Jul 25, 2023

A closer look at the Satanic Temple, an oft-misunderstood, nontheistic religious group with a Colorado congregation

Contemporary satanism can be confusing. Neither The Satanic Temple nor the Church of Satan claim to worship the devil.

Debbie Kelley 
Colorado Springs Gazette
July 23, 2023

On a late Tuesday afternoon when the phrase “hot as Hades” comes to mind, a few people trickle into a downtown Colorado Springs bar.

They sit on stools, sip their drinks and cogitate on the lower level, where an oversized reverse image of a snarling dog baring fanged teeth is the backdrop.

Light conversation turns to the weather.

“It’s really hot out there,” I murmur.

“Even for satanists,” quips one of the table mates.

“Good one,” I reply.

“Thanks,” she says, flashing a devilish grin.

The public is welcome at weekly “office hours” — basically a social gathering — of The Satanic Temple Colorado South.

Although local members said they weren’t officially “trained” or authorized to speak with media, they made room to pull up a chair at the recent gathering but didn’t want to be identified.

The event attracts diverse regulars and guests, from Gen Z to boomers.

By day, one member is a button-down shirt and dress pants guy, another works remotely from home, in pajamas if she wants.

On Satanic Temple nights, they might show up with an occult-style pentagram necklace or in a “Menstruatin’ with Satan” T-shirt, referring to an organizational program that provides period products to charities, or a shirt with the image of Baphomet, a medieval pagan icon recognized by its large goat head.

The ages, professions, cultures and backgrounds vary, but all subscribe to the tenets or want to learn more about The Satanic Temple, a nationwide nontheistic religious group registered with the Internal Revenue Service as a tax-exempt church.

A dozen to 16 people walk in and greet one another with a horn hand gesture, with the index and pinkie fingers thrust upward and the two inner fingers held down by the thumb.

Members and curious guests shoot the breeze, examine their beliefs, review upcoming activities and generally develop solidarity with like-minded people.

The weekly assembly is also the beginning of the membership process, which lasts six to eight months in the Colorado congregation.

Like any church, attendees form a community, one in which they say they can find acceptance and be themselves without fear of rejection or ridicule, whether that’s channeling pixies and rainbows, going Goth or spouting blasphemy about Christianity.

Members say they’re tired of what they see as mass acceptance to proselytize Christianity in society. To oppose that, they say, is to be a Satanist.

Satan, the fallen angel-turned-devil in biblical accounts, is appealing, not just in the basement of a Colorado Springs nightclub.

The Salem, Mass.-based Satanic Temple began in 2012; an unrelated organization, the Church of Satan, has been around for 57 years. The latter does not have in-person interaction, unless it’s clandestine, according to its website.

Over the decades, Satan has been revered, imitated, debated and repudiated in theological circles and woven into pop culture as a character or a concept.

Interest in mainstreaming Satan has been resurrected in the 21st century. The Ouija board is back. The first in a trilogy of sequel films to 1973’s “The Exorcist” is scheduled to be released Oct. 13. British singer Sam Smith dressed like a devil at this year’s Grammys. American rapper Little Nas X’s “Satan shoes,” with real drops of blood, made headlines two years ago.

“Satanic manic,” a local Satanic Temple follower calls the fervor.

Satanists say they don’t worship Satan

Contemporary satanism can be confusing. Neither The Satanic Temple nor the Church of Satan claim to worship the devil.

“We look to Satan as symbolic and nothing more,” said June Everett, an ordained minister of Satan in the Colorado congregation.

That’s also likely not what Smith was doing when he performed his song “Unholy” at February’s Grammys in red leather and horned headgear, said professor Jeffery Scholes, director of the Center for Religious Diversity and Public Life at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs.

“It was meant to be contrarian, provocative and not necessarily an expression in the belief of Satan,” he said.

The Satanic Temple promotes self-autonomy, individual rights and establishing one’s own morality, Scholes said.

“They’re against traditional religion, and they’re anti-authoritarian,” he said. “They challenge God’s authority using reason, not religion or the Bible.

“It’s secular humanism with a provocative title — which is what has helped them gain followers.”

Followers do not recognize any supernatural being, whether that’s Satan or God.

“We worship ourselves and our congregation and people that are real here on Earth,” Everett said.

That makes the name of the group misleading, Scholes said: “They want to get you in the door, so it’s not about the images that are conjured up when you think about Satanism, which is scary and sacrifice. They’re not about that.”

Satanic Temple rituals do not include animal sacrifice or anything illegal or harmful, Everett said. For example, the un-baptism ceremony renounces ties and promises to Christianity and induces healing from wounds inflicted by Christian churches, she said.

Black Masses, an irreverent take on the Catholic worship service, also are held, and activities around Halloween are based on underworld concepts.

Advocacy programs include the Satanic Abortion Ritual, which Everett said affirms that one’s body is subject to one’s will alone, which is one of the church’s seven tenets.

An inaugural Samuel Alito’s Mom’s Satanic Abortion Clinic opened in February in New Mexico, providing telehealth appointments for chemical abortions in states that have restricted abortion.

After School Satan Clubs are another project. Colorado’s first and only club began this school year at Paonia K-8 in Delta County School District 50-J on the Western Slope, offering “free inquiry and rationalism.” Eight After School Satan Clubs operated nationwide last school year, Everett said.

She isn’t aware of plans to start such a club in the Colorado Springs area. Clubs arise at schools that have existing evangelical Christian clubs and where a Satanic Temple member is available to lead the countercultural model.

The Delta County school district has said it provides space for the group’s meetings, the same as with other student clubs. The district’s superintendent did not respond to requests for an interview.

An indication of ‘spiritual hunger’

The Satanic Temple is interesting because it promotes “being a better person to the people around you,” said Grace Garcia, a University of Colorado student in Colorado Springs who will graduate in December and wants to work as a death investigator.

She thinks The Satanic Temple is more effective at doing that than the Catholic church she previously attended.

“It gives off more ‘do no harm but take no (expletive)’ kind of vibes,” Garcia said. “They don’t believe in Satan; they use it as a prop to explain the views they have.”

The Satanic Temple says it doesn’t proselytize but does solicit members. A booth at this year’s Pride festival drew so much attention that “we had a line 20 to 40 people deep, to the point that we were blocking the whole sidewalk,” Everett said.

Garcia was among the crowd. She also likes the temple’s lack of “fear-mongering” that she said she noticed in Christian churches.

“Christianity very heavily relies on the fact that you are born a terrible person, and you need to work your entire life to somewhat fix that,” Garcia said. “The Satanic Temple explains it as you can be a bad person, but you can be better. They come from that point of view from a lighter perspective.”

Colorado’s congregation, one of more than 50 nationwide, is split into four regions: North, South, Central and West. Statewide, the church has 40 official members, 200 recurring attendees and 4,800 newsletter subscribers, Everett said. National membership has topped 1 million, she said.

Everett attributes growing interest to last year’s United States Supreme Court overturning of Roe v. Wade, public school board politicization and controversies such as book banning.

“Those things have been driving a lot of people our way,” she said. “We get a lot of people who were abused emotionally, physically or mentally by Christian churches. We welcome outcasts, the excommunicated, atheists, anyone.”

Humans naturally yearn for a spiritual component in life, said Adam Holz, editor of Focus on the Family’s Plugged In, a conservative Christian entertainment publication with a podcast and a blog.

“There’s a spiritual hunger out there because these things people are doing ultimately aren’t fulfilling,” he said. “God designed us to be in relationship with him, and if we believe we’re created for that experience of the divine, something transcendent, we look for that — even if we reject it.”

Christians typically hold the belief that even when interplay with the Evil One is more philosophical than theological, just invoking Satan can lead to a perilous relationship with the dark side, summoning spiritual warfare.

“Even if you don’t think you are worshipping a literal Satan, a Christian would say you could still be in relationship with him,” Holz said.

“We do believe there is a spiritual reality — Satan is being set up in opposition to God the father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

“Jesus said the devil came to kill, steal and destroy. There is a real spiritual danger.”

Garcia doesn’t buy that reasoning.

“It is highly believed in Christianity that Satan is a very bad dude, and if you do anything that brings him into your life, you’re asking for the pain and suffering to come after you,” she said. “I don’t believe that to be true.

“Personally, I don’t think there’s any harm in believing in these types of things. Harm can come from anywhere. If you’re a religion that states ‘protect yourself and others as well,’ I don’t believe there’s any harm in it.”

Instead of being shocked at the rise of Satan, Holz challenges Christians to see the movement as an opening to talk with people who find Lucifer attractive.

“It’s an opportunity to have a conversation about what do you believe, is there spiritual truth, are you trying to seek fulfillment spiritually,” he said.

“I’m certain there are people who’d say this is indicative of things going from bad to worse. To me, it’s indicative of a society rejecting God, and we’re hard-wired to find something spiritually. This is one expression.”

And, Holz notes, “Diablo means the splitter, the ax head splitting the wood.”

Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.


No comments: