Anarchism concerns itself with the injustice inherent in authority and, as such, is an anti-authoritarian political movement. Satanism arises from many sources, but also rejects arbitrary dogma and authority. Satan, taken as the Serpent in Eden, represents the original usurper of authority and, in some circles, the original anarchist.
One of The Satanic Temple’s guiding tenets regards science, and its position as humanity’s foremost means of acquiring knowledge. It is stated as such:
Beliefs should conform to our best scientific understanding of the world. We should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs.
This is not a novel view. Some people have held science in this esteem for centuries, virtually since its inception as a formalized practice. It forms the framework for many modern endeavors, from medicine to law, yet, centuries after its formalization, public understanding of empiricism and the scientific method remains woefully retrograde. Millions of people turn to faith and institutionalized authority to find truth. Why is this the case?
In 1880, Peter Kropotkin mused on this very topic in his essay, An Appeal to the Young. In it, he observed the following:
More than a century has passed since science laid down sound propositions as to the origins of the universe, but how many have mastered them or possess the really scientific spirit of criticism? A few thousands at the outside, who are lost in the midst of hundreds of millions still steeped in prejudices and superstitions worthy of savages, who are consequently ever ready to serve as puppets for religious impostors.
Over a century later, these words ring as true as they did when written. How many are guided by an epistemology that incorporates critical thinking? How many even know what science really is? Why, over a hundred years after Kropotkin observed this, which, itself, was over a hundred years since, in his words, “science laid down sound propositions as to the origins of the universe,” has nothing changed?
Kropotkin offered the following conjectures on the matter:
Or, to go a step further, let us glance at what science has done to establish rational foundations for physical and moral health. Science tells us how we ought to live in order to preserve the health of our own bodies, how to maintain in good conditions of existence the crowded masses of our population. But does not all the vast amount of work done in these two directions remain a dead letter in our books? We know it does. And why? Because science today exists only for a handful of privileged persons, because social inequality which divides society into two classes — the wage-slaves and the grabbers of capital-renders all its teachings as to the conditions of a rational existence only the bitterest irony to nine-tenths of mankind.
I could give plenty more examples, but I stop short: only go outside Faust’s closet, whose windows, darkened by dust, scarce let the light of heaven glimmer on its shelves full of books; look round, and at each step you will find fresh proof in support of this view.
It is now no longer a question of accumulating scientific truths and discoveries. We need above everything to spread the truths already mastered by science, to make them part of our daily life, to render them common property. We have to order things so that all, so that the mass of mankind, may be capable of understanding and applying them; we have to make science no longer a luxury but the foundation of every man’s life. This is what justice demands.
The argument then, is that science cannot undermine an unjust authority that dictates how science is used and by whom science can be accessed. Quite to the contrary, if science is a lever by which human efforts can be multiplied, then, if its use is restricted to a dominant class, it follows that the dominance in question will be multiplied.
This is not a matter of conjecture. Perhaps the most significant transition in human labor was the Industrial Revolution, where civilization became vastly more productive in terms of its economic output. Science quite literally illuminated factory floors and workspaces, lengthening the potential workday, and people migrated to smoke-filled cities to find work. From Wikipedia:
The industrial revolution made it possible for a larger segment of the population to work year-round, because this labor was not tied to the season and artificial lightingmade it possible to work longer each day. Peasants and farm laborers moved from rural areas to work in urban factories, and working time during the year increased significantly. Before collective bargaining and worker protection laws, there was a financial incentive for a company to maximize the return on expensive machinery by having long hours. Records indicate that work schedules as long as twelve to sixteen hours per day, six to seven days per week were practiced in some industrial sites.
In other words, the situation was as Kropotkin observed. While science had brought new technology to the affairs of human labor, as it was a tool owned and operated by the elite, it did nothing to improve the lives of ordinary citizens without access to education or control over the implementation of scientific knowledge. In fact, their workdays extended, and they worked harder and longer for the moneyed class.
The Satanic Temple claims to not bee an organization based on proselytizing or coercion. Its tenets are for its members, and may be adopted or ignored by others as they see fit. But, a strictly laissez-faire attitude about broader social acceptance and understanding of science is incomplete, as The Satanic Temple is based on more than one tenet. Two of its other tenets are:
One should strive to act with compassion and empathy towards all creatures in accordance with reason.
The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
If Kropotkin is right, and access to science is unequally distributed by class structure and the various institutions of authority that serve to keep that structure intact, and if both Kropotkin and The Satanic Temple are correct in identifying science as humankind’s best means of acquiring knowledge — and, therefore, enlightenment — then it stands to reason that it is an injustice that scientific access is unequal among people of different social classes, and that it would be a decidedly uncompassionate act to simply ignore that.
While New Atheists and other detractors of faith-based thinking may content themselves to hurl invective at superstitious people and lament the lunacy of their Bronze Age scriptures, it is plain to see such practices are ineffective at addressing the actual problems faced by their fellow human beings, which contribute to the apparent necessity of religion in the first place.
Kropotkin identified that there were always some who were emancipated from the shackles of religious dogma, be it by their own forces of will, or by the circumstances of their lives, but he also accurately observed that science has found no purchase in the epistemologies of vast numbers of people. To this day, those numbers remain vast, with an estimated 84% of people in the world being affiliated with a faith-based religion in 2010. Given that some people not affiliated with any religion base their beliefs on pseudo-science or supernaturalism, it seems likely that the situation has not improved since Kropotkin’s essay, despite over a century of continued scientific and technological advancement.
This is hardly a surprise, given the enormous social disparities that exist today between the wealthy elite and minimum wage workers, disparities that mirror those Kropotkin observed in the Victorian era. Even when seemingly benevolent and enlightened plutocrats step up to save the world with revolutionary technologies, all it takes is one look at the ~$100,000 price tag on a new Tesla automobile to see who science is working for and who has access to this science. I am sure everyone who bought Tesla stock when it came out is happy with how this company is revolutionizing automotive technology, but it was not the people working from sunup to sundown for meager wages who were able to buy into that science.
If science is truly a force for emancipation, and if a mind mired in superstition and irrational beliefs is a form of oppression, then, if Satanism is to make a meaningful mark on the world, and, since, in its own words, “the mission of The Satanic Temple is to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people,” and, “In addition, we embrace practical common sense and justice,” it must recognize that the rejection of tyrannical authority and the quest for human enlightenment is an intersectional struggle. Satanism cannot hope to stand apart from class struggles, racism, homophobia, misogyny, jingoism, imperialism, or other forms of oppression and bigotry and yet still be effective.
As Kropotkin rendered plain, a world of benevolence and compassion cannot exist in a capitalist paradigm, where inequalities are widened by the lever of technology. While The Satanic Temple hardly has the resources to take on every issue that comes up in every arena, it must remain awake to this reality, and to the reality that every struggle against oppression is but one node in an intersectional web of struggles against systemic injustice. Where religious injustice and overreach find fertile soil in which to root, so too do other forms of injustice. And where other forms of injustice find fertile soil in which to take root, religious oppression and assaults on scientific reasoning shall soon follow. The Satanic Temple must be prepared to stand with others against these forces for oppression, and open the door for others to stand with it.