Practical Piety

A Guide for the Perplexed

Miscellany: The church's Family History Library, the largest genealogical library in the world, helps provide "saving ordinances" on behalf of those who died before the Restoration of Jesus's Church.

Web Address:

Church of Satan

Founder: Anton LaVey

Date: 1966

Membership: The Church does not release membership statistics, but members come from all strata. "Teachers, artists, law enforcement, housewives," rattles off Magister Peter Gilmore. "We're not a bunch of nerdy goth kids."

Top Management: Blanche Barton, high priestess

The Word: The Satanic Bible; The Satanic Rituals; The Satanic Witch; The Devil's Notebook

The Big Picture: "A brutal religion of elitism and social Darwinism that seeks to reestablish the reign of the able over the idiotic."

God: Satanists do not believe in God or the devil; rather, Satan is viewed as the dark force of nature. "We do not practice devil worship but self-worship."

Path to Salvation: There is no afterlife. "Enjoy your life to its fullest; if you're not, then you're failing as a Satanist."

Rendezvous Point: No official church buildings. "The philosophy resides in ourselves; we do not need a mediator."

The Money Trail: A lifetime membership fee of $100 covers general administrative costs.

On Women in the Church: "Women are considered very powerful and are very respected. There are many women in the priesthood." The church's high priest is currently a woman.

On Homosexuality: "We are one of the first churches to accept gays, homosexuality, and other sexual fetishes." Gays are represented in the priesthood.

On Birth Control: Extols its widespread practice.

On Abortion: Abortion is not condemned, but Gilmore maintains that people should "use birth control" and "shouldn't be irresponsible and resort to it."

On Euthanasia: "If life is a burden, there's no need to hang on; if you're in horrific pain, end the torture."

On Interfaith Marriage: Allowed, but "a couple who have major philosophical disagreements don't usually stay together."

On Millennialism: Seen as irrelevant. "Human hysteria," says Gilmore.

Recruiting: "You are born a Satanist," says Gilmore. "You either identify yourself as one, or you say, 'What is this crap?' and reject it."

Scandal Sheet: Since LaVey's death in 1997, his daughter Zeena, current priest in the rival Temple of Set, has wrangled over her father's estate with Blanche Barton, current head of the church and mother of LaVey's youngest child. The spat has sparked an ongoing discrediting of LaVey.

Miscellany: Before founding the church, LaVey claimed he had worked as a psychic investigator, police photographer, burlesque organist, and lion tamer, and that he was briefly the lover of Marilyn Monroe.

Web Address:,


Founder: Muhammad

Date: Formally, 622, the year Muhammad, God's final prophet, retreated from Makkah to Medina, where the first Islamic community was founded.

Membership: North America: in 1995, 5.5 million. World: in 1995, 1.1 million

Top Management: Historically, U.S. Muslim communities have been divided along national lines; organizations like the Islamic Cultural Center in Manhattan have been forging a more united community.

The Word: The Holy Qur'an, revealed to Muhammad through the angel Jibra'eel, is a direct communication from Allah, read and studied in its original form.

The Big Picture: Islam, meaning "submit," is living life the way Allah intends. All the prophets, including Abraham and Jesus and culminating in Muhammad, are seen as one.

God: Muslims worship Allah, an all-powerful creator. You can "look to the galaxies and feel [Allah's] greatness," explains Imam Mohamad Gemeaha of the Islamic Cultural Center.

Path to Salvation: "There is no one to worship except God, and the religion inside of Allah is Islam."

Rendezvous Point: A mosque is the traditional meeting place for the Islamic community, but one can pray to Allah anywhere.

On Women in the Church: A woman "can become an imam [leader and teacher of a Muslim community] for females."

On Homosexuality: A sin that will prove "fatal on Judgment Day." Forbidden in Islam.

On Abortion: Prohibited unless a mother's life is threatened.

On Suicide: Ending one's life is forbidden. On Judgment Day suicide results in the eternal reexperiencing of death.

On Interfaith Marriage: Muslim men can marry outside of the faith; Muslim women cannot.

On Millennialism: On Judgment Day, those whose good outweighs their bad will be rewarded. "That's why [we] have patience and live with good hearts and in peace."

Recruiting: Accepting Islam is "not conversion but rebirth," says Imam Gemeaha. "[It] is returning back to nature as Allah created." Life in the womb worships Allah; after that, parents raise their children in various religions.

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