In recent years, there’s been a bizarre spike in media attention paid to people who openly associate with a group called The Satanic Temple. You might wonder, what exactly would prompt someone to want to be associated with what many find synonymous with pure evil?
Well, there’s a key detail that some people might be missing after reading the litany of Satanist-themed news stories that have emerged over the past few years: While many activists call themselves Satanists, a lot of them are effectively atheists.
The Satanic Temple is the group that is perhaps most often cited in news stories for its activities urging the separation of church and state and championing abortion rights, among other issues. On the surface, readers might assume that these individuals are somehow theologically aligned with the devil, seeking to worship the dark side in some overt and flagrant way.
But while the term “Satanist” is eye-catching, diving a bit more into the organization’s purpose and aim makes it clear that its worldview is a lot more “atheistic” or “anti-theistic” in nature. The Satanic Temple describes its aim as follows: “The Satanic Temple (TST) facilitates the communication and mobilization of politically aware Satanists, secularists, and advocates for individual liberty.”
That said, the organization has taken issue with being described as an “atheist activist group,” as the Detroit Metro Times reported.
“We consider ourselves non-theistic Satanists. And a religious organization — that’s a really important distinction that we make,” Jex Blackmore, director of The Satanic Temple of Detroit, told the Metro Times, pushing back against the atheist label it has sometimes been slapped with. “For example, Hindus are sometimes called non-theists. And you wouldn’t call political Hindus activists, or atheist activists.”
Here’s more of what Blackmore had to say on the matter:
“It’s really important in terms of how people understand us. Just as much as we get people who think that we’re into the Biblical concept of Satan, we get people who think that we’re just posing as Satanists, and not truly Satanists or whatever you would say. Non-theistic Satanism is part of modern Satanism. It’s a misconception that we fight a lot that we’re trying to dispel.
If it’s helpful: Atheists don’t consider themselves part of a religion. Non-theists have a religion, but without God. That’s the difference.”
So, while there’s some potential theological hair-splitting going on, one thing is clear: Members of the Satanic Temple do not actively worship the devil as a real-life figure.
In fact, a FAQ area of the group’s website makes it clear that the group rejects “superstition” and, as a result,” does not “promote a belief in a personal Satan.” Instead, the Satanic Temple focuses on rationality and sees the devil as a figure symbolic of rebellion against “arbitrary authority.”
“To embrace the name Satan is to embrace rational inquiry removed from supernaturalism and archaic tradition-based superstitions,” the website reads. “The Satanist should actively work to hone critical thinking and exercise reasonable agnosticism in all things. Our beliefs must be malleable to the best current scientific understandings of the material world — never the reverse.”
As it turns out, Satanism is quite complicated, with a variety of strains — or denominations — emerging over time. Historical Satanism, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, involves a belief and worship of the Judeo-Christian devil and, in turn, a rejection of God. Other forms of Satanism, though, see the devil as a deity unaffiliated with the Judeo-Christian tradition — and still others, such as The Satanic Temple, take a more symbolic approach.
For the belief systems that are “atheistic, agnostic or deistic,” Encyclopedia Britannica notes that “they do not promote or practice evil in any literal sense but may profess extreme forms of individualism and ethical egoism and may reject traditional Abrahamic religions, particularly Christianity, as hypocritical and repressive.”
The Satanic Temple, for example, differentiates itself from LaVeyan Satanism, another form of symbolic Satanism, saying that the two schools of thought differ on “social Darwinist rhetoric,” among other issues.
Confusion might surround The Satanic Temple, though, due to inaccurate perceptions that the group is actively encouraging people to worship the figure of Satan, especially as the organization seeks to install memorials, after-school clubs and kids’ activity books.
The group has also caught attention for advocating for “women’s health,” including the right to abortion, and for offering to perform same-sex marriages.