Just a few weeks ago I had a dinner I will never forget. My dining companion was charming, intelligent, sensitive, polite, sophisticated and lively. It was clear
from the servers at this restaurant on New York City’s west
side that he is a frequent and well-liked patron.
During our three-hour conversation he spoke with
fondness of his wife Peggy. He had tears in his eyes when
he shared about the death of their dog. His love for and
expertise in music and art were evident. He treated me
with respect and was not at all antagonistic when I shared
various things about my Christian faith.
Welcome to my encounter with Peter H. Gilmore,
head of the Church of Satan. This is the church founded
in 1966 by Anton LaVey, who also authored The Satanic
Bible (Avon, 1969). The church was originally headquartered at LaVey’s house (famously painted black) in San
Francisco but is now based in New York where Gilmore
and his wife, who is high priestess, have lived for decades.
They joined the movement in 1982 and met LaVey four
LaVey died in 1997 and Gilmore became high priest
in 2001. He is author of The Satanic Scriptures (Scapegoat
Publishing, 2007), a collection of his essays, and most
famous for leading a public satanic ritual in Los Angeles
on June 6, 2006 – a date related to the “666” of the Bible
and popular occult religion.
I met with him for three reasons. First, I promised him
a copy of my Nelson’s Illustrated Guide to Religions (Nelson,
2009) since he had provided pictures and helpful input for
the chapter on Satanism. Second, he agreed to an interview for this column and some other publications. Third,
I hoped I would have the opportunity to be a friendly
witness about Jesus.
Friendly is extremely important since he often gets
death threats from Christians, a not so subtle signal of
the fear Satanism creates.
Some of that fear is based on a popular misunderstanding that Gilmore and his fellow Satanists actually worship
Satan. They do not. Rather, Satan is viewed as a symbol
of all that humans should strive for: freedom from God,
a rebellious spirit, relentless focus on self, and delight in
the so-called evils of the world.
This is the standard approach of most Satanic groups,
dinner with the
The head of the Church of Satan says he
doesn’t believe in Satan.
including the First Satanic Church (started by LaVey’s
daughter Karla) and John Allee’s First Church of Satan.
Satanism has a Canadian presence. Some Canadian
members of Gilmore’s group are featured in Joshua Warren’s documentary Inside the Church of Satan (2008). Robert A. Lang, based in Ottawa, is the major voice in Canada
for the Church of Satan. He can be followed on Twitter.
As well, Scott Rob ran for political office in Edmonton
two years ago and made no secret he was founder of the
Dark Collective, the first Satanic-based church in Canada. Further, both Toronto and Vancouver host Satanic
groups, according to the Satanic International Network
I highlight Gilmore’s winsome and pleasant personality for two reasons.
First, by way of contrast, Satanism is a very depressing,
nasty philosophy. His denial of Satan’s actual existence
doesn’t change that Gilmore’s own writings are very anti-
Christian, duplicating the message of LaVey. The Satanic
Bible notes the crucifix symbolizes “pallid incompetence
hanging on a tree” and that anyone “who turns the other
cheek is a cowardly dog.” The black book also advises
indulging in “greed, pride, envy, anger, gluttony, lust,
and sloth.” Gilmore writes in his own book the follow-
ing words for a Satanic funeral rite: “Hail, Satan, full of
might! Our allegiance is with thee! Accursed are they,
the God adorers, and cursed are the worshipers of the
Second, in spite of Satanism’s nastiness and blas-
phemy, my dinner conversation affirmed for me the
Christian view of humanity. While Gilmore has written
to me that he is trying to live “as Jesus-free as possible,”
his positive characteristics are nonetheless evidence of
God’s common grace. Meeting him reminded me how
we all need to look beyond stereotypes for evidence that
each individual is made in the image of God.
More importantly, the interchange with Gilmore and a
new examination of Satanism increased my appreciation
for the gospel. Satanism is clearly about selfishness, while
Jesus is about giving. Satanism is about darkness, Jesus is
the light. Satanism is about death as the end for humanity.
Jesus is about resurrection and new life, as Easter celebra-
tions recently reminded us. The biblical promise of a day
when all cries of “Hail, Satan” will be replaced by “Hail,
King Jesus” is still good news. Ft
JAMES A. BEvErLEY is professor of Christian thought
and ethics at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto. His
brief guide on Mormonism will be available
this fall from Thomas nelson.