Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I’ve spent most of the last year discussing the place of religion in the troubled future ahead of us. This holiday season, in which millions of Americans have just engaged in an all-out orgy of conspicuous consumption and mindless waste to celebrate the birth of a poor carpenter’s son in a stable in Bethlehem, also has me thinking about religious matters, and it occurs to me that there’s an issue along these lines that my blog posts haven’t yet explored. It may not have much to do with the future of the modern industrial world, but it may just explain a thing or two about the present and the recent past here in the United States.
I’m sorry to say that the issue I have in mind has a distinct partisan dimension, which marks a break from my usual policy in this blog. One of the more common criticisms I field from irate readers, in fact, is the insistence that I treat politicians of both major US parties as though they’re interchangeable. It’s a valid criticism, since I do indeed do this, and the only justification I can offer is that, by and large, that’s the way they behave. For exhibit A, it’s hard to beat the current inmate of the White House, who won the presidency just over five years ago in a flurry of sound bites about “hope” and “change,” and then turned around and gave us a truly inspired imitation of the third and fourth terms of George W. Bush, complete with all the drone strikes and violations of civil liberties that his chorus of sycophants in the media used to insist he was sure to abolish once he got into office.
Still, the criticism has some merit, since there’s one significant difference between the two major US parties. Most Democratic politicians, like the example just cited, will say and do whatever it takes to get elected, and then conveniently forget all about their alleged ideals in order to proceed with, and profit from, the ordinary business of politics once they land in office. A fair number of Republican politicians do exactly the same thing, to be sure, but there’s also a large number of Republicans who have convictions regarding important social issues, and cling firmly to those convictions even when they’re not popular. That’s a distinction worth noting, but a certain amount of confusion enters the picture when the Republicans in question—as nearly all of them do—insist that their convictions follow from their Christian faith.
Now of course the Christian faith does have quite a bit to say about social issues. Theologies differ from church to church, but friends of mine in several different denominations assure me that the words of Jesus quoted in the four gospels of the New Testament are considered definitive guides to faith and morals, so I sat down a few days ago with a copy of the King James version and spent an afternoon reading the gospels—not, by the way, for the first time. Here are the passages I found in which Jesus tells his followers that they have a duty to take care of children, the poor, and other vulnerable people:
Matthew 18:6, 18:10, 19:21, 23:14, and 25:31-46; Mark 9:36-37, 10:21, and 12:40; and Luke 10:30-37, 11:41, 12:33, 14:12-14, 18:22, and 20:47.
Here are the passages in which Jesus tells his followers to pay their taxes without complaining:
Matthew 5:42, 17:24-27, and 22:19-21; Mark 12:14-17; and Luke 6:30 and 20:21-25.
Here are the passages in which Jesus tells his followers that they aren’t supposed to obsess about other people’s sins, but should leave that to God, and attend to their own moral failings instead:
Matthew 7:1-5 and 9:10-13; Mark 2:15-17; Luke 6:37, 6:41-42, 7:44-48, 15:2, 18:10-14, and 19:7; and John 8:2-11.
And here are the passages in which Jesus tells his followers to blame the poor and vulnerable for their plight, direct benefits toward the already well-to-do at the expense of everyone else, refuse to pay their fair share of taxes, and obsessively denounce and punish the sins of people they don’t like while finding every opportunity to excuse their own sins and those of their friends:
Yet these latter are the things that a great many Republicans, and in particular a great many of those Republicans who claim to be motivated by their Christian faith, have been pursuing in practice, if not always advocating in theory. If they’re deriving their commitments from a religion, it’s pretty clearly not the one taught by Jesus. Many people have made this same point in recent years, but it doesn’t seem to have occurred to any of them that another religion that’s active in today’s America does teach all the things the GOP supports. That religion, of course, is Satanism, and more specifically the version of it taught in Anton Szandor LaVey’s The Satanic Bible.
Those who were around during LaVey’s glory days in the 1970s, when he appeared regularly on talk shows and had a coterie of Hollywood stars in his Church of Satan, will doubtless remember The Satanic Bible. For those who weren’t, it’s a book-length screed denouncing Christian morality and upholding an ethic of raw selfishness and might-makes-right. It’s still very much in copyright, so I’m not going to quote it here, but any reader who turns its pages will find the present social policy of the GOP precisely reflected in LaVey’s dismissal of two thousand years of Christian teaching about our duty to care for one another, his shrill denunciations of the vulnerable and needy as “parasites” and “vampires,” and his insistence that the successful owe nothing to anybody else.
An interesting coincidence, or perhaps an ironic one? Maybe so, but I find myself wondering if there’s more to it than that. It happens fairly often that the repeated failure of a belief system causes many former believers to swing all the way to the opposite extreme, and embrace the antithesis of their former faith. The neoconservatives who briefly and disastrously shaped the direction of US foreign policy in the first years of this century are a case in point: many of the leaders of that movement were doctrinaire Marxists during their college years, and responded to the abject failure of Marxism by doing their level best to become the wicked capitalists they had once so fervently denounced.
The evangelical revival of the late 1970s and 1980s, in turn, was pervaded by hopes at least as extreme and unrealistic as anything the Marxists envisioned in their heyday. Wildly popular books such as Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth convinced millions of newly “Born Again” Christians that the Second Coming was due any minute, and the repeated failure of Jesus to show up on cue must have put immense psychological strains on a great many people who cut their ties to the secular world in the imminent expectation of Armageddon. All through those same years, in turn, copies of The Satanic Bible could be found in cheap mass market editions on the shelves of chain bookstores all over America. It’s not hard to imagine how, after each loudly proclaimed date for the Rapture waltzed serenely by without incident, a trickle of not-quite-former fundamentalists could well have responded to their feelings of humiliation and despair by walking away from the Bible section in those same bookstores and seeing if the opposing side had something better on offer.
Those who found solace of one sort or another in LaVey’s evocation of diabolical values would have had several good reasons not to make their change of heart public, to be sure. On the one hand (or horn, or cloven hoof), a public confession of devil worship would have been difficult to explain to one’s employer in those somewhat more innocent times, and the reactions of one’s presumably Christian friends and family would also have been an issue for many. On the other, one of the classic titles given Satan by Christian theologians is “the father of lies,” and it’s easy to see how the thought of remaining ostensibly Christian while practicing devil worship in private, and perhaps leading others down the Left Hand Path, might have seemed like the most delectable option available to these new Satanic converts.
Nor would active membership in most of today’s Christian churches have been any impediment to the enthusiastic worship of Satan. According to Matthew 7:21, it’s not enough to say “Lord, Lord,” to qualify as a Christian; it’s also necessary to do the will of God—a requirement that, as noted above, involves among other things some highly specific commitments to help the poor and vulnerable. Thus covert devil worshippers could shout “Jesus is Lord” at the top of their lungs every Sunday, and so long as they carefully refrained from following the teachings of the gospels, they would have had no difficulty maintaining their status as Satanists in good standing. This, it seems, they accordingly did.
As the number of devil worshippers in evangelical churches and the Christian end of the Republican Party increased, though, their most pressing need would have been some surreptitious way to signal their involvement to those who shared their convictions, without believers in the Christian gospel being any the wiser. Coming up with a Satanic shibboleth that would be instantly recognizable to other devil worshippers, but completely opaque to devout Christians, might seem like a tall order, but it’s one that seems to have been met with aplomb.
Yes, this is where we discuss Ayn Rand.
All things considered, Rand’s cult status in those circles that call themselves conservative these days is hard to explain, because Rand was not a conservative. By that I don’t simply mean that she rejected the term and savagely denounced conservative ideas and politicians, though this is true; nor that the conservative movement in her time rejected her ideas with at least as much energy as she did theirs, and generally with better logic than hers, though this was also the case. Far more important here is that she was a radical ideologue of exactly the sort against which the founders of conservatism directed their most barbed and thoughtful critiques.
As discussed in Russell Kirk’s brilliant study The Conservative Mind, classical conservatism has at its core an enduring and wholly justified suspicion of claims that some abstract ideology or other can bring about heaven on earth. “The pretended rights of these theorists,” wrote Edmund Burke, “are all extremes; and in proportion as they are metaphysically true, they are morally and politically false.” He was talking about the Jacobins, but he could just as well have been talking about Rand.
Still, there’s another point that is worth making here, which is that Ayn Rand was a violent opponent of Christianity and Christian morality, a committed atheist who considered selfishness a central moral virtue, and who also idolized one of the most disgusting child murderers of the twentieth century. Her present role as intellectual pin-up girl for people who call themselves Christian conservatives is thus a little odd, since claiming to be a Christian and a believer in Rand’s teachings at the same time is right up there with claiming to be a vegetarian carnivore or a celibate harlot. It’s not just that one of these things is not like the other; Rand’s teachings are flatly, openly, and deliberately opposed to every part of the gospel of Jesus.
Rand’s anticommunism made her turgid novels popular on the less thoughtful end of the American right in the 1950s and 1960s, though, and that accident of history prepared her for what might just be her core role in contemporary culture: a covert way for devil worshippers to identify themselves to one another in the supposedly Christian (and just as supposedly conservative) GOP of today. Closet Satanists attending fundamentalist church services or Republican party get-togethers can’t exactly sport upside-down pentagrams on their shirts or greet other attendees with a hearty “Hail Satan,” but a casual reference to one of Rand’s novels or pseudophilosophical screeds is the next best thing: once someone else responds enthusiastically to the mention of Rand’s name, a few other seemingly casual comments and perhaps a covert devil sign or two would be enough to settle the matter.
All this may suggest some sobering reflections as we approach the beginning of another US election year, in which most races will pit a candidate from a party that puts its faith in Lucifer against a candidate from a party that for all practical purposes believes in nothing at all. Still, when supposedly Christian politicians start waxing rhapsodic about the alleged intellectual or literary virtues of Ayn Rand, I trust my readers will remember that what they’re saying actually works out to “I worship the Prince of Darkness, and you should too!” Any of my readers who happen to be devil worshippers themselves can proceed to welcome them as friends and brothers, while those of other faiths can cast their votes as their own ethical views suggest.
On the off chance that any Republican Satanists are reading these lines, though, I’d like to offer a helpful suggestion. The long charade of pretending to be Christian conservatives has no doubt been great fun, and it’s certainly succeeded in getting Satanic ideas widely accepted all through those parts of American society that might have been expected to resist them most forcefully. Only one of the seven deadly sins has gotten by without extravagant praise from so-called Christian conservatives in recent years—it’s hard to glorify an economic system that depends on avarice, gluttony, envy and sloth, and a foreign policy defined by pride and wrath, in any other way—and no doubt they’ll find a way to fit lust in there somewhere one of these days, and finish collecting the whole set.
At this point, though, it’s hard to see any reason why the Satanists in the GOP need to keep the pretense going any longer. In an era when most discussions of the Christmas season in the mass media fixate on whether retailers are making a big enough profit to keep the economy stumbling blindly onward for one more year, I think a strong case can be made that America is ready to shake off the last of its qualms and openly embrace a Satanic political agenda. Among its other benefits, putting public devil worship at the heart of the GOP, where it so evidently belongs, can’t help but improve the flagging ratings of Republican national conventions; the otherwise tedious proceedings of the 2016 GOP convention, for example, would be enlivened no end by a Black Mass celebrated by the GOP nominee, perhaps with Ann Coulter’s nude form draped over the altar and a chorus of delegates chanting “Evil, be thou my good!” from the bleachers.