Satanism: An Evangelical Engagement
I recently had an opportunity to participate on a panel discussion with a Satanist. In preparation for this I spent some time with The Satanic Bible so as to better understand the worldview. In this piece I want to examine a specific philosophical tension in The Satanic Bible. As a prelude I will narrow the scope of the analysis and then explain why so often evangelicals misunderstand Satanism.
Scope of Engagement
First, this analysis is specifically in reference to the version of Satanism as formulated by Anton LaVey—sometimes called LaVeyan Satanism. The Church of Satan (CoS) claims to be the official promulgator of this Satanism. There are a number of off-shoots from the Church of Satan and also various developments within groups influenced by The Satanic Bible.
Excursus: After I had written the initial draft of this article I sent it to the representative of Satanism that I had met at the panel discussion. He is a Reverend in The Church of Satan and he took exception to my use of the phrase “LaVeyan Satanism.” The Church of Satan asserts that they are the only legitimate Satanists today. So the phrase “LaVeyan Satanism” is redundant in their minds. I wrote the following to explain my use of the phrase.
First, my use of “LaVeyan Satanism” was simply following the lead of other researchers. For example, James R. Lewis is a professor in the department of philosophy and religious studies at the University of Wisconsin. He has published scholarly articles on Satanism and he uses the phrase “LaVeyan Satanism.”
Second, it is simply not true that there is “only one form of Satanism.” From a strictly descriptive point of view there are a number of groups that call themselves “Satanist.” I recognize that the Church of Satan as an official body does not recognize the legitimacy of these other groups. Nevertheless, someone who is researching Satanism will come across a number of groups that claim that label. You are no doubt aware of the various off-shoots from the Church of Satan such as Michael Aquino’s The Temple of Set and Lord Egan’s (John Dewey Allee) The First Church of Satan. There are also a number of other groups online which claim to be in the Satanic orbit.
You mention that no one before LaVey had codified Satanism. There were, however, predecessors to LaVey’s brand of Satanism. Consider the example of Herbert Arthur Sloane’s “Our Lady of Endor Coven” which was formed in 1948. There is even a letter from 1968 in which Sloane gratefully acknowledges that Anton LaVey speaks kindly of him as a devotee of Satanism for thirty years.
In light of all this and in hopes of helping to narrow the focus of my critique to make it more understandable, I chose to use the phrase “LaVeyan Satanism.”
Second, this piece will focus primarily on The Satanic Bible. There are other writings from Anton LaVey and others but The Satanic Bible is of primary importance. James R. Lewis, in an essay devoted to a sociological analysis of The Satanic Bible, writes:
Satanists do not consciously regard The Satanic Bible in the same way traditional religionists regard their sacred texts. However, in the course of a research project on modern Satanism conducted in 2000-2001, I discovered that The Satanic Bible is treated as an authoritative document which effectively functions as scripture within the Satanic community. In particular, LaVey’s work is quoted to legitimate particular positions as well as to de-legitimate the positions of other Satanists.
Lewis adds, “Furthermore, however one might criticize and depreciate it, The Satanic Bible is still the single most influential document shaping the contemporary Satanic movement.”
Why Evangelicals Misunderstand Satanism
Evangelicals have a supernaturalistic worldview which affirms the extra-mental reality of God and other spiritual beings (i.e., angels and demons). Evangelicals acknowledge a spiritual entity known as the Devil or Satan. This is conceived as a finite spiritual being of great power which tempts and threatens the church. Because evangelicals take the ontological reality of Satan seriously they tend to believe that any other group that invokes Satan must also likewise affirm the ontological reality of Satan. This makes it difficult for evangelicals to understand that LaVeyan Satanism is atheistic and does not affirm the real existence of Satan.
A second reason that evangelicals have misunderstood Satanism is that the evangelical church has listened to some grossly inadequate sources to get its information about Satanism. In the 1980’s and early ‘90’s evangelicals were overly influenced by Mike Warnke’s The Satan Seller. Warnke claimed to be a former Satanist who had met Anton LaVey. Warnke spun tales of drugs, crime, ritualistic sacrifice and sex. Warnke’s claims were debunked by evangelical reporters as they investigated the time-line of Warnke’s life demonstrating that his claims could not be true. John Smulo also highlights the fact that Warnke’s description of Satanism does not match the LaVeyan version. In Smulo’s words:
To put it another way, Warnke is proven fraudulent because his description of LaVeyan Satanism is in complete contradiction with what LaVeyan Satanists themselves believe. Indeed, one would have difficulty finding a form of Satanism during any time in history that matched Warnke’s description.
Evangelical’s failure to engage with the primary source of Satanism—The Satanic Bible—led them to drink from faulty informational sources such as Warnke.
Philosophical Tensions in the Satanic Worldview
There is a fundamental contradiction within LaVeyan Satanism. Examining two sets of philosophical concepts will show the nature of this contradiction.
The first set of philosophical concepts revolve around materialism and subjective ethics which are both created by the human agent and evolving. Peter Gilmore, the current high priest of Satanism in the Church of Satan, has written in a 2005 introduction to The Satanic Bible that in reading The Satanic Bible “…I found a common sense, rational, materialist philosophy, along with theatrical ritual techniques meant as self-transformative psychodrama.” Gilmore adds:
The philosophy presented in it is an integrated whole, not a smorgasbord from which one pick and choose. It is meant only for a select few who are epicurean, pragmatic, worldly, atheistic, fiercely individualistic, materialistic, rational, and darkly poetic.
Satanism is, thus, atheistic and materialistic in nature. Gilmore mentions the subjectivistic impulse in Satanism: “We Satanists owe him [LaVey] our gratitude for symbolically opening the adamantine gates of Hell, by giving form and structure to a philosophy that names us as the Gods of our subjective universes.” These metaphysical commitments set up the ethical commitments of Satanism. The following quotations from The Satanic Bible illustrate the ethical trajectory of Satanism.
i. “Satan represents all of the so-called sins, as they all lead to physical, mental, or emotional gratification!” (#8 of “The Nine Satanic Statements,” p. 25)
ii. “I break away from all conventions that do not lead to my earthly success and happiness.” (p. 30)
iii. “No creed must be accepted upon authority of a ‘divine’ nature. Religions must be put to the question. No moral dogma must be taken for granted—no standard of measurement deified. There is nothing inherently sacred about moral codes. Like the wooden idols of long ago, they are the work of human hands, and what man has made, man can destroy!” (p. 31)
iv. “As environments change, no human ideal standeth sure!” (p. 31)
v. “Are we not all predatory animals by instinct? If humans ceased wholly from preying upon each other, could they continue to exist?” (p. 33)
vi. “Hate your enemies with a whole heart, and if a man smite you on one cheek, SMASH him on the other!; smite him hip and thigh, for self-preservation is the highest law!” (p. 33)
vii. “Life is the great indulgence—death, the great abstinence. Therefore, make the most of life—HERE AND NOW!” (p. 33)
viii. “Say unto thine own heart, ‘I am mine own redeemer.’” (p. 33)
ix. “Blessed are the valiant, for they shall obtain great treasure—Cursed are the believers in good and evil, for they are frightened by shadows!” (p. 34)
x. “Blessed are those that believe in what is best for them, for never shall their minds be terrorized—Cursed are the ‘lambs of God,’ for they shall be bled whiter than snow!” (p. 34)
xi. “The seven deadly sins of the Christian Church are: greed, pride, envy, anger, gluttony, lust, and sloth. Satanism advocates indulging in each of these ‘sins’ as they all lead to physical, mental, or emotional gratification.” (p. 46)
xii. “White magic is supposedly utilized only for good or unselfish purposes, and black magic, we are told, is used only for selfish or ‘evil’ reasons. Satanism draws no such dividing line. Magic is magic, be it used to help or hinder. The Satanist, being the magician, should have the ability to decide what is just, and then apply the powers of magic to attain his goals.” (p. 51)
xiii. “You should act upon your natural instincts, and then, if you cannot perform without feeling guilty, revel in your guilt.” (p. 53)
xiv. “We are tired of denying ourselves the pleasures of life which we deserve. Today, as always, man needs to enjoy himself here and now, instead of waiting for his reward in heaven. So, why not have a religion based on indulgence? Certainly it is consistent with the nature of the beast. We are no longer supplicating weaklings trembling before an unmerciful ‘God’ who cares not whether we live or die. We are self-respecting, prideful people—we are Satanists!” (p. 54)
xv. “Each person must decide for himself what form of sexual activity best suits his individual needs.” (p. 66)
xvi. “No person or society has the right to set limitations on the sexual standards or the frequency of sexual activity of another.” (p. 70)
xvii. “Satanism encourages its followers to indulge in their natural desires. Only by so doing can you be a completely satisfied person with no frustrations which can be harmful to yourself and others around you. Therefore, the most simplified description of the Satanic belief is: INDULGENCE INSTEAD OF ABSTINENCE.” (p. 81)
xviii. “Satanism has never needed a book of rules, because vital natural forces have kept man ‘sinful’ and intent on preserving himself and his feelings.” (p. 85)
xix. “If your success or happiness disturbs a person—you owe him nothing! He is made to be trampled under foot!” (p. 90)
As can be seen, Satanism articulates an extremely individualistic and relativistic ethic. There are no objective, enduring ethical standards. Ethical standards are continually evolving with no fixed ethical stipulations. Indulgent selfish is the chief standard. Now after clearly declaring these philosophical commitments Anton LaVey does something interesting—he articulates specific ethical boundaries that, seemingly, all Satanists are to follow. Notice below how LaVey endorses ethical standards that ought not to be transgressed.
i. “Satanism represents a form of controlled selfishness.” (p. 51)
ii. “Satanism condones any type of sexual activity which properly satisfies your individual desires—be it heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or even asexual, if you choose. Satanism also sanctions any fetish or deviation which will enhance your sex-life, so long as it involves no one who does not wish to be involved.” (p. 67)
iii. “Satanism encourage any form of sexual expression you may desire, so long as it hurts no one else.” (p. 69)
iv. “Aside from the foregoing exception, the Satanist would not intentionally hurt others by violating their sexual rights. If you attempt to impose your sexual desires upon others who do not welcome your advances, you are infringing upon their sexual freedom. Therefore, Satanism does not advocate rape, child molesting, sexual defilement of animals, or any other form of sexual activity which entails the participation of those who are unwilling or whose innocence or naïveté would allow them to be intimidated or misguided into doing something against their wishes.” (p. 70)
v. “The reverse is also true; one person may have great sexual prowess, but it is unjust for him to belittle another whose sexual capacity may not equal his own, and inconsiderate for him to impose himself upon the other person, i.e., the man who has a voracious sexual appetite, but whose wife’s sexual needs do not match his own.” (p. 70)
vi. “Under no circumstances would a Satanist sacrifice any animal or baby!” (p. 89)
vii. “There are sound and logical reasons why the Satanists could not perform such sacrifices. Man, the animal, is the godhead to the Satanist. The purest form of carnal existence reposes in the bodies of animals and human children who have not grown old enough to deny themselves their natural desires. They can perceive things that the average adult human can never hope to. Therefore, the Satanist holds these beings in a sacred regard, knowing he can learn much from these natural magicians of the world.” (p. 89)
Clearly LaVey is stipulating ethical boundaries that he is universalizing. Where does this moralizing come from? In light of what he says elsewhere (as seen above) why does LaVey now draw these ethical lines? There is a fundamental inconsistency in LaVey’s thought here. Remember, LaVey wrote:
No creed must be accepted upon authority of a ‘divine’ nature. Religions must be put to the question. No moral dogma must be taken for granted—no standard of measurement deified. There is nothing inherently sacred about moral codes. Like the wooden idols of long ago, they are the work of human hands, and what man has made, man can destroy!
This will, to be rationally consistent, apply also to the moral dogma that LaVey espouses. If LaVey can create this moral code (e.g., no rape or child molesting) then this moral code can be destroyed. There is nothing within Satanism which would provides the philosophical justification against someone breaking the moral code of LaVey. Thus, Satanism is internally contradictory as a philosophical system.
Another angle from which to consider this is: What would a Satanist say in response to the Marquis de Sade’s philosophy which endorsed pleasure at the expense of others? What consistent philosophical principle keeps Satanism from devolving into Sadism? Historian Richard Weikart describes Sade’s philosophy in the following manner:
Sade believed that the universe is amoral and cruel, so when humans are brutal to each other, they are actually acting in harmony with the cosmic order (or to be more consistent with Sade, I should say, ‘cosmic disorder’). Furthermore, Sade recognized that if materialism is true and the universe is amoral, then there is no reason for an individual to sacrifice his own pleasure for the good of anyone else. Indeed, if an individual gains pleasure through the suffering of another—either directly or indirectly—then Sade saw no problem with it. He stated, ‘the action which serves me by hurting another is perfectly indifferent to nature,’ and since in his view nature is all that exists, hurting others is permissible.
Sade dismissed any notion of love and concern for other people, because pleasure was the only value worth pursuing. Morality was meaningless, in Sade’s view, and he believed that ‘For those who found rape and murder amusing, rape and murder were fully legitimate activities.’
How could a Satanist rationally refute Sade’s philosophy? It seems that Sade was more consistent with his metaphysical and ethical commitments than LaVey was.
Paul Copan speaks to this kind of inconsistency when he writes:
If we are simply animals, why refrain from raping or practicing infanticide when this is ‘natural’ or ‘widespread’ in nature? It seems that those who vehemently resist such practices are smuggling in metaphysical capital from another worldview that clearly demarcates valuable, responsible moral agents from environment-bound, instinct-guided animals.
Anton LaVey is, thus, “smuggling in metaphysical capital from another worldview.” In this sense Satanism is parasitic on Christian theism. It does not have the ethical resources from within itself to justify the ethical boundaries it arbitrarily upholds.
 James R. Lewis, “Diabolical Authority: Anton LaVey, The Satanic Bible and the Satanist ‘Tradition’” Marburg Journal of Religion 7 (2002), 1-16. Online: https://www.uni-marburg.de/fb03/ivk/mjr/pdfs/2002/articles/lewis2002.pdf and “Who Serves Satan? A Demographic and Ideological Profile” Marburg Journal of Religion 6 (2001), 1-25. Online: http://archiv.ub.uni-marburg.de/mjr/pdf/2001/lewis2001.pdf. Lewis specifically uses the phrase “LaVeyan Satanism” on page 16 of “Who Serves Satan?”
 Diane Vera lists a brief taxonomy of Satanic types: LaVeyan, Temple of Set, pantheistic/panentheistic, polytheistic, and gnostic—“The Varieties of Theistic (‘Traditional’) Satanism,” online: http://theisticsatanism.com/varieties/index.html.
 Part of my concern was for my evangelical readers. There is a tendency to conflate all sorts of “Satanism” together which does not make for nuanced or focused critique. This is a criticism I have of the evangelical Craig S. Hawkins “The Many Faces of Satanism” Forward [now Christian Research Journal], Fall, 1986. Online: http://www.gospeloutreach.net/fosatan.html.
 James R. Lewis, “Diabolical Authority: Anton LaVey, The Satanic Bible and the Satanist ‘Tradition’” Marburg Journal of Religion 7 (2002), 1-16. Available online: https://www.uni-marburg.de/fb03/ivk/mjr/pdfs/2002/articles/lewis2002.pdf.
 For a quick overview of Satan from a biblical perspective see Sam Storms “10 Things You Should Know About Satan” Sam Storms: Enjoying God [blog] May 23, 2016. Online: http://www.samstorms.com/enjoying-god-blog/post/10-things-you-should-know-about-satan
 John Smulo in his online work “Christ’s Advocate: An Incarnational Apologetic to Satanism” covers the details of Warnke’s story and the debunking of it by evangelical reporters Mike Hertenstein and Jon Trott in their book Selling Satan: The Tragic History of Mike Warnke (Chicago, Ill.: Cornerstone Press, 1993). Smulo’s piece in available online: http://www.ibrarian.net/navon/paper/Christ_s_Advocate__An_Incarnational_Apologetic_to.pdf?paperid=1767501.
 Paul Copan, “God, Naturalism, and the Foundations of Morality,” in The Future of Atheism: Alister McGrath and Daniel Dennett in Dialogue; ed. Robert Stewart (Fortress, 2008), 157. Online: http://www.paulcopan.com/articles/pdf/God-naturalism-morality.pdf.
 One is reminded of H. Van Reissen remarks about Nietzsche’s philosophy—a philosopher who has influenced Satanism: “While he parodied him and sought his opposite, still Nietzsche was in fact nothing else than a parasite feeding on the gospel. Brom has rightly remarked the Zarathustra would be unthinkable without the Bible.” Quoted in Rousas J. Rushdoony, The One and the Many: Studies in the Philosophy of Order and Ultimacy (Fairfax, Virginia: Thoburn Press, 1978), 329.