The Role of Religious Community, a.k.a. “Church” Family, in TST

Lucky 13

A local chapter member and friend who I frequently run into at neighborhood metal bars, burlesque shows, and—really, everywhere, it seems, except TST events and meetings—recently explained he’d been absent because he felt he wasn’t “doing” anything at the meetings themselves or contributing substantively to the organization. My first impulse was to suggest outcome-oriented, irrefutably productive acts of devotion like volunteering at a reproductive rights fundraiser or writing a blog post for our website.  Since there are a fair number of TST members—many of whom lack prior affiliation with any religious group–were drawn in by its political activism and engagement in public affairs, there can be a perceived urgency to have a measurable impact socially, legally, environmentally, and so on, or else languish in futility, orbiting unnoticed.

Because my scruples were tequila’d into submission, I suggested the obvious before recognizing (to myself or to him) that a wonderfully salubrious social impact of TST occurs within the chapter itself, not just in the ethical deeds we extend to the vestiges of civilization. I’m referring to what other religions term “church family,” and it’s a major reason why non-believers and skeptics can be found in traditional houses of worship on Sunday mornings or whenever it is they congregate.

One church family I was part of when I lived in Florida in the mid-90s met in the expansive living room of a very well-meaning, generous couple in my neighborhood on Sunday nights. They were clearly experiencing empty nest syndrome and wanted to raise college-aged kids and young adults into perpetuity. The name of the group was “Crossover” (because Christian, but also clever) and the highly organized meetings involved a combination of intense Bible study, a few printed handouts/worksheets pertaining to self-growth in a Christ-centered context, maybe 15 or so complicated casserole-type dishes splayed along the kitchen counter for anyone who wasn’t especially health-conscious (They Might Be Baptists), socializing, and lively debates because I was there and I was not especially Baptist. I recall one air force guy in particular whose response to intellectual challenge was to exclaim, “This is not a court of law!” and not exactly be my friend. For the most part, however, I felt great warmth of inclusion and a sense of home. This was an alliance of people who knew they could rely on each other.

After moving to New York City, I joined a Unitarian Universalist young adult group. Despite my being completely aligned with the liberal mission of the church and their emphasis on the authority of reason and conscience, this subset of the church didn’t feel like family to me at all (nor could the congregation afford that sense, given how large it was).  Furthermore, while the church’s assertion of no creed was a feather in its cap, the young adult group’s asserting no personality was a black eye.  What I mean is, all I seemed to have in common with them was our seeing ourselves as open-minded. (What I really mean is, I didn’t meet a single person who knew any of the bands I listened to.)

My interest in TST was initially spurred when it betrayed the religious favoritism of the State of Oklahoma by offering to counterbalance their Ten Commandments monument with a Baphomet statue, prompting them to withdraw the monument. I admired from afar, however, because I knew my parents would freak out and quite possibly disinherit me if they discovered I associated myself with anything that championed Satan. Once the evangelicals of America did the same thing with Trump and he was unavoidably gross and stupid on our televised copies of the White House and his administration set about dismantling at a furious pace government programs and institutions seemingly based upon how humane they were, I knew I was in the upside-down. If my family came to resent my standing up for human rights, freedom, individualism, equality, and compassion in the name of Satan, how would they explain themselves rationally–or even in a way that wasn’t shamefully shallow? Did they raise me to maintain a façade of virtue to mask character that held none? No, so why would it work the other way: why would they reject an image of a horned rebel corresponding to exactly the range of values, as set forth in the seven Tenets, they modeled for me?

Someone might wonder at this point why I wouldn’t just hang with the other burned Berners in Brooklyn or volunteer/donate money to help various causes thrown into jeopardy by the current political climate. “Why Satan?” etc., etc. Those activities are pleasant and commendable, but I consider them to be fairly ordinary and not nearly as satisfying as forming relationships with people whose rebellion against tyranny is soul-saturating and informs not just the books and media they digest, but—if I can please have everything I want in this life–the esthetic of their self-expression, as well.  Dark/morbid/gothy presentation is by no means prescribed, but it’s obviously a favored mode among Satanists. In not privileging “fitting in” in a conventional sense above one’s own truth and self-authority, a wealth of liberties open up involving self-adornment, the way relationships are mutually arranged and negotiated, and the revision and refinement of rules that are needlessly confining, period.

When I joined TST, I’d been part of the gothic subculture for a while without really finding my people. Candle-lit crypts suffused with fog and beautiful music, animated in flickers with exquisitely be-leathered bodies dreamily dancing off vapors of whisky are glorious, but the venue of fleeting superficies setting a scene is purely that and can be strangely isolating. There’s no promise of substance at a dance party despite most attendees’ strong desire, as evinced through painstaking sartorial efforts and glittering victories of makeup, to unite with those who are “darkly inclined.” A subculture is such a large umbrella—or, in this case, a black lace parasol with tons of holes—and attending events dedicated to it had been, for me, a flimsy route to meeting anyone with whom I shared values or analog intelligence. When I attended my first TST event in Brooklyn, I had the encouragement of knowing everyone there had pretty much agreed upon some important terms already.

I can imagine someone obstinately averse to classically diabolical symbolisms still insisting that if freedom, individualism, and being a fancy little outsider is so important to me, why would I even care about communing with other weirdos? Isn’t there greater freedom in not being observed or checked?  Uncivilized freedom, I suppose. I rather like my experience being confirmed by peers with whom there is mutual support and contribution. An interesting departure from here would be to consider what interpersonal liberties and freedoms among Satanic peers threaten the dynamic of acceptance by going too far somehow—by flouting the safety of the safe space in some obtuse way, perhaps.