Tenets Talk

Tenets Talk

*I do not speak for TST; rather this is a personal interpretation from writer Alex Martinez, informed by degrees in philosophy, psychology, and teaching, in addition to individual, layperson readings of Satanic literature.*

This paper was originally given as a talk over ZOOM to members of Friends of TST – Oregon on February 1st, 2020. It has been expanded slightly for clarifications and to minimize some of the original colloquial language, although plenty remains.

The intent was to lean into my personal background to give a rundown of the Tenets in a way that is somewhat original, offering (hopefully) some new perspectives and to emphasize information that has been given by members of leadership, but is nonetheless oft-forgotten.

1) One should strive to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures in accordance with reason.

This is a strong moral claim that despite being wholly normative or prescriptive in nature, is nearly impossible to pick apart or criticize. It is important that both compassion and empathy are mentioned because they balance each other out in terms of what is experienced by the listener or observer. Having too much empathy is known to cause burn out and even ethical violations in the mental health and medical industries. For example, when a provider feels heightened empathy for one client over the others, it can cause them to make decisions that benefit the favorite. Z Dogg MD, a well-known science advocate and medical doctor on social media, created a video about this last year. If anyone is seeking more information on this, it is very easy to Google. At the same time, detached compassion can lead to disconnection, which can cause the other person to feel patronized or “talked at” rather than understood.

It is also worth pointing out that singling out empathy but leaving out compassion could be seen as ableist by some, because there are segments of the population whose primary cognitive process for pro-social decision-making is not empathy, but something like mentalizing or cognitive perspective-taking. Yale psychologist Paul Bloom (who is also Autistic) argues that rational compassion is more helpful than empathy in professional settings or larger groups, because it leads to more ethical outcomes. The magic of this tenet is partially contained in the word “strive.” It does not lock us down to either compassion or empathy, but asks us to consider both of them wherever and whenever possible.

“In accordance with reason” is likewise important, because it adds a layer of relativity. What I mean by that is, “in accordance with reason” is not always going to be the same for every person. Reason is an often misunderstood/misused word on the internet (Lookin’ at you, logicbros). Reason is not objective and reason is not always logical in where it leads, but it is self-reflexive. A more accurate application of the word for our purposes is to have good and consistent reasons for acting or responding in a certain way, with “good” defined as the pros outweighing the cons. What might be a good reason for one person may not be a good enough reason for someone else. It may be a good idea for me to give a person experiencing homelessness 5 dollars, but this may not be “within reason” for a poor mother of 2 to give away her last 5 dollars, in a situation that is otherwise exactly the same. In terms of consistency, we can judge the reasonableness of one’s action based on how typical or usual it is for them to make a similar decision. Conversely, it may be a sign that a friend is in need of our assistance or support, if we discover they have done something enormously out of character. They are not acting within reason, their OWN reason.

2) The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.

In Kohlberg’s Moral Theory of Development, there are 6 stages divided into three categories: Pre-conventional (self-centered motives), conventional (people-centered) and post-conventional (principle-centered). Kohlberg theorized that 10% of adults fall into the pre-conventional category, while 80% fall into the conventional category. Our 2nd tenet basically encapsulates what it means to be one of Kohlberg’s post-conventional moral operators.

With only 10% of the adult population remaining, this means that the 2nd Tenet demands that our moral thoughts exist among a very small and privileged population of people. But make no mistake, this is not a hard ask because Satanists ARE a small and privileged group of people. What does this mean? The conventional stages are for those who concern themselves with the affairs, opinions, feelings, and laws of individuals and of society, either because their lives demand that they must, or because this is where their moral progress has stopped. The post-conventional stages are for those who concern themselves with principles, values, and the good of the many, which often comes with personal sacrifice. They ask us to put our own persons and maybe even our own families, communities, and countries aside for the greater good. In heroic tales and superhero movies, we often watch the hero figure start out at a pre-conventional (self-centered) or conventional stage, face some type of tragedy or challenge, and evolve to a place where they realize the truth of our 2nd tenet. They are recognized for their accomplishment in the form of enlightenment, celebration, and/or a changed form.

*BUT it is important to note that there is no “should” in this tenet that is directed at the individual, as there is with some other tenets. It is reasonable therefore, to assume that a TST Satanist may chose to opt out from practicing this tenet, particularly when their everyday situation does not allow for it. That being said, one should still believe in it and strive for it, and we should not stop ever, no matter how far society progresses. There is always work to be done!
***Does anyone have an example of a literary or cinematic character who experiences this type of moral progress?

3) One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.

My body; my choice. The complication with this tenet often arises in conversations regarding the individual body vs. some population, where the individual choice may have ramifications for everyone else. It can also be heavily culturally dependent. It is worth pointing out that TST does not take any particular stances on topics like identified male at birth circumcision or vaccines at this time, although individual chapters may have their own membership rules based on their interpretations. The 3rd tenet makes it clear that as Satanists, we should always respect the bodies of others, whether this is through consent, the absolute avoidance of things like body-shaming, food-shaming, slut-shaming, or prude-shaming, and/or through our personal support of legislation and public policy that upholds this deeply held belief.

4) The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo one’s own.

The first part tells us how to act; the second prepares us for what can happen if we choose not to take the advice. This is often the most misunderstood tenet, if one were to make such an estimation based on social media. It is a common phenomenon in TSTO to find people new to TST focusing on the middle phrase alone, “including the freedom to offend.” Somehow, they miss what comes right before, and what comes after. Clarification has been received from International Council on the meaning and purpose behind this tenet. It was written in the context of BLASPHEMY.  It was not written to defend someone’s right to be an asshole, have poisonous black smog coming out of their car, or walk around saying FUCK near a bunch of 5 year olds. What this tenet basically means is that if TST wants to hold a pink mass in a public place, we can, but we should also be prepared for blow-back against us. After all, our tenets were written first and foremost, for US. If we ever expect a new, shining Satanic Aeon, we better master this shit ourselves before we expect anyone else to do it. One need not stray further than a Fox News social media page to see that the supposed biggest lovers of freedom, do not value free speech when it is their ideological enemy speaking.

5) Beliefs should conform to one’s best scientific understanding of the world. One should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit one’s beliefs.

Like Tenet 3, this one is also fairly straight forward, yet at the same time, has a wide variety of applications within Temple membership. One’s “best scientific understanding of the world” is going to change person to person. An individual may not be in possession of hardly any scientific facts at all, but with the way this tenet is worded, they are not excluded from the practice of TST-brand Satanic Philosophy. This is excellent in terms of inclusivity while also offering up a worthy principle. The next sentence challenges all of us, at every level of scientific literacy. If and when we do find these facts, we are to consider them apart from our pre-existing beliefs. If we find that they conflict, the 5th tenet makes a prescriptive claim that we have an imperative to resolve the conflict in favor of the science. The reason this tenet is so important is because there are many instances in human history, including in present society, where legislation and public policy are created based on religious belief, rather than scientific facts. This often leads to the direct harm and persecution of members of society. The work of the Grey Faction is concerned with such harms that occur in the mental health field, particularly around conspiracy therapists and their pseudo-scientific methods.
*Who has other examples?

6) People are fallible. If one makes a mistake, one should do one’s best to rectify it and resolve any harm that might have been caused.

“People are fallible” is hardly controversial. Every adult should know they make mistakes and that they are not always right. The prescriptive “should” appears in the suggestion that we need to rectify mistakes made, and to resolve any harm that came from them. Similar to the 1st tenet, this one is nearly impossible to criticize on a philosophical level. But unlike the other tenets, this one begins with a descriptive and empirical statement. It is basic neuro-psychology that new mental pathways are created when we solve problems, interpersonal problems are no different. It disrupts patterns and habits, and this in case, ones that we do not want. Apologizing to someone disrupts those patterns, and reminds you of different choices in the future, with stronger pro-social outcomes. In this way, rectifying a mistake benefits the offending party by helping them learn from it. It is important to note that nothing in this tenet concerns the offended party. They have no obligation to even allow the offending party to rectify anything, and there may be nothing the person can do to resolve said harm. The important thing here is that the person who made the mistake did their best to make it better. Nothing is owed to them.

*How does this compare to the Catholic idea of Confession? Is everyone familiar with that? (It is the idea that a person can go into a creepy little room, tell a priest their sins, and everything is automatically forgiven. A prayer to an invisible being is considered the “rectifying” action.)

We as Satanists have a moral prerogative to rectify our mistakes with those individuals we have negatively impacted.

*As Satanists, do we have the same moral prerogative to forgive, the way the Christian God supposedly does?

*Circling back to the 1st Tenet, does compassion and empathy dictate that the offending party is granted the same access to our lives as they had before? Does it depend on reason? How might it depend on reason?

7) Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word.

In a way, this final tenet combines all of the previous tenets, while also reinforcing them in a few key ways. It buttresses the idea that things are always changing, whether it is an individual’s personal situation, social progress, or the body of scientific knowledge. It also lets us know that the 7 Tenets themselves may someday change. For example, the poor mother of 2 referenced earlier might have found a well-paying job 1 year later, was then faced with the same moral choice, and made a very different decision with her 5 dollars. Her choice would still be in accordance with compassion, empathy, and reason. The novel idea here is that we should always be trying to be the best people we can be, in whatever moment to which life has brought us. Some of these tenets can help us with how to do that, while others show us what to do or expect, if we mess up.

If taken together, the final two tenets remind us that the tenets themselves are products of human beings, and are therefore subject to the same fallibility. This is a wonderful thing because there is no progress without discovering we were wrong. Because there is no static “Divine knowledge” in Satanism, we will never be faced with the odd embarrassment that is Leviticus, to name one of many glaring examples.

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Co-Chapterhead of TST Oregon