Satanism is on the increase – but Satanists don’t actually believe in Satan, according to the leader of a prominent group.
Instead they regard themselves as “a non-theistic religious organisation”, said Lucien Greaves, co-founder of the Satanic Temple,
The three-year-old group is based in Salem, Massachusetts, where the infamous witch trials took place in the 17th century. It has been campaigning to have a 9-foot, 1.5-ton statue of the goat-headed idol Baphomet placed on the Arkansas Capitol grounds, where a monument of the Ten Commandments is planned.
It also wants city councils across the United States to allow Satanists to give the opening prayer at public meetings – as Christians, Jews and members of other religions have long done.
And in elementary schools where Evangelicals hold “Good News Clubs”, they want to set up “After School Satan Clubs”.
Mr Greaves is clear that the Satanic Temple do not worship Satan. “Definitely not,” he told Associated Press. “In fact, the idea of ‘worship’ is antithetical to our anti-authoritarian philosophy. Devil worship implies a theistic point of view. We consider ourselves a non-theistic religious organisation.”
Among the group’s tenets are personal autonomy, freedom of belief and scientific rationalism. “Those are really the core of the tenets. They say very little about Satan or why you would identify as a Satanist,” he said. “The tenets are meant to be universal.”
The Satanic Temple has no connection with the openly hedonistic Church of Satan founded by Anton LaVey in 1966. Rather than actually worshipping Satan, Mr Greaves said, they stand against the imposition of any individual religious belief. “What matters to us is self-identified Satanists standing up and saying they have a place in the world so that the evangelical theocrats don’t have a monopoly over what constitutes religious freedom.”
On the After School Satan Clubs he said: “We’re not interested in turning kids away from their Christian background. We really want this to be enriching. We’re not going to proselytise or make ham-fisted religious tirades. Our curriculum does not contain items of religious opinion. It contains fun activities premised on critical thinking, reasoning skills and the scientific, rationalist view of the world.”
He continued: “Its helpful for children to see that people can hold diametrically opposed religious points of view, but still be good, productive members of society, be non-criminal and friendly.”
The Satanic Temple claims about 20 chapters and 50,000 members worldwide, including in Britain, Finland, Italy and the Netherlands.
But Prof Jean la Fontaine of the London School of Economics estimated that there were “likely to be between 100 and 250” self-identified Satanists in Britain, while Prof Graham Harvey of the Open University believed there were fewer than 100.