by Chris Hedgpeth
It’s mid-December, 1990-something. A young me is ogling the presents under the Christmas tree. I recognize the shape of NES game boxes. I know the sound of rattling VHS tape spools. I’ve got everything worked out. Calendars. Clothing. An enormous box from my aunt that I know contains a series of nested boxes that lead to a roll of toilet paper with something small and valuable stuffed into the center.
Something catches my eye. A tag attached to one of the gifts has a name I don’t quite recognize. It looks like my Nana’s handwriting. Sandra? Is that one of my mom’s friends from work? No. Santa. It’s from Santa! But wait, it’s not Christmas for another week. Something suddenly clicks inside my young brain. My family is lying to me. There is no Santa.
Sometime later, during my adolescence, I reasoned that God is analogous to Santa and I became an atheist. Like with my Santa-believing friends, I learned to avoid talking to people about my lack of belief in supernatural deities. The conversations usually didn’t end well, plus it seemed silly talking about something of such little substance.
You wouldn’t talk to someone about activities you don’t do, right? “So how was your weekend of not skiing?” “I had a great time not going to the Grand Canyon.” This non-confrontational approach lasted until I became an adult and realized the negative impact that irrational beliefs could have on the world.
The events of 9/11 shaped my opinions on religious extremism, but unlike many other Americans, I saw the problem as being bigger than one specific religious ideology. I acknowledged the root of what made religion potentially dangerous: dogma.
The idea that certain things are unquestionable allows people in positions of power to rationalize any action as righteous. Murder, oppression, hatred – all things justified by dogma. And so I asked, what is the opposite of dogma? Catma? No. It’s free thought. It’s opposition to authority. It’s disobedience. And so I embraced the mythological being that represented all of these qualities: Satan.
To reiterate, I am still an atheist. I don’t believe in a literal Satan. I do, however, believe in what Satan represents, and several years ago I discovered an organization that embraces those same ideals. The Satanic Temple (TST) was founded in 2013 by Lucien Greaves and Malcolm Jarry to “encourage benevolence and empathy among all people”.
Recently, TST has been recognized officially by the IRS as a religion. It has seven simple tenets, paraphrased: Act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures, justice comes before law, your body is yours alone, respect others’ freedoms, form your beliefs through scientific inquiry, fix your mistakes, and don’t let the other tenets get in the way of doing the right thing.
TST’s headquarters is appropriately located in Salem, MA, and it has at least 18 other chapters throughout the U.S. and Canada. The church is dedicated to promoting religious pluralism (the “melting pot” image of America), preventing the use of corporal punishment and solitary confinement in schools, and repairing the damage done by the “Satanic Panic” of the last quarter of the 20th century. If you want to know more, check out thesatanictemple.com. Have fun out there and Hail Satan!