"Seek not the good in external things. Seek it in thyself." - Epictetus

The pseudo-Satanism of The “Satanic” Temple

It isn’t particularly new or radical to criticize a Satanic organization. Condemnation of the supposed evils of “devil worship” and “ritual abuse” has been low hanging fruit for self-appointed morality police since the Satanic Panic was in full swing. I myself am a Satanist, and this article is not a denunciation of the religion or the many organizations that claim to represent it. It’s merely an attempt to bring to light the questionable and inauthentic attributes and practices of one supposedly Satanic organization in particular – The Satanic Temple. 

The TST was formed in 2013 by Douglas Mesner (aka Lucien Greaves) and Cevin Soling (aka Malcolm Jarry). The two met in 2012 at a faculty club function at Harvard University. Mesner was purportedly motivated to form the organization after George W. Bush established the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, which made faith-based groups eligible to participate in federal social service programs. The office was rightly criticized for running circuitous loopholes around the separation of church and state, and Mesner relished the irony of having a Satanic organization apply for funds, remarking on how it would compromise the political aims of the program.

By January of the following year, the TST was a reality, and since then, has reportedly amassed around 700,000 members. Though statistics from the Pew Research Center state that this places them ahead of Rastafari in terms of adherents (and just under Unitarian Universalism), it’s not clear if the TST’s reporting of registered members is accurate, and I remain doubtful of their claim. Regardless, for many in the U.S. who are even privy to the fact that Satanism as an organized, codified religion is a thing, in their eyes the TST and its tenets have become synonymous with the belief system. There are several reasons why the TST does not represent true Satanism, and why it is little more than a cleverly assembled theatrical group of political activists.

We can firstly conclude that the organization and its members are not practitioners of any form of spirituality; this isn’t something they hide, as they identify as atheists. Satanism, however, is an inherently spiritual religion, rooted in ritual and worship, and this cannot be arbitrarily altered simply because someone wishes it not to be true. Truth, whether material or spiritual, is objective and immutable.

Next, we can examine the organization’s “Seven Fundamental Tenets” to see how elements of true Satanism become appropriated and convoluted in order to form the substratum of partisan sociopolitical ideology. The first tenet states, “One should strive to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures in accordance with reason.” While this is an incredibly generalized, facile, and impractical ideal (is it reasonable to treat a remorseless killer with compassion and empathy?), the real problem is that there isn’t anything inherently Satanic about it. Neither in religious scripture nor in historical or mythological literature does any figure associated with any iteration or archetypal manifestation of Satan act compassionately toward all creatures. It would be fair to say that there is plenty of precedent to associate the Satanic/Luciferian archetype with knowledge, wisdom, rebellion, and antagonism, but not compassion or empathy. This tenet is an example of the TST attempting to perform mental gymnastics to assign attributes that are incompatible with the belief system they claim to represent.

The second tenet states, “The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.” Here yet again we see very loaded terminology, and a duplicitous message, as well. Traditionally, the purpose of laws and institutions in Western society were to uphold justice, but this tenet seems to argue that justice is more of an abstract concept that stands apart from such foundations. It’s socially poisonous rhetoric, of course, as it sends people down the slippery ideological slope of thinking that the existence of unjust laws would serve as grounds for the abolishment or rejection of law and order. Once again, “the struggle for justice” (justice for whom? what kind of justice?) has nothing to do with Satanism, which has no bearing on such matters.

According to the third tenet, “One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.” I take no issue whatsoever with this, and it lends itself well to the philosophical Satanic credo of self-worship. This, of course, very much is inherently Satanic; the Luciferian archetype, after all, refused to serve the highest deity and would exalt himself in God’s place. Of course, this particular tenet of the TST happens to tie in with their stance on reproductive rights, which – again – is a moral, social, and political issue, not a matter of spirituality.

The fourth tenet states, “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 one’s own.” In theory, this is a nice ideal, but once more, it isn’t particularly Satanic. You can, unfortunately, be a terrible person who violates or limits another person’s freedom, and you can still be spiritually Satanic at the same time. Being a Satanist does not make you a good or bad person – this is something that must be reconciled within the heart of an individual, regardless of what religion he or she practices.

Moving on to the fifth tenet: “Beliefs should conform to one’s best scientific understanding of the world. One should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit one’s beliefs.” Well, I can get behind the second part; indeed, established science should not be muddled or disputed. When this tenet states, however, that beliefs should conform to scientific understanding, this becomes simply impractical for the spiritual Satanist who has had genuine supernatural experiences, and to force oneself to disbelieve what they’ve witnessed firsthand in order to conform to established science is a case of putting the cart before the horse. For an organization that is expressly non-spiritual, of course, they would not see it as such.

The sixth tenet says, “People are fallible. If one makes a mistake, one should do one’s best to rectify it and resolve any harm that might have been caused.” Well, this is a basic human ethic and most reasonable people would support it. I’m still not sure why on earth this is a tenet of a supposedly Satanic organization or why they feel the need to go out of their way to highlight this.

And finally, the seventh tenet says that “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.” This is pretty much idealistic word salad with an undercurrent of virtue signaling. Like a broken record, I must reiterate: There is nothing Satanic about this.

Here I’ll insert a bit of my perspective. I wouldn’t be surprised if the TST was devised by some government-funded think-tank as a means to attract young people who feel disenfranchised or marginalized, and mobilize them to a particular political cause. The organization has consistently engaged in activism and theatricality since its inception, and has done nothing of spiritual significance. Its registered members almost exclusively identify as left-wing. True Satanism, having little bearing on collectivist, material issues, is above and beyond politics, and an adherent can just as easily be a conservative, an anarchist, or altogether apolitical – it simply does not matter in relation to Satanic spirituality. The TST operates with political action that falls directly in line with left-wing goals, and as it’s so clearly a core component of their organizational activity, that really ought to be one of their seven tenets, instead of the banal, milquetoast ideals that their website lists.

This isn’t only my opinion here. I feel that there are several reasons why the TST was secretly conceived of as a political machine; a way to indoctrinate and manipulate alternative or countercultural youth, as well as a way to make money. As one writer put it, the TST is “an organization fundamentally structured to control and extract the free labor of members that its owners can profit off of without those owners having any reciprocal accountability to members, including telling them the truth.”

What is that truth? Well, the truth is that the organization has been blatantly hypocritical since the very beginning. A look at the 2013 version of its official website has them claiming to represent Theistic Satanism (!), going so far as to mention commitment to a “Dark Lord,” and acknowledge “Satan’s primacy in the corporeal world.” Strangely contradictory with their current atheistic stance and their advice for those looking to sell their souls to Satan to “look elsewhere.” It’s also true that much of the leadership is composed of hired actors pretending to be true believers, with aspects to this even being outlined by former member Shane Bugbee. And it’s also true that The Satanic Temple was first intended to be a mockumentary, with its initial “leader” (not Mesner or Soling) revealed to be a paid actor from New York, hired by a film crew.

The TST has been rooted in deceit and confusion from day one. That curiously theistic iteration of their web page claimed, at the time, that the group was founded by someone named Neil Bricke – first in 2006; this date was later changed to 2012. This was likely meant to poke fun at the actual Neil Bricke, a researcher in Easthampton, Massachusetts who has published articles on supposed Satanic ritual abuse and who has published a newsletter on the subject since 1995. The TST's earlier attempts to make money, by the way, were somewhat less sophisticated, with that old website selling “I Love Satan” pins and Aleister Crowley wall clocks.

A little more truth, if that wasn’t enough: Douglas Mesner/Lucien Greaves was caught on video call disparaging Jews and denying the Holocaust in 2018, noting that it was ‘okay to hate the Jews as long as you were hating observant Jews.’ Former member Shane Bugbee, also on the call, was continuously dropping the ‘n’ word and praising white nationalist terrorist Timothy McVeigh. Does this sound as though it’s in line with their first tenet of striving for compassion and empathy for all? Even its own members are beginning to smell the hypocrisy, with many calling out Mesner for deciding to work with Marc Randazza, a lawyer whose other clients included neo-Nazis and white supremacists; I suppose that would be in line with their second tenet about struggling for justice – it seems that they advocate “justice” for fascists, as well.

So what is The Satanic Temple, really? Is it, as I initially suggested, a way to politicize and mobilize a portion of young people and turn them into programmed activists? Is it one big joke – in line with its mockumentary beginnings – that has been taken too far? Both these things are probably true. Or, it could be a form of controlled opposition – a clever ploy by the religious right to confuse and caricaturize Satanism to such a degree that it is no longer taken seriously, and thus is no longer the societal threat that religious fundamentalists have traditionally perceived it to be. I find this second idea less plausible, but it is possible.

Either way, this is a group that is mired in hypocrisy, deceit, fraudulence, and foolishness. They are classic attention-seekers, with both cultural events and political acts designed to put them in the spotlight, and in the cheapest, crudest, and most imbecilic ways. As a true spiritual Satanist, the idea that people are prancing around in cartoonish costumes and performing PR stunts that are adolescent in mentality…is simply appalling. It’s an outlandish, embarrassing distortion of an otherwise deeply profound and empowering religion.

Though I take issue with the Church of Satan’s views as well, I will quote them here, as their take on the TST underscores my point. The CoS describes the TST’s preoccupation with Satanic aesthetics and nomenclature as “intentional coattail riding. Rather than create distinctive terminology and iconography, these pranksters decided to crib ours, and this creates a giant hole in their joke for anyone looking. Though these days they deny that it’s a joke (as any good jokester should), if they are trying to put their activism first they could be much more effective if they weren’t spending so much time aping and then trying to differentiate themselves from us.”

The CoS also made observations on their supposed membership: “In an interview published on November 22, 2016, the Satanic Temple representatives said, when asked about their membership, that ‘anybody can go to the national site with a simple email address and can sign up for the newsletter and become a member. You don’t even have to be a Satanist, you can just be a strong ally who believes in the political and secular actions without being super stoked about all the aesthetic aspects.’ This makes it evidently clear that the TST admits its members aren’t even Satanists, and should put to bed the notion that they speak for or represent Satanism in any way. It’s more obvious than ever that they are only using the symbology and terminology to get press attention.”

There are many more examples, perspectives, and controversies that I could point out to bolster my argument as to why the TST is neither a Satanic organization nor a just or honorable group, so much so that I may write a follow-up piece that goes into greater detail. For now, I want to sum up my opposition to them in saying that I resent the appropriation and mockery of my religion. They have every right to do it, of course, and as someone who advocates for freedom of expression, I support this right even as I detest what it allows them to do. For my part, I felt that I had a responsibility to offer clarity on this matter and demonstrate, in objective and empirical form, how and why they are not in line with the belief system they claim to represent. If this article can help a few people to see the TST for what it is and not get suckered into the sham, so much the better.

So, do I have anything positive to say about the TST? Sure. That Baphomet statue is nice.

Watch the video below, in which former member Brian Werner discusses his resignation from The Satanic Temple and what he found ridiculous about it.

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