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GOVERNMENT WATCHDOGS: 'We want to help the community because that is the rational, satanic thing to do.'

"My mom heard Geraldo
Rivera going on about how to tell if your kid has fallen prey to a satanic cult," Schadenfreude says. "Something must have clicked—the dog collars, the black clothes, the mohawk—because she marches up to my friend's house, where I just happened to be watching the movie 'Hellraiser,' and demands I get home right that minute."

To his mother's chagrin, the Satan thing wasn't just a phase. (They're cool now, as long as he doesn't mention it.) At the time, the Church of Satan remained the nation's leading satanic institution. Founded a half-century ago by circus organist-turned-mystic Anton LaVey, who died in 1997, the church espoused a virtue of selfishness and a touch of what it called "lesser" magic. Schadenfreude identified more with Aleister Crowley, whose occultism, while not overtly satanic, embraced "the shadows and darkness of mankind."

"The Church of Satan says, 'Fuck the weak,'" Schadenfreude says. "It's all about social Darwinism, about survival of the fittest, the strong, it's all about you, your own needs, without considering others."

While recognizing some truth in LaVeyan Satanism, Schadenfreude began to broaden his personal beliefs into a philosophy of erring toward "left-hand path," the term occult scholar and Temple of Set votary Stephen E. Flowers used to refer to the diametric opposite of prevailing ideology. Still, he kept Satanism at the heart of it. "It taught me personal responsibility to the extreme," Schadenfreude says. "That really tilled the soil of my being."

By 2014, the year-old Satanic Temple had reached a level of visibility unmatched by any other satanic denomination. Many among them accept LaVey's point about self-gratification, but argued that altruism is in everyone's best interest. While Greaves characterizes the old school as libertarian and isolationist, modern Satanists champion progressive causes: abortion rights, marriage equality, sexual consent and ideological pluralism. They've taken their fight to court. A lawsuit filed by a Satanist in Missouri, a state that's steadily scaled back abortion access, challenges a perceived government intrusion into reproductive rights.

Those public displays in the name of Satanism have so infuriated LaVey's sectarian heir, Church of Satan Magus Peter H. Gilmore, that he's taken to openly criticizing the upstart temple, calling its followers a bunch of attention-whoring trolls. For Greaves, the normally aloof Gilmore could barely contain his derision.

"When a fellow in horns—with an adopted moniker fit for a 1970s hairdresser—teabags a tombstone while some 'goth' rejects swap spit on the grave, it seems to us to be a parody of Satanism rather than a representation of some actual philosophical religious organization," he wrote on the church's official blog.

The temple refutes the notion that its activism—though purposefully attention-grabbing—is anything but sincere. The organization's seven core tenets, adherents argue, prove that their mission isn't simply reactionary. As Greaves puts it, their push for church-state separation stems from a deeply held belief absent of superstition.

In a phone call with the San Jose chapter earlier this month, Greaves spoke about creating ordination coursework. The class, he says, will offer substantive teachings for people to officiate weddings, minister to inmates or the bereaved or offer end-of-life counseling.

"There's real substance," says Schadenfreude, who launched the San Jose chapter in October 2014. "That philosophy about collective action and civic engagement really spoke to me. I'm not a spectator, I'm a participator."

Counter Cult

In San Jose there are no Christian monuments to remove from City Hall. But the Satanic Temple has its work cut out for it, he says. Its adherents want to respond to the cultural moment and the specific needs of the community. Here, that may entail promoting diversity in the tech industry, or providing secular charities for the homeless. It could mean advocating for sex workers or counter-protesting pro-choice demonstrators outside of Planned Parenthood.

"A lot of this is about civic justice," says Xepher Ashe, 36, an excommunicated Mormon who handles communications for the San Jose temple. "There's a huge potential here to do good."

"And to stop the bad," Schadenfreude says in agreement.

"You don't need religion to do good," adds Bell, 42, whose penchant for debate led him from fundamentalist Christianity to anti-theist Satanism relatively early in life. Even using reductive terms, "good" or "bad," he says, makes him cringe.

"The point is," Bell continues, "religion doesn't have a monopoly on charity or public service."

To that end, the San Jose Temple will conduct itself much like other service groups. They plan to adopt a highway and give Satanists a mention on the side of a major road and hold a speaker series to give voice to various cultures and causes. Taking a cue from chapters elsewhere in the country, they may sign up to deliver an invocation at a City Council or some other public meeting.

Simon, an avid gamer, suggested social events such as Pathfinder or other role-playing nights. "A lot of Satanists love role playing," Schadenfreude replied when that particular idea came up.

During our one-on-one klatch at Flames some weeks earlier, Schadenfreude talks about having the temple encourage more people to foster or adopt shelter animals.

"And what about the companion animals being... killed—they're being killed," he says, choking on his words as tears spring up in his eyes. "I'm sorry. I'm... hold on."

He takes a swig of beer then wipes his eyes with the back of his forearm. Unable to speak, he raises his hand to signal a pause as he fights back emotion.

"I can't even think about it without getting emotional," he resumes, apologizing again.

"But people abandon rabbits, Chihuahuas and cats, because they can't commit to the responsibility. It's not right."

Satanism strives to be forever in flux, a shifting undercurrent of the mainstream, he notes. It's an ideological check on authority, in whatever form it assumes, and a counterbalance to the dominant worldview.

In The Revolt of Angels, one of Schadenfreude's favorite books, Anatole France writes about Satan waking from a nightmare about overthrowing God in Heaven. In this dream, the thrill of victory quelled his thirst for knowledge, "he took pleasure in mystery . . . God conquered will become Satan; Satan conquered will become God," France's Satan concludes. "I love Hell, which formed my genius. I love Earth, where I have done some good."

"I love that chapter," Schadenfreude says. "It's a great example of how this will always be a counter ideology. The needs change, we adapt."

The waitress, a friendly brunette with a bouncy up-do, returns with the tab and excuses herself for the interruption. "Happy holidays!" she chirps.

"Hail, Satan!" Schadenfreude replies, just as cheerfully.