Why bother with Satanism?

“L’enfer, c’est les autres,” quipped Sartre. Christians disagree. Hell is to be alone, heaven to be with others in love. One might therefore expect Satanists, a contrary bunch, to disagree with the Christians as a matter of principle, and to seclude themselves in haughty isolation from the profanum vulgus. Such was the strategy of old-school Satanists like Anton LaVey. But to judge from the recent and much-hyped BBC encomium to a Satanic Temple gathering in the US of more than 830 people, the new diabolists seem to want their chosen abode to be considerably more populous, as though it were not warm enough without all that extra body heat.

Not, they say, that they believe in such an abode, or even in its master. What they claim to believe in is the removal of religion from the public square, the rainbow flag and all it represents, unlimited access to abortion, and euthanasia. In other words, they want everything secular modernity offers anyway. Which makes me wonder: why do the Satanic Temple’s purported 700,000 members bother with it, when there are already so many other organizations pushing for the same goals?

Some of them are even Christian churches.

If it’s all about the fancy dress, certain Episcopalian and even Catholic clergy are known to wear rainbow vestments very similar to the technicolor dreamcoats the would-be Satanists were sporting at their convention (it seems the goths and rockers have dropped their black garb of yore). Same-sex weddings are authorized in several Protestant churches. Those who wish to discard their names given in baptism can avail themselves of an affirming Episcopalian service of name and pronoun-change (Book of Occasional Services 2018). They could join clergy campaigners for a church service to share the potential “sorrow or joy” of divorce: indeed the Presbyterian Church has offered a “Divorce Ritual” for that very purpose. The General Convention of the Episcopal Church has asserted support for legal abortion at any stage of pregnancy, and a senior Anglican priest has served as President of the National Abortion Federation in the US. Admittedly, I’m not aware of any Christian church who offers the Satanic Temple’s ritual for the overt blessing of abortion, but its therapeutic tone (destigmatization, liberation from guilty feelings) is widely emulated in liberal Christian churches.

Readers may have varied views on the above matters. There are churches which take nuanced positions on such ethical matters and are convinced that they are interpreting the Scriptures in a way consistent with the love of Christ. Many among them are equally convinced that traditionalists who reject their innovations are unloving and unchristian brutes. We differ. So be it. But the question remains: since there are Christian churches that are practically indistinguishable from soi-disant Satanism, why bother with the latter?

One reason may be the Temple’s “unbaptism” ritual, in which the indelible seal of the Holy Spirit is supposedly removed. Those of us who believe in sacramental efficacy would argue that this is impossible, but some people are incensed with their parents for daring to impose their religion on them before they were able to consent. Much, I suppose, as parents imposed their language, culture, values and, rather less easy to shirk off, their genes on them. It is a nostrum of secularists that the impartation of religion is somehow sui generis and can be painlessly excised from the wider panoply of our inherited identities. What they aim for is the complete abolition of inheritance, the denial even of heredity itself, despite their supposed commitments to science, in which biology tends to be a weak point. But in this, they are in company with movements like BLM, who explicitly call for the dissolution of the nuclear family (a pledge which I notice they have now taken down from their home page), and with those gender ideologues who want to “smash heteronormativity.” If all you want is an affirmation of individualism against inherited social mores, you could find several organizations of the likeminded without signing up to Satanism.

One can see how the Rousseauvian quest to shake off the shackles of society would include erasing one’s inherited religious identity, perhaps to make straight the path for the erasure of one’s sex, or even of humanity altogether (q.v. posthumanism). But since these Satanists profess to believe in neither God nor the Enemy, again, one must wonder why they protest so much. Surely, if they are being consistent, there is no body of Christ into which they could be baptized, and no Devil from which that baptism could defend them. If so, then the water of their baptism was no more significant than their first baby bath.

To be fair, certain modern baptismal rites seem to echo the Satanists’ doubts about the existence of their master. The Church of England has reduced the traditional rejection of “the world, the flesh and the Devil” to an optional clause which may be omitted at the baptizing cleric’s discretion. The only rationale for the change seems to be that some secular people visiting church for the first time might find it a bit silly (this is called “pastoral theology”).

Silliness, in fact, may be the answer to the question.

“We think religion is silly, and even the religious people seem to think it’s silly, so let’s respond with further silliness. Let’s camp and glam it up, stick on the horned headband and rainbow COVID mask, get some glitter on and tear a few pages out of that silly old book about that silly old sky-fairy. Let’s write books for children exhorting them to the same. Let’s use silliness to expose their silliness. A bit of kitsch diabolism can’t do any harm. Just a bit of fun. Because the Devil’s not real, after all, is he? Is he?

Cue a mutually reassuring ripple of nervous laughter.

The irony of all this is that these Satanists aren’t really Satanists. They do not want evil. They believe that they are seeking something good. They describe Satan as “a good guy,” “inclusive,” “the one who really loves me,” despite claiming that he isn’t real. I am emphatically not saying that Satanism is not all that bad after all. What I would say, though, is that these people are all seeking something that they think is good. Indeed, back in my liberal and atheist youth at university, I may well have joined them, thinking it all a great laugh. Nowadays, I think that they are very much mistaken in their judgment: but insofar as they are seeking something good, albeit they are in error about what goodness is, they are, by definition, not seeking Satan. They are, albeit unconsciously, trying to orient themselves towards an absolute, definitive good, into which they clearly think they have more insight than Christians. They will not find it where they are looking, but then, the Devil is known to disguise himself as an angel of light.

Some of that false light refracts through the buzzwords these neo-Satanists favor, such as freedom, welcome, happiness, affirmation, community and solidarity. These good things are what they claim to find in the Satanic Temple. The fact that in the Christian communities they were raised, some have instead met hostility or even hatred is an indictment of our churches. We need to understand why they are turning so vehemently against us, and to realize that hating them in return is ungodly. Our concern must be for the salvation of their souls. Condemnation is the Devil’s work, and we must not do it for him. But compassion does not imply complicity or compromise. Even the churches which are in full agreement with the Satanic Temple, the most radical and liberal of all, are failing to entice hundreds of thousands of these people. Not even the tattoos of a Nadia Boltz-Weber are enough to detoxify the Christian brand in their eyes. So, the answer cannot be “more of the same” – whether that is more of the same liberal laissez-faire, or more of the same conservative condemnation. There must be something else.

Part of the answer to this, as to so many matters of ethics and identity, consists in a re-affirmation of what is real, and principally, of the reality of goodness, truth and beauty. The Temple’s so-called Satanism is overtly relativist. This is inconsistent with its appropriation and distortion of motifs of beauty, and with its purported concern for goodness. That inconsistency can be exposed only by Christian churches which have the real thing: truth, goodness and beauty in harmonious unity. The gothic imagery, the ritualism, the Hammer-horror chants the Satanists favor are all parodies, pale reflections of a misunderstood Christian past which sadly, much of the Christian present has neglected. We are now seeing the price of that neglect.

Puritanical suspicion of beauty, sadly reinforced by the polyester-affirming novelties and liturgical abuses unleashed by Vatican II, has severed the very real connection of goodness and truth with worship in the beauty of holiness. Many churches which are now attracting the young are precisely those which emphasize the continuity between beauty, liturgy and the moral life. One might take the rise of use of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer in the US and England, or the growth of young families attending the Tridentine mass, or the burgeoning of Eastern Orthodoxy as examples. While beauty and tradition may not be enough to impart truth and goodness, nothing less than will suffice. To show the hell of godlessness for the cesspit that it really, truly is, our churches must be windows into heaven, into the life-changing reality of God. The existence of the Satanic Temple suggests that they are not.

Reality is the proverbial elephant in the Satanic Temple’s room. The members’ problems will really start when they get the first inklings that contrary to their expectations, Satan is real, and what they thought silliness was true: he really does welcome everyone, in whatever condition he finds them; he really does want us to avoid guilt, and its concomitant repentance; and he really does love us all, in much the same way as I love chicken.

At that point, the fowl may turn sparrow, and seek a home at the altar of the Lord. But a church indistinguishable from the very sect from which they in dread are fleeing will offer little sanctuary, if it still stands at all.

Fr Thomas Plant

Ordained in the Church of England, the Rev’d Dr Thomas Plant is now a priest of the Anglican Church in Japan and chaplain at Rikkyo (St Paul’s) University, Tokyo. He is the author of The Lost Way to the Good and writes on Christian Platonism, Japanese religion and the re-enchantment of the cosmos at frthomasplant.substack.com.

'Why bother with Satanism?' have 2 comments

  1. July 15, 2023 @ 12:55 pm Joe Whitenton

    Absolutely brilliant, witty, and rings so true. Your compassion for lost souls is obvious and admirable. Your call for patience and non-condemnation is absolutely spot on. I’m the result of patient priests like yourself and share the same yearning for the many lost sheep of our day to find what they are truly searching for in Christ. I resonate with your story deeply having for a time in high school during my “free thinking” years, my own copy of the Satanic Bible on my shelf. I never quite got through the whole thing but I pretended I had read it and quite liked the idea of the project. Being a life long metalhead, I’ve always been a fan of gothic aesthetics and ritual. Praise be to God for His rescue of me through priests with real patience and love for souls like yourself and for putting in me in the tradition where those things I was drawn to originally could be fulfilled and made holy. When I became a Christian, the churches of the mainline liberal variety were a stop on the train to orthodoxy for me. To be quite honest, I’ve had the same thought as you as to why these churches even exist if they bless everything the world already blesses. While I’m certain God can still work through them as He did with me, it seems to be a demo version of the real Christianity. La Croix Faith with just a hint of repentance. I think many, many modern people are, just as you’ve said, searching for goodness but woefully confused on where to find it. It’s as if the Church is the last place any of us would ever dare look for truth. Your balance of the real danger they are in with the compassion we should have and the urgency with which we should act is very well-done. May the Lord bless your ministry in Japan, Fr. Thomas. This is a wonderful piece! Where can I find other writings you’ve done?


  2. July 16, 2023 @ 12:52 am Bp. Joseph Boyd

    Excellent article! Thank you, Fr. Thomas!


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