In Internet slang, a troll is “ a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion, often for their own amusement.”
In reality, I find the definition to be a little bit more broad than that. I would say a “troll” is someone who sows discord by upsetting people by advocating for inflammatory positions with the deliberate intent of provoking an emotional response, even though the the troll does not actually believe in the position for which he’s advocating.
Atheists on and off the Internet employ the tactic of trolling with gleeful regularity. Late last month, atheists in the Netherlands succeeded in convincing the government to officially recognize the “Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.” Followers of that religion are known as “Pastafarians.”
I neither know nor care who first coined the concept of a Flying Spaghetti Monster. It’s basically a God-parody. The idea is, expecting atheists to disprove God is like expecting Christians to disprove the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Or disprove the claim that there’s a teapot orbiting the sun somewhere between Earth and Mars.
It’s silliness. No one actually believes in the Flying Spaghetti Monster or in Russell’s Teapot. It’s not because anyone has disproved either of them. It’s because the claim is inherently ridiculous. Some atheists feel the same about the God hypothesis. We’re expected to believe that the universe, with all its complexity, was created by an omnipotent, omniscient being who would, of necessity, be more complicated than the universe, be invisible, be timeless, and be deeply, deeply concerned about our sexual activity. And the burden is on us to disprove such a being?
One way atheists have trolled Christians for decades is by embracing the label of Christianity’s archenemy, Satan. They call themselves Satanists and they exist purely to antagonize Christians, particularly when it comes to demonstrating Christian privilege in American society through church-state separation issues.
It goes like this: secularists (both Christian and non-Christian), believe it is not government’s place to take sides in religious issues. When government attempts to impose religious worship in public business, politically active atheists can be counted on to object. Usually, the atheists win, but sometimes they don’t. Sometimes American courts authorize acts like prayers to open government meetings, Bible distributions in schools and religious displays on government property. The thing is, when those acts are authorized, government is still prohibited from favoring one religion over another.
That’s where the Satanists come in.
To demonstrate the absurdity of allowing any religious group to offer an invocation, distribute materials at public schools, or erect displays honoring their religion, Satanists demand equal time. Since government cannot oppose Satanism without running afoul of the First and Fourteenth Amendments (guaranteeing freedom of religion and equal protection under the law), Satanists can force governments to allow them to offer prayers before public meetings, distribute coloring books promoting Satanism in schools, and erect monuments to demonic looking deities on public property.
It’s all very sinister until you recognize that Satanists are just glorified trolls trying to make a political point. It’s not that they believe in an actual being called Satan who is waging war against the disciples of Christ. They don’t. Really. Satanists consider Satan a symbol, not a spirit.
A symbol of what? A symbol of all that is natural in humanity.
To us, Satan is the symbol that best suits the nature of we who are carnal by birth—people who feel no battles raging between our thoughts and feelings, we who do not embrace the concept of a soul imprisoned in a body. He represents pride, liberty, and individualism—qualities often defined as Evil by those who worship external deities, who feel there is a war between their minds and emotions… Man—using his brain—invented all the Gods, doing so because many of our species cannot accept or control their personal egos, feeling compelled to conjure up one or a multiplicity of characters who can act without hindrance or guilt upon whims and desires.
God-fearing politicians and citizens who get offended when Satanists pray before a public meeting, making a show of walking out or disrespecting the speakers, are actually playing right into Satanists’ hands! That’s the reaction Satanists want, because it’s exactly how unbelievers feel when you co-opt our government to honor your God!
If you don’t want Satanists co-opting our government to honor Satan, you have to give up the “right” to co-opt our government to honor your God, whether that God is Allah, Vishnu, Jehovah, Jesus, Thor, Isis or Satan.
Atheists don’t believe in Satan. Most of us believe Satan is your imaginary enemy. We don’t worship him, no matter what your Bible tells you.
Most people who call themselves Satanists don’t believe in Satan either. They’re just atheists trying to piss Christians off, and succeeding.
I’m not saying there’s no such thing as a genuine Satanist who believes in Lucifer as a real being whose enemy is Jehovah and/or Jesus and/or Allah. But I am saying that the vast majority of time, when you see a Satanist on the news, he does not believe in Satan. He’s an atheist troll trying to upset Christians into acknowledging that keeping religion out of government affairs in a good thing.
Rush Limbaugh would call it “demonstrating absurdity by being absurd.”
It’s a legitimate tactic, and it works. In Phoenix, Ariz. earlier this month, the city council voted to open its meetings with a moment of silence instead of a prayer, just to keep Satanists from delivering a prayer. The council decided, wisely, that the only way to stop a Satanist prayer is to stop using its public meeting to promote any religion.
Make no mistake: the Satanists in Phoenix didn’t want to deliver a prayer. They didn’t want anyone to deliver a prayer to any god, goddess or great spirit, because government should not be in the prayer business. Council members who want God’s blessing are free to pray before the meeting, on their way to the meeting, and during the meeting if they want to. But within their official government capacity, they are agents of the state, not agents of their faith.
Sometimes pretending to worship Satan is the only way to get Christians to see what they are doing when they use our government to impose prayers to their God on all citizens.
It sucks to be compelled to sit through a prayer to a God you don’t worship, doesn’t it?
Welcome to our world.
Part of an occasional series addressing popular misconceptions about atheism. For more in the series, click here.