X Close

How Satanism conquered America Untrammelled individualism is no longer a sin

He's probably just read Atlas Shrugged Credit: Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty

He's probably just read Atlas Shrugged Credit: Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty


September 15, 2021   6 mins

Proverbially, the Devil has all the best tunes. Does he have the best books too? Apparently so, at least where soft porn is concerned: last week, it was reported that Xavier Nobell, a prominent Catholic exorcist and bishop, has resigned from the Church in order to be with his lover, a writer of “erotic-satanic” fiction.

The whole story evoked The Exorcist, which came out a few years before I was born and was considered the ne plus ultra of shocking content into my tween years in the nineties. But even setting aside the fact that the other “side” seems to have won, Nobell’s story evoked less shock than nostalgia.

In 2021, even the idea of a priest as the main protagonist in a battle between good and evil feels, well, very 1973. These days, while there’s plenty of Satanist imagery about, overtly anti-Christian symbols seem either banal (Lil Nas selling Satan trainers) or just naff (WitchTok).

But if devilish imagery mostly feels a bit cringe, the Devil himself has gone mainstream. If being deliberately anti-Christian pour Ă©pater la bourgeoisie feels exhausted, for the new, post-Christian bourgeoisie Satan now reads like the good guy. And in the hands of this class, the Devil’s proverbial pride, self-regard and refusal to yield isn’t just celebrated — it’s on its way to becoming the established religion of the United States of America.

America’s Satanic Temple, founded in 2012, is still small in terms of absolute membership. But it hit the headlines last week when it announced plans to sue the government of Texas for restricting women’s ability to abort a pregnancy. In response, Salon magazine declared it the “last, best hope” for protecting abortion rights in the state. The Satanic Temple has an impressive track record in self-promotion via outrage, such as founding a Satanist after-school club. It goes without saying that in our febrile online political climate, the convergence of “abortion”, “ritual”, “lawsuit” and “Satan” resulted in a lot of publicity for the group.

But how did we get to a point where an online magazine with 10 million monthly readers is hailing Satanists as last-ditch heroes? The truth is that our modern sympathy for the devil has deep roots. And Americans in particular are highly susceptible.

Perhaps Milton is to blame; Cromwell’s chief propagandist is famous for creating the most sympathetic Satan in literary history. In Milton’s 1663 Biblical epic Paradise Lost, Satan both longs for the Heaven he’s renounced, but stubbornly refuses to be ruled, declaring: “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven”.

This matters, because Milton wrestled with core questions of law, authority and personal freedom that roiled at the heart of the Protestant Reformation. And the Reformation was foundational to the modern West (and especially to America). And tracing the history of that rebellion brings us, today, to the startling conclusion that post-Christian America is an increasingly Satanist regime.

Paradise Lost was written against a backdrop of religious ferment. Following Martin Luther’s 1517 rejection of the constraining, legalistic force of Catholic law, Civil War England was a chaos of competing sects. For in seeking to free Christians from a Church reformers claimed was rigid and corrupt, the Protestants opened themselves up to the possibility that all laws, rules and constraints might be replaced by faith. A great deal of early Protestant turmoil was driven by people arguing over what, if any, limits there should be to the rebellion against doctrine.

Some took it to extremes. One of Luther’s colleagues, Johann Agricola, preached in 1525 that even the Ten Commandments belong “in the courthouse, not the pulpit”. “To the gallows with Moses!” he declared. Luther was having none of it, dubbing this extreme rejection of legalism as “antinomian” heresy, meaning opposition to “nomos”, or law.

Laurence Clarkson, an antinomian contemporary of Milton, even wrote in one 1640 pamphlet that sin is fake news: “sin hath its conception only in the imagination; therefore; so long as the act was in God, or nakedly produced by God, it was as holy as God”.

As they say today: believe in yourself, and you can do anything. Though Milton painted such extreme rejections of authority and rules as — literally — Satanic, the appealingly anti-heroic nature of his Satan suggests he had mixed feelings. He wasn’t the last writer to be thus ambivalent. A century on, the antinomian celebration of self-expression accelerated in the Romantic era.

The engraver and poet William Blake declared in his 1790 The Marriage of Heaven and Hell that “no virtue can exist without breaking these ten commandments
 Jesus was all virtue, and acted from impulse, not from rules”. Meanwhile, of course, across the pond Milton’s republicanism was a key influence in shaping the American rebellion against government from the Old World.

Fast forward another century on, and it’s not such a big step from thinking God’s grace gives you the freedom to do what you want, to dispensing with the God bit. The occultist Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) pursued a doctrine of individual will unconstrained by law or stuffy morality. He called himself “The Beast 666”, experimented with sex and drugs and in 1923 was expelled from Sicily after an associate died in mysterious circumstances, reportedly after drinking the blood of a sacrificed cat.

We tend to think of such deliberately shocking behaviour as the essence of “Satanism”. But Crowley’s core legacy was stripping the last remnants of Christianity from antinomian rebellion. His most famous dictum, written in The Book of the Law (1909), was: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.”

He wasn’t the only one. Already in 1882, Friedrich Nietszche declared God dead and the human will to power as the only real source of good. In America, meanwhile, the individualist celebration of mankind became ever less Christian. Though she disavowed him later, the American writer Ayn Rand (1905-1982), called Nietzsche her “favourite philosopher” in the 1930s. Rand’s doctrine, Objectivism, argues selfishness is both noble and good: “It’s the hardest thing in the world – to do what we want,” argues one character in Rand’s 1943 The Fountainhead, “And it takes the greatest kind of courage”.

Both Crowley and Rand pursued the liberation of individual will from taboo, custom, law and even (as practitioners of ceremonial magic hoped) reality itself. These influences fused again in 1966 California, with Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan. Lavey drew on both Rand and Crowley to reject all collectivist constraints on individual behaviour and emphasise the primacy of individual desire. “There is a beast in man,” he declared, “that should be exercised, not exorcised.”

LaVey, a former carnival worker, took a highly theatrical approach to exercising that beast, incorporating dark ceremonies and all the props you’d expect to find in a horror-movie depiction of Satanism (or indeed in quite a lot of heavy metal). But if he was still rebelling against Christianity, the core Satanist philosophy of radical, godless freedom took less provocative form elsewhere in 1966 California in, for example, the “self-actualisation” promoted by Abraham Maslow, at the Esalen Institute.

So perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that individual autonomy and self-empowerment is the central aim of the Satanic Temple’s abortion ritual, the “ceremonial affirmation of self-worth and bodily autonomy” at the heart of the group’s current Texas court case.

But this doesn’t mean you need to become a devout Satanist to embrace the belief that self-empowerment is our real purpose in life, and that guilt is an unwarranted intrusion. Aleister Crowley wrote in The Book of the Law that “Every man and woman is a star”. And from Rand to Maslow to a trillion “empowering” Pinterest memes today, a variant of this dictum is a core message of the self-help industry.

Self-help writer Julia Cameron, for example, closely echoes Ayn Rand in her 1992 bestseller The Artist’s Way when she declares: “What we really want to do is what we are really meant to do”. Elsewhere, if you want a bit more ritual with your individualism, but the heavy-metal Church of Satan vibe isn’t your thing, there’s the occultism-meets-pamper-day aesthetic of Arin Murphy-Hiscock’s 2019 The Witch’s Guide To Self-Care.

Echoing Crowley, Murphy-Hiscock tells us: “Living as your authentic self means following a very individual path”. If, for instance, you find yourself plagued by inconvenient feelings of guilt as a consequence of doing exactly what you want, Murphy-Hiscock suggests a ritual for “releasing” those feelings.

No wonder the modern Satanic Temple is now (as the Guardian suggested in 2019) hard to distinguish from the liberal “good guys”. At its core Satanism is simply the doctrine of untrammelled individualism, shorn of any link to the divine. To put it another way: Satanists are just very, very liberal.

Milton saw Satan’s refusal to submit to any law (however ambivalently) as the sin of pride. Now, in our post-Christian world of self-actualisation, pride is no longer a sin. Rather, it’s a vital part of becoming fully yourself. As body modification micro-celebrity Farrah Flawless put it: “I do not believe in God, I don’t worship the Devil, but yes I am a Satanist which means I am my own god. I worship myself’.

Indeed, it’s so far from being a sin that sacralised self-worship now has an annual religious festival. This new, increasingly pseudo-religious summer event, simply known as “Pride Month”, may have started out as a twentieth-century campaign for gay and lesbian equality. But what began as a justified and (at root deeply Christian) campaign for equal treatment for gay and lesbian people has long since morphed into a corporate-sponsored celebration of individualism that today horrifies many gay and lesbian people.

Pinterest, the internet’s motherlode of self-help platitudes, succinctly summed up the new faith in an official post this year. As a religious holiday, Pride isn’t about gay rights; it’s where we “celebrate identity and self-expression in all its forms”. Inasmuch as Milton’s ambivalence about rebellion lives on, it’s in the now-traditional argument about whether there are any forms of individual desire still off-limits for proud celebration.

At least on the now majority post-Christian East and West coasts of America, this sacralisation of individual freedom and desire is increasingly assertive in its efforts to expunge Christianity as America’s official faith.

A less overt challenge than those posed by Aleister Crowley or Anton LaVey, but a continuation of the same argument. This time, though, the boot is on the other foot. The side with imperial institutional and military backing is the faith of self-expression, individual will and indomitable pride.


Mary Harrington is a contributing editor at UnHerd.

moveincircles

Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

88 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
David Barnett
David Barnett
2 years ago

There are many kinds of individualist philosophies, but what we are witnessing has little to do with any of them. I object to using the term, “individualism”, when what we are witnessing is narcissism.
The most universal expression of individualism has respect for all individuals. Narcissism is the exact opposite. Only the narcissist’s interests and desires matter. There is no philosophical coherence to it.
There is nothing so narcissistic as notions like Rousseau’s “general will”, where the narcissist claims to know what is good for the whole, and then claims moral right to impose it by force. (And how convenient that it conforms perfectly to the narcissist’s desires and interests).
There is something of Orwellian newspeak in rebranding narcissism as “individualism”. We need more genuine respect for individuals, not less. Watch your language, please.

Last edited 2 years ago by David Barnett
JP Martin
JP Martin
2 years ago
Reply to  David Barnett

Solipsism, maybe?

John McKee
John McKee
1 year ago
Reply to  JP Martin

These are twins.

Graham Willis
Graham Willis
2 years ago
Reply to  David Barnett

Thank you. Yes something was jarring with me about this piece and I think you have precisely identified it.

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
2 years ago
Reply to  David Barnett

Yes agreed, really well put.
Mary’s pieces are often very thought provoking and nuanced. This one was not so much.
I have noticed an increasing tendency to conflate secularism and even humanism as a sort of anti-religious sub-culture in league with woke culture and other hyper liberals.
That some people have replaced traditional religions with other pseudo-religious beliefs is not a sign that secularism has failed. Likewise individualism is exactly as you say – not what it sounds like and is too often accused of – Mary surely knows that

Last edited 2 years ago by A Spetzari
Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

MOST secular people have adopted religious beliefs, hence the explosion of the occult, notably Wicca (Feminism’s favourite religion) in the West.

This is because human beings are intrinsically religious – witness your enthusiasm for secularism.

Which has failed – it leads individuals to despair or to alternative religion; and has turned the West into a terminally selfish place.

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

That is projection on your part – you don’t seem to understand what secularism means. It doesn’t mean no religion, it means freedom to believe what you want. There’s a difference.
In more detail – secularism is the separation of church and state, (that is for example the freedom to investigate scientific and other pursuits without repercussions from religious authorities). This is part and parcel of what enabled enlightened thinking over the past 250+ years.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

The enlightened thinking that gave us the French and Russian Revolutions ?

And in more recent years, the political correctness and gender confusion that threaten the West’s survival ?

Not to mention the Hitlerian mass-murder of legalised abortion.

Enlightened thinking sounds very Satanic to me. As well as fanatically anti-religious.

Like 99% of those who pretend that all they want is the separation of Church and State, you seem to be an anti-religious fanatic disclaiming any personal hostility to religion !

David Barnett
David Barnett
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

The French and Russian revolutions and Hitler etc are the heirs of Rousseau and his “general will” conceit. Why this egotistical anti-enlightenment figure should be counted with the likes of Voltaire is a mystery to me.

Frederick B
Frederick B
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

Well said Tony.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

Separation of church and state came much earlier and from Jesus no less: “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s”.. no enlightenment reqd. Re-enlightenment perhaps: the same is sorely needed today, ie a rediscovery of what truely Christian thinking is about: you won’t get it from the established churches (usually) as their vested interest in mammon is far too entrenched. You’re more likely to hear it from Buddhists and Hindus than so called Christians who have reinvented the faith to suit all manner of deviant thinking and behaviour. Satan is alive and doing very nicely on twisted Christian thinking! In the age of post truth there is no need for any deep philosophical justification. Fakery is quite adequate: Trump proved that if it wasn’t already rife especially in the USA.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

It has failed because most people confuse religion with genuine spirituality which recognises a supra reality that engenders personal responsiblity for self AND other. It is clear that humankind will only survive if a genuine spirituality becomes widespread which is highly unlikely since its precondition is a realization that there is a lot more going on in this world than your philosophies can encompass (horatio). So we end up trying to do our bit amongst a primitive race that seems to be getting more shallow , ignorant and narcissistic every day. Buga

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  David Barnett

Most “individualism” nowadays has degenerated into narcissism.

The difference is that genuine individualism is unselfish.

John Fitzgerald
John Fitzgerald
2 years ago

Sobering stuff. I’ve been meditatively rereading The Silmarillion this summer – just 4 pages a day. Finished the ‘Akallabeth’ chapter this morning – Tolkien’s chilling account of the fall of Numenor: how a Divinely-appointed civilisation is gradually corrupted through desire for immortality/autonomy from love of the good to human sacrifice and open worship of the Dark Lord. It all ends with an assault on the ‘undying lands’ and the inevitable destruction of Numenor.

Read that early doors today before getting the kids up, taking them to school and doing a bit of work in town. Came back at lunch and read this piece straight away. Sobering, as I say. And all too apposite.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

Try CS Lewis ‘That Hideous Strength’, a Si-fi book on the secular Tech guys bringing on real evil, a great book.

I cannot read Mary’s frippery on Satan. Evil is Evil, and it is taking over more and more, and is the ultimate horror – that all the MSM, Social Media Magnates, all the Entertainment industry, and much of the education industry are being captured by evil means a very dark future indeed. I will now leave this article and posts – it is too grim…

John Fitzgerald
John Fitzgerald
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Good shout, Sanford. Seriously, not a single day goes by when I don’t think about That Hideous Strength. The bloody denouement at Belbury is that book’s equivalent of the fall of Numenor. Worth noting that just before the climax everyone in the banqueting hall starts speaking literal nonsense. No-one can speak coherently any more. Is that where we are as a society right now? It seems so in many ways.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Agreed about Lewis’ trilogy-must read again.

Mary Thomas
Mary Thomas
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Sanford Artzen: That Hideous Strength is the third in a trilogy written before, and overlapping with, JRRTolkien’s books – they were part of a circle of erudite friends. I always thought CS Lewis the more profound of the two. The first two books are Voyage to Venus and Malacandra. I consider them best read in order, to truly understand the grand finale in the final book.

I read these sixty years go when I was 13 and they had a major effect on my understanding of good and evil, the battle between them and the role of technology and science, purporting to be for the improvement of mankind but in fact making the powerful more powerful, and drastically damaging and dehumanising the Common Man.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 years ago

I love the Silmarillion, and yes, the Fall of Numenor is very much a description of man’s pride and hubris in setting himself up as God.

Adam Bartlett
Adam Bartlett
2 years ago

Thanks for an excellent and important article.
I had a shocking experience just last week suggesting how much Christian faith may have dwindled in progressive US circles. I’m a paying member of David Volts sub – as I think his political, technical and operational understanding of the needed response to climate change is second to none in several respects.   But last week he made what I thought was a rare misstep – starting a discussion thread saying that with the decline of Christianity in progressive circles, there was a need for a secular religion to take its place. Both as a source of unity for progressives, and to help folk come to terms with eco-grief.  I made a short post saying maybe don’t give up on Christ, who has His advantages as source of consolation,   and on the lines that widening the religious divide between progressives and conservatives may not be the best way to reduce polarisation.

<br>

But it turned out DV knew his audience well. My post was totally ignored with zero ratings. Virtually everyone else agreed with DV, suggesting the humanists or atheist variants of Bhudanism. And by far the most popular post was a long essay on US paganism!
US is supposed to have much higher religiosity than UK.  But if I say something about the church in a labour party meeting (which admittedly I’ve not been to for almost 2 years) theres always substantial minority support, several local Labour activists attend church every week. Very concerning if God is withdrawing His/Her Spirit from US progressive circles.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Adam Bartlett

his political, technical and operational understanding of the needed response to climate change is second to none …with the decline of Christianity in progressive circles, there was a need for a secular religion

Whoever this fool is, has he really not noticed that climate change fanaticism is a religion?
How can anyone not notice that?

Adam Bartlett
Adam Bartlett
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Maybe he had & was hoping said thread would lead to his subscribers promoting him to Vicar Volks! (Sorry if this reply seems flip. One day if feeling brave I may share some thoughts on climage change, but it seems off topic to do that here.)

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

There is science, and there is ‘the science’. The former is a method by which to deduce facts. It can tell us what’s happening around us to a certain extent, and we can act accordingly. The latter is a political agenda co-opted by experts who stand to make a lot of money and prestige by re-arranging society in order to meet some idealized goal.
When someone tells you to ‘follow the science’ they are in fact uttering a very unscientific statement. Science is not a set of rules to live by. There is no inherent value to science other than that it’s a method from which to suggest a course of action.
The planet will be here long after humans have perished or technologically advanced enough to colonize other planets. Eventually it will burn up when our sun expands into a red giant. I feel very little empathy for a lump of rock, and certainly don’t rank it above human well-being. This new-fangled fear of the weather really exemplifies how pampered and pathetic we have become.

Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
2 years ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

So far we homo sapiens have adapted quite well to continued challenge. I imagine homo next-to-come will replace us should we fail to adapt. And so it continues until we spiral into the Sun. The inability to adapt results in the end, but we are adapting.

Alan B
Alan B
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Lucifer: ‘light-bringer’… Prometheus: ‘future-seer’, &c… i.e. your point is already implied by these stories.

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Yes! It’s glaringly visible too. Thinking that humans can solve climate change is the ultimate expression of hubris.

Zac Chave-Cox
Zac Chave-Cox
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

I’m a bit confused, the comment above didn’t mention anything about climate change fanaticism, he just spoke about a needed response to climate change. (Although I don’t know who David Volts is)

Jerry Jay Carroll
Jerry Jay Carroll
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Scientism fails to take into account the Sun’s cyclical effects on the climate. Remember when the “settled science” science said we were entering a new Ice Age. The media was full of it at the time. It still is full of it, only in the other sense.

David NebeskĂœ
David NebeskĂœ
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Neither climate alarmists nor nasty climate businessmen are “science”.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
2 years ago
Reply to  Adam Bartlett

It may be that in the US there is much more religion (jumping through and verbalising hoops) but much less faith.

J Bryant
J Bryant
2 years ago

I greatly admire Mary Harrington’s writing but I feel this is not her best work. This essay feels labored and I’m not sure the characterization of the state of religious belief in America is accurate.
The main thrust of this essay is that toxic individualism is the new religion in America. The author’s attempt to portray this type of individualism as satanic feels strained notwithstanding the publicity seeking antics of the group called Satanic Temple.
Radical individualism is not a new phenomenon in American culture. It’s so widely recognized it’s on the verge of becoming a clichĂ©. The same is true of the notion that traditional religion is dead in America, especially in the coastal states. That’s simply not true.
Electoral maps conveniently identify states as red or blue and that’s a useful visual summary for the overall political demographic of a state, but it’s profoundly misleading about the distribution of political and, in this case, religious allegiances within a state.
The entire west coast is strongly Democratic because most of the population is concentrated in coastal cities dominated by the Democrats. Those cities also tend to be secular rather than overtly religious. But drive fifty miles out of those cities and the politics and culture change enormously. There is a deep well of traditional religious belief in most Democrat-controlled states. The people who live in the greater part of these states are unlikely to be influenced by the antics of Satanic Temple or similar groups on the internet.
If radical individualism is the religion of America, it’s mainly the religion of the metropolitan elites.
In my opinion, this article tries too hard to be clever, and to demonstrate the author’s prodigious scholarship, at the expense of accuracy. As an American I’m doubtless biased, but I find British authors do some of their worst work on Unherd when they write about America. It’s clear they don’t deeply understand the country and so fall back on tired tropes.
It’s autumn now in England. Perhaps Mary Harrington could write an essay on autumn in rural England in the 21st century. We read so much on this site about the loss of traditional life and values in England and elsewhere in the western world. Tell us about the everyday life of English people far from the distorted bubble that is London. That will resonate more deeply than any amount of literary or sociological theorizing.

JP Martin
JP Martin
2 years ago

Has Mary Harrington ever written a bad article? I don’t think so.

hugh bennett
hugh bennett
2 years ago

Not that an original thought, but it has always seemed to me that it takes little effort to think the worse of others, become envious – selfish and put your own interests first. To do otherwise and be “good” takes a lot more effort?
In the world today, a world of limited attention spans, instagram and other enablers of mass hysteria, selfishness has found an altar, and an altar that indeed takes little effort to slide onto. 
I think it too convenient to attempt to “integrate” those with satanist inclinations into some rational niche by praising those with extreme individualistic tendencies as crusaders fighting in a worthy cause against the Establishment.
And hand in hand with this we witness false goodness, the sickeningly patronising adverts promoting “kindness”, the “be good and save the planet by eating highly processed vegan bars” etc, when all they want is our hard earned cash! All too easy. 
To dress selfishness under the cloak of individualism is to cover it with but a very thin veil from which the putrid smell of narcissistic sulphur easily seeps.

Dan Gleeballs
Dan Gleeballs
2 years ago

It strikes me that civilisation – the good bits – only come about when people are willing to put aside their needs for the greater good. I could drive at triple the speed limit, but I don’t, even when there are no cameras. I could swear at the neighbour I don’t like, but instead I nod and smile to the old git. It would be quite satisfying to snarl at him, but I crush that impulse for peace and the greater good.

Satanists – or anyone else obsessed with their own selfish pleasures – would make anyone living near them utterly miserable. I suspect the same is true of the satanists themselves.

The ridiculous thing is, we all KNOW the sort of street we want to live in! A place kept clean, with no crime, no drugs, no gangs, or any other examples of exciting self-loving chaos. We know too that the happy state is best achieved by working hard, staying married, reading to our kids and taking an interest in them etc etc. We know this. Anything else is lesser, whether we admit it or not. Satanism? Low on the scale.

Last edited 2 years ago by Dan Gleeballs
LCarey Rowland
LCarey Rowland
2 years ago

Jesus is Lord. In the end He will separate the wheat from the chaff, rendering all these speculations about who is on which side, irrelevant.
The best strategy for life is to take side with the one who suffered a criminal death and then lived to tell about it. He still lives, residing not only in eternity but also in the hearts and minds of those who believe in him.
The best reading of his program is found in the book of Matthew, chapters 5, 6 and 7.

Dave Corby
Dave Corby
2 years ago

“To put it another way: Satanists are just very, very liberal.”
Yes indeed! If you don’t accept God’s authority, then there is no one who has a right to tell you what you can and cannot do.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  Dave Corby

Defund the Police, being the necessary next step.

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago
Reply to  Dave Corby

Agreed, including whether I have the right or authority to eliminate those I may disagree with someday. If anything goes, then anything will go.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
2 years ago

“America’s Satanic Temple, founded in 2012, is still small in terms of absolute membership”
There are a lot of weirdos in the USA as well as elsewhere. Their population is infintesimal. And the magazine ‘Salon’ is hardly representative of any population in any way whatsoever.
This is a pants-on-fire article that did not deserve to be written.
Another commenter above, David Barnett comes closer to the phenomenon of the so-called’ rise in individualism’; Individualism has been a defining trait of Americans from the get-go. However, it’s NARCISSISM’ that’s rearing its ugly head, which is hardly surprising. Recent generations of Americans were raised on the ethos of ‘Barney the Dinosaur’ of ‘every kid is fabulous no matter’ and every kid should win a trophy even if they in fact did not really win. There was great care not to hurt anyone’s feelings, which has morphed into today’s ‘cancel culture’. Kids were taught that they could do no wrong and were often not taught otherwise. No kid and even adults today are not made accountable for deleterious behavior. In recent days, Democrat-run cities have released felons and murderers by the thousands in California & New York, I guess because they ‘didn’t mean to murder, rape, steal or whatever. In many way, we have lost the moral plot.

Last edited 2 years ago by Cathy Carron
Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  Cathy Carron

Wicca, shamanism / spiritualism and astrology have mass-followings.

Salon is widely-read.

The Weirdos are now the West’s mainstream.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

Where’s the proof? Just saying so, doesn’t make it so.
Salon self-reports that they get 10 million ‘unique hits’ per month which equivalent to 2.8% of the population. The print circulation of the magazine is a mere 50K.

Last edited 2 years ago by Cathy Carron
Bernard Hill
Bernard Hill
2 years ago
Reply to  Cathy Carron

…whoops there Cathy. Can I suggest a re-reading of Mary’s article, but with an eye out for irony?

D Hockley
D Hockley
2 years ago

Surely to be a Diabolist/ Satanist one must admit that there is a God .- it is simply that the Diabolist choses the dark side.
So when a society loses its religion, it also loses the real understanding of the concept of the Devil and thus the ability to be a Diabolist/Satanist.

The decline of Christianity in the West is tragic (and I am an atheist) because most people are too weak to understand the concepts of morality without the framework of religion.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  D Hockley

But too sensible to bother to follow a morality with neither rewards nor punishments.

Dave Corby
Dave Corby
2 years ago
Reply to  D Hockley

Morality is subjective without a higher authority – so doomed to fail.
Humanity is too corrupt to be able to come up with a working morality of any value on its own. History has proven that.

D Hockley
D Hockley
2 years ago
Reply to  Dave Corby

I even agree with you here…. Of course, I take the higher authority to be Aristotelian logic rather than a deity…..but I split hairs.
The philosophy of the Church of Rome developed by St Thomas (a rigerous Aristolian) and St Augustine set in stone a morality that served the West for a great deal of time.
Now that it has all been rejected by a group of spoiled and over-entitled brats, morality is simply difined as that which gets the most upticks on a social media page and is liable to change as often as does the wind.

Emre Emre
Emre Emre
2 years ago
Reply to  D Hockley

I believe there’s a secular version of Satanism as well. I think the author does a good job of describing what that amounts to in here.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago

So the great Satan is in fact the great Satan
Another very good article

Jerry Jay Carroll
Jerry Jay Carroll
2 years ago

I had dinner once with Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan. He described his followers as “losers” and didn’t believe any of his own guff. He was a showman, pure and simple. He made a fairly good living off his rubbish.

Peta Seel
Peta Seel
2 years ago

I searched this article in vain for any mention of the word “responsibility”, as in taking responsibility for one’s own actions and the negative effect they may have on others. I have read all of Ayn Rand’s novels and some of her essays. She does indeed champion the individual, but she is also clear that the individual must take responsibility for what they do. This is also the basis of Christian teaching.
 â€œWhat we really want to do is what we are really meant to do”. Would this include deliberately inflicting pain, hurt and even death on others? If so, it offers up an “excuse” for all sorts of horrors which, under that philosophy, should go unpunished.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
2 years ago
Reply to  Peta Seel

Ayn Rand;s philosophy and Christian teaching do both teach responsibility but they totally oppose each other on attitude to others vs attitude to self.

Lillian Fry
Lillian Fry
2 years ago

Recommended reading: The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self by Carl Trueman, an in-depth look at how we got here.

Mark Vernon
Mark Vernon
2 years ago

Come back Dante! His Satan is pathetic, so far from life and its wellsprings as to be frozen, utterly unfree and to the point of falling out of existence altogether in preternatural ice of hell.

Kevin Carroll
Kevin Carroll
2 years ago

During the cold war. The United states used refere to the Soviet union. As the God less country. Now its the other way round. Funny how things change.

David NebeskĂœ
David NebeskĂœ
2 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Carroll

You refer to Ronald Reagan’s 1983 speech in which he declared the Soviet Union an Evil Empire (not a godless country). He was criticized for that by the same godless leftists discussed in this article 🙂

Emre Emre
Emre Emre
2 years ago

Ms Harrington is one of Unherd’s finest writers probably alone justifying the subscription, and this is a superb piece. But I wasn’t sure in parts whether some of this was tongue-in-cheek. Saying satanism is very very liberal isn’t far away from saying liberalism is evil.
And it’s here my usual qualm surfaces – it’s the use of “liberalism” in the pop/American usage of term. Liberalism has historically meant to sit in the middle between left and right, and today’s identitarian leftwingers/progressives are certainly not liberals.
American usage is anachronistic in that it assumes a broadly conservative society where progressives are liberals. ACLUs coming out as an authoritarian leftwing advocacy outfit is the best testimony to how radically American society moved to the left in the last 100 years where “being left of centre” made ACLU liberals a 100 years ago, compared to what they are today.
There’s a powerful Catholic argument asserting how liberals today are, is what liberalism can be expected to be. But that ignores prominent reactionary liberals (like Harper’s Letter on Cancel Culture signatories) who have been fighting back. It’s in that sense another anachronism to assume that liberals are always the ones wielding power. They’re today a minority voice in US/UK (like most other countries in the word) where the progressive/globalist identitarians have designs to (continue to) rule the world.

Last edited 2 years ago by Emre Emre
Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
2 years ago

Thought provoking article. I would pay good money to see Mary debate this topic with Ed West. Please make this happen, Unherd, you know you want to!

I suspect that Ed might take the view that Christianity has been supplanted not by satanism but by a daughter religion of progressive authoritarianism, and that those individualists worshipping at the altar of diversity and inclusion are not satanists. That is, it is a subversion of the light, altruistic side of human nature rather than an expression of the dark, destructive side of it. It is none the less dangerous for that, as we know that religious zealotry practised by people who convinced that they cannot be wrong is far more dangerous to human well-being that evil pursued by those who know that they are wrong. Untethered by any constraints imposed by the Word of God or the established order of things built up over and tested by many centuries of conflict and reconciliation, these moralists make up their own rules and so can do enormous harm in pursuit of their utopia, because there rules are grounded in nothing but their misguided theories.

“Throughout our nervous history, we have constructed pyramidic towers of evil, ofttimes in the name of good.”
Maya Angelou

LCarey Rowland
LCarey Rowland
2 years ago

Seekers continually neglect to notice that Jesus’ “refusal to yield” ultimately became the offense which landed him on a cross, crucified . . . . the ultimate blood sacrifice.
But what separates Jesus’ struggle against the powers-that-be, the establishment, the roman juggernaut–all of that–what separates him from all the other gurus, wise men, messiah-wannabees of history is this: he was the only one who suffered a criminal death, then lived to tell about it, by overcoming death itself, through Resurrection.
When push comes to shove, when each and every person finds themselves up against death’s door, one ought to consider the claims of all wise men and women who ever lived and/or claimed any wisdom or notoriety; then take a close look at all those prior claims to determine which is truly the most relevant, most convincing and most necessary. . .
Which dilemma is actually the “life and death” one?
Surviving death by following the precedent of the only human who ever overcome death itself–that is the question.
Jesus, after surviving death, then left the door open for all of us who are willing to believe, to follow him there for all eternity.
As for Satan, he can go to hell.

AC Harper
AC Harper
2 years ago

If you look at the world in religious terms then God and Satan make spectacles to adjust your vision by.
If you look at the world in social terms then the Collective and the Individual make spectacles to adjust your vision by.
Or you could argue that since people have generally been let down by promises of life ever after or fair shares for all, then many people have decided that self help is the only modern game in town.
God is dead and Socialism is dead (along with their counterparts of Satan and Conservatism) but we are still trying to find our way forward. Extreme individualism or extreme moral purity don’t appear to be working well at the moment.

Eliza Mann
Eliza Mann
2 years ago
Reply to  AC Harper

How can a living person talk with authority about people being let down by the promise of “life ever after”? No one can know for sure whether there is life after death until they are dead.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
2 years ago
Reply to  Eliza Mann

. . . and then Pascal’s wager kicks in!

Zorro Tomorrow
Zorro Tomorrow
2 years ago

If Satanism could defeat radical socialism and fundamental Islam, where do I sign?

Philip Stott
Philip Stott
2 years ago

Fantastic article (again) Mary.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
2 years ago

It is difficult to take anything from the USA seriously – except maybe their missiles.

Brian Perry
Brian Perry
2 years ago

Aleister Crowley was not a Satanist. He was brought up (extreme) Plymouth Brethren, later became a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a Rosicrucian group.(A number of CofE clergy were also members as was W B Yeats.)
Crowley is probably best described as a gnostic. (Note the lower case “g”).
Modern Christianity seems to offer a morality to live by but no spiritual insight. Such questions as “What is the Soul?” and “Do we survive death?” seem to bring about embarassed shufflings and little else.
Hence the interest in occult and esoteric movements.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
2 years ago
Reply to  Brian Perry

Calvinists would answer the questions in your third paragraph.

David McDowell
David McDowell
2 years ago

The United States does seem particularly susceptible to cults rooted in expressions of extreme individualism and this would account for why cults like Satanism thrive there.
Something that puzzles me is why Roman Catholics in particular find such a culture so attractive.
Is their position similar to Moslems who move to western cultures?
Does the prospect of ‘a better life’ trump personal morals even in a culture as deeply rooted and secure as Catholicism?

Adam Bartlett
Adam Bartlett
2 years ago
Reply to  David McDowell

Rooted is a good word, but Christians don’t have to be rooted in the geographic sense. Five times in the Gospels we’re encouraged to spread the good news to the four corners of the earth. Sadly, what seems to happening this last ten years is more the reverse – i.e. US protestant missonaries going out and converting Catholics, with huge reprucssions especially in Latin America. (I’m CoE, but despite the things they get rightfully criticised for, one has to admire much of what Catholics do)

Gareth Rees
Gareth Rees
2 years ago
Reply to  David McDowell

Modern-day Satanists, especially those associated with the Satanic Temple, are simply humanists who in the US are trying to prevent religions, almost exclusively Christianity, from encroaching on public spaces whilst at the same time seeking to exclude other belief systems, hence the Baphomet statues. The First Amendment is there for a reason and needs to be defended.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  Gareth Rees

Baphomet is evil.

Sincere humanists don’t revere evil.

Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
2 years ago
Reply to  David McDowell

Well the Irish and the Italians (and Catholic Germans) were looking for a better life in the 19C, as are Hispanics now. Faith declines for all of these groups over time in the US.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
2 years ago
Reply to  David McDowell

Can we talk about cannibalism in Germany too ?

Eliza Mann
Eliza Mann
2 years ago
Reply to  Cathy Carron

Huh? Cannibalism? Was that a typo?

David McDowell
David McDowell
2 years ago
Reply to  Eliza Mann

And transubstantiation!

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  David McDowell

Most recruits to Satanism aren’t Catholics.

Paul Sorrenti
Paul Sorrenti
2 years ago

Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul to the Devil in return for genius as a bluesman. Pretty sure Mary Harrington’s done something similar in exchange for contributing editor skills

Last edited 2 years ago by Paul Sorrenti
Phil Rees
Phil Rees
2 years ago

I like this article very much, but oh dear, in her haste to name drop as many individualists as she could think of she just has to quote Nietzsche entirely out of context “Friedrich Nietszche declared God dead and the human will to power as the only real source of good.“ Surely she knows that his ‘will to power’ doesn’t mean what it sounds like.

Mark Goodwin
Mark Goodwin
2 years ago

Aleister Crowley was a prat.

LCarey Rowland
LCarey Rowland
1 year ago

Christ is still king of all that is good and decent.

LCarey Rowland
LCarey Rowland
1 year ago

Christ is still king of all that is good and decent.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago

Much of the Satanism in America is rooted in the Pro-Choice movement.

Which believes that a woman’s right to sexual pleasure, and her wish to be exempted from any resulting childbirth, take easy precedence over the life of the baby growing inside her womb.

William Murphy
William Murphy
2 years ago

Thanks very much, Mary. The paradox of extreme religiosity giving you a free hand as regards morality is well illustrated in the religious chaos of England between 1640 and 1660. I have recommended Professor Alec Ryrie’s excellent lecture on this period elsewhere. Play from 39 minutes onwards for hugely enjoyable coverage of some of the extreme nutters.

https://youtu.be/mK5-UaRSSSs

But, as the Professor cautions at the start, what is an extremist in this context? Nearly every religion makes extreme demands on its adherents and the nutters are the people who are most consistent in putting theory into practice, with no half hearted compromising.

Perhaps that is why so many hard core religious writers have PhDs. Logically constructed theory crowds out sanity and humanity. 3 out of the 4 SS Einsatzgruppen commanders in Russia had PhDs. And the commander who killed 33,000 Jews near Kiev was a double doctorate.

Last edited 2 years ago by William Murphy
hugh bennett
hugh bennett
2 years ago

I have grown to believe that human instincts do tell you there is a clear choice between universal right and wrong, you dont need higher authorities, just follow your instincts. The word "choice" is key.
But that requires you to be "judgemental" ( not a fashionable word). But that is how we became who we are and what we are. We don
t need any higher authority to make judgements small and big continually and about everything and everyone. As i accept that I also believe that there has to be a instinctive “ethical gene”
But ethical behavior often takes courage. Instincts tell you it’s a choice between right and wrong, but that we are back to choice. And now we come to “conscience”. We are a social species,thus we have a small voice inside us tells us whether it is right or wrong to be selfish, to inflict harm for pleasure and not to be merciful etc. Where it all seems to go wrong is that there is a downside to our social instinct i.e. that humans also seem prone to indoctrination.

Last edited 2 years ago by hugh bennett
robert stowells
robert stowells
2 years ago

If the final twist of the article is that the conquering Satanism actually exists in the big US monopolies which hijack the expression of small movements to make them advertising vehicles then I can understand that.

Melanie Mabey
Melanie Mabey
2 years ago

After that emotional pummeling all I can say is thank goodness Peak oil happened and the timer is running


Multilingual Mob
Multilingual Mob
1 year ago

My thoughts and metaphors of our times in Western Civilization is as if we’re adolescents that decided to murder both our parents. And are, for the present, enjoying doing whatever we want in our parents home. 😉

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
2 years ago

Not this we need a deity has to tell someone how to be moral nonsense again otherwise we’ll all do bad things like normalise gun use etc. Without a god a person just can’t work out how to stop doing bad things? We’re much too stoopid to work out compromises through argument and democracy. Somehow a god has to tell us all what to think.Always interesting to watch many Americans squirming over the Taleban. Yep they’re appalling but they are fundamentalists like us and God fearing so…..

Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
2 years ago
Reply to  Terence Fitch

A not very articulate response to the article. Which was mostly about satanism anyway.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 years ago
Reply to  Terence Fitch

It’s about the concept of listening to a higher authority other than that of ‘Man’. Humans make terrible gods as we have seen throughout history.The difference between Christianity and the Taliban is the concept of mercy.