By Vexen Crabtree 2002
About the laws, sins and rules of Satanism and how to approach the subject of legalism in Satanism: Given the individualism of Satanism, how bound are Satanists to follow 'rules'?
The main point of Satanism is that we do what is best for ourselves. The laws are secondary to that. A Satanist who breaks the laws of Satanism is either short sighted, stupid, or has a good reason. The rules are also for the protection of Satanism, so that outsiders (who easily pick up "rules") can quickly get an overview of the type of philosophy they are dealing with.
“The Satanist [...] should have the ability to decide what is just.”
Satanism is individualistic, not legalistic, especially when it comes to morals and rules, which is a feature of left-hand-path religion in general. Outsiders to Satanism sometimes approach the rules and laws too legalistically: they assume that like religions they are familiar with that there is a taboo involved in breaking the laws of Satanism. There is no taboo. It is not compulsory for Satanists to follow "rules". It is not expected. Satanists never engage in debates over whether someone has broken these. A Satanist who absconded another and said "hey, aren't you forgetting this particular Satanic Rule of the Earth..." would be laughed at and generally considered a legalistic sheep. Unless of course that the Satanist in question cannot defend himself, in which case, he's fair game. A left-hand-path religion is where the individual mostly learns for hirself what is right or wrong. According to one's personal beliefs "right" and "wrong" can differ greatly. There are very few absolutes or universals in Satanism.
“Some newcomers to our philosophy do not grasp its axioms and tear at Satanism as if it were some kind of straitjacket. Others hope to wield it as an "anything goes" card rather than the key to accountable liberty that it is. They observe our list of "sins" and "rules" and don't grasp that such terms are used with tongue firmly planted in cheek. [...] These lists are guidelines and tools based on keen observation of human social behaviour, not arbitrary regulations or "shalt nots" handed down from on high or belched forth from below.”
The Satanic leadership directs through example first, and dominance only second. A person, full of ego, who stands up amongst Satanists and starts dishing out commands will soon find their lives to be a hailstorm of conflict and anxiety. Blanche Barton, High Priestess of the Church of Satan from 1997 until 2002, herself states that the "how dare you question my judgement!" mentality would be "not very Satanic". She continues: "We aren't too keen on taking things 'on faith' and, while we all enjoy wicked posturing once in awhile, members of the Church of Satan deserve more than that"3. Indeed it would be ironic for the leadership to demand allegiance without explanation, when a cornerstone of Satanic philosophy is to ask questions and to challenge!
Despite what some religious folk claim, especially Christians and Muslims, it simply isn't possible to have a "Book of Truth" that can be read objectively, with a share meaning agreed upon by everyone, especially when it comes to moral instruction and ethics. It is impossible to derive "absolute morals" from holy books like The Bible and The Qur'an. Unfortunately, because many religionists think that correct interpretation is of extreme importance, then, all these different possible conclusions lead to schism and the formation of competing denominations, often violently opposed to others who haven't come to the same conclusions.
Language: When we read, our brains interpret the words according to our understanding of language. Prof. Loughlin warns about this when it comes to lawmaking. He says "language has an open-textured quality", "there is an inherent vagueness in the ordinary use of language [...] and, because of this, rules - even if we accept that they have a core of settled meaning - are often surrounded by a penumbra of uncertainty [... and] often acquire meaning within particular contexts"4.
Subjectivism: Our own wild experiences in life, our own flawed understandings, both conspire continually to colour everything we see in the world. In epistemology, this basic fact is called subjectivism and the subjective nature of our perception of reality is one of the oldest topics in human philosophy, going back thousands of years5.
“Subjectivism is a problem of epistemology (theory of knowledge). The word describes the fact that we can only understand the world through our own senses and our own rational deliberations, in conjunction with our own limited experience in life. Our brains are imperfect organic machines, not a mystical repository of truth. Our senses are imperfect, our point of view limited, and the reality we experience is never the total picture. Our divergent contexts result in each of us interpreting, understanding and perceiving the world differently to one another even when looking at the same stimulus. Human thought is infused with systematic thinking errors. Our knowledge of absolute reality is hampered by our limited insights and imperfect brains, and we can never truly escape from the shackles of our own minds. Our total take on reality is a mix of guesses and patchwork. These problems have been debated by the most ancient philosophers, thousands of years ago, and no practical answers have yet been forthcoming.5.”
Personal Bias: When people approach a religious text or any large book from which they intend to derive ethical teachings, nearly without exception the person will pick up the book and pay very particular attention to all the morals they already agree with. The philosopher George Smith says that "Christian theologians have a strong tendency to read their own moral convictions into the ethics of Jesus. Jesus is made to say what theologians think he should have said"6. A homophobe will pick up the Christian Bible and realise that homosexuality is an evil sin. A misogynist will pick up the Bible or Qur'an and realise that after all this time he's right: Women are inferior, and he can quote the Bible or Qur'an to prove it. A fluffy liberal will read it and find all the hippy love-thy-neighbour bits and therefore will be able to prove that all those homophobes and misogynists have it wrong. In arguing against extremism, Neil J. Kressel points out that "everyone picks and chooses, at least a little. Everyone interprets"7.
Complexity and Contradictions: Long texts that dance with moral issues suffer from the problem that some morals in one place step on the toes of other morals in other parts. The debates over which verses have precedence over others is a major symptom of this issue. In addition because of the volume of text and its frequent obscurity and complexity, there is plenty of scope for the imagination, and for personal bias, to find a way to interpret lines in a way that beat to the drum of the reader. Because of the kaleidoscope of different plotlines and levels of possible interpretation, one's subconscious and imagination is given accidental freedom to invent all kinds of morals.
Most Holy Books' Texts is Not About Morals: Most stories in holy books are about personalities - tales about what people are said to have done what. Most of them also involve war and cultural struggles between different peoples, and are often written from within one particular geographical area. It is possible to read these stories and take out of them a wide range of morals, and therefore, to think that these indirect lessons have divine mandate. The same occurs with all long texts. Take Tolkien's Lord of the Rings - it is very much like the Bible (in style), and it is clear to see that you could spend your entire life analyzing it for morals. Many people who undertook such a task would come to different conclusions, just as with Holy Books. The simple fact remains that the parts of the text that say "Here follows a moral rule, to be obeyed by all people for all time" are very infrequent indeed. The Qur'an is much more frank than the Bible, but is still mostly about the retelling of events.
See if you can work out if the following questions are being raised with regards to The Lord of the Rings, The Bible, or the Qur'an:
The people in the book all have their own aims, which are relevant to the topic of the book and the life circumstances of that person. Most people's actions are simply not centered around any wish to provide universal instruction on behaviour - it's all about their problems at that time.
Using characters from within this book we would find many seemingly contradictory morals. For example, for the side of Good, there is much killing to be done, yet part of the morals is that the bad guys kill people.
People interpret the "real meanings" behind various stories in hugely varying ways, and volumes of books have been written on such interpretations based on political and moral undertones.
The answer is that this describes all large books written by Humans. Attempts to read them as places for moral instruction is itself the problem, and the cause of schism, violent disagreements and fundamentalism.
Cultural Context: As time passes, the original cultural assumptions and cultural understanding of phrases and words will all change, making it impossible for many things to be understood by future audiences in the same way that the original authors meant them. The longer ago something was written, the less the context is clear to us today, and this opens the way for much culturally subjective opinion. "Love thy neighbour as thyself" has meant various things at various times: A land of barbarians may feel quite free to brutalize others just as they brutalize themselves8, whereas band of 1970s hippies spread love in a much more physical way. Over time, morals are simply read into texts differently, hence why religious prohibitions change over time too. We read text literally, chronologically and philosophically, but both The Koran and much of The Bible was written in prose, in poetry, using many symbolic aspects and word games. Shifts in time and place mean that there are unknown cultural references that we cannot possibly understand now, even if text that we think we are reading correctly.
Translations: All of the above problems come together when translations of holy texts are made. One thing that fundamentalists do get right is their determined and enviable attempts to read scripture in its original language (which is easier for Muslim Arabs who still speak the same language the Koran was written in). But we have very few of the original texts of our major religions. We rely on copies-of-copies-of-copies, which at some point, have often been translated - quotations changed from Aramaic to Greek, entire texts from Latin to English, based on Greek translations. We know that even from very early on numerous mistranslations have been introduced9, such as the mistaken usage of the word "virgin" to describe the prophecy of Jesus' birth since the major Septuagint translation.
It is surprising that anyone thinks a god would attempt to communicate with us in any particular language, let alone ancient ones. If I was god, I would transmit my message directly into everyone's brain. That way problems with translation and subjectivism would be removed and people could make informed decisions and moral choices based on the full facts, rather than miscommunicated ideals. This would end all translation and transmission problems too.
Clearly, no gods have imparted such a universal moral message into the minds of mankind. If there is a supreme and omniscient creator god then it is responsible for creating the way that our brains work. Such a being knows that we can only interpret life subjectively, and that no text will mean the same thing for any two people. Therefore by design, any sacred text must only be designed by God for the specific culture into which the text arose.
Satanism is no different, just a lot more honest. A hateful person will pick up The Satanic Bible and use it to justify hatred. A compassionate person will use it to understand Human Compassion and increase it within themselves. Sexually minded people will absorb the wealth of sexual text in The Satanic Bible. And all will tend to ignore, overlook, and forget, parts that they're not interested in. Good! So they should!
So I am under no delusion. As I work through the ethics I find in Satanism I know full well that I am merely picking out things that I agree with and interpreting text in a way I like. Sometimes consciously so. It is impossible to read ethics derived from large texts in any other way, it is inescapable Human nature. That's not to say I don't try. In places I disagree or ignore LaVey's text, and I will say so where I feel this is true. I am trying to present working ethics, and sometimes that does involve a little imagination with the text. It would be the Satanic sin of solipsism to assume that other people have the same mental states as I do, therefore, all readers will read different readings from the text, and that is exactly how it is meant to be. Individuality trumps!
As the word "sin" in the West is associated primarily with the white light monotheistic religions, guilt and self denial (of animal instincts) then from this point of view Satan can be said to represent the sins of Christianity. However this picture would be incomplete if we didn't note that some of the no-no's of Satanism match with some of those of Christianity. The most notable point of agreement is Anton LaVey's statement that "Counterproductive Pride" is a Sin10. Christianity claims that all forms of pride are sin, so it would seem that there is at least one type of pride that Satanism and Christianity both consider bad. Anton LaVey's playful and provocative attitude towards Christianity leads us to statements such as "Satan represents all of the so-called sins"11. But it has deeper meaning: Satan doesn't represent mankind as a pure, idealistic or particularly moral species, and therefore Satan represents all of our negative traits as well as our positive ones. Satan, in representing mankind, representing not only all of our virtues, but all of our failings too.
Satanism's concept of sin can be said to derive from self-preservation and the laws of retribution, mixed with the obvious influence within Satanism of Odinism from the Northern Tribes. Anton LaVey, the secular world, Buddhists, the Romans, Zoroastrians and the Northern tribes would have use the word in a way that defines a sin as being something that is bad for the self. The failure of the individual to see the consequences of their own actions is stupidity, the Cardinal Sin of Satanism. The result of this stupidity is self-harming. Repentance, literally meaning "changing your mind" is sought only from the self in the form of learning from your mistakes. Stupidity is the cause of all mistakes and this includes failing to learn from your own mistakes.”
I won't claim to be able to make sense of all the 9 Sins and 9 Statements as given by LaVey. Some of these, and other statements on ethics, are:
An important aspect of Satanism is an adaptation of the Golden Rule also known as the Wiccan Rede, "If it harms no undeserving person, do what you will."
Current edition: 2002 Jul 24
Last Modified: 2010 Sep 29
Originally published 2000
Parent page: The Description, Philosophies and Justification of Satanism
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(1995) Buddhism. Paperback book. Part of the TeachYourself Books series.
Gilmore, Peter. High Priest of the Church of Satan (as of 2001+).
(2007) The Satanic Scriptures. Hardback book. Published by Scapegoat Publishing, USA. Compendium of texts. Many essays are new editions of older texts by Gilmore.
LaVey, Anton. (1930-1997) Founder of the Church of Satan.
(1969) The Satanic Bible. Paperback book. Published by Avon Books Inc, New York, USA. Anton LaVey founded the Church of Satan in 1966..
(1992) The Devil's Notebook. Paperback book. Published by Feral House, CA, USA.
(2000) Sword and Scales: An Examination of the Relationship Between Law and Politics. Paperback book. Published by Hart Publishing Ltd, Oxford, UK. Prof. Loughlin is Professor of Law at the University of Manchester, UK, and Professor of Public Law-elect at the London School of Economics & Political Science, UK.