26 January 2018

The enemy of my enemy

Most readers of this blog, I assume, don't know a lot about Satanism.  Many people vaguely imagine it to be a sort of "evil" form of religion, involving worship of the Devil.  In fact, most (not all) modern Satanist groups and people look upon Satan is a mythical or inspirational figure who represents their world-view, not as a deity who literally exists.  I consider Satanism not a religion but an anti-religion.  Here's what I mean.

I've often compared religion to a kind of parasitic mental infection, a disease.  By this analogy, atheism -- the absence of religion -- would be equivalent to health, the absence of disease.  Satanism, then, would be like a medicine, an antibiotic -- a course of treatment to banish the disease.  One of the key memes of Satanism is the role of Satan as the adversary, the embodiment of rebellion against unjust and tyrannical authority.  As such, he is an ideal inspirational figure for the revolt against Christian influences, both in society as a whole and within oneself.  Even self-aware atheists inevitably retain some Christian ways of thinking and feeling, often without knowing them for what they are.  Satanism can help the individual purge these contaminants and poisons from his mind.

Modern Satanism is generally held to date back to the founding of the Church of Satan by Anton LaVey in 1966.  In fact, Satanism (like Wicca) drew considerable inspiration from the ideas of the bizarre and fascinating Aleister Crowley (1875-1947), and Satanism of a kind dates back at least to the secret Black Mass rituals of Abbé Étienne Guibourg and Madame de Montespan in Paris in the 1670s.  Before that, there are lurid and unreliable stories of secret beliefs and rituals among peasants ground down by the Church and nobility, beliefs and rituals which may have invoked Satan as the enemy of their oppressors, or may have been survivals of pre-Christian paganism -- if they really existed at all.  Satanism has evolved over time in accordance with the needs and circumstances of those who practiced it, and appropriately so; the concept of an inviolable "Satanist orthodoxy" would be a contradiction in terms.

In the time of Trump and the Republican minority-rule regime, there is no shortage of unjust authority to revolt against.  The group most visibly holding high the banner of the ultimate rebel is The Satanic Temple, which has been fighting for years against the imposition of Christian taboos on society.  They've challenged abortion restrictions, resisted establishment of religion in Oklahoma and Arkansas, and even plotted to turn Fred Phelps gay in the afterlife (here's an overview of their campaigns).  They use the language of religious freedom to defend freedom from religion, keeping the enemy off balance.

But isn't Satanism supposed to be "evil"?  Well, creative minds from Baudelaire to George Bernard Shaw have seen Satan as a more sympathetic figure than the scolding and murderous tyrant he opposes.  As Christianity teaches "turn the other cheek" and "resist not evil" (precepts any tyrant would love to see inculcated in his subjects, which helps explain why rulers from Constantine on promoted Christianity), as well as self-renunciation and fantasies of an afterlife, the adversarial creed naturally teaches the opposite.  It's a life-affirming, realistic philosophy that blasts away all that cobwebby nonsense with the scorn it deserves, and encourages you to fight back without reservation or apology.  Parts of LaVey's The Satanic Bible and Crowley's Liber Al Vel Legis express this with a vigor and ferocity far beyond what conventional atheism can offer.  I'll never forget the liberating feeling of reading them for the first time.

The Satanic Temple, operating at a time when the oppressive nature of Christianity is more widely recognized, uses less explosive language in its seven tenets, but I still see the same spirit there:

One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.

The freedom of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo your own.

To me, one of the best things about atheism is the knowledge that my life is my own, not cluttered up with any "plan" or "purpose" from a "higher power".  Even some people who claim not to be religious still cling to the fetish of enslavement, merely substituting the state for God as their "higher power" (with compulsory national service, for example).  A common thread in most forms of modern Satanism is a fierce commitment to individual self-determination, far stronger than that of atheism or humanism.

It has been said that militant Islam holds appeal for downtrodden people in many countries because "it is the one religion that is prepared to fight".  Unfortunately, what it fights for is just another variant on the same old poisonous Abrahamic stew of taboos, obedience, conformity, and worship of an imaginary supernatural tyrant (the very word islâm translates as "submission").  If you're looking for something to rip that whole mind-set out by the roots, something that attacks religion head-on instead of ignoring it (or fantasizing about co-existing with it) as atheism and humanism largely do, a serious look at Satanist ideas is well worth your time.


Blogger Harry Hamid said...

I don't know much about Satanism - certainly your discussion here went beyond my meager knowledge - but I remember the first time I read an interview with Anton LaVey. I was expecting something akin to an ode to evil and instead ended up reading what sounded a lot like... humanism, basically.

I grew up thinking that it was about cartoonish metal lyrics.

Nice to know the world is more subtle than that... (even if I still can't read Crowley stuff. I can read ABOUT Crowley, but not his stuff itself...)

26 January, 2018 05:06  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Harry: Yes, I always forget about the metal-music connection, though that too seems to be a big influence on the general public's image of Satanism. I'm not a fan of most metal, but there is some good music with a Satanic spirit.

LaVey tended to vary what aspects of his philosophy he emphasized depending on the audience. A lot of it does resemble humanism. The Satanic aspect comes through more clearly in things like this:

Satan represents indulgence, instead of abstinence! Satan represents vital existence, instead of spiritual pipe dreams! Satan represents kindness to those who deserve it,instead of love wasted on ingrates! (Satanic Statements)

Hate your enemies with a whole heart, and if a man smite you on one cheek, SMASH him on the other!; smite him hip and thigh, for self-preservation is the highest law! He who turns the other cheek is a cowardly dog! (Infernal Diatribe III:7-8)

That's the kind of thing I meant by "the liberating feeling of reading them for the first time".

LaVey's ideology also included some Ayn-Rand-ish elitist and contempt-for-the-weak views, and over time his organization became dominated by openly fascist elements, turning it into the antithesis of the original anti-authoritarian philosophy, and causing me to lose interest. The Satanic Temple seems in no danger of going off down that dead end.

26 January, 2018 06:30  
Blogger Daniel Wilcox said...

I'm baffled! You wrote, "A lot of it does resemble humanism. The Satanic aspect comes through more clearly in things like this: "Hate your enemies with a whole heart, and if a man smite you on one cheek, SMASH him on the other!; smite him hip and thigh, for self-preservation is the highest law! He who turns the other cheek is a cowardly dog! (Infernal Diatribe III:7-8)"

Sounds very ANTI-humanistic. Selfishness, violating others, revenge, hate, etc. aren't "humanistic."

It's been a long time since I read the Satanic Bible (around 1968, maybe when I lived in Haight-Ashbury)
however I do recall that it was a very anti-humanistic book, filled with very selfish views.

We obviously have very different understanding of what "humanism" is.

I basically go by the Humanist Manifesto III.

26 January, 2018 08:59  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Obviously I meant: "A lot of it [such as the aspects Harry was referring to] does resemble humanism. The Satanic aspect [as opposed to the humanistic aspect] comes through more clearly in....."

Especially since I emphasized in the post itself that Satanism is different from humanism.

But I suppose it's possible to misunderstand anything if one tries hard enough.

26 January, 2018 09:56  

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