Derek Abma, from Canada.com, was also in contact with me regarding my research. He asked for a spokesperson from within the Church of Satan. Since I cannot ethically provide that information, I informed him that he must ask the Church of Satan administrators directly. I also sent an email to the administrators informing them that I had spoken with Mr. Abma. I do not know if direct contact was ever made. Mr. Abma’s piece here contains an interview from Scott Robb, a self-identified Satanist from the Canadian-based Satanist Church.
He is, however, not a member of the Church of Satan.
In order to help explain what this means, I will reprint a section of my study’s methodological approach:
My initial research into the Church of Satan began in 2006 with a short paper designed to illustrate the inherent problems in conducting Internet research on New Religious Movements [NRMS]; inconsistencies, contradictions, schisms, mudslinging, inaccuracies, and inflammatory accusations from journalists, ex-members, anti-cult groups, and various critics of NRMs all contributed to a murky and overwhelming area of research. There are scarce academic sources for reference on the CoS, and the few existing scholarly works are surface studies based on Satanic Literature, Internet research, and pan-Satanism sources (Lewis 2001, Petersen in Lewis and Petersen 2005). The Church of Satan website, commenting on James R. Lewis’ efforts at Internet research for a “Census of Satanism”, states that, “we think it worthwhile that true Satanists should steer clear” as Lewis involves other groups that self-identity as Satanists that are unrecognized by the Church of Satan (Church of Satan, Pages/News44, 2010). There are a number of these disparate groups that self-identity as Satanists. The great majority of these factions are theistic Satanists, that is, they believe in the existence of a spiritual Satanic entity. As such, they are diametrically opposed to the atheistic stance of the Church of Satan, which views Satan as a symbol and as a metaphor for how they see themselves. As far as my research has ascertained, theistic Satanists are primarily (although not exclusively) active on the Internet, as opposed to physical assembly, have several unorganized divisions with multiple nuances of how the entity of Satan is perceived and understood, and have ephemeral philosophies that are influenced by the writings of Anton Szandor LaVey and other occult authors (Lewis 2001, xiv). As such, the various theistic Satanic groups are omitted from this paper because their understanding of ritual, death, and the afterlife is then atypical of members of the Church of Satan.
Scholars of New Religions Movements (such as James R. Lewis), as well as theistic Satanists, have tended to refer to the Church of Satan as LaVeyan Satanism to distinguish it from theistic Satanism (2001, xiii-xiv). It is, however, significant to note that members of the Church of Satan do not self-identify as LaVeyan Satanists but simply as Satanists. Since the Church of Satan was the first organized Satanic religion, founded and based on the book The Satanic Bible by Anton Szandor LaVey (first published in 1969), the members of the Church deride the need to use labels applied by external social scientific categories or their theistic Satanic detractors (Gilmore in Shankbone 2007).
Current High Priest of the Church of Satan, Peter H. Gilmore, explains, “We don’t think [theistic Satanists] are Satanists. They are devil worshippers, as far as I’m concerned” (Quoted in Shankbone 2007). Perhaps more delicately phrased, the Church of Satan concludes that since they were first to codify Satanism as a religion, they hold the rights to the moniker of Satanist and the strong symbolism and responsibilities attached to the label. As James R. Lewis writes in his book Satanism Today: An Encyclopedia of Religion, Folklore, and Popular Culture,
“However one might criticize and depreciate it, The Satanic Bible is still the single most influential document shaping the contemporary Satanist movement. Whether LaVey was a religious virtuoso or a misanthropic huckster, and whether The Satanic Bible was an inspired document or a poorly edited plagiarism, their influence was and is pervasive” (xiv).
For these reasons, within this essay the terms Satanism, Satanic, and Satanist will refer solely to members of the official Church of Satan, as established by Anton Szandor LaVey, and systematized in the prime text, The Satanic Bible.
Mr. Robb claims to be an ex-member of the Church of Satan, and left to begin his own church. Given that my study included solely Church of Satan literature and interviews, I cannot vouch for Robb’s statements as I have not studied pan-Satanism. I do not protest Mr. Robb’s inclusion in the piece, but I do object that it is unclear that my study is outside the auspices of Mr. Robb’s comments. It is the equivalent of asking a Baptist to comment on Catholic dogma. Although I fully understand that journalists who are not engaged in the academic study of religion would not necessarily be able to distinguish this nuance.
I have written many papers on differing topics over the years, none as titillating as the Church of Satan, and I am aware why this “sensational” topic garners so much attention. There is a certain, understandable, journalistic salivation surrounding this whole thing. Part of me chuckles at the thought of asking reporters if they want to hear my comparative analysis of medieval exegetes and contemporary feminist hermeneutics on the book of Esther. Somehow I doubt that that conversation would make it into print.