Derek Murphy writes at Holy Blasphemy:
I went to Skepticon 5 expecting a group of heretics that would get a kick out of my inversed reading of Milton’s Paradise Lost, which claims that Satan is the hero of the story (which was actually the mainstream reading before it became the “mistaken reading”, and is now coming into vogue again by top Milton scholars).
I was surprised to find that Satan makes atheists uncomfortable. Atheists already have a huge image/perception problem, with the religious proclamations that people can’t be good without God and that therefore all atheists are “evil.” Christians already think of atheists as nearly synonymous with Satanists; hence atheists have an uncomfortable relationship with Satanists and don’t want to be associated with the Devil.
Even more so than the term “Atheist”, “Satanist” has an immediately powerful negative connotations. And on the one hand, I definitely think that those people who wish to create a secular political and social force big enough to stand up to religious groups that are trying to make their faith-based beliefs govern the private lives of the rest of us, need to think about how they are perceived because it does impact the message being shared.
But there is still a very good reason to rescue Satan from his eternal cell of automatic-guilt; punished for a crime he was created to commit, as essential to the Christian plan of salvation as Jesus himself, and stereotyped into a boogey-man of evil and terror in order to frighten people into the arms of God.
Why should we give Satan a second chance, a new trial?
Why should we listen to his voice at all?
Because the term Satan is a wall, a barrier, a defense.
Religious people used to use the words “God” or “Holy” or “Divine” to sanctify their beliefs and values, and those terms were unquestionable. Why? can be answered by “Because God said so.” Humanists, atheists and skeptics have trampled this apparent barrier, forging through the taboo protecting sacred topics from inquiry and doubt, and demanding answers through rational discourse. As a result, Christians and the religious have lost one of their most precious defenses – the appeal to the tautology that God and Holy and Divine are automatically synonymous with the term Good – and inviolable, because “Good” is a universally positive statement that no one can disagree with or question.
But the flip side of this same theme is that of Evil, represented by Satan. Christians will call atheists “Satanists”, and atheists have to struggle to prove that they are not evil, they are not Satanists, that in fact they have positive moral values. But strangely, the literary figure of Satan has always represented some of the same values that humanists and atheists champion – like freedom, equality, the right to choice, to representative politics, the right to bear arms and rebel.
Trying to distance itself from Satan, who is actually an ally and forerunner to the movement, a powerful influence on the development of the very values humanists proclaim, is a failed project and appears disingenuous. Atheists are already quick to judge God and remove his protective labels of “Good” by identifying and criticizing the depravity of his actions recorded in the Bible and other literature – why shouldn’t they take the obvious and natural next step of taking a deep and penetrating look at the devil and questioning the common social assumptions concerning his actions? Shouldn’t the religious identification of Satan with evil values automatically lead atheists to question its validity and predict that Satan – as the polar opposite of the God they deny – represents the values that they hold dear?
Instead, atheists and Christians alike continue to condemn Satan as evil and allow the traditional stereotype that he is a liar, untrustworthy, sinful, etc. to stand. But if our society agrees universally that Satan represents negative values, isn’t it all-too-easy for everyone to continue making the counter association between God and Good values? Somehow Satan, God’s nemesis and opposite, has been completely cut off from the moral discussion concerning belief in God, and while God’s virtuousness and existence is being challenged, Satan’s deviousness is not.
Read more here.