The Satanic Bible certainly makes for an entertaining read. If nothing else, LaVey was an intelligent and highly talented author and humorist. He also sets forth a reasonably compelling argument for a life of pure egoistic hedonism. And let's be honest: from a contemporary scientific standpoint, it is very difficult to mount any rational counter argument as to why we should not live our lives in this way.
However, LaVey combines this position with a number of magical rituals. And while there are times when he speaks of these rituals simply as psychodrama, there are also times when he speaks quite clearly of them as having real, physical effects. This is where things get tricky.
If you believe that we are just animals in a universe that is pretty much the one described by modern science, then the idea that magical rituals actually work is self evidently absurd. On the other hand, if you believe that magical rituals work, then there is clearly far more to the universe than is even dreamed of by our science. If that is the case, then the scorn that LaVey unceasingly pours on any kind of spiritual approach to life becomes far more open to question.
Of course, the idea that "there are more things in Heaven and Earth" does not necessarily imply that any of the mainstream religions are actually right. But it does at least open up the door to the possibility that values like forgiveness and self sacrifice may not be pure hokum. LaVey simply ignores this rather obvious line of reasoning.
On that basis I am inclined to see Satanism, or at least the form of it expounded in this book, as ultimately a matter of faith. As much as LaVey or any other religious leader may ridicule the views of the competition, at the bedrock all we are left with is raw assertion.
On a more down to Earth level, we must also deal with widespread reports that LaVey ended his days in a state of real poverty. Given that he quite openly claimed to have wholly materialistic aspirations, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that his rituals simply don't work.
I also have other qualms about the Satanic Bible. Specifically, as to whether the author really believed in its contents. From a strictly philosophical point of view this is technically irrelevant: any given claim must stand or fall on its own, irrespective of the views of its proponents. But in the real world, most of us would like to know if those arguing for a given position truly believe in what they are saying. And if we are to take the Satanic Bible in its broader context (by which I mean remarks made elsewhere by both LaVey and by current and estranged followers) there are inconsistencies.
In the Satanic Bible, LaVey expounds what is now known as "atheistic Satanism". In a nutshell, this means treating Satan as no more than a symbol of certain fundamental truths, or of certain aspects of our own nature. In atheistic Satanism, there is no belief in a personal devil. Yet if you do a bit of Googling on your own, you'll discover that it's quite easy to find many, many reports of LaVey speaking of Satan as a real entity. These reports appear to come from sources ranging from estranged follower Michael Aquino (founder of the Temple of Set) to LaVey's own final wife and authorized biographer Blanche Barton. I should make it clear that I haven't checked out the sources of these claims carefully. But I can definitively tell you that if you care to look on YouTube, it's very easy to find footage of LaVey himself speaking of Satan or "the devil" as if he actually exists.
Given the current schism between theistic and atheistic Satanists, I for one would find it ironic if the chief architect and advocate of atheistic Satanism was a theist at heart. If you are interested in doing a little background research on your own, you might like to start by viewing the documentary "Satanis" (Satanis the Devil's Mass / Sinthia the Devil's Doll
). This is available for sale here on Amazon, but you can also view it for free on YouTube - or at least, most of it. The reviews of the DVD do speak of some nudity, which I didn't see in the version on YouTube.
Another incongruity that comes out in Satanis is that while in the Satanic Bible LaVey speaks of man as "just another animal", and the current Magus of the Church of Satan has been widely quoted as saying that "we are just tissue", in Satanis LaVey accepts the existence of the soul. Strangely, he then goes on to dismiss it as of little worth or value; a curious position indeed. It is because of inconsistencies like these that I question whether the Satanic Bible really gave us the whole story when it came to what LaVey himself believed, or what his church stood for.
Of course, these very questions presuppose that LaVey took the enterprise seriously. There are certainly plenty of people who believe that he didn't: that the entire thing was either a complete con or a giant practical joke, and perhaps a little of both. When considering this possibility, it is hardly irrelevant to observe that the schism that saw the defection of much of the priesthood of the church of Satan, and the founding of the temple of Set, was sparked by LaVey selling the higher degrees of the church to whoever would pay him enough money.
One must also bear in mind that evidence suggests that LaVey was very far from being a scrupulously honest man. To my knowledge, ALL independent investigators who have examined LaVey's account of his own life, including specifically his claims regarding his ancestry, career, and education, have concluded that his account was almost entirely a work of fiction. You can decide for yourself whether you want to chalk this one down to harmless carny hucksterism, or whether you want to apply Einstein's famous adage that "whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters".
Finally, one must also deal with the fact that it is now quite openly accepted, even by the church of Satan itself, that some pages of the Satanic bible are "take from" Ragnar Redbeard's infamous tract MIGHT IS RIGHT. A more cynical person might say plagiarized.
And yet... Even given all this, heck, I find that I like Anton LaVey. Another major advantage of doing a little research of your own by watching the videos of LaVey on YouTube is that you get much more of a sense of the man. Many of the head-shots he seems to have released of himself depict an individual positively incandescent with supernal malignity. But to see him speak he is far more real, and yes, far more likeable than most might expect. Truth be told, he even comes across as something of a geek, although I mean that in the most affectionate possible way. Had he been born into a different generation, I could easily imagine sitting `round the kitchen table playing Dungeons & Dragons with this guy.
And I'm quite certain he would've made an awesome DM.