The Critique Experiment

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As a way of introduction, I first would like to re-affirm that at no point did I accuse anyone from The Satanic Temple (TST) in a previous post critiquing the TST tenets of not being Satanists. The misleading use of quotation marks along a response blog by a TST member was at times read as me saying they were “no true Satanists” – this is not a quote from me but an interpretation by Stephen Self .

Screaming “you’re not a true Satanist” is the satanic equivalent of the Catholic and Protestant groups shouting ‘sinners’ at each other and fighting over who was on the correct path during the reformation of the church. The word Satanist then first used between groups bickering over who was doing things the right way! Do things your way and don’t let group mentality condition you into thinking and acting in a certain way. In that respect and based on the reply from Stephen Self, there is indeed one thing we agree on.

I did however experience his reply as an attack on my character – rather than mainly the ideas – to undermine and shut down arguments. No doubt a skill picked up from the political activism.

Again I speak here only as myself, an individual, using CoRS as my platform to do so. Other members of the group are entitled to their opinion which I am also entitled to disagree with. However disagreeing with someone is not the same as invalidating their opinion. Disagreeing with the TST tenets does not mean I cannot respect an individual for finding worth in them. I do however feel frustrated by what I perceive as hypocrisy and inconsistency – especially as indeed they have affected me directly. My 2 main prerogatives are 1. to encourage people to question any system of values of principles they decide to follow and not follow it blindly – as this is what we should all be fighting against: blindly following – but then 2. to question accountability – having decided on a path for oneself, should I not be able to call one out on it; in the case of TST, if the tenets are so fundamental, should I not be able to use them as a reference to assess the validity of behaviours; when they become mere guidelines, what meaning remains in them?

Now, as a follow-up from the previous blog, I would like to do a few things. As the issue of previous disagreement between CORS and TST has been raised, I will give some feedback on those as well as my former involvement with TST. In reply to the published answers by some TST members, I will revise the text of the original critique too as well as elevate the wording to a more formal style. And you’ll find also a few other comments doted along.

 

Why I find discrepancies between the TST rhetoric and its members’ behaviours

 

The original critique of the TST tenets was written in an informal style for the purpose of providing a topic in the Church of Rational Satanism (CoRS) affiliated members online group. With others, we thought this would lead to some interesting – even if with the potential to be heated – discussions.   We have a few members that are also current members of TST as well as a few former members. We wanted to open the space and highlight some points we absolutely disagreed with. But being within a private group, this was also a safe space for all involved.

Afterwards, to live by one of our 11 Neoteric Satanic Guidelines of the Earth (N.8 Don’t make claims that you can’t back up even if they make sense to you…), we decided to throw the discussion into the open. We wanted to collect reactions and possibly allow for higher ranking members of TST to also counter-argue any of the points raised to start a healthy cross-group discussion. I felt that this was also a chance to help me and others with similar views to understand how those that find the tenets of use apply them, live by them, value them.

The initial reaction was as expected and in line with behaviours highlighted in the initial post. Once this piece hit an open forum, there was a whole load of personal attacks and insults flung about by members of TST, including one highly ranked named Ash Astaroth. Two blog posts were also brought to our attention (there may be others – no offence meant), namely the one by Stephen Self linked above and one entitled Clockwork Oranges by James Bridge.

Reading from James was really useful. He seems very sincere and genuine in his blog. It was nice to read that he has found a place that he feels comfortable in and is a good fit for him. He explained how members for The Church of Satan (CoS not CoRS) are vetted, thus ensuring that only people with sufficient interest but also only fitting a specific type go on to become members; on the contrary, to join TST, it was as simple as signing-up, presumably to keep a broader diversity. My observation is however that TST also goes through a system of vetting and skimming out potential members. To become an official member of TST, you need to go through a vetting process which consists of a phone or preferably face to face interview as well as offering up ideas for a local and national campaign that can be considered by the chapter. If you fail any of these, you get put in the ‘supporter’ category. If, however, you pass, you become a fully-fledged member of a chapter and are then recruited to have a more hands on approach to the organisation of different campaigns and events. All these campaigns and events need to go through the National Council for approval before chapters can move ahead on them. This goes for both local and national campaigns. TST have more recently set up a European Council to allow these countries to speed up this vetting process.

The assumption by Ash, in his response on the CoRS page to the original blog – and talking about me – that “this person hasn’t been involved with TST deeply enough”, is unfortunate considering I was in regular direct contact with the UK chapter head during my involvement with TST. Through this, I became aware of how decisions are made, responsibilities shared… Ash failed to follow-up what he meant when questioned further on this.

Back to the Clockwork Oranges blog, the author states that “there is only one requirement: applicants should understand, agree with, and adhere to TST’s guiding tenets”.

So, adhering to the Tenets seems rather straight-forward; this however seems to be something that a lot of members, including high-ranking one’s, fail to do on several occasions.

That is what brings me such frustration and anger with TST. As participation in TST and adherence to the self-labelled religion is an individual decision – not an option forced onto anyone – why wouldn’t members not be able to follow what they have chosen as a ‘best fit’ for the ideas, which they consider to be fundamental to their own being, especially if you are in a position of leadership. Practice what you preach or don’t preach it!

My direct experience with TST UK

As has been pointed out, I was a former member of TST UK and was part of their original 9 (yes, a copy name of the original Church of Satan founding members). I was after 18 months removed by the chapter head without warning and blocked on all platforms from speaking with him. I had to chase the co-chapter head to find out the reason which was given as follows “you were removed for substantiated concerns about commitment to the confidentiality agreement, insubordination, aggression and hostility, and dereliction of duty”. When asked to provide evidence of such claims, none was shared. This co-chapter head is also no longer with TST UK but has been removed by the chapter head, as was the original spoke person for TST UK before myself… a bit of a pattern emerging here.

I was falsely accused of disclosing members’ true names publicly – I see no worth in this and I respect individual privacy as I would hope they respect my own. Ironically my involvement with TST was linked to my official name on social media by another member of ‘the 9’. This was highlighted to the chapter head at the time and I was told to sort it out with the individual myself.

Being accused of insubordination brings a smile and further highlights the fact that questioning does not seem to be allowed within TST.

Dereliction of duty is a ridiculous idea as my removal happened 3 days after I had had a 3-hour one-to-one meeting with the chapter head to discuss previous and future activities and involvement with the group. But maybe, it was in reference to one ritual I was unable to attend because I was at my cousin’s marriage (same sex by the way) and for which I had given notice of absence, even before the date was chosen – I was asked to write the rituals but declined as I didn’t want to write a ritual for an event I was unable to attend but had offered to help anyone who would lead in preparations ahead of the day. Maybe it was in reference to the disco night that no members had any say on, which I disagreed about and would not attend. There are many reasons why disco nights are not my thing and this surely should be ok.

As regards to aggression and hostility, I will admit that my words can at times seem harsh, but I will generally have a meaning or opinion that I feel I can back up with evidence. I tend to say things quite directly and I am not a natural lyricist. I have opinions and they can seem strong. But I have never threatened any member with violence nor been anything other than friendly. If hostility is amalgamated with the fact that I will question why I’m asked to do things instead of following orders, this becomes ludicrous… Is that not what we are meant to do as Satanist by your own definition? To question authority or, as is mentioned in the Mansplaining blog, we then become Borg-like Satanist who just follow what their leader says, something Stephen Self himself describes as “very dangerous”.

Despite this sounding a bit like a rant, I have no grievances about my removal. It clearly wasn’t working within this chapter which, I felt, was being run like a directorship.

With this in mind, below are the original comments on the Tenets as well as additional ones.

Reviewing the Tenets – v.2

 

  1. One should strive to act with compassion and empathy towards all creatures in accordance with reason

What a vague statement which can be interpreted in so many ways and used however anyone sees fit on all sides of an argument.

The use of the word ‘strive’ suggests that you are going to fail on many an occasion but it’s ok as long as you tried.

Compassion and empathy are also words that are very open to interpretation and confusion especially when put into different situations. See below link for examples

https://egtheory.wordpress.com/2014/09/13/defining-empathy-sympathy-and-compassion/

And finally, “in accordance with reason” – meaning what exactly?

ADD: I feel this is a valid question. Kant for example wrote two books on the subject of reason alone, so as individuals, you should want to question what that sentence means on a philosophical level and here is a good link for those of you who wish to do so from the Stanford Encyclopaedia of philosophy https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-reason/

If you can justify not acting with compassion and empathy because it fits with your views, then is it fine to do so?

So essentially this sentence says nothing other than be nice when you feel like it or be an arsehole as long as you can justify it. Isn’t that what people generally do anyway, act how they feel justified to do?

 

  1. the struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions

Who gets to define ‘justice’? what if the group as a whole does not reach an agreement on what a just action is? Do you have to follow in toe with what the unelected ‘leaders’ decide is the just action?

ADD: I feel that based on the information given above on the process of becoming a member and how campaigns are decided upon, everything is down to those in charge, not at a chapter level but at a national level. The individual is no longer in charge of what is now defined as justice, as this is first filtered by the chapter head and then again through the national council. It’s not a case of an individual saying “I feel strongly about this case. I feel I should do something about it” It becomes about what the national council want you to focus on. I feel this is at odds with the principles of individuality.

The statement “should prevail over laws and institutions” suggests that TST think they are above the law as they are the ones that decide what is just in society. What legitimates their view of justice?

ADD: It’s a great concept that the idea of justice should prevail over laws and institutions but sadly it’s just that. This is because there is no set definition as to what is just, it’s subjective and usually defined by the individual through their personal, environment, social and cultural experiences. Here is another link from the Stanford Encyclopaedia of philosophy that discusses the topic of justice philosophy for those who wish to explore the subject in more depth https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/justice/

If justice is defined by the leaders of TST, are these leaders elected by vote to speak for the group? If not, how are they accountable? otherwise are these individuals not just dictators telling those beneath them what to do?

ADD: No these ‘leaders’ are not officially elected to my knowledge. However I’m sure one of the TST hierarchy will be able to answer this question if members pose this question to them.

 

  1. one’s body alone is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone

This I think is actually a worthy one!

However there are a few instances where we might draw a line in the sand to make exemptions, like mental illness or even stepping in during addictions.

It’s also not the best for anyone outside of any western ideals!

This I feel also take away any form of personal responsibility with regard to society at large, for example, someone who gets a face tattoo and then complains that they are being discriminated against at work.

You could just cry that this tenet has been broken and then that is an injustice against them. You might then be stuck in a loop where the individual is always right as they can always play the victim to get their own way like a spoilt child.

However in my opinion the afore mentioned example does not show any compassion and empathy towards others in my opinion.

 

  1. the freedom of others should be respected including the freedom to offend

How often is the freedom of others to speak and think differently not observed by members of TST?

When TST are offended, which often springs them into action with their ‘pursuit for justice’ they do so In a way that will cause the most offence to the other group while hiding behind their tenets and black robes!

Mob mentality is also used just like any other cult or religious group to shut down a conversation or silence way of thinking that isn’t agreed with or puts into question their ‘beliefs’. Once a conversation is shut down, it’s normally met with the attitude that justice has been served. These people’s minds haven’t been changed, they have just gone underground with their ideas.

However the only way to change an opinion is to open a conversation with someone of an opposite stand point, find a common starting point and exchange in a dialogue.

ADD: Evidence for this can be seen on the CoRS Facebook page in response to the original post where instead of TST members engaging in active discussions, dismissive and name-calling posts appeared.

If you were offended by the original post, one can argue that it is your issue; after all, it clearly states in our own tenets that the freedom to offend should be respected. It seems this may be true until someone from TST gets offended.

Another case in point here is an individual’s right to choose what is offensive. Zach Black, for example, from the organisation SIN posted a pro-Trump t-shirt on his personal Facebook page where he was met with a barrage of hateful comments by TST members. A kind of witch hunt ensued which resulted in Zach Black being banned from Facebook for a set period. Independently on what your views are on Trump, TST appeared as a group acting out to try a censor an alternative view from their own.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. Members were encouraged to ring up a Christian cake shop and order ‘gay’ cupcakes with the sole purpose to just offend a couple who were very much within their rights to refuse to serve a customer. If you don’t like their views don’t shop there and try to encourage others to use alternative places to make them prosper and the other business fold. There are alternative ways of putting your ideas across. You don’t have to offend people just for the sake of it just because you disagree with their views.

On the CoRs page John (Wait – CoRS chairman) was questioned on his use of the words “girls” and “pussy” (this was used after an image of a cat was posted in a response during an attacking conversation from Ash, where he refused to discuss the topics raised but felt the need to just be offensive). With all 3 chairmen being fathers to girls, I can assure you that women’s rights, girl empowerment and gender stereotyping are very much part of everyday conversations one way or another. None of us see them as a lesser or weaker sex, this idea has come from another commentator focussing on the word “weak”: it was used to describe an argument but was interpreted as defining a commentator and used to prop a claim of misogyny on a background of commiserating John’s “fragile masculinity”..

These examples are symptomatic of a tendency by TST to use a liberal agenda to discredit arguments and shut down conversations. The use of terms like “mansplaining” in Stephen’s blog is another example, so is the attempt to depict me as an “alpha male” – which my wife nearly cried with laughter about when I told her I’d been described as an Alpha male. While there are many issues where a gender perspective is very relevant and absolutely problematic, how one chooses its value system and think through the TST Tenets is not one.

Coming back to the idea of group alignment and quoting the aforementioned blog piece “the author seems most concerned with a perceived failure on the part of the Tenets to definitively and exhaustively determine member behavior. It is as though the writer of this post considers Satanism, or at least his own “rational Satanism,” to entail specific behavioral commitments that supplant or supersede individual behavioral choice”, I would suggest that the above evidence of restricting the way in which people express themselves in accordance with your values to be suggesting that there is a behavioural commitment that must be adhered to.  

I agree with the author on this point though where he continues that that way of thinking “…strikes me not only as a particularly dangerous idea in the abstract but a uniquely dangerous one in a Satanic context”. This collective idea that we all must think the same way is not a healthy one as it takes away any discussion and dialogue as well as any form of uniqueness and individuality.

The blog further goes on to say “the idea that the organization [TST] could, in fact, be anything less than totally unified in a Borg-like hive-mind seems to provide too great a potential paradox for people to accept.” – which is hard to accept because of the patterns we are presented with where any dissonance is crushed. Alternative views from the majority are stamped out with mob and herd mentality by censoring forms of speech and removing and blocking anyone that thinks a different way.

I’d also like for you to cast your minds back to the story of one of the chapters offering to take local Muslims to the shops, which was turned into a popular meme. This was soon billed an unofficial act by a rogue TST chapter, acting without the permission of the national council. Repression means alignment is expected.

This deleting of information is also something we have experience in the UK with the TST chapter who launched a campaign to get a member into the Spiritual House of Lords (a subgroup of the UK Parliament). When issues were raised by members of CoRS as to where there might be shortfalls in doing this, they were met with attempts of the chapter head wanting to discuss things only offline and on a one-to-one basis. This post was then removed and the campaign never got off the ground. On a recent blog post Cain Abbadan, a TST UK and European council member, posted an irrelevant but spiteful comment about John (Wait – CoRS chairman) looking like the singer from Disturbed which he then deleted (not that there is anything particularly wrong as such to be associated with the band)

 

  1. to willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedom of others is to forgo your own.

To “unjustly encroach” – again another phrase that leaves things most open to interpretation. Just in the same way as with justice, who defines what is unjust? The individual? The group?

At what point does this tenet not get flipped if another individual feels that TST’s actions are unjustly encroaching on their freedoms.

The major one I see TST encroaching on is others freedom to speak when they disagree with an opinion.

I’d also go so far as to say they encroach on the freedom of every Satanist that is not a member of TST by trying to speak for them even if they do not agree with their views.

 

ADD: as above…

There was also a Vice interview with the TST UK chapter head called “10 questions” where upon being asked the question of how do you become a Satanist, he replied “people just come to us and we just have a conversation” – difficult to know if this was harsh editing or him claiming that everyone that wasn’t a members of TST wasn’t a Satanist? Unfortunate in any case not to be representing the wider view of what Satanism can be. https://video.vice.com/en_uk/video/vice-10-questions-you-always-wanted-to-ask-a-satanist/596f6784aa4482ff05509275

And while Stephen highlights in the blog that “Satanism and Satanists are many things, but one thing they most definitely aren’t is “one thing.”, the idea of the plurality of Satanist views and schools of thought fails to be represented systematically. Rather than saying Satanism is / isn’t this and that, wouldn’t it be more appropriate to say that TST defines Satanism as this or that…

 

  1. Beliefs should confirm to our best scientific understanding of the world. We should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs

 

How do they define ‘belief’? as I see it there are two different uses of belief in the sentence alone!

The first use of the word belief would suggest one of a spiritual nature that would fit into the subjective and so be outside of scientific understanding anyway. This description would fit with the majority of religious and occult practices. But hang on, don’t TST describe themselves as a religion? Or is that only when it suits in a legal matter!!

However isn’t distorting scientific fact a common occurrence in lots of different institutions especially when it comes to statistics and persuading people to think and act in different ways? This would be the second meaning of belief, what an individual thinks is right. The only way to do this would be to present more than one side of the facts in an argument. Something I’ve never seen TST do!

ADD: presenting more than one side of an argument is something that people generally don’t do. We all have our own confirmation biases that we are then able to present to justify our way of thinking and acting.

An interesting addition to this section is the idea of ritual and where that fits into a scientific understanding of the world? Yes, we can all claim psychodrama but if the baptism of a person is seen as completely irrelevant, then where do the TST un-baptism rituals fit? Is this not just counteracting pseudo-science with pseudo-science?

I can understand the confusion though as this is plain to see on the TST UK home page where they describe a ritual in there FAQ “We do perform rituals, but so does everyone else in their daily life. Crossing the street is a ritual in which you look both ways beforehand. Checking your email can be a ritual if you have a routine for it – do you check it in when you first wake up…with coffee? Do you play music and dance around the kitchen while cooking supper? That’s a ritual too.” Those are however not rituals but compulsions or habits. If they have not been imbued with any spiritual meaning behind the action, I find it hard to define them as rituals. A routine is not a ritual if it is not accomplished purposefully.

I am also critical of the use of rituals to further political goals – the claim on the TST UK page that a blood-letting ritual was single-handedly to be credited for changing the law on blood donations – allowing gays to donate which had been prohibited for decades – feels absolutely exaggerated and extremely disrespectful to the many individuals and organisations (medical and LGBT alike) who had been lobbying for this for several years. I feel there needs to be a realisation that actually, no, TST UK does not get the media share they claim and most people have not and will never hear about them.

 

  1. People are fallible. If we make a mistake we should do our best to rectify it and resolve any harm that may have been caused.

 

I have never seen any evidence of this with TST, does that mean that TST are never wrong?

As far as I’ve experienced it or have been related, errors are generally covered up, deleted or termed unofficial by their leaders.

 

This also remined me a lot of a few of the AA 12 steps

 

  1. make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so will injure them or others
  2. Continue to take personal inventory and when wrong promptly admit it.

 

It’s the idea of admitting our faults. I agree with this point, however many Satanist, will see it as a sign of weakness and harmful to their own ego.

 

ADD: the examples given above form an evidence base to indeed show that members of TST have indeed been found to be fallible of following these tenets which they have agreed to adhered to. We will wait for these members to come forward with their own apologies which will be accepted and then we can move forward. I do however think that we will be waiting some time if we receive an apology at all for the abusive behaviour by TST members.

 

  1. Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought

 

So now these are just guidelines and don’t really need to be followed or can be ignored whenever you feel like it. Sounds like a good get out clause if you’re hypocritical and don’t follow a short and very brief set of tenets.

Even worse when the meaning of the word tenet is ‘a principle or belief, especially one of the main principles of a religion or philosophy’

I’m not sure what is meant by the phrase “inspire nobility”? Again a very open statement especially the next part about “nobility in thought and action”. what is a noble thought or action?

Would one the performance art pieces where they poured milk on each other dressed in baby masks be classed as a act of nobility? I think not! Maybe the act of nobility comes from the campaigns and not the stunts to get media attention highlighted on the issues? However none of the issues are ever fully discussed even when this attention has been attained by the media

I looked up nobility as well to see if that would help matters but that definition is about as fluffy as the TST tenet it comes from!!

Does the idea of ‘nobility’ suggest that these individuals think they are better than everybody else?

ADD: In his blog, Stephen Self makes a point of noting his degree. By highlighting the fact that he has a degree, the author is promoting the fact that he is someone of a high educational standing and therefore of greater value than others who don’t have equal qualifications. By doing this, is he attempting to say that his ideas are of greater worth because of this? That’s not for me to say but I hope not.

Ideas should not have value based on the educational level of the person expressing them. Being of higher education just means that you are better equipped and more used to presenting your ideas in a formal style that is required in an educational context. It’s not a guaranty of valid content.

I would also like to inquire where the acts of nobility were in all of the insults that were flung around on the CoRS main Facebook page? I can only assume that many members would be embarrassed seeing the posting of memes and the insulting of people that don’t agree with you in a conversation; this is supposedly quite embarrassing to see people leading a movement behaving this way (Ash, we are looking at you here) when in your fundamental tenets you are claiming to inspire nobility. I would have thought that the higher-ranking members would be more careful of their actions. They are after all likely to come under more scrutiny in the public eye and be used as an example for how other members should chose to interpret the word nobility.  

I previously mentioned the artistic performance by TST because, from my point of view, I see them as acting out. However, I can understand why this is done: to gain the attention of the media to highlight issues. What I find frustrating is the fact that in these pieces none of the signs or visual aids give good enough clues as to what the actual protest is about; this is left to poor journalism to cover the rest. I was quite excited when I heard that TST were going to lead a ‘prayer’ in a government building however I was saddened to see someone in an ill-fitting robe incoherently singing. My opinion was that being offered that stage, I would have worn a suit – you have somehow to play by the rules to be taken seriously – and spoken as clearly as possible to ensure my message got to as many people as possible.

 

  1. the spirit of compassion, wisdom and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word.

In that case we should take TST only by their actions and not by what they say or write because words are hollow.

In my opinion their actions show them to be childish fools upset and acting out at the more dominant religion in their countries, namely Christianity, as they seem to be very sympathetic towards most others if they mention them at all.

I would also like to make a point here to mention the fact that in not one of these tenets is there a mention of Satan or even the Romantic era of Satanism they claim to be inspired by. There is not even a mention of the Revolt of Angels that they claim to be the inspiration of their thought process.

With no official texts or collaborative work but a group of vague, non-committing sentences we have nothing more than a reactionary cult group of followers who do the deeds of their leaders

To finish

 Thanks for making it here – I know this was a little long…. As a reward, you can relax by watching an entertaining video by Brian Werner, former TST High Priest, when he resigned a bit over 3 years ago (I do not agree with all his points but others resonate).

I stand by my original critique. Sure, it was overly critical at times, but it meant a good kick in the ant nest and it did lead to some interesting content surfacing and to other regrettable behaviour patterns to be repeated. I apologise if individuals took this as a personal attack which it was not meant to be. I think if individuals find strength in the tenets, that’s all well and good for them. I do however feel that they do promote a group, mob or herd mentality with a defined “I’m the good guy” liberal agenda. Individuals should be aware of this if they wish to join, although I’m sure you’ll soon find out when you are gagged or removed for having an alternative opinion.

I feel that from what followed after my original blog post went on the main Facebook page, we could see in action several of the criticisms made towards TST members and hierarchy.

I feel that despite claims of diversity in membership and worth given to individuality, TST does live by this principle. My understand is that members of TST are linked by a common set of values and behaviours – but which actually feels much more top-down and controlled than it wants to admit and strongly linked to a specific political agenda – and that members of CoRS are linked by a common approach to questioning and individual journeys where political ideas are not necessarily the common ground – John, Lee and myself have different allegiances and prioritise different social issues too.

While exchanges can be strained, I understand people do strongly believe in what they support. I look forward to further ways to exchange ideas and differences of opinion to help both sides understand their different perspectives. However I refuse to be drawn into a slagging match with petty insults and memes as responses.

Hail Thy Self

Ben Dean 2018

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