Most Christians have no idea what worship is.
Sure, many individual Christians have their own individual idea about it means to worship. Some of them feel very strongly about how it ought to be done.
A quick scan of Google, however, will unearth huge volumes of discussion–generated by Christians of all stripes and flavors, from Baptist Bloggers to Methodist Ministers–debating exactly what the word “worship” means, and how to go about it.
“There are numerous definitions of the word worship. Yet, one in particular encapsulates the priority we should give to worship as a spiritual discipline: Worship is to honor with extravagant love and extreme submission.”
“Worship depends on a right spiritual or emotional or affectional heart-grasp of God’s supreme value. So true worship is based on a right understanding of God’s nature, and it is a right valuing of God’s worth.”
“Biblical worship is the full-life response-head, heart, and hands- to who God is and what He has done.”
“In both Hebrew and Greek, there are two categories of words for worship. The first is about body language that demonstrates respect and submission; to bow down, to kneel, to prostrate oneself. The second is about doing something for God that demonstrates sacrifice and obedience; to offer, to serve.
The above quote from Theopedia summarizes worship as having two categories, but the website goes on to list five different Hebrew words that all get translated as “worship” in different places in the Bible:
- shâchâh [Strong’s #7812] This term literally means to prostrate oneself, and is translated in the King James Version of the Old Testament as “worship” (100 times), “bow down” (54 times), “do obeisance” (9 times), “do reverence” (5 times), “fall down” (Psa 72:11; Isa 45:14;), “crouch” (1 Sam 2:36), “humbly beseech” (2 Sam 16:4), or “make to stoop” (Pro 12:25).
- âbad [Strong’s #5647] This term literally means to work in any sense, but by implication to serve or enslave. It is used more than 250 times in the Old Testament, most often translated as “serve” and 31 times in conjunction with shâchâh (see above). However, three times the translators of the ESV chose the word “worship” (2 Sam 15:8; Psa 102:22; Isa 19:21).
- dârash [Strong’s #1875] In Ezra 4:2 and 6:21, the ESV translates this term meaning to seek as “worship”.
- yârê’ [Strong’s #3372] In Joshua 22:25, the ESV translates this term meaning to fear as “worship”.
- âtsab [Strong’s #6087] In Jeremiah 44:19, where the KJV translates this term meaning to carve or fashion as “worship”, the ESV renders it as “made cakes for her bearing her image…”
(I mean… who can argue with the idea that making cake is a kind of worship?)
The Christian Library lists three Greek words that also get transcribed as “worship” in the Bible:
- Proskuneo – “meaning to kiss, like a dog licking his master’s hand.” It occurs 59 times in the New Testament. It originally carried with it the idea of subjects falling down to kiss the ground before a king or kiss their feet.
- Sebomai – “to reverence, hold in awe.” Used 10 times in the New Testament.
- Latreuo – “to render religious service of homage.” Used 21 times in the New Testament.
Of course, there are also plenty of articles that claim it’s a mistake to look to translations and etymologies to understand “worship”: you should look at how the word is used in the world instead. This is very sensible, but leaves us none the wiser, since “in the world” everyone worships differently as well.
As you can see, the word “worship” is a mess. But if you are a Satanist, or any kind of atheist at all, you’re probably asking yourself: why should I care?
LaVeyan Satanism and Self-Worship
Anton LaVey repeatedly said: “Satanism demands study, not worship.” One of the ways LaVey contrasted Satanism against theistic religions was by emphasizing that Satanists should not simply accept or have faith in anything they read or hear. A Satanist is inquisitive and skeptical, and always looking to understand things more deeply. This mindset should not only be applied to politics, society, and the natural world… but also Satanism itself.
Don’t just “believe” Satanism: research it, study it, and decide whether it’s right for you.
LaVey was opposed to the worship of Satan, just as he was opposed to the worship of God. Peter Gilmore quotes LaVey in his essay What The Devil? as having said:
We do not grovel; we do not get down on our knees, genuflect, and worship Satan. We do not plead, we do not implore that Satan give us what we wish. We feel that anyone who is going to be blessed by any god of his choice is going to have to show that god that he is capable of taking care of the blessings that are received.
Yet LaVey doesn’t exorcise the idea of “worship” from Satanism entirely. He has a different suggestion: instead of worshiping God (or Satan), worship yourself.
Placing “self-worship” as a central idea within Satanic philosophy serves at least three distinct purposes.
First, it symbolically reinforces the idea of Satanism as identification with the fictional archetype of Satan, because in many renditions of the mythology of Satan it is his pride or vanity that was key to his “fall” from grace. Thus, LaVey is reminding us that Satanism is about emulating Satan.
Second, it directly parallels the idea of “worshiping God” if you understand that “God” is a projection of ourselves: an externalized idealized parental imago. When you recognize this, you know that all of the theists who claim to be worshiping “God” are actually (without knowing it) just worshiping themselves anyway…. the Satanist is not behaving any differently, she is simply being clear and honest about what is going on.
Third, it is an empowering idea for people who have been damaged in their youths by the crushing insistence from many mainstream religions that they are inherently base, and flawed, and broken, and must forever struggle and sacrifice just for the mere hope that some perfect being might find them worthy. Many people grow up hating themselves because of the indoctrination of mainstream religions, and for them Satanism’s command “worship thyself” can function as a step toward recovery.
When you look at it that way, it’s not bad advice.
It’s just a shame, then, that so many people interpret it to mean they have a right to be a dick to everyone.
Activism as worship
To their credit, some Christian churches do emphasize the fact the it is more important to love thy neighbor than to be ashamed of masturbating. And many progressive Christian churches even talk about worship as going out and doing good in the community. For them, to worship God is to lift up one’s fellow human being and participate in the ongoing act of creation by shaping the world with compassion, generosity and kindness.
As a Satanist, I find it natural to think of my community service, and my acts of social and political activism, as forms of worship as well. For me, activism isn’t a way to worship a deity: it is simply a way to worship (used as an intransitive verb).
After all, it fulfills all of the criteria of the word, as I understand it.
When I help build shelters for homeless people in my community, I am giving physical shape in the world to the worthy ideals of generosity, compassion, and justice. By giving shape to worth, I worship (back to the etymological origins in Old English woerth-scipe).
When I stand in protest against an unjust law, I am emulating Satan, who was a dissenter who refused to comply with unjust demands.
When I lock arms with my Satanic community, I feel an empowerment much stronger than mere narcissism or pride: I feel the power of a community working toward shared ideals.
For me, all of these things are forms of worship.
Do you worship?
Of course, you should find a form of worship (or no form of worship) that resonates most strongly for you. That’s the Satanic way.
But when someone asks me “You say you are religious, but what do you worship?” this is my answer: I worship by living the best life I can live and putting all of my energy into making the world the best place it can be. I don’t need to worship someone or something to achieve that goal. I simply worship.