It’s Because of Jesus
A few years ago, my wife and I decided to go to a beer and food festival in downtown Portland. You may have heard that Portland is weird, but it also has its charms. The beer and food festivals are one of many appealing features of Portland social life.
We decided to take an Uber and I proceeded to have one of the weirdest experiences of my time in Portland.
As we entered the car, I quickly noticed something very different. The color red dominated the interior and there were strange symbols all over the car. The driver also had pentagrams and goats tattooed on his arm. As I settled into my seat, I began to realize the situation I just entered: I was a Christian pastor riding in a Satanist’s car on my way to a beer and food festival in Portland.
Yes. Portland is weird.
I kept looking at my wife, expecting to make eye contact, some kind of communication about this strange situation. But nothing. Apparently, this was normal for her.
When we got out of the car, I exclaimed, “That driver was a Satanist! That was so weird!” She replied, “Who cares? We got here just fine.”
Well, I couldn’t leave it at that. So, I quickly posted on social media that my Uber driver was a Satanist and had all kinds of satanic paraphernalia in his car and tattooed on his body and that I felt totally creeped out and isn’t Portland just so freakin weird!
One of my dear friends, who is a pastor in the Bible Belt, replied, “You were probably much safer in a Satanist’s car than you would have been in a Christian fundamentalist’s car.”
And with that, my wife and my fellow pastor began my journey towards seeing Satanists in a different light.
But if Satan were real and tried to trick us, … I think Satan would actually come in the form of God’s people – as Christians.
The Satanists of TikTok
It took a few years after that experience to meet another Satanist. In fact, it took TikTok.
I began posting minute-long educational videos on Christianity that challenged dominant understandings of the atonement, heaven and hell, Christian supremacy, abortion, and inclusion of our LBTQIA siblings in the church.
Unsurprisingly, Christian fundamentalists began to attack me – labeling me a heretic and accusing me of leading people straight to hell.
But then a surprising thing happened: Satanists started watching those videos and making comments like, “Satanist here. Just want to say I support what you are doing.”
Other Satanists began commenting, too, saying, “We share similar values of justice and compassion for all people.” Another posted, “What Christians don’t understand is that we Satanists don’t worship Satan. We see the character of Satan as motivation to rebel against oppressive power structures.”
REALLY!!! I thought. Maybe instead of being against Satanists, we could work together…Maybe I’ve been scapegoating Satanists this whole time…Even more interesting, Satanists were engaging Evangelicals and never threatened them with violence, either in this life or the next. Maybe Satanists are more Christ-like than many Christians…
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The Seven Tenets of Satanism
So I began to research. After typing “Satanism” into Google’s search engine, I found the Satanic Temple’s website and discovered the seven tenets of Satanism. As I read these tenets, my mind instantly started making connections to Jesus and the spirituality of the Hebrew scriptures. I’ll list them below and describe the beautiful connections that Satanism has with Christianity.
1. One should strive to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures in accordance with reason.
Striving to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures is also rooted in the scriptures. At the very beginning, in Genesis chapter 1, God creates the entire cosmos in phases – the land, sea, animals, bugs, trees, grass, and humans – and after each phase God says, “And it was good.” All of creation is inherently good and worthy of our compassion and empathy.
Not only that, but Leviticus 19:18 states that we should love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Exodus 23:4 extends this love to actions that benefit even our enemies, “If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it.” Later on, Jesus will connect these two principles by stating “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies…” (Matthew 5:43).
2. The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
The second tenet is fully in line with the Hebrew prophets and with Jesus. The prophets weren’t merely fortune tellers of the ancient world who predicted the future. They were truth tellers who struggled for justice, even if it meant confronting laws and institutions. The prophet Isaiah was harsh on the kings of his day. They had the power to write laws and decrees, and they often used their power in oppressive ways.
Ah, you who make iniquitous decrees, who write oppressive statutes, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be your spoil, and that you may make the orphans your prey! (10:1-4)
Jesus also struggled for justice as he sought to prevail over institutions. The biggest institution of his day was the Temple. It was the center of religious, political, and economic power of Jerusalem. The Temple became corrupt because its leaders were corrupt. Jesus confronted the Temple when he flipped the tables over and drove out the money changers as he yelled, “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers.” Jesus, and the prophets before him, knew that the human was more important than laws and institutions, so the struggle for justice must be an ongoing pursuit.
3. One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.
While I appreciate this tenet and the next one, they are the most problematic for me. Still, they have a lot in common with Christianity. They are both based on freedom, which is also a basic Christian tenet. God gives us free will, but with freedom comes responsibility.
I have seen this tenet primarily used by Satanists to support a woman’s right to choose an abortion. For most women, this is the most difficult decision of their lives, usually made due to traumatic life circumstances, which are made even more traumatic when they are further demonized, largely by religious folks, as they make this painful decision.
I have a podcast episode that goes into depth on a Christian’s support for a woman’s right to choose, but this tenet can be problematic. For example, I don’t know if Satanists have this issue, but from within my own Christian community there are those who claim to believe that “one’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone” is justification to refuse vaccinations during a global pandemic. In the same breath, they claim that while their body is subject to their own will alone, a pregnant woman does not have the same inviolability to get an abortion. “My body, my choice” has been co-opted by Christian anti-vaxxers, who want the “freedom” to refuse vaccinations because they claim their bodies are inviolable, but their freedom infringes upon my freedom to shop at the grocery store without having to worry about my safety from the Coronavirus and the Delta variant. We have competing “freedom.” We each have the same desire for freedom, which leads us into conflict. Unfortunately, shared desire, like the desire for freedom to do whatever I want, can often be used in selfish and harmful ways.
4. The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo one’s own.
I also agree that we should respect everyone’s freedom, including the freedom to offend. But I think this tenet can be problematic because it can easily be misread as saying, “I have the right to offend, and so I’m going to use my freedom of speech to be really mean!”
What I appreciate about this tenet is that it gives the freedom to others to use offensive language. The ethic in this tenet is not that I get to be an offensive jerk. It’s that I respect another’s freedom to be an offensive jerk.
Sadly, we live in a culture where many people feel the need to gain attention by being as offensive as possible. Being offensive gets us attention. And soon, someone says something I find offensive, and then I feel justified to say something offensive in return.
Since we live in a world that is full of people offending and taking offense, maybe what we need to realize is that opportunities to offend and to take offense will come. Sometimes people may intentionally try to offend us. Many times people aren’t intentionally trying to offend us. But despite intentionality, we have the freedom to choose how we will respond when we feel offended.
One principle that I’ve learned when I’m feeling offended by something someone has said is to resist responding to the offensive language, but instead respond to the content. For example, I recently posted a meme encouraging people to get vaccinated. An anti-vaxxer responded that I was fear-mongering and then called me a “Karen” because he felt I was shaming people into getting vaccinated.
I realized that he felt offended because I was encouraging people to get vaccinated. He felt shamed because he didn’t want to get vaccinated and he even said he felt persecuted because of being pressured to get vaccinated.
If you have found good solutions to respond to this situation, I would love to hear them.
There were so many things that I found offensive in his comment. My impulse was to mimic the offensive language he used against me. “I’m not a Karen! You’re Karen!” (Sorry to all the Karens out there. I can understand if you are offended. But we need Karens. You are bold and assertive, and there is so much good that can come from that!) And then I could tell him that he was shaming me for getting vaccinated and that he’s the real problem!
I don’t have the best answers, but what feels right to me when I feel offended is to move through the offensive language. Here’s what I mean: I want to look at whatever offends me and see if there is any truth. If there is truth in it, I’ll try to explore what it means. If there isn’t truth in it, I’ll put it to the side. Then I’ll respond as inoffensively as possible with what I think are the facts. In this case, I simply replied that in the United States we are averaging more than 2,000 deaths per day due to COVID. We have an easily accessible way to stop the spread and save lives. So please get vaccinated. If he continues to be offended by that, so be it. My goal isn’t to offend, but to educate.
5. Beliefs should conform to one’s best scientific understanding of the world. One should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit one’s beliefs.
Christians should want to know the truth. If God is real, then for us, all truth is God’s truth. That includes the truth about the world that we discover through science.
Despite what you may have heard, scientific truth is not a threat to Christianity. Science helps Christians and other theists learn more about God’s good creation.
The problem is that many Christians think the truth about our scriptures reveals the full truth about the universe.
What’s often missed in the religion versus science debate is that religion and science reveal different truths. Religion, at its best, reveals the truth about human relationships. For example, take the story of the first humans. They eat the forbidden fruit and then they hide from God’s presence. God comes to them and merely asks, “Where are you?” Then they play the blame game. The man blames the woman, and then he blames God for making her, and then the woman blames the serpent. And we have been shifting blame to one another ever since. In fact, the entire Bible can be seen as this dynamic being played out in every relationship, until someone comes in and breaks the cycle of accusation with the alternative – taking responsibility (the biblical word repentance, more on that below) and offering forgiveness. For Christians, this forgiveness is ultimately revealed in Jesus when he prays for the cross, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
But science tells us the truth about the material world. No sacred scripture tells us the truth about protons and neutrons, quarks and galaxies, DNA and viruses. Christians should follow science wherever it leads because it helps reveal the truth about how the universe works.
6. People are fallible. If one makes a mistake, one should do one’s best to rectify it and resolve any harm that may have been caused.
“People are fallible.”
Yep. It’s not so much a question of if one makes a mistake. It’s when one makes a mistake. That’s on every page of the Bible. Everyone makes mistakes, sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally. But we are not our mistakes. Or in the language of the Bible, we are not our sin.
For many of us, sin is an ugly religious word. But the word in Greek is hamartia, which comes from archery and simply means “to miss the mark.” Sin is “missing the mark.” We all miss the mark. And guess what that means? We can all recognize when our aim was off and we can try again.
In fact, the Christian word for this is repentance. This tenet of Satanism helps us understand this key spiritual concept. When we hear the word “repent,” many of us squirm with religious feelings of guilt.
But repentance isn’t there to make us feel guilty. It’s there to remind us that when we make a mistake, we all miss the mark, and we have the opportunity to rectify it and set things right.
But sometimes we have missed the mark so badly that we have caused serious damage. In some cases, trying to fix a relationship with someone we have wounded might only cause further damage. In that case, we can learn from the experience and do something better next time. Because for some reason, life always gives us a next time, which is an opportunity to do better. My friend Gareth Higgins calls this “living amends” in his excellent book How Not To Be Afraid.
7. Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word.
This might be my favorite tenet of Satanism. My issues with the third and fourth tenets are assuaged with this final one. As important as freedom is, if it is not guided by compassion, wisdom, and justice, my freedom can be used to infringe upon your freedom.
The point is that any tenet, any principle, any story, and any teaching can be misunderstood or interpreted in ways that go against whatever the author intended. And in the case of the Bible, it’s impossible to ask the authors what they intended. Tragically, throughout Christian history, many Christians have gone against the example and teachings of Jesus by attacking one another as they fight for what they thought was the right interpretation of scripture – and in doing so they completely missed the point.
The Spirit of Christ is the Spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice. Jesus once said, “You have heard it said, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ but I say to you, do not resist an evil doer.”
Jesus was directly quoting the written word found in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. The ancient law “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, and life for a life” might seem barbaric to us today, but back then, it had an important meaning. It was meant to limit vengeance. If someone took your eye, you could take their eye, but no more. And if someone killed your family member, you could kill that person, but you couldn’t kill that person and one of his family members. In that sense, this teaching was a click forward in human history because its intention was to limit human vengeance.
But Jesus took the Spirit of this written word a step further. Since the law was meant to limit vengeance, let’s fulfill it by seeking no vengeance at all. Instead of seeking vengeance, just stop the cycle in its tracks by refusing to participate in it.
Some of my Christian siblings claim that I am being duped by Satanism. They state that Satanism might look nice with these tenets, but the way Satan works is to trick us into believing he is cute and cuddly, and then, bang!, Satan’s evil powers have taken over the world.
In fact, some Christians on tiktok have said that Satan tries to look like Jesus in order to dupe Christians. So don’t be fooled by loving, kind, justice-seeking Satanists. They are just plain evil.
But if Satan were real and tried to trick us, I don’t think Satan would be so obvious as to come in the form of Satanism. I think Satan would actually come in the form of God’s people – as Christians.
After all, in the Bible, the word Satan has three meanings – tempter, adversary, and accuser. The spirit of Satan is the spirit that tempts us to become adversaries against one another through accusations. Whenever Christians unite against another person or group, we are falling into the satanic trap. In other words, we become the very Satan we claim to hate.
In this sense, Satanism is a test for Christians. Jesus calls us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. That includes our Satanist neighbors. Are we going to follow Jesus in loving our neighbors, which means getting to know and understand them, or are we going to accuse them of being evil?
Personally, as a pastor, I would much rather support my Satanist neighbors and work with them on their seven tenets than be tempted to make them into adversaries by accusing them of being some evil that they aren’t.
The world would be a much better place if Christians supported our Satanist neighbors.