Without exception, the people I’ve met who consider themselves Satanists in the tradition of Anton LaVey are some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. They tend to be ethical, intelligent, confident, honest, powerful, and nice…ooops…I mean evil! And a read through the Satanic Bible is enough to convince critics and skeptics alike that Anton LaVey was brilliant (besides being funny and brazen) in his own right. Yet, I still find much to be desired in Satanism and offer the following essay to Satanists and would-be Satanists alike as an honest critique.
But first, what I like about Satanism:
1. The Honesty
Satanism is damn honest philosophy. It tells it like it is! Hypocrisy, so rampant in most philosophies and religions, is seemingly absent in Satanism. A true Satanist does not stand for hypocrisy in others or in oneself. A commitment to radical reality is common among Satanists. Satanism is a breath of fresh air in a society so tainted with self-delusion.
2. The Independent Thought
By and large, true Satanists are very intelligent. Satanism requires one to think for oneself and this automatically separates the intelligent from the stupid. Satanists understand the value of independent thought and are able to analyze and choose what to believe and do according to their own values and interests, not those instilled in them by social norms and culture.
3. The In-Your-Face Non-conformity
This one gets me excited. *breathe* The herd mentality of our society that judges books by their covers is not only absent in Satanism, Satanists have practically invented new rules when it comes to independent thought and nonconformity. I love the fact that the average idiot is either offended or afraid of Satanists and their symbols. Satanists, like many alternative cultures and philosophies, unabashedly stands over and against the conforming masses of society while simultaneously challenging them, it just does so more extravagantly.
In a world where people are so often driven to feel ashamed, guilty, or just plain negative about themselves, Satanism offers a key to uplift the individual to new heights of self-confidence, value, and consequently, empowerment. Satanists value themselves and embrace their own power and talents; they not only acknowledge them, they flaunt them. Most people long for the ability to embrace themselves in such overwhelmingly positive terms but cannot and will not. The Satanist can and does… and doesn’t hide it!
5. Ethical but not Dogmatic
Satanism offers a minimum ethical structure and trusts individuals enough to figure the rest out for themselves. This means that the average Satanist must, once again, think for themselves. This generally results in a more well reasoned, sensible, and sophisticated ethical way of life than the average person. Most Satanists are ethical and moral, but not out of guilt or conformity, they are so out of common sense.
6. It’s Just so much more Interesting
Yeah, this is one of my shallow reasons. But one has to admit, it’s much more intriguing and it raises all kinds of brows (and questions) to say, “I’m a Satanist” rather than some other anticipated response. It’s unusual and unexpected. I gather most Satanists dig this too.
7. A Sense of Purpose
I suppose this isn’t really unique to Satanism, but I do appreciate the fact that Satanism gives people a sense of meaning and provides something “worthwhile” to rally behind and support. All humans need something to believe in or we become apathetic and lethargic. Satanism lights a fire of passion!
My Criticism of Satanism:
1. Satanism is Reactionary
The fact is, the best philosophies are developed out of the embrace of something positive, not out of reaction to something negative. But Satanism is overwhelmingly reactionary. The “reactionary factor” is evident even in the name of “Satanism.” Satanism is a reaction to the hypocritical, stupid, tired, weak, boring, failings of mainstream philosophies and religions. Rather than developing concepts intrinsic to itself, Satanism gathers its strength and power by feeding off of the weaknesses and failings of other systems of thought. The great pitfall with this is that Satanism can only be as strong as that which it reacts to. Like the Radical Protestants whose power and persuasion relied solely on the evils of Roman Catholicism and later died when the Roman Catholics got their act together, Satanism depends on the ignorance and stupidity of modern Christianity and other white light religions.
If you don’t think Satanism is reactionary, just read a few Satanists’ websites. Many of the authors sound like enraged frustrated teenagers who need a target to pin their angst on and need one now. Satanism provides them an outlet. There are exceptions to this rule, but this is the general attitude I’ve observed.
2. Satanism is Mainly Rhetoric
Related to Satanism being reactionary, Satanism is “philosophy light” and “rhetoric heavy.” Anton LaVey’s greatest skill was that of a rhetorician. Satanism, if one scratches much beyond the surface, proves to be intellectually shallow. There’s just not a lot to it. My gut reaction to the SB was, “It’s Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People with an ‘evil’ twist and a large dose of Friedrich Nietzsche thrown in. Satanism gets people motivated, excited, and impassioned - like all good rhetoric. But in the end, it’s not intellectually satisfying as a philosophy in its own right.
3. Satanism is too Dependent on Emotion and Human Ego
Just like Satanism’s forerunners, existentialism and gnosticism, Satanism’s main target is the human ego. Most people are drawn and remain committed to Satanism because it feeds their ego. If you’re told that you’re special or elite or some other warm fuzzy idea when you embrace a philosophy, then you’re more apt to buy into it and be blind to its shortcomings. Satanists thrive on the idea that they’re somehow “the few, the brave, and the proud.” In fact, Satanism uses the same rhetoric that the US Military and religious cults use to win and keep the loyalty of their followers. If your ego needs to be flattered and this need is met in Satanism, then your ability to be rational and have intellectual clarity has been short circuited on some level. This is the problem with all “feel-good” philosophies and religions. Like a habit one can’t give up, people become dependent on the stroking of their ego and critical thought is sacrificed.
4. Satanism Misunderstands Independence
People need people. Many of us wish it weren’t so because people have let us down, but the fact is, no man is an island. Satanists’ claim of godhood denies this fact which is fundamental and necessary to humanity. This is one area where Satanists seem unable to face reality effectively. While individuals do in fact have much more power and potential than most ever acknowledge or realize, no one is independently god or independently powerful. In fact, you can only attain power if people give it to you. And when I say people need people, I don’t just mean in terms of their usefulness, I mean people need the support and care of others. Babies will die if they receive no loving affection, and adults are no different. We all depend on others if we are going to be healthy and productive. Making independent claims of divinity, while it feels good, feeds one’s ego, and has some self-empowering results, leads to a denial of that reality. And denying reality is always a pitfall; those that consistently deny reality will eventually find themselves powerless.
5. Satan is an Unworthy Symbol
When Satanism was developed in the 1950’s and 1960’s in “Christian America,” calling it Satanism had more power and punch because people’s image of Satan was more heterogeneous, ridiculous, and stereotypical. Post the 1960’s hippie movement however, people are more clued in to what Satanists are saying and the title no longer carries the same impact on people (with the possible exception of Christian fundamentalists). That which is based on shock eventually becomes mundane. The Black Mass, for example, has become expected and uninteresting…no longer the subject of newspaper articles or “scandal.” Once again we see that Satanism, by being a purely reactionary philosophy, is dependent on the weaknesses of other systems of thought, or, in the case of the name, on the ridiculous stereotypes people hold of Satan.
And here is where I hold sympathies for Satanists. When “Satan” no longer shocks, one of the most “interesting” aspects of Satanism is lost. Satanism actually needs to grow into larger boots! I think if Anton LaVey were alive today he’d realize his short sightedness. Satanism needs to have the flexibility to change with the times. As our world grows more and more secular, Satanists will be left holding yet one more tired, reactionary philosophy.
I would add that “Satan” has already been given a thorough definition by the world which is not entirely in accord with the Satanist’s definition of Satan. Rather than merely redefining and recreating a “Satan” to one’s own liking as La Vey did, a more appropriate symbol should by chosen. Simple! Obvious!