Satanism; Religion or Philosophy?Posted: July 5, 2014
Is Satanism a religion or a philosophy? Do we think of ourselves as being religious or having a philosophy?
The truth maybe both or neither. Cassie and I were thinking about this and came to the conclusion that while Satanism can have elements of religion and philosophy, for us it is mostly something else altogether. But let’s get back to the question…
We’ll start with philosophy because it seems easier to define what philosophy is; by which we mean that most of the definitions we looked at were quite similar to each other. We will use the definition by the Oxford Dictionary;
Philosophy: 1, the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, especially when considered as an academic discipline. 2, a theory or attitude that acts as a guiding principle for behaviour.
For Cassie and I, this definition comes very close to how we see Satanism. It is all about finding out what is real (reading, research and thinking) and then using that as a framework with which to live and base decisions on. We like the word attitude in the second part of the definition and the idea that the philosophy of Satanism acts as a guiding principle. We think most Satanists would agree that by this definition Satanism is a philosophy. There would be less agreement however about exactly what that philosophy is.
For us the philosophy of Satanism emphasises individuality and personal responsibility. It is morally neutral, leaving individuals to come to their own conclusion about what is right or wrong. It is a self centred philosophy meaning that the primary focus is personal gnosis and development within the context of the actual realities of the world we live in. It encourages individuals to challenge rules and conventions when necessary rather than blindly accept conventional or received wisdom. There is much more we could add, and much that other Satanists might add or change, but I think there would be general agreement on some of those basic ideas.
So yes, for us at least, Satanism is a philosophy. But is it a religion?
Religion is harder to define. There seem to be two basic types of definition for religion; those that emphasise a god and those that don’t.
The first definition for religion in the Oxford dictionary is “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.” Using that as a basis I would guess most Satanists would say they are not religious; not in the normally accepted sense anyway. The largest group of Satanists are atheists. They see Satan as a symbol, the antithesis of the Judao-Christian concept of God. Or else they see themselves as Gods in fact or in the making. Or if there is any superhuman controlling power (which most would probably not believe) they oppose it. The majority of Satanists simply don’t believe in any outside supernatural force that controls us but see religions as organs of social control that should be resisted. They emphasise the power of the self. In these ways Religion does not seem like a suitable word to describe Satanists.
However, there are some Theistic Satanists like Cassie and I who do believe that Satan exists in some form. Personally we think Satan is a cosmic energy or force that can be connected with. We do not however believe it is a controlling power that shapes the universe and needs the adoration and worship of believers, but rather it is an energy that can enhance and strengthen the will of those who connect with it. Again, not all Theistic Satanists would see things this way; some may indeed see Satan as a super human power and thus their form of Satanism may fall into this definition of religion. For us personally it is less clear.
However the Oxford dictionary also gives a second, more general and less God based definition of religion, “a particular system of faith and worship” and a third definition, “a pursuit or interest followed with great devotion.” Using these definitions many more Satanists including the atheists could be classed as being religious. Many don’t like the word “worship” but they may still have a clear system of faith, of practice and may indeed pursue that with great devotion. Thus we think that Satanism can be classed as a religion in these more general ways.
If Cassie or I are asked to speak about Satanism we usually define it as a religion and a philosophy but with much more emphasis on the philosophical side. But in thinking about this question we felt that neither word adequately define or explain what Satanism actually is. There was something however in the philosophical definition which rang very true for us and that, as mentioned before, was the word “attitude”.
For us Satanism begins with an attitude or state of mind. It is a state of mind that questions the assumptions that most people take for granted. We ask why things are as they are, especially the things that other people don’t question or think it is wrong to question. At the same time we have a spiritual dimension in which we are looking to really progress and learn things in this life and maybe beyond that. We tend to trust in our own judgements rather than blindly accepting the judgements of others. Of course it doesn’t mean we never get things wrong, come to the wrong conclusions or make the wrong decisions, it just means we prefer to work things out for ourselves and take responsibility for our own lives even if that sometimes means going against the grain. You don’t have to be a Satanist to have this attitude, but it would be hard to imagine being a Satanist without it.