[This article first appeared as a guest article in the Patheos blog “For Infernal Use Only” on 29 August 2019]
A Satanist whose hobby or fetish is Satanism per se, is no more of a Satanist than one who, realizing the indulgence advocated by Satanism, accepts the Name. The difference between the man or woman who’s a practicing Satanist, from an identity Satanist is that the practicing Satanist looks at the picture, while the identity Satanist studies the frame.Anton LaVey, “The World’s Most Powerful Religion”
I admit it: I think vengeance is stupid.
People are emotional and reactive animals, and when we have been wronged we want to strike back. When we have been hurt, we want to cause hurt, and our instincts have not wired us to judge whether our acts of retribution are in proportion to the harm done to us, or even whether they will backfire and hurt us in the end. An act of vengeance might stop a person from doing harm in the future. It might teach someone a lesson. But you are kidding yourself if you think that the motivation behind vengeance is to make sure people “learn from their misdeeds.” The fire that burns inside you for vengeance is a punisher, not a teacher.
I want to start with that admission, because one of LaVey’s Nine Satanic Statements is: “Satan represents vengeance instead of turning the other cheek!” As a result, there are people who might say that I cannot be a true Satanist, on the grounds that I think vengeance is stupid.
But when I reflect on the values and driving motives of Satan, as I understand that mythological and literary character, I simply don’t see vengeance as a driving force. He fought against Yahweh for freedom, not vengeance. He tempted Eve in the garden of Eden out of a desire see humanity freed from the prison of ignorance, not out of some kind of clap-back against God.
ASIDE: I will note here that there are people who actually interpret Satan’s actions against humanity as being driven by a desire for vengeance against Yaweh; but even when viewing the story from within its own fictional reality, my reply is: “Well, duh… of course an immature and pouting god like Yaweh would take it personally! Of course, when Satan tries to help out human beings, Yaweh clutches his pearls and says Why are you trying to hurt me? That is exactly on-point for God’s personality.”
LaVey included vengeance as one of the Nine Satanic Statements as a direct inversion of the Christian edict to “turn the other cheek.” I understand the logic behind that, I really do. And I also understand that many people are harmed by that element of Christian moral philosophy: they pour emotional energy into the providing care and attention to people who are not helped by it, and who will never reciprocate it.
But is it any better to pour your energy into hurting them? When you spend your valuable time and energy exacting vengeance on someone, they are controlling you. As a Satanist, I will not give such a person that power over me. I will not forgive, give them “another chance”, or waste my valuable care and kindness on them; however, I will not waste my time and energy punishing them either. Ultimately, by inverting the Christian idea of “turn the other cheek” as “get revenge!” you are still letting bad people control you. You are still pouring your energy into a person who does not deserve your energy.
And for what? In the end, most people like that are too stupid to realize they are being punished. They will see your acts of vengeance and, rather than learning a “lesson” about their own behavior, they will just decide that you are a mean person. And they will carry on as they always have with their dysfunctional lives.
So must I embrace vengeance to be a Satanist?
The Nine Satanic Statements appear in the opening section of The Satanic Bible by Anton LaVey, and are often understood to be core beliefs of Satanists who identify closely with the Church of Satan. More recently, The Satanic Temple has offered the Seven Fundamental Tenets as an expression of the core moral axioms of their interpretation of Satanism.
Two different lists, from two interpretations of Satanism. Some people make much ado over the fact that there are items that can be paired, one from each list, that appear to contradict each other. The fifth Statement (“Satan represents vengeance instead of turning the other cheek!”) and the first Tenet (“One should strive to act with compassion and empathy towards all creatures in accordance with reason.”) is an example of such a pair.
Can both be authentic expressions of Satanism?
LaVey built a detailed and fully-articulated religious philosophy around the inspiration he drew from the literary and mythological character Satan, and codified it into what he called “Satanism.” Moreover, he loved lists. He loved them! He made multiple lists for Satanism. He even made a list for Catism.
The Five Commandments of Catism (according to LaVey) are:
- DON’T RUN, IF YOU CAN WALK.
- DON’T WALK, IF YOU CAN STAND.
- DON’T STAND, IF YOU CAN SIT.
- DON’T SIT, IF YOU CAN LIE DOWN, AND
- DON’T STAY AWAKE, IF YOU CAN TAKE A NAP.
Now let’s pause and think for a moment. Suppose someone had approached LaVey to say this:
My dear Sir, I feel a passionate connection with cats and their life’s modus operandi. I am obsessed with living and breathing a life of Catism, and for me the Three Commandments of Catism are:
- Demand all the attention… until you don’t want it anymore.
- Change your mind as you will: you need no justification.
- If you fits, you sits.
How would LaVey have responded? One cannot know for sure, I suppose; but I have a difficult time picturing LaVey saying: “No, I have codified exactly what Catism is with my list of Five Commandments, and if you want to follow your ridiculous three supposedly-catish commandments, you will just have to call it something else!”
LaVey knew he didn’t invent cats.
Living life as a Satanist means living a life that is guided and inspired by the life and deeds of the fictional archetype known in our culture as Satan. People who fixate on the Nine Statements as the only expression of Satanism are not living their lives as Satanists. They are not practicing Satanism: they are fetishizing Satanism qua Satanism. They have lost track of the picture in their obsession with LaVey’s frame.