In my first post on LaVeyan Satanism, I looked generally at the moral and metaphysical views of Anton LaVey as expressed in The Satanic Bible, and what the Christian attitude should be toward LaVeyan Satanists and other occultists. In this post, I’d like to hone in on two aspects of modern LaVeyan Satanism: egotheism and nihilism. Egotheism, as the phrase suggests, is to regard the self as god. These two views are nicely summarized on the Church of Satan website under “Fundamental Beliefs”:
We see the universe as being indifferent to us, and so all morals and values are subjective human constructions. Our position is to be self-centered, with ourselves being the most important person (the “God”) of our subjective universe, so we are sometimes said to worship ourselves. Our current High Priest Gilmore calls this the step moving from being an atheist to being an “I-Theist.”
Egotheism definitely brings to mind Satan’s temptation of Eve. After Eve assures the serpent that God has warned that she and Adam would die if they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the serpent responds:
But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”Genesis 3:4-5
LaVeyan Satanism adopts as explicit policy an evil that is mostly implicit in a lot of human sin. Worshiping the self is not something that many people will claim to do, but it is something that many people do anyway by regarding their own interests and desires as their highest priority. The idea of egotheism takes advantage of the vagueness of the term “god” and the difficulty in defining it. Often , a “god” is defined as a being who is worthy of worship. But this definition leads to the additional difficulty of determining what is “worship”. In Christianity, “worship” probably means something like unqualified and utter submission and complete and unquestionable respect. I think anything less than that cannot really be called worship, because otherwise, it can simply be called devotion or admiration or commitment. You are devoted and committed to your spouse and you often believe them to be wonderful, but that does not mean you “worship” them. Your devotion and commitment to your spouse is qualified. Everybody has at least a qualified commitment to their own interests and usually we regard people who have an unqualified commitment to their own interests as selfish. Having an unqualified commitment to our own interests (i.e. worshiping ourselves) is not really something that we have to be taught. We naturally tend in that direction. Arguably, anything less than a perfect being cannot be rationally worshiped. It is only a perfect being that can command and that deserves utter submission and complete respect, because a being that is perfect should always be obeyed. Such a being should always be obeyed, because they are always right in what they command, and every part of their being is right and deserves admiration. An imperfect being can only command and only deserves a qualified submission and imperfect respect, because not all of their wishes are perfect and not all of their being is perfect and deserves admiration. But a qualified devotion is not worship, because we have qualified commitments like this to many people and endeavors, and everybody has at least a qualified commitment to their own interests. Therefore, the worship of the self is irrational, very irrational, because the self is very imperfect, morally, physically and in many other respects. The human self only deserves a very qualified allegiance.
Pride is Irrational
Pride and boasting is irrational. Anything you may feel prideful about and that you may boast about was given to you by God, or, if you don’t believe in God, by the genetic lottery of nature. You are beautiful because of your genes. Sure you may eat well and keep yourself in shape to take maximum advantage of it, but your physical beauty mostly has nothing to do with how great you are. It is a gift or a matter of pure chance. Being boastful about it or taking pride in it is irrational. The same applies to being intelligent and many other talents we have. Whether you are intelligent is dependent on genetics and environment, and whether you were malnourished or well-fed as a child. There is usually a huge component of whatever strength we have that we cannot claim responsibility for. Even with a trait like conscientiousness, being hard-working, there is a component of it that we cannot claim credit for. We learnt if from our culture, from our parents or from our teachers who drilled it into us. This is not to say that someone cannot be appropriately blamed for laziness, whatever their upbringing, because the expectation of working a particular way was probably communicated to them ( even if it was never drilled into them). We, unlike God, are radically contingent. Any idea of self-sufficiency and independence that we have is at least partly an illusion. Beings that are as contingent as we are are not worthy of worship.
Further, it doesn’t make sense to worship the self or to find your identity in the things about yourself that you admire, because you are always changing, and there is a good possibility that you will lose the things about yourself that you admire as you age. Physical beauty will definitely go away. Intelligence fades to some degree or another, more in some than in others, especially if you develop a neurological disease. Apart from this, the contingency of the human self means we are exposed to all sorts of dangers that constantly threaten to take away the good things in our lives and we cannot protect ourselves or anticipate all of them. Wealth is precarious. Personality changes. Relationships are temporary. Even the most successful relationships will end at some point, whether through death or other misfortune. This means that it is irrationality to stake your existential or spiritual purpose on yourself, because you are not merely very imperfect but you are constantly changing. You will lose a lot of the good things in your life through the decay and indignities of old age.
If someone believes there is no objective purpose or morality, it may be difficult to make a case for moral realism, because it may seem that the only appeals available to a moral realist is moral intuition or divine revelation. However, we can point out the inconsistency within LaVeyan Satanism as a result of its nihilism. LaVey’s philosophy as well as modern LaVeyan Satanism is full of value judgments: that rationality is good, that stupidity is bad, that strength and high regard for the self is good, that human desires are good and should be indulged, that “psychic vampires” are bad, that vengeance is good and mercy is bad. If nihilism is true, then all of these ideas are automatically false. Vengeance then has no moral basis whatsoever if there is no objective morality and it is then just the satisfaction of a desire. Take a look at the “Nine Satanic Statements” for an example of some central value judgments in LaVeyan Satanism. Interestingly, nihilism undermines rationality, because if there is no objective value, there is no basis to say that rationality is better than irrationality or that truth is better than untruth. In other words, one cannot tell people that they should be rational, if nihilism is true. One cannot tell people that they should believe the truth, if nihilism is true. There could also be no objective aesthetic standards if nihilism is true.
One can also point out the negative social consequences of adopting nihilism as a philosophy. This will not necessarily manifest to any obvious extent when the idea is only believed by a small number of people. But what if most people believed it? You may respond that LaVeyan Satanism is not for everyone and that the Church of Satan even refuses membership to some people. However, as I pointed out in my previous post, these ideas are either true or they are not. They cannot be true for some people and false for others, because nihilism is a claim about the way the world is, not a claim about subjective experience. It is clear that if nihilism were to be truly adopted on a large scale, the social consequences would be disastrous and the only law would be power. Whoever hits hardest is the one who would make the rules and that person would have no reason to have regard for anyone but himself.