The Truth Behind "Satanic" Vandalism on Religious Buildings
A friend with no knowledge about Satanism asked me about Satanic imagery being used to vandalize churches, mosques, synagogues and other religious buildings. Her question was: "There’s a local post of some graffiti on a church that purports to be both Satanist and anti-Semitic/pro-Nazi. My suspicion, based only on reading your posts, is that these could be perhaps not actual Satanists at work and I would love to be able to have at least the basis for addressing the graffiti as not representing all Satanists."
Here is my answer.
There are different kinds of Satanism; the Satanic Temple ("TST") is likely the most prominent modern form, with more than 100,000 members. TST is a nontheistic religion based on 18th-century revolutionary Enlightenment literature and ideals, and we don't believe in an actual Satan, but rather see him (as did the revolutionaries) as a literary symbol against unjust tyranny. Our core beliefs focus on compassion, justice, equal rights, bodily autonomy, and reason, codified in our Seven Fundamental Tenets.
An older group, the Church of Satan, founded by Anton LaVey in the 60s, is also well-known, but they (as well as several other Satanic sects) are nontheistic like us. And though they are likely a minority, there are also theistic Satanists ─ people who believe in a literal Satan, though he is usually seen as a positive figure as opposed to something evil.
But people who deface religious buildings with Satanic symbols usually aren't actual Satanists, even theistic ones ─ they just want to use whatever they think is most offensive and frightening, especially on religious buildings. It's a holdover from the Satanic Panic of the 80s and 90s, when unscrupulous therapists, the media, and government convinced the public that there were shadowy Satanic cults abusing children. Zero actual evidence of this phenomenon was found, and it was all debunked, but some people still use that myth to frighten others.
Even if the vandals are actual Satanists of some denomination, such vandalization is definitely not supported by the philosophy of the Satanic Temple. We are concerned with living by our own, positive Tenets of compassion and justice, not attacking other religions.
TST is a NONtheistic religion, which is different from being A-theistic or ANTI-theistic. We don't subscribe to supernatural beliefs ourselves, but we aren't set against anyone else's religious beliefs. We are against one religion establishing itself as the official state religion, but if people aren't forcing their beliefs onto others, we have a very live-and-let-live approach.
TST's whole legal fight is meant to ensure religious freedom for ALL religions, especially minority religions. Whenever Evangelical Christianity becomes part of our government (via Ten Commandments monuments on state Capitol grounds, Bible distribution at public schools, prayers opening government meetings, etc.), we fight to open up the government to a pluralism of religion so the government is not promoting one religious viewpoint exclusively.
If we win, we open the way for other religions to also take advantage of that pluralism. For instance, the state of Oklahoma erected a Ten Commandments monument on state Capitol grounds, which could be seen as state promotion of Christianity. Once TST sued the state of Oklahoma to allow our Baphomet monument on the Capitol grounds, a Hindu group also sought to put up their own monument of Lord Hanuman if ours were allowed: https://kfor.com/2016/03/15/hindus-to-seek-statue-at-oklahoma-capitol-if-law-changes/
If we don't win our inclusion but the government withdraws its promotion of religion altogether (by stopping pre-City-Council-meeting prayers, for instance), that is still good because then all the non-Christian constituents no longer have another religion forced on them. Because few government bodies want to allow Satanism a place at the public table, this is usually what happens. For example, in Oklahoma, the state Supreme Court ruled that the Ten Commandments monument was unconstitutional, and the monument was removed.
TST has great sympathy for all minority religions. For instance, in 2015, to counteract the anti-Muslim rhetoric that was part of the backlash to terrorist attacks in Paris, one of the TST Chapters offered to provide big strong members to escort Muslims out of the house for shopping etc. Though our founder Lucien Greaves supported the thought behind it, for the organization's legal liability we couldn't offer to provide security services (otherwise we could be sued). But he did put out a statement of support (from https://www.esquire.com/news-politics/news/a39904/satanic-temple-founder-interview-muslims/):
"We want to stand by any demonized out-group and use our resources to help. If Muslim Americans, who aren't certainly invested in any violent behavior, are being treated poorly, we have nothing but empathy and support for them.
"Clearly, 'Muslim' is not synonymous with 'terrorist.' We can disagree with one another, we can even mock each other's beliefs, but hopefully we can ultimately engage in a productive dialogue that addresses our differences. Preemptive violence, restrictions, or prejudice based on irrational assumptions is every bit of the problem and never a solution."
TST Chapters follow a strict Code of Conduct with a zero-tolerance policy for racism, bigotry, misogyny, transphobia, and the like. There is no room in our religion for hurtful, bigotry-fueled vandalism.
I recommend you take a peek at one of our FAQs to get a basic sense of what we are about; Albany's is good: https://www.thesatanictemplealbany.com/albany-member-faq
Finally, I recommend watching Hail Satan?, an Academy-Awards-nominated documentary that explores the Satanic Temple. It has a lot of humor and is quite entertaining. It's on Hulu, as well as Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, YouTube etc.: http://www.magpictures.com/hailsatan/watch-at-home/
Lilith Starr is a Satanic writer and the author of "The Happy Satanist: Finding Self-Empowerment." Her opinions are her own and should not be taken as an official statement from the Satanic Temple.