(Thanks to Mike B for bringing my attention to this)
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.
Scientific Rationalism Advocates
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.
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. 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.
Debunking the Unconscious
So what does Satanism Redux want to eradicate, and how does it aim to do so? In the simplest terms, Christianity is (supposed to be) about surrendering one’s will to God’s. Satanism is (supposed to be) the opposite of this: the rejection of any power that is not oneself, autonomy, self-determination, and so on. The Christian view of Satanism is as lacking in nuance or complexity as the Satanist view of Christianity (as if there were only one kind!): since Christians can only view Satanism through a Christian lens, they presume it is about worship of Satan as a deity who is competing with their own. At bottom, I guess they’d be right about this, since Satan is a Christian concept that only has meaning or resonance in that context, i.e., in opposition to Christian beliefs. This implies that most, if not all, Satanists are Christians in denial, rebelling against their programming the only way they can: unconsciously. Secular-type satanists, the scientistic, Dawkins-types, for their part, seem to view Christianity through that lens, and only see its contradictions and fanaticism while failing to see the kernel of truth in it, which is that self-worship really IS akin to devil-worship (a destructive path both to self and others), and that true empathy is only possible by surrendering to the greater part of our being, surrendering to the whole of life. Since this greater portion of our being is unconscious, it gets dressed up in religious iconography, which distorts and obscures it, but still points in the general direction of something real. The rationalistic idea of individuality seems to stem from a fragmented, ego consciousness which itself depends on a suppression of our greater being, and so is a form of bondage. “Individual freedom”—a relatively modern concept—seems to me to be a kind of oxymoronic ideal. There may be no freedom for the self, only freedom from (the illusion of) it.
Philosophical speculation aside, one thing seems clear to me: satanists (or Satanists) can only be this brazen, and this effective, in selling their religion to parents because the reality of ritual abuse—and of the psychic fragmentation it causes—has been so well debunked. As I demonstrated in a previous article, ritual abuse is a documented historical reality and has at least some proven overlap with Satanism as a practiced religion. If these are really secular satanists having a bit of a laugh while seriously intending to restore reason to American schools, they are also the sort of people who would scoff at the idea of ritual abuse or that Satanism as an actual religion has anything truly diabolic about it. Would an organization that knows the truth about ritual abuse promote itself in this way unless they were complicit with it, or at least approving of it? Who on earth would want to associate with something that horrific except real (non-secular) Satanists?
It’s ironic to note, then, that the primary selling point of the “Satanism in schools” campaign (bolded on its front page) seems to be “exemptions against corporal punishment & solitary confinement in schools.” This links to another site, that of the Protect Children Project whose declared aim is “First Amendment protection to support children who may be at risk for being subjected to mental or physical abuse in school by teachers and administrators through the use of solitary confinement, restraints, corporal punishment, and bathroom deprivation.” More ironic still, perhaps, though also consistent with rationalism’s blanket denial of the unconscious aspect of human experience, The Satanic Temple’s child-protection campaign includes a dedicated attempt to debunk ritual abuse, trauma-based amnesia, and dissociative identity disorder: by blaming it all on abusive therapists cruelly exploiting patients (including children) and turning them into helpless receptacles for their own twisted sexual fantasies! The Satanic Temple site is linked to sister sites whose goal is to discredit ritual abuse survivor testimony, push false memory syndrome, and write off dissociate identity disorder—and even the whole concept of suppressed memory—as the diabolical fantasies of irresponsible therapists and crazed Christians:
Throughout the 80s and 90s there was a moral panic against Satanic Cults that turned out to be nothing more than a delusion-fueled conspiracy theory. As with the alien abduction phenomenon, therapists were compelling their clients to confabulate false memories under hypnosis. While we now know that this process of creating false memories can be very damaging to individuals and has never been known to draw forth accurate recall, we find therapists still endorsing this practice and even still continuing to spread conspiracy theories related to Satanic cults […] The Grey Faction seeks to expose therapeutic pseudoscience and bring an end to its practice. (Sarah Ponto Rivera quoted at http://greyfaction.org/ Emphasis added)
Another linked site has an interview with Douglas Mesner at the main page about “Satanic Panic,” called “They Should Live in Infamy for What They Have Done”:
Mesner discusses the shameful mental health scandal of Multiple Personality Disorder/Dissociative Identity Disorder — a diagnostic classification that persists in the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association despite being debunked by the best available contemporary empirical evidence, and despite the very evident harmful effects of the imaginary condition’s so-called treatment. Mesner speaks of his own experiences in documenting the pseudoscientific psychotherapeutic subculture of dissociative disorders, and reveals how, at its core, it is a subculture that is driven by, and dependent upon, Conspiracy Theory of the most paranoid delusional kind.
The question of why these delusional Conspiracy Therapists are so driven to infect helpless children with their fantasies—of where this irrational fear of satanic child abuse comes from in the first place, what these fantasies are sourced in—remains conveniently ignored as usual (along with all the documented evidence for the reality of this “paranoid delusion”). Apparently it’s enough just to know that Christians are crazy fucked up people who like to get lost in sordid sexual fantasies about Satan and then try and inflict them on the rest of us reasonable people. And of course they blame the most rational folk of all: those empathic, child-protecting Satanists! The head spins just trying to wrap itself around this cosmic Rubik’s cube.
So what then of the parents who, I presume, are going along with this craziness and thinking it’s all just a cool idea? Is it because, in an insane world what seems craziest of all starts to seem like the only way out? Is it that the fevered distortions of intolerably backward Christian fanatics have to be met and matched somehow, and that neoliberalism just doesn’t have the necessary fangs to take on that beast? Are these parents being driven by sheer desperation into the idea that Satanism is a kooky religion that at least knows how kooky religion is, and that, in its true form, it is really all about freedom from dogma, rationality, self-determination and empowerment? If so, once again this can only be because these parents are clueless about the reality of unconscious archetypes, and of ritual abuse, which they have instead chalked up to Christian hallucinations, making Christians the ultimate abusers. If so, they have missed the forest for the trees. Take a few steps back and it’s impossible not to see that Satanism and Christianity are made up of exactly the same religious principles, only that they are emphasized and applied differently.
Morris Berman describes this sort of thing in A Question of Values:
Negative identity is a phenomenon whereby you define yourself by what you are not. This has enormous advantages, especially in terms of the hardening of psychological boundaries and the fortification of the ego: one can mobilize a great deal of energy on this basis and the new nation [the US] certainly did. . . . The downside . . . is that this way of generating an identity for yourself can never tell you who you actually are, in the affirmative sense. It leaves, in short, an emptiness at the center, such that you always have to be in opposition to something, or even at war with someone or something, in order to feel real.
J’Accuse: An Infant Rebellion
In etymological terms, Satan means accuser, which suggests an identity that exists exclusively in opposition to, and judgment of, something or someone else. As the French philosopher Rene Girard has argued, Satan is that within us that scapegoats. As well as scientific rationalism, the Satanic doctrine proscribes self-interest above all else, albeit now a new, kinder, gentler, empathic self-interest! It encourages the assertion of personal desire and the worship of self, and along with these things, a constant form of rebellion against everything that gets in the way of our self-gratification. This ideal—even if it were truly desirable, which I think is questionable—is every bit as unlivable as the Christian commandment to love thy neighbor as thyself. It is like the flip side of a coin that never gets to land.
As a personal aside, I grew up very close to this sort of “Satanic” ideology, in a wealthy, intellectually elitist, liberal-socialist, atheist family, and I can say with confidence that there is nothing remotely liberating (or genuinely rebellious) about self-worship or the gratification of desire. It is closer to a form of slow suicide. Certainly, there is no possibility of benevolence or empathy in it, although I suppose a “Satanic” ego (a negative identity) can learn to imitate the appearance of these things to get what it wants. The best predators know how to put their prey at ease, and putting parents at ease about handing their kids over to Satan seems to be the primary goal behind the ASSC campaign. What better way to be trusted with people’s children than to start a child-protection agency? The same thing happened across the UK, when child care homes were used to traffic in children for sexual and other, even more horrific purposes, so there is a precedent for this kind of strategy. It is called wolves in sheep’s clothing. The odd new wrinkle is that the wolves are wearing wolves’ clothing, and claiming to be sheep underneath.
For the record, I am not equating practicing Satanists with child abuse, ritual or otherwise. Probably 98% of Satanists are no more faithful to the precepts of the satanic than 98% of Christians are true to the teachings of Christ. Christians have been accusing Satanists of child abuse for decades; apparently it’s time for Satanists to turn the tables and accuse Christians of the same. (At least they are living up to their etymological meaning this way!) Yet ironically, the idea that Christianity and Satanism are two sides of the same coin may be truer than we think, at least in the case of Satanists who are also ritual abusers and practicing Christians by day. In this regard, it makes sense if this current crop of friendly Satanists are now promoting empathy and benevolence: they are behaving like unconscious Christians! But however innocent they may be of the more extreme Satanic practices, and however ignorant of their cultural reality, I can’t help but think that these proud, self-identified secular Satanists are not entirely exempt from the implications of the “faith they advocate.” I would like to think they’d be appalled to know the sorts of historical abuses with which Satanism has been associated, or that these abuses are every bit as horrendous as those for which they condemn Christianity. Perhaps they would even be appalled to the point of renouncing their teenage-rebel religion, along with their faith-based rationalism, and scurry back to the drawing board. When we adopt an ideology, it is invariably for unconscious reasons, not rational ones (though the two are not always mutually exclusive). To be part of a pack is one primary reason, and the satanic pack does seem to be growing rapidly in numbers. And every pack requires a scapegoat to bind it together. That’s unconscious rationalism at work.
I suspect this is not simply a matter of the wolf in sheep’s clothing but of Jekyll and Hyde: when what is repressed, denied, resisted, or rebelled against is pushed into the unconscious, it eventually takes possession of us. And while we naively think we are shaping the ideology to suit our souls, the ideology has been busy shaping us from before we were born. By dismissing the unconscious and its contents—our shared human past—as religious superstition, secularism has banished religious superstition into its own unconscious, and so become possessed by it. Satanism—embodying of the Satanic—may be a way to become complicit with that process, which at least suggests the possibility of becoming conscious of our complicity with these “dark forces.” But I think this can only really happen when we are willing to call a devil a devil and face the true horror—the infantile nature—of our “rebellion.” Like childhood nightmares, it’s a horror no amount of scientific rationalism can protect us from. Nor should we want it to.
 Also at the site, The Satanic Temple describes its “seven fundamental tenets. 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.”
 Satanism isn’t a formalized religion with a history that can be tracked in the way other religions can be. It doesn’t even have a formalized doctrine, unless we attribute one to Crowley or Anton LaVey or whoever. And if Satanism in some of its manifestations does include ritual abuse and ritual sacrifice, none of that is going make it into the log-books of practicing Satanists, for obvious reasons. Add to that the fact that, if Satanism did or does exist as a formal religion that entails ritual abuse & sacrifice, etc., then practicing Satanists are not likely to self-identify as such, at least until such a time as it can all pass as a secularist joke against Christians and/or a rationalist-based religion (whatever that is)…. As for what written material there is about Satanic beliefs, I think the seemingly benign philosophical premises, the ones I am familiar with, are quite consistent with the darker more destructive ritualistic aspects (I would say the same of Crowley’s writings). I am writing now as someone who has embodied these same tenets to some degree and for a large part of my life (being something of a follower of Crowley for a time, and always quite anti-Christian in my beliefs, though not anti-Christ).
 Pure rationalism and empathy seem to me to be mutually exclusive anyway, but that’s another discussion.