Religious Pluralism in the U.S. & the Satanic Temple

From Dante’s Divine Comedy to Netflix’s The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, the depiction of Satan has gone through many transformations. In 2013, this figure may have gone through the most refreshing change yet, as the Satanic Temple (TST) took to the streets— and the news. Although TST didn’t create modern Satanism, they’re the leading figures in the conversation surrounding it. Political activists, feminists and, yes, even hosts of after school clubs for elementary students, TST is working towards universal religious freedom and political secularism.

  1. 1. What’s the message of the Satanic Temple?

    Mentioning anything related to Satanism may elicit strange glances in your direction, gasps of horror or pointed lectures from distressed family members. Most of this is due to the ignorance surrounding their beliefs. Although they are not the only form of Satanism and not all groups agree with their beliefs, TST is the most prevalent Satanic group today. The members of TST are active in a range of public arenas—most notable are politics and religious freedom—and have seven fundamental tenets that lay down their core beliefs. They strive to spread a message of goodwill and benevolence while being unafraid to face powerful people that adjust institutions to fit their needs above anyone else’s.

  2. 2. So, do they worship Satan?

    Although they call themselves Satanists, members of TST don’t actually believe in a literal Satan and describe themselves as a nontheistic religious group. According to a New York Times interview, to both co-founders, Lucien Greaves and Malcolm Jarry, Satanism is a way of celebrating being an outsider and looking where other people won’t—at the bizarre. When deciding why Satan of all figures to use as a centerpiece, Greaves says it best in his interview with VICE.

    Our metaphor of Satan is a literary construct…a rebel angel defiant of autocratic structure and concerned with the material world. Satanism as a rejection of superstitious supernaturalism. This Satan, of course, bears no resemblance to the embodiment of all cruelty, suffering, and negativity believed in by some apocalyptic segments of Judeo-Christian culture.”

    Being called a Satanist and a “devil worshiper” has always been seen as an insult, by adopting that title, TST members have taken the power away from the accuser.

  3. 3. What is their main goal?

    Every organization needs a reason for organizing, and even though TST focuses on many issues, political secularism and religious pluralism will always be at the top of their list. Greaves and Jarry decided that due to obvious religious privilege in the United States, a group should be constructed to oppose it. The idea was conceived when then-president, George W. Bush created an organization called, White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (OFBCI). For anyone not familiar with OFBCI, it essentially gave money to faith-based organizations, expanding their reach to local individuals who could benefit from their social services. Controversies included: its apparent encroachment on the Establishment Clause (part of the First Amendment right to religion), and many suspected that Bush—an openly religious man—was using it as an electoral strategy. Greaves and Jarry wanted to create a faith-based organization that met all of the administration’s criteria to receive funds but would dismantle the construct that these funds were only for one type of religion.

    From conception to their sixth year as a fully formed organization, TST has fought continuously for religious pluralism in this country. They’ve filed lawsuits against multiple state governments over their lack of political secularism, namely Arkansas in 2015. This lawsuit followed the Arkansas Legislature passing a bill to allow a Ten Commandments statue on capitol grounds, a violation of the first amendment.

  4. 4. LaVeyan Satanism vs. the Satanic Temple

    Over the years, TST has established itself as the most outspoken and relevant form of Satanism. They don’t take credit for producing modern Satanism, however, leaving that to Anton Szandor LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan (CoS) in the 1960’s. As far as TST’s concerned, that’s where their influence ended.   

    Lucien Greaves, spokesperson, and co-founder of TST has laid down the differences between the two groups on multiple occasions, eventually making a whole page on TST’s website about it. There are a few obvious differences, such as TST’s actively growing while CoS stays latent. Between the two, TST’s the group officially recognized as a tax-exempt church by the IRS. TST fights for secularism in politics, defends reproductive rights and fully supports the LGBTQ+ community—among many other things, while their contender doesn’t.

At the end of the day, nothing about TST’s Satanism is designed to convert people. The group strongly urges everyone, regardless of faith (or lack thereof), to think more critically about the institutions that surround us. If you’re interested in learning more about TST, I strongly urge you to check out Hail Satan? on Hulu and the TST official website.

Images: 12, 3, hero image provided by the author.