Three types and one exonym

The terms ‘satanic’, ‘satanism’, and ‘satanist’ are being thrown around so lazily it’s driving me crazy.

Not from my own religious point of view but from the point of view of a student of religion. I hate our collective ignorance on the topic of religion so here is my brief breakdown on how to understand these terms in the 2 contexts they are most mentioned.

Context 1: Organized Religion.

There are organized religions referred to as Satanism but the ideology is broken up into different movements so distinct from each other that they shouldn’t be thought of as a single religion. They fit on a spectrum with three basic categories.

First, Atheistic Satanism. This is a systematized belief system where the historical Juedo/Christian/Islamic supernatural enemy of God and humanity is taken on as a symbol of rebellion, independence, and free will. Under this system the concept of a literal God and a literal Satan are rejected outright. Even if some degree of the supernatural is embraced the system remains atheistic (e.g. LaVeyan Satanism)

Second, theistic Satanism. This is an incredibly eclectic category. It applies to any group that practices a systematized religion organized around the concept of the Juedo/Christian/Islamic supernatural entity called Satan or any other associated figure. These religious movements may be some form of Paganism, Gnosticism, or even the more stereotypical Devil worship but the defining common trait is the belief that there is a supernatural entity in some way connected to the Juedo/Christian/Islamic Satan (e.g. the Neo-Luciferian Church).

Third, Non-Theistic Satanism. Those who fit in this category are more in line with a form of political antagonism than what people tend to mean by the word religion. Whether they believe in any kind of god, God, or devil is irrelevant. They basically use the cultural shock value of the concept of Satan to troll social and political groups & leaders with a specific goal to produce systemic change. The key element is using the symbolism associated with Satan as a way to provoke social changes without an intent to produce a personal spiritual experience. It’s important to note that the irreligious nature of this category should not be equated with insincerity; the people who embrace this ideology are quite genuine in their convictions (e.g. The Satanic Temple).

Before I move on it’s worth reiterating just how different these categories are. Not only are the beliefs widely divergent but there is often a degree of antagonism or even outright hostility towards some ideologies (e.g. the Order of Nine Angles).

Context 2: Exonyms

An exonym is a name used to refer to a social group that the group itself does not use.

Within the Juedo/Christian/Islamic tradition the concept of Satan at its most basic is the supernatural adversary of the one true God. How to understand Satan changes from one group to another but that basic understanding applies: the enemy of God and usually also the enemy of humanity.

So in the context of Protestants in America you’ll find the term Satanic applied to literally any person, group, or belief system defined as an enemy.

Political parties

Pop culture figures

TV shows

Video games

Modern healthcare

Even other Christian individuals or groups who are the wrong kind of Christian.

It’s true that there has been a recent uptick in the accusations that those defined as enemies are literally worshiping Satan.

At the same time that doesn’t really matter. From this mindset any act that does not fit within their rigidly defined orthodoxy is the equivalent of worshipping Satan.

When these individuals use the terms “satanism” and “satanist” it’s not as nouns but adjectives. Anyone who does other than what their belief system prescribes is then by default the adversary of God and therefore Satanic.

Satanic is the exonym they use for those they consider to be their enemies.

I have seen people on every side of the political spectrum mishmashing all these terms together into attempts at GOTCHA! moments while missing the nuance these terms have come to take on as well as the real disparities in how the terms are used. It bothers me because I am a student of religion.

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