No, I don’t want to worship at the Church of Satan, but apparently a fair number of people do. It’s not a particularly big organization, but it is recognized by governments and such. Satanism is actually a fairly diverse group of religions, some of whom actually worship Satan, while others just think of him as symbolic. The Church of Satan, founded by Anton LaVey (whose real name was Howard), is one of the latter.
“Hey! Bald guy with a snake here! Aren’t I scary?”
Its members are actually atheists or agnostics. And hey, today is the forty-fifth anniversary of the Church! Well, except it really isn’t. LaVey declared that the official founding date was 30 April 1966, which was Walpurgisnacht, but it really didn’t exist as an institution until later that year. It’s also said that LaVey died on 29 October 1997, but someone had the death certificate changed to say he died on Halloween instead. I’m sure LaVey was hardly the first religious leader to change facts around to make them sound more interesting, though. From what I’ve seen, pretty much all great religious leaders are carnival barkers at heart. One point in Anton’s favor is that he pretty much came out and admitted he was a flim-flam artist. He even claimed to have been a sideshow barker at one point, although this is most likely not true. Yes, he apparently even lied about being a professional liar! All the black mass stuff was also basically to put on a show for people. LaVeyan Satanists don’t typically practice rituals that involve using naked girls as altars, but they know the value of a show.
Eh, he kind of comes off as a poor man’s Vincent Price.
So what DO LaVey’s followers actually believe? Well, individualism is a major component of their philosophy. So is revenge. LaVey’s rules say not to harm children or animals, except for food or defense in the latter case (apparently eating children is not acceptable), and not to bother anyone unless they bother you first. If they do, however, you can basically do whatever you want to them. Basically, this form of Satanism says that most religions teach conformity and self-denial. I’d say this is debatable, but that’s certainly the face that mainstream religion presents to the world. Mind you, I think it’s also possible to go too far in the other direction. It’s well-documented that LaVey was heavily influenced by Ayn Rand, who seems to be a prime example of going too far in the other direction. I’ve never read anything by Rand, even though I was supposed to in high school. Does the fact that I took the selfish route mean that I truly grasped Rand’s philosophy more than the people who actually did the work? :P Seriously, though, she was raised in the Soviet Union and became so disenchanted with state-enforced communism that she rejected the very ideas of sharing and altruism. Way to throw the baby out with the bathwater, Ayn! There are a fair number of people who practically worship Rand, though, which is bizarre considering that Objectivism is supposed to be about individualism. Funny how that works out.
Mind you, Rand also accepted government assistance while decrying it, so I think the real center of her philosophy was hypocrisy. I’d say it’s pretty obvious that the human race has grown and thrived because we can work together. Anyway, LaVey taught that you should only love people who deserve it. I suppose I can agree with that, but I think Howard went a little far in insisting some people were “psychic vampires” with whom strong, intelligent people shouldn’t bother. Then again, I also think it’s pretty much impossible to take old Anton seriously in any respect. Some self-declared Satanists are genuinely scary people, but I don’t think the LaVeyan variety is anything to worry about. This page, from which I got the picture of LaVey at the organ, quotes photographer Jay Blakesberg as saying, “The Church of Satan was created to shock but also to get guys laid… what better way to get naked women.” Sounds about right.