By Vexen Crabtree 2007
World-affirming, world-renouncing and world-transforming. These groupings were devised by J. Milton Yinger in his book Religion, Society and the Individual (1957)1. Sociologist Roy Wallis in 1984 revamped it and called the last category "world-accommodating"2. World-affirming religions embrace the world and work with it. World-renouncing ones hate it and fight against it, often withdrawing into tightly run socially secluded communities. World-accommodating largely describe mainstream social religions. Where does Satanism sit in this scheme?
“World-affirming religions accept many of the values, goals and aspirations of society, but believe that they can offer a more effective route to attaining such goals and provide a better model of such values. For example, those within the human potential movement do not want to distance themselves from the world, but rather want to be more successful and happier within it. It is not the material world that is fundamentally flawed, but rather the individual's relationship with and understanding of themselves within the world that needs to be developed. Hence, in this sense, such groups can be seen as 'world-affirming'.”
There are not many religions that embrace the world as it is, that are materialistic and hedonistic: Satanism is definitely one of them. The first of the nine Satanic Statements is that "Satan represents indulgence, instead of abstinence!". Anton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan, explained "the difference between indulgence and compulsion. Indulgence can be controlled, compulsion controls." and hence argued that a Satanist, although indulgent, is not controlled by the passions3.
Clearly such a hedonistic approach places Satanism squarely within the world-affirming category of religions. Other doctrines accord with this too; the emphasis on this world and the denial of any other spiritual realms, and the focus on science and intelligence. The scholar Asbjørn Dyrendal surveyed Satanism and agrees that "both rationalist and esoteric Satanisms are primarily world-affirming forms of self-spirituality. They see success in society and the world as it is as a valid and desirable goal"4. So, from The Satanic Bible:
“Life is the one great indulgence; death the one great abstinence. To a person who is satisfied with his earthly existence, life is like a party; and no one likes to leave a good party. By the same token, if a person is enjoying himself here on earth he will not so readily give up this life for the promise of an afterlife about which he knows nothing.”
Satan, then, represents our ties to this world, our ego, successes, the things we want to do in this world. Satan is the things that keep us tied to this world, not wanting to escape it. It represents the fact that we're not willing to give up worldly things for spiritual goals ('Spiritual pipe dreams') attained for an afterlife. Suicide is never an option for Satanists - we fight to the end, we do not want to escape from reality!
World-rejectionism is a commonly used category of religion, used by prominent sociologists such as Bryan Wilson (1959), J. Milton Yinger (1957)1 and Roy Wallis (1984)5. The world is deemed bad, even evil, and believers must distance themselves from it as much as possible, sometimes to the extent of denying themselves any pleasure, indulging in any desires, or enjoying anything except essential food and religious study. Such withdrawal has often been a hallmark of suicide cults although it is also present to an extent in otherwise peaceful groups such as the Amish.”
World-renouncing religions consider the world to be corrupt, evil and unspiritual. Gnostics, Manicheans, Buddhists and Hindu theologies all hold that our desires are centred around the world, and serve to cause us continued suffering. Some have even held that the world itself is a great illusion, or was created by an evil god. Many modern cults are of this type, with members seek to step outside society and away from the influence of the world they may even distance themselves from their families and friends. Such groups typically require total commitment, absolute obedience and sometimes even celibacy. World-rejecting religions are often apocalyptic, anticipating and preparing for a destructive end of the world, such as David Koresh's Branch Davidians who largely died in the Waco fire in 1993. "In extreme cases (which are thankfully rare) the renunciation of the world can lead to mass suicide. This is what happened in November 1978 when over 900 members of Jim Jones' Peoples Temple committed suicide in Jonestown, Guyana."2. Christianity is, at its core, a negative reaction against the suffering of the world, as it claims that there is a perfect paradise that we should strive to attend, disregarding this (Satan's) world.
You might think that Satanism is utterly opposed to everything that any of the apocalyptic, nihilistic or rejectionist religions have to offer. It is surely delusional to imagine a perfect world, or to philosophically reject this one, just because there happens to be suffering in it. But, the Satanic Bible describes Satanists as 'others' who are not part of regular society, and who have rejected popular culture. This is certainly true. That there are no Satanic communes is testimony to the fact that Satanists are individuals who embrace the world; but nonetheless a hint of world-rejection exists in the elitism of Satanism.
Most world religions, especially at the practical level of the general populace, fall into this category.
“[World-accommodating religions] claim that humanity has, so to speak, 'backslidden'; we are not living as God intended, so there is a need to recommit oneself to the spiritual life and to increase one's devotion. However, while Wallis identifies movements such as neo-Pentecostalism and charismatic Christianity as being 'world-accommodating', strictly speaking, such a view applies to most major religious traditions.”
This is a philosophy of improvement rather than of the nihilistic rejection of this world. It describes most peoples' real attitude to religion: society, social benefits, unchallenging beliefs, a vague hint of magic (mass, ritual, etc). It is to do with being human, a trying (a little) to be a better person. It is a mixture between prosaic acceptance of the world, and a vague semi-intellectual, semi-committed will to improve the world. It is neither an embrace of the world (after all, many people still believe in the afterlife), nor a rejection of it (most people still have jobs and get married; not the actions of those expecting the world to come to an eminent end, as taught in the New Testament). This middle-ground is mostly to do with a low-powered getting on with life.
The Tibetan Book of the Dead6
How can Satanism have anything in common with such mediocrity? Well; we opened our categorization of Satanism as a world-affirming religion with the famous first Satanic statement: Satan represents indulgence, instead of abstinence. But when Anton LaVey explains that "indulgence can be controlled, compulsion controls" and argues that Satanists, although indulgent, are not controlled by the passions, Satanism is clearly adopting a world-accepting philosophy. The real world has to be dealt with. Of course, it is impossible to have a realistic religion without taking such a stance but it's not the only point of commonality.
The Satanic Bible spends much time on discussing the problems of the world, and how the delusions and stupid behaviours that produced them might be solved in the future. This is world-accommodation at its height: self-improvement and liberal world-building. However, as Satanists' elitism and philosophies are much more lofty than is normal, the comparison is still merely equal to that between silver and lead.
Current edition: 2007 Jul 19
Last Modified: 2014 Dec 19
Parent page: The Description, Philosophies and Justification of Satanism
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LaVey, Anton. (1930-1997) Founder of the Church of Satan.
(1969) The Satanic Bible. Paperback book. Published by Avon Books Inc, New York, USA. Anton LaVey founded the Church of Satan in 1966..
(1992) The Devil's Notebook. Paperback book. Published by Feral House, CA, USA.
The Tibetan Book of the Dead
Published by Oxford University Press 1960, p203, translation by W Y Evans-Wentz.
"The Elementary Forms of Religious Life" (1984). Via Partridge (2004).