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Will the real satanists please stand up

22 August 2008

In another post I commented on the recent school killing in Krugersdorp, where a pupil killed a fellow pupil with a “Samurai sword”. Several media reports of the incident mentioned “satanism”, and some newspaper headlines and placards featured “Satanism” quite prominently.

If one reads the reports, however, the “satanism” aspect of the stories seemed to evaporate into vagueness, and the use of the term in headlines was merely media hype to sell newspapers. While one expects such things from the Daily Sun of “Zombie stole my soap” fame, even quite respectable newspapers were splashing the “satanism” angle on the Krugersdorp killing story.

One commenter on the original post said that most South Africans are clueless about what LaVeyan Satanism is really about. That’s probably quite true, but is also irrelevant, since, to be fair, none of the media reports that I saw had mentioned :LaVeyan Satanism at all. Perhaps I’m also one of the clueless ones, since, to my knowledge, LaVeyan Satanism started as a kind of parody religion, like Kibology, or the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I was interested to see that the Wikipedia article on parody religions doesn’t mention La Veyan Satanism, so perhaps they take themselves more seriously nowadays, but I was interested in the implication in the comment that LaVey, who co-opted the term “satanism” for his religion, had somehow also acquired a kind of copyright on it. Though Anton LaVey was the founder of the Church of Satan, the claim that he was the founder of “Satanism” is rather far-fetched, since the term was in use long before he was born. It’s a bit like the American firm that claimed copyright on the term “rooibos tea”. It is one thing for people to complain when trade names, like Xerox and Kleenex, slide towards becoming generic terms, but quite another when they lay claim to generic terms as if they had copyright on them.

Satan is a figure in Christian mythology and theology, and, to some extent, in Jewish and Islamic theology as well, though I’m not sufficiently familiar with their teachings to say with any certaintry how he is regarded in those religions. But the Christian understanding is fairly clear. To begin with “the satan” is a noun rather than a name, and refers to a legal official, one who brings an accusation in a court of law. The word “satan” means “accuser”, as does the Greek “diavolos”, from which the English word “devil” is derived. In modern legal systems the nearest equivalent is the Public Prosecutor. The primary function of the satan is to accuse people of crimes, and in Christian narratives he does this in the heavenly court (see Job 1-2 and Zechariah 3).

To cut a long story short, in the Christian narrative, Satan is an angel, an employee, who coveted the judge’s job, and led a rebellion, in part because he thought the judge (God) was too soft on criminals. He was a martinet for God’s justice, but overlooked God’s mercy. He overreached himself when he demanded (and got) the death penalty for God’s only sinless son, Jesus Christ. In the lowest court, before Annas and Caiaphas, he got a guilty verdict, which was confirmed in the High Court before Pilate, but in the supreme court of appeal (in heaven, not in Bloemfontein) the verdict was thrown out, and the sentence reversed (by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead) and Satan, in addition to losing his case, lost his job, and was thrown out of court by Michael, the heavenly bouncer-in-chief (Rev 12).  As a result  “there is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”, “for the accuser of our brethren has been cast down”.

There’s more to it than this of course, and this is a very much over-simplified, not to say simplistic account. But basically for Christians the satan is an ambitious public prosecutor who tried to usurp the judge’s job, whose operating principle was that it is better for the innocent to be punished than that the guilty should escape. For Satanists (of the ordinary, not the LaVeyan variety) he is seen as a figure of power. Those whose ambition (like that of the satan) exceeds their integrity have seen him as one who can help them achieve their ambitions, and that is basically what satanists are.

If LaVey’s followers want to call themselves “Satanists”, they are free to do so in a society that has freedom of religion, but that doesn’t overrule the earlier use of the term. If a group wanted to start a “Church of the Serial Killer” they would be free to do so, but then they shouldn’t claim that their religion is being slandered when multiple murderers who are not members are referred to as “serial killers”.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. anon permalink
    22 August 2008 11:18 am

    According to the bible he was the father of the lie as well.

    So although you simplify his “role” to that of a court official, he was also more of an Iago.

    In the biblical context, a satanist would be one that stands in opposition to God?

  2. 24 August 2008 1:43 am

    Well, looks like South Africa will forever want a scapegoat or minority group to trash. I suppose it was hoping too much to think that your country had stopped using voluntary ignorance as an excuse to validate bigotry.
    Please name one religion that had a codified philosophy, replete with ritual and dogma that called itself “Satanism?”
    I am waiting…..I’ll be waiting until the cows come home because it doesn’t exist.
    Previously Christians may have identified those who did not think as they do as “Satanists,” and from that intentional slight, and a knowledge of the Hebrew roots of the term “Satan,” meaning adversary, and accuser, Anton LaVey created a completely new religion called “Satanism.”
    Our Bible has been in print for decades. Our Church only slightly less. Anyone with a few spare bucks, or internet access, or a religious encyclopedia…in short anyone with a brain and the ability to think beyond what they are force fed in pews can easily discover what Satanism is.
    You are complaining about our complaining. Just as Christians have the right to claim acts are non-Christian, we have an equal right. The difference is Christians have created the very “satanism” they fear! The people who commit crimes in the name of some devil or a god called Satan are taught this not in our literature or church, but in the Christian ones! They are heretics, angry at their perceived god and rooting for the scapegoat. They have swallowed the lies told about us in their Sunday sermons—made almost mystically romantic–and almost always sexually charged–and acted accordingly.

    And while you have the nerve to imply that we cannot use metaphor and expect others to understand, I assume, then, in your world view Catholics are cannibals–after all they eat the body and drink the blood of Christ!

    Satanists DO oppose the status quo that allows people to be irresponsible and surrender to gods that don’t exist. We DO represent Justice, harsh and swift. We do represent Lucifer in his refusal to bow down before a jealous, genocidal god.
    Satanists DO accuse Christians of reaping what they sow–heretics who find a literal devil more exciting than their conflicted and irrational god.
    What we won’t do is dumb down our name to placate the intentionally dim.
    Again, I would’ve thought South Africa might be the one place where people might try to understand instead of relying on antiquated prejudices and rationalizing them. Evidently some people never learn.
    Magistra Ygraine
    http://www.churchofsatan.com

  3. 25 August 2008 1:49 pm

    There’s a fairly interesting article on Laveyan Satanism in the 2002 Marburg Journal of Religion (http://web.uni-marburg.de/religionswissenschaft/journal/mjr/pdf/2002/lewis2002.pdf).

  4. 25 August 2008 2:44 pm

    It is worth reading the Wikipedia entry on Satanism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satanism) and the Satanism FAQ (http://web.satanism101.com/satfaq.html).
    ReligiousTolerance.org also discusses how different groups define satanism (http://www.religioustolerance.org/satanism.htm under “Various definitions…”), and the alt.reigion FAQ (http://altreligion.about.com/library/faqs/bl_satanism.htm) is also relevant.

    LaVey chose the word “Satan” deliberately to emphasise the conflict between his ideas and Christianity (which advocates giving up your personal freedoms to worship a deity and follow prescribed moral codes). So no, LaVeyans don’t have a preemptive claim to the word.

    The real problem here is that the average police officer or journalist has little knowledge of what is or is not “satanic” (for any definition of satanism), and uses the word to describe anything “dark”, or supernatural, or different, or deviant. The word is used for its shock factor that than its ability to convey information.

  5. Peter Nikolopoulos permalink
    30 August 2008 10:26 am

    Hello Steve ,

    I’m Peter from the arceo usenet list . I hope your family holidays are going well .Please come back and put some of the war mongers in their place .None seem to care about the plight of other christians let alone Orthodox in the Caucasus — only about defeating Russia ! Your tempered input is sorely missed.You can email your reply if you like.

    Take Care ,

    Peter
    Sydney,Australia

  6. 30 August 2008 6:43 pm

    Some interesting points have been made in comments. Unfortunately my internet access has been rather restricted since I’ve been away, so I haven’t been able to respond to comments. Perhaps later.

  7. 4 September 2008 6:43 am

    “Please name one religion that had a codified philosophy, replete with ritual and dogma that called itself “Satanism?”
    I am waiting…..I’ll be waiting until the cows come home because it doesn’t exist.”

    go to http://www.joyofsatan.org
    this based in california is a registered faith group calling itself satanic/satanism (traditional) that has a codified philosophy complete with ritual, traditions, legends, and dogma not to mention even meditations has been around more than a decade and is going strong. i am not a member of this but im saying this here just to show that MagistraY, you are very IGNORANT.

    since IGNORANT people come to this site, i will not be visiting here further. btw u are probably no more than 10 years old, to sound so naive. bye lol ROFLMAO!!!!!!😀 kid dont u have bedtime or homework, or something? lol.

    • 9 May 2010 8:55 am

      Dear Lol!!!!!!!

      I suppose you don’t lol return to watch cartoon movies lol at the cinema lol any more lol, since they make you LOL so much (sorry, I should have said LOL!!!!! — it’s not a valid lol expression lol without lol at lol least lol three lol exclamation lol marks). lol lol lol lol LOL!!!!!!! !!!!!!

      lol

  8. Magistra Ygraine permalink
    23 September 2008 12:38 pm

    ““Please name one religion that had a codified philosophy, replete with ritual and dogma that called itself “Satanism?”
    I am waiting…..I’ll be waiting until the cows come home because it doesn’t exist.”

    go to http://www.joyofsatan.org
    this based in california is a registered faith group calling itself satanic/satanism (traditional) that has a codified philosophy complete with ritual, traditions, legends, and dogma not to mention even meditations has been around more than a decade and is going strong. i am not a member of this but im saying this here just to show that MagistraY, you are very IGNORANT.”

    Try again, Sparky.

    The use of the word “had” should have clued you in that I was talking about PRIOR to 1966 when the CoS was founded.

    Oh well, I guess he’ll miss my ignorant answer.

    “Joy of Satan.”

    Double thievery—a cookbook AND a religion.

    Y~

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