Satan is a Cookie
Satan (aka Lucifer/the Devil) is a fascinating literary character whose evolution sheds light into the shift of values that took place with the rise of Christianity. Original ‘Satanic’ characters are surprisingly the heroes and champions of earlier cultures! Prometheus, for example, stole fire from the gods and was chained and tortured forever (by the gods – who didn’t want to share with humans). Similar traditions are told in Native American mythology (coyote steals the fire) and in Hercules’ 11th Labor (stealing the golden apples of Hesperides). Most cultures celebrate a ‘technology bringer’ – technological wisdom being symbolized by fire – who brought wisdom to mankind; often against the will of the gods, who represent the harsh and unmanageable forces of nature.
The character of Satan in the Old Testament is an inversion of these classical heroes. Satan gives wisdom, in the form of the apple, to humanity against God’s will; the Jews were a nomadic race, suspicious (and jealous?) of the more powerful, more developed nations around them, and felt that their own technological simplicity was preferred by God. The story of the tower of Babel also reflects this anti-civilization proselytizing.
Although the literary figure of Satan also takes a great deal from Zoroastrianism (Ahriman, the leader of darkness, also rebelled against God and was cast into Hell, from which he escaped and came to earth to torment mankind) as the lone voice of dissent in an otherwise monopolistic universe, we find in Satan many humanistic qualities that we admire, and we are not alone. The so-called ‘Satanic School’ of literature (Byron, Wordsworth, Shelley), and indirectly modern culture in its entirety, celebrates the ‘satanic’ ideals of freedom, revolution from tyranny, the right to lawlessness and chaos (see pirates of the Caribbean III), and the value in seeking out our own independent truth through direct experience.
Satan is my hero
I especially love the tragic and pitiful Satan in John Milton’s Paradise Lost; who can help feeling sorry for him as he gets ruthlessly victimized by God’s angelic forces? I suppose I should point out, that I in no way believe in an actually, physical “Satan”. Yes I’ve heard the quote “Satan’s greatest trick is convincing the world he didn’t exist”. Frankly that’s rubbish. Apart from Christians, nobody believes in Satan; there are no ‘Satanists’ who worship Satan as a living God. Real day Satanists use Satan as a symbol and example; as a representative of a certain lifestyle (which, incidentally could be compared in many ways to the Epicurean lifestyle, which is also largely atheistic and values pleasure, rational inquiry, the perfection of oneself through contemplation, moderation and self-control).
While Christianity and its Western brethren aim at developing ourselves through strict moral obedience, Satanism is more aligned with the Zen tradition: “If you sit, sit, if you stand, stand….whatever you do, don’t wobble,” and Yoda’s mysticism in Star Wars, “Do or do not. There is no try.” Actions in themselves are of no consequence. What matters is the deliberate focus of will and the internal balance of the soul.
In this regard, we find Satanism aligned with St. Paul’s theology, and the theology of the early church in general before it was reformed under the Roman empire. St. Paul believed that, once a certain level of wisdom was obtained, rules were unnecessary. Nothing was evil or sinful in itself; sin was a result of shaking the smooth surface of the soul, which, when still, could reflect the light of God. When we ripple the surface with internal discord, we can no longer see clearly and have no shining example to live up to.
One of the essential flaws of Western theology is the separation of Good and Evil from each other. During the expansion of the universe from the original unity, the universe was flooded with pairs of polar opposites like night and day, love and strife, good and evil. These pairs balance, support and define each other. They are all part of creation, and they are all perfect, as the universe is perfect (this polarization was given mystical status and revered by Pythagoreans and Orphics, as it is today by modern Taoists). Demonizing Evil while glorifying Good creates a theological imbalance, especially when, while each person may strive to fulfill the commands of their own moral righteousness, none of us can fully escape the desires of our physical bodies, our passions and our egos.
The truth is that Evil, as personified by Satan, is not an external force seeking to trick us off our path. If this were so, Satan and God would be partners in a cruel obstacle course, which rewards the sad few who can shut themselves off to the pleasures of life in pursuit of an intangible future prize. Excusing God from Satan’s nefarious triumphs is a theological impossibility.
Satan is more like a cookie.
There is nothing inherently wrong with cookies – most people will agree that they are relatively harmless when consumed in moderation. However, at some point, our rational minds might get bossy and step in, trying to limit how many cookies we eat. We tell ourselves, “Just one!” or “No more until after dinner,” but at the same time, the child in us can’t stop thinking about that cookie. We focus on it, obsess about it, until in a moment of weakness or absent-mindedness, we eat it. Afterwards, we think, just who is in control here? How can I make a decision about what I want to do and not follow it? Am I so weak that I have no control over my own actions? We create an enormous battle between the two sides of ourselves, and may even feel guilty and devise a self-punishment such as extra chores or exercise. All this over a cookie!
Like the cookie, Satan is not seeking to disrupt. He represents all the small, selfish pleasures in life that are the natural desire for humans, and as such, gives energy and joy to our existence. However, when we allow ourselves to be divided, and wallow in indecision or self-doubt, we are focusing on negativity instead of giving our minds and hearts to God, for Him to fill with peace. There is no food that is harmful to our spiritual well-being, as long as a person can eat what they like with self-awareness and self control. Evil as a concept only comes into play when we do what we don’t want to do, or don’t do what we think we should do. The solution is to realize that all men try and fail, be easy with ourselves and be prepared for setbacks. Personal growth is a constant journey.
It is our belief that the world was created right the first time, and can be enjoyed heartily. We praise God for pleasure, for freedom, and for the ability to choose how many cookies we will eat, with the only punishment being the logical consequences of our own actions. There is no one out there counting up our sins and devising our reward or punishment; however, every action comes with a necessary natural consequence, and it is very important to be aware of the direction our actions are taking us. If we don’t like where our lives (or afterlives) are headed, it is up to us to change them.
Derek Murphy is a writer and artist from Oregon, currently working on his PhD thesis on revolutionary literature while traveling the globe. He writes about comparative religion, popular culture and literary theory. If you’d like to hear about his upcoming projects or books, you can follow him on Twitter, join the Facebook page, or subscribe by RSS.