Monday, December 17, 2007

Question of the day

How does this help the cause?

A teenager was arrested after a leader of the Church of Satan turned over to the FBI an e-mail the high school student had written to the sect in which he threatened to kill his grandparents, authorities said. 

Source: News from The Associated Press

The Church of Satan is an Atheist Organization.

Gilmore said members of his group are atheists who believe Satan is a symbol of freedom, not evil. "To the Satanist, he is his own God," reads a statement on the group's Web site from Gilmore.

Can somebody tell me how associating Atheism with Satan helps promote the cause of Atheism?  I don't get it.

Technorati tags: ,


Kevin I. Slaughter said...

I think you're concerned over what amounts to be sectarian issues withing the "group" of people who use the term "atheist" to, in part, define their worldviews.

Take, for example, the rivalry between Objectivists and Humanists. DJ Grothe from Point of Inquiry knows that whenever his interview subject stray from Humanist "party line", he'll get angry e-mails.

"Atheism" implies no moral or ethical judgements, just that one doesn't have a belief in gods or the supernatural.

Mojoey said...

Kevin - that may be. However, I have to question the wisdom of associating Satan with Atheism. It feed on the ignorance of Christians who already believe we are on the other team. This leads me to ask - how does this help?

Aidan Maconachy said...

The term "Satanist" shouldn't be read literally to indicate a follower of the biblical caricature that goes by that name. In the Old Testament, contrary to popular opinion, there is no entity described as Satan. The ancient Hebrew term "ha-Satan" means "to go against". The New Testament version was a fiction.

Sure there are suburban "Satanists" who buy into the horned god fallacy. But this type of belief is really idiotic and a deranged fantasy at best. Satanism of this sort is really inverse Christianity, because if you believe in a Satan, by implication you believe in God, Jesus etc.

The Satanism attributed to Aleister Crowley and the OTO for example, is in no way, shape or form a belief in a horned being along biblical Judeao-Christian lines. Crowley was attacking late-Victorian Christianity and its life denying restrictions. He used 'shock tactics' to intimidate and that included allying himself with powers of nature perceived as anti-Christian. He was a showman and much of his posturing needs to be seen in this light and not taken literally.

His Satanism, if you want to go there, had anthropomorphic roots and related primarily to man - man/woman as free, man/woman empowered by will (Thelema) - free of the Christian guilt complex and its superstition.

Aleister Crowley was in fact an Atheist who proclaimed "there is no god, but man". His use of magick gives absolutely no credence whatever to the notion of a monotheistic "God" and everything that goes with that view. He was a game player, a chess master, and for him the esoteric game of magick was a vehicle to attack the orthodoxies of his time.

Many Darwinians will of course dismiss "magick" out of hand as mumbo jumbo, and they are wise to err on the side of skepticism - 90% of the nonsense that goes on under that name is fraudulent and absurd - as Richard Dawkins exposed in a recent documentary.

However we are a part of nature, and just as an Atheist can take a scientific approach toward establishing proofs, so there is an artistic approach to our relationship with nature that is more poetic and intuitive in inspiration. There is a species of "knowledge" that can accessed outside of strict empirical proofs, outside of the laboratory. In order to access this knowledge, some people like Crowley used elaborate and complex games drawing upon archaic symbols and techniques. Christians of course called this "Satanism" and still do.

So there is Satanism and "Satanism" - practitioners of the latter are fly operators who use it as force to attack the Christian fallacies that posters in our Atheist rooms routinely attack also. It's another weapon. But Atheists are right to be highly skeptical of Satanism of the inverse-Christian sort - because really it is just another form of religion.

Stefan Monsaureus said...

I think Kevin is right that there is no philosophy or ethical system that unites atheists; we only share a common rejection of supernaturalism. As such, the only "movement" that we can reasonably advance is to ensure rights and respect on a par with religious observers.

No doubt, many of us cringe when we see wrongful acts committed by our fellow freethinkers, but that is the cross that every group - religious or secular - has to bear.

Larro said...

"The ancient Hebrew term "ha-Satan" means "to go against". The New Testament version was a fiction.

This is VERY interesting to know.

So I guess atheists are religious ha-satanists.

Aidan Maconachy said...

Religious not at all. But many Atheists do in fact 'go against' mainstream religious orthodoxies. So denying God and asserting our rights might be viewed by some Christians as Satanic behavior I suppose. It certainly would have been viewed that way by Old Testament god followers.

Considering Huckabee tried to smear Romney with the old Mormon Jesus/Satan slur, what Atheist is safe :)

The 'adversary' of the Old Testament wasn't a devil of any sort, the ancient Hebrew term satan (sin-tet-nun-sofit) really refers to an accuser. Job's adversary for example was a human one. It a force within ourselves characterized as "evil" but is on the contrary our seeing eye, our knowledge, and so is a threat to god followers with their need for blind compliance and unquestioning faith.

Not too many Atheists want to take possession of the Satanic label though, because it has heavy religious connotations and a lot of other supernatural nonsense associated with it.

Over and above the bastardized Christian version, there is an anthropomorphic original (sometimes associated with Shaitan of the Yezidi) that is best described as "a current" (energy) as opposed to the Christianized horned entity. Crowley worked with this energy in a number of his rites.

Kevin I. Slaughter said...

"This leads me to ask - how does this help?"

I suppose I just don't understand what answer you're looking for here, because you asked the same question again.

You should have rephrased your question maybe, since my original answer didn't satisfy you.

If you're asking "How does associating Satanism with Atheism help the cause of Humanist Atheists?", then the answer may be "It probably doesn't help much at all"

But Satanists aren't looking to help the Hamanist cause, and many positions they hold are antithetical to Humanism.

If the question is "How does it help Satanists to equate their philosophy with Atheism?" Then the answer should be obvious, they consider themselves to be atheists, but that may help and or hinder them based not on their position, but the position of the one receiving that information.

If you're questioning the wisdom of the journalist who typed the line into the report, I can't help you out much there - most likely they're reporting on the facts given to them, or they're a Christian that has an agenda to promote that link.

Those may not be the question you have though, but you're not making it easy by just restating the exact same question after a sincere attempt has been made to answer it.

Mojoey said...

Thanks Kevin - as usual, your answers are insightful.

My concern has always been how the behavior of a group like the Church of Satan helps or hinders the cause of Atheism & secular humanism. I do not agree that there is no cause. The cause is the right to be an atheist. It is what I have been fighting for over many years. Groups like the Church of Satan do not really hurt the cause of Atheism; However, I think they hurt the cause of secular humanism by creating a negative association with the Christian devil. Christians will see any of the good work accomplished by atheists in the secular arena as tainted by evil all because some guy wanted to poke his finger in the eye of a few Christians. It does not help. It ties Satan with the word Atheist. It creates a lingering association with our secular humanist related undertakings. It hurts the cause.

And just to be clear – I fully understand there is no such thing as orthodox atheists, or reformed atheists, or fill in the blank atheist. If there was I would not be one. My point is about the pursuit of freedom. I’ve lived for years in a country where Atheists cannot get elected, can be fired for their lack of believe, and are under attack by political arm of the fundamentalists. The cause is freedom. I have a right to believe or not believe as I choose.

Kevin I. Slaughter said...

I believe the fundamental goal of a society should be to restrain its citizens as little as possible to maintain order.
I am very keen on the principals of Libertarianism, though I disagree with the (majority Libertarian) opinion that the death penalty should be abolished.

It may sound extreme, but I think that burning an American flag, for whatever reason you want (as long as you OWN that flag and you're not legitimately endangering others in doing so) is one of the greatest symbolic representations of the freedom that American ideals should stand for.
That's an extreme thing for MOST people to handle, but our society has an extreme pluralism in political, religious, and personal views and it must tolerate those extremes by law. Agreeing or disagreeing with them is completely optional.
Through this same lens I see the Church of Satan as a religious organization. It's a sort of flagship for freedom in the sense that it's terribly misunderstood, but it can exist in society without infringing on the rights of others (and has for over 40 years). It can operate in a secular society, and even advocates it to boot.
Relating to the article that sparked the debate, that the Church of Satan has beat out the "big guys" by going out of their way to report a crime instead of trying to shelter that person is, in my opinion) remarkable. They abide by the law, they don't take exception to it.

If you believe the fairly recent opinion poll about the status of Atheists in this country, I think your concerns may be a bit misguided.
University of Minnesota survey in 2006 found that:

"...Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in 'sharing their vision of American society.' Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry."

The problem is not, "Does Satanism make Atheism look bad", but "Is the religious majority acting in a way that is contrary to our fundamental American principals."
If the answer to the latter is "yes" (and I believe it is), then there is a much greater concern.
Just as Catholicism considered Jews, Muslims and Atheists to be agents of the Devil, so do Muslims about everyone else (and America as a whole). That the practitioners of Satanism (as it is understood as a modern religion) play against that sort of baseless elitism may or may not be effective in changing the course of this digression from American Constitutionalism.
The debate is echoed in negative reactions by atheists and humanists to the Hitchens and Dawkins books.

As a digression, there is a nice correlation in the story of how the terms "atheist" and "Satanist" came to be used be people to identify themselves.
One source states, "During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the word 'atheist' was still reserved exclusively for polemic ... The term 'atheist' was an insult. Nobody would have dreamed of calling himself an atheist."
The same can CERTAINLY be said about the term Satanist. They are both scapegoated and demonized, and the puns are intended. They have both taken a pejorative and used it in a defiant manner against the prevailing social norms.
Neither one of them are in the clear with the majority.

J. C. Samuelson said...

Apologies to the other posters, as I've not read all of the comments, but wanted to chime in on the main article.


This has me wondering as well. Although I support their freedom to call themselves what they wish, as you know there's a pernicious myth favored by religionists that atheism has something to do with their concept of evil personified. Feeding into their beliefs is, IMHO, counter-productive.

On the other hand, we'll be demonized no matter what, so perhaps it won't matter in the long run. The best way to change 'tudes may be to "out" ourselves to those around us who aren't aware there's an atheist in their midst.

One member of the group I organize "came out" at her jobsite. She had been understandably anxious about the ramifications, but when she voiced her opinions finally, she found out that several people agreed with her.

Personally, I was surprised when, during a retirement ceremony where I work, that I was sitting next to someone else who didn't bow his head to pray during the sectarian invocation. We're everywhere and even we don't know it!

Sorry about getting a bit off-topic there. At any rate, a Satanist may not believe in the religious concept of Satan, or define Satanism as religious, but it seems sure to encourage more bashing by theists.

Just my two cents.

Incidentally, Mo. You asked about a picture for the "Imagine no religion" billboard that just went up near where I live. Just wanted you to know that there should be one posted by Friday.

Can't get up to the location myself during daylight hours, and have recruited some group members to try and get a shot or two.

Aidan Maconachy said...

Kevin makes the key point that Atheists and Satanists - "have both taken a pejorative and used it in a defiant manner against the prevailing social norms."

This addresses a key psychological truth. The public may fear and revile you, but if you take a name once hated such as "queer" and shove it in their face, along with exhibitions of gay power i.e. Pride Day outings, it strangely helps to pave the way for acceptance. Being outrageous and in-your-face actually gets results. When gays remained quiet and retiring they were routinely victimized. Gay people have achieved a higher level of accepetance in mainstream society by virtue of the courage to flaunt it in fine style.

J.C. takes the view that associations with "Satanism" of any sort damages the cause of Humanism. Joe as I read him seems to take a more nuanced position.

Surely the cause of Humanism/Atheism is about being inclusive of those who oppose dominant narrow minded orthodoxies of the Christian variety? In essence Humanism is about giving validity to human aspirations without the negatives of theistic control and dominance.

Humanism has been defined as - "any system or mode of thought or action in which human interests, values, and dignity predominate."

Much like homosexuality and Atheism, Satanism has been twisted in the public mind into the premier 'dark cult'. It is routinely used by the media as the most popular bogeyman around. Drop the term "Satanism" in conjunction with delinquent teen activity, and that key word will define everything about the story, because there is no word more loaded and more misunderstood. It is particularly feared by theists of course because it poses a direct threat that is biblical and eschatological, as much as it is cultural

With reference to the Humanist definition I cited - the Thelemic ideal as presented by Aleister Crowley is about the highest we can strive for as human beings. His saying - "do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law" - is frequently misinterpreted by Christians to mean "do whatever you want". In other words they try to associate excess and criminality with Crowley's call. This is a complete distortion. The term "do what thou wilt" speaks directly to acting accordance with "higher will" - it has nothing to do with permission to act-out.

The distinctions I drew between debased 'inverse-Christian Satanism' and the cultural zeitgeist that we are familiar with in it's various cultural manifestations - i.e. the rise of individualism, sexual freedoms etc is a crucially important distinction to draw. As a culture we have in fact being acting out the 'Satanic ' impulse without being fully conscious of what this means. The Beast is stirring in his lair, but most are still sleeping the sleep-of-the-ages with all the baggage of religion, superstition and moral repression that comes with it.

The problem with Anton La Vey was that he was smitten with all of that. He was acting out the dark side of the Christian myth - endorsing the lie rather than challenging it. Let's face it, theists love their Satan. No wonder LA cops were great pals of Anton. In many ways he fitted right in. That is what disappointed Marilyn Manson when he got up close and personal with his idol. However it would be a mistake to say that the Church of Satan hasn't moved beyond the stereotype presented by La Vey, because it has. There are some very talented people associated with the Church.

You know, when you really look at it - and I know they probably hate to be reminded of this - Scientology is also a scion of this larger movement. I'm going to post on my blog on the inside connections Hubbard had with OTO, in particular with Jack Parsons. They both engaged in the notorious 'Babalon Working' - a wrong headed enterprise that caused Crowley to remark in a letter ... "I get fairly frantic when I contemplate the idiocy of these louts".

All told, we are speaking of a highly significant cultural movement, that can't simply be passed off as "Satanism", although the Satanic lynchpin will always be embedded in any discussions that probes deeply into the origins of these movements.

Is this Humanism? Absolutely. It is Humanism-in-action. Even though many Atheists have understandable reservations about various aspects of the Church of Satan and Scientology, there is no denying that these are part of cutting edge systems that speak to the needs of a lot of people, and do so while making a radical departure from the theistic model. In itself that is a significant feat, because we can only defeat the enemy by establishing an armory and a force untainted by the dominant fundamentalisms

J. C. Samuelson said...


This addresses a key psychological truth. The public may fear and revile you, but if you take a name once hated such as "queer" and shove it in their face, along with exhibitions of gay power i.e. Pride Day outings, it strangely helps to pave the way for acceptance.

Your point is well-taken, of course. It may be just an expression of the discomfort some of us have with promoting something that really should be a default position that we recoil from the idea of being an "in-your-face" group. Not only that, but since one complaint against religionists is the evangelistic nature of their faith, doing the same in reverse can seem questionable. Nevertheless, as purely a matter of civil rights and coming "out," I suspect you're right.

J.C. takes the view that associations with "Satanism" of any sort damages the cause of Humanism.

I fear I may have misrepresented myself in the previous post. First, I don't consider myself as championing the cause of Humanism as you've defined it. Second, the wisdom of some atheists associating themselves with Satanism simply has me wondering. Playing into stereotypes is what I'm concerned about here. As much as you may be right about taking an "in-your-face" approach with respect to speaking out in general using our own terms and labels, I'm not as convinced by your argument that follows this.

The degree of freedom and acceptance gained by other minorities wasn't the result of embracing or acting out racist stereotypes. It was accomplished largely by presenting themselves in a way that destroyed them. To be sure, they did co-opt some of the disparaging lingo (as you previously suggested), but beyond that progressively deconstructed the myths of their inferiority by demonstrating themselves as being equal to or better than their oppressors.

While there's nothing inherently wrong with being a Satanist as far as I'm concerned, the label simply strikes me as playing to a theist stereotype.

With respect to Satanism itself, as implied I don't reject it outright as an expression of a type of Humanism. Yet, as I mentioned, neither do I subscribe to the definition of Humanism you gave in your post, though I am familiar with it. In my opinion, humans don't possess any intrinsic value from a universal perspective. That is, I view us as merely a particularly industrious species that has earned its way to the top of the food chain in the environments we're capable of inhabiting. One day, the human race as we know it will cease to exist, and, assuming this happens before the Sun becomes a red giant or the Milky Way collides with Andromeda (or some other cosmic catastrophe occurs), another species will take our place.

Naturally, I would be a human's strongest advocate in a bid for survival, and agree that my bias places human interests above other species. That does not mean, however, that I think we have any special dignity as compared to, say, a platypus or a cockroach. The universe is, as far as I can tell, completely unconcerned with whether we live or die, and so the best option we have is to carve a niche for ourselves and live fulfilling lives while contributing to the continuation of our species as long as we are able.

You obviously know quite a bit more about Satanism than I do, but I had always been under the impression that it promoted an entirely individualistic, self-centered (not necessarily in the pejorative sense) view, even with respect to other humans. That is, other people become things to cherish or reject based on a subjective evaluation of their potential to add worth to one's own life or not. I'd be interested to know if this is correct, because it's something I've never been comfortable with, and it's not due to lingering religious programming. Rather, it's because I value communities and social interaction, even with those some might consider not worth their time. Thus, my perception that Satanism proceeds from a somewhat more narrow focus on self-worth over a more broad acceptance of others is the origin of my discomfort with it as a position. As I intimated, I'd gladly have you correct this perception.

Though there is much more that might be said, hopefully this helps to clarify my position somewhat.


For your (and anyone else's) viewing pleasure, I've posted the pictures of the FFRF billboard that was put up not far from where I live. Enjoy!

Aidan Maconachy said...

J.C. if I may, I thought I would address your last paragraph first by way of replying to some of your earlier points.

The term "Satanism" itself is problematic when it is, as you so correctly put it - "play(ing) into the theist stereotype".

We are in full agreement on this. The debased acting-out of the negative aspect of Christianity in the name of a horned being common to medieval grimoires and such tomes is probably about as psychopathic as it gets. So we can safely dismiss any and all aspects of Satanism that are a projection of the Christian sin complex.

So what is the definition of Satanism outside of the debased devil concept of religion? This leads directly to a consideration of mind and consciousness - especially to a discussion of the subconscious and what Jung referred to as the "collective unconscious". It is on this point that friction immediately arises with Atheists who take a pragmatic view of mind, with the discussion of neurons etc, because a departure from this mechanistic model can't be mapped in the usual ways.

The experience of altered states comes without proof along the lines of say a reality curve capable of accurately distinguishing an intense dream from a mind altering vision. If I use peyote and describe some phantasmagoric scene to a friend, it is only narrative to him. Maybe I'm making it up. A gulf separates our respective understandings of my subjective state. Vision quests that were utterly and completely real for the shamans undergoing them remained unshared by those in their proximity, beyond the observation that so-and-so is 'acting strangely'.

There are doors and there are means of accessing inner states that confer knowledge which is by no means 'verifiable' in the usual scientific ways. Does it matter to people who make these connections that they can't prove them? Usually not. Most aren't in the business of converting anyone, nor are they trucking in dogmas or creeds - it is a private esoteric pursuit for most - alone or in company with the like-minded.

Attempts to 'prove' subjective experience of this sort are doomed to failure because we are speaking of different modalities. However there are systems and there is a language common to initiates for example, that enables these experiences to be shared.

Books such as P.D. Ouspensky's "New Model of the Universe" and "In Search of the Miraculous" make a valiant effort to provide a system that might serve as a bridge of sorts. But it is an effort that often runs into trouble, because the skeptic is standing on ground that is completely apart from the area of inner experience being addressed and so can cast doubt until the cows come home. It's a stand-off that is unresolvable.

In this discussion it is obviously impossible to get into an in-depth discussion of the type of knowledge that relates to ancient traces and links associated with an aspect of being that for want of a better term might be described as 'Satanic'. Philosophically though it is possible, and this leads back to our respective definitions of Humanism and discussions of individual rights and freedoms.

On your point about Satanism being 'selfish' - yes you are correct, especially when referring to the brand of debased Satanism I mentioned above. When you read for example some of the writings of Anton La Vey he spells out in a rather literal fashion a position that is antithetical to Christian values, because that's what Satan reputedly stands for, right :). This is ideological Satanism of the inverse-Christian variety and is really a posture of defiance, rather than a viewpoint that is completely free of Xtian conditioning. I view La Vey as someone who was still enmeshed in that particular complex.

On the point of ethics, my perspective would be Thelemic and the central ethical key for me is the respect of the will of another - be that other an adult, a child or even an animal. I believe that will is sacrosanct and that it is wrong to actively interfere with another's will. By 'will' I mean their inner drive to fulfill all of their inner potentials according to their nature and type. This doesn't preclude combat, confrontation and other energized forms of interaction - so long as one doesn't cross the line to actually seek to damage and/or attack another so as to damage or control their will.

I'm afraid I may not have addressed all your points, but I very much enjoyed the discussion.