He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Fair Questions: Are LaVeyan Satanists Actually Satanists?

Yesterday in a discussion hosted by one of my friends regarding some comments made by Alex Jones regarding the connection between atheism and Satanism, one interlocutor claimed that LaVeyan Satanists really just need to stop using the term Satanist and find another term because they do not actually worship Satan.

I haven't done the research myself to check Alex Jones' claim that atheist "higher ups" (when did atheists get an official hierarchy?) are actually devil-worshipers, and frankly I don't think that he has any real credibility, so I'm disinclined to believe him.  But for the sake of argument, let's assume that these atheist "higher ups" he was researching were members of the Church of Satan or affiliated with organizations that worked with the Church of Satan.  Even if we grant this dubious assumption, we really can't conclude that the atheists he was researching actually worship Satan as he claims.  If we look at the official Church of Satan website linked to above, it's quite obvious that they reject theism as traditionally understood in the world's ancient religious traditions.

"Since the Satanist understands that all Gods are fiction, instead of bending a knee in worship to—or seeking friendship or unity with—such mythical entities, he places himself at the center of his own subjective universe as his own highest value. "

The explicit belief of the Church of Satan is that traditional conceptions of God are not real, that they are mere fictions arising from a serious misunderstanding of our nature as carnal beings and an incorrect interpretation of the dissonance we experience between our desires and our socially constructed altruism.  They are indeed atheists in the strict sense, and they are not worshiping some sort of fallen angelic being who happens to be experiencing species dysphoria, despite what some of the images on their website might suggest to those inclined to see devil worship in every shadow.

"We Satanists are thus our own “Gods,” and as beneficent “deities” we can offer love to those who deserve it and deliver our wrath (within reasonable limits) upon those who seek to cause us—or that which we cherish—harm."

It seems to be that the only deity recognized by the Church of Satan is the deity of self, that what is central to the member of the Church of Satan is the fulfillment of his or her own desires.

"To us, Satan is the symbol that best suits the nature of we who are carnal by birth—people who feel no battles raging between our thoughts and feelings, we who do not embrace the concept of a soul imprisoned in a body. He represents pride, liberty, and individualism—qualities often defined as Evil by those who worship external deities, who feel there is a war between their minds and emotions. "

The Church of Satan rejects the is/ought distinction of objective morality; it eschews the belief that there are moral standards contrary to our desires which we ought to internalize and give assent.  It sees our natural desires as good and the self-serving reasoning we use to justify acting on them as the  appropriate boundary for our behavior.

To an ascetic like me, this seems to be utter nonsense, of course.  I view our self-serving reason as enabling unhealthily selfish desires rather than providing any meaningful boundary for them.  I accept the evidence of human experience which suggests that some of our naturally desired behaviors are in fact objectively wrong to act upon whether from a consequentialist or deontological standpoint.

From my point of view, LaVeyan Satanists get Satan exactly right even while not explicitly deifying him; Satan fosters a spirit of pride, liberty, and individualism.  Pride in the sense of unhealthy self-regard, liberty in the sense of license to do to others what one would not want done to you, and individualism at the expense of healthy community and family life.  The Church of Satan proposes that individuals model themselves after Satan and simultaneously recognize themselves as "deities" in the sense that they are the ultimate arbiter of their own behavior and have no external standard by which to measure that behavior aside from the force of other individuals as they respond to that behavior.

In light of this, I tend to agree with LaVeyan Satanists that the label of Satanist is entirely appropriate for members of the Church of Satan.  We seek to become what we love and admire, and the Church of Satan strives to have their members love and admire their own egotistical desires while shaping them in the values of Satan, thus becoming more Satanic in the most substantial sense.  I don't think a lack of worshiping Satan as an external fallen angelic being at all reduces the legitimacy of their claim to espousing authentic Satanism.  I may strongly disagree with their views on many issues, but I have to admit that they have the right label for those views.

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