I've been a member of the Church of Satan for a long time, and have spent a lot of time in analysis of Satanism itself. Here's my summary of the weakest points of modern LaVey Satanism, including theological and sociological concerns. The latter half of the essay contains some counter arguments and proposed new directions.
One of the weakest points of modern Satanism, also one of strongest points, is a general over-emphasis on materialism and a lack of dogma. The actual theology present in Satanism is quite low once you get beyond a few statements such as the infamous Satanic Bible passage:
“There is no heaven of glory bright, and no hell where sinners roast. Here and now is our day of torment! Here and now is our day of joy! Here and now is our opportunity! Choose ye this day, this hour, for no redeemer liveth!”
The theology that does exist, for example the Four Crown Princes of Hell, the Infernal Names, Self Worship: These are to a large extent more of a matter of linguistics and terminology than real theological statements. Even the Demonology is allegorical post-modern, counterculture sociology.
So there is potential for committed scholars to shun Satanism, because of the lack of material to study. There is something lacking in Self-Worship... something a bit too self-help. It doesn't lend itself to serious or technical attention.
In Deinsen's essay Why I'm not a Satanist, her second point against Satanism covers this non-aspect of Satanism:
“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.”
Included in LaVey's works are personal opinions, jokes, fun, entertainment and then more personal opinions. He found it hard to write long without involving his own interests, past or bias. And these show through in his approach and writings about women. Anton LaVey's upbringing in the 40s and 50s lent themselves to an older, more traditional view of women. Although a freethinker who shattered convention and lived far beyond the cumbersome social taboos and limitations of his time, Anton appears to have shed little of the 50s slightly misogynistic attitude.
He broke through in some areas, such as women pro-power and beliefs that Women should be no less cunning or manipulative than any man. But he couldn't seem to separate his tastes from his work. So some of his writing on women makes me cringe a little. The Satanic Witch contains radical and unheard-of advice, which was 20 years ahead of its time, but some of the underlying assumptions have become dated. I think he wasn't entirely "in touch" with women.
No offence to those that actually agree with his many wise words... if we all agreed with each other we wouldn't be Satanists!
Once again I quote Deinsen, a paragraph from her "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.”
Deinsen perhaps hit on a point here without fledging it out fully. The Alien Elite is a Satanic concept inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche's "Superman" principal. That there are born natural leaders, and these people can appear at any point in any culture. A reason d'etre is to try and develop yourself to transcend your own culture to reach a state of Alien Elite. But this can be done without Satanism... to those who it is natural. Satanism as a religion has potential to defeat itself in modern society.
As religion becomes more of a fringe, as philosophy, materialism and Quantum-Physics inspired mysticism become the only acceptable forms of faith in society, religion is becoming viewed as both out of date and irrelevant to modern ideas. The modern secular movement is not concerned with religion to such as extent that in barely pays it any attention, not enough to even oppose it. Satanism is founded on the hypocrisy and ridiculous assumptions of other religions, like the alien elite are only elite as long there exists a mass of sheep who remain on the right hand path. Without lesser religions, Satanism loses its rebellion.
There is a real risk that in modern society, Satanism can lose its edge. Superseded by the carnal materialism that in the beginning founded it!
The strong anti religious feelings that are no doubt a result of having the seventy seven infernal names on your personal roll call are sometimes overwhelming to the point of ignorance. This is when you attack and slander religion, because you dislike it, but fall into the trap of making increasingly sweeping statements about religions and appear ignorant, hateful and defensive. Satanism in particular lends itself to this; in calling on the Demons and Devils of history, we can forget ourselves. Getting carried away with an anti-religious stance results in stupid behaviour.
Satanism sometimes seems specifically anti-Christian, not anti-much else. In theory Satan represents the enemies of all gods from all religions. But in practice the majority of Satanic parody is aimed at Christianity. There are reasons for this... mainly it is because mockery and parody are instinctive reactions to aggression from white light religions. Christianity is most certainly the most offensive religion. The amount of attacks Satanists receive from Christians far outnumber all attacks from adherents of other religions. I've received hundreds upon hundreds of angry, offensive and aggressive emails from Christians... but I have yet to receive one from a Hindu or a Jew... etc. (2003 Feb 22: since writing this, I have actually had one from the Hare Krishnas).
Owing to Christianities ignorance and intolerance of Satanism, Christianity is the most reviled religion and is therefore parodied with more frequency than other religions. I hear the same thing from adherents of all religions. Muslims, Pagans, Pantheists and Atheists all have the same complaint: That Christianity is their only major aggressor. So to some extent non-Christian religions are seen as allies against a common foe, a numerically superior and infantile bully.
Although these reasons exist, the symptom is that Satanism and its imagery is overly anti-Christian.
The presence of spiritual dogma, or theology, is the weakest point of Buddhism. Buddhism which is otherwise a very practical, inspiring and self-help religion is hindered by its belief in reincarnation, in mystical karma and other elements. Satanism, I believe, is right to refrain from making such sweeping assumptions. Self Worship is enough, and is as far as you can go before you start making things up about what is real and what is not.
The future does not look good for personified gods, whether they wear red capes or halos. Can Satanism survive without lesser religions to use as strawmen?
Satanism has potential to survive where other religions falter; for science and secularism is no threat to its philosophies or lifestyle. Anton LaVey, as I pointed out in agreement with Rev. Deinsen in point one, has a deeper understanding of Human Nature than to allow Satanism simply to fall by the wayside in the face of an uncaring secular advance.
With the lack of religion there is a void. People need dogma; they need to be told what is what. Even the natural born individualists needs to have a reprieve from eternal alienation. People can't survive in a healthy state without habits, releases from thought. Plain and simple, people need games. They need sport, computers, hobbies. Something they just "do". In the absence of religion, there is a certain void. A need for devotion to the unknown, and a generic faith in "everything" still exists.
Satanism will continue to fill that void in people's little hearts. It allows one to make strong, dominant, dogmatic statements. They feel good. Self help with an evil twist! It allows faith in yourself; but not in a mere atheist Human Potential way but in a dogmatic, aggressive and cathartic way, a religion that fulfils people's needs without attacking the ego. Satanism retains imagery and power and lots of things that the new mundane society lack. Our Patron Saint has always moved with the times! Satan gets the best lines.
Compared to Judaism, Christianity and Paganism, Satanism has a quite shallow view of theology and gods. There is not much to study, no verses to learn off by heart, no sprawling astrological charts of orders of angels to drool over. So what does that scholarly Satanist study?
There are many things. More than initially meets the eye. The Satanic Bible is stuffed with references, mostly unexplained and unhighlighted, to schools of thought and philosophies.
There is Demonology, the histories of the (literally) hundreds of pro-Satan groups throughout history, all the ways in which they interacted. Looking at famous Satanists is revealing... such an eclectic bunch of people! Surprise after surprise! It's a sociologists' nightmare and a never-ending puzzle of characters and clubs! Satanic history is very rich.
The philosophies of the left hand path, materialism, objectivism can all be studied. The deeper you look, the more it all comes together. There is no lack of links or shocks. The sciences are fully embraced by Satanism, the philosophies of Nietzsche, the university of life; there are endless avenues to real-life-based studies to be indulged.
The more I research, the more The Satanic Bible makes sense. When I first read The Satanic Bible, portions of it appeared to be barely coherent. Odd words... strange ways of phrasing things. References and words I didn't understand. Age of ice... age of fire... the Demons in North, South, East and West... the Enochian calls. But with time it makes more sense. If Anton LaVey explained what he was talking about thoroughly, the Satanic Bible would be ten times its present size. But that is not his job! It is our job to continue the research. And again and again it comes back to the Satanic Bible!