Saturday, January 01, 2005

Satanism is Alive and Well

No, not Satan. The big guy with the batwings and hairy legs is a figment of the Fundie imagination. Fundies who talk about Satan tend not to get this monotheism business — one god. One. Not a good- guy god and a bad- guy god. Not one for Us and one for Them. Not one Big Guy and a Little Guy who got too big for his halo. One.

A note: I am using the term “Fundie” here to refer to a specific type of pseudo- Christian. It's not synonomous with “Fundamentalist” at all. See the Note on Terminology for details.

Now, the whole point of theology is trying to figure out what this God character has in mind. You can ask all the questions you want; the answers you get will usually be ambiguously phrased, contradictory, and not what you wanted to hear. (Ever deal with the Internal Revenue Service? Same thing.) In Christianity, the Bible (and especially the New Testament) is the equivalent of the instructions for the 1040 Long Form. Some of it is crystal clear, some of it is obscure, and some just makes you say “Hunh???”. All of it is there for a reason.

Now, a lot of the Bible is perfectly clear. Help the poor and the weak. Don't kill people or steal. Don't get too big for your sandals. Watch out for false prophets. Even more becomes clear if you know something about the historical periods in which the various parts were written.

Now, where does Satanism come into this? It has nothing to do with the Church of Satan, the Temple of Set or any of the other New Age chain- yankers who call themselves Satanists. I've found them to be a mixture of sexually frustrated adolescents and middle aged Goth wanabees. Their “theology” is the equivalent of putting a paper bag of dogshit on your doorstep, lighting it on fire, ringing your doorbell, and running away. Boring.

Real Satanism is nothing more or less than an inversion of Christianity. Take the obvious sense of the Bible and turn it around. Note that this isn't just denying the Bible (like an atheist might), it's inverting it.

As an example, let's take one of the clearer passages in the New Testament:

And they send unto him certain of the Pharisees and of the Herodians, to catch him in his words. And when they were come, they say unto him, Master, we know that thou art true, and carest for no man: for thou regardest not the person of men, but teachest the way of God in truth: Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not? Shall we give, or shall we not give? But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them, Why tempt ye me? bring me a penny, that I may see it. And they brought it. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? And they said unto him, Caesar's. And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's. And they marvelled at him.

— Mark 12:13-17 (KJV)

Now, this is pretty darn obvious. Pay your taxes. Worship God. Don't get the two mixed up. It's also pretty important — it's repeated in Matthew and Luke, essentially unchanged.

So what would the corresponding Satanic version be? Obviously, worship Caesar and pay taxes to God.

Now, let's take a little look at the current situation. “Faith- Based Initiatives” take tax dollars and give them to religious organizations. (I've been amused watching them squirm, trying to come up with a way of denying funds to Muslim organizations. I can't wait until the Scientologists try to get in on the party.) On the other hand, look at the attitude a lot of churches have toward George W. Bush. The veneration that he's getting from the Fundie churches is starting to look a whole lot like idolatry to me. You might also notice that there's a big dose of “I shouldn't have to pay taxes” in there, too.

Fred Clark of Slacktivist does a similar “deconstruction” of the Fundie attacks on the UN; “Blessed are the peacemakers” doesn't apply in their view. This is a part of Fred's page- by- page analysis of “Left Behind”, the bestselling Fundie action- adventure series. LB might well serve as a textbook of “inverted Christianity” aka Satanism.

How do they get away with it? Well, your friendly average churchgoer is not into theology. He'll go with what the preacher says his religion is. Fundie preachers have a really good line of why they ignore perfectly obvious New Testament passages and elevate minor, out of context (both textually and historically) Old Testament passages to the status of Critical Doctrine. It's another inversion; figure out what you want to do and then look for Bible passages to justify it. Some go even further, depending on arcane symbolic interpretations of otherwise unremarkable passages.

One of the major strengths of Christianity is that it isn't a “mystery cult” like most of the other religions floating around when it got started. There is no “secret doctrine” available only to initiates; there are no “secret scriptures” to tell initiates what Jesus “really” had in mind. Everything's right out in the open.

Unfortunately, this is not comfortable for a certain type of priest. So we get elaborate justifications of bizarre doctrines that make sense only in the context of a sadistic God that tries His best to trap people into Hell, by having a “real” doctrine that directly contradicts the “public” doctrine.

I got started on this from a long essay by Brad Hicks called “Christians in the Hands of an Angry God” in five parts; Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5. His take is that in 1964, at the Republican Convention, the Republican Anti-Communist Caucus had two core beliefs:

  1. The most important thing in the world for the United States was the defeat of world Communism
  2. The only force in the United States capable of defeating Communism was the Republican Party.

Therefore, the only way to defeat Communism was for the Republican party to become the majority party in American politics. To get to this point, the Anti-Communist caucus enlisted some heavy- duty Fundamentalist theologans to convince Christians that the Republican party platform was really the “true” meaning of the Bible. They've been working on this ever since. And now they've won.

If Brad's story is true (and I'm not questioning his sources), there's an amusing coda. World Communism is dead and gone, defeated by the Truman Doctrine of stopping its expansion and waiting for it to collapse from its own contradictions. There are only four governments left in the world that are officially Communist, and Cuba and North Korea are classic “cult of personality” dictatorships. Both of them are on the verge of starvation. Vietnam is trying to get into the commercial world, with some success. The last one is China. And who do the Republicans dearly love to do business with? Right the first time. “Destroy Communism, unless we can make money by not destroying it ....”

My own take is considerably more cynical. The Satanic doctrine promises that Christianity is easy. No changes needed in lifestyle or attitudes. Just call the toll-free number on the bottom of your screen, and have your credit card ready. Operators are standing by. No need to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, or visit the sick or imprisoned, just slap a “Bush/Cheney '04” sticker on your car. This is exactly Bonhoeffer's “cheap grace”:

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion, without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

And we all know how much Americans love cheap stuff ....

As to the connection with the Republican Party, I see it as exactly backwards from Brad's view. The Fundies I've met loathe blacks, with the depth and intensity that you normally associate with pre-WWII Central Europeans and Jews. About 1964, it started becoming obvious that the Democratic Party was taking this “civil rights” business seriously. The Fundies couldn't stay with the Democrats and keep their racism, so they jumped ship. Since then, Fundies have been the core of the Republican Party. For forty years now, they've stuffed envelopes, made phone calls, put up posters, and done all the other campaign scutwork for the Republican Party.

And now it's payback time.

A Note on Terminology

I use the term “Fundie” to describe the right- wing Fundamentalist- Literalist- Millenialist Protestants who can't seem to figure out that Jesus might just possibly have meant what he said. This is distinct from Fundamentalism, which is a doctrine that came out of a series of conferences in Buffalo, NY (called the Niagara Conferences) in the late nineteenth century. These conferences eventually came out with a series of pamphlets called “The Fundamentals”, which attempted to come up with a series of doctrines that everybody could agree with. They came up with a series of fourteen “fundamentals”. While they are considered rather conservative, they are not ridiculous by any means. (It turns out to be amazingly difficult to find out what they really are. Seems there are some serious differences of opinion among those who call themselves Fundamentalists.)

All Fundies are Fundamentalists. Not all Fundamentalists are Fundies. And all Fundies that I've met are, by the definition in this essay, Satanists. They believe that God will Rapture them away from trouble, that charity is harmful, that God wants them to buttonhole people on the street, that the best prayers are loud, long, and public, that certain people are “unclean” and must be kept out of churches, that George W. Bush is inerrant and without sin. All of these are specifically contradicted by the Bible.

Some Resources

The Preacher is a prime example of an old- fashioned Christian preacher. No inversions here; just some of the best stories on the Web.

Kit, of Kit's Concatenation, keeps track of the rather nasty relationship between the Fundies and the Feds.

Sojourners Magazine provides an alternative to what passes as Christianity in the mainstream press. They've been around for quite a while; it's surprising (or maybe not) that they're not better known.

The Revealer is a daily review of religion in the press.

I've already mentioned Fred Clark of Slacktivist. His takedowns of Left Behind are funny but theologically accurate.

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