Satanism, Epicureanism, and the Unbinding of Religio

The philosophical school founded in the late fourth century BCE by the iconoclastic empiricist Epicurus was quite unlike its other major Hellenistic rival, Stoicism, despite the fact that the two shared a commitment to a physical or materialist view of the world, even up to and including the human soul. The Stoics, however, argued that all matter was pervaded by an intelligent and creative, animating force that was of the same substance and origin as the intelligent “craftsmanlike fire” that Stoics identified with God. 

We have already seen in a previous essay how the groundwork for the now infamous Argument from Design or Teleological Argument for the existence of God was first laid, as far as we know, by Stoic philosophers. This regard for intelligent design by a cosmic creator and the concomitant notion of human exceptionalism within Stoicism were so of a piece with early Judaism that third-/fourth-century BCE Stoic poet Cleanthes of Assos’ lament about how those who constantly yearn to possess goods are ill-fated, “for they neither see nor heed the common law of God, in wise obedience to which we might have a good life” (Hymn to Zeus ll. 23-25) finds a concrete echo in the fourth saying of the second chapter of the Mishnaic tractate Pirkei Avot or Sayings/Ethics of the Fathers. There, Rabban Gamliel III, third-century CE son of second-century redactor of the Mishnah Judah ha-Nasi, reportedly said: `ăśēh rĕṣōnō kirṣōnkā, kdê šeyya`ăśeh rĕṣōnkā kirṣōnō or “make His will like your will, so that He will make your will like His will.” A similar (and pithier) formulation of this sentiment appears in Stoic philosopher Seneca’s famous quip Ducunt volentem fata, nolentem trahunt: “the fates lead the willing, but drag the unwilling.”

Encoded in these sayings is essentially the bread-and-butter delayed-return cultural viewpoint that reality is teleology: everything currently in existence is valuable not in and of itself, but rather because it serves some, usually as yet unseen, end. Think of the agriculturalist who must muster faith far larger and more all encompassing than a mere mustard seed to imagine how crops can be brought to harvest from such inauspicious and fragile beginnings. Think, too, of how great a need such a hopeful planter must have of believing in a provident universe where, despite the droughts and torrents and plagues and pestilence so common on earth, such faith eventually nonetheless pays off. 

The principal doctrines and approaches of the nascent Christian religion so resembled certain Stoic ideas that Paul even quotes sentiments suspiciously similar to a Stoic pagan hymn (Cleanthes’ Hymn to Zeus, though the specific source of the quote is a similar passage in Aratus’ Phaenomena) in his speech to the culturally and philosophically sophisticated Athenians on the Areopagus in Acts 17:28. Epicureanism, meanwhile, presented a system of belief and practice that could not have been more different from the main currents of both pagan and Judeo-Christian religious and philosophical thinking then and now.

Epicureanism as a philosophy of immediate-return

Both Epicurus and Lucretius were, for all intents and purposes from the viewpoint of ancient pagans and their later Jewish and Christian critics, functional atheists. They denied that the gods had any concern, moral or otherwise, for human beings or human actions. As a result of this denial, Epicureans viewed state and traditional religious observance, at least as traditionally understood, as empty and pointless, so much mummery directed at insensible, unheeding, and uncaring objects far removed from human life (cf. De Rerum Natura 6.1-95). To use, for a moment, the Ciceronian etymology of religio I wrote about in part II of this series: humans may have engaged in constant actions of relegere (obsessively going over and over again in thought and speech) with regard to the gods and their divine motives or desires for humanity; however, in the Epicurean conception, that compulsive concern was most definitely not reciprocated from above. 

Humans should instead, Epicurus urged, simply live the good life by seeking pleasure, avoiding pain, and withdrawing from most of the social-contractual forms of public life delayed-return cultures have to offer: to wit, politics, trade, and industry. Epicurus taught this ideal of withdrawal for contemplation and rational pleasure-seeking from the confines of his private garden on the outskirts of Athens to which all were admitted (men, women, and slaves alike). Most traditional Greek philosophical schools like Stoicism and Neoplatonism held court in public spaces, like the Stoa Poikile or ‘Painted Porch’ located along the north side of the Athenian Agora where Zeno of Citium taught and ended up giving his philosophy of “Stoa-cism” its customary moniker: the Greek word stōikós meant literally “of or pertaining to the Stoa.” Epicurus’ unusual locale for the seat of his philosophical school served as a physical reminder, and even concrete realization, of his destabilizing ideas that proved so radical precisely for their rather more immediate-return character when compared to the prevailing delayed-return culture, worldview, and lifeway of the Classical Greek society in which he lived. 

Perhaps the most off-putting expression of this Epicurean tendency toward a more immediate-return view of life and the world that proved anathema to the delayed-return societies surrounding them was the school’s insistence on a strictly mechanistic, unguided, materialist model of nature as comprised entirely of Democritus’ famous atoms which, in a random Brownian-type motion that Epicureans called the “swerve,” ceaselessly ebb and flow, swirl and slue, thus giving rise to all perceptible (and even imperceptible) physical forms in an eternal and unstructured (i.e. profoundly non-teleological) way. The world as we perceive and experience it represents only the current manifestation of this process and itself rests upon countless millennia of change and evolution, utterly devoid of master plan or intelligent design (cf. De Rerum Natura 1.1024-1028). 

Lucretius even has a delightful passage in Book 4 of On the Nature of Things (4.832-842) where he calls the teleological and anthropomorphic fallacy of intelligent design logic perversa, the Latin word which underlies English perverse and literally means ‘turned around’ or ‘twisted.” He also refers to such thinking as the result of praepostera ratione or ‘reverse reasoning.’ In the brilliant English rendering of American poet, playwright, and literary scholar William Ellory Leonard, Lucretius’ line about arguments from design reads: “All such interpretation / Is aft-for-fore with inverse reasoning.” I think that’s just a hyper-polite, even erudite, way of saying bass-ackwards. 

As I argued before, quoting the work of anti-Intelligent Design debater and chemist Karen Bartelt, such reasoning rests on a teleological fallacy: we see only a given structure’s end stage and have foreknowledge of the current purpose it serves (or rather the current reason for which we value it), as a result of which we reverse engineer a story of design and purpose, predicated not on a concrete and provable natural progression, but solely on our own perspectives and values at present. But “[s]ince naught is born in body so that we / May use the same, but birth engenders use,” Lucretius writes, “No sight before the lights of the eyes were born / Nor speech or discourse before the tongue was created / and the ears came forth long before sound was ever heard.” The single primitive master control gene, Pax6, that governs the differentiation and organization of photoreceptor cells existed in the evolutionary record long before it formed part of all of the vastly different “eye” formations that would eventually appear across phyla.  

This kind of almost existentialist, “existence precedes essence”-style denial of teleology utterly negates the long-range dependencies of delayed-return thinking. The natural world was not designed for our specific use and is therefore no evidence for contractual or covenantal relations between humanity and any unseen, intelligent, creative forces. We, and the uses to which we chose to put the world around us, rest at no teleological or progressive pinnacle. The disposition of atoms at any given instant of time is pure accident resulting from unguided natural forces, the present moment no less so than any other. 

Demonization of Epicurus & Epicureanism

For this tension with the dominant mode of Greek living, working, and believing, Epicurus earned for himself and the posterity of his philosophy universal vilification. In the fourth century CE, St. Jerome added to a chronicle providing a bare-bones biography of Epicureanism’s second most famous exponent, the poet Lucretius. There, the translator and compiler of the famous Vulgate Latin version of the Bible included a dubious “historical” note to the effect that Lucretius had driven himself mad by taking a love potion gone wrong, wrote his poem De Rerum Natura in between bouts of insanity, and eventually decided to put himself out of his misery by his own hand at forty-four years of age. The overarching smear against Epicureanism in this confabulation is clear: the philosophy is nothing but sheer madness and nihilistic folly; involve yourself with it at your own considerable risk. I seem to recall modern devotees of a certain major delayed-return religion arguing similarly against anything they deem unsuitable for practice and, hence, slur as “demonic”: 

“When one hears the word meditation, it conjures an image of Maharishi Yoga talking about finding a mantra and striving for nirvana. . . . The purpose of such meditation is to empty oneself. . . . [Satan] is happy to invade the empty vacuum of your soul and possess it. That is why people serve Satan without ever knowing it or deciding to, but no one can be a child of God without making a decision to surrender to him. Beware of systems of spirituality which tell you to empty yourself. You will end up filled with something you probably do not want.”

Lucretius, the despairing Epicurean in Jerome’s formulation, is like a wayward seeker in the modern world: fundamentally empty and therefore ripe for filling with madness.

First-century BCE Roman orator, writer, and statesman Cicero criticized Epicurus for a related kind of nihilism: confusion in terms and resultant meaninglessness. The Roman took Epicurus to task for his allegedly equivocating use of the Greek word for “pleasure” (hēdonē) to encompass both simple sensory pleasures, such as food and drink, and the more elevated and abstract philosophical concepts of freedom from pain (aponia) and imperturbability (ataraxia), two putatively more “noble” and “worthy” aims in life. Subsequent tradition obviously decided that Epicureans had the former, simple pleasures most in mind, such that these days in Western European languages, the term “Epicurean” and related “Epicure” are synonymous with simple physical hedonism, specifically of a gastronomical sort—this despite the fact that Epicurus himself protested that his favorite meal was plain boiled lentils, hardly sumptuous fare. In typical, pietas-loving fashion, Cicero also accused Epicureanism of selfishness and discouragement of civic duty by attempting to ward followers off from participating in politics. Of course, a man so singularly devoted to his own self-aggrandizement through alleged service to the state could not but fail to understand why anyone would turn away from political engagement.  

Meanwhile, both metaphorically and physically east of pagan Rome, Epicurus’ legacy among Jews and, later, Christians centered more on his impious rejection of official cults and supposedly unifying delayed-return religion. In Mishnaic and, to this day, Modern Hebrew, the term Apikoros (sometimes appearing as Epikoros and similar variants) refers to an apostate, one who has turned away from and against the faith of the Rabbis. The late third-/early fourth-century CE author and apologist Lactantius (reputed as the “Christian Cicero”) whom we met before and who used the text of Epicurus’ Roman follower, poet Lucretius, as a chief source for his argument about the etymological origins of the word religio (‘religion’) devotes special negative attention to Epicureanism for its irreverent and essentially atheistic attitude to religion. Specifically, in his Divine Institutes 3.14, Lactantius censures the philosopher-poet Lucretius for the effusive praise he lavishes in the proem to the fifth book of his work on the founder of his philosophical school, the man Epicurus himself. Lucretius writes: “It must be said: he is a god, a god I say…who, first and foremost, discovered that manner of life that we now call wisdom” (ll. 8-10). Lactantius counters that Lucretius erred, first, in attributing the discovery of wisdom to a mere mortal and, second, in reckoning that particular man godlike for simply having discovered wisdom rather than for having created human beings who could apprehend wisdom when they see it in the first place. This latter ability, of course, is one the apologist attributes specially and uniquely to his Christian God. Elsewhere (Divine Institutes 1.16), Lactantius remarks flatly that Lucretius “brought forward nothing true.” The Christian apologist devoted the whole of his work De Ira Dei or “On the Anger of God” to refuting the Epicureans, as well as that other major school of Hellenistic philosophy, the Stoics.     

Epicurus Left a Few Knots Intact

Despite all of the rather alarmist bad press Epicurus and his philosophical movement have garnered over the years (including Cicero and his equation of the philosophy with late-Republican decadence and the downfall of Roman society), Epicureanism clearly didn’t advance an agenda of total societal nihilism, completely unknotting all social ties that bind. Epicurus most definitely counted himself a fan, for instance, of human achievements in the areas of agriculture, viticulture, the arts, and literature. He merely emphasized a view of such “arts of civilization” as a mixed blessing that came with a steep price involving their evolution in tandem with religious and social structures that privilege the powerful over the weak, group cohesion over individual liberty, and a view of the world as ordered and presided over by wrathful deities requiring propitiation, usually through violence, in order to facilitate continued human flourishing. 

In describing the beginnings of human civilization near the end of Book 5 of De Rerum Natura, Lucretius treats justice and individual freedom as matters of compact or “friendship” (amicitia) between “neighbors eager neither to wound nor to be violated” (aventes / finitimi inter se nec laedere nec violari). In this disquisition, the poet dwells on the duty of parents to have their “innate haughty arrogance”—using the word superbus that was the epithet of the last Tarquin king over Rome, quintessential exemplar of “the asshole” tyrant lording it over others—easily broken by the caresses and fondness of their children. He states that  “it is right for all to have compassion on the weak” (imbecillorum esse aequum misererier omnis). 

What Lucretius is clearly addressing here is reverse dominance hierarchy, such as is common in highly egalitarian hunter-gatherer societies and farmed out to Big Gods in the post-Neolithic, delayed-return world. Later in the same passage, Lucretius dismissively writes of striving for power over others, suggesting that it leads only to corruption and conflict. Again using William Ellery Leonard’s wonderful verse translation, emphasis added, the relevant passage reads:

    “In vain, in vain; since, in the strife to climb
On to the heights of honour, men do make
Their pathway terrible; and even when once
They reach them, envy like the thunderbolt
At times will smite, O hurling headlong down
To murkiest Tartarus, in scorn; for, lo,
All summits, all regions loftier than the rest,
Smoke, blasted as by envy’s thunderbolts;
So better far in quiet to obey,
Than to desire chief mastery of affairs
And ownership of empires.” (ll. 1122-1131)

Earlier, in the proem to book II, Lucretius had treated this same topic, writing of the privileged position of being able to stand above the fray and watch as humanity all but destroys itself in the constant struggle for domination, wealth, position, and power. He notes: 

“There is more goodly than to hold the high
Serene plateaus, well fortressed by the wise,
Whence thou may’st look below on other men
And see them ev’rywhere wand’ring, all dispersed
In their lone seeking for the road of life;
Rivals in genius, or emulous in rank,
Pressing through days and nights with hugest toil
For summits of power and mastery of the world.
O wretched minds of men! O blinded hearts!” (ll. 9-16) 

Lucretius and his philosophical forebear Epicurus weren’t advocating radical dissolution of all society. Rather, they were merely advancing arguments for a social structure in which individuals come together and cooperate by mutually agreeing to refrain from harm for the purpose of pooled effort toward greater achievement without the coercion of traditional religion, strong-man politics, or just simple thuggery. Not only that, but notice how, in Lucretius’ rendering, humanity’s supposedly innate tendency toward waywardness and abject selfishness is absent. Violence and struggles for dominance break out in human affairs—true—but, at the heart of it all, Lucretius argues, lies delayed-return striving for position, wealth, and power. 

Religious Aspects of Epicureanism

Perhaps part of the reason Lactantius’ thoughts would turn to Lucretius when musing on the subject of religio and its conceptual origins was that, in antiquity, Epicureanism enjoyed renown among other Hellenistic and later philosophical schools for having a more thoroughly religion- or even church-like character than the rest, complete with “a sacred founder, and sacred books, and a credo of memory verses from those books.’’ 

This phrase “credo of memory verses” refers to the work mentioned by fourth-century CE biographer of philosophers Diogenes Laertius (10.138) under the title of kyriai doxai or “principle doctrines” and to similar epitomes of Epicurean philosophy such as Epicurus included in his Letter to Herodotus (Diogenes Laertius 10.35ff). The philosopher was said to have constantly urged his disciples to read, memorize, and meditate upon these sayings (idem 10.83), much like the later tradition of logia attributed to Jesus such as are found in the early Gnostic work The Gospel of Thomas. Indeed, Epicurus’ final words on his deathbed, as recorded by Diogenes Laertius (10.16), were an exhortation to “remember the doctrines”: memnēsthe ta dogmata. 

In Lucretius’ masterful first-century BCE poem, the poet remarks that Epicurus’ students down through the ages “feed upon the golden sayings from your scrolls, oh famous one, like bees sipping from all on offer in flowery forest-pastures” (2.10-12). Between Epicurus and those in attendance in his private garden, on the one hand, and the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum and the small school of Epicurean intimates that included Philodemus and met there, on the other, Epicureanism provided a kind of precursor and foreshadowing of the small circle of close friends and disciples that surrounded the upstart eschatological prophet Jesus in first-century CE Palestine. 

What’s really intriguing, however, is that this alleged regard for “scripture” and intimate “discipleship” seem to comprise the only apparently “church-like” qualities within ancient Epicureanism. That is, the Hellenistic philosophy (religion?) didn’t inculcate or require much in the way of specific behaviors or practices beyond the study, discussion, and memorization of Epicurus’ main points on atomism, the random atomic swerve and resultant way in which nature fell out under evolutionary pressure, the ultimate disinterestedness and sublime serenity of the gods, a pared-down morality based principally on mutual agreement to care for others and refrain from harm, and so forth. 

Outside of that, one was free to live the good life, enjoy simple pleasures, contemplate existence, or what have you. Unlike the ancient Pythagoreans with their famous vegetarianism compounded by the additional requirement that they abstain from eating beans, Epicureans weren’t expected to keep to a special diet or observe any particular restrictions as to food and drink—beyond moderation and simplicity, that is. Indeed, in Epicurus’ garden, wine and hearty fare were said to be on hand in relative abundance. Apart from meeting together for feasting, conviviality, and discussion on the twentieth of each month in honor of Epicurus (who was reputedly born on the twentieth of the Athenian month of Gamelion, sometime in between our months of January and February), Epicureans observed no special festivals or official rituals and seem, rather, to have continued in the customary observances of traditional religion as required by the law of the land, though with a profoundly different, more internalized and psychologized, understanding of what they were doing than their non-Epicurean colleagues. 

As I’ve mentioned in passing before, in his 1988 series of interviews with journalist Bill Moyers broadcast as the PBS documentary Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth and later published as the book The Power of Myth, comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell asserted that what people are seeking when they turn to myth, spiritual pursuits, and religion is not so much an answer to the question of the meaning of life as to “actually feel the rapture of being alive.”  That is, religion is valuable to individuals mainly in its ability to respond to the question of how to actually spend our copious free time in between the hard-and-fast bookending facticities of birth and death. 

If one of the chief aims of religion, if not the chief aim, is seeking out the good life, then, in peeling back the complicated onion layers of delayed-return religio and paring it down to a more immediate-return concentration on pursuing satisfaction in life, Epicureanism represents the very core of religion. Epicurus’ goal was a return to the essence of religion as a system for explaining why the world and human life are as they are and for navigating the most pleasant and presently rewarding course through them for the maximum number and variety of people, free from the social constraints that had to do with all that was not concerned with maximizing reasonable pleasure, rationally avoiding pain, and refraining from causing undue harm or distress to others.  

The Satanism-Epicureanism Connection

Like Epicureanism, Satanism as I formulate it provides a materialist and mechanistic explanation for the existence and nature of the physical world; places humanity squarely within the animal kingdom, thus inculcating an inherently antispeciesist and antidominionist perspective on the natural world; rejects externalized values and identities in favor of seeing value rather as inhering within individuals and interpersonal relationships at the individual, rather than group, level; and finally privileges the pursuit and attainment of immediate returns and fulfillment over longer-term, delayed returns. Life is physical, valuable to individuals, shared across species, and meant to be enjoyed in the here and now. This is my religion in a nutshell.  

The reason I’ve indulged this long disquisition about Epicureanism in order to get to this point is to have considered at length what it might mean to define religion not as the tying up of society and individuals within tight and confining bonds of mutual obligation as through communal ritual and enforced observance, but rather the untying of precisely those same fraught knots. Untying delayed-return religio in the pursuit of an immediate-return lifeway, to the extent that such is possible in this latter-day, post-Neolithic Revolution world, can most definitely itself constitute a religiosity. 

Religio and Reversives: Untying as more natural

Now I want to append to this discussion one linguistic note bolstering the claim I just made toward the end of the preceding section about Epicurean untying of religio as a kind of return to an original or Ur-state of religion and living. I feel compelled to add this little further dash of seasoning into the mix because of my background in linguistics and innate interest in all things having to do with words and word meanings. It’s also relevant to the charge that what I’m mounting here is some kind of “restorationist” movement. Don’t worry: this won’t take too long.

Because professional linguists—like scholars of all stripes, really—delight in proving the real strangeness of things we mere commoners take for granted as familiar, they subdivide the general category we all learn in grade school as opposites (or, if we’re really being fancy antonyms) into several subgroups depending on the behavior of specific types of opposites. One of these subdivisions is known as reverse pairs or reversives. Two words are reverses, reversives, or, more fully, reverse opposites if they refer to motion or change in opposite directions. Think of pairs like push/pull, come/go, fill/empty, and strengthen/weaken, among many, many others. 

Now, the really interesting thing about reversives is that they usually aren’t entirely bidirectional. That is, it is usually the case that one or the other of the reverses denotes some natural, default, or original state that seems to happen or obtain somehow all on its own, independent of effort, will, or energy expended to make it so. The other term in such reverse pairs, meanwhile, refers to a condition that does not usually result by nature, on its own and without significant effort, energy, and conscious will exerted upon it. As linguist David Alan Cruse explains in his seminal work on Lexical Semantics, one term in such pairs denotes “energy states which are more favored by the physical universe,” while the other denotes “states [that] are generally more favored by human beings, but require work to produce and maintain.”  

A syntactic and phonological clue as to which pairs of reversives fall into this sub-subcategory of so-called independent reversives involves the ability to use the adverb again without stress as the last word of a sentence containing them in order to indicate not the recurrence of an action, but rather the return to a former, natural, non-energetic state. This is the so-called restitutive reading of the word again. Consider these sentences:  

The engine started, then stopped again.

I filled it with water, but then it emptied again.

We screwed it in tight, but it gradually came unscrewed again.

Shortly after mounting the horse, I slipped from the saddle and was inadvertently dismounted again.

In each of these cases, the adverb again lays no claim on the second verbal action happening more than once. You can test that fact out by imagining the continuation which was surprising, as that had never happened before tacked onto the end of each sentence. Again merely indicates the return to a former, less energetic, less willful, and more uncontrolled state.

Well, not coincidently, one prominent pair of independent reversive verbs that functions in this way in human languages is…wait for it…tie/untie. Consider the sentence: Traditional religion had classical Greek society all tied up in tidy knots, but then Epicureanism came along, and everything came untied all over again. Conceptually and linguistically, the state of being untied is more basic, less energetic, and, though disfavored by delayed-return religion and societal power structures, in fact more favored by the physical universe. Q.E.D. 

Despite what you might be thinking, though, I would not characterize my Satanic religiosity as a restorationist one. I rely heavily for my basic thinking on the work of anthropologists and social psychologists who study and attempt to understand highly egalitarian hunter-gatherer societies because they view such groups as closer in nature and functioning to the type of social organization in which modern humans lived for roughly 90% of our common evolution. This is true. Yet, I am not arguing for a return to such a supposedly “evolutionary” state of affairs. 

Rather, I agree with Leonard L. Martin that humanity evolved for coping psychologically with a more immediate-return way of living and interacting with the world, but we find ourselves living inextricably according to a delayed-return pattern. The need for books like psychologist Angela Duckworth’s 2016 bestseller Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance stems precisely from the mental and practical difficulties we experience as a species evolved for immediate-return with coping effectively with, and even succeeding under, delayed-return conditions. Many of the techniques in that book involve breaking longer-term goals and projects down into smaller, shorter-term steps that provide more immediate feedback and give the aspirant a sense of fulfillment along the way. My wife tells me that, in her field of Project Management, so-called agile projects that take a large, long-term goal and break it down into an iterative series of brief modular projects that build toward the ultimate objective are the next big thing.

In our modern, ineluctably, and irreversibly delayed-return world, I posit that the psychological pressures and tendencies toward and away from immediate-return individual freedom and self determination, on the one hand, and consolidation of power and allegedly pro-social (read: conformist) cohesion and concert, on the other, are ever present and everywhere. Within this Ur-conflict, the Satanist naturally and consistently pulls toward a more immediate-return lifeway over and against a more delayed-return one. 

Yet different Satanists do this to differing degrees and in different ways. Some Satanists pull only slightly more toward immediate-return than to delayed-return, desiring their own freedom of belief and sexual expression, but having no real commitment to egalitarianism and in fact preferring a social arrangement of meritocratic elitism with those of their own ilk at the top of the pyramid. Other Satanists want more all-encompassing freedom within society: a fuller egalitarianism with minimal delayed-return power structures interfering with individual sovereignty of will and bodily autonomy. I would class myself as being of this latter sort. And of course others lie all along this spectrum, in the many, many interstitial spaces that lie within the great in-between. 

We’re all engaged in untying the knots of “polite” society, societal power, and traditional religion, but we differ on just how totally we “delight in disorder,” to quote seventeenth-century English poet Robert Herrick’s memorable phrase from an equally memorable poem: 

“A careless shoe-string, in whose tie
I see a wild civility:
Do more bewitch me, than when art
Is too precise in every part.”

Indeed! Satanism advances nothing so much as a vigorous argument for developing a wilder civility in the world. Just how wild—and how balanced by civility—are up to the individual. Hail Satan!     

10 thoughts on “Satanism, Epicureanism, and the Unbinding of Religio

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  6. Hi! Enjoyed this blog entry. You discuss many points here and I’ll try to address them.

    Norman DeWitt, in his book “St Paul and Epicurus”, cites multiple literary instances that seem to demonstrate that 1. Paul had studied under the Epicureans before his “conversion”, and that 2. many of his writings (and even his epistolary model of teaching, and some of the models of creating community of the early Christians) were initially appropriated or borrowed from the Epicureans. Not only did Epicurus write epistles to Herodotus, Pythocles, and Menoeceus, but we also have one to Idomeneus, one from Metrodorus to his brother Timocrates, and many other epistles that were used among the first Epicureans to be read publicly and to teach philosophy.

    Concerning that “religious observance was pointless”, this is not based on the sources although Epicurean theology does relegate the gods to the realm of speculation about extraterrestrial super-evolved life forms. If you read Philodemus’ scroll on Piety, you will find that Epicurus and the other founders of the school DID practice piety, and had a naturalist theory of piety. Although the gods don’t need anyone’s praise and are self-sufficienty and blissful, they believed that people do get benefits from CORRECT (not fear-based) forms of piety. Modern research on the benefits of chanting (which lowers blood pressure and heart rate, and has other observed benefits) seem to demonstrate this.

    Epicurus said: “The goal of true spiritual practice is unalloyed, effortless pleasure.” By pure, he meant unalloyed, which in Epicurean terms refers to hedonic calculus which seeks to add and substract the advantages vs. disadvantages of our choices and avoidances. In this balance, true religion would produce ZERO disadvantages. ( )

    There are a few intersections between Epicureanism and Satanism: the most obvious one is that both E and S produce a “counter-history” narrative:

    The second one is they are both anarchic in a way, choosing nature over culture. One may read an **anarchic** interpretation into Epicurus’ choice of a private “Garden” for his School versus a public forum. (If you google “John Thrasher Epicurean contractarianism” you will find an essay that links libertarian politics to Epicurean social ethics).
    Epicurus was NOT a philosopher of the polis / of the state and was indifferent to state narratives, honoring instead individuals and their small communities and identity narratives. ( )

    The other one (cult of pleasure versus cult of misery) is linked to a curious repercussion of the “demonization of Epicurus” problem that the Christians created. While the Epicurean founders were adamant that we respect the original, true meaning of words and that we define them according to nature as a matter of intellectual honesty, the Christians destroyed the original meaning of daimon (simply, spirit).

    The ancients set pleasure as the goal (hedone), and also spoke of happiness. The term translated as happiness is “eudaimonia”. Some have claimed that this means “flourishing”, but that’s not the case. eu = good, daimon = spirit; so literally eudaimonia means “good spirit”, as in “having a good / healthy spirit”, or “being in good spirits” (good humor, good states of mind).

    A side effect of this is that happiness (eudaimonia, in Greek) became evil! We have all seen that when we enter a Catholic church, the Christ is a bleeding corpse, the Virgin is sobbing, and all the saints are in agony. Catholicism degenerated into a cult of suffering, and it is taught there that to be good, you have to suffer, “to bear your cross”, that only from pain do we learn to “be good”, that only pain produces virtue. THIS sadistic philosophy is one of the worst disasters of the religion of the cross.

    The Epicureans, on the other hand, set a rule in the Garden that said that the gods had to have a smile on their faces.

    One final similarity is that (Laveyan) Satanism calls for self-deification (although no clear praxis is offered as far as I know). E did mention that those who follow his teachings “live like gods surrounded by immortal blessings” as closing remarks in his Epistle to Menoeceus, so that E provides a concrete practice of living like gods (unperturbed, abiding in constant pleasure).

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  7. I’m writing a separate response, because it deserves separate attention, to point the finger at the book “L’inhumanité de la religion” (On the inhumanity of religion). I don’t know if this relates to your “Ur conflict”, but the main thesis of the book is that when hunter gatherers were amassed in the “farming enclosure” that became ancient cities, the division of labor was instituted and this changed religion from a shamanistic / anarchic tradition to an organized, urban tradition. In the book, the author argues that religion was originally about PLAY, but when humans urbanized, the priesthoods introduced “holy terror” into religion, destroying the original innocence of the play, and in this way they appropriated religion in order to institute forced labor–which was necessary for farming and other urban projects. The thesis is pretty solid and beautifully presented. The idea is that religion, by “binding us” to labor, became dehumanizing.

    The author concludes the book as a beautiful atheistic jeremiad, but other people might instead seek to return to the original function of religion as play and seek to rediscover that, to re-humanize religion. In Principal Doctrine 20, Epicurus said “we should not force nature, but gently persuade her”, and this greatly informs Epicurean ethics. If we believe that religion is a natural drive, rather than repress it, we should “gently persuade it” and channel it in the most wholesome manner, and this would be consistent with the generally accepted view that Epicurus was a moral and spiritual reformer.

    I will have to read some of your other blog entries to understand how you use the concept of knots / tying as it relates to religion, but preliminarily this reminds me of rapper Matisyahu and how he used this metaphor in his choice to leave orthodox Hassidic Judaism and live a more secular lifestyle. He referred to the legend of Abraham “tying up” his son Isaac to sacrifice him, and how he “untied him” when he repented and decided not to commit the religious atrocity.

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    • Yes, I don’t rely on Vaneigem’s work directly, but you’ll find throughout my essays a similar principal thesis derived from the work of anthropologists like James Woodburn and social psychologists Leonard Martin and Peter Gray. I need to take a more direct look at Vaneigem.


  8. Pingback: What’s Ailing Modern Satanism? – The Devil's Fane

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