A new study digs deep into end-of-life practices by one of the world’s most misunderstood religions: Satanism. Photo of Church of Satan High Priest Peter H. Gilmore by Flickr user David Shankbone.
Religious groups offer endless opportunities to examine human nature through beliefs and practices. Cimminnee Holt, a graduate student from Concordia University’s Department of Religion, is preparing a lengthy study for her doctor dissertation. Her focus? Satanists and how they live their daily lives.
Holt has released some of that research in a new journal article, “Death and Dying in the Satanic Worldview,” (PDF) which busts plenty of myths about Satanism and its adherents. For starters, she points out that Satanism is “an atheistic yet highly dogmatic New Religious Movement, which incorporates theatrical ritual as part of its practice. Despite its atheistic stance, the Church of Satan (CoS) has a distinct notion of a nonspiritual afterlife.”
Given that most people picture Satanists as people who worship, well, Satan — Holt is already turning the tables. In the course of her paper, she interviews two Church of Satan leaders; check out a summary here. She gets both men to open up about how they might like to be buried, and what they believe about the afterlife. In short, they don’t think there is a Heaven or Hell, but they do think that one’s actions live on after one dies. In other words, your work and legacy is your afterlife.
One leader said:
“The memory of the Reverend JR’s father is an example of Satanic afterlife; it was the father’s life that is important, not his death, and the imprint of that life on his loved ones creates a posthumous legacy.”
Holt’s paper is receiving plenty of public attention from the press, including the above CNN piece and another from the Montreal Gazette, which looks more broadly at the myths and realities of Satanism:
Characteristics of Satan that appeal to followers of the church, Holt says, include the idea that he is an adversary to other religions. As well, she adds that Satanists see merit in so-called sins such a greed and lust.
“Greed allows you to be successful in life,” she says. “If you want nice things, you have to work for them and you have to get money. If you’re a lustful person, and it’s one of the joys of life, then — with consent, certainly always with consent — if you desire, you should be pursuing.”
So, if Satanists don’t actually believe in Satan, what do they believe in? Well, for one, they believe in the empowerment and responsibility of people as individuals, Holt says.
“That means that you are the prime person responsible for actions in your life. You can’t blame the universe, God or devil for things that happen to you.”
Such a scholarly look at real-life Satanists will hopefully bring more real information about this misunderstood religion into the light, both for the general public and for the press. On their own, Satanists have not worked hard to clear up the public’s misconceptions of them. It’s time someone else took up the cause.
For more background on the Church of Satan and its beliefs, check out this interview with Church of Satan High Priest Peter Gilmore.
What have you learned about Satanism that most surprised you? Share your thoughts in comments.