René Grigori is the Media Liaison (Spokesperson), Southern California Chapter of The Satanic Temple. Here we highlight the work and activities of the Southern California Chapter of The Satanic Temple.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What is the story of coming to TST for you?
René Grigori: I was born into, and raised by, a Catholic family. Most of my schooling was in Catholic schools. Religious studies were paramount in High School where we were being trained as though we were in seminary. All throughout this time I was constantly questioning and doubting the doctrine of the religion.
Throughout most of my life I dabbled with the esoteric. I’ve always felt drawn to those things I was told are forbidden. I studied a number of esoteric matters: Theosophy, Order of the Golden Dawn, Ordo Templi Orientis, Laveyan Satanism, and Buddhism among many traditions.
As an adult I’ve been a staunch Atheist. I joined one Atheist group and, due to internal conflicts, I founded another group called the Riverside Atheists and Freethinkers (RAFT). Throughout much of this time I noticed a lot of cliques forming within the Atheist community. After some time the fractures I saw led me to consider altering where I stood on certain matters. In time I turned the group over to a triumvirate leadership allowing me to step out of the grind and give more thought to how I wanted to develop as a person.
Prior to turning the group over I had been hearing about The Satanic Temple(TST), and a number of their escapades so I decided to look into their religion a bit more. I was also checking out something called Secular Buddhism at the same time. Sadly, the folks promoting Secular Buddhism kept getting into the supernatural (something that I tend to avoid). However, everything I saw in TST just clicked for me: their mission statement, the 7 tenets, the literary perspective of Satan as the noble hero, etc…. Eventually, I decided I had to join and get in this religion. So far, it seems this was the best decision, aside from marrying my wife, that I ever made.
Jacobsen: How do most in Southern California tend to come to TST?
Grigori: I think every person’s introduction to TST is unique. Some have come, initially, out of curiosity (like myself), others may have seen the documentary: “Hail Satan?”, still others may have been involved in other Satanic traditions and migrated to TST because it better aligned with their values/mindset.
Jacobsen: For The Satanic Temple Southern California, you are the authorized spokesperson. The first thing standing out about TST Southern California is the logo remains much the same with some variation in the overall design. Why this particular design for TST SoCal’s logo? Who designed it?
Grigori: Our logo design was a group effort. We were provided guidelines by TST’s International Council (IC), and one of our Division leaders worked on crafting rough drafts for the rest of us to comment on. Eventually we arrived at something we were all happy with.
Side note: due to the large geographic area our Chapter covers we have broken areas down into Divisions. There are five Divisions corresponding to Ventura County, LA County, Orange County, San Diego, and the Inland Empire. The Chapter leadership and each of the Divisions are run by triumvirates.
Jacobsen: The seven tenets of TST non-theistic Satanism are as follows:
1. One should strive to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures in accordance with reason.
2. The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
3. One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When you first came to TST, what were some of the appealing aspects of the tenets guiding the core philosophy of non-theistic Satanism?
Grigori: So prior to joining TST I was quite discouraged by the fracturing I saw in the Atheist community. I think that fracturing was due to nobody having a concise set of guiding principles; Atheism simply a matter of not believing in any gods. I realized that being part of a group with guiding principles was important. When I initially read the tenets all I could think was: “Wow, these tenets encapsulate my thinking perfectly.”. The tenets advocate for compassion and empathy, respecting the autonomy and freedoms of others, they advocate a science based approach to beliefs and knowledge, and there is an emphasis on being responsible for one’s own actions. This all thrilled me.
Jacobsen: TST SoCal has the following as a description:
The mission of The Satanic Temple is to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense and justice, and be directed by the human conscience to undertake noble pursuits guided by the individual will. Politically aware, Civic-minded Satanists and allies in The Satanic Temple have publicly opposed The Westboro Baptist Church, advocated on behalf of children in public school to abolish corporal punishment, applied for equal representation where religious monuments are placed on public property, provided religious exemption and legal protection against laws that unscientifically restrict women’s reproductive autonomy, exposed fraudulent harmful pseudo-scientific practitioners and claims in mental health care, and applied to hold clubs along side other religious after school clubs in schools besieged by proselytizing organizations.
Obviously, these are more highly active forms of combatting theocratic mentalities and encroachment in schools, in politics, in disciplines in mental health, and scientific literacy in the public sphere. This differs from a number of other groups in which the emphasis remains on base community building and having a sense of common cause, internally. TST takes this externally. What have been some of the forms of activism externally by TST SoCal?
Grigori: So, we do foster community building within our Chapters and associated Friends of Groups (FoGs). Also, because of our tenets we have a sense of common cause. Our external efforts are simply a manifestation of our community’s shared values.
TST SoCal’s primary external focus has been on charitable works. Recently we wrapped up our Toasty Toes campaign where we collected socks, toiletries, and other items to help the homeless during the winter months. We ultimately contributed over $2,000 worth of goods to a variety of charities with that campaign.
Currently, we are focused on another charity drive we are calling: “The Devil’s Food Pantry”. So far we have raised over $1,000 in food goods that we will be donating to St. John’s Episcopal Church in San Bernardino. We collaborated with them in the past with great success and we hope to keep this relationship thriving.
That being said, we are certainly open to any national campaigns sanctioned by the IC. However, charitable works are something we can do all of the time.
Jacobsen: For those things not tackled, yet, what are the concerns in SoCal in regards to the encroachment of theocratic mentalities and activities in the public sphere? Are reproductive rights a big one?
Grigori: Yes, reproductive rights are incredibly important to us. Not only matters like access to abortion, but also the general care and welfare of people which is often overridden by religious objectors. As an example: a cis woman who may want a hysterectomy might be told by her Christian doctor that she should consult with her husband first before the doctor will proceed with any surgery. It should be that person’s decision alone and not anyone else’s; it’s her body after all.
Additionally, we strongly support the LGBTQ+ community which has been marginalized and outright attacked by more evangelical groups. The first event we did as a newly formed Chapter was a march in the San Diego Pride parade. During COVID, this past year, we hosted a virtual Pride for our members. People who respect the autonomy and freedoms of others should always feel accepted; gender identity and sexual orientation should have nothing to do with how we treat, and care for, our fellow human beings.
Jacobsen: There are a number of rules for TST SoCal members. These are great, pragmatic, and common sense solutions to some issues for minority religions, especially non-theistic ones, who already have enough stigma in the United States and don’t need infighting or (more) bad reputation/bad assumptions about them. I have to ask, “What necessitated the creation of the SoCal formulation of rules to you?”
Grigori: Many of our rules are derivative of our tenets. However, there are a number of rules which are there simply to protect our community. The act of identifying ourselves as Satanists can oftentimes lead to scorn and ridicule. So, we work to provide our members with a safe and loving community both online and off.
Jacobsen: The current coverage for TST SoCal: San Diego, Inland Empire, Los Angeles, Ventura County, and Orange County. With those covered, what was the chronology of formation? What are the general demographics, even a qualitative analysis of them?
Grigori: Each of our Divisions started out as Friends of Group (FoG), which are basically groups aligned with TST, but are not officially recognized as Chapters. The long story short is: the IC decided that it might be best if all of the FoGs in SoCal organized under one Chapter. We all agree to that and when the IC granted us Chapter status each of the individual FoGs became a Division within the Chapter.
Our Chapter is incredibly diverse with BIPOC members, LGBTQ+ members, members living either in chronic pain or disabled. I don’t have a breakout of percentages because it is not our objective to manage quotas, however, it is our goal to accept people who align with our tenets and consider themselves to be non-theistic Satanists regardless of their unique makeup; to that end we have a Diversity Committee responsible for ensuring we are open, welcoming, and mindful of the varying mix of members within our community.
Jacobsen: What seem like the next reasonable steps in a) expansion into new divisions and b) combatting other forms of anti-science and theocratic mentalities acted out in the public sphere?
Grigori: With regard to expanding into new Divisions: there are always ongoing discussions as groups outside of our coverage become interested in joining. At this time, there is nothing officially in the works for TST SoCal, but that could change in the future. Our Chapter Heads act as liaisons for several FoGs and our Chapter has good relationships with other Chapters; especially those in Northern California.
As far as combating “anti-science and theocratic mentalities acted out in the public sphere”, we address those on a case by case basis. At the moment, we are all abiding by the best scientific guidance regarding COVID-19. We keep the majority of our discussions online and we’ve had to adapt our rituals to conform to an online format. However, when and where it is safe and makes sense to do so, we will be there to fight the good fight for science based practices and religious plurality in the public sphere.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, René.
Grigori: Thank you. I appreciate the thoughtful, and well researched, questions. It has been a pleasure.
*Associates and resources listing last updated May 31, 2020.*
Canadian Atheist Associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, Centre for Inquiry Canada, Kelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.
Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du Québec, Atheist Freethinkers, Central Ontario Humanist Association, Comox Valley Humanists, Grey Bruce Humanists, Halton-Peel Humanist Community, Hamilton Humanists, Humanist Association of London, Humanist Association of Ottawa, Humanist Association of Toronto, Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics of Manitoba, Ontario Humanist Society, Secular Connextions Seculaire, Secular Humanists in Calgary, Society of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph), Thunder Bay Humanists, Toronto Oasis, Victoria Secular Humanist Association.
Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an Agnostiker, American Atheists, American Humanist Association, Associação Brasileira de Ateus e AgnósticoséééBrazilian Association of Atheists and Agnostics, Atheist Alliance International, Atheist Alliance of America, Atheist Centre, Atheist Foundation of Australia, The Brights Movement, Center for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist Ireland, Camp Quest, Inc., Council for Secular Humanism, De Vrije Gedachte, European Humanist Federation, Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations, Foundation Beyond Belief, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist International, Humanist Association of Germany, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist Society of Scotland, Humanists UK, Humanisterna/Humanists Sweden, Internet Infidels, International League of Non-Religious and Atheists, James Randi Educational Foundation, League of Militant Atheists, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, National Secular Society, Rationalist International, Recovering From Religion, Religion News Service, Secular Coalition for America, Secular Student Alliance, The Clergy Project, The Rational Response Squad, The Satanic Temple, The Sunday Assembly, United Coalition of Reason, Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.
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Image Credit: The Satanic Temple Southern California.