David Shankbone: How would you define the word Satan?
Peter Gilmore: Satan is a model or a mode of behavior. Satan in Hebrew means “adversary” or “opposer”; one who questions. Since we generally are skeptical atheists, we question all spirituality. We believe that carnality is all that exists and the spiritual dimensions are fictional. So we stand against eastern and western religions that promote fictions, according to our perspectives. So we are adversaries. Satan to us is an exemplar. When we look at how he is portrayed by Mark Twain in Letters from the Earth, or Byron, or Milton’s Paradise Lost, he ends up being an inspirational symbol to us. We say we would like to be more like that. We will not bow our heads; we will be independent. We will constantly question.
DS: What is the Church of Satan?
PG: Satanism begins with atheism. We begin with the universe and say, “It’s indifferent. There’s no God, there’s no Devil. No one cares!” So you then have to make a decision that places yourself at the center of your own subjective universe, because of course we can’t have any kind of objective contact with everything that exists. That’s rather arrogant and delusional, people who try to put things that way. So by making yourself the primary value in your life, you’re your own God. By being your own God, you are comfortable about making your own decisions about what to value. What’s positive to you, is good. What harms you, is evil. You extend it to things that you cherish and the people that you cherish. So it’s actually very easy to see that it’s a self-centered philosophy.
But it also requires responsibility, since you are taking on for yourself the complete onus for your personal success or failure. You can’t be praying to a God or blaming a devil, or anyone else, for that matter, for what happens to you. It’s on your own head. That’s a challenge for most people. Most people tend to really feel that they want some kind of external support, that they are outward looking and might want some sort of supernatural parental figure, or even some sort of existing governmental authority, existing in their life.
DS: Why do you think people are like that?
PG: I think there are actually two kinds of people. There are the kind of people who need that, and the kind that don’t. The kind that don’t are the smaller percentage of our species. It’s as simple as that.
DS: Why do you think there are those who need to have a God or supernatural parental figure?
PG: I think it’s natural to them. I don’t think it is something developmental, but that it’s just part of their own nature. That they feel a need for something above them, whether it be human or supernatural. And they can’t get away from that.
DS: In the history of a lot of religions, a doctrine was developed by people who were oppressed as a way to explain their lot, and that their oppressors were going to “get theirs in the end.” That’s where Karl Marx was saying religion is the opiate of the masses, because it creates complacency with oppression now because in some other ethereal dimension equality will be achieved.
PG: Well, see the idea of the “God” comes from the oppressors, and it’s a way of controlling folks, by saying, “I have communication with this authority figure but you can't. I’m special.” That’s where priesthoods come in, but also governmental authorities and parties, let’s say the Communist Party or the Nazi Party at one point. They have the key to the way the universe should exist, and everyone needs to be subservient to them and take what they say as holy writ whether they are actually claiming it is divine or not. That’s why so many of those fascist and totalitarian systems function like religions, because they put the leaders and whatever they wrote as some kind of scriptural authority that is not supposed to be debated or examined, but simply swallowed whole.
Now some people might come up with a religious belief that may counter an existing system that will help them feel better about their underdog status, and then sometimes that develops into a major religion and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it is crushed and snuffed out. That’s natural to our species, that people have to find a way for dealing with their existence.
The Satanist, we look at our existence and say, “We’re not going to look for something outside of ourselves. We’re going to be proactive." We’ll go out there and try to make a change, and we’ll deal pragmatically with whatever life situations we have. So the Satanist, regardless of where he is living and under what kind of conditions, he is going to try to find a way to make his life as good as it can be based upon his own abilities and the world around him. We don’t expect everybody in Satanism to be a genius, we expect people to take whatever they have by nature, and do the best with it. So in that sense, we challenge people who are our members; the only idealism we have is directed at ourselves. We try to look at ourselves and try to realize what our potential possibly could be, what talents do we have. And then we try to take those, through whatever work is needed, to take those as far as we can.
DS: What would be their motivation for doing something for society and not for themselves? Would there even be a motivation?
PG: Oh, absolutely! It’s up for you to choose your own preferences. By being self-centered you can select your own values.
DS: Like, I get value out of what I am doing for Wikimedia, even though it’s for free, there is still a value…
PG: Absolutely! What you’re doing, David, is a Satanic example. The whole point of Satanism is again to choose your values, and if you become somebody that really feels you want to work for hospitals for free—a number of our members work for animal organizations because we generally cherish animals and think they are far less polluted than people with values that are anti- their nature. So, Satanists are often very giving.
Because our values come from the self, people who try to tell themselves that they must be selfless, they can’t really understand why you would be giving if you’re a selfish person. But I think that’s more a revelation of their own natures, meaning if they didn’t have some external force making them being nice to people, they would be bastards! We Satanists, because we are relaxed, we love our lives, we love people who enrich our lives and things that are around us that we enjoy, we can be really giving. Gods can be beneficent! So when you are your own God, you can be happy to give!
DS: How would a Satanist define evil?
PG: Evil is whatever is harmful to you and the things you most cherish. It’s that simple.
DS: Some people have a compulsion to rape, and it harms them to not act upon it. If it was harmful for somebody to not go out and rape somebody, how would a Satanist address that situation?
PG: We then have to go into the realm of society, and we believe that as animals that are social, we have a social contract. When we deal with other people, our approach is that we want to have maximum freedom, and maximum responsibility without infringing on people as much as possible. So we would set up laws so we really don’t have to spend all of our time defending our territory, being in some kind of castle keep situation. So anyone who is going to go out and assault undeserving people, is someone we would deem a criminal and have them locked up or dealt with in whatever way seems most appropriate, whether it’s therapy, whether it’s drugs, or if they can’t control themselves, execution.
DS: Capital punishment is not antithetical to Satanism.
PG: Not necessarily, but essentially we would rather shrink from the government having the power to take you and murder you, because we don’t have a lot of confidence in people being rational, or being truthful, and we have seen so often—especially with DNA testing—that a lot of people have been jailed and accused of murder and they were wrong. That’s wrongful. So it’s not this broad, “We accept capital punishment and it’s fine!”
DS: “Slaughter them all!” [Laughs]
PG: Right! But there are certain situations where it would be appropriate. Say, when Colin Ferguson shot all those people. There should be absolutely no time wasted on that.
DS: But should it be the government doing it?
PG: I think the government can have the ability but under control. There needs to be checks and balances. That whole idea in the United States that has come from so many other past forms of government is something we feel is necessary. We don’t want any form of megalomaniacal government with absolute power that can do anything willy-nilly to its citizens. Satanists are generally Libertarians. They may choose their specific political alliances because it might better whatever they are trying to do in their lives, but essentially most of us are fairly libertarian people. We would like to have government as minimal as possible.
DS: Do you have a 10 Commandments?
PG: We have the 9 Satanic Statements, but we don’t have commandments that are laws that are like sins. We have eleven sins that are kind of behaviors that we don’t want to be doing. For us, we try to create a situation where we have some social interaction with people that can be beneficial for ourselves. But we don’t set up these kinds of laws that somebody is going to punish you for. So with Satanism they are things where you kick yourself and say, “Why did I do something stupid? I shouldn’t do that next time.” It’s better for you. It doesn’t matter about anybody else on that level: you’ve got to not be an ass.
DS: Are there certain sites or places that are important to the Church of Satan?
PG: No, we don’t really have any holy ground or anything like that. For the Satanist, if there is any kind of architecture you like, or a place you like to visit—some people like places with devil themes or where there is historical interest. But there is nothing particularly Satanic about any location.
DS: No place with a natural significance?
PG: Well, it’s the universe. We look at it like Carl Sagan and we are star stuff, we are made of the stuff of exploding stars. We Satanists look at the universe in this wonderful context of that’s what we are part of and that’s really exciting. We don’t need to single out any special part of it unless you find a place you really enjoy. The place you were born, perhaps, or the place you grew up. Some people are interested in a historical figure and say the place where a castle was built or a particular battle was fought, or some individual took a last stand.
DS: If someone wanted to explore your beliefs, what should they read?
PG: The Satanic Bible is the place to start, because that is the foundational literature for the organization. All of Anton LaVey’s books are worth reading. The Satanic Witch is his compendium of Lesser Magic, which is our concept for how you manipulate people on a day-to-day basis to get them to do things in your favor. It’s geared toward women because we think it’s fine for women to use their sexuality to get what they want. It’s part of nature, so go ahead! Dress for success! But it works for guys, too. Whatever you have to charm people. Glamor is worthwhile, so The Satanic Witch is useful for that. He’s got collections of essays, too, and The Satanic Rituals is more for a formal setting, where different cultures were examined to see what kind of diabolical imagery was in them. Rituals can be fun to do in a large group setting; but they’re not anything you have to do. Here’s a Russian one, here’s a French one; here’s a German one. Here’s a Black Mass—what would that be like? In Satanism a Black Mass is not something we are running out and eager to do because as far as we’re concerned, Christianity is a dead horse, unless in your life you feel there has been this really negative Christian influence that you need to purge, it’s just kind of pointless.
And my book, The Satanic Scriptures, is worth reading, because it ties up where we have been, where we are now, and where we are going. So if you only picked two, I would say read The Satanic Bible and The Satanic Scriptures, because then you’ll have the book ends of the over forty year span of the Church of Satan.