Tag: Religion

"Of course I want to turn away from sin"

Ezra Furman is a gender-fluid rock musician and practicing Jew. To him, that’s not a paradox but an empowering identity.

Religion seems to be very central to who you are as an artist and private person. A lot of your lyrics deal with God and you describe yourself as a religious Jew. That is not the first thing that comes to mind when I think about a self-proclaimed gender-fluid rock musician.
I don’t see any contradictions there. Music and religion have always gone hand in hand. Gospel and other church music are the most obvious examples but also Blues was hugely influenced by the musicians’ faith or interest in god. Music has the power to bring people into a state of transcendence in which they experience extreme joy or sorrow. Music gets you to think and act beyond your regular and mundane state of being. Religion has that power too. To me, these are just the two things that I care most about. My purpose in life is connected to both of these things. I think God wants me to use music to improve people’s lives.

“It is tough to be a religious Jew and a rock musician”

Other rock musicians like Little Richard became extremely religious to turn away from what they considered a sinful life. With you, it seems that you embrace both religion and the sins that come with the life of a rock musician.
I wouldn’t put the two in such opposition. It’s not like every rock musician leads a sinful life or that you can’t sin and yet be interested in religion. Especially in blues and early rock, the devil was a very important and widespread symbol of the temptations of everyday life. But I come from a Jewish background and the devil is not that central in Jewish mythology. In Jewish tradition, there is no personified master of evil. We believe that there is only the evil inclination in each and every one of us, and that is something I concern myself a lot with. Of course I want to turn away from sin. That was the impetus for my song One day I will sin no more. But when I think about sinning, it is mostly not related directly to my profession. There is a culture of heavy drinking and casual sex in rock and although that is not necessarily sinful, I am morally weary of these things. It is tough to be a religious Jew and a rock musician, but mostly so because of clashing schedules.
You never played shows on Fridays to observe Shabbat.
That is one example. It’s hard to follow the rituals if you are constantly on the move. That is the biggest problem.
But the mythology and rituals of rock music seem so at odds with how religion wants us to behave.
I don’t necessarily agree. I know what you mean but consider that rock is about disobedience and so is a lot in religion. Yes, religion often wants us to live in a certain way and to obey rules but my belief is that there is only one judge of humankind and so nobody apart from god has any authority over me. The more religion becomes a strange thing rather than the mainstream of society, the more it becomes a revolt against that same mainstream. There are many variations of religion and therefore many ways to practice it. I don’t come from a conservative background; there was never any pressure to live in a certain way.

“Religion is empowering the underdog”

Would it be correct to argue, that you are more interested in god than in religion?
Yes and no. I do practice my religion but I think religion should be for god’s sake and not for its own. The Bible is full of examples of pious people that worship god but act immorally outside of the temple. That is a performance of religion. That is not what I want. If you practice religion truthfully, it is about justice and compassion. That’s another thing that it has in common with rock music: it’s empowering the underdog.
Do you feel like Judaism gives you more liberties than another religion would? There is no high authority like a pope in Judaism, so the religion is a bit more open to different interpretations. 
That’s a bold statement. I partially agree that Judaism is often against hierarchies in the way that it is about empowerment and freedom. At the same time, the religious texts are clearly based on a social hierarchy: men are more important than women for example. Having said that, I think that any religious text is an ongoing process. The Bible is not a definite guide to modern society. These texts need to be repeatedly, even constantly re-interpreted to fit into our real lives. Religion is—can be—progressive. We shouldn’t let fundamentalists convince society of the opposite. That’s why it is so important that people like me don’t walk away from it but embrace it and improve it. I understand that some people just want to reject religion all together but that’s not for me.
Do you feel welcomed when you go to the synagogue or do you feel prejudices because of your appearance?
I go to a very liberal synagogue, so there is not a lot of stigma. I know that’s not true for every church or synagogue. Many Orthodox places wouldn’t want me to attend their services, at least not dressed the way I tend to dress. There is a lot of shaming going on in some places because of how people look or behave. But where I go, embarrassing or shaming fellow believers is a sin, it’s almost as bad as murder.

“The Bible is not a finished guide to life”

You describe your music as a healing process for the downtrodden that do not believe in traditional gender categories. Religion very often propagates and cements the latter. How do your fans react to your religious beliefs?
I see what you mean but at the same time, it’s not like every religious institution is the same or oppressive. There are gay churches that are there to welcome gender-fluid people. Sometimes people criticize me for being religious and being a champion for gender freedom at the same time. They show me religious texts that are homophobic or misogynic and ask: “How can you support this?” A lot of text passages are deeply disturbing but the majority of religious people don’t take them literally. I mean we don’t slaughter lambs every day for instance. Jewish texts are always read with the understanding that it they are meant to be expanded upon and continually adapted, keeping our principles and moral intuitions intact above all else. The Bible is not a finished guide to life, ancient or modern. It was always missing details and intended to be interpreted. The same goes for the U.S. Constitution. It is the foundation of our political system and lays down a set of rules – many of which are incomplete, completely outdated or morally wrong. But we try to keep it updated and make it better.
Is there a religious narrative or part of mythology that is especially sacred to you?
I like King David’s psalms a lot. As a songwriter you have to look up to him. I like Psalm 34 in particular. He wrote it when he was being persecuted by the king at the time and he pretended to be insane so that they would not kill him. He pretended to be crazy to escape a dangerous reality – that’s something I can relate to.
Ezra Furman’s latest release is called “Big Fugitive Life”. He is currently working on a book about Lou Reed’s album “Transformer” for the 33 1/3 book series. Check out his website at ezrafurman.com.

"People say: ‘Father, I need an exorcism.’"

Fr. Gary Thomas is the mandated exorcist within the Diocese of San Jose, California. Who better to ask about the existence Satan, demons, and the dangers of practicing yoga?

The Idea List: How do people react when you tell them that you work as an exorcist?
Fr. Gary Thomas: It gets peoples’ attention. I am a full-time pastor as well as an exorcist within the Diocese of San Jose, in the Silicon Valley. But it is a very controversial thing to say, it’s somewhat emotionally charged, and most people don’t know a lot about it.

Father Gary Thomas is a pastor as well as a Vatican-trained exorcist. His story is the basis of the book "The Rite", which was later turned into a movie starring Anthony Hopkins. Photo: Copyright LifeTouch/ Sacred Heart Parish. Used with permission.

Father Gary Thomas is a pastor as well as a Vatican-trained exorcist. His story is the basis of the book “The Rite”, which was later turned into a movie starring Anthony Hopkins. Photo: Copyright LifeTouch/ Sacred Heart Parish. Used with permission.

Why do you think it is so emotionally charged?
For one thing, the notion of Satan is scary. Part of it is driven by Hollywood, in terms of the movies that have come out since “The Exorcist” in 1973. But the notion of evil is something people relate to. They have a sense of evil, but many do not believe in the Person of Evil.  In other words, the notion of an intelligent creature of evil is not believable for many people in today’s society. A lot of people are also skeptical, or have an emotional attachment to that, an emotion of anger or disdain. But most of the emotion comes from the fear of the unknown: Could this type of thing attack me?
Anecdotally, I can confirm that the notion of Satan and evil seems more developed in the United States than in relatively secular Western Europe. Would you agree?
Having only lived in Italy for a length of time, I can’t make that comparison. But I will say this about Italy: According to the course that I took, the exorcists in Italy perform approximately 500.000 exorcisms a year. That is because the occult is practiced by a quarter of the population in Italy – a country that is 97% Catholic.

“People practice the occult – but not necessarily consciously.”

What does it mean to practice the occult?
Witchcraft, paganism, palm readings, ouija boards, black magic, white magic, psychics – all that kind of stuff that we would consider divinations: Where you replace God with another means to attain power or knowledge.
In a speech you gave, you described demonic powers as the removal of God and humans stepping into his place.
In Catholic tradition, we would understand the Book of Genesis as an allegory. We wouldn’t understand it as absolutely as that the world was created in seven days, we would understand it as that God is the author of all life. And since Jews practiced numerology, seven meant perfection. God creating the world in seven days was a way of expressing that God created the world in a perfect balance. But when Satan, using the medium of a serpent, seduced Adam and Eve, he seduced them into believing that they could be gods unto themselves. Very often, not necessarily consciously, that is what people do when they practice the occult. When people are involved in actual Satanic practices, their allegiance is to a preternatural being subservient to God, rebelling against him.
What do you mean when you say that people “unknowingly” practice the occult?
When people come to me and we do discernment, in other words when they say “I need an exorcism, father.” I always say “I don’t do them on demand, it doesn’t work that way.” There is a process, like when you go to the doctor – you don’t expect them to prescribe something without knowing what your symptoms are. In a sense, we do the same thing. During the discernment, I always listen for doorways: What might have been an opening that someone may have used as a way of inviting a demon in. Most of the time, that doesn’t happen deliberately.

“It’s rare that somebody is deliberately looking for a relationship with Satan.””

How does it happen?
It’s rare that somebody is deliberately looking for a relationship with Satan and then comes to me. Occasionally that is what happens: “I did something I was angry about and invoked Satan and made a pact with him.” What happens is that people start playing around with the occult, playing violent video games with demonic themes, those are doorways. Does that mean a demon is necessarily coming? No! It means you are calling out for attention. If you have soul wounds such as abuse or other traumas, they are an opening. And the doorways are the devices people often times use. Far more often than not, people get involved out of curiosity or because classical prayer doesn’t work in the same way. They want immediate results!
Instant gratification?
That’s what our society wants, but prayer doesn’t give you immediate responses. In our technological culture, we are used to getting what we want on the push of a button, so people have the same predisposition when it comes to prayer. When people are in crises over God they might turn to the occult because somebody has told them that it will get them an answer, power, wisdom, or insight. That’s why sometimes people use yoga: Not for the purpose of exercise but for enlightenment. When you do that, you open a door and you don’t know what you are opening it to.
From a Catholic perspective, are activities like violent video games or yoga dangerous?
Yes, but I have to qualify that. My mum, a very devout Catholic, used to practice yoga, and I told her: “As long as you do it for the purpose of exercise only and you’re not invoking any gods, not doings any of the “om”s, any of the rituals, I don’t see any reason why you can’t do it”. It’s when people do it for power or enlightenment, then it becomes dangerous because you don’t know what you’re invoking. As for violent video games: It’s not about somebody who plays them once, it’s about being on the computer five to six hours a day, mostly children, and become a kind of disciple of it. Even using an ouija board can be an opening. Do I think using it one time can cause a problem? No, but it’s people who make a habit of using it and get good at it. Those people are at risk.

“There are six classic signs to a demonic attachment.”

Because they are rejecting God?
It doesn’t mean they are intending to reject God. They think “this is cool, I can get my answers this way” and don’t initially recognize the danger of what they are doing or that it is a form of paganism and an affront to God. God is a big boy. He is not going to be ticked off because somebody does it. But his own disposition would be: Direct your prayers and focus on me rather than these artificial, human-made things. Because in the end you end up opening doorways and may not know who is behind them.
You are saying that what can be behind those doorways is evil or the Devil itself, a force you might be letting into your life.
Well, it’s more than a force. We teach that evil is personified, an intelligent being who doesn’t just epitomize evil but is the reality of it. We refer to him as Satan. This is related to the story of salvation, as it applies to all Christians, and the cross. Remember that Jesus’ mission was to defeat Satan. And the whole reason for Lucifer becoming Satan was over the incarnation, of God becoming human, taking on our human nature. That was the cause of the rebellion, and it was the decision of the Father to commission his son to save the human race from Satan and what sin brought – which was death. He comes to restore the balance in the universe. For us, it’s more than a force. Some people might say that they don’t believe Satan is a real being. Ok, people can have the options they hold, but that is what we teach.
I read that you consider exorcism a matter of last resort, that you first try to find out whether what people diagnose as possession is not in reality a psychological issue.
You are correct, but let me qualify that a little bit: The point of the team is to discern what the cause of a person’s suffering is. Many people jump to the conclusion that they have a demonic problem. It creeps them out, it doesn’t seem medical, it seems outside of the realm of the mental, so they go to the demonic. My role, and that of the team, is to discern the true source: Is it psychological? Psychiatric? Preternatural, medical? Something else? I only perform a solemn exorcism when all of the other means of freeing the person from the demonic attachment have failed.
How do you find out there is a demonic attachment?
We can identify by it the six classic signs: An aversion to the sacred, inordinate physical strength a person doesn’t normally possess, speaking a language they have no competency in, knowledge of hidden things, foaming at the mouth, and epileptic-like seizures, usually appearing during deliverance prayer. These are the classic signs, and if those – or one of them – show up, you get people into a regimen of prayer. For Catholics, that includes the sacrament: Holy mass and confession. But also daily prayer, weekly communion, monthly confession. And you set up a time or do a regiment of deliverance prayer to try and cast the demons out. You only go to the formal exorcism once you have done the deliverance work for a while, maybe six months or longer, when it is very clear that you have reached an impasse. That is when I ask the bishop for permission to do a formal exorcism.
What does it consist of? And has it changed over the years?
The ritual was authenticated in 1614. Before that time, the Catholic church did not have an authoritative ritual. It has been revised, once in 1998, once in 2004. It’s been largely the same from 1614 to 1998. It was the last ritual in the church that was revised after the Second Vatical Council. It consists of the praying of the Litany of Saints, scripture, prayers directed to God and prayers directed to the demon itself. The Lord’s Prayer and Hail Marys are sprinkled in. And then you can repeat part of the ritual, the prayers to God and to Satan, until you decide you want to end the session. But that is basically what it comes down to.
It seems counterintuitive that there are prayers directed to Satan…
As the mandated exorcist of the diocese, I can address Satan directly. That has to do with the authority of apostolic succession. In our tradition, a Bishop is the exorcist of the local diocese by right of his ordination. No one else can perform the solemn exorcism, other than a mandated delegated priest such as me. Bishops can also deputize someone for a time, for a particular individual for example, but not for an ongoing basis. In my case, I am the exorcist on an ongoing basis. I still have to have the permission of the bishop every time I perform an exorcism on a new person.
How many exorcisms have you performed?
I have performed it on 12 different people. That doesn’t mean 12 exorcisms. I have done exorcisms on 12 people, but performed probably 60 or 70 exorcisms over ten years. A lot of the people who come have mental problems, not demonic ones. So when we determine that there is nothing demonic, then we try and direct them to one of our therapists. But even part of the discernment is witnessed by one of our therapists.

“The exorcist needs to be the ultimate skeptic”

What if the problems the exorcism is meant to solve aren’t just psychological ones? How do you determine it is demonic possession and not just a chemical imbalance in the brain?
You see the manifestations: During prayer, they are rolling their eyes, coughing in a dry, heaving kind of way because of the power of the prayer. Or they are displaying physical strength, where they can’t sit in the chair although being held down, and try to attack me, or they are speaking in a language that they have never spoken before – like Swedish. That’s how you tell the difference. But it’s not done in one session. There is never just one demon, there’s a tribe. Satan assigns a demon, a very powerful one, who then recruits other demons to attach to that person. They are parasitic, gaining temporary life from being attached to us. Because all the rebellious angels, known as demons, are gradually dying. And they know that. They also know that they have no chance of salvation. So they aim to suck the life out of us and try to dissuade as many of us from God as possible.
But back to your question: That’s why I have a medical doctor, a clinician, and a psychiatrist – all practicing Catholics who believe in the existence of Satan.
That seems like a bias.
I am glad you say that. What that means is that demonic relationship is one more option to consider. It does not mean we’re biased, that we are like the ghostbusters. Most therapists are atheists or agnostics, so it’s not even on their radar. It’s an additional consideration, that’s all. When people come in, I don’t assume anything. When people say “Father, I have a demon”, I don’t answer “Ok, let’s go get ’em.” The exorcist needs to be the ultimate skeptic. It’s not that I don’t believe people, I believe the experiences they describe are true. However, my role is to figure out if what they are experiencing is demonic or mental. We take a very conservative stance, as does the church institutionally.
How so?
In the introduction to the rite of exorcism, it says that the exorcist must consult professionals, psychologists, psychiatrists, medical people etc. This is not something that’s a flash in the pan. Sometimes, people struggle with drug addiction. Things like meth or cocaine are doorways. But people who are meth users have often fried their brains and hallucinate. They see demons, hear voices they interpret to be demonic, though they may not be. Then I talk to a toxicologist to find out what I need to know about a meth user. The last thing you want to do is perform an exorcism on someone who doesn’t need it.
Because it will make it a self-fulfilling prophecy?
Exactly. It is psychologically damaging. We take this work really seriously. We are not a bunch of cowboys – and I am not suggesting that is what you said – but exorcism is not the wild wild West.
I raised the question because exorcism, from my viewpoint, seems very anachronistic.
There are people who think it is all medieval. But it depends on your optics: If you are looking through Christian eyes, in our tradition, Satan has boundaries. He has been defeated. But he has a tribe – and that is in the scriptures. From the Christian perspective, there are spiritual forces you can’t measure, you can’t see, and that may not even be experiential to most. There is a cosmic battle going on that will continue to the end of times – Christ has won the war, but the battles continue.

"We are rational people"

The Devil brings out the best in us, says Magus Peter H. Gilmore, High Priest of the Church of Satan. But only, if we don’t believe in him.

Is Satanism evil?
Good and evil are subjective valuations, despite many religions claiming that their mythical deities authenticate these human judgments. The philosophy of Satanism is thus something you must judge by the standards you yourself use, whether self-evolved or adopted from some religion or philosophy. Satanism is intended as a tool to enhance the life of a person for whom it comes naturally, one who is by nature carnal, skeptical, pragmatic, materialistic. Our self-centered view, which requires personal responsibility for one’s successes and failures, may be too challenging for most. And our championing of liberty concurrent with responsibility frightens people who feel that they can’t control themselves unless forced to behave by laws constricting their actions. Satanists are boldly capable of embracing a social contract of civilized behavior by our own volition, rather than because of the supposed dictates of some legendary supernatural overlord. It is thus up to each person to decide whether Satanism may be beneficial or negative to themselves. Satanism is a good for we Satanists who can live up to its challenges, but those who fear liberty and self-control might regard it as evil. Those who wish to have hegemony over others certainly find our creed of self-determination to be contrary to their dictatorial ends.
There is widespread misconception that Satanists must necessarily worship the devil as a mythical entity or external deity. You write, that he is merely representative of ourselves. In what way?
Satan in Hebrew means the adversary, the accuser, the one who questions, and that symbolism is apt for Satanists who actively explore and evaluate the world around themselves, only accepting information that we decide to be credible. Satan has served to represent pride, liberation from oppression, and as an enabler of earthly joy. He has been depicted as an astute critic of society by many intellectuals and creators throughout history: Milton, Baudelaire, Twain, Carducci, and Byron amongst others. Since Satanists are atheists, Satan represents a magnified symbol of our selves and what we value: freedom, individualism, skepticism, pragmatism, carnality, creativity, self-improvement, and the pride we have for our personal accomplishments.
You claim that the devil only exists within ritual and that all religions are in the “show business”, but that you are the only one honest enough to admit it. Why is the ritual necessary?
In Satanism ritual is not necessary – it is an optional tool that many Satanists find beneficial, but not every Satanist employs ritual. It seems clear to us that rituals are common to our species in all cultures: they function as an extension of the conceptual consciousness of human animals. For us, ritual is self-transformational psychodrama, a means for releasing and purging obsessive emotions hindering our pursuit of joy. It might only be utilized by some Satanists on rare occasions. One acts as celebrant in one’s own rituals—we don’t have a professional priesthood in the Church of Satan.
The world’s organized religions work to impress their followers, often through elaborate religious structures and ceremonial actions. Their Gods are myths, so what they do is a sham meant to enthral their followers—a show. They convince them that their professional priesthoods are needed so that via attending rites, their followers might be favored now and in the fantasy of an afterlife. That’s certainly show business since it presents a fiction; gullible people are made to think they are getting something (a deity’s beneficence) which does not exist. Satanic ritual is not worship, rather it is a form of self-celebration. We understand that ritual is metaphor, what our founder Anton Szandor LaVey called an “intellectual decompression chamber,” a means for emotionalizing via symbolic actions that are therapeutic.

“Satan serves to inspire us”

If Satan is only a fabrication of the Satanist mind and Satanism is ultimately about oneself, why not just worship yourself without the proxy of a supernatural entity?Certainly one could do so, but where’s the fun in that? We are Satanists, rather than just atheists and secularists, because we are excited by the symbol of Satan as an external projection of the best of ourselves. It has an aesthetic aspect, this embracing of the resonant symbol of Satan, and that is what becomes the dividing line for many who share our secularism. Satan serves to inspire us. Other atheists find different sources of inspiration and symbols to stimulate themselves.
What is hell to you?
Hell in most mythologies is a place of punishment for the damned or a cold, dreary underworld. For me, such myths are interesting in how they serve to threaten the adherents of most religions into obedience. A Satanist would consider a situation to be hellish if it was something deeply unpleasant that could not be readily escaped. For myself, having to deal with those who lack intelligence and curiosity on a regular basis would be tedious enough, and certainly hellish if I was forced to do so for the majority of my precious time.
You write that every Satanist is an atheist and his own personal “God”. What then is the difference to regular atheists?
Atheism is a position stating the non-belief in any supernatural deities—nothing more. After that fundamental thought, an atheist must examine the surrounding universe and society of humans to determine what sort of course of action might be most suitable. If you’ve observed atheists in general, amongst them there is no major agreement on a necessary philosophy after the determination that gods are myths. Coming to terms with a definition of what is right for humans in general, once God is not part of the equation, presents many different avenues of thinking. There are many humanist atheists who deify society above the individual. They seek a “common good,” but few agree with each other regarding what that might be or how it could be attained via various forms of government, economy and social regulation.
Satanism begins with the self as primary in one’s life, so each Satanist is free to determine what is personally valuable and how to then move through society. In Satanism we are not attempting to present a philosophy for everyone. Our way of thinking is meant as a method to find a path of maximum satisfaction during our lives, regardless of the society in which we find ourselves. We are not trying to change the society, unless we decide that is a worthwhile endeavor. A Satanist might decide he wishes to sacrifice his time and even his life for others who live now or in times to come, but that decision must be his, un-coerced by others.
Is Satan, a concept so deeply rooted in religion, the best figurehead for an atheist community?
We Satanists do not see ourselves as part of any community, not even one of Satanists. Satan as a symbol of the material, of human desire fulfilled, has global cultural impact, arising initially from the world dominance of Christian imagery and literature. His legendary refusal to serve Yahweh works well as an exemplar for we who oppose the spiritual regardless of what culture might be its source.
A large portion of Satanists around the globe still believe in Satan as an anthropomorphic being and identify as theistic Satanists. Do you actively try to convince them otherwise?
We do not accept those who believe in Satan as being Satanists, regardless of what they call themselves. Christians supposedly believe in Satan, but the subset of Satan’s believers—essentially heretical Christians—who worship him are not very large from what I’ve seen. From my observations over decades the amount of people who self-identify as “theistic Satanists” is a small one. To us, the term “theistic Satanism” is an oxymoron, since we defined Satanism for the first time in history as a coherent philosophy and it is atheist. “Devil worship” or “demonolatry” is the more accurate term for such theistic people. Just as we wouldn’t try to teach a pig to sing, we don’t try to alter the thoughts of such persons—it would waste our time and annoy those who are comfortable living in their illogical fantasies.
How do you handle ritual abuse? How do you distance yourself from it?
Ritual abuse is not a frequent criminal activity, contrary to what was claimed during the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s-90s. That it was ascribed to “Satanic cultists” back then has been debunked by American and European law enforcement agencies. Therapists who planted false memories in young subjects, due to their own twisted fantasies, have been sued for what was indeed an abuse of trust. During those hysterical times, I appeared on many talk shows to point out how such behavior is not congruent with Satanic philosophy. The Satanic Bible points out that children are to be cherished as they embrace their natural impulses before repressive religions condition them to do otherwise. Since Satanists are atheists, the idea that we’d sacrifice children or animals is senseless.
Only theists make sacrifices since they think such murders appease the supernatural entities they worship. Ancient pagans and jews sacrificed animals regularly. Today, we find that crime statistics indicate that Christians abuse their children and each other, at times in ritual, and they are being prosecuted for such atrocities. The widespread sexual abuse of children by the Roman Catholic Church’s priesthood has been their shame, and since its exposure they’ve paid much money as reparations to victims, though they’ve often protected the agents of abuse who are their clergy. Aside from this world’s largest Christian sect, small offshoots have been prosecuted for the torture and murder of their fellows, often in acts of purification or exorcism. But it is well-documented that ritual abuse by Satanists is non-existent. One must look to theists for those misdeeds.
You mentioned the “Satanic Panic“ of the 1980s and early 1990s, when people associated Satanism with violent rituals. Do you think that Satanism still suffers from that public stigma?
At this point, the talk show hosts who fanned the flames of that hysteria have apologized for promoting such lunacy. The wider public now has no belief in that mythology. Younger people have even forgotten that “The Satanic Panic” happened. Evangelical Christians were the source of that mythology and amongst their more radical sects there is still belief in such things, but most see them as freakish, and not a source of truthful data.
Satanism has reached a point where comedians have used accurate aspects of it for humor, since they tend to grasp that there’s been a shift in the public consciousness from believing in Satanists as being dangerous to now seeing them as having unusual, but not threatening, beliefs. Mike Judge’s Silicon Valley has a character who professes to following aspects of The Satanic Bible, and sketch comedy troops such as The Kids in the Hall as well as Mr. Show, by Bob Odenkirk and David Cross, had skits dealing with genuine aspects of our beliefs and aesthetics. Times have changed and our work towards educating not only the public but law enforcement – we consult for police and the FBI – has brought a basic understanding that we are not devil worshippers and not criminals. They’re also learning that not every Satanist listens to Metal music.

“Egoism is fundamental to Satanism”

Your church claims that “good is that which benefits me and promotes that which I hold in esteem. Evil is that which harms me and hinders that which I cherish.” Morality in that sense, does not seem to be bound to, or defined by a collective set of principles, but purely based on our own personal choices. Can that be good?
Yes, indeed that can be good, since Satanism is a rational philosophy which accepts a social contract of dealing equitably with our fellow humans. Morality is always subjective – it has been created by somebody, even if they claim it has been given to them by some mythical deity. It is what one chooses as the basis for morality that can make a difference. We see the Sharia law promulgated by Islam – a restrictive set of guidelines collectively held and enforced – and most who do not hold to that belief system find it unjust and inappropriate. The earliest forms of Christianity, like most theism-based moralities, defines any who are not adherents as tantamount to being inhuman and worthy of destruction, should they not convert. History shows us that such “collective” moralities can readily produce results leading to misery, oppression and genocide.
Satanism, since it demands self-responsibility and an equitable social order – live and let live being our goal – offers an approach wherein people would have the freedom to live within their chosen moralities so long as they don’t forcibly impose them on others. I suspect that this would be seen as a positive approach by many liberal-minded individuals.
Is egoism then more important than altruism?
We self-deify so egoism is fundamental to Satanism. We don’t expect others to adopt our perspective, as it is one of great personal responsibility. It comes naturally to those few with a carnal, rather than a spiritual, nature. We think the idea of sacrificing oneself for the good of others is something that must only come as a matter of personal choice; a Satanist can willingly make the decision to act in that fashion. Our philosophy places each of our selves as the sovereign center of a subjective hierarchy of values, and that does not mean that the goal of the Satanist is to crush everyone else. We are rational people, and we do not react in an automatic manner to the situations we encounter in our lives. People around us must earn our love and respect, as well as our disgust and contempt. We thus treat people as we would like to be treated upon first encounter, then, considering their response, we adjust our behavior accordingly.
We value principles supporting liberty and justice so some Satanists join the military in their nations of residence, so as to fight for such causes, perhaps even giving their lives in that pursuit. Satanists are also police officers or fire fighters, who risk and at times lose their lives performing the duties they’ve chosen to accept. Altruism, as an automatic sacrifice of oneself for others when one values others less than oneself, we observe to be a required duty imposed on many people who allow themselves to be subjected to authoritarianism, whether it be religious or political. No Satanist would accept being forced into such a position.
There are not too many shared rules or principles in Satanism, which is the basis of almost every other belief system. Does that make it more difficult to establish a sense of community?
We reject the idea that community is essential to Satanism. We understand that people with spiritual natures cannot find solace in our materialist world view, and we do not wish to convert them. However, we do not want them to force their ideas upon us, as we Satanists find their concepts to be unnatural. We thus advocate a secular, not a pluralist, government, based on reason and equity for all participants in the society. We do not advocate egalitarianism, the idea that all people are the same and should all have the same outcome in their lives despite different talents and desires to work towards success. We consider that, via a mutually agreed upon social contract, society should offer a level playing field from which we make our way towards success through developing our talents through discipline and hard work towards attaining desired goals. Each individual will have a unique course, based on ability and its application.
Is Satanism even meant to be a communal belief system?
Absolutely not. We do not have meetings, services or church buildings. Ritual is a tool that is personal, so Satanists who employ that practice create personalized spaces in their homes. They might at times include other people who are emotionally sympathetic to them in ritual, but since worship plays no role in Satanism, there is no need to gather in the way done by most other religions.
Are Satanists therefore the better “religious worshippers”?
Worship has no place in Satanism. Our philosophy seems best for those few people who naturally see themselves reflected in our literature. Regardless of whatever might be their culture of origin, their sexuality, or their social status, those who identify with Satanism as defined by the Church of Satan come to it of their own accord and find it to be the best tool for directing their lives towards positive results for themselves and those for whom they care.

“We have earned the right to defend our definition”

How open are members about their affiliation?
It depends upon the life situation of each member. We have thousands of members around the globe and many must keep their affiliation secret because of widespread prejudice and misunderstanding. Our members in creative fields like art and music can often be open. If what they express includes Satanic symbols and imagery it may limit their audience. But others, especially those who have succeeded in more popular art forms, often mask their membership. Our activist members typically are not open, especially if they run activist organizations that require major funding, since prejudice would hamper them achieving their goals and raising the required operational money. Our members who have prominent positions in government or institutions such as schools and universities also must stay closeted, for the most part.
That one is a Satanist can be a fact that may best be shared with a select few, those whom one can trust to not only understand, but to keep it as a secret. However, you’ll see on our website that we have a news feed and on that our members who are open about it display their doings. The Church of Satan is thus like an iceberg, with the smaller, public face being our open members, while the majority remain hidden beneath the surface, pursuing their desires without being hindered by other people who could be hostile.
Is Satanism in, for example, a Muslim country different than in a secular Western country?
Our members who reside in Muslim countries must keep their affiliation with Satanism strictly secret, otherwise they could be executed for being apostate. Even regular atheists are in danger since we’ve recently seen that Saudi Arabia has declared atheism to be a form of terrorism. Satanism is atheism-based, hence no Satanist in that country could be open.
The Church of Satan claims to be the only organization that represents Satanism. Is that not the same dogmatic or ideological stance you criticize in other religions?
No. What we oppose in other religions is their forcing their dogmas or ideologies upon others not interested in them. They are quite welcome to maintain their belief systems as they see fit. We do not consider them to be the truth, simply a human construct which may or may not be rationally consistant. Only someone who is part of one of those religions and wishes to change it would find dogmatism of ideology to be an issue. We are not their adherents, so such is none of our business. Defining a philosophy is a crucial task, for if it is nebulous, then people cannot find it worthy of consideration if they seek a consistent set of principles.
Before Anton LaVey began the Church of Satan in 1966 and codified the philosophy in The Satanic Bible in 1969, Satanism only existed as an accusation of heresy leveled by Christians at anyone they opposed, including their own adherents. The Church of Satan was first to define and widely promulgate Satanism as a belief system and thus our organization and literature are the foundations of Satanism worldwide. We have earned the right to defend our definition, particularly since it is the only coherent, well-developed philosophy using that name.
If one worships Lucifer or The Devil or Satan, one is practicing devil worship or demonolatry, not Satanism. More recently there have been people calling themselves “Luciferians” who have beliefs taking elements from Satanism, Chaos Magic, Thelema, Vampirism, and other “Left Hand Path” occult systems. These concepts are blended in a loose manner so that followers might believe in a supernatural entity known as Lucifer, or might see him as just a symbol. They might include all manner of magical acts as part of their religious practice, since one of their leaders favors such occultism. They like to gather in church buildings so they see themselves as communal. Because they differ greatly from Satanism, they chose a different label for their beliefs—“Luciferianism.” That is a sensible approach so that they can be defined in contradistinction to Satanism, though outsiders readily confuse the two. There are also people who have appropriated our label of Satanism because of its ability to generate sensational media interest while using limited aspects of our philosophy (atheism and secularism) for communal activism under a brief set of principles that have little connection to the majority of aspects of Satan as seen over history. They are opportunists seeking publicity, but have little to offer when it comes to elucidating a coherent, comprehensive philosophy.
Concluding: over the centuries, Satan has been depicted in many ways in religious writings, literature, art, or film. Which depiction is your favorite one and why?
I don’t have one particular favorite, since none offers a portrait that I find has enough depth to cover the resonance of Satan as a symbol for me. Milton’s Satan from Paradise Lost is heroic and inspiring. Mark Twain’s Satan in Letters from the Earth is sensible and sardonic. Al Pacino’s Satan from The Devil’s Advocate is savvy and pragmatic. Darkness from Ridley Scott’s Legend is an impressive looking  diabolical figure who calls to our attention that we are all animals—a prime tenet of Satanism. Carducci’s Hymn to Satan celebrates The Adversary as an advocate of learning and carnality who shatters the stultifying bonds of Christianity with reason—indeed a true inspiration to we Satanists serving as an admirable exemplar.