Atheist Satanist Debate
Jex Blackmore (The Satanic Temple) and Cindy Fleming (Temples of Satan)

There is a rising controversy among two of the least likely beliefs to cause a stir with one another in the realm of religion: Satanism and Atheism.

The atheistic Satanic Temple is a New York-based organization that recently introduced a chapter in the city of Detroit; an action that has caused friction to appear between them and other groups identifying as Satanist. This unusual case of religion and anti-religion has caused many people, both inside the organizations and outside, to ask: Can an Atheist also be a Satanist?

What is Satanism?

The Temples of Satan is a group closer to the common interpretation of a religious organization than many other fringe Satanist groups, including The Satanic Temple. According to Rev. Tom Erik Raspotnik, the Temples of Satan worship Satan as a deity. He and other followers of his faith identify as pro-life and believe in animal sacrifices.

With The Satanic Temple, however, there is much less emphasis on the aspect of Satan, and more upon approaching the world from a humanist mindset. While they subscribe to the adversarial concept of Satan and outwardly identify with Satanism, they do not hold active worship or services. In their own words, they subscribe to the “Literary Satan;” the one that is seen in works by Milton and Blake.

Why The Schism?

Another Satanist organization with beliefs founded in Atheism, the Church of Satan, while encouraging of the concept of intelligence and disobeying social mores, has come out to say that The Satanic Temple should not brand themselves as “Satanist” because that’s a term reserved for the Church of Satan. A Satanist who worships the deity Satan, Cindy Fleming called the Temple of Satan hypocrites. According to her “An atheist is what? They don’t believe in anything, any religion.”

Religion In Anti-Religion

It seems as though The Satanic Temple is here to stay, and they believe that they are being harangued by the mainstream Satanist organizations because they do not adhere to their hierarchical structures or beliefs. As ironic as this may be to some, it is still a valid argument that Atheism is the absence of religion, and that religion is often characterized by a god, omnipotent or not. If this is the operative definition, then it would seem that The Satanic Temple is in an interstice between religion and disbelief. They will likely remain on the fringes until there is better agreement as to what makes a religion religious.

UPDATE: A previous version of this article had confused the views of the Temples of Satan, worshippers of Satan, and the Church of Satan, Atheists. That mix up has been fixed.


Follow the Conversation on Twitter