The fourth tenet of the Tenebrous Creed identifies zeal, wisdom, honor, empathy and perseverance as foremost values for Satanists. But in what sense is empathy really a “Satanic” value? Part 2 of 3 discusses the Book of Job. Read the introduction to this series here.
The Story of the Book of Job
Compared to previous narratives I’ve connected to empathy, Job is more complicated to unpack. First, a brief summary:
- Job is introduced as a faithful man living a life of good fortune
- During a friendly visit to heaven (?!), Satan accuses Job of having been righteous only because God made his life easy
- God and Satan proceed to make a series of bets: will Job lose his faith if he loses his wealth, his health, etc.?
- Satan proceeds to inflict all these misfortunes on Job.
- Job’s friends argue that if Job is experiencing such misfortunes, this proves he was not truly righteous, hence he should repent.
- Job counters that he is innocent, and clings to his faith in God despite his misfortunes.
- In response to Job’s demand to argue his case before God, God comes to him out of a storm and says basically “were you here when I created the world? No? Then shut up.”
- Point: Job was correct that God often allows things to happen that seem unjust by human standards. Job should have recognized, though, that God has greater plans than humans can understand.
- At the end of the story, God reverses Job’s fortunes again back toward the positive – an ending some scholars think was a later, feel-good add-on. 🙂
This narrative obviously clashes with Satanism’s association of Satan with earthly indulgence, since Satan makes Job’s life miserable. But contra Eden & Watchers, I have no intentions of presenting Job as a “Satan as actually-positive role-model” story. My take, rather, that if one were to attribute some more noble motive than mere malice to Job’s Satan, one could reinterpret the story as having an interesting Satanic message about reality’s harshness. A call for empathy may then emerge as a response to that message.
The Tenebrous interpretation
Satanism is critical of traditional religious values, such as humility, meekness, etc. Such values seem better calculated to keep people lowly and ignorant (e.g. under authorities’ control) than to promote human flourishing.
Tenebrous Satanism additionally asserts that Life is often a cruel place. Morally and spiritually mature beings ought not to lie to themselves about this. The World is better navigated via self-honesty and determined perseverance, than via blind faith and blinder optimism.
Thus, though tradition calls Satan “Father of Lies,” Satanism contrarily interprets him as an enemy of self-deceit. And this, one can argue, fits well with the role he plays in the Book of Job. Consider that the accusation he makes has the following three effects by the end of the story:
- God admits openly that indeed, his standard of “justice” is often not intelligible to human beings.
- Job’s friends are rebuked for clinging to the idea that life is “fair” even when confronted by Job’s suffering.
- Job himself confronts the reality that bad things do, in fact, arbitrarily happen to good people.
1 constitutes what I will call Satan’s accusation against divinity. 2 & 3 I will call his accusations against humanity.
On all fronts, Satan forces an end to lies that occlude the true harshness of reality. And inasmuch as such harshness reveals a World of suffering, would empathy for ourselves and others not be appropriate? It is with this kind of reasoning that I would argue for empathy as a “Satanic” value.
Satanic empathy is not some saccharine attempt to deny reality’s harshness. It is, instead, a pragmatic effort to make a terrible situation less terrible, driven by open-eyed engagement with reality’s harshness – the kind of engagement Job’s Satan forces upon the other characters in the story.
Accusation against divinity: God is not benevolent
Consider, first, the Book of Job’s initial conversation between God and Satan. In Nine Keys of Abyssal Darkness, I write the following on this subject:
The accusation that Satan makes openly is that Job is only loyal to God because his life is easy. One could argue, however, that this is only the surface accusation. Beneath it lies a more profound accusation that Satan makes not to God, against Job, but to the reader, against God: the pattern of fortune and misfortune that human beings actually observe contradicts the idealistic notion of God justly rewarding good and punishing evil. God cannot, in fact, be relied upon to deal with us and with the World in a manner we recognize as “fair.” Moreover, God’s willingness to let Satan ruin Job’s life demonstrates that the validity of the accusation, since that arbitrary act against an undeserving person is itself a failure of justice.
This part of my book goes on to frame Satan as an Accuser in the sense of “he who reveals that which is unpleasant to know, but is nonetheless how things are.” The revelation, in this case, is “God is actually not what humans would call ‘good.’” It is as if Satan, irritated by the pervasive mendacity of God’s PR on this subject, cooked up the Job situation as a way of forcing God to “come clean.” One can then take God’s “whirlwind” speech (“were you there when…?” etc.) as an admission that Satan has a point.
There are some Satanists who are fully atheistic, while others believe in dark spiritual realities. What no Satanist believes, however, is that the universe’s ultimate power is “benevolent.”
It follows that if humans want justice, love, etc. in the World, we are going to have to put it there ourselves.
Accusation against humanity: Homo hubris
What, now, of the speeches of Job and his friends? All base the things that they say upon the premise that God is just. But the narrative ultimately reveals this premise as questionable, as already explained. Satan’s accusation against Job forced God to come clean about his so-called “justice.” So then, what manner of self-deceit does Satan force the story’s human characters to come clean on?
The main human characters of Job can all plausibly be said to have overestimated their comprehension of “how Life works.” Traditionally, Christianity would call this “pride.” “Pride” is considered a virtue by many Satanists, however. Does this then mean that I intend to frame these characters as “good”?
I would argue to the contrary that actually, some forms of pride are condemned by certain Satanic denominations. In the tradition of the Order of Nine Angles (ONA/O9A), the relevant concept is homo hubris. What this term casts aspersion on are complacent participants in the status quo, oblivious to their own blindness.
Tenebrous Satanism characterizes such people as overinvested in petty human status games, and in the rules that govern such games. Those possessed of such a mentality are prone to patting themselves on the back for just being “lucky.” They are equally prone to whining about what they are “owed” when difficulties arise, as well as victim-blaming unfortunate others. At every turn, they mistake their own idea of what the world “should” be for what actually is.
Application to Job and his friends
In the Book of Job, Job’s friends are flagrant examples of this type. They keep insisting on God’s fairness despite evidence to the contrary before their eyes. In so doing, they put ideology above friendship. Their highest priority is to assure themselves they are living in a World in which they, by being “good,” are safely fenced off from experiencing such misfortunes as have befallen Job.
Job himself also demonstrates homo hubris traits to an extent. He is innocent, therefore something is wrong with reality, he insists. But why should reality be fair? And even if it is “fair,” what if Job is indeed wrong about how “good” he has been? To ask the latter may strike some as a concession to Christianity’s “original sin” and related notions. In fact, though, it is a merely realistic assent to human fallibility. A wiser man, with less hubris, might ask if he had sinned, rather than insist so stridently on his innocence.
Obviously, Job is a more sympathetic figure than his friends. They are men stubbornly attempting to shore up their own worldviews at their friend’s expense. He, on the other hand, is a man bereft of comfort amid the breakdown of his worldview. The “straight” interpretation of the story is that his perspective on God was indeed too narrow. An alternate framing, however, is that Job was too optimistic about the universe’s intelligibility to human beings.
Such a formulation invites comparison to the doomed protagonists typical of weird fiction, e.g. in stories by Lovecraft, Ligotti, etc.
Job amid a Lovecraftian universe
Obviously, such shatterings of one’s reality as Job experiences are traumatic. Nonetheless, Tenebrous Satanism contends that such experiences re-acquaint us with a very real face of the universe. They invite us to recognize that, in fact, Darkness is indeed the ruling power behind existence. I will talk more about the implications of this in the next entry in this series.
“Satan,” in turn, is that which forces us into such confrontations. The human characters in the story all respond by either closing their eyes, or allowing the Light to blind them. Tenebrous Satanism does not blame people for making such choices amid realities that they find unbearable. Nonetheless, it urges the Satanist to choose differently.
This brings us back to the idea of Satan as an enemy of self-deceit. He challenges us to notice that virtue does not guarantee safety in a hostile universe. People who think it does are lying to themselves. The dynamic between Job and his friends illustrates how such lies aggravate the suffering of those whom fortune afflicts.
What would be a better way to live, amid reality’s harshness, in the wake of a lack of cosmic justice? With empathy surely seems like a plausible answer.
Issues with “traditional” Satanism
Is empathy the best or only way to march onward with one’s eyes open to Darkness? An alternative would be to opt for that which is intentionally obnoxious from a traditional moral standpoint: to declare “Life’s viciousness authorizes humans to be vicious,” and live accordingly.
Intelligent and morally-mature people recognize that such a move is likely to make Life worse rather than better. They may well then wonder: who but a rampantly-unproductive nihilist would embrace such logic?
In fact, it seems a disappointing number of other denominations’ Satanists have opted for such nihilism. I point the finger here at those who use “social Darwinism” to justify “might makes right” on various levels. Common manifestations include espousal of libertarianism, withering disdain for the “unfit,” and so forth.
I am sympathetic to the origin of such tendencies in the initial LaVeyan context. LaVey was writing in the 1960’s, when religion had a stronger guilt-based hold over society than today. I therefore read his “nature’s harshness” talk as both against that, and against hippies idealistically preaching “peace and love.”
In that context, social Darwinist concepts perhaps had some role to play in stirring stagnant minds toward liberating possibilities. Note, however, that I said “in that context.” Our context today, I argue, is marked by such breakdown of the social contract that our presumptions and inhibitions are of a different nature. I therefore think LaVey’s tone and message are less well-crafted to today’s needs than they were to the needs of the initial generation of Satanists.
The problem of Life-denial
Combine a more-individualistic society today, and an absolutization of LaVey, and unrealistic, counterproductive notions result. Satanists (and not only LaVeyans, at that) too-often romanticize self-reliance in a way that denies fundamental human realities.
Like it or not, human beings are social animals. No human survives beyond birth without the support of other humans. Any human’s horizons would be drastically narrowed were they wholly deprived of the ability to learn from others. Civilization, innovation and so on are all achievements that entail some degree of cooperation. Tenebrous Satanism does prize individual flourishing and self-evolution. But how meaningful is individualism without friends to share one’s unique achievements with?
Ultimately, it seems to me that rabidly-libertarian Satanists are actually guilty of the self-same shortcoming as religious creationists: Life-denial. In both instances, honest and intelligent reflection upon evolutionary science reveals inconvenient facts. Humans did evolve – and much of their success has a social component. Both parties then proceed to prefer ideology over reality. Humans are a “special creation,” proclaims one. Individuals can and should “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps,” proclaims the other.
Meanwhile, large portions of the rest of the human race say to both: “what fucking planet are you on?” As in, how much nature, human experience and empirical science must you deny to arrive at such a stupid idea? Or, put another way: homo hubris much?
The connection to Job
Consider, then, an interesting parallel between the rabid libertarian and Job’s friends. In both instances, an assumption of a sort of cosmic justice is in play. Job’s friends assert, God must be just, therefore Job must be secretly a sinner. Libertarian-social-Darwinists assert, nature works things out for the best if we don’t regulate anything. Their attendant implication is that anyone who fails to flourish in such an environment has only themselves to blame.
Both positions culminate in telling people who are just trying to live their lives that they “deserve” whatever misfortunes and sufferings befall them. In this regard, they both constitute failures of empathy.
Both positions also entail exaggerating the role of merit and underestimating the role of luck in creating “successful” people. In this regard, both may be called hubristic.
Tenebrous Satanism asserts that we can do better than this when it comes to responding to the Dark realities that Satan reveals to us. Yes, the World is unfair, and Life is often difficult. All human beings are essentially doomed Lovecraftian protagonists, desperately trying to deny their predicament. But why make it worse than it already is? Why not, instead, try to make it better?
I contend that Satanists should interrogate reality and adapt to what they find there, instead of fleeing into ideological pipedreams. And from that standpoint, empathy is simply a mature spiritual response to a universe bereft of benevolence.
This is a theme that I will revisit further in the final entry in this series.