It appears that the Internal Revenue Service has granted the Satanic Temple (of Salem, Massachusetts) tax-exempt status on the grounds that it is a religious organization. The Satanic Temple was moved to seek tax-exempt status after President Trump’s May 4, 2017 “religious freedom” executive order. In granting the Satanic Temple tax-exempt status, the IRS has expanded the definition of religion to include its antithesis. This is good news.
By its own admission, the Satanic Temple does not espouse a theistic metaphysics. It advocates no supernatural explanations. Nor does it express devotion to the divine. Satan, according to leader Lucien Greaves, is symbolic of rebellion against tyranny. Satan isn’t really real in his worldview (Greaves is an antitheist). However, Christians are taught that the greatest lie Satan ever told was that he is isn’t real. For Christians, Satan is using religious liberty to insinuate himself into public life and the Satanic Temple is a demonic ruse.
Satanists do not worship Satan. Why would they? Satanism is opposed to servility of any sort. Satanism is about free will and individual liberty. It’s about dissent and disobedience. Indeed, in this way, Satanism is the most humanist of religions—which suggests that it’s not really a religion at all. Demythologizing Satan makes this clear. And exposes Christianity as a ruse. Let me explain.
The disruptive force in Eden that convinced humans to disobey God is depicted as a talking serpent of some sort, but has been traditionally understood by Christians to be a manifestation of Satan, the Great Deceiver. Eden is a mythical location symbolic of blissful ignorance, paradise, the state into which God placed the first humans. The serpent persuaded the first woman to eat and share with the first man the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that grew at the garden’s center. God had forbidden eating this fruit, telling the humans it was lethal. The serpent knew this was a lie. He said, “God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will open and you will be like divine beings who know good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). The good-evil fruit is symbolic of both consciousness and conscience, those things that differentiate us from everything else in the universe. God punished the humans by ejecting them from Eden. And Eden vanished.
In Escape from Freedom, the Marxist-Freudian writer Erich Fromm puts it this way:
The myth identifies the beginning of human history with an act of choice, but it puts all emphasis on the sinfulness of this first act of freedom and the suffering resulting from it. Man and woman live in the Garden of Eden in complete harmony with each other and with nature. There is peace and no necessity to work; there is no choice, no freedom, no thinking either. Man is forbidden to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. He acts against God’s command, he breaks through the state of harmony with nature of which he is a part without transcending it. From the standpoint of the Church which represented authority, this is essentially sin. From the standpoint of man, however, this is the beginning of human freedom. Acting against God’s orders means freeing himself from coercion, emerging from the unconscious existence of prehuman life to the level of man. Acting against the command of authority, committing a sin, is in its positive human aspect the first act of freedom, that is, the first human act. In the myth, the sin, in its formal aspect, is the acting against God’s command; in its material aspect it is the eating of the tree of knowledge. The act of disobedience as an act of freedom is the beginning of reason. The myth speaks of other consequences of the first act of freedom. The original harmony between man and nature is broken. God proclaims war between man and woman, and war between nature and man, Man has become separate from nature, he has taken the first step towards becoming human by becoming an “individual.” He has committed the first act of freedom. The myth emphasizes the suffering resulting from this act. To transcend nature, to be alienated from nature and from another human being, finds man naked, ashamed. He is alone and free, yet powerless and afraid. The newly won freedom appears as a curse; he is free from the sweet bondage of paradise, but he is now free to govern himself, to realize his individuality.
Long before Fromm, Ludwig Feuerbach tackles this matter in his landmark work of materialism The Essence of Christianity (1841). “If,” he writes, “my work is negative, irreligious, atheistic, let it be remembered that atheism—at least in the sense of this work—is the secret of religion itself.” Feuerbach exposes what man calls “Absolute Being” and “God” as in fact “his own being.” Christianity tells us that God created humans. On the contrary, Feuerbach reveals, humans created god. “The power of the object over [man] is therefore the power of his own being,” Feuerbach explains. “Thus, the power of the object of feeling is the power of feeling itself; the power of the object of reason is the power of reason itself; and the power of the object of will is the power of will itself.” This is the argument Satanists make and Feuerbach speaks directly to it: “I would rather be a devil in alliance with truth, than an angel in alliance with falsehood.” Or as a Satanist would put it: Servant in heaven; king in hell. (You can read Feuerbach’s heretical tract here: The Essence of Christianity.)
For humanists, morality is a human construct. It is of earthly origin. It was not gifted to humanity by a transcendent will, but emerges from the ground established by human relations. However, at a certain point in man’s historical development, morality becomes regulated by religion and the authority of the state. Self-government and the recognition of human rights are devised by freethinkers as means to escape this tyranny. But, as Fromm explains, amid the conditions of half-freedom, of negative liberty only, humans are afraid, anxious, and insecure, uncertainty pervades their experience with the world, life becomes dread, and in their angst they display a tendency to escape the burdens of freedom. They find comfort in authority, conformity, and obedience. The desire for servility—the felt need for a father figure to take care of them, to tell them what to do, how to think, how to act—lurks in the alienated conditions of which religion is an expression. Servility is an extreme form of wishful thinking. (Sigmund Freud speaks to the problem of wishful thinking in his essay “The Future of an Illusion“). Felt powerlessness becomes a source of all sorts of authoritarian tendencies. It is expressed by a need to confess one’s powerlessness and give themselves over to a higher power. In shāʾ Allāh.
Satanists use the metaphor of Satan, or perhaps more properly, Lucifer, a rebellious angel, to represent the human struggle against fear and tyranny. Why do I say more properly Lucifer? Of the two entities, typically seen as manifestations of the same force, Lucifer is the better metaphor because of the meaning his name conveys. In ancient Judaism, Satan means “barrier.” For Jews, Yahweh places barriers in front of them, the overcoming of which moves the people to a higher plain of existence. Satan is adversity, personified as adversary, not an enemy of God, but a tool God uses to challenge humans to do better. Evil is an instrument, not a interloper. Lucifer is not a barrier in this way; he owes his character of the impact Zoroastrianism had on late Second Temple Judaism from which the Christian cult emerged, where Angra Mainyu, the god-force of evil, enters the world at the moment of creation and battles Ahura Mazda, the god-force of good, until the Great Renovation (see my essay Zoroastrianism in Second Temple Judaism and the Christian Satan). His name is the Latin name for the planet Venus and meanings “morning star” or “shining one” (in the Greek “dawn-bringer”). For Satanists, Lucifer, the light-bearer, illumniates the barriers that hold back human progress—religion being the chief one in their estimation—to help human beings overcome adversity on their own accord (without prayer, supplication, or atonement). And it is for this reason that Lucifer is the nemesis of God.
Christians view Lucifer as evil because he undermines faith in the authority of God. We are fallen, Christians tell us, because the first humans sought divinity for themselves. Because they were tricked by a devil, we live in dirt and pollution—that is, sin. Our salvation lies in submission to God and redemption by the blood sacrifice he gave us in the crucifixion of his only son Jesus. Jesus is the truth and the light, not Lucifer. In his demonstration of devotion to God, Abraham was given a ram as a substitute for his son Isaac. To demonstrate his loyalty to humanity, God sacrificed himself. Christians are taught that Satan works continually to undermine our appreciation of this extraordinary offer in order to capture our eternal souls for himself and drag us down into hell. He does this by sowing doubt—and doubt is the unpardonable sin. But this is still not enough for the Devil. Lucifer is a wicked angel who covets God’s station, seeks to replace God on the eternal throne, to be God.
Overthrowing God and putting man in God’s position—to reduce God to man—is what Feuerbach seeks in The Essence of Christianity. Demolishing religion is what Karl Marx seeks throughout his project to de-alienate human existence (see his “A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of the Right“). In the eyes of the humanist, the struggle between God and Lucifer can be interpreted as a grand metaphor for replacing faith with reason, for elevating man to the exalted station sought by Satan, to become, as the serpent promised Eve, as divine beings.
When I was a child, my father was a Church of Christ preacher. I do not recall ever believing in God, but I do remember being frightened in Sunday school by the underground threat of the Devil. Seeing my fear, my mother told me there was no such thing as the Devil.
But why fear the Devil? Lucifer is the spirit of the Enlightenment. The Counter-Enlightenment—those who wish to limit us in spirit and nature—is the anti-humanist demand that, like frightened children, we rush into the comforting arms of faith-belief, that we subordinate ourselves to a transcendent authority that is really only the alienated creation of humanity, used by the unscrupulous to shape and control us.