Confession

It’s a new year, and I am currently fatter than I’d like to be. I may not match your idea of what fat is or isn’t, but the calculus behind my statement is an entirely internal one. I am fatter than I would like to be. The simple task of putting on my shoes means I must now contend with a heavy-breathing bout of battling the obstacle imposed by a paunch that protrudes farther than some other part of me thinks it should. I stand on the brink of a gap between the me I currently am and the me I desire to be, an expectancy gap into which I feel myself falling day by day, knowing intellectually how to slow the downward motion and break my fall, but seemingly unwilling to actually do so, much less begin the laborious process of scraping my way back out again.

Success

Satanists are supposed to be successful, right? It’s a religion of wealth, pleasure, and power, isn’t it? LaVey courted and cavorted with celebrities, after all.

Sammy Davis Jr. was even reportedly considered for a senior official post with the Church of Satan (CoS) at a time when his ascendency in the movement inspired an abortive attempt to move Satanism into the mainstream through a sitcom about a bumbling demon looking to increase his standing in hell by seducing a burned-out San Francisco accountant to the dark side. The show, called Poor Devil, won praise from Michael Aquino as a “magnificent commercial for the church,” but alas never made it past the pilot, which NBC aired on Valentine’s Day, 1973.

CoS spokesperson and reverend Eric Vernor (a.k.a. Corvis Nocturnum), who has self-published dozens of books on occult topics like vampires, witchcraft, and hauntings, recently embarked on a new career as purveyor of a Prosperity Gospel for the Left Hand Path, pushing publications that promise the condensed wisdom gleaned from the lives and examples of countless successful celebrities and entrepreneurs with the express purpose of aiding the aspirant in Unlocking the Secrets of Control, Wealth and Power. He followed up that book with one entitled The Sixth Millionaire, described on the website hawking it as follows:

“They say that if five of your friends are millionaires you will most assuredly become the sixth. Most of us are not so fortune [sic!] to know one, let alone five. Here the author of Unlocking the Secrets of Control Wealth and Power does the research for you and brings you the advice from many of the wealthiest people in the world.”

Vernor recently announced that one of the motivational speakers lined up to work for his brand-new self-help consulting agency with the perhaps overly descriptive name of “Limitless Potential Group” holds a credential from motivational entrepreneur par excellence Tony Robbins’ Mastery University. Robbins has been compared to a secular version of the huckster evangelical exorcist, even as he is sometimes celebrated for the abundance of both the companies he owns and the humanitarian outreach he’s undertaken. He has also been quoted imparting such obvious Christian-inflected Prosperity wisdom as:

“God’s wealth circulates in my life; God’s wealth flows to me in AVALANCHES of abundance; all my needs, desires, and goals are met INSTANTANEOUSLY by infinite intelligence; and I give thanks for ALL of my good now and for ALL of God’s riches, for I am ONE with GOD, and GOD is Everything!”

That’s a pretty strange bedfellow for a self-identified Satanist-turned-self-helper to keep!

In general, the CoS seems to make conspicuous use of the notion that outward success, by some measure or other, evidences successful application of Satanic principles. A 1978 CoS Handbook for Chaplains in the U.S. Army, for instance, advises:

“The rank of Priest is conferred on those who have achieved a measurable degree of esteem or proficiency and/or success; one’s level of membership within the Church is commensurate with his/her position outside the Church.”

A more modern statement of the qualifications for the office of Priest within the organization seems to echo this basic gist:

“Members of our Priesthood are people of accomplishment in the real world—they have mastered skills and have won peer recognition, which is how they have attained their position—‘as above, so below.’”

At their Year 50 Conclave in 2016, CoS advertised that they had “over five hours of ‘salon’ presentations wherein our productive adherents shared their many ways of moving the world [sic!].” The notice went on to observe of these presentations:

“Amongst those included were people involved in book publishing, music, ecological activism, sculptors, entrepreneurs, motivational speakers, scholars of religion, and an ordained attorney presenting his successful efforts towards legal recognition of our Priesthood in his home state.”

Similarly, the CoS-themed podcast Speak of the Devil, hosted by Priest Reverend Campbell, sponsors an annual “Satanic Warlock of the Year” award based on member nominations. In the publicity release for this year’s competition, readers find the statement: “As Satanists we speak of real world success as the only measure of individual value.” True enough, the release also goes on to make a pair of declarations that would seem to undercut this rather strong emphasis on external success. The text reads:

“How a Satanic Warlock defines that success will differ. Perhaps they overcame a great obstacle in life. Maybe they are just the perfect father and husband—supportive and caring.”

As well as:

“Not every Satanic Warlock is out in the public’s eye. Some prefer to live in relative obscurity, masters of their lives and environments.”

Nonetheless, given the emphasis elsewhere in CoS materials on visible, societally recognized achievement in terms of job, position, and prestige, one gets a clear overall impression of the necessary ingredients for being considered to be among “the true victors in life” within the “mutual admiration society” that the CoS claims it constitutes. After that bit about being a perfect husband and father above, the follow-up sentences reads:

“They may be a captain of industry who has stood above and beyond his peers.”

I suspect that this sort of thing may have been more what they had foremost in mind all along.

Examples of a facile equation between outward occupational or financial success and successful practice of Satanism are not confined to the CoS alone, however. When self-described “High Priest” Brian Werner posted a video to YouTube a little over three years ago detailing his resignation from The Satanic Temple (TST), he spoke to how the injection of Satanic philosophy into every area of his life from early on had led to spectacularly successful results. So much so, in fact, that Werner claims he rose from what should have been the limit of his personal potential—unloading trucks for UPS—to owning seven businesses in fields as diverse as construction, diamond cutting, and music, making, in his words, “more money in a month than most people see in a year.” In the blatant testimonial portion of his video, Werner maintained that he was moved to say what he was saying not out of a desire to brag, but rather to inspire. “If I can do this,” he claimed, “anybody can do this. Satanic philosophy works: I am living proof of that.”

Werner’s self-help points remind me of the case the 2015 HBO documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief made for the good use to which the Church of Scientology has put the Tom Cruise brand as a marketing tool for bringing new converts into the group’s considerable orbit. The Church trades on the potential of its “applied religious philosophy” to work material benefit in the lives of adherents. A Church publication reportedly declares:

“Scientology works 100 percent of the time when it is properly applied to a person who sincerely desires to improve his life.”

Also, never mind the fact that many, if not most, of the ideas detailed here play directly into the hands of traditional, Christian conceptions of how Satan and Satanism work and what they’re all about. Like the 1997 film Devil’s Advocate or the New Testament narrative of Satan in the desert promising Jesus dominion over all the kingdoms of the earth if he will just bow down and acknowledge the Devil as master, many believe that Satanism functions by inducing hot shots, actual or potential—particularly those prone to a certain, shall we say, moral flexibility—into signing either literal or metaphorical Faustian bargains in exchange for power, prestige, position, and possessions. Given a medieval mindset that sees the amount of good in the world as inherently limited and up for grabs, another’s sudden, unwarranted, and unexpected success or windfall requires explanation and justification in the same way as one’s own bad behavior after the fact, when either conscience or simply getting caught have forced a rendering of accounts. He sold his soul to Satan and the Devil made me do it, folks are heard to say: the one idea sufficient to impute guilt to the blameless; the other to buttress arguments for one’s own acquittal in cases of clear culpability. A common greed for success—and more of it than others—unites the two.

Potential

My criticism of the crass and covetous financial motivation behind these ideas notwithstanding, the basic thrust of what I’ll call the Satanic Prosperity positions discussed above actually reveals an essentially positive view of human potential that can exert a powerful attraction over modern seekers, especially those from conservative religious backgrounds whose experience may have tended to inculcate in them a much more negative view of humanity. The same 1978 CoS Handbook for Chaplains I referred to before makes a telling statement in its section on “Basic teachings or beliefs.” The manual reads:

“The Church of Satan is essentially a human potential movement, and members are encouraged to develop whatever capabilities they can by which they might excel.”

The essentially positive outlook of Satanism in general (not just CoS) on the subject of human empowerment and potential forms a large part of the draw to the philosophy. My own attraction is no exception.

I was once a Mormon because, believe it or not, the Latter-Day Saint (LDS) movement also professes a similarly positive view of human potential. In the second of his thirteen Articles of Faith, founder Joseph Smith explicitly rejected the standard Christian dogma of Original Sin, writing that humans are punished solely for their own sins and not “for Adam’s transgression.” The Book of Mormon affirms that expulsion from Eden formed a necessary part of God’s plan for human beings to realize their full potential. The scripture of 2 Nephi 2:22-25 contrasts the stasis and sexless stagnation of the Edenic paradise with the necessary sexual maturation and knowledge of good and evil crucial for human growth that was ushered in by “the fall.” The passage ends with the oft-quoted celebratory verse:

“Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.”

In a famous sermon preached in 1844 on the occasion of a funeral service for a Church member named King Follet, Smith even stated plainly his idea that God the Father started out as a human being who became “exalted.” He preached:

“God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret.”

This idea would later be captured in a famous poetic couplet penned in 1840 by the future fifth President of the LDS Church, Lorenzo Snow, who was converted to the faith in part by a prophecy of his own future potential imparted to him during an 1836 visit to the Church’s then-headquarters in Kirkland, Ohio, by Joseph Smith’s own father. During that meeting, Patriarch Smith told Snow:

“You will become as great as you can possibly wish—EVEN AS GREAT AS GOD, and you cannot wish to be greater.”

Two weeks afterward, Lorenzo Snow received baptism into the Church, and four years after that, while listening to a talk by an Elder, Snow experienced what he called a revelation from God, a vision in which he glimpsed “with wonder and amazement, the pathway of God and man.” As a direct result, he composed the lines:

“As man now is, God once was;
As God now is, man may be.”

Later in the King Follet discourse, first LDS prophet Joseph Smith expounded on the idea of God as an exalted man even further, arguing:

“God himself, finding he was in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself. The relationship we have with God places us in a situation to advance in knowledge.”

So not only was God a former human being, in Smith’s estimation, but it was God’s “advancement in knowledge” and intelligence that led to His exaltation and becoming the Deity of our Bibles, Books of Mormon, and earnest prayers to begin with. This notion of so-called “eternal progression” by which all human beings are promised a chance at godhead themselves also implies that, in the words of second president of the LDS Church Brigham Young, God Himself never ceases “progressing eternally.” Fourth President of the Church, Wilford Woodruff, affirmed similarly:

“God Himself is increasing and progressing in knowledge, power, and dominion, and will do so, worlds without end.”

Subsequent Mormon prophets, like tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith and Apostle Bruce McConkie, his son-in-law, sharply criticized the idea that God continually progresses, and their criticisms took such root in the religion that the modern LDS Church has all but abandoned the idea in favor a more traditional Christian perspective on God’s absolute perfection. The notion of eternal progression for human beings, however, remains in effect in the faith. As a legacy of this line of thought in the Mormon movement, the modern-day LDS Church website includes a page and lengthy discussion on the subject of “humans’ divine potential” entitled simply “Becoming like God.”

Satanists, meanwhile, of the both atheistic LaVeyan and theistic stripes likewise emphasize the notion of being or becoming a god, even if only of one’s own subjective universe. And this is all pretty heady stuff. But it turns out, the seemingly empowering line of thought inherent in these positions also has a dark side—I mean the kind of dark side that doesn’t actually look attractive to us Satanic folk—an ugly side.

Just World

In a post to a discussion on Reddit a couple of years back regarding common misconceptions about Satanism, one author shared a rather harsh opinion about practitioners of Satanism on a LaVeyan model who fail to achieve outward success in life. The commenter wrote:

“I know a very successful LaVeyan Satanist (healthy family, lots of friends, makes over $100K a year, beautiful house.) I’ve also met ‘Satanists’ who are living in mom’s basement, are chronically unemployed, and saddled with constant drama due to self-directed fucking up (arrests, addiction issues, trying to steal shit when they haven’t realize [sic] they are going to get caught easily.)

My point in sharing this is—some people gravitate towards Satanism b/c of the ‘self-worship’ aspect….however if your Self is shitty, has no self-control, is lazy and stupid…your life will be a testament to all your faults & NOT your potential as a glorious human animal.

Just saying. I HATE HATE HATE seeing un-successful Satanists. It’s not that hard to be a successful Satanist if you are intelligent…

(btw I am a Satanist.)”

Note the scare quotes around the word “Satanists” when the author pivots to attend to those still living in parents’ basements, chronically unemployed, and so forth. The standards inherent in such a point of view shine a pretty harsh light on the lives of many, who, through little-to-no fault of their own, lose jobs, are forced to move back in with parents, get trapped in cycles of addiction and recovery, and have addiction-related run-ins with the law.

Our friend Vernor (Corvis Nocturnum) had something similarly harsh to say on the subject of failure of attainment, writing in a February 2017 Facebook post:

“If you took all the money in the world and divided it up evenly, eventually those who where poor would be poor again and the rich would grow rich again. It isn’t money it is the drive of the person.”

When friends suggested in comments that many other systemic societal factors also play into the calculus on such questions, he proved uniquely resistant to accepting or even entertaining that point of view. Insisting on a personal rags-to-riches story, including overcoming specific learning deficits, Vernor maintained that personal drive accounts for 99.9% of the outcome in all cases.

For someone whose life is going well and “according to plan,” there is enormous temptation to succumb to this attractive narrative of self-making. As an undergraduate completing a triple major in Religious Studies, Latin, and Classical Greek—and maintaining a 4.0 grade-point average while doing so—I certainly held opinions along these lines. For some Honor’s Program application or other, I had to visit the Registrar’s office one day and request my class standing. I was shocked to hear the clerk tell me that I ranked first out of a class of 1,600 other students, the news only reinforcing my already intolerable smugness. Those days, in addition to working several jobs and maintaining a rigorous academic schedule, I also did a fair amount of recreational drugs like pot, LSD, and cocaine, all without obvious ill effects or addiction issues. So I would find myself occasionally opining self-importantly:

“I don’t understand all the PSAs about drugs you see on TV, with the wastoid losers talking about how coke ruined their lives and left them destitute. Look at me: I do coke and still manage to make it to class, study, and get good grades. If you’re a loser on drugs, chances are you were a loser before doing them.”

I cringe now to think back on such simplistic, ignorant statements. By the way, since my twenties (and I’m forty-one now), I’ve been completely unable to kick the habit of good ol’ alcohol. So there, smug, self-satisfied younger version of myself!

Anyway, I call this point of view ignorant and over-simplified because it plays directly into so-called Just World Theory, a key reinforcing idea about the world behind most every traditional (read: non-atheistic-Satanic) religious system you can think of. Whether it’s Buddha preaching his first sermon in the Deer Park, Jesus in the synagogue on Sabbath day in Luke 4, Muhammad in Quba-Madinah, Guru Nanak rising up out of the river with the words of the Mool Mantar on his lips, or even just the incantations of some grimoire or other, assuring the aspiring witch of the proper wording for an intended spell and that what he sends out into the world will be returned three-fold, the most pat idea in human religion is that if you toe the line and follow the prescriptions laid down by some other’s experience of life and the divine, the universe will work out fairly for you. If you fail to abide by the prescriptions, however, punishments ensue and promises evaporate. The full quote from Brigham Young regarding eternal progression alluded to above goes like this:

“…the God that I serve is progressing eternally, and so are his children: they will increase to all eternity, if they are faithful.”

Note the final conditional clause, casting its threatening pall over the whole of the previous promise, up to and including the seeming infinity of “all eternity.” You’ve got to hold up your end of the bargain and stay in line.

Assuming the approved behaviors serve some basic sense of social justice (and many of them do), this sounds like a nice universal principle of fairness, doesn’t it? Indeed, the 1965 experiments in which social psychologist Melvin Lerner first observed the effects of Just World thinking involved people’s perception of unfairness in seeing individuals subjected to electric shocks. The subjects observing these shocks honestly desired to make the situations more fair. If permitted by the experimenter, their go-to method to ensure greater justice was to compensate the victims for their suffering. When such compensation was disallowed, however, subjects chose to adopt a more ominous strategy and adjust their thought-worlds to bring them in line with the observed injustice that they couldn’t remedy in the external world. They began assuming that the victims in fact deserved their punishments. That is, Lerner’s and plenty of follow-up social psychological work has shown that the ugly flip side of Just World thinking is victim blaming and victim-shaming.

In June of 2016, our friend Tony Robbins held a massive motivational seminar attended by approximately 7,000 people in Dallas, Texas, with the billing “Unleash the Power Within”. Part of the seminar involved participants walking across hot coals in a so-called “fire walk.” During the evening event, reportedly dozens of individuals ended up with burns, and someone whom Robbins’ organization, Robbins Research International, described as “not familiar with the fire walk” called 911. Ambulances reportedly lined up outside the convention center where the event was being held. Five of the burn victims had injuries severe enough to require transportation to and treatment in the Parkland Hospital Burn Center. Longtime Tony Robbins faithful opined of those injured that they “lacked the proper focus” and “weren’t listening” to instructions given by Robbins’ staffers. One such seasoned Tony Robbins crew member, who has worked more than 100 such events, likewise blamed the outcome on the attendees’ behavioral choices. He said:

“I’ve seen people halfway through the fire walk pulling their phones out to video themselves. It’s frustrating. My job is to prepare them for the walk, but once they’re out on the coals, they’re on their own.”

The same staffer, though, further laid the blame for the disruption in participants’ focus on the 911 responders’ ambulances which were “just sitting there” after one participant who wasn’t satisfied that her husband was receiving enough medical attention from the Robbins staff on site was the one who placed the call to city emergency services. Meanwhile, a burn expert at Parkland Hospital suggested that personal focus is completely irrelevant to the physical health risk posed by walking across fire or smoldering coals. “Just don’t do it,” the hospital’s burn program manager said, “Coal-walking is not an activity that we would ever recommend. We don’t believe there is any safe way to do it.” Despite such expert testimony, one participant, who had previously done two other Tony Robbins fire walks but burned her feet so badly during the event in Dallas that she couldn’t walk, blamed herself for looking down at the coals and not keeping her head up and gaze fixed forward, as instructed. She still said she would “do it 10,000 more times” if she could.

Part of the motivation beneath the victim-blaming behavioral underbelly of Just World thinking stems from the fact that a truly innocent victim—like an unsuccessful, but not lazy or self-sabotaging, person—poses a threat to to the very idea of truly just desserts. If you get what you give, then it’s a pretty simple mental hop from observing seemingly hopeless suffering to concluding the sufferer somehow earned it. So also, the good that such individuals are not experiencing must not have been merited, Q.E.D. This same pattern of thought can be recruited to motivate strict adherence to extreme behaviors in exchange for promises of future rewards and payoffs. It helps explain why people do everything from tithing and sending evangelical hucksters large portions of their retirement checks, to preparing themselves for and undergoing physically arduous rituals like the Abramelin rite from the 2017 film A Dark Song and extreme ascetic practices like those described in Siddhartha Gautama’s early career. One woman featured in the 2016 Netflix documentary Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru sold everything she owned, including her furniture, just to attend Robbins’ annual Date with Destiny seminar, and this after a childhood until age twelve where she was repeatedly sexually abused while being brought up inside a controlling, nominally Christian cult! In 2009, outside Sedona, Arizona, self-help magnate James Arthur Ray managed to cajole and coerce paying participants into enduring a self-styled “sweat lodge ceremony” that resulted in death for three of them. A seminal 1980 book by the same psychologist Melvin Lerner who was the first in his field to devote serious experimental attention to the phenomenon of Just World beliefs labels the Just World Theory precisely what it most is: “a fundamental delusion.”

Because of its delusional core, Just World theorizing aids and abets the logical fallacy of fundamental attribution error (FAE), a faulty pattern of reasoning which consists in ignoring external factors and assuming that what befalls people results almost entirely from their own doing. In experiments where subjects read stories about historical events, those that scored higher on tests to determine whether they held strong Just World beliefs tended to view whatever endings their stories had as flowing directly from the earlier events described, even in cases where the stories were manipulated in such a way that multiple tales featured the exact same series of events, while crucially differing only in their endings. FAE is what makes us assume that a driver who just cut us off in traffic is an asshole rather than, say, rushing a pregnant wife to the hospital or racing across town to reach a suicide risk before it’s too late. It’s also what makes us blame ourselves especially for perceived behavioral faults or deficits in cases where we’re caught in the grips of just plain old bad circumstances, including criminal victimization.

In the 1994 Disney movie Lion King, right after Simba’s dad dies and his evil uncle Scar convinces the young cub that he bore ultimate responsibility for the tragedy, Simba runs away into the forest, where he encounters Pumbaa and Timon. The pair persuade him of their hakuna matata or ’no worries’ outlook on life, saying:

“Bad things happen, and you can’t do anything about it, right? … Wrong!  When the world turns its back on you, you turn your back on the world!”

Yeah that’s the ticket. Ticket to complacency and total acceptance of shit situations, that is. The genius of this position is that, irrespective of your station in life—whether master or slave—it still applies perfectly to justify either your dominance and oppression of others or your own servility, while, at the same time, oddly making you feel ok with everything. There’s even a famous positive formulation of the same principle featured prominently in Enlightenment-era philosopher Voltaire’s satirical novella Candide. What was it Dr. Pangloss was always saying? “Everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds.”

As a result of his newfound hakuna matata worldview, Simba ignores the pain of his past and the likely current injustice in his home territory under his uncle Scar’s “leadership” and manages to lead the carefree life of the jungle. Until, that is, his childhood friend Nala shows up on Simba’s doorstep—er, forest-floor-step—on her way to find help for those same beleaguered Pride Lands. When she encounters Simba and attempts to convince him to return with her, the following exchange ensues:

“Nala: It is beautiful…. But I don’t understand something. You’ve been alive all this time. Why didn’t you come back to Pride Rock?

Simba: {Climbing into a “hammock” of hanging vines} Well, I just … needed to get out on my own. Live my own life. And I did. And it’s great!  {He sounds almost as if trying to convince himself as well as Nala.}

Nala: {Voice catching, as though barely under control} We’ve really needed you at home.

Simba: {Quieter} No one needs me.

Nala: Yes we do! You’re the king.

Simba: Nala, we’ve been through this. I’m not the king.  Scar is.

Nala: Simba, he let the hyenas take over the Pride Lands.

Simba: What?

Nala: Everything’s destroyed. There’s no food, no water.  Simba, if you don’t do something soon, everyone will starve.

Simba: I can’t go back.

Nala: {Louder} Why?

Simba: You wouldn’t understand.

Nala: What wouldn’t I understand?

Simba: {Hastily} No, no, no. It doesn’t matter. Hakuna Matata.

Nala: {Confused} What?

Simba: Hakuna Matata. It’s something I learned out here.  Look, sometimes bad things happen…

Nala: Simba!

Simba: {Continuing, irritated} —and there’s nothing you can do about it! So why worry?

{Simba starts away from Nala, walking on a fallen tree. Nala trots back up to him.}

Nala: Because it’s your responsibility.

Simba: Well, what about you? You left.

Nala: I left to find help! And I found you. Don’t you understand? You’re our only hope.

Simba: Sorry.”

The Lion King’s hakuna matata idea really serves as a cover for a Just World thought process by which Simba is able to justify not only his ejection from his home but also his uncle’s unjust predation on his own people and Simba’s continued inaction to save the innocent and end their suffering. To add insult to butt-hurt, it even helps Simba work up the nerve to try a little victim-blaming on Nala, faulting her—if only momentarily—for leaving the oppressed Pride Lands herself!

The Japanese have a remarkably similar saying to hakuna matata in the face of tragedy or situations beyond perceived individual control to alter: shikata ga nai ‘nothing can be done about it,’ usually followed in actual use by the consolatory phrase gambatte kudasai or ‘keep it up.’ This additional saying serves fundamentally more to encourage endurance and bearing up under suffering than as a real spur to novel action. Some Japanese commentators have noted that the phrase shikata ga nai and the mentality it encourages are leading to political apathy in modern Japan, contributing to the belief that even voting in elections is pointless and unable to effect real political change in the country. In the face of overwhelming perceived corruption, it’s frequently the easiest course of action simply to blame a darkness at the heart of all humans and rest on the assumption that the suffering in the world is deserved and ultimately beyond any one individual’s—or even a large group of individuals’—control to stop or change. As one Easter Sunday message from a Lutheran church in Minnesota notes:

“As the French say, ‘c’est la vie,’ ‘such is life,’ and you know what? Life’s not fair. We might be able to imagine a fair and just world in which perfect justice is meted out to everyone, whether rich or poor. But we can’t find this world. The endless pursuit of justice is just that: endless. It goes on and on because it can’t be found. The reason is really very simple. Justice in this world requires justice in every heart. As long as this world is inhabited by sinners true justice will always elude us.”

What lies at the heart of all this Just World justifying and rationalizing is a relatively simple desire to escape the ravages of one of the most fundamental confounds of the human condition. Just World beliefs help bridge the gap—some would say, gaping chasm—between what we desire for ourselves and the world around us, on the one hand, and the actual way the world and our life situations presently are at any given moment, on the other.

Expectancy Gap

The gap in expectation between our desire and a gross physical universe that simply will not bend to our will forms a fundamental concern at a very basic level in human beings. In the rarified world of theoretical semantics, linguists take for granted that when we talk about what could be, might be, may be, should or ought to be—any state of affairs other than the strictly actual—what we’re really doing is manufacturing and manipulating in thought, like the petty demiurges we are, possible worlds: potential ways of organizing the real world into configurations other than those we find actually instantiated. When, usually in the throws of hopeful expectation of future behavior or displeasure at actual behavior after the fact, we talk about the area of deontic modality—that is, the way the world ought to be and the freedom (or lack thereof) of action, given desires, norms, and expectations of behavior—linguists call the possible worlds we have in mind perfect obedience worlds: worlds that obey our will and fulfill our expectations perfectly. In deploying deontic terms, we in essence struggle to map the messy particulars of a real world that could give fuck all for what we want or don’t want, what we think should and shouldn’t occur, onto the comfortable predictability of the perfect obedience worlds over which we rule as sovereign and unopposed deities. And this mapping works itself out in the very grammar of human language.

For instance, many languages around the world have a special pattern of verbal marking called conjunct/disjunct systems, which allow speakers to indicate by the form of any given verb whether or not the subject was a conscious, willing, and intentional participant in the action denoted. In one such language—Tsafiki, also known as Colorado, spoken in Colombia and Ecuador—the statement “I cut him with a machete” goes from one of proudly declaring the outcome of premeditated action to a horrified realization of the unintentional consequences of an errant stroke of the blade simply with a modulation of the verb from poreyoe to poreie. This latter form, the so-called disjunct, serves in such cases to articulate the depth and unwelcome surprise of a just-uncovered expectancy gap.

Other languages—like Tohono O’odham, an indigenous Uto-Aztecan language also known as Papago spoken in the state of Arizona—have special words to indicate that the real-world state of affairs is not—to use another fancy term from formal semantics—inertial, meaning that once the speaker has conceived of and set in motion an action with intended consequences, something about the situation of the world and/or other actors makes that action fail to obey the law of inertia and just flow naturally onward to its intended point of completion. When you’ve got a date planned and have gotten yourself all gussied, only to have your fella prove a no-show, you can use such a word in the simple sentence “I’m ready” to provide the subtext that you’re all dressed up with nowhere to go. In the Panoan language Amahuaca, spoken by only about 310 people in Peru and Brazil, addition of the morpheme -pana- to the verb in one of a pair of conjoined clauses serves this same function, indicating that the action was intended by the subject but not able to be accomplished due to some force outside of the subject’s control. So you can get sentences like: “I grabbed a log to beat-pana the tapir to death, but it broke into pieces on the tapir’s body.” In the linguistics literature, morphemes like -pana- often bear the label frustrative markers because they encode the frustration of an intended course of action by outside factors.

Sill other languages allow for a related phenomenon called non-culminating accomplishments, where verbs that might normally be conceived of as entailing the accomplishment of a certain end result are used with the meaning that the subject initiated the action but did not necessarily bring it all the way to its natural endpoint. So you can get what sound to us English speakers like some pretty peculiar sentences, such as “Today I built the house, but I couldn’t finish it, so tomorrow I’ll return to complete the job” or the Khmer monstrosity “I’ve killed him umpteen times, but he refuses to die.” American English does boast one famous example of this kind of phenomenon in the tagline for the SC Johnson pesticide Raid that the company debuted in 1956: “Raid kills bugs dead.” You may have heard of it. The slogan was reportedly written by Beat poet Lew Welch, who worked until 1958 for an advertising agency contracted out to SC Johnson. Part of the genius of the line lies in the assurance provided by the seemingly redundant predicative adjective dead of an inertial or perfect obedience world that awaits customers as a result of their using the product: your desired plan to kill bugs will result in the natural endpoint of their dying. All you have to do is have faith, both in the product and in a Just World where intentions work out fairly so long as you both use the product and use it as directed.

Like the marketing of the pesticide Raid, traditional religion in all its forms makes would-be adherents a Just-World promise of inertial or perfect-obedience-world-style future conditions in exchange for their obedience in the here and now to a set of behavioral norms or standards dictated by teachers, prophets, preachers, and/or works of scripture. Whether it’s Moses and his tablets of the Law or the disembodied law of Karma, religions offer at least the illusion—or, perhaps, delusion—of control in a world where we in fact command very little of what goes on both inside and outside of us. Each of us represents just one drop of will in an ocean surge of animal yearning on planet earth that beats itself silly against the inflexible facticities of time, distance, matter, finitude and physical opposition in all its forms. Even within our own brains, that part of us we like to label self represents one fraction of motivation and will—and an ex post facto one at that!—within a three-tiered, messy confection of primal urges and autonomous subroutines. By reframing our frustration in the form of Just World beliefs, then reifying those beliefs and hypostatizing them into external deities or forces and concrete written works of wisdom and inspiration, we achieve some moments of clarity amidst all the chaos, a semblance of control and guaranteed results in a world that stubbornly just won’t obey. Traditional religion, like advertising, is little more than an embodiment of the deontic mode: a system of belief and practice built around the principle of do this, as we do and/or say, and all will work out for the best in this, the best—and most inertial in the ways that truly matter—of all possible worlds. Or, as Tony Robbins himself says in the Netflix documentary that bears his name:

“I’m going to show you what to do to reshape yourself. … And we’re going to make it so you can enjoy yourself. … And what you’re going to do is you’re going to remember as long as you live that I don’t fucking bullshit.”

Cue the sighs of relief or, as Robbins likes to say—consciously playing on the double entendre of orgasm—moments of multiple “breakthroughs”: aaaaahhhhhh!

Externalization

One of the really great ideas Anton LaVey espoused in his 1969 Satanic Bible, though, was that externalization of one’s own inner impulses comprises much of what leads to the intolerable hypocrisy at the heart of traditional religion. Pretending your own hopes and fears for the world are actual, externally existent realities that are really in charge of a provident and just universe proves a powerful tool for self-deception. The discipline such putative deities or forces impose is really just self-discipline, though one usually premised on a view of humans that represents us not as we actually are, but rather in relation to an all but impossible standard, a vision of perfection that both is and is not human. LaVey wrote:

“ALL religions of a spiritual nature are inventions of man. He has created an entire system of gods with nothing more than his carnal brain. Just because he has an ego, and cannot accept it, he has to externalize it into some great spiritual device which he calls ‘God’. …[B]ut no law states that an externalized god is necessary…. Could it be that when he closes the gap between himself and his ‘God’ he sees the demon of pride creeping forth—that very embodiment of Lucifer appearing in his midst? He no longer can view himself in two parts, the carnal and the spiritual, but sees them merge as one, and then to his abysmal horror, discovers that they are only the carnal AND ALWAYS WERE! Then he either hates himself to death, day by day—or rejoices that he is what he is! If he hates himself, he searches out new and more complex spiritual paths of ‘enlightenment’ in hopes that he may split himself up again in his quest for stronger and more externalized ‘gods’ to scourge his poor miserable shell.”

The thing is: once you convince yourself to hold humans up to an inhuman standard, you become capable of some deeply inhumane attitudes and actions toward human beings, both yourself and others. One of the noblest goals of Satanism as articulated by LaVey is to actively tear such externalizations down.

Humans are just animals. Like all animals, what we most want is some magical combination of eating, drinking, fucking, replicating, growing, living, living well, and living better. Realization and acceptance of our carnal, animalistic natures and drives provides honest relief from the constant pressure in traditional religious thinking to regard ourselves as failing in some deeply privative way to attain to a state of putative planned excellence or potential that only ever existed in the happy externalizations of Platonic Ideas and theistic conceptions of “divine will.” Comparing ourselves to allegedly perfect others—whether the supposedly sinless life of Jesus, the excruciating existences of saints, or just the picture-perfect snippets of life we glimpse on social media—can cause crippling anxiety, even as it offers a promise of our own perfectibility. Like the Anxiety of Influence under which, according to literary critic Harold Bloom, younger literary aspirants labor, both inspired and hounded by the looming, shadow-like legacies cast by the canonized greats, religious images of perfectibility serve both to hold out promises of a better life and to remind us that such a life remains, to some extent, out of present (and even earthly) reach.

Satanism relieves and resolves the dualistic tension between “God” and “Man,” “saint” and “sinner,” future rewards and present dessert, collapsing the distance with the fraught consolation that, however unhappy you are with your current self and life circumstances, you are the focus neither of external punishment nor blessing. In your satisfaction or dissatisfaction, struggle or peace, you are, cosmically speaking, utterly alone and left to your own devices, as well as to those of whatever community of fellow humans you can manage to cobble together. In this way, Satanism presents a curious mixture of nihilism and empowerment. We are little more than animals prone to destructive impulses directed at both self and others, but we’re all we’ve got to go on, in the end, and we’re going it alone in the metaphysical sense. So stop with the praying and get on with the paying of sweat equity in real pursuit of whatever goals you envision. Magic is mindset and aims not so much at remaking the world around you as at the you that lies at the center of your world.

If we’re not careful, though, the love affair with duality that lies at the heart of humanity’s dichotomous soul will accomplish little more in this Satanic enterprise than a simple reframing of the old saw of St. Paul’s Natural Man versus Spiritual Man from 1 Corinthians 2. Only now we’d be swapping the tired God-Man and Natural-Spiritual divides for a more terrestrial one between the multiple sides of the single human self or, worse still, the hackneyed dualism of body and mind. There’d be the satisfied and struggling selves, the decadent and discontented selves, the quotidian bodily concerns of cortisol, sleeplessness, and unhealthy food cravings versus the high ground of the disciplined, striving, dieting mind. Yet in the quote from LaVey above, we find an argument against precisely such a view. Like the Islamic sin of shirk, which consists in dividing the divine monad into one or more dualities or even a Holy Trinity, the act of splitting oneself into higher and lower impulses, matter and spirit, the trapped versus the transcendent, simply sows the seeds of externalization all over again.

Satanism offers instead a vision of sublime, monist horror: the realization that the carnal and physical are all there ever was. Man and God, Man and Beast, our bestial and our best selves—it’s all one and the same struggle of an embodied will to achieve desire in a world that’s pure matter and functionally deaf to our anguished cries of “foul!” As FitzGerald’s translation of the Rubaiyat reminds us:

“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.”

So the relieving of one fundamental tension within the human psyche creates quite another: the need to balance conflicting desires of a thoroughly carnal self and martial them all into a stable hierarchy of desires and pleasures that serves the whole animal. LaVey writes:

 “Gluttony is simply eating more than you need to keep yourself alive. When you have overeaten to the point of obesity, another sin—pride—will motivate you to regain an appearance that will renew your self-respect.”

Even the wealthy and powerful, like Robert Baratheon in Game of Thrones, can fail in the final frontier of mastery: mastery of self. Even they, rich and important as they may be, may yet also end up fat, dissatisfied, and unhappy with how they look and feel, both inside and out. And at the end of a life of struggle in pursuit of externalizing their will and leaving a lasting legacy of power and accomplishment, such individuals often look back on the prolonged subjugation of inner self in service to an external impression left for posterity and feel the utter emptiness of it all. The lessons of Shelley’s “Ozymandias” are clear. What is externalized falls subject to the forces of erosion and will eventually fade and pass:

“                                          …Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Only what is internal lasts forever, or at least the only forever that truly matters: the lifespan of the singular perspective on time from which forever extends into the hazy distance of both hope and fear, glimpsed only at irregular intervals when we satisfied animals happen to look up from our feasting and fucking just long enough to gaze for a moment into the middle distance…before returning to the fun.

Get out

I may not have totally figured out just yet precisely how I’m going to get out of my current expectancy gap, but I know what got me into it. Shades of Orson Welles’ famous quip:

“My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four. Unless there are three other people.”

As a Satanist, I’m not striving for virtue here. Like Welles, I’m merely seeking to bring greater balance to my sins. I know that some of my predicament lies outside of my conscious grasp: a son who has struggled his entire life with weight issues to two parents who have always hefted considerable extra weight as adults themselves. But I don’t let that get to me, nor do I simply lie down and pretend that genetic inheritance somehow equates to that great writing finger from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. I would never cry over such things, at any rate. It’s not worth my tears.

Anyway, I’ve been here before. Like when, in high school, I tipped the scale at around 270 pounds as I began my senior year, eventually whittling myself down, through smaller portions with big extra helpings of early morning runs, to near 200 by the end. Or when, in grad school, I ballooned to almost 290, only to begin a strict regimen of weight training and high-intensity-interval cardio for the first time in my life, huffing and puffing my weight all the way down to close to 180. There were days when I ran in the snow and times when my legs quivered from the recent leg-day split I had done. I have detoxed and retoxed and detoxed again. Last week, I worked out in the gym three times—for the first time in nearly a decade—leaving me near-crippled with delayed-onset muscle soreness by the time Friday rolled around. So far this week, I’ve been twice, and the hebdomad is young yet. I’ll go at least twice more before the weekend comes.

What I won’t do is tether my hopes to anyone else’s way out, just as I would never pretend that whatever has worked as my own way, now or in the past, could ever constitute the way, deontically binding on others who wish to achieve their own form of happiness or self-satisfaction. Psychologists, grief counselors, and sufferers themselves will all tell you that one of the worst things you can do to someone up against life’s harder edge is tell them your own story of personal tragedy or that of an acquaintance of yours or of someone you read about. Such things are proof of nothing but the fact that everyone finds their own way, alone or with the help of others, through the darkness they encounter from time to time. Moreover, such tales shift focus and concentration off the individual currently suffering right before your very eyes and the unique contours and particulars of his, her, or their present plight. I may look to others’ stories as inspiration or as storehouses of the occasional good idea, but I won’t look to them with an architect’s eye, as blueprints. Nor will I shell out thousands, hundreds, or even just a few dollars for seminars, workbooks, or any kind of bible’s template. I will not look to gurus, including ones who tell me they’re not my guru even as they give classes to packed auditoriums of note-taking students and for which they charge ginormous rates.

I’m simply too busy and distracted, anyway, to follow somebody else’s life recipe, what with getting up, cooking breakfast and lunch for the family, prepping the kids for school, getting myself to and from the gym, returning home to write or prepare lectures, and then reversing much of that course again at the end of every day: pick up kids, rush home for homework and snacks, cook dinner, family fun, give baths, then a little adult time with wine, TV, and talking before hitting the sack. I enjoy my existence in measured increments of present pleasure with only occasional bouts of unpleasant, future-oriented toil. I may not have achieved a whole lot in terms of obvious outward success in life, but I’ve relished the living itself, and still do.

Ultimately, I choose to cast my lot in with Thoreau, that seductive Pied Piper of the simpler-yet-richer life, whom I first came to admire in Middle School when I saw the senior one-act play presentation of The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail. In his ironically titled essay on living a principled life entitled “Life Without Principle,” Thoreau wrote:

“Perhaps I am more than usually jealous with respect to my freedom. I feel that my connection with and obligation to society are still very slight and transient. Those slight labors which afford me a livelihood, and by which it is allowed that I am to some extent serviceable to my contemporaries, are as yet commonly a pleasure to me, and I am not often reminded that they are a necessity. So far I am successful. But I foresee, that, if my wants should be much increased, the labor required to supply them would become a drudgery. If I should sell both my forenoons and afternoons to society, as most appear to do, I am sure, that, for me, there would be nothing left worth living for. I trust that I shall never thus sell my birthright for a mess of pottage.”

You tell me you’ve got the secret to wealth, power, and control over others, to compel submission to your will and command lucre and prestige, and that, moreover, you work tirelessly to spread that gospel (for a hefty fee, of course), and my sole response will likely be simply to ask: “How’s that mess of pottage working out for ya?” Right before I light up a fire and get on with grilling my own beautiful beefsteak—vegan, of course.

9 thoughts on ““New Year—New You” and the Inherent Unfairness of Our Quest for a “Just World”

  1. Really makes one wonder what the CoS looks for in the members its promotes up the ranks when one of the leading spokespersons has a fake — er, I mean to say “unaccredited” — doctorate in sexology and another is pushing Tony Robbins-style self-help workshops.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha! Yeah, I use them rather harshly here, but I suspect there may be some palpable truth to my less than charitable misgivings regarding them. It kind of reminds me of the occasional invites I get through Instagram to like pages associated with “the illuminati” and DM their owners. The pages feature nothing by Satanic symbolism interspersed with pics of stacks of cash, gold jewelry, fancy cars–all like something straight out of a music video. Whatever floats your boat, I reckon, but I do think these folks have missed some important points somewhere along the way. I didn’t know about the sexology thing. I’ll have to look into that. Thanks for sharing!

      Like

  2. I pre-ordered a signed, hardback first-edition of The Satanic Warlock and I’ve got nothing nice to say about that purchase. Publication deadlines were broken multiple times, and the content of the book left a lot to be desired.

    Like

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