nietzsche within lavey’s satanism August 22, 2006Posted by Brad Richert in academia, philosophy, religion.
Upon reading the works of Anton Szander LaVey it is readily apparent that the moral code presented is against the norm of society. However, less than hundred years before LaVey’s, “The Satanic Bible”, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote an abundant amount of texts that presented an extremely similar moral outlook on life. Some would say that the similarities are too close. LaVeyen Satanism has even been accused of “ripping off” Nietzsche’s philosophy. However, there is a fine line between being influenced by the work of a past philosopher and hijacking him. This article will attempt to find that line. I will proceed to show that Anton LaVey’s Satanism is an arrangement of Nietzschean philosophy and pagan symbolism. LaVey uses this combination along with his mastery of sensations to intrigue the minds of many. The way in which I will attempt to investigate this arrangement is by examining the ethical philosophy of Nietzsche in comparison to the moral code of LaVeyen Satanism as outlined in his “Nine Satanic Statements”. Subsequent to the comparison of the two, I will then explore some aspects of paganism, both ancient and modern, which LaVey uses to distinguish the Church of Satan from a purely Nietzschean practice to something unique.
LaVeyen Satanism uses a list of nine statements to outline its core principles. LaVey’s “religion” would not allow for any sort of “Nine Commandments” as a mockery to Christianity because it would be perceived as just exchanging one set of laws for another. However, because the “Nine Satanic Statements” outline the core principles of LaVeyen Satanism, they are what I will use to compare the moral codes of Nietzsche’s philosophy. The statements were published in 1969 as a part of Anton LaVey’s, “The Satanic Bible”. One must always remember that any text that is in the context of LaVey must be viewed as a twentieth century cultural project in which started in California in the late 1960’s. It is not to be confused with diabolical witchcraft of the medieval or enlightenment periods. It is not to be associated with present day paganism or even compared to the form of Satan-worship as practiced by groups such as Charles Manson’s “Family”. LaVeyen Satanism is its own unique entity with a strong philosophical background. I have broken the nine statements into four groups based on the underlying principles that each address. Once compared to the works of Nietzsche, it is readily apparent that the influence is not only obvious, but that LaVey most likely structured his new religion on Nietzschean philosophy.
The first group of satanic statements made by LaVey are those concerning direct anti-Judeo-Christian “law”. There are three of these statements:
1. Satan represents indulgence, instead of abstinence!
5. Satan represents vengeance, instead of turning the other cheek!
8. Satan represents all of the so-called sins, as they all lead to physical, mental, or emotional gratifications!
Each of these three statements directly apply to at least one command in the Bible, or at least to one interpretation of the Bible. What LaVey is attempting to show is that one must not constrain him or herself from doing what he or she thinks is appropriate. There is a fight for self-exploration and against denial of sensual emotion. LaVey explicitly states that indulgence is not a licence for doing whatever comes to mind. LaVey believes that Christianity has set up laws in order to administer structure to society, which is a false structure. LaVey’s idea is that humans should be subject only to freedom. Both compulsive desire and societal structure are forms of restriction, the antithesis to freedom. It is this sort of stoicism that LaVey believes is unnatural and self-compromising.
A running theme in all existentialist works is that of authenticity. Even in the works of Christian existentialists such as Søren Kierkegaard the idea of authenticity is crucial to understanding how we should live our lives. If there is a time where we deny our humanity or act in such as way that is contrary to who we are, we are acting inauthentic and in bad faith says the existentialist writers. Nietzsche is no different. Nietzsche’s philosophy, however, closely relates with the details of LaVey’s Satanism. Nietzsche states that there is a structure that has been cast over us by society. This structure, however, only masks our true humanity. It is the brutal rush of energy and adrenaline we receive in crucial moments that shows us who we really are. When a flash of anger and “insanity” crosses our mind, that is the true Dionysian spirit trying to break free from the stoic Apollonian structure. This same rush is the same emotion we receive when we listen to powerful music or enter into a trance-like state. It overwhelms all the senses and makes us feel like we can be something we normally couldn’t. This, according to Nietzsche, is the true Dionysian spirit, our true selves freed from the bondage of society’s laws and cultural norms.
The second group of satanic statements made by LaVey are those concerning a conformist “Christian” North American atmosphere. There are two of these statements:
4. Satan represents kindness to those who deserve it, instead of love wasted on ingrates!
6. Satan represents responsibility to the responsible, instead of concern for psychic vampires!
LaVey continues his defiance against the pleasantries of North American culture. He cannot comprehend why we bother giving our time, much less our trust, to people who do not deserve it. Giving someone the benefit of the doubt is giving an opportunity to be taken advantage of. It is only those who prove themselves to be worthy of our companionship and trust who we should associate ourselves with. Likewise, we should hope to become people of worthiness as well. For the most part, this is not an unreasonable outlook. This, of course, is LaVey’s point. Christianity’s doctrines have trapped us into thinking that we must be nice to everyone and taken advantage of in the name of Jesus. LaVey thinks that this makes no logical sense and thus should be scrapped. LaVey understands his philosophy to be in cohorts with the science of modern day stating that the successful creature is the one that is concerned about self-survival.
Nietzsche has a much stricter approach than LeVay when it comes to the conformity of Christianity. Perhaps Nietzsche would only look at LeVay in disgust as LeVay attempts to create his own structures in an anti-religion. This would appear hypocritical and self-defeating in the eyes of a Nietzschean purist. However, this is not to say that Nietzsche does not agree with the critique of conformist society. Nietzsche furthers LeVay’s argument with the entire doctrine of master and slave morality. The pleasantries and unworthiness that LeVay speaks of is simply the lack of freedom that is created by the slave morality. As pleasantries become law and morality, they become functions of society, meant for the conveniences of those who are too weak to create their own law. If one is able to create his or her own law, he or she becomes truly free. Nietzsche considers those who are bonded to the slave morality as unworthy of association and deserve to be used by those who are able to escape the confines of morality.
The third group of satanic statements made by LaVey are those concerning his problems with Christian orthopraxy, or the actualization of Christian doctrine. There are three of these statements:
2. Satan represents vital existence, instead of spiritual pipe dreams!
3. Satan represents undefiled wisdom, instead of hypocritical self-deceit!
9. Satan has been the best friend the church has ever had, as he has kept it in business all these years!
The problem LaVey is addressing here is the self-deception within the Christian church. The first statement in this category even goes so far to include any religion that offers a false or unproven escape from reality. LaVey is not so concerned with religions in which you must work for your salvation, as he is concerned on the solely faith-based ones. Although Protestant Christianity prides itself in this regard, there are forms of paganism that could be said to be based on faith. LaVey continues to reject faith-based religion by proclaiming the superiority of reason. Faith, for LaVey, is a sort of self-deception that rejects the search for true knowledge. LaVey is playing on the idea that if there were physical proof that Christianity was wrong, Christians would still believe. There are many ways of interpreting the last of the Satanic statements, but the underlying principle is that without Satan, the Christian church would not have been the authority it was and is. Satan has been used as a personification of fear and death, steering people away from the weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Nietzsche knows all too well the connection between self-deceit and the reliance on illusion and fear for the Christian church to survive. Nietzsche, however, pushes past the historical church and dives into the human psyche. The modern day Christians are no different from the people of the past. When the stoic Greeks confronted by the “barbaric Dionysians”, they were shocked but they also recognized the truth in the Dionysian spirit. This situation is analogous to the present day Christian dichotomy. Christians in all their doctrines and rules, written and otherwise, cannot even hope to actualize them. They recognize their “failures” and admit that, “we are all human”. Once this becomes the excuse for imperfection, they are readily admitting the failure of the Christian moral project and admitting the success of the Satanist. Without the opposition of the “Righteous Lord”, Christians have nothing to base their failures on. Satan is the scapegoat for human imperfection. Without Satan, the cosmology of human suffering collapses and humans have only themselves to blame.
The missing statement is of course number seven. LaVey recognizes that every religion needs to tackle the question of the human condition. The fact that all human beings suffer has been at the core of almost every major religion and each one deals with the issue in their own way, whether they call it “original sin” or “samsara” . The following is LaVey’s answers to it:
7. Satan represents man as just another animal, sometimes better, more often worse than those that walk on all-fours, who, because of his “divine spiritual and intellectual developments,” has becomes the most vicious animal of all!
LaVey combines the secular humanist viewpoint that man is just an animal that has developed in a unique way. He opposes the Christian dominion over animals, which is based on the idea that we have a divine appointment to be the rulers of the earth. LaVey then disassociates himself from secular humanists in the second half of the statement, stating that human development has led humans to become the most vicious of all animals. Where Christianity blames original sin, LaVey simply blames human social development.
Nietzsche confirms that man is just another animal, but in a different way. Nietzsche believes man is an animal not so much as a social-Darwinist, but instead as a philosopher of history. Every major religion and philosophy gives a meta-narrative of humanity. These meta-narratives generally explain the movement of humanity from one state to another, all with a grand scheme for the end, that is to say that they are teleological. Nietzsche states that man has not developed from a “good” state or a “free” state or a “happy” state and now finds himself suffering because of Satan or capitalism or liberal society. This creation of a teleological meta-narrative seems to be a response, Nietzsche insists, to our limited actuality of our potential. Instead, history is just humans doing what humans do. History is free from intervention and is subject only what humans subject themselves to. In this way, we are like the animals. We do not have a grand narrative with a radically different beginning, thousands of years of dealing with suffering, and a radically different end. We continue to live as the animals do, struggling to survive whatever way we can. The stronger overpower the weaker and the weaker do their best to trick the strong.
This completes my investigation into the similarities between Nietzschean philosophy and LaVeyen Satanism. That is, however, far from being comprehensive. One only has to examine the rest of Nietzsche’s concepts such as the overman, herd and master morality, the genealogy of morals, and perspectivism to realize that the entirety of Nietzsche’s philosophy has heavily influenced the religion created by Anton LaVey. Even the fact that Nietzsche’s attacks, almost exclusively, the religion of Christianity is used as a justification for LaVey to focus his generally anti-religious and anti-society thoughts on Christianity. It is this justification that LaVey named his religion “Satanism” rather than some other sort of pagan name. LaVeyen Satanism was named as cultural defiance and a symbol, not as a strict adherence to just another god named “Satan”. It is this exact vehement opposition to Christianity and opposition to the state that distinguishes it from modern paganism. It does, however, associate itself with diabolical witchcraft of the medieval and enlightenment ages, if there were ever such activities. LaVey purposely used ideas from past history not because they were actually Satanic or practices, but because they symbolize what his philosophy stood for. This distinguishes it from the Wicca religion or any modern paganism. The philosophy of selfishness is probably one of the farthest concepts from modern pagans minds.
LaVeyen Satanism, however, is not entirely without pagan ancestry. LaVey never attempted to state that his religion was a survival or even a revival of some pagan ideal. Paganism was used by LaVey as a symbol to tact on to his Nietzschean philosophy. Paganism is one of the oldest opponents of Christianity. Pagan religions often used fertility rituals and were rich in the pseudo-science of astrology. Even the symbol of goat was a symbol of divine fertility as pagan gods were generally symbolized with horns. LaVey would hijack these rituals and symbols in order to make his religion credible in the eyes of those who were both philosophically inclined to the Dionysian spirit of Nietzsche and the spiritual history of the pagans. It is what this Dionysian spirit represents, however, that is most akin to the pagans of the past. The unlocking of the true nature within us, free from the stranglehold of societies norms that both the pagans and the LaVeyen Satanists are attempting to accomplish.
In conclusion, it is readily apparent that LaVey successfully combined a thoroughly Nietzschean philosophy with the symbolism of historical paganism. LaVeyen Satanism uses all Nietzsche’s thoughts on ethics, morality, authenticity, history, and Christianity. When these antichristian ideas are put into practice, under the symbolic guise of an ancient practice, with a dash of sensual extravaganza, LaVeyen Satanism was born.