Better the Devil You Know?

For several years now, I have gotten panicked emails from the sort of people who live in continual fear that the devil is masterminding a vast conspiracy via D&D, backward masking, and subliminal images in Pepsi commercials. These are the sort of people who believe deeply in “reading between the lines,” searching for the vast web of subtle cues that demons apparently love to leave in their wake so that Deeply Insightful Christians can be tormented like Cassandra, knowing that their prophecies of doom will be true, but powerless to keep The Conspiracy from happening since nobody but them can see Emerging Pattern.

So, for instance, I get email from people warning me that Harry Potter is part of the Conspiracy and that if you read between the lines, you will see that the mirror of Erised is an invocation of the goddess Eris, bringer of discord. When I write back and point out that “erised” is just “desire” spelled backward and that the magic Mirror of Erised, like the magic Mirror of Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings, is a literary device by which the hero is tested to see if he will do his duty or capitulate to the desires of the flesh, my correspondents typically abandon the conversation. They aren’t interested in the fact that the inscription on the mirror is a riddle a nine-year-old can figure out (“Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi” is “I show not your face but your heart’s desire” spelled backward). They’ve got a conspiracy theory and they are sticking to it. Everybody knows that satanists write and say things backward! Likewise, them doggerel Latin spells are Satanic prayers and if I can’t see that it’s because I’m one of those snooty people who don’t believe that shouting “Expelliarmus!” will magically knock things out of people’s hands.

Same thing happens with the whole “Saul Alinsky is a devil worshipping fiend!!!!” meme that is still so popular with Christians who seem to believe that Obama is Rosemary’s Baby (which may explain the ridiculous obsession with his birth certificate among many of them). I’ve been warned more times than I can count via email that: a) Obama is a student of Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, b) Rules for Radicals is dedicated to Lucifer and therefore, c) Obama is a student of the occult, the dark arts, and in league with Satan himself, like his Dark Satanic Master, Saul Alinsky!!!!

When I point out that Alinsky was a Lefty Jewish atheist commie of the old rabble-rousing school and that his “dedication” was a tongue-in-cheek tribute to rebels who like to stick it to the man, not an occult invocation of a Prince of Darkness in whom he did not believe any more than he believed in God, the “Alinsky was a Satanist!” people likewise tune me out or, worse still, assume that I too am in league with Satan because of my sinful embrace of accuracy. True or not, they seem to think, this myth is so useful for attacking Obama (at least among panicky illiterate gossip mongers who believe any lie a good one if it can destroy him) that only a fellow traveler dare speak against it and give aid and comfort to the enemy by insisting on accuracy. Why else would I do it?

Answer: It’s my darn opposition to consequentialism again. I’m one of those irritating people who appreciates truth over hysteria and who has an aversion to absurd conspiracy theories. Committed advocates of the lie of “Alinsky the Devil Worshipper” should take heart however. Because they have a true friend out there in the American political landscape who believed devoutly in doing evil that good might come of it. Indeed, he sounds like many a manly defender of both “enhanced interrogation” and the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in his bold call to stop mincing around, roll up your sleeves, and get as filthy as it takes to win:

“To say that corrupt means corrupt the ends is to believe in the immaculate conception of ends and principles. The real arena is corrupt and bloody. Life is a corrupting process from the time a child learns to play his mother off against his father in the politics of when to go to bed; he who fears corruption fears life.”

The man who said that was Saul Alinsky, Champion of Consequentialism, and those who say we should lie or commit other evils for a good cause are closer to him in heart and mind than they imagine. 

That said, I don’t deny that there is a devil. Jesus says there is, after all, and the Church has repeated that fact down two millennia. Nor do I deny the reality of a conspiracy with the devil as its head.  Paul says as much:

For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12).

Indeed I don’t even deny that some people do consciously aim to serve him. When you write something called a “Satanic Bible” and make it your life’s mission to imitate Satan, you are pleasing to the devil, even if you tell yourself bafflegab about how he is a Jungian archetype and not an actual fallen angel. Indeed, when you call yourself a “materialist” while practicing witchcraft and pottering about with all the rest of the occult subculture, you fulfill to a T Uncle Screwtape’s longing for “our perfect work — the Materialist Magician, the man, not using, but veritably worshipping, what he vaguely calls ‘Forces’ while denying the existence of ‘spirits.’”

Only here’s the thing: as Joe Carter points out, Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan, had his muse just as Obama took so much inspiration from Alinsky. LaVey’s muse was Ayn Rand, who is now becoming one of the most influential thinkers of the Thing that Used to be Conservatism. 

Funny thing though, I never get emails from concerned Catholics darkly warning me that Rand is satanic, even when the author of the Satanic Bible declared, “I give people Ayn Rand with trappings” and described his Satanism as “just Ayn Rand’s philosophy with ceremony and ritual added.” I receive no panicky warnings that the writer whom Alan Greenspan, SEC Commissioner Chris Cox, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Rush Limbaugh, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and Ron and Rand Paul admire is somebody whose thinking an actual satanist regarded as indistinguishable from his own. I hear no “But what about the children?” pleas from concerned Christians, worried about Catholic congressman Paul Ryan’s deep devotion to the thought of a woman who admired and modeled her literary heroes on a real-life sociopath who killed and dismembered a little girl:

Back in the late 1920s, as Ayn Rand was working out her philosophy, she became enthralled by a real-life American serial killer, William Edward Hickman, whose gruesome, sadistic dismemberment of 12-year-old girl named Marion Parker in 1927 shocked the nation. Rand filled her early notebooks with worshipful praise of Hickman. According to biographer Jennifer Burns, author of Goddess of the Market, Rand was so smitten with Hickman that she modeled her first literary creation—Danny Renahan, the protagonist of her unfinished first novel, The Little Street —on him.
What did Rand admire so much about Hickman? His sociopathic qualities: “Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should,” she wrote, gushing that Hickman had “no regard whatsoever for all that society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. He has the true, innate psychology of a Superman. He can never realize and feel ‘other people.’”
This echoes almost word for word Rand’s later description of her character Howard Roark, the hero of her novel The Fountainhead: “He was born without the ability to consider others.” (The Fountainhead is Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ favorite book—he even requires his clerks to read it.)

Nope. What I hear when it comes to Rand is a brief, uncomfortable acknowledgement that, sure, she’s got a few problems—followed by a hurried insistence that she’s basically compatible with Christianity if you filter out a bit of her excessiveness about atheism.  “Eat the meat and spit out the bones” I am told.  Sure, her hatred of God and her entire philosophy of contempt for the weak, her hedonist sexuality, loathing of children, and ice cold pride are a little eccentric.  But she really makes a Catholic congressman like Paul Ryan feel inspired. And he’s prolife, and as everybody knows, that takes away the sin of the world and grants exoneration and a blessing on whatever else you may believe or do! So if she’s good enough for a good Catholic like congressman Ryan and all those other luminaries of the Right that’s good enough — and she’s a huge hit with the Tea Parties! In short, the general assessment I get from conservative readers seems to be “A bit rough around the edges, but basically Rand is on the side of the angels because Our Tribe and our Media tell us she’s an ally.”

No one seems eager to notice Anton LaVey’s deep belief that those angels are fallen angels.

So am I suggesting the Rand was a Satanist? Of course not. She was an atheist like Alinsky. However, I am pointing out that instead of “reading between the lines” most paranoid conspiracy theorists would do better to just read the lines. When the author of Harry Potter tells you she doesn’t believe in magic and does consider herself a Christian and her book a work that is patterned on the gospel just listen to what she’s saying and don’t search for the hidden satanism between the lines. Likewise, when the founder of the Church of Satan and the author of the Satanic Bible says one of the leading members of Your Tribe’s intelligentsia thinks exactly as he does and that leading member of the intelligentsia takes as her hero and role model a sadistic butcher of a young girl, that is probably your first clue that your energies might be better spent trying to extirpate her odious influence from your end of the political spectrum rather than fretting about Harry Potter, listening to Beatles albums backwards in search of satanic messages or spreading dumb gossip about Obama’s and Alinsky’s Lucifer worship.

So much depends on whose ox is being gored, don’t it? Everybody seems to overlook the devil they know, even when she’s getting cheers from the Church of Satan.