Why might members of the Satanic Temple find it easier than Christians to follow some teachings of Jesus? The answer lies in their sacred values and rules.
Many Christians believe that the most dangerous enemy of their religion would be a follower of Satan. But sometimes Christians are their own worst enemy—even with Satanists in the mix.
Christianity’s Battered Brand
This fall, Christianity’s brand has been battered, not by Satanists but by the behavior of Christians themselves: Catholic corporations headed to the Supreme Court, trying yet again to prevent women from preventing pregnancy. U.S. Presidential Candidate Ben Carson declared on biblical authority that the Egyptian Pyramids were actually built to store grain. The Mormon hierarchy issued a formal ruling that baptism and temple initiation (including protective undergarments) would be denied to children of gay couples. Christianists in Houston defeated gender equality legislation by whipping up fear of cross-dressing men lurking in women’s bathrooms. And research went viral showing that children from secular homes are more generous, less prickly and less punitive than children raised under Christian and Muslim parents.
For those who think that Christianity a fount of love, one of the more ironic images of the fall was that of Christian football fans loudly jeering a small group of Satanists who quietly tolerated their hostilities or, in the words of Jesus, “turned the other cheek.”
The encounter occurred during a Washington conflict over prayer after high school football games. Some students thought that if Christians got to pray at midfield, others should have the same right, and they invited members of the Satanic Temple to their game. That made some Christian students unhappy.
Lilith Starr heads the Seattle chapter of the Satanic Temple, which eschews all forms of supernaturalism but sees Satan as a timeless icon “for the selfless revolt against tyranny, free & rational inquiry, and the responsible pursuit of happiness.” Starr describes her experience at the football game: “They were screaming at us and some were throwing water. We were really there to support the students who had invited us, but as those students were escorted through the crowd someone was yelling, ‘Dyke!’ and ‘Everybody hates you’ at them. We met the students and hugged them, but we didn’t really want to distract from the game. That was their last home game. So at that point we decided to leave.”
Seven Tenets vs. Ten Commandments
Skeptics have questioned whether the Satanic Temple is real religion or simply smart political theater but founder Lucien Greaves insists it is genuine, citing other religions that lack supernatural beliefs. According to Starr, she and fellow practitioners are simply living according to Satanic precepts.
The Satanic Temple, which is based in Massachusetts but has approximately 20 chapters across the U.S., lists their seven fundamental tenets as the following:
- One should strive to act with compassion and empathy towards all creatures in accordance with reason.
- The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
- One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.
- The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo your own.
- Beliefs should conform to our best scientific understanding of the world. We should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs.
- People are fallible. If we make a mistake, we should do our best to rectify it and resolve any harm that may have been caused.
- Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word.
Anyone who is familiar with the Ten Commandments will immediately recognize that these seven tenets offer an easier path to equanimity than do the famous Ten. The first of the Ten Commandments—Thou shalt have no other gods before me–asserts the primacy of a single deity rather than the primacy of compassion and empathy. It prescribes competition between religious worldviews–the very antagonism expressed by Christian students in Bremerton and Christian callers from across the country.
By contrast, the seven tenets emphasize positive, pro-social values rather than bad behaviors to be avoided. They largely express egalitarian values that transcend tribal boundaries, in contrast to the Ten Commandments, which endorse the view that women, slaves, and livestock are possessions of men. They invite inquiry rather than certitude, and individuality over tribalism.
Compassion, Acceptance, Meditation
I asked Starr what attracted her to the Satanic Temple. She said that she first became familiar with Satanism through a relationship that has since grown into a marriage. At the time she and her husband met, she was struggling with addiction:
Maybe because he was a Satanist or maybe because he was a good person, he was extremely honest and accepting. He didn’t make judgments; he just loved me for who I was. When that happened, I vowed to live a sacred life. I didn’t believe in God, but I vowed to engage in a sacred practice.
Starr’s leadership in the Seattle Temple is part of that practice. She also says that she was formerly a student of Zen Buddhism and still sits for meditation daily. She sees parallels between compassion as the highest value of Buddhism and that same focus in the Satanic Temple, and in fact has laid out this and related values in a manifesto of sorts at the beginning of her book, The Happy Satanist: Finding Self-Empowerment. “I believe that every human being on this planet deserves love, compassion and connection, regardless of their race, religion, class, sexual orientation, gender, or any other meaningless category beyond ‘human being’. . . . I believe compassion and working together will get us much further than judgment, shame and fear.”
If Lilith and fellow members of the Satanic Temple are representative, the greatest threat to Christianity from Satanism may simply be this: that self-proclaimed followers of Satan come across more sane and kind than self-proclaimed followers of Christ.
Perhaps Christians should consider upgrading from a set of 10 Commandments that were written in the Iron Age to a better set. It might do wonders for Christianity’s public image—and for their ability to follow the teachings of Jesus himself.
Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org. Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including AlterNet, Salon, the Huffington Post, Grist, and Jezebel. Subscribe at ValerieTarico.com.