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Satanists worship Satan, right? That makes sense, doesn’t it?
“They’re worshiping Lucifer. They’re Satanists,” a talking head on Fox News affirms about the Satanic Temple members, as shown in the new documentary “Hail Satan?”
And that seems... logical. But if you talk to actual members of the Satanic Temple?
"Hail Satan?" follows members of the Satanic Temple, a group founded in 2013, as they protest various social issues around the country, from fighting against the notoriously homophobic Westboro Baptist church to battling Oklahoma and Arkansas state legislatures over monuments of the Ten Commandments.
They call themselves a socio-political counter-movement and they appear to be especially drawn to issues where religious freedom is being repressed.
“The United States was founded, at least on paper, to be a secular country,” Lucien Greaves, spokesperson for the temple, told Oxygen.com in an interview. “Everyone is supposed to be recognized on equal terms. Now we are seeing revisionist history at play and religious freedom is being redefined to mean the ability for a certain group of religious people to discriminate against others that they disagree with. We are seeing the United States trying to be redefined as a Christian nation.”
For example, they pointed out that, despite the fact some assume Christianity is woven into the founding structure of our country, the Ten Commandment monoliths found around the country were actually erected to promote the 1956 movie "The Ten Commandments” starring Charlton Heston, and that the phrase “In God We Trust” has only been featured on paper currency since around the same time.
“What they’re saying is that the first amendment to the constitution should create a level playing field for people of all religions or no religions and that the government shouldn’t take sides,” Charles Haynes, founding director of the Religious Freedom Center, told Oxygen.com. “They are trying to say we want our government to live up to that.”
He noted, however, there are many places in the country where local government has “long favored one religion over another.” Take holiday displays, for example. He said such displays could signal to the public that one religion, “usually Christianity, is the preferred religion of the community. But the Satanic Temple is saying that’s not how the United States is supposed to be.”
So, these Satanists enjoy fighting back against these attempts to make America appear more Christian than it was in the first place, but do they actually believe in the Christian deity Satan?
The short answer is no. The group says they are not theistic.
“When I tell people that I don’t actually believe in an actual, literal Satan, they’re almost disappointed and upset,” America Darling Curl, a Temple of Satan member from Arizona, says in the film. “They don’t like the idea that we’ve taken a religion's villain and made him sort of our champion for rebellion.”
“This is a metaphorical literary construct for the ultimate rebel against tyranny,” Greaves explained to Oxygen.com. “And it resonates for a lot of us who grew up with a Christian culture to have this symbology pre-existing in our mind, and it’s very powerful because it’s something we’ve been exposed to all our lives but now we're atheists who have this as this artistic raw material to set up this as a narrative thread that contextualize our community and our goals.”
He added that obviously Satan was not picked at random and even though they don’t take it literally, it’s still a powerful symbol.
Instead of worshipping Satan, the group has “seven tenets” to morally follow:
1. One should strive to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures in accordance with reason.
2. The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
3. One’s body is invaluable and subject to one’s own will alone.
4. The freedom of others should be respected including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach on the freedoms of another is to forgo your own.
5. Beliefs should conform to our best scientific understanding of the world. We should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs.
6. 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.
7. Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and in thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word.
But is the Satanic Temple actually made up of Satanists? The Church of Satan, who claim they are the true Satanists, say no, proving that there is some controversy between self-proclaimed Satanists over what exactly a Satanist is.
David Harris, Magister at the Church of Satan, which was founded in 1966, told Oxygen.com that the Satanic Temple members are not true Satanists.
“They are a political organization that has appropriated the trappings of Satanism to advance their political agenda,” he said.
Harris claimed there is no real Satanic political agenda.
“The reason there is no Satanic political agenda is there is no unified Satanic political position because you couldn’t get two Satanists to agree on a political issue ever," he explained. "Satanism is a religion of the radical individual. What may be politically motivating and/or Satanic to one Satanist may stand in complete opposition to another.”
However, Harris clarified the Church of Satan, like the Satanic Temple, doesn’t believe in a literal Satan either. He said they are a group of atheists who follow the teachings of Anton Szandor LaVey’s “The Satanic Bible” published in 1969.
According to Greaves, the LaVey book has a Darwinist, selfish approach. Greaves told Oxygen.com LaVey labeled his brand of satanism as “Ayn Rand with ceremonial trappings.”
He explained the LaVey “philosophy is very secure in the idea that things like sympathy and compassion were weaknesses and that selfish goals would always win out and that individualistic behavior was kind of divorced, that others falling behind was the natural order of things.”
The Satanic Temple isn't really down with that. In fact, Greaves insisted science proves altruism is an important part of the well-developed mind.
“The Satanic temple is a lot different than that,” Greaves said. “We feel that science has disproved the social Darwinist assumptions and we embrace altruism and pro-social activities."
“It’s not a defect at all,” he said.
Another conflict between the Church of Satan, which claims they are the real Satanists, and the Satanic Temple is the Satanic Temple’s tax exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service. Greaves provided a copy of that status, which was approved in February. It means that the temple is exempt from federal income tax just like most churches.
Harris, however, said Satanists do not believe in tax exemption because they, the Church of Satan, firmly believe in the separation between church and state.
“We’ve been eligible for it since 1971 and we have turned it down,” he said. ‘Because we believe that churches should be taxed and taxed to the fullest. We have literally put our money where our mouth is, our entire existence, and paid our taxes.”
An article written earlier this year by Greaves states, "The Satanic Temple dismisses the Church of Satan as irrelevant and inactive."
"The Church of Satan dedicates a good deal of time offering disparaging commentary against The Satanic Temple’s activities on the assertion that 'true Satanism' is apolitical, and whether or not they agree with any of our positions, they object nonetheless to what they see as a misappropriation of Satanism," he wrote. "In doing so, they fail to delineate the clear philosophical differences between the two organizations, and many people are unaware that the beliefs of the two aren’t merely interchangeable."
Regardless of whether or not the Satanic Temple are considered “real Satanists,” this group of self-proclaimed Satanists, which currently has over 100,000 members, said they have more antics in store for America.
Greaves wouldn’t be specific, but he told Oxygen.com, “People can expect more of the same from us and a lot more of the same for some time.”
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