Saturday, 31 October 2009

The problem of Evil: Lessons from Satanists

(Picture above stolen from this site, intended as free advertising).

Halloween is the day to ponder the problem of evil. And those who worship it.

A quick Facebook chat with the Norwegian translator of Anton La Vey’s Satanic Bible started Lord Bassington-Bassington thinking about Satanists. And by Satanists he means real Satanists, of the type one finds around the Church of Satan, not the reverse-Christians who tried to burn down substantial parts of Norway’s cultural treasures back in the 1990s.

The founder of modern Satanism and The Church of Satan, Anton La Vey, was one of the most interesting religious thinkers of the past century, and people who are sufficiently inspired by his teachings to call themselves Satanists are often misunderstood. Which is hardly surprising; naming a philosophy after a symbol of evil and then expecting to seen as a reasonable person would be like developing a system of teaching called Pederasty and then being surprised when local schools try to bar you from their premises.

As a result, His Lordship has always been a bit bemused (and a bit confused) by Satanists. They claim to be evil, but surprisingly often turn out to be the nicest people you’ll ever meet. They claim to be motivated by selfishness, but are often highly idealistic, whether they’re involved in animal rights work or various (usually quite unprofitable) cultural and artistic endeavours.

The question is this: Does this, pretending to be evil, greedy and selfish, while being nice, generous and idealistic, represent a form of Satanic hypocrisy? And if it is a form of hypocrisy, is it better, or worse, than when Christians pretend to work for good but turn out to be child-molesters?

Philosophers, please come to the rescue!

But whether one accepts that Satanists are evil in any real sense of the word, let's take some lessons in evil from them. So i honor of Halloween, the Chronicles are pleased to reprint this instructive course by Danish Satanists Ole Wolf and Amina Lap, with kind permission from Mr. Wolf and Mrs. Lap.

(click on the picture for bigger resolution. And if you can read Danish, it’s even funnier in the original language.)

Happy Halloween!


  1. "Pompa diaboli" are valid tools for identity-building in a pluralistic society. In Freudian psychology, Satan is the symbol for repressed anal eroticism.

  2. I've always suspected that people who quote Freud to justify talking about bodily functions are very repressed.

  3. Sometimes a Freud quote is just a Freud quote. But as we say in Finland, people who hold their farts have something to hide.

  4. We canines are far less shy about such matters, I'm afraid.

  5. Before we proceed with the philosophical discourse;
    how do we define "evil", "Selfish" and "greedy"?

  6. Evil is hard to define, and as I'm not a Christian I tend to not think of it as a very relevant term to use. However, it occurs to me that Satanists enjoy surrounding themselves with symbols of what's usually considered evil in today's society: Serial killers, dictators, devils. So it seems as if Satanists tend to accept the current good/evil dicotomy, and turn it on its head. But again, it seems to be done with a twinkle in the eye, and the reality rarely matches the image. I've met Satanists who love Fascist symbols but tend more towards the libertarian, for example. And the serial-killer loving Satanist is usually a very law-abiding creature.

  7. Maybe evil is like pornography: I don't know what it is, but I know it when I see it?

  8. It's not about "being" evil, but recognizing one's capability of doing what others might define as "evil".

    The way I see it, the much talked about "evil" and selfishness in Satanic terms is merely an opposition to the belief that the human being is capable of doing anything without maintaining its own self-interest. (given that you are not under the influence of any kind of stimuli)

    Please note that I use an almost all inclusive meaning of "self-interest". I would hereby like to quote "Pål Magne Ånestad's Dictionary of Contemporary Hip and Cool Language":

    "'lack of self-interest': if an action is to be without any self-interest, it has to be without any possibility of reward or absence of punishment (physically, spiritually or mentally) for you or anyone you care about.

    At the same time you, as the one taking action, have to recognise that your action, or absense of so, is not acceptable neither to your own moral or ethical standards, as well as the same standards of a society with which you relate to or a society that has jurisdiction over you.

    If one or more of these requirements are not met, then you have acted in accordance with your own 'self-interest'. You are thus a selfish bastard. You will most likely be lynched for being so fucking evil by only caring for your own 'self-interest'."

    Hence the term "evil".

    Satanism's idea of "selfishness" is not radical or controversial in the way it's being practiced. It's the mindset behind the practice that is different from most others.

    Happy Halloween, old Hound!

  9. "Satanism's idea of "selfishness" is not radical or controversial in the way it's being practiced. It's the mindset behind the practice that is different from most others."

    I agree. Satanism seems like a different way of justifying a sort of morality. Just like Humanists and Muslims, for example, share a lot of the same morals, but justify it in different ways.

    Happy Halloween to you, too! And thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  10. Most Satanists do tend to work within the Zeitgeist of the time, and act as a counter-current to today's standards, hence, in the eighties and now, you'll tend to find more Fascist/Nazi Æsthetics, due to the free-for-all-love-everyone crap being hailed at the moment.

  11. So if a neo-Fascist regime comes into power, Satanists will have to wear tie-dye clothes, scraggly beards and smoke pot...?

    Seriously, one of LaVey's most interesting principles was to embrace various forms of extremism (if only on the aesthetic level) to protect against sinking into bland mediocrity. I suspect that's what you're talking about?

  12. Basington: as an example of "embracing extremism", consider "Satanisk Forums" logo in Denmark. You probably know that I'm on the far left, and what I think of nazis. Nonetheless, I specifically chose red, white, and black for the logo, because various fascist movements have amply demonstrated that they're "evocative". (Well, those movements, and the porn industry. But I digress...)

    As Pål suggestes, we don't pursue evil or think of ourselves as evil. We rather acknowledge that individual freedom, opposition to ill-defined authorities, the embrace of our carnal nature, etc. is generally though to be the Devil's work--in any religion. In that sense, we're bound to be thought of as "Satanists", even if we never identified ourselves as such; others do nonetheless.

  13. It's great that my (somewhat tongue in cheek questions) have garnered such well reasoned responses.

    I’m sorry I haven’t had the time to come with a proper response the last few days, as I have been away and have been insanely busy.

    In the meantime, I’ll post this little gem from PJ O’Rourke.

    “The weirder you're going to behave, the more normal you should look. It works in reverse, too. When I see a kid with three or four rings in his nose, I know there is absolutely nothing extraordinary about that person.”

  14. Seriously, though, of course I know that Satanists don't think of themselves as "evil", as such concepts are pretty pointless as long as one doesn't accept a religious worldview. Good and evil are pretty relative, something that might be an evil to many people (gay marriage) is for me something good.

    Of course, I do understand the joy of these symbols, and I've noticed that Satanists are often superb people. There is a lot in what Jack Malebranche once said when he defined Satanism as "like Atheism, only more fun."

    Personally, I prefer to not play up to people's fears unnecessarily. But to each his own!

  15. I've been meaning to respond to this since I saw it posted. There are a number of issues and I think it ties in to the discussion about semantics and how "common usage" of words adopted by religious/philosophical worldviews will vary greatly from those who have adopted the words.
    This is often compounded by the fact that most religions/philosophies do not have a single central body defining the terms that are then accepted by all those who self-apply or else claim to represent whatever the term is.
    As example: Ida and I had dinner with a group of Humanists that are decently organized but not affiliated with a larger group. I mentioned the "minimal definition of Humanism" that you pointed to and they seemed as surprised as I was that it explicitly denied the supernatural.
    Certainly one or two people have considered the "problem of evil", and even though the Church of Satan is the gold (brimstone?) standard of Satanism in the US at least, after 40+ years of advocating in the major media and counter-cultural media, most people still think Satanists are cat killers.
    As you know, "Satanism" is used because it is a socially potent and relevant word, in the context of the Christian tradition of the West - though the general ignorance problem prevails.
    Most Christians do not see the world as a "vale of tears", though their theological betters (?) have, quite prominently. The Calvinists are an obvious and easy one here.
    The author of the First Epistle of John wrote "The entire world is under the power of the Evil One."
    It is in this view one who rejects the supernatural and takes on a naturalistic worldview can embrace the name of Satan and the cause of Evil.