Will the campaign for religious freedom backfired on Christians?

Satanism v Hobby LobbyA majority of people do not typically know very much about Satanism. In fact, one could go so far as to suggest that most Christians have either no knowledge about this ideology, or a highly-distorted perspective.

Recently, The Satanic Temple which, “believes that the body is inviolable ­­subject to one’s own will alone” (in other words my body, my property) and that health decisions should be “based on the best scientific understanding of the world, regardless of the religious or political beliefs of others,” decided to launch a campaign for women’s rights in response to the SCOTUS ruling on the Hobby Lobby case.

These Satanists contend that the ruling can also apply to informed consent laws. They seek religious exemptions from the counseling, evaluative, and informative processes that are often required for females seeking abortions or medical forms of contraception. Is this the source of another potential showdown?

Whether it is for personal and intellectual curiosity (in the case of the atheist, agnostic, or open minded individual) or simply as a means to know one’s enemy (in the case of the incurable Christian dogmatist) it is necessary that the composition and history of Satanic thought be analyzed in detail.

I. What is Satanism?

The history of Satanism becomes harder to define the further one goes back in time. One can trace some of the roots of Satanist ideology far back to Hindu, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman polytheism as well as to indigenous northern European paganism (southern Celtic, Britannic, Irish, and Norse).

There are two distinct elements within modern Satanism. The first is its obvious origin in Christianity itself (despite its roots, which go back in history before Christianity). Schools of thought, like atheistic Satanism, can, indeed, be seen as direct reactions to the dogma of the church. Theistic Satanism can also be see as this type of reactionary ideology, although this form directly affirms the existence of Satan (Luciferians, of course affirm Lucifer-the “light bringer”) as a real deity with power in the universe.

Individuals, like Aleister Crowley, who was not a Satanist, but who delved heavily into the occult and magickal was the progenitor of much of twentieth century Satanic and occult practice. Crowley facilitated the breaking of taboos and was highly-celebrated in the counterculture of the 1960s. Many prominent figures of the period and the following years, like John Lennon and Jimmy Paige, developed fascinations with Crowley. He can even be seen on the cover of the Beatles’ groundbreaking album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

He became a symbol of resistance, both political and spiritual. During the First World War, Crowley applied for a position with the British Secret Service. When he was turned down (in typical Crowley fashion) he took to writing absurd-sounding propaganda for the German war effort (thus, by extension, making the British war effort look absurd) and publishing in local newspapers.

Anton LaVey, who had studied Crowley’s occult works quite extensively, formed the Church of Satan in 1966. For this reason the church’s calendar counts this as year 1. His branch of Satanism is generally the more mainstream type, often termed as “LaVeyan” Satanism.

Once again, however, there are many different types of groups, ranging from those on the fringe, which often get the majority of negative press (which then extends to all Satanists), and which often do practice rituals involving living sacrifices, to those on the opposite end, which mainly claim to be Satanist in order to make a political or personal point to society at large.

Satanic practice can take many forms. Depending on the other influences on the practitioner’s spiritual life (witchcraft, Voodoo, etc.) the commonly agreed upon practice of ritual generally takes precedence, albeit with a variance from person to person. The high Satanic mass, generally called a “Black Mass” can be understood as a direct ideological inversion of the Catholic mass. This is direct evidence of Satanism as a reaction to the cultural dominance of Christian ideology.

Satan (slightly different than but often equated with the figure of Lucifer) is seen as an “adversary” to God who (in the form of Lucifer) represents man’s quest for knowledge (much like the Greek titan Prometheus). Satan is, therefore, at least in cosmological terms, a “physical” entity.

In Christianity, the physical is often (but not always) understood as separate from god and,  “outside” what is holy. This is often the source of the Christian condemnation of the flesh, a deeply-rooted notion that the further one becomes consumed by the physical (corporeal) world, the further one gets from God.

II. Hobby Lobby and Satanism: A Most Interesting Notion

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The cross of St. Peter

What became clear with the US Supreme Court decision regarding Hobby Lobby is that the veil between personal belief and corporate policy has been breached. Many see this as a gross violation of women’s rights which will only lead to further degradation of individual freedom in the name of preserving “religious freedom.” What the Christian right seems to have neglected to forsee is that “religious freedom” does not only mean freedom for Christians.

If Christians are allowed to demand exemptions then every single religious group must, by legal necessity, be given exemptions. This includes every single religion. Why don’t the Christians go around and ask Pastafarians what they would prefer to “opt out” of?

What if one were to start a religion that is violently-opposed to women wearing clothes, would one’s hypothetical chain of stores then have the right to demand that its female employees no longer clothe themselves while on the job?

What if a store owner, who practices their own particular brand of witchcraft, suddenly demanded that no portion of employee paychecks go to buy certain herbs or crystals due to personal belief? This list can literally go on forever, and the point is quite obvious. This decision has opened a Pandora’s box of possible loopholes and exemptions for any number of religious individuals cunning enough to exploit them.

Satanists never neglect an opportunity to screw with Christian efforts at dominating society. Whether or not their campaign succeeds, it has brought a much-needed perspective to the swirling debate surrounding this issue. When one sees the fracturing religious environment in the United States, especially in relation to the rapid expansion of atheism in American society, many interesting scenarios begin to play out before one’s eyes.

If, say, for example, Satanism became more common, and since its doctrine in most instances is directly opposed to Christianity’s, would Satanist religious freedom in effect act to “cancel out” Christian religious freedom in cases like Hobby Lobby?

Whether or not this notion has any value is up for debate, however, it is certainly fascinating to ponder. The religious freedom of any group must be protected, provided that they do not harm any other individuals. The news stories about Satanists sacrificing animals may hold some truth, however the vast majority of Satanists do not practice animal (or human, for that matter) sacrifice and, indeed, see animals as something sacred. For this reason the greater portion of the Satanist population must be considered to be sincere. The truth is clear and present. Christians have created a monster that may spell their end.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Though a Christian, I consider “the greater portion of the Satanist population…to be sincere” for reasons that are far greater in number and significance than the mere fact that “the vast majority of Satanists do not practice animal…sacrifice.”

    Like atheism, Satanism is more often than not seen in simple and simplistic terms. However, like atheism, Satanism actually has an amazingly diversity and variety of belief forms, some of which creatively draw on prominent historical, philosophical and existential roots. Thus, like atheism, Satanism offers fertile ground for students interested in the comparative side of religious studies.

    Thanks for pointing that out. It is important.

    Quite frankly, this is exactly the type of legal action portended by the Hobby Lobby decision—a non-Christian group rightly is testing the courts to see if it and its adherents will be granted the same guarantees and protections the Court has given to Christians. I have little doubt but that Hobby Lobby will become a Pandora’s Box not generally but specifically; i.e., specifically for those elements of the Christian Community who want to turn what is a rich faith into nothing more than a run-of-the-mill civil religion.

    This will be fun to watch.

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