Saturday, November 9, 2019

Of black dragons and blind idiot gods, part IV: Yes, this is a functional basis for a religion

Last part now of this 4-part series on my idiosyncratic beliefs about “ultimate reality”:

This entry is longer than the previous three, and hence split into several sections discussing various right-hand path and sinister path perspectives on my proposed “dark trinity”:

The latter three are really all one discussion, just split up for the purposes of manageability length-wise.

* * *

Right-hand path perspectives: Three enemies / three poisons

While the dark/evil nature of the entities I have been discussing is likely self-evidently “obvious” to many readers, I think it is potentially informative to systematically expand upon this issue by noting that the “trinity” of Azathoth/Az/Azerate, complete with distinguishing qualities attributed to each entity, has echoes in specific conceptions of evil found in Christianity on one hand and Buddhism on the other.

In the Christian case, when a “dark trinity” is mentioned, folks may well initially think I am referring to the Dragon, the Beast from the Sea and the Beast from the Land in Revelation.  Actually though, it seems to me that the more compelling Christian “dark trinity” in which to locate a parallel to the entities under discussion would be the “three enemies,” i.e. the World, the Flesh and the Devil.  The World = Azathoth, him being the fundamental substrate of all that exists; the Flesh = Az, obviously, given her connection with self-indulgence; the Devil = Azerate as that which maliciously destroys. 

The implication of such an identification would then be that from a Christian perspective, these entities represent forces that threaten the salvation of the soul:
  • The World / Azathoth = the sheer fact of human beings having to make their way amid material limitations and attendant risk of them then neglecting the spiritual life; the curse put on Adam & Eve re: suffering & death; in the Parable of the Sower, the seeds sown among the thorns, whose faith never flourishes because of being choked by the pervasive distraction of practical earthly matters.
  • The Flesh / Az = concupiscence, such that one is ruled by earthly desire in the form both of animalistic impulses and selfish pride; the curse on Adam & Eve interpreted in terms of Original Sin; irrational preference to go one’s own way in defiance of a cosmic order that would actually be more beneficial to oneself; in the Parable of the Sower, the seeds sown among the rocks, rootless in the sense of being too shallow to pursue faith beyond an initial passionate infatuation.
  • The Devil / Azerate = manifestation of a force of overt malice in the midst of creation; a preference for non-existence over non-ideal (e.g. supposedly “unfair”) existence, as expressed by Cain’s murder of Abel; damnation via despairing at sin so much that one fails to attempt the repentance by which one might otherwise be saved; In the Parable of the Sower, the seeds sown along the path who get eaten by the birds, i.e. some people just get fucked-with by Satan.

The Buddhist “dark trinity” overlaps considerably with the above conception.  In Buddhism, the relevant concept is the “three poisons,” namely ignorance, attachment and aversion (the latter two are sometimes also called “pride” and “hatred,” respectively - English translations vary, as the link I just gave also demonstrates).  The fit to these, I think, is pretty intuitive, inasmuch as we’ve got a blind idiot god in a state of torpor, a goddess whose very name means “striving,” and a dragon averse to the continued existence of the cosmos. 

The implications which would then follow are:
  • Ignorance / Azathoth = failure to recognize the transitory and illusionary – dare we say dreamlike?   nature of existence, which is then the ground in which attachment and aversion both take root.
  • Attachment / Az = always grasping for one thing after the next, never satisfied, due to failure to recognize and accept that all things are impermanent.  Pride, inasmuch as an “I” is posited to serve as the centre toward which these desires are oriented, only to aggravate craving via a seemingly-permanent being that needs/wants all manner of things.
  • Aversion / Azerate = desperation to either separate oneself from that which is dissatisfactory, or to destroy it, regardless of the strong likelihood that more suffering will thereby result.  Hatred, inasmuch as the positing of “I” entails labeling other things as “not I” and/or “contrary to my needs/wants,” closely followed by spite toward the very existence of those things.

Of further interest is that Buddhism envisions the three poisons as a pig (ignorance), rooster (pride) and snake (hatred) each chasing after each others’ tails, this being an illustration of driving forces that cause one to be reborn again and again and thus to suffer again and again.  This conception seems to capture an additional aspect of Azathoth/Az/Azerate: only once the blind idiot god forms the world out of chaos is there a world for the striving goddess to revel in; only once there is the possibility of such reveling is there also the possibility of disappointment; finally, once there is disappointment, there is plenty of reason for the dragon to want to return everything to chaos.  The monsters of the “dark trinity” can thus be viewed as similarly chasing one another’s tails.

If this sort of everlasting cycle of terror, frustration and suffering is existence-as-such, one can perhaps not blame the Buddhist for preferring nirvana (which incidentally means “extinction”) over continued existence.  One can perhaps also sympathize to some extent with the Christian longing for a future utopian paradise presided over by a divine parental figure who will “make it all better.”

Bottom line of this section: it is definitely not hard to make a strong, religiously-detailed case to the effect that there surely must be something deeply perverse about a will to acknowledge and/or venerate Azathoth/Az/Azerate as ultimate reality. 

To which I respond: yes, that is probably relevant to why I prefer the term Satanism, Satan being The Adversary – i.e. I know that where I’m going with this is directly upstream against the majority human current.

* * *

Sinister path perspectives, I: “Dark” Brahman

Deeply perverse though the right-hand path religionist may see veneration of the “dark trinity” as being, the walker-of-the-sinister-path may nonetheless take the position that inasmuch as that just is what is behind the universe, refusal to acknowledge it constitutes a retreat into wishful thinking.  It is interesting to then consider, in light of such a perspective, what exactly the sinister-path-walker conceives is going on with the right-hand path religions. 

An orthodox LaVeyan might here apply the phrase “spiritual pipedreams,” i.e. religions are all just systems made up by human beings, variable in how effective they are in actually helping people cope with life via controlled delusion vs. manipulating the masses to the benefit of an elite.  But as the last few entries make abundantly clear that I am not an orthodox LaVeyan, I find it interesting to consider the possibility that, instead of right-hand path religions simply being a mixture of superstition and power-gaming, these religions might be groping toward an authentic spiritual relationship with ultimate reality… with the twist that, unfortunately for them, the “true” ultimate reality is rather more in accord with these religions’ takes on evil than good, as per details provided above.

What follows is thus the Satanic equivalent of the theological masturbation exercise in which one devises a sort of “unified field theory” of religion, reasoning out the degree of “truth”-or-lack-thereof behind various other religions in light of the assumption that one’s own religion is correct.  I see no reason not to proceed though, given that Satanism is doubtlessly more pro-masturbation than the majority of right-hand path religions. ;)

The first thing to highlight here, though it has already I think come through in my previous entries in this series, is that what I am describing re: the “dark trinity” is not dissimilar to certain Hindu concepts, such as there being an ultimate force called Brahman which all existing objects, living things and spiritual entities have their origin in.  Such an idea can enable an ecumenically-minded Hindu to “get along” with all other religions: if said religions worship gods of any kind (Odin, Jehovah, Great Goddess or whoever), those gods can be said to have originated in Brahman, and if they don’t worship gods and instead believe in some kind of spiritual force, this may be equated with Brahman itself. 

An analogous move with the “dark trinity” may seem implausible inasmuch as Azathoth, Az and Azerate each have aspects so unpleasant as to seem utterly incompatible with the idea of them being the source behind spiritual entities and forces elsewhere conceptualized as benevolent.  I would argue though that this reaction is itself dependent on a rather significant amount of selective attention on the part of the believer, inasmuch as it so often happens that the deities and forces acknowledged by right-hand path religions are characterized abstractly as “benevolent” despite any number of details in their own mythologies that may imply otherwise.

Furthermore and more importantly, one should recall that a premise of the worldview that I am proposing is that all living beings ultimately derive from Azathoth/Az/Azerate.  It would then follow that just as many conscious, sentient beings manage to not-be-entirely-horrible despite being-derived-from-something-horrible, the same situation could hold on the level of deities as well (inasmuch as they exist) without thereby contradicting the premises of the worldview as a whole.

In any case, the key way in which this schema differs in implications from the Hindu one lies in the relationship envisioned between human-beings-as-part-of-material-existence and that-which-is-behind-existence.  Here, the impression one gets from Hinduism is that material existence is at best objectively-neutral and at worst a source of subjective suffering, this then being why the goal in Hinduism typically is some kind of escape from material existence, via merging back into Brahman (moksha) or etc. 

In comparison, the Azathoth/Az/Azerate conception frames material existence as by-default-even-more-negative and harder-if-not-impossible-to-escape-from-entirely.  This may initially sound like it must lead inexorably to despair (i.e. bear with me for a bit here ;)) but I will argue to the contrary that, if come to terms with, it could actually motivate a more constructive relationship with material existence than is typically offered by right-hand path religions.  I will detail how this works in the next section.

* * *

Sinister path perspectives, II: Dealing constructively with inescapable existence

To better and more thoroughly hash out the implications of right-hand vs. sinister approaches to a world in which Azathoth/Az/Azerate turns out to be “what is really behind the curtain,” let’s first briefly review what I said in this previous entry about those two paths:
  • Right-hand path religiosity locates humans’ true spiritual home as elsewhere-from-this-material-world, counsels detachment from things-of-this-world so as to return there, and posits that ultimate fulfillment comes about via our being subsumed in some kind of spiritual reality external to and higher than ourselves.
  • Sinister path religiosity either locates humans’ true spiritual home as here or else denies that we have one, counsels indulgence in the things-of-this-world so as to best enjoy this life of ours, and posits that ultimate fulfillment comes about via our discovery and development of a spiritual reality internal to ourselves.

With this in mind, I would make the argument that the sinister path is more “reality-appropriate” for an Azathoth/Az/Azerate-based reality, via the following points against the right-hand path:
  • Re: Azathoth: If the transcendent force behind the world is seething chaos, framing that as a home that we ought to return to amounts to a preference for ending individual existence rather than continuing it.  With the exception of a handful of very advanced right-hand-path practitioners, I highly doubt this implication commends itself to the average person-who-cherishes-their-own-existence-as-an-individual, whether religious or not.
  • Re: Az: If the transcendent force behind life is willfully oriented toward the world – i.e. when left to its own devices, prefers to enter back into materiality again and again, so as to continue seeking out experiences to indulge its desires – it follows that all attempts to escape from the world have a certain futility to them: one might succeed in dissolving one’s individual essence back into the whole, but the whole is just then going to keep pouring itself down into physical existence regardless. 
  • Re: Azerate: Despite the above two points, there is nonetheless something integral to the transcendent force behind life that periodically seeks to undo the world.  This force could play a constructive role in the clearing-away of obstacles (e.g. outmoded forms, stifling systems, etc.) were it brought to consciousness; unfortunately, it is too often relegated instead to the unconscious and thereby forced to manifest in a distorted form, via the world-denialist tendencies of the right-hand path religions (?!).

To put this in simpler and more dramatic terms: imagine agreeing with all that Thomas Ligotti’s book “The Conspiracy Against the Human Race” has to say about how existence is terrible, but then, in addition, denying that there is any escape from this situation, via death or otherwise, because however hard Azerate may strive to destroy, Azathoth continues to create and Az continues to strive to remain in existence.  (i.e. some form of rebirth-of-energies continually occurs, whatever the mechanism for this going-forth-from-Azathoth-and-returning-hence-to-go-forth-again may be.) 

What then follows?  The sinister path’s prescription for living in a world in which this is the reality would entail:

Re: Azathoth

Maintaining awareness that we all share an origin in chaos, while at the same time appreciating the uniqueness of one’s own particular emergence from that into individuality – both of these perspectives then being relevant to ethical treatment of oneself and others. 

On one hand, it is the prerogative of each to prioritize oneself – as per as the LaVeyan Satanist conceptions of pride and enlightened self-interest – inasmuch as one constitutes a unique configuration of chaos-come-into-temporary-order that will never be again.  On the other hand, atomized individualism to the point of self-absorption producing an ongoing-and-outright war-of-all-against-all is both i) miserable for everyone involved and ii) absurd inasmuch as there is a higher spiritual level on which all are one.  To avoid such unpleasantness, the formulation of some sort of social contract would then seem to be a prudent move.

Re: Az

Cultivating a constructive relationship with she-who-is-desire, along the lines spelled out in my previous entry about Az re: the need for self-discipline if one is to be able to enjoy her gifts without destroying oneself or others. 

Furthermore, inasmuch as this force is embodied in everyone, try to create a world in which a maximal amount of flourishing is possible without impinging on the freedom of the individual (that value being implied by the discussion of Azathoth-related implications immediately above).  My previous entry about the meaning of“indulgence, not abstinence” makes a point or two that I figure is relevant here.

Re: Azerate

Recognize that there are entirely valid reasons for craving non-existence while at the same time accepting that non-existence is not, in fact, a true possibility, since attempts at it merely serve to return one to Azathoth, who will continue ever-bubbling-and-seething to extend himself yet again into materiality.  If destruction is to be undertaken, it ought to be undertaken with a mind as to what one intends to create in its place, not treated as an end-in-and-of-itself.

Recognize, as well, that behind the world-denialism of the right-hand path religions lies an unholy alliance between the heavens and the abyss, and inasmuch as this is so, it is then not appropriate for sinister path practitioners to be harboring right-hand-path-style apocalyptic fantasies.  With this insight, LaVey’s statement that “Satan is the best friend the church ever had, as he has kept it in business all these years” acquires a disturbing alternate meaning from that which he likely intended.

All-in-all, the sinister path approach to a world in which the “dark trinity” is extant means: look with open eyes at what life is, and then affirm it, nonetheless; do not mope, whine or flee into denialist helplessness; strive ever onward on the intellectual, emotional, aesthetic and/or technological fronts, since these add intensity and complexity to earthly indulgence; make the actual world better instead of chasing utopian visions whose pursuit causes more harm than good. 

One thus arrives at the ironic conclusion that if one goes one-step-darker than Ligotti’s dark world by positing the inescapability of existence, pessimism loops around into a sort of resigned optimism: you can’t actually ‘get rid’ of existence, so it is in your own best interest to work toward the most pleasant and fulfilling world you can manage to achieve. 

Some may rebel against this conclusion, if not this entire worldview, with the thought of, “but if evil underlies the world and it’s always thus going to be at-least-somewhat-terrible anyway, what’s the point?”  To which, I would reply: this is the attitude of a spoiled child who is not willing to live in an adult world just because that world falls short of their own definition of “perfect.”  Or, as I have often said in many other contexts: if you try, you might fail, but if you don’t try, you will definitely fail.  Better a world in which you have done what you can in pursuit of the indulgence of yourself and those you care about, than a world in which you contribute nothing and thereby end up in the way of those attempting to deal constructively with reality's dark truths.

* * *

Sinister path perspectives, III: When to respect the right-hand path and when to oppose it

Doubtlessly, some of what I just said raises questions about the effects and implications of right-hand path religions attempting to make their way in the midst of a sinister universe.  Such questions are interesting inasmuch as I had said elsewhere that I actually do not think it is realistic for all human beings to opt for the sinister path, and that right-hand path religions do thus have some value – significant value, even – in helping human beings cope with existence. 

Connecting this to my last point in the previous section: while I am critical of nihilism-as-excuse-for-helplessness, I am also realistic re: in the absence of a more reassuring account of the universe, that simply is where many people’s minds will go if confronted with the dark realities I am here spelling out.  And if so, that would neither be good for themselves, nor good for living together in a functional society. 

It may well then be better to concoct a happy bedtime story to put the children at ease, rather than leave them unreassured and have their whimpering continually interrupting the adults’ conversations. ;)

With this idea in mind, I then see right-hand path religions as falling along a spectrum that has a “good” end and a “bad” end:
  • At the good end of the spectrum, the religion says that there is something behind the world more ultimate than material existence, but nonetheless attributes some kind of positive significance to our lives here and now – e.g. in the words of theologian John Hick, it is a “vale of soul-making” or etc.  Its afterlife beliefs entail that we live on, as individuals, either in this world in a different form, or in other worlds.  If it believes in god(s), those god(s) are primarily characterized by their desire for the well-being of humans broadly-construed, vs. downplaying demands for strict allegiance or conformist rule-following.
  • At the bad end of the spectrum, the religion says that material existence is evil, illusionary, some kind of mistake that should have never happened, or etc.  Its afterlife beliefs entail that we will never be truly happy until we basically extinguish our individual existence, and if we resist this conclusion, the problem is our “ego” – one is thereby marshaled toward total self-abnegation.  If it believes in god(s), those god(s) demand fidelity to themselves only – perhaps even to the point of demanding persecution of competing religious beliefs – and have narrow ideas about the “proper” kind of life that a human being ought to lead.

It is worth noting that in real life, religions are far more often mixed in their characteristics than they are consistent-adherents-to-one-end of this spectrum.  For instance, some have fairly positive views of existence while having a jerktacular god (this configuration crops up among several of the Western religions) and others seem to have a nihilistic-sounding view of existence while at the same time believing in spiritual entities who come across as abundantly loving and tolerant (more typical of the Eastern religions). 

Regardless of those complexities though, my point is:  just because I personally place a high value on spiritual truth does not mean I think that is a suitable priority for all human beings at all times.  To the contrary, I think there are a lot of non-truth-handlers out there who need some kind of reassuring framework through which to process existence, lest they otherwise fall into madness, despair or etc.  Nor do I mean to disdain such individuals in describing them thus, as I think the Buddhists really were on to something re: all life is suffering and the appropriate response therefore is compassion – i.e. an empathetic suffering-with, distinct from the merely-patronizing reaction of pity and/or the sappy idealization of love-for-all.

On a similarly Buddhist note, constructive right-hand path religions then constitute “skillful means”* – i.e. something that may not be true from an ultimate perspective, but which is of value inasmuch as it helps people cope with what is true from an ultimate perspective at the level of which they are capable. 

A pragmatist of the sinister path then ought to respect the “good” end of the RHP spectrum, on the basis that one is better-off surrounded by tolerant people who think the world has at least some value and that continued existence is to be looked-forward-to (good end of the RHP), than either zealots whose doctrine leads to hatred for existence (bad end of the RHP), or anchorless-and-rudderless nihilists whose despair equally leads to hatred for existence (likely outcome of trying to force the sinister path upon people who are just not suited for it).

Or, put another way: it’s good to be in the company of people who have at least some sympathy for Az, even if it is minimal and even if it requires people pulling-the-wool-over-their-own-eyes to accomplish. 

Too-keen-for-Azerate, on the other hand, seems to near-invariably lead to problems, regardless of whether those involved pretend to be enemies of evil, via dressing up their nihilistic impulses in elevated-sounding spiritual trappings (e.g. Gnostics, Manichees, Cathars and that whole ilk of openly-dualistic world-haters), or side nakedly and openly with destructive forces of the void, as per Dissection themselves. 

The Black Dragon of Chaos does have a place, inasmuch as its apocalyptic rampaging may be beneficial either i) in the context of destroying one’s default psychological “world” of internalized social expectations, clearing the path of obstacles that the Satanic ego has no use for, or ii) in the context of needing to bring down a social system both hegemonic and stifling (i.e. I can empathize with what Dissection is trying to do while at the same time disagreeing with them re: whether our current society/world really requires such an extreme response).  It needs to be kept in those places though, rather than permitted to leak out wherever hypocritical world-haters lay their curse upon the fairest joys.

To sum up and conclude this section: when it comes to classifying worldviews, I’m envisioning a square divided into four parts.  On the X axis, from left to right, is the division of sinister/right, while on the Y axis, from top to bottom, is the division of Az/Azerate.  (This works out analogously to Hinduism, wherein the trinity of creator/maintainer/destroyer is Brahma/Vishnu/Shiva; Brahma is acknowledged as creator deity, yet little or no worship is directed at him compared to the other two.)  Going around clockwise from the top-left then, the four categories thus yielded are:

Sinister + Az

Most of the more widespread Satanic denominations, e.g. LaVeyan, Temple, etc.  I think there is actually a lot of “spiritual, not religious” –type content out there that may also fall into this category, despite not wanting to consider itself as “sinister” per se; likewise with some forms of secular ideology (e.g. Enlightenment-era liberalism). 

The point in any case is that these are worldviews that openly promote self-mastery toward the end of greater earthly indulgence.  As a Satanist, I would like to see more of this kind of thing, but as per above, I accept that not everyone is necessarily cut out to deal with the world in these sorts of terms.

Right + Az

Constructive right-hand path religions, typically consisting of denominations that downplay traditional ascetic or dogmatic tendencies in the religion and have instead found ways of getting humanistic insights to play nice with their doctrines.  These are, for example, the evangelicals who actually live in a free and joyful manner befitting of the Gospels being the good news.  Secular examples might be found in some configurations of democratic socialism. 

These worldviews may have shortcomings from a sinister-path perspective inasmuch as they may contain ideas that seem detrimental to self-empowerment (e.g. overemphasis on human fragility, unrealistic prescriptions regarding altruism, or etc.).  I would argue though that they are still worthy of a degree of appreciation, inasmuch as they are adaptive for their adherents – i.e. believing in them renders people better able to cope with life’s exigencies than might otherwise be the case.

Right + Azerate

Dogmatic right-hand path religions whose beliefs and actions suggest hostility toward earthly existence.  Some secular political movements may also fall into this category inasmuch as they are collectivist (i.e. pro-herd-conformity), ideological (i.e. any questioning of their doctrines will cause them to tar you with whatever language they use to label what they consider ultimate evil) and/or reality-rejecting (i.e. deny any/all scientific assertions about the human animal, asserting an all-culture-no-nature position on human development that basically amounts to creationism).  Typically, such secular movements would be found either at the far right or far left of the political spectrum, rather than in the middle.

These worldviews entail basically everything that sinister-path-walkers strive most ardently against as far as maladaptive beliefs and behavior goes.  Some Satanists are too quick to assume that any/all people of certain religions fall into this category.  Nonetheless, when people do fall into this category, I think it’s fair to say that we tend not to get along very well.

Sinister + Azerate

The rarest configuration, typically found only among certain eccentric-and-probably-criminal individuals, or denominations of Satanism widely considered to be extremist, e.g. as per what was mentioned about Dissection in the Azerate entry.  As with the other sinister category, some other stuff that does not consider itself sinister-per-se may also fit here, e.g. dysfunctional neo-gnostic or crypto-gnostic spiritualities of various sorts.  In any case, because worldviews of this kind are i) highly individualistic and ii) tend to counsel self-destruction if taken to their logical conclusion, they are not conducive to forming large groups around.  They thus tend to be self-limiting – in fact, the even-harsher term self-extinguishing may be apt for some of them.

To some extent, these sorts of worldviews harbor the same destructive utopian notions as the right + Azerate configuration, wherein their way of striving to make the world is bound to wind up making it worse via an insistence on boiling a complex, messy reality down to a tidy set of dualistic categories.  But they typically implode before they can accomplish anything significant anyway, besides the irritating reinforcement of certain negative stereotypes about Satanism.  I thus don’t think it’s worthwhile for Satanists to expend a whole lot of thought and energy on such folks… unless you’re, say, a black metal fan, or something. ;)

This perhaps seems like a very long-winded way of saying what could be put simply as “life-affirming worldviews of whatever kind are good; life-denying worldviews of whatever kind are bad.”  But such is what happens when one endeavors to imagine how worldviews might play well or poorly with some kind of metaphysical reality beyond, as opposed to just assessing them on pragmatic outcomes alone.

* * *

I had thought about adding a further section to give an account of my intellectual journey over the last year or so, separate from Satanism per se, that led me to the Azathoth/Az/Azerate conception as here articulated, as well as a few thoughts about what ramifications said journey has had for myself. 

The more I think about it though, the more I think i) that is likely to run long and ii) some folks who are reading this blog only for the politics-related content, vs. not so much for the esotericism, may appreciate that topic being handled separately from the current entry.  So for now, that will just have to be “yet another blog post that I will hopefully get to at some future point.”