I began writing this last year before a (possibly closeted) man committed the worst mass shooting in US history targeting LGBTQ people of color in Orlando bar and sanctuary Pulse. Discussions about toxic forms of religion that are inseparable from toxic forms of masculinity are not what I intended to discuss and I won’t be doing so here. I’m also not going to play LET ME GOOGLE THAT FOR YOU regarding the complete functioning definitions or examples of religion for either atheists or theists. My intent was to promote and discuss the reclamation of religious identity from those who wield it to radicalize, demean, and exclude rather than incorporate, evolve, and include.
These religions and communities we can utilize to support each other both in times of crisis and joy and they are more than suitable replacements for the broken socially regressive death cult religious communities many of us left behind. To those who call for the death of religion I say that you are not being specific enough, and that instead our rallying cry is for the birth of MORE religion based on rationality and/or community above doctrine. My goal is always the positive assertion of my deeply held religious belief despite colloquially based narrow assertions of what the definition of religion is.
We can and should take religious identity back from those who’ve rejected it and to balance the milieu of toxic religions monopolizing it when it is convenient for them. When they do reject religion as a self adjective it is because it has become poor marketing for their agenda. If the term “religion” is now so negatively associated that people will go to great lengths to describe themselves as “spiritual not religious” or “having a personal relationship with God” while still enjoying the legal and cultural privilege of their religion then it is beyond past time we gladly take advantage of those same legal and cultural benefits. Let dozens, hundreds, of unique religions bloom and choke out the sole propriety of dogmatic religious ideology. If we are going to discuss personal relationships with our religion or spirituality then I challenge anyone to come up with an example of something more personal than a self selected and maintained personal mythology that provides the context that empowers me to be wholly and shamelessly myself with little regard for social traditions that no longer make sense and thwart progress and individuality.
Many atheists would like to tirelessly remind us that their internalized objection of the term religion makes it an unacceptable choice for secularists (particularly if the religion in question makes their parents or neighbors uncomfortable). In the case of The Satanic Temple I find these arguments similar to those that LGBTQ people hear every year leading up to and during June. The objection being towards those in our community, Leather Men, Drag Queens, Trans people and Queers, taking visible roles in our public celebrations and activities where they can be observed as an expressive and integral part of our community. Satanists are to the religious and atheist communities what Queers, Leathermen, and Drag Queens are to the LGBT community. Sometimes we are being activists, sometimes we are performing, and sometimes we are just celebrating our interests openly and defiantly without shame.
Religious identity is not dissimilar to general cultural identity construction. The point we make most consistently as Satanists is that we recognize and embrace our individual mythologies as personally relevant archetypes and inspirations that you don’t have to partake of if you aren’t inclined to. We don’t follow a religion simply because we were indoctrinated into it by community tradition or default. We are part of an evolving religion that develops without much regard for dogma or social norms which don’t serve a rational purpose. We accept diversity and do not recruit or proselytize.
Christians often say “I am not religious, I have a personal relationship with God”. Pagans are fond of being “spiritual not religious”. Atheists often reject the term out of personal negative experience and association. The definition of religion defies both of their assertions and evasions. Religion is a term that othered groups should reclaim as the masses of Gray People discard it. Secular and non-theistic/atheistic religions are not new and their foundations are multiplying.
Religion at its best is a rewarding humanitarian fraternity that adds context and value to our cooperative instinct as a social species. Secularists should be encouraging more examples of what religion at its best looks like. Religion is unlikely to go away because of how easily it is integrated with our cooperative community instinct. I believe that the lack of value placed on positive assertion of belief to be the primary hardship most atheist communities struggle with and often fall apart from. The particular content of the archetypes or mythologies a religious community develops around are simply an interesting discussion point that takes a back seat to the results produced by a religious community and it’s goals. In this way most of the dominate religious communities are failing society and hemorrhaging acolytes. Following are two organizations that are inspiring for The Satanic Temple or any other non-theistic, inclusive, or secular religious activist community who also fit the definition for an established religion should they ever decide to declare themselves as such.
“The idea that religion belongs to supernaturalists is ignorant, backward, and offensive.” so for Pride month I’d like to recognize two communities exemplifying cultural development and inclusive community philosophy who are indistinguishable from progressive humanitarian religions. Should these communities ever file for religious status in order to counter increasingly theocratic public discourse they have the foundations already in place to counter the narrow marginalizing narratives of those superstitious forms of religion attempting to claim sole purveyance of what religion is.
“The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence® is a leading-edge Order of queer nuns. Since our first appearance in San Francisco on Easter Sunday, 1979, the Sisters have devoted ourselves to community service, ministry and outreach to those on the edges, and to promoting human rights, respect for diversity and spiritual enlightenment. We believe all people have a right to express their unique joy and beauty and we use humor and irreverent wit to expose the forces of bigotry, complacency and guilt that chain the human spirit.”
I have encountered amazing Sisters in every city I’ve lived in and visited. The are a non-profit organization dedicated to charity, safety, community, and indulgence. Their founding tenets revolve around promoting safer sex, fighting AIDS, and LGBTQA+ rights activism. Watching their individual YouTube videos will display the sincerity of their deeply held beliefs and community. Their initiation process takes at least a year. SisterUnity explains why here along with details on their legal restrictions on political discourse as a non-profit organization:
The sisters were present in every Orlando vigil I have seen coverage of, and their presence was one of comfort and acceptance. These are from their LA Chapter Facebook page;
“Generally, we tend to be gay men who look for a spiritual dimension to our sexuality; many of us are healers of one kind or another.
Our shared values include feminism, respect for the Earth, and individual responsiblity rather than hierarchy. Many of us are Pagan (nature-based religion).”
Radical Faeries are not particularly fond of being recorded as such or speaking for the whole group. They tend to operate on a ‘you’ve found us, welcome home’ kind of basis. They have several open sanctuaries where they meet annually. Most of what I can convey about them is anecdotal and comes from always having known individuals from their community due to our parallel social circles and interests. I can say generally that the RFs that I know are quite fond of bright colors, peace, pot, nudity and sex. All who are welcoming are generally welcome in their sanctuaries. Individuals politically and socially tend to be radical in their desire for social inclusiveness and change. I’ve known grifters, drifters, professionals, and public sex enthusiasts to all identify as RFs. They tend towards affinities for pagan observances and rites including mentoring the younger generations of Queers coming of age. They also have overlapping membership with The Sisters as the following video demonstrates. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m-f3CO1ouu4