The Devil Inside?

Recently one of my ex-students contacted me about Satanism. This student has never been a big fan of "organized religion", but enjoys reading widely in philosophy and religion. They are now in college, and have found out about Anton Levey's Non-Theistic Satanism, and its philosophy of hedonism and self-fulfillment, and they wanted to know what I thought. So, here is what I shared with them:

I'm not too sure how much I can help you with Satanism. I usually categorize Satanism into two types:

Theistic Satanism deals with summoning and using malevolent forces. Since I am personally acquainted with things that go bump in the night, I won't touch that with a ten foot pole, nor would I counsel anyone else to. If I have to be involved with that stuff doing a minor exorcism or house blessing, I do. But I don't go looking for trouble in that way. If you let it get its claws in you-- so to speak-- it's a world of hurt in ways that are not easily describable. If you want a clinical description by a psychiatrist, I would recommend "People of the Lie" or "Glimpses of the Devil" by M. Scott Peck.

Non-Theistic Satanism is basically a form of hedonistic materialist humanism. It is humanism because it posits humans as the source of all values, hence a commitment to value relativism (something is only good or evil insofar as it is good or evil to you). It is materialistic insofar as it posits that the material universe is all there is. Never mind that physics tells us that matter is more like math than anything like matter. But I digress. And it is hedonistic because it posits that the summum bonum of life is to do whatever it is that gives you the most pleasure. Never mind that what gives some pleasure causes others intense suffering (think of the electronics made by wage slaves in other countries, or drugs produced through human misery in other countries).

Non-Theistic Satanism usually draws heavily on ideas, such as what is found in Nietzsche, that the ideal is to become the superman (├╝bermensch) who bends others to do your will simply to accomplish what will give you personal gratification (the concept of "will to power"). To do this, they invoke rituals that fetishize human power, ability and sexuality as a kind of "totem" that focuses the will to accomplish what it desires.

I find Non-Theistic Satanism to be a bit naive and developmentally stunted. It is naive because it seems to think that the individual person is good at guiding their own life to fulfillment in a crassly hedonistic way without becoming attached or addicted to temporary pleasures. It is developmentally stunted because it takes a vision of human fulfillment that is common to late adolescence and assumes that this is what brings fulfillment over the full course of life. There are pleasures beyond mere pleasures that are only found in the practice of self-sacrificial love, which can never be attained by living in the fundamentally self-centered way of naive hedonism. There is a level of satisfaction in the giving away of self to family, friends, children, spouses, community, and ultimate value which can never be realized within the narrow and parochial bounds of "me" and "mine".

My last problem with Non-Theistic Satanism is that it is insincere in regards to Satan. If someone really doesn't believe in a power or force labelled Satan, and yet takes on themselves the moniker Satanist, they are insincere. They are probably just trying to troll conservative Christians, or annoy their fundamentalist family members, or just get shock value out of others. To these folks I would just say "grow up", and become an atheist or agnostic humanist. And then learn from other mature humanists how to live a full human life without feeling the urge to troll others.

I guess a final option is that they think there may be a malevolent force labelled Satan, and it might be kind of cool and subversive to come into contact with that force. This is kind of like an inverted Pascal's Wager: There probably isn't a Satan, but on the off chance there is, and we do the Satanism thing, maybe we could meet it.

But the problem is that if there is a force that is the inverse of goodness, the antithesis of life, you really don't want to come into contact with it. It may not exist. But if it does, it will mess you up. Like a spiritual version of Russian Roulette: You may pull the trigger hundreds of times and nothing is there. But on the off chance something is there, you will get your brains splattered all over the wall. Metaphorically speaking of course. Well, actually, maybe not. Someone close to me had a relative who was a Satanist (and a Veterinarian- true story!). The dude euthanized himself surrounded by his books on Satanism. Maybe it was just mental illness. Maybe not.

Long story short, I wouldn't touch either form of Satanism. At best, it is philosophically and existentially deficient as a way to live life. At worst, you could find yourself possessed by something you really don't want inside of you.

Of course, as a Christian priest, I would suggest involving yourself in a philosophically deep and spiritually rich version of Christianity. Heck, go spend a few weeks in a monastery and get your head and heart straight. But, if Christianity is a turn off to you, I would suggest looking at any of the great faiths or philosophies that have nourished communities and cultures for thousands of years. The reason why the great religious paths are around is because, to some degree, they have worked for vast numbers of people. Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Sufi Islam, Judaism and several others have been paths which have been able to nourish whole communities over several centuries.

The most interesting book outlining these basic paths is by Stephen Prothero, called "God is Not One". When he wrote the book, he was not a specific practitioner of any one Path, so he's not trying to dupe the reader into converting to a specific religion. Reading it might help you on your path.

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This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.