Black Goat Cabal > Essays > On dogma
The opinions expressed below are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by the Black Goat Cabal.
by Diane Vera
Copyright © 2006 Diane Vera. All rights reserved.
- LaVey and "dogma"
- "Dogma" and the Black Goat Cabal
- Dogma within a group
- LaVey and "dogma"
About "dogma," Anton LaVey wrote the following in his Satanic Bible (1969 edition, p.53):
Modern man has come a long way; he has become disenchanted with the nonsensical dogmas of past religions. We are living in an enlightened age. Psychiatry has made great strides in enlightening man about his true personality. We are living in an era of intellectual awareness unlike any the world has ever seen.
This is all very well and good, BUT -- there is one flaw in this new state of awareness. It is one thing to accept something intellectually, but to accept the same thing emotionally is an entirely different matter. The one need that psychiatry cannot fill is man's inherent need for emotionalizing through dogma. Man needs ceremony and titual, fantasy and enchantment. Psychiatry, despite all the good it has done, has robbed man of wonder and fantasy which religion, in the past, has provided.
Satanism, realizing the current needs of man, fills the large grey void between religion and psychiatry. The Satanic philosophy combines the fundamentals of psychology and good, honest emotionalizing, or dogma. It provides man with his much needed fantasy. There is nothing wrong with dogma, providing it is not based on ideas and actions which go completely against human nature.
But, as is amply demonstrated by the behavior of many online Church of Satan members towards other kinds of Satanists, the role of dogma, if any, needs to be circumscribed a lot more than than just avoiding dogmas "based on ideas and actions which go completely against human nature." Too many other Satanist groups and leaders have followed the CoS's example, getting into incredibly vicious and downright silly fights over dogma.
Paradoxically even a lot of the more dogmatic Satanists themselves believe, at least in theory, that one of the things Satan represents or champions is people thinking for themselves. That being the case, it would make sense for Satanists to try to keep dogma to a minimum.
It is not possible to eliminate dogma completely. If a group of people agree on the idea that "there shall be no dogmas," then that idea in itself has thereby become a group dogma -- or, more precisely, a metadogma (a dogma about dogmas).
Furthermore, whenever any group of people gets together for any common purpose whatsoever, that common purpose is a group dogma. But there are many things that a united group of people can accomplish which its individual members couldn't accomplish (at least not nearly as easily) all by themselves. So, an absolute prohibition on dogma - if it were logically possible - would severely limit human achievement.
Still, any dogma can be problematic if you value freedom of thought. So, let's look at some of the specific ways that dogma can be problematic, and let's consider how best to minimize them without attempting the impossible task of eradicating dogma altogether.
- "Dogma" and the Black Goat Cabal
Within the Satanist scene, various Satanist groups are trying to persuade the general public to define the very word "Satanism" itself to refer to the particular group's own dogma, thereby trying to exclude all who disagree from the Satanist scene. The best-known group attempting such a maneuver is, of course, the CoS. Too many other groups are imitating the CoS in this regard, though fiercely disagreeing with the CoS on other points.
The Black Goat Cabal, in contrast, favors a much more inclusive definition of Satanism, based only on having a favorable view of Satan, regardless of the specific ideological content of that favorable view. It can be argued that the Black Goat Cabal's definition of "Satanism" is a dogma too, and that we too are trying to impose our dogma on the Satanist scene as a whole. And indeed, technically speaking, yes it is and yes we are.
Still, our definition of Satanism is not dogma-based, i.e. the criterion for inclusion, under our defintion, is not belief in any specific dogma. Simply having a favorable attitude toward Satan does not, in itself, constitute a dogma. A dogma is a body of doctrine; hence a dogma would have to encompass at least one specific idea beyond a simple liking or disliking for someone or something.
Moreover, if our definition of Satanism were more widely accepted within the Satanist scene, it would cut way down on the amount of squabbling. Only a person with a favorable view of Satan (whether seen as a deity, or as a symbol, or whatever) would want to call oneself a "Satanist" in the first place. Our definition is also the only one that, in the long run, is likely to make sense to scholars of new religions.
On the other hand, any attempt to define "Satanism" in terms of a specific doctrine will lead only to more squabbling. The Church of Satan will never win its war to monopolize the label "Satanism," for there will always be people like myself who worship Satan and who, therefore, feel that we are at least as entitled to the label "Satanist" as are the LaVeyan atheistic symbolic Satanists. In the long run, it's more likely that the theistic Satanist camp could eventually prevail over the LaVeyans. But then, among theistic Satanists, there will always be some with a relatively close-to-purely reverse-Christian view of Satan, whereas there will also, always, be many others with theologies derived from the Western occult tradition and from other predominantly non-Abrahamic sources. Therefore, no one will ever win an ideological war between (1) those who believe that the only "true Satanists" are those with beliefs relatively close to what "everyone knows" about Satan and (2) those who believe that it is "un-Satanic" to base one's views primarily on Christianity.
- Dogma within a group
What is most problematic is when a group tries to impose its dogma on other people outside the group. But dogma can also be problematic within a group as well.
In order for a religious group to function at all, there needs to be some set of beliefs, values, or goals that its members hold in common. In that very, very broad sense, every religious group has a dogma - even the Unitarians. But there is a difference between merely having a doctrine or dogma (in the general sense) and being dogmatic. And there are also many different kinds and degrees of dogmatism.
A group which is dogmatic discourages its own members from thinking, questioning, and exploring alternatives. Its leaders display an arrogant authoritarianism, insisting on the absolute truth of unproven or unprovable claims, and in some cases predicting dire consequences for those who disagree or for those who leave the group. In the worst cases, a dogmatic group will shun or even persecute "apostates."
Although dogma per se may be inescapable, at least to some degree, dogmatism is clearly incompatible with the freedom of thought which many Satanists believe (at least in theory) that Satan encourages. And it is not necessary for religious groups to behave in such a manner, although all too many do.
Dogmatic groups tend to attract people who are looking for someone who has all the answers. While it is legitimate to want to learn from other people, there is no one person or group that has all the answers, especially on a topic as personal, subjective, and mysterious as spirituality.
Thanks to Renee Rain for her suggestions on the last section of this article.
See also: What is "traditional Satanism"?