, and a pitchfork.
The media portrays satanism as this bogeyman of fetid amoral acts, when in its modern form, it’s much, much different.
My Experience with The Satanic Temple
When it Satanism came across my radar, my first thought was, well, I don’t believe in hell, so I can’t be a Satanist, right? Then I investigated them a bit more. Their mission is very telling of their morals:
The Satanic Temple has publicly confronted hate groups, fought for the abolition of corporal punishment in public schools, applied for equal representation when religious installations are placed on public property, provided religious exemption and legal protection against laws that unscientifically restrict women’s reproductive autonomy, exposed harmful pseudo-scientific practitioners in mental health care (aka conversion therapy), organized clubs alongside other religious after-school clubs in schools besieged by proselytizing organizations, and engaged in other advocacy in accordance with our tenets.
Upon discovering this, I immediately signed up to become a member. I wasn’t active in any of their congregations, I don’t think I even looked to see if there was one close by, I just felt it was better, and in my opinion more moral, than anything I’d been a part of before. (The closest Satanic temple to us, by the way, is in Western Michigan, just outside Grand Rapids, or near Springfield, neither of which is conducive to weekly attendance.)
So, there I was, a card-carrying member of The Satanic Temple. It didn’t change my day-to-day life at all, but it did help change my worldview a bit; maybe there was a religious movement that I could follow and raise my children to follow.
The Satanic Panic
Some of you may remember something, from the 80s and 90s, referred to as “The Satanic Panic”. According to Wikipedia, it was a moral panic consisting of over 12,000 unsubstantiated cases of Satanic ritual abuse.
I was born in the mid-80s, so I never experienced it as adult, but I do remember one thing from my childhood related to this.
As children, my parents used to buy my sister and I an audio drama, produced by the staunchly conservative Christian organization Focus on the Family, called Adventures in Odyssey. These audio tapes (and later CDs) were a staple of my childhood.
One story stood out to me, mostly because it was rather terrifying. It was called Castles and Cauldrons and focused around one of the main characters from the stories, Jimmy Barclay, who was invited to participate in a role-playing game with his visiting cousin, Len. In the story, Len plays Luthor the Magician, while Jimmy plays Jondel the Apprentice. Everything seems to be harmless, until Len wants to start reciting incantations, casting spells, and performing conjurings, which according to the story, sounded a lot like Black Magic. This story made me literally terrified of actual demons coming to get me and steal my soul.
If any of this sounds familiar, it’s likely due to the fact that during this time, there was a big focus on demonizing a game called Dungeons and Dragons, something that, ironically, I play several times a week now. The demonization of this game, and others like it, led to certain media portrayals, such as the one mentioned here. And for those of you who haven’t ever played Dungeons and Dragons, we’re usually much too busy cursing bad dice rolls and don’t even get a chance to summon demons or perform black magic. It’s a shame, too, I always wanted a pet demon.
Satanists and Activism
Getting back to the focus of today’s talk, the morality of Satanists. First, let’s come up with a working definition of morality. Many people of faith believe morals are absolute; that there is no gray area. I think this is too short-sighted, however; I think morals can be boiled down a person’s worldview and the protection of the same. The Satanic Temple, for instance, has several activism campaigns they’re running to protect and spread their worldview of equality for all and bodily autonomy.
One of their most notable campaigns is the Satanic Representation Campaign, something that made national news when they brought a statue of Baphomet, a winged-goat creature, surrounded by two children looking adoringly at him, and attempted to have it installed on capitol grounds in Arkansas. They did this after a monument of the 10 commandments was installed the previous year. Their spokesperson said, “If you’re going to have one religious monument up then it should be open to others, and if you don’t agree with that then let’s just not have any at all.”
They also have the Religious Reproductive Rights campaign, one of my personal favorites, which features a Religious Abortion Ritual, which according to their lawyers, exempts members from enduring medically unnecessary and unscientific regulations when seeking to terminate their pregnancy. The ritual involves the recitation of two of the temple’s tenets and a personal affirmation that is ceremoniously intertwined with the abortion. Because prerequisite procedures, such as waiting periods, mandatory viewing of sonograms, and compulsory counseling contravene Satanists’ religious convictions, those who perform the religious abortion ritual are exempt from these requirements and can receive first-trimester abortions on demand in states that have enacted the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Another big campaign of theirs is the Protect Children Project. This campaign seeks to stop physical violence or psychological abuse, such as corporal punishment, solitary confinement, use of physical restraints, and restrictions on bathroom access, in schools.
So many religious organizations claim to be the last bastion of morality in today’s society, but I think it’s clear that these campaigns have easy to understand moral imperatives; equal representation for all religions, reproductive rights, prevent child abuse, etc. Other faiths do much the same with their campaigns, such as feed the homeless, spread the gospel, and help those less fortunate than yourself. Just because The Satanic Temple has chosen to couch their goals under a contentious representative, namely Satan, doesn’t make their ideals any less moral.
I think, as Unitarian Universalists, we have an opportunity, perhaps even a moral obligation to stand up for our ideals. Love is love. Black lives matter. Climate Change is real. No human being is illegal. All genders are whole, holy, and good. Women have agency over their bodies.
What else can we, as a congregation, do to move these goals forward? I’m not saying we need to be audacious, like The Satanic Temple, just that we can always do better. Each one of us, every individual person listening to this right now can do better, including me. Thank you.