What I Mean When I Say That I Am a Satanist, pt. 2
Part of my series “A Satanist Reads the Bible,” in which I explore the Bible, Christianity, and other religions and their sacred texts through the lens of Satanism in order to reinvent religion for myself.
I’ve written this story before, but I’ve also mentioned that I never want anything to be fixed or definitive in this religion that I am creating for myself. Religion is a question that I am seeking to ask as sincerely as anyone ever has. So the above title is not so much a statement but a question that I am asking myself: What exactly do I mean by all of this?
I’ve wondered if the notion of calling oneself a Satanist might seem childish to some. On the one hand, it seems like a phase that a rebellious teenager might go through. But every time I look at it, I can find no substantive reason that it would be any more childish than calling oneself a Christian. If I were to speak of the icon of one who suffered so as to redeem humankind, whom does the icon represent? It could be yours or mine in equal measure. And what is more extreme? The icon of Christ in torment on the cross or the icon of Satan in torment in Hell? One suffered for a day, the other for all time, and I value knowledge above salvation from what seems a petty God who seeks to frustrate and limit us. If this symbolic framework has true spiritual meaning for me, why shouldn’t I explore it as fully as any Christian?
To me, religion is the genre of philosophy that concerns certain questions that arise naturally from certain experiences of being human, that we call religious or mystical experiences (and various other things). Religion is about the questions; the answers that we give to those questions can be good or bad, true or false, whatever. None of that negates the value of asking the questions and coming up with answers. In that sense, I think that atheism is a religion just as much as Christianity or any other thing that we normally call religion. It’s answering the same questions. It’s just that the answers are different.
(Atheist hardliners will likely, and rightly, point out here that atheism is not necessarily a belief that God doesn’t exist but rather a lack of belief in God. Here I would distinguish atheism from apatheism, which doesn’t bother with the questions of religions at all. To the specific question of whether there is a God, the atheist’s answer, “I don’t know and don’t believe either way,” is still very much an answer, and a good one.)
So what are my answers?
Although I began thinking of myself as a Satanist about two years ago, I’ve been writing about it for only about three months, and have been posting new stories every week without fail. The audience has been minimal, but I somewhat expected that: religion, as a topic for blog posts, doesn’t seem to be of wide popular appeal at the moment, and my particular topics are especially niche and my approach probably a bit odd. But if my audience is small, it is at least starting to be consistent, and I take that as a good sign.
What have I learned overall? How have my views changed? Or been reaffirmed? Or negated entirely? I hope that I can find a few things to fit into all of these categories; that would also indicate to me that I’m on the right track.
In writing my first story, “Six Days of Creation and the Sabbath,” I learned that what I have been told of the Bible and what is actually contained with in it are often starkly different things. This has since been a keystone in my thinking about religion; it has been reaffirmed at every turn. I don’t mean to use this alone to refute the Bible, only to refute what is said about it. There are lies in the Bible as well, but the lies about it are often worse, and are being told to us by people living today, spoken in the service of justifying atrocities.
What I did not expect was that I would nevertheless come to revere the Text, and to see it as a lens through which I could hold similar reverence to other sacred texts. Upanishads or the poetry of Rumi or Paradise Lost, for example. I understand why others revere the Bible, and I can’t begrudge them that. I think they and I see some of the same things in the Text, things of such remarkable gnosis that we can’t help but carry them into our lives. My reservations about religion in general were entirely contradicted, and I’ve come to love it as an expression of the breadth and depth of human imagination and experience.
Already being predisposed to Satanic iconography, and deeply immersed in Hegel, I first sought out Satan in the Bible and found that what I had learned already was true of this as well, and I wrote of this in “Satan the Accuser.” The first three stanzas now remind me a bit of Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the religion of Christian Science in which I was raised and which I wrote about in “The Tragedy of Christian Science.”
Hegel remains an important point of reference. This is an area where I think I’ve failed as a writer to be entirely clear with what I mean, and I will probably continue to do so for some time yet. It’s hard to write of Hegel’s ideas without doing so in the language he used to describe them. But the basic idea stems first from Genesis 1:27: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them” (NRSV). This has also been a cornerstone of my thought: because of this remarkable passage, everything we know about ourselves reflects on God as well. Self-knowledge is God-knowledge. And combining this with Hegel, there is the inference that that God must be as subject to intersubjectivity as we are, meaning that that They can have no real self-aware existence without something Other to Them which delineates what They are. And that Other would then be Satan, and in this way both God and Satan are necessary to each other. Hegel wrote about religion as well but there I find his answers unsatisfactory, and have begun to favor Kierkegaard. But I’ll be writing of that in a coming essay concerning faith and sacrifice.
“Satanism, Christmas, and the Birth of Christ Jesus” has been my most popular story by an order of magnitude. It seems that Medium’s curating systems picked up on it and it got distributed; it still gets several reads per day, while the stats on my other stories generally stagnate. That was also the transition of this blog from the abstract to the personal. I’ve been reading Skin in the Game by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (@nntaleb), and have some reservations about some of its claims (as I do with most books), but also find it inspiring and useful. This is where that came alive for me, where it became personal, where I got my soul in the game, as Taleb would say. I decided from that point forward to always try to write from that space.
So much of what I have done so far defines Satanism in terms of negation, in terms of what it isn’t. This isn’t a problem: historical religion is a stone and I’m carving away what doesn’t suit my purposes. But can I say anything of what Satanism is, rather than what it isn’t?
My religion is a syncretic one but I see it as being primarily a part of the Abrahamic tradition. It’s a fusion of the inverses of at least Judaism and Christianity, and maybe Islam as well, although I haven’t explored that in much detail yet.
The Bible is a sacred text to me. I have others as well, but that’s one of the most significant. It’s the one I grew up with, in a few different forms. I try to understand it deeply and honestly and not dismiss any of it out of hand. There are some things that definitely just get thrown out, but not without first trying to understand what they might have meant in the religious or cultural sense to the authors. I don’t let the Text define God for me, but rather use it more as a prompt to explore my own understanding.
Satanism is an opposition to Christianity and Abrahamic religion in general, but not at all in a malevolent way, and actually even in a kind of inter-supporting way. I think that religion is an important and beautiful part of being human. I understand the justification for my own religion, and in that, I can see as well the justification for Christianity or any other. I don’t accept the stupidity or nihilism or cruelty that comes with any of them, but those are all just bad answers to religious questions and it’s easy to expose them as such. Satanic symbolism is especially meaningful to me in that regard, as symbols of opposition to institutions that have taken religion away from individuals, corrupted spirituality and religious experience, contorted the texts in order to gain power and further their own agendas, and made the bad answers the de facto answers which must be accepted without question or wholly rejected but in no case answered for one’s self. I call these institutions, including their expansion beyond religion into socio-political realms, collectively, by the name of Hegemon, from the Greek word meaning “authority” or “sovereign.”
I don’t think that Satanism is something altogether new, but rather something that has existed, to some degree, in all religious throughout history. Take for example the first chapter of the second book of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the Great Forest Teaching of Hinduism. In the book, the sage Balaki offers to teach the king Ajatashatru about brahman, the true Self and the underlying truth of reality. Balaki, a respected spiritual teacher, says first that that brahman is a person who lives in the sun. Ajatashatru curtly dismisses this notion, saying instead that brahman is “the topmost, the head and king of all beings.” Balaki then offers that brahman is a person who lives in the moon, and Ajatashatru counters that brahman is the true essence of the sacred plant soma, which has hallucinogenic properties. Balaki says that brahman is in lightning, Ajatashatru that brahman is brightness itself. Balaki says that brahman lives in space, Ajatashatru that brahman is fullness itself. This continues for eight more iterations, each time with Balaki offering an immanent, limited definition of the Sacred and Ajatashatru countering with one that is expansive, transcendent, and infinite. In the final one, Balaki says that brahman lives in shadow, and Ajatashatru says that brahman is death. Balaki then admits his ignorance and asks to become Ajatashatru’s student. This is Satanism, the opposition to small and limited conceptions of what God can be. Similarly, the scientist Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for heresy in 1600 because he dared to proclaim an infinite universe of an infinite God to the Catholic church, which would accept only a God so limited as to be subservient to the identity and uniqueness of humankind.
The Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa spoke of religion that casts aside teachings acquired and collected like baubles, in favor of one discovered through introspection into personal experience. This is Satanism as well, the rejection of institutionalized, doctrinal, impersonal religion which “answers all the questions” and “supplies the comfort of having to do nothing but follow orders” (from Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism). In the same book, Trungpa said:
It takes tremendous effort to work one’s way through the difficulties of the path and actually get into the situations of life thoroughly and properly. So the whole point of the hard way seems to be that some individual effort must be made by the student to acknowledge himself, to go through the process of unmasking. One must be willing to stand alone, which is difficult.
And in the Bible we find early appearances of Satan as השטן, “the Accuser”, not an enemy or adversary of God but rather one among Their host who serves a purpose in testing and adjudicating God. I enjoy the Paradise Lost archetype of Satan the Adversary, Lucifer, light-bearer, but the one that resonates with me the most is this earlier conception, the one that appears early on in the Old Testament, when Satan is God’s ally and counterpart. I remind those who would say that Satan appears even earlier, as Adversary, in the book of Genesis, that everything about the serpent in the Garden of Eden being Satan is a retcon and is not reflected in the Text.
What I am personally striving for is a pantheistic Satanism.
Pantheism is the notion that the cosmos and the divine are consubstantial. In pantheism proper, they are coterminous as well: the cosmos and the divine are directly equated with each other, while in panentheism, the cosmos is included in the divine but the divine extends beyond the cosmos. I am weighing both possibilities.
When I think of a pantheistic manifestation of Satan, the first thing that comes to mind is entropy. Entropy is, broadly speaking, the measurement of disorder in a system, and it is an immutable law that the entropy of a given closed system will always trend towards the maximum. The universe being a closed system, its disorder will always increase in the long run.
I have an idea — nothing so structured as to be called a theory or so testable as to be called a hypothesis — that entropy is like water, always seeking the path of least resistance, the path towards maximal entropy, and that the path towards maximal entropy is sometimes by way of a greater degree of order. In this way, great order is created along the path to greater disorder.
We are, ourselves, the most complex thing that we know to exist. Not just a single mind, by itself more complex than anything else we know, but a culture of billions of them. And look how quickly we are turning our local system — the Earth — from order to disorder. Pollution, to take an example, is the result of applying a change-process to raw materials. Something ordered is made out of it but the net trend is toward disorder. When the universe is left to its own devices, entropy is a function of change over time and is essentially random: things trend towards disorder because there are more ways for things to be disordered than there are for them to be ordered. But we have made it almost purposeful.
In this way, God and Satan find themselves in service of each other. The one drives the universe towards greater entropy at an ever faster rate, and the other creates the possibility for complex order to exist at all via that process.
My aim is not worship or an indulgence of the transformation of order into disorder, but only understanding and relationship between myself and a cosmic process which includes entropy. Ultimately, I’m dealing with my experience alone. We don’t get to see the world in itself, isolated from our experiences of it, and I don’t mistake my experience of the world for the world itself. I make no metaphysical claims at all, only phenomenological ones, and Satan is real and ubiquitous in the phenomenology of my experience.