The Satanic Temple says it espouses a Satan who is not the same Biblical "Father of Lies" who tempted Christ in the wilderness.
"Satan, to us, is not a deity or entity, but rather a symbol of the ultimate revolutionary iconoclast exemplified by Milton, William Blake and Anatole France," said Jex Blackmore, a leader of the Satanic Temple’s new Detroit chapter and a member of the organization’s executive ministry team.
Blackmore told Aleteia that her group’s brand of Satanism—more comparable to a rationalist humanist philosophy than a mystical religion—provides her co-religionists with a sense of identity, community, custom and shared values.
"Our group includes mothers and fathers, veterans, musicians, professors, entrepreneurs and students," Blackmore said. "We represent all different walks of life."
The Satanic Temple has made headlines in recent months for its provocative efforts to organize a "black mass" at Harvard University and for trying to erect a statue of Baphomet—a bearded, goat-headed pagan deity—in Oklahoma City as a countermeasure against Christians installing the Ten Commandments at the state capitol.
It it not affiliated, however, with another satanic group, the Dakhma of Angra Mainya, which is performing a black mass Sept. 21 at the Oklahoma City Civic Center,
The controversial organization has also protested informed consent laws for women seeking abortions, held a "pink mass" ritual — which purports to turn someone gay in the afterlife — at the grave of the late Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps Jr.’s mother, and has offered to officiate at same-sex wedding ceremonies in Michigan, with the goal of overturning that state’s laws that currently define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
Over the next few weeks, the Satanic Temple plans to open 15 new chapters across the United States, as well as several internationally. The organization boasts more than 10,000 online members, which includes teens and people in their late 60s.
"We have slightly more females than males involved in the online community, but overall we are very diverse," Blackmore said.
The Satanic Temple’s rising profile — some critics dismiss it as the result of sensational media coverage — is occurring at the same time that more Americans than ever, especially millennials, are not identifying with any particular religion. The Pew Research Center estimates that 20 percent of the U.S. public — and a third of adults under 30 — are religiously unaffiliated in this more secularized age.
In 2011, Carlo Climati, the press officer for the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University in Rome, told the Catholic News Agency that a society "dominated by moral relativism fosters the spread of Satanism," which he argued creates “a society that is turned on its head, in which good becomes evil and evil becomes good.”
Jesuit Father James T. Bretzke, a professor moral theology at Boston College, told Aleteia that the rise of cults and religious groups, including the Satanic Temple, is a common feature in American culture, which is marked by voluntary association.
"People, especially in the United States, find meaning and identity by belonging to certain groups that not everybody belongs to," Father Bretzke said, adding that in this context, Satanism, which historically has suffered from "bad press," will have a certain draw.
"There is always going to be a fascination with religious ritual, which you’re not going to get in everyday life, coupled with this new idea, this repackaging of rationalism under the Satanic label," Father Bretzke said.
Blackmore said the Satanic Temple is a "non-theistic religious organization" that does not participate in bloody animal sacrifices or subscribe to "supernaturalism." The group sees religion as "metaphorical construct" by which people contextualize their lives, works and goals.