“Devil Worshiper” is a Racist Slur

I recently read a post on the internet pushing the flawed idea that Satanism is an atheistic religion; therefore the religious beliefs of theistic Satanists are not valid. I respect the individual who made the post, so I will not quote them beyond that embarrassingly broad statement. I’m sure most of you reading this don’t care about the theological debates between Satanists. You might even be shocked to know there are such debates. But, these absurd debates reveal stark realities about the world in which we exist.

As a matter of personal philosophy, I have no quarrel with “atheistic Satanism” per se. People are allowed to believe whatever makes sense to them. I’m not here to debunk their conception of reality. Where I do take exception is when they seek to debunk other folks’ quiet enjoyment of their own experiences. Especially when there are significant flaws in the reasoning applied by these atheistic fundamentalists. To start with, there is always a textbook Philosophy 101 level “No True Scotsman” fallacy that invalidates most of the atheist arguments. The essayist who inspired me to write this concluded by saying that any Satanist who is not an atheist is either a Christian Heretic, or, a Devil Worshiper. Instead of accepting that the existence of theistic Satanists invalidates their claim, atheistic Satanists attempt to exclude the counterexamples through nonsubstantive purity platitudes.

The ontological debate over which schools of practice are, or are not, valid means nothing to me. There are specific arguments used by the advocates of the atheist school that trouble me very much. First because the historical fact of Crypto-Satanism within the culture of the Catholic Church during the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries is well established as a primary source for modern Satanic religions by numerous academic sources. Second, because calling theistic Satanists “Devil Worshipers” is a racist slur and it discredits the foundations of atheistic Satanism.

Fuck the ontology. Let’s get right down to the real nitty gritty: Calling all of the religious expressions of Satanism that manifested prior to the founding of the Church of Satan in 1966 “Devil Worship” is racist. On its face.

Because the phrase “Devil Worship” uses the exact same language that European colonizers used to justify their systematic eradication of indigenous religions. From New Spain, into New England, and along the trade routes of New France, the colonizers waged war against the “Devil Worship” of the indigenous Americans. Cotton Mather called the Natives “Devil Worshipers” in florid polemics written to rationalize slaughtering them for the sake of conquering this “New Eden” for his own European conception of God. You simply can not talk about the development of new religions in this so called New World, without addressing the very short and very well documented history of how we got to where we are. Theistic Satanism has existed in Europe since the Seventeenth Century, if not earlier. This is not open for debate, and thus when the orthodox atheists call these manifestations of Satanism “Christian Heretics” it is not unfair. That framing represents a reasonable number of individuals whose Satanism is a reaction to the majority Christian culture, including many who believe in the Biblical portrayals of Satan.

The problem is the invocation of “Devil Worship” paired with the framework of the Holy Office of the Inquisition’s project to exterminate the native cultures of the Americas. There were prolonged debates within the rarefied corridors of the Vatican over the humanity of the indigenous Americans. These discourses were not conducted with any meaningful input from actual representatives of the peoples in question. Princes of the Catholic Church in Europe concluded that the so called Indians were sufficiently less than fully human because they worshiped devils, and this racist notion was cheerfully accepted by the Protestant reformers. Thus, it was that Cotton Mather called the Wamoanoags, Nipmucks, and Narragansetts, who would not convert to his religion “Devil Worshipers” when justifying the genocide committed against those peoples following King Phillip’s War. This contempt for the religious experiences of indigenous peoples is inherently racist. Indigenous religion had been degraded as “Devil Worship” from colonial times into the present day.

Theistic Satanism is a thorny thicket of esoteric Neo-pagan religions and New Age philosophies. I’m not here to describe or defend the diversity of belief systems that could be called theistic Satanism. I think that is a silly ass term imposed upon the discourse by atheists seeking to appropriate Satanism as a religious identity. And, I have no problem what so ever with people seeking to overcome the alienation of modern society through new religions. I could write a long piece on why religion is a good thing for people, but let’s not get sidetracked. I can understand why atheistic Satanists want to divide themselves from the ancient and contradictory folk religions from which they stole their New Age folly of a religion. I’ve got case files full of studies in the dark unhealthy extremes into which theistic Satanism can descend. The material fact remains that the very concept of “Devil Worship” is drawn from the mindset of Christian colonizers.

When atheistic Satanists engage in the lazy rhetoric of calling their theistic coreligionists “Devil Worshipers” they are cheapening themselves. The racist bigotry imposed by calling anyone “Devil Worshipers” degrades the deep and substantial religious traditions that precede the atheistic world view. It is an invocation of the language of the Witch Hunters and Inquisitors, the language of Andrew Jackson, George Armstrong Custer, and Ellsworth Perry. It is the vocabulary of the overtly and unapologetically racist history of colonizers denigrating indigenous religions. It is the kind of word choice that undermines the credibility of the author, and discredits the premise that Satanism is a modern religion.

8 thoughts on ““Devil Worshiper” is a Racist Slur”

  1. I was not aware that using the term “Devil Worshippers” had racist connotations until I read your article. Thank you for clearing that up.

    1. Thank you, Caroline. I am guilty of using the expression in the past. There is a great deal of unacknowledged racism embedded within the New Atheism movement, and I think it is important to raise awareness of how that manifests in the language people are using.

      1. As someone who works in education, I love the phrase, “You learn something new each day.” I feel like it is an ongoing quest to improve oneself through constantly learning. But not just learning to do new things, but being open to new ideas, and accepting that old ideas and habits need to change.

      2. Oh, and for the record, I have always been amused by the atheistic Satanism vs theistic Satanism debate. Theistic Satanists must be baffled how someone can call themselves both an atheist and a Satanist simultaneously. And while atheism is not a religion, Satanism is, so to mix the two, it doesn’t make sense. It makes sense that most modern Satanists don’t believe in a literal Satan, but it is far more sophisticated to do so without labelling oneself an atheist in the same title.

        1. I agree, Caroline. From all my years of research, it really does seem that the traditional Satanists have the stronger claim that their theistic schools preexisted the Church of Satan by several decades at the very least. Where this circles back to race is in the demographic divide between the two sides. In the States, the majority of Satanists are white atheists; but, globally the overwhelming majority are theistic Satanists living in Latin America, Southern Asia and Africa.

          1. Unfortunately, it would be extremely difficult to discern (with any degree of accuracy) the number of Satanists in any given demographic because of the obscurity of the religion and those who practice it.

            1. That is a very good point, Caroline.

              There are not great data sets from which to derive accurate demographic information. Just from my own investigations, the trends are fairly conspicuous.

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