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The Satanic Temple: Religion, Cult or Parody?

Updated on November 13, 2017
CatherineGiordano profile image

Catherine Giordano is a writer and public speaker who often writes and speaks on topics related to science, philosophy, and religion.

The Satanic Temple Logo

The logo of The Satanic Temple features a winged goat-headed devil within a pentagram.
The logo of The Satanic Temple features a winged goat-headed devil within a pentagram. | Source

What Is The Satanic Temple?

The Satanic Temple (TST) is many things, but it not a cult of devil worshipers. TST describes itself as an atheistic religion which engages in pro-democracy political activism, fosters a humanistic and scientific outlook on life, and offers community to its members.

According to their website: “The mission of The Satanic Temple is to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense and justice, and be directed by the human conscience to undertake noble pursuits guided by the individual will.”

The Satanic Temple was founded by Lucien Greaves and Malcolm Jarry in Salem Massachusetts in 2013. Today the group has many chapters in the United States and across the world.

Is the Satanic Temple a Religion?

The answer from The Satanic Temple (TST) is an emphatic yes, but I would call it a “quasi-religion,” because although it has many features in common with religion, it lacks the most important one—there is no belief in supernatural entities or occurrences.

The Satanic Temple rejects my definition of religion. It rejects the idea that religion belongs only to those who believe in a supernatural deity (or deities). TST contends that just as the more widely–practiced religions do, it provides a narrative structure to guide their members in their lives while providing a sense of identity, a shared culture, and a community of shared values. They strongly oppose the idea that only groups that are faith-based should be able to claim the honor and privileges that society accords to religion.

The Satanic Temple is deliberately trying to construct a new religious identity, one aligned with progressive beliefs and scientific principles, which can enjoy all the protections granted to more long-standing religious traditions.

Jex Blackmore, the director of the Detroit Satanic Temple, explains it this way: “Restricting religious protections to the majority view is an attempt to delegitimize and control alternative beliefs. If religious legitimacy is determined by a biased government, we are effectively in bondage to the beliefs and practices of those in power.”

The Satanic Temple has a 501(c)(3) tax designation, so it is officially recognized as a religion by the United States government.

Religions of the World

A new religion was added to the various  religions of the world: The Satanic Temple
A new religion was added to the various religions of the world: The Satanic Temple | Source

Do Members of TST Worship Satan?

Far from worshipping Satan, the members of the Satanic Temple are atheists and do not even believe in the literal existence of Satan.

Why, then call themselves “The Satanic Temple”? Satan was chosen, again according to the website, because Satan represents the “Eternal Rebel”—one who opposes arbitrary authority and defends personal sovereignty against tyranny. Satan is symbolic of the “Unsilenced Questioner” and “the heretic who questions sacred laws.” He is the literary Satan best exemplified in the works of Milton, Blake, Shelley, and Anatole France.

The founders and members of TST are not oblivious to the emotionally-laden connotations of their chosen symbol. They embrace the term “Satanists” as a deliberate poke in the eye to other religions, particularly Christianity. They embrace what Christians would call “blasphemy” in order to support freedom of belief and religious authoritarianism.

Ms. Blackmore explained: “According to a common misperception, organized religion embodies the highest moral virtues, and the figure of Satan as an adversary must therefore stand in diametric opposition to decency itself… We have no interest in accommodating these misperceptions nor being apologetic for them. We call ourselves Satanists with pride, because Satanists we are.”

TST is not a cult; it is an anti-cult. It does not seek followers; it wants to train leaders. It seeks to teach people to recognize cultic influences and to use critical-thinking skills so as to avoid falling under the sway of mystical charlatans.

This is not to say that there are not some misguided groups who have latched upon the idea of Satanism as a way to demonstrate their anti-social impulses. These groups and individuals have nothing to do with The Satanic Temple.

What Are the Principles of the Satanic Temple?

The Satanic Temple does not do “evil.” Quite the contrary, it denies the existence of personified evil. It seeks to be a force for good in the world.

The Satanic Temple has put forth seven tenets of their religion. I list them here as they appear on their website.

  • One should strive to act with compassion and empathy towards all creatures in accordance with reason.
  • The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
  • One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.
  • The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo your own.
  • Beliefs should conform to our best scientific understanding of the world. We should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs.
  • People are fallible. If we make a mistake, we should do our best to rectify it and resolve any harm that may have been caused.
  • Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word.

TST states that members “believe in nothing that is not demonstrably true, and hold to even those beliefs with an understanding that they, too, must remain open to revision in the light of new scientific understandings.”

The principles of TST sound a lot like those of humanism. However, TST website notes that there are a few important differences. They maintain that they, unlike humanism, give paramount importance to the principles of individual sovereignty and rejection of tyrannical authority. I would add that they also have a younger edgier vibe and are more politically active in seeking social change.

One of the Seven Principles

The last of the seven principle of The Satanic Temple is an important guideline for life.
The last of the seven principle of The Satanic Temple is an important guideline for life. | Source

What Are the Origins of The Satanic Temple?

TST did not begin as a full-fledged religion. It began as a protest stunt. But if you think about it, don’t most religions begin as a protest movement? Think of Christianity, for example. According to the Biblical stories, Jesus was protesting the Temple of Jerusalem. He wanted a less autocratic Judaism.

TST began with a protest organized by Lucien Greaves. He showed up at a rally in Florida pretending to thank Governor Jeb Bush for bringing religion into schools. Now, because a benefit given to one religion must legally be given to all religions, TST could bring Satanism to school children. It began as satire to make a point about the dangers of allowing religion in public schools, but eventually it became an organized religion.

Lucien Greaves (a pseudonym for Douglas Messner) and TST often engage in protests which use satire because Greaves maintains that humor can be a part of religion.

What Kind of Political Activities Has TST Engaged In?

Douglas Messner (also a pseudonym) is a Harvard graduate and cognitive scientist who became alarmed by the Satanic Panic that began around 1980 and finally died away around 1995. Countless lives were ruined as courts accepted testimony from pseudoscientific mental health “experts” who cited “recovered memory” testimony about a hidden satanic threat that, in fact, never existed at all.

Messner, appalled by this persecution of innocent people based on nutty beliefs about Satanism, sought to use Satanism to combat ignorance, prejudice, and religious privilege. TST does this through some loony stunts, but mostly through serious lawsuits.

Here are a few of TST activities.

The Pink Mass

In 2013, The Westboro Baptist Church, known for protesting against gays at the funerals of soldiers, has been a target of TST. Messner performed a “Pink Mass” over the grave of the dead mother of founder Fred Phelps, Jr. He proclaimed that Phelps’ mother was now gay in the afterlife, playing off the Mormon practice of baptizing dead Jews into the Mormon religion. The ceremony included recitations, candles, and same sex couples (one male and one female) kissing each other over her headstone.

Florida Capitol Holiday Display

In 2014, a diorama depicting an angel dropping from the sky into a pit of flames graced the rotunda in front of Florida’s state capitol building in December in an area set aside for displays sponsored by community organizations. It was the same display that had been denied the previous year, but this year TST arrived with lawyers. Other displays included a Flying Spaghetti Monster display and a Festivus beer can pole. (This arose because a nativity scene was being displayed each year so other religions demanded to be represent also.) Holiday displays are no longer being placed on government property. (People can still see nativity scenes on the lawns of the churches found on practically every street corner.)

Oklahoma Ten Commandments and Baphomet

In 2014, after a statue of the Ten Commandments was placed outside the Oklahoma State Capitol, TST requested permission to donate a statue of Baphomet (a goat headed demon deity). They argued that Oklahoma was engaging in discrimination by favoring the views of one religion over others. The Oklahoma State Supreme Court ordered the removal of the Ten Commandments statue, and The Satanic Temple then withdrew its request.

Missouri Abortion Lawsuit

In 2015, TST filed both federal and state lawsuits against Missouri’s 72-hour waiting period for abortion and the mandate to give women seeking an abortion a religious- based pamphlets about abortion. TST objected to these laws on religious grounds because they violate its own religious belief in the inviolability of one’s body. The lawsuits site the First Amendment’s establishment clause and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Arkansas Ten Commandments and Baphomet

In 2017, a six-foot-tall Ten Commandments monument was installed outside of the Arkansas Capitol, prompting TST to request permission to install a statue of Baphomet. American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas is suing to have the Ten Commandments monument removed as an unconstitutional endorsement of a specific religion. TST is still in the process of trying to get its Baphomet statue installed. The best outcome is for all religious displays to be ruled to be illegal on public property, but if the Ten Commandments stay, I’m looking forward to the installation of the Baphomet. It’s a really nice statue.

Baphomet

The statue of Baphomet features two young children seeking knowledge..
The statue of Baphomet features two young children seeking knowledge.. | Source

What Is the After-School Satan Club?

Evangelical Christian groups are providing Good News After-School Clubs in many public schools. These clubs exist to indoctrinate children with fundamentalist religious beliefs—they have called schools their “mission field.”

TST is now offering an alternative. If a school has a Good News club, they must allow clubs from other religions to offer an after school club also. The After-School Satan Club is now available in some schools. This club is not focused on religion; it offers games and thinking exercises designed to help children understand the scientific view of the world. All the teachers are vetted for professional educational skills and all undergo a background check.

The video below spoofs horror movies while conveying the idea of the pursuit of scientific knowledge and the joy that children find in learning..

Are There Other Satanic Religions?

Currently, I am aware of only one other major group claiming to be a Satan-based religion, The Church of Satan (COS). This group, founded by Anton LaVey in 1966 is older than TST, but it is practically defunct now except for a website.

Both groups are atheistic and use Satan as a metaphor, but be careful not to confuse the two groups; they are very different, and even somewhat antagonistic, to each other.

  • The COS incorporates rituals and a belief in magic. It is based upon the outmoded views of Social Darwinism, looking upon man as a “carnal beast.” LaVey wrote The Satanic Bible, based upon a book published in 1980 called “Might Is Right: Survival of the Fittest” written under the pen name, Ragnar Redbeard. It takes a self-centered view of the world stating that each individual is his own god.
  • TST rejects many of the ideas of the COS. in favor of science–based beliefs. TST is non-authoritarian, it projects a positive view of mankind, and it seeks to be a force for good in the world. Unlike the COS, there are no scriptures, no prescribed rituals, no belief in magic, and no priests with TST.

© 2017 Catherine Giordano

I welcome your comments.

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    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 2 weeks ago from Orlando Florida

      XaurreauX: It is definitely nice for the secular community to get a little equality. Thanks for your comment.

    • XaurreauX profile image

      XaurreauX 2 weeks ago

      The Satanic Temple is becoming a powerful force for standing up to white, Christian hegemony. Dominionist theocrats bake this pie. Apparently, they're not so enthusiastic about having to eat it.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 2 weeks ago from Orlando Florida

      Thank you Rachelle. It is a little known group and some of the people who think they know it actually know nothing.

    • Rachelle Williams profile image

      Rachelle Williams 2 weeks ago from Tempe, AZ

      Catherine, you've done a great job here of shedding some light on The Satanic Temple. Personally, I take everything that can't be proven with a grain of salt...but I appreciate the education you have provided! You've gained a new follower for sure!

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 3 weeks ago from Orlando Florida

      Samuel Inez: I thought that I should try to inform people about "The Satanic Temple" because there is so much misinformation out there. Even atheists do not understand what TST is and how it is working for religious equality in the United States.

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      Samuel Inez 3 weeks ago

      Thank you for writing a honest and respectable article about TST.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 weeks ago from USA

      This group is ingenious in their method of self-expression and protest. A very level-headed approach to the unauthorized intermingling of church and state in so many areas of our lives. Here locally, city council used to open up sessions with a Christian prayer until a Wiccan requested to take a turn. That practice stopped.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 4 weeks ago from Orlando Florida

      Eric Dierker: You still don't entirely get it. In the United States you are a religion if you say you are a religion. There are other religions that do not believe in deities. Ethical Culture, for one. It is a partly a spoof/mockery, there can be , but it is more than that. The principles are sincerely held principles. In my opinion, TST uses humor to affirm sincerely held beliefs--I bet a lot of their principles are ones that you yourself believe in.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 4 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Sorry Catherine I took your line on "symbolizing" rebellion to far. It really is just a spoof/satire. The statues are just meant as a kind of "mockery" of religion. Not a rebellion against God in the slightest.

      Thank you for your clarification. Now I think I get it. Namaste

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 4 weeks ago from Orlando Florida

      Linda Crampton: Thanks for your comment. They chose to use the name Satan exactly because it was provocative. If they had called themselves "The Temple of Being Kind to Others," no one would take notice. The idea is to rile people up so they can make their point about freedom of religion applying to all religions even one that is represented by a mythical figure that some see as a representation of evil. I think the use of Satan is genius because Satan is also a literary figure of rebellion in the name of freedom. I'm going to reread Paradise Lost, which I remember only vaguely from my English classes.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 4 weeks ago from Orlando Florida

      Eric Dierker: You still misunderstand. TST does not pray to anyone or anything, Not Satan, not God, not anyone. They use Satan as a symbol or protest. Satan is a mythical figure. The whole point is that Satan, like God, is not real, and never has been real. Please take a second look at the essay and you will see that this is made abundantly clear. If you still don't see it, I give up.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 4 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I think that many of the tenets of the Satanic Temple—especially the ones that refer to compassion for others—are wonderful. I understand the use of Satan as a symbol for rebellion, too. I'm not certain about the wisdom of choosing a name for the group that is associated with evil by so many people, though. I can see that the group itself loves the name, however. Thanks for sharing the interesting information, Catherine.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 4 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Yep I think you have that wrong. If a group were to treat Satan as you suggest then they would have to buy into God. A fallen Angel. You cannot pray to Satan without recognizing from whom he came. It is axiomatic an acceptance of God. Disdain, rejection and hate mean that you believe. You cannot believe in Satan as you lay out and not believe in God. It is fully ridiculous.

      Is Satan the rebellion against God or not? If so then you accept the notion of God. It clearly is not atheistic by theological perspectives and logic.

      Satan has to rebel against something and to put him as a reference of "worship" means you believe in God. You cannot have it both ways. Either no Satan and no God or Satan and a God to rebel against.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 4 weeks ago from Orlando Florida

      Eric Dieker: As I understand it, in Christian theology Satan was an angel who refused to recognize God's authority over him. So Satan is a rebel, but also a free spirit who seeks truth. Satan is not a contrarian because he does not rebel just to rebel, but because freedom is more important than blind obedience.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 4 weeks ago from Orlando Florida

      Larry Rankin:I think the distinguishing feature of cults is that they enforce complete devotion to a charismatic leader. TST wants everyone to think for themselves. It does not seek members in the traditional sense. No sign up button, no dues. It's just there if you want to associate yourself with it. There is nothing "satanic" (i.e. evil) about TST except its name.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 4 weeks ago from Oklahoma

      I really have always had a hard time distinguishing between what is cult or religion. Honestly the only difference I have been able to determine is that religions are cults that have been around longer.

      Philosophically, I think all belief systems are fun to study. Most of them even impart a bit of wisdom if you pick and choose the stuff that's relevant.

      Really fun read. I think it was the COS had a Black Mass in OKC recently. Was a lot of fun to watch how upset it made everybody.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 4 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Very interesting. What an interesting notion to found an assembly of folks on.

      Did I get this right? They use "Satanic" to mean "rebel" or "contrarian"?

      Meaning that their existence is premised on argument with normal folks?

      Seems like that fits in with religion. The Christ challenges us to rebel. And a funny concept of if the world despises you that is all to the good.

      Apologetics and justification is a slippery slope.