Repackaging Satan: Satan Schools, Secularism, Superstition, & Neoliberal Scapegoating

Satan-School

After School Satan

A word of introduction: my recent research—and to a degree my own family history—has of necessity led me to recognize certain practices and philosophies that involve deliberate child sexual abuse for supposed “spiritual” (ritualistic) ends, as in the case of MK-ULTRA and what has become known as Satanic Ritual Abuse. This latter is something I am convinced is real, though the adjective Satanic seems, at least some of the time, to be both superfluous and obfuscating. It’s possible for example that Satanism, in the context of ritualized abuse, is less a belief or a philosophy than a means to trap the attention with the more garish and fantastic aspects of the abuse. This could work both in terms of how this sort of archaic imagery psychologically impacts the victims, and how it then colors their recollections of the abuse, making them sound “beyond belief.” To this extent I am, or try to be, on the fence about Satanism as a set of beliefs, just as I try to be about Christianity. Neither are for me, but this doesn’t mean that they might not work for some people, at least some of the time.

A recent Disinfo article by Jessica Thorne stated that “Satanism’s focus is more on worship of one’s self.” The Thorne piece emphasized the centrality of rebellion to the Satanic credo, along with a Richard Dawkins-like rejection of the supernatural, which Thorne insisted has no place in the exclusively rationalistic religion of Satanism. The article concluded with this statement:

Overall, [Satanists’] mission is to “encourage benevolence and empathy among all people.” So, Satanism isn’t the devil-worshipping black magic occult religion bible-thumpers may lead you to believe, it is just a bunch of people who believe in themselves above all.

The audacious reinvention—or at least repackaging—of Satanism which Thorne’s article partakes of has apparently been successful: The Satanic Temple recently announced the establishment of After School Satan Clubs for children “in public elementary schools across the nation this school year.” According to the ASSC website:

All After School Satan Clubs are based upon a uniform syllabus that emphasizes a scientific, rationalist, non-superstitious world view. While the twisted Evangelical teachings of The Good News Clubs “robs children of the innocence and enjoyment of childhood, replacing them with a negative self image, preoccupation with sin, fear of Hell, and aversion to critical thinking,” After School Satan Clubs incorporate games, projects, and thinking exercises that help children understand how we know what we know about our world and our universe.

The ASSC makes it clear it is not advocating for religious teaching in schools, but only acting to  correct “an environment in which one religious voice enjoys the exclusive benefit of delivering its teachings to the children.” Its aim is “to ensure that plurality and true religious liberty are respected.” As such, the ASSC program of The Satanic Temple seems to have come about expressly as a reaction against the preponderance of Christian Good News Clubs in US schools. The Satanic Temple is

not interested in operating After School Satan Clubs in school districts that are not already hosting the Good News Club. However, The Satanic Temple ultimately intends to have After School Satan Clubs operating in every school district where the Good News Club is represented. . . . To be clear, the pre-existing presence of evangelical after school clubs not only established a precedent for which school districts must now accept Satanic groups, but the evangelical after school clubs have created the need for Satanic after school clubs to offer a contrasting balance to student’s extracurricular activities.

After School Satan Clubs are “operated by local chapters of The Satanic Temple by volunteer members who have been vetted by the Executive Ministry for professionalism, social responsibility, superior communication skills, and lack of criminal history.” According to its website:

The mission of The Satanic Temple is to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense and justice, and be directed by the human conscience to undertake noble pursuits guided by the individual will. Civic-minded, The Satanic Temple has been involved in a number of good works including taking a stand against the controversial and extremist Westboro Baptist Church, working on behalf of children in public school who have been subject to corporal punishment and more. . . . The Satanic Temple (TST) facilitates the communication and mobilization of politically aware Satanists, secularists, and advocates for individual liberty.[1]

 

Scientific Rationalism Advocates 

spacesatan

This latest mainstream manifestation of the “satanic” has lead me think about how Satanism is probably the least defined and least understood of all religions, and about just how little we know of its practitioners. This present campaign, for example (and possibly The Satanic Temple too), seems to be more of a secular “stunt” whose aim is to remove religion from US schooling entirely by a soft form of “terror” tactics: if you want to allow religious coercion of your children, this is what you get. If so, then The Satanic Temple isn’t actually made up of satanists but atheists for whom Satanism is the closest they can get to a religious position, namely, one that is opposed to the dominant religion. One problem with this stance is that Satanism is a religion or else it is nothing at all, just a stunt. Another problem is that it presupposes the total irrelevance of religious symbolism, an assumption which flies in the face of thousands of years of history in which religious symbolism and belief in it have been one of the primary driving forces behind human behavior. If we rule out the purely instinctual drives, then it has probably been the primary one.[2]

So it is unclear, to me at least, whether these satanists worship Satan, or whether they only worship scientistic rationality and “Satan” is a jokey symbol for that preference. Perhaps is it both, or sometimes one and sometimes the other? Or, as I think was the case with the much-revered Aleister Crowley, perhaps they claim to be approaching the subject scientifically and rationally when in fact they are being driven by the same kind of religious fervor which they profess to despise in evangelical Christians?

Returning to the ASSC website:

Satanism is a religion that endorses scientific rationalism as our best model for understanding the natural world. Just as a moral sense of altruism exists independent of any religious construct, scientific rationalism is the best method for understanding our physical universe, regardless of what religion we identify with. A religion need not make exclusive claim to a value, ethical principle, or practice, to advocate its advance.

This is a very peculiar, and peculiarly brazen, contradiction in terms, for if Satanism as a religion endorses scientific rationalism then how, exactly, is it a religion, and what does it have to do with Satan (who is obviously not a scientific or a rational proposition)? Why not simply called it Scientific Rationalism? The answer, I think, has to do with the fact that, while Satanism may endorse scientific rationalism, and even practice it to some degree (and maybe even worship it), it is not 100% restricted to it. There are aspects of Satanism (those that have to do with Satan!) that surely don’t come under the banner of scientific rationalism? Or is it not safe to say that Richard Dawkins is unlikely to come out as a Satanist anytime soon, unless it be in the nudge-nudge, wink-wink style of the ASSC video.

 

An Unholy Inquisition: Is Satanism the Neoliberal Religion?

So what is with that video anyway? It seems to present Satanism as a scientific rationalists’ way of thumbing their noses at the silliness of Christian credulity. But if it’s a joke, what’s the reasoning behind it? Obviously The Temple of Satan isn’t aiming its campaign at Christian parents because there would be no point. If the video is aimed at Christians at all, it seems meant to fan the flames of moral panic, in the hope of making them react exactly as the Satanists want people to see Christians: as humorless hysterics who see devils hiding behind every artifact of neoliberal modernity. For the neoliberal, atheist parents, the video is a joke they can laugh with. It seems to be saying, “Look how silly those Christians are and look how we can make fun of ourselves, how wrong they are about us! Satanism is the opposite of this stupid, spooky, religious stuff, and it’s loads of fun too!”

Okay, but: if The Satanic Temple is sincerely using Satanic imagery in this video, and maybe even Satanic principles in their quasi-religion, to show people how silly Evangelicals are and to prove that rationalism conquers all, then I think they have made a leap of faith easily as audacious as belief in the Virgin Birth or the Holy Trinity. The images, words, and beliefs which make up the body of Satanism, old and new, have to have come from somewhere. It doesn’t matter whether it gets called the archetypal realm, the hidden dimensions, or the collective unconscious, whatever this reservoir of human experience actually IS, it’s immeasurably older, deeper, and vaster than the flimsy veneer of scientistic rationalism or secularism that’s being promoted by the Satanic education agenda. So to use these symbols believing they will only resonate with stupid, credulous people is to dismiss practically the entire body of humanity prior to the past few decades as stupid and credulous and beneath serious, scientific-rationalist consideration.

Scientific Rationality Advocates want to shut the lid on humanity’s “superstitious” past, which would include our shared ancestry and a large portion of our unconscious life. Trying to argue this to the SRA-ers maybe futile, however, because I am not sure terms like the past, ancestry, or unconscious life have any meaning to the neoliberal rationalist “set.” Strangely, the ASSC presents Satanism as a kind of politically correct, neoliberalist religion for anyone interested in real progress; and yet Satanism in its pure form is anything but divorced from our primal origins. It celebrates carnal desire and places man among the beasts, albeit, in agreement with the Neoliberal perspective, at the evolutionary apex. What makes this modern neoliberal übermensch so persuaded of hir superiority over the ancestors and other animals? The conviction that scientific rationalism is somehow a less superstitious, faith-based set of beliefs than the beliefs of their ancestors. Which is probably what human beings have always believed, as they struggled to divorce themselves from the past through the assertion of a belief in Jehovah, Christ, Newton, Marx, or “individual freedom,” or whatever was the current “enlightenment” of the time.

This politically correct new form of “secular” Satanism wants to dismiss religious beliefs as atavistic delusions that any thinking person ought to be able to move past once and for all, simply by deciding to do so. This is like telling a lifelong drunk that all he has to do is make up his mind to stop drinking. It’s puerile, and, like dismissing a thousand generations of ancestors as superstitious idiots, it’s the very opposite of an empathic approach to our shared human experience.[3] A person becomes an alcoholic not through rational choice but because of factors in their past that compel them to act self-destructively at an unconscious level. A person adopts a set of beliefs at the same level, if not for the same reason, which means that, at base, all belief is “religious” belief, and that one man’s idea of rationality is always going to be another man’s idea of dementia. Whatever’s being stirred in the unconscious by the imagery in the ASSC video, or by the “barbaric” names of Satan, Lucifer, Beelzebub, and so on, drives people into real forms of behavior that have real consequences, exactly as Christianity does. It is also generally the same sorts of pathological behavior which Satanism Redux seems committed to eradicating though its Unholy Inquisition.

Jasun Horsley

Jasun Horsley

Existential detective. Liminalist author. Movie autist in chronic confessional mode. You only think you don't know who I am.
Jasun Horsley