Saturday, December 22, 2012

Unconscious Satanism vs. Free Will

Only recently, I encountered, once more, one of the oddest doctrines of christianity; which, even more oddly, seems to be very widespread, at least among literalists and fundamentalists. I don't know whether other mainstream religions have the same doctrine. It is, however, extremely popular with destructive and fringe cults.

I became interested, and I did a few google searches to find out about the history of said doctrine. However, I don't know its official name or proper theological terms to describe it, so my search was rather unsuccessful.

I'm talking about what I might call the "doctrine of unconscious satanism". In it, every non-believer is not only evil, but is a follower of Satan without even knowing it.

I will only touch the fact that the idea of unconscious, unintentional evil is somewhat dubious; or that, in the bible, god himself hardens the heart of the pharao, only to then turn around and punish his whole people in a true gorefest for the pharao's next actions; or that, back when I was a christian, there was also the opposite idea - Gorbachev, it was speculated, was an unconscious servant of god, much like Kyros in the old testament. (Yep, I'm that old, and that was indeed so long ago!)

Instead, let me focus on two highly interesting aspects:

1. This doctrine is almost unavoidable.

If it is true that one can only be in the Jesus camp or in Satan's host, and if it is also true that some nonbelievers claim to have nothing to do with the devil - then those people must either lie or not even know that they've been had. It is interesting to see that christians were not generally willing to presuppose that us puny nonbelievers are straight-out liars every time we open our mouth. Since they're essentially claiming that we're servants of the ultimate evil anyway, what difference does it make? Besides being a wee bit more polite, I mean. (But only really just a wee bit, if you think of it.)

I think the reason is more of a psychological than a theological nature: Christians were always forced to do business with non-christians, some might even fall in love with 'dem godless basterds, and it is just incredibly rude and impolite to accuse your local grocer (in my case, a muslim) of lying about having a contract with Old Nick, blood signature and all. If you think of them as completely deceived, that... well... it feels better. A bit. You're still surrounded by hordes of demon-ridden zombies. But at least they're not intentionally clearing the co-driver's seat for My Boyfriend When I'm In Hell.

And of course, you can't avoid it anyway. Once a dualist, always a scapegoater, as the old saying goes.

2. This doctrine is at odds with the christian doctrine of free will.

Once the devil has me, it is completely impossible to escape to find Jesus. The devil has complete control over the world; it's like the matrix, only even more so. The devil will always make me use the fiendish tools of logic and reason to convince me that there is not enough evidence, that auto-suggestion is not an adequate tool of determining objective facts, or that there are several major logical flaws in christianity's internal structure. Therefore, if the doctrine of unconscious satanism is indeed true, I have no chance, as an atheist, to ever decide that I want to become a christian.

So, how can a nonbeliever ever become a christian? After all, it seems that there are people like that. Does the devil trip up at times? How does one reconcile unconscious satanism with free will?

Of course, the easiest explanation is that ultimately, only god has the power to convert people. But that doesn't solve the problem - again, how does one reconcile that with free will? In what way is my will truly free, if it is simply a question of god intervening, or the devil gnawing away at my soul?

I'm sure there are numerous large theological volumes that have been written about just this subject. Sadly, my attempts at finding those have hitherto been very unsuccessful. If you have any pointers, please let me know - specifically, I would be interested in the history of this doctrine, since I have the impression that it is prefigured in the bible itself (god blinding pharao, Judas, etc.), and must also have its place in rabbinic thought in some form. I also hypothesize that it goes back to older, more rudimentary beliefs about spirits influencing people and demonic possession. I would really like to read something a bit more scientific about the subject.


  1. You were a christian????!!!! Ewww....

    Anyway, I was once told I had the devil in my brain by a christian (who also happened to be my boss at the time). Oddly enough, he still let me work for him. You'd think he'd be afraid I was going to slaughter his family or something?

    Can't help you with your research. Part of my reasoning when I dumped god (not much of a dumping, more like wiping the shit off my feet) was because I could not live with the idea that the world was divided into believers and those who would go to hell. What an utterly fucked up way to see the world. Like putting your mind in a steel box. Paranoia writ large.

    Why are you interested? As you state, this is the province of fundamentalists and endtimers. I guess they can be complimented for being so honest in their lunacy; certainly bringing up the devil to liberal christians will leave them stammering and making excuses/rationalizations for their beliefs.

    Is there anything more that needs to be said other than this is a way of maintaining group cohesion, justifying hate and fear of others? Making the world simple for those who cannot handle ambiguity?

    Also, I'm not sure christians would say we have no free will in choosing to believe. The ones I speak to always say you have to be willing to surrender yourself to god. Yes, they also say it is a "gift", but there has to be a "will"ingness to receive. As the great Father Barron has said, atheists are angry at god, and that is why they rebel and choose not to believe. And I'm sure the creep must be right about that.

    I think it is our obstinancy that is the "real" satan, to them. Our "will"fulness to disobey. Notice that most of them are right wingers. Big on authority. Usually theirs.

    1. Not only was I a christian, I was a fundamentalist. Well, I was young and stupid, and there were quite a few things to enjoy about it - the drama, the elitism, endless nights of heated debates about stuff that really really matters, like whether god can help you on your exams when you haven't studied enough...

      As for your question why I'm interested, I think that, christianity still being the major source of ideas for such an awful lot of people, there is a necessity to study the thing. Apart from that, I am always fascinated by looney ideas; I think it's fascinating and important to study how obviously self-contradictory systems still manage to grab such a fierce hold on so many people. I mean, I still remember the vaguely unsettling feeling of cognitive dissonance, which was then attributed to the devil... I guess I disagree with you on the point that it's "just a way of maintaining group cohesion". Yes it is, but I want to know how exactly it works. Religion has been along for so long, it is such a huge success story in terms of reproducing itself, I want to know what exactly it does to people's heads. After all, it's not like people consciously choose to adhere to "just a way of maintaining group cohesion". They honestly think it's true.

      I think that if we want to overcome it, we need to know it, and know it really well. Well and also, I get a highly perverted kick out of studying St. Paul, to whom we owe a lot of the more insane ideas of early christianity.

      Well and also, I have a degree in literature, so studying that kind of stuff just feels natural to me. (If you want to understand James Joyce, for example, you have to know your catholicism.)

      Btw, I have learned by now that the doctrine I mention is really a byproduct of the doctrine of original sin, which was basically formulated by Augustine of Hippo, and seems to go back to St. Paul. What I still don't know (and I think it's highly debated even among theologians) is where Paul got his ideas from. His writing is really, really out there. Completely bonkers.

    2. BTW: I think that the self-contradiction part is actually essential. You have to get people convinced that the cognitive dissonance is a sign of themselves not having enough faith, not getting it, or otherwise being "bad". Only then can you create a good and solid cult.

  2. Yes, you're right it's good to know christianity to understand it's appeal, in spite of the fact it's so easy to discredit. I sometimes joke that I'm an Prsotestant pretending to be an atheist. Because the cultural influences are so strong. Or when asked if I'm an atheist, I say I try to be, because it's so easy to slip into magical self-centred thinking and the "reasons" things happen the way they do. It takes constant self-correction.

    And yes also to looney ideas. Sometimes it's a form of self-torture though, like reading You Tube comments. If I ever get optomistic about humanity , all I have to do I read a few comments on You Tube and I'm cured.

    People in cults don't think they are in cults. And then some scientific ideas can get cult-like. Freud. Maybe evolutionary psychology is getting a bit cultish. Maybe the Anti-Natalists?

    Say, did you read the story about that French aristocratic family that stayed voluntarily shut up in their chateau because some con guy convinced them they were part of a special group menat to save the world? Link here

    I suppose I was dismissive of the reason for these crazy ideas people believe. From the outside it's so obvious what's going on. But yes, some do believe atheists are possesed by satan. Ego reinforcement? A weak self-identity seeking to manufacture one, no matter how spurious? People want to belong, be part of something, don't want to miss out on the action. I just read something about how that's how right-wing fascist groups get going.

    I forget, did you watch my God's Apology video?

    Yes, it is all interesting. As the christians say, we atheists sure do spend a lot of time talking about god...but we do it for the entertainment value it provides. I just can't help myself. It's a weakness. There must be an AA type program out there for people like us?

    I read Dubliners. I read 27 pages of Ulysses then gave up. I opened Finnegan's Wake and closed it in a few seconds. Do you think there'll be a movie sometime?

    A post about Paul's nutty ideas would be interesting.

    Yes about the cognitive dissonace. The buddhist retreat I was at used the same tactic (although I'm pretty sure the leaders did bbeleive their own bs). They tried to tell us the room we were in might not really exist. And that the little fat man (buddha) achieved his enlightenment after being reincarnated thousands of times (like anyone would know that for a fact) and that the water in the temple room absorbed our mediations vibes and when released outside would go into the sky and fall as rain and thus spread the love around. If you'll believe that, you'll believe anything. And if you don't, well, you're doomed to samsara forever.

    Do you think in a more progressive society these people would be held crimnially responsible for brainwashing. Like priests who tell 7 year olds they'll go to hell if they don't accept Jesus could go to prison.

    1. Hey, too many points to answer, too little time! Yeah, you're video was good to watch.

      So, I'll just pick 3 random points.

      Re christianity: Ultimately, talking about christianity is, to me, a means of talking about irrationality and religious bs in general. It's interesting not only because it's necessary that humanity overcome it, but also because we all have religious tendencies, and the struggle you mention gets a bit easier if you keep finding out what's actually valid thinking, and what isn't.

      Re Paul: A post? Stop kidding me *g*. There'll be a few posts, and then at some point, I'll write a novel or a stageplay about the man. No kidding. He's one of the most influential figures in the whole of written history (more influential than Jesus, at any rate); a highly tragic figure who probably never got over his apostasis from judaism; a highly intelligent guy capable of systematizing the foundations of a whole new religion all by himself, just out of his ass; and a complete and utter looney bin to top it all off.

      Re cog diss: Danger will Robinson, danger. As interesting as I find the concept, I have since found out that it has the same disadvantage as evopsych: You can explain everything and its opposite that way. OTOH, reading your example, it does make complete sense to see it in the light of CD. Well well... I simply haven't found any good answer to this riddle yet.