During class two weeks ago, I mentioned that I'd be doing a story about this, including a visit to a Satanist church service before the scheduled "exorcism" on October 21. One of my less rigorous thinkers asked, "So they worship the devil?"
"No," I replied. "They don't worship anything."
Student, perplexed: "So why are they Satanists?"
Me: "Satan is a metaphor for self-determination and selfishness."
Student, more perplexed: "What does that mean?"
Me: "They don't believe in an entity (or person) named Satan or Lucifer or the Devil. The name is a symbol for a series of assumptions, including self-determination and selfishness, a habit of being that they don't consider a vice." (Yes, I talk like this in class.)
Student: "Why call themselves Satanists if they don't worship Satan? That's stupid."
Later, I posted the following on facebook: "The degree to which fundamentalism has shaped the categorical discussion about religion is obvious when students can't understand a concrete standing in for an abstract as purely symbolic. They kept insisting that belief in the entity as concrete was an essential component of the belief system. That they feel free to do this about someone else's belief is amazing."
Perceptive, atheist friend, Matt, replied: "Look at how even we atheists in this culture have allowed monotheism to shape our understanding of theism. We don't refer to belief in 'gods,' (or goddesses), but rather 'god' as central. Truth is, I find all gods, goddesses, demi-gods and other assorted deities equally implausible. Again, though, as with this 'Satanist' hullabaloo, we've allowed the dominant paradigm to define terms for the rest of us, no matter how absurd this may be."
As to Matt's point, this is a clear example of a language game's vocabulary shaping a broader discourse about a subject that is widely open to various schemes of interpretation across several communities of reference. Because we were raised around monotheistic paradigms (and the attendant lexiconical assumptions and vocabulary), our dissent is atheistic instead of apolytheistic or adeistic. As to my first point, this is a clear example of fundangelical assumptions shaping the way non-believers "get to talk" about a concept like satan/lucifer/devil. For most non-theists, the critter is a metaphor or symbol of evil, selfishness, or some other comprehensive vice that is capable of shaping an entire way of being. Even for those who are nominal believers at best, the symbol still resists metaphorical subtlety; instead, the metaphor is flattened (as in all fundamentalist endeavors) and the symbol is hardened into a concrete, referential persona known as Lucifer, or the Devil. Ironically, Satanists are not free to construct their metaphysics along purely symbolic (or satirical or parodical) lines, according to theists. The theist believes that his lexicon and his metaphysics shape the discussion such that the Satanist must play by the theist's linguistic rules. It's hubris (or coercive speech) of the worst sort, but the theist sees it not as hubris but as common sense, reality, realism, "the way things are," or some other euphemism that implies "you should think like I do." Sadly, many of us play along.