July 9th, 2013
03:27 PM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
(CNN)– Are Satanists for or against abortion? Apparently, there's a hot debate.
A group calling itself the "UK Church of Satan" on Twitter says it's open minded, tweeting out "Why Wouldn't Satanism be pro-life?" on July 5.
But the High Priest of the New York-based Church of Satan says it's squarely in the abortion-rights corner.
How to settle this diabolical duel?
Let's back up first.
As Texas legislators debated a law last week that would restrict abortions in the Lone Star State, a group of abortion rights protesters tried to drown out a group of anti-abortion protesters at the state capitol by chanting "Hail Satan!"
The phrase trended on Twitter. Megapastor Rick Warren rapped our wrists (and The Associated Press's, too) for not covering the "Hail Satan" serenade. Actually, pastor, our man Josh Rubin was on the ball.
The UK Church of Satan (assuming it's real) jumped on the trend, tweeting on July 3:
Which raises the question: What does Satanism represent?
We asked the New York-based Church of Satan, and we got an earful.
First of all, Magus Peter H. Gilmore, High Priest of the Church of Satan, told us, there is no "UK Church of Satan."
"I have not authorized any of our UK members to create such a thing claiming to represent our organization, its members and our philosophy," Gilmore said. "So, whoever is behind that feed is committing a fraud."
Gilmore's group, which, unlike the UK church, has a website, also keeps a P.O. Box in New York City. (Radio City Station of all places. Watch out, Rockettes.)
As a matter of policy, the Church of Satan doesn't give out exact membership numbers, the magus said, but it's in the thousands.
"Our organization, founded by Anton LaVey in 1966, is worldwide," Gilmore told CNN in an e-mail, "and we have many members throughout the UK and none of them have heard of any self-proclaimed 'Church of Satan in England.' There was a hoax using a title like this a year or so ago as a political prank."
We put the question to the UK Church of Satan, who said, "There is no 'UK' Church of Satan. It's worldwide. We represent and connect those followers 'in' the UK."
We've followed up with more questions but haven't heard back yet.
To be sure, the UK Satanists' tweets have been surprisingly unsulfurous.
Take this one, for example:
Or this sweet-natured nugget:
This is a church that worships the Prince of Darkness? And who in hell is JMG?
Getting back to abortion, here's what the supposed UK Church of Satan said:
Yeah, kinda, Gilmore told CNN. But there's much more to it than that.
Many Satanists practice "rational birth control," saith Satanism's high priest, leaving matters of personal morality up to individuals.
"We generally consider the use of abortion to be the purview of the woman whose body is carrying the child," Gilmore said. "We consider sexual experiences to be an indulgence between consenting adults that should be taken seriously, particularly when the possibility of pregnancy is concerned."
But the magus didn't appreciate hearing the name of his lord taken in vain.
"Shouting `Hail Satan!' to abortion protesters is both ludicrous and meaningless," said Gilmore, who's led the Church of Satan since 2001. "Only attention-seeking fools would do so."
Unsurprisingly, Satanists take a strong stand on separation of church and state, believing the government "should be entirely secular."
"So religion should neither force upon nor deny an abortion for any woman, in our thinking," Gilmore said. "Freedom with responsibility is the hallmark of civilized behavior to the Satanist."
Now that that's settled, what's the Satanic stance on gay marriage?
In a follow-up email, Gilmore made it clear that Satanists don't actually deify Satan. In fact, they're atheist, he said, and use Satan as a "symbol of pride, liberty and individualism."
"If you chose to mock us, then you should have done so based on what our philosophy actually is, rather than on an assumed `horror film' stereotype," the magus said.
Fair criticism. We'll try to improve our coverage of Satanism.
Oh, one more thing. Gilmore said the Church of Satan does approve of same-sex marriage.
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.