“The soul is a thing so impalpable , often so useless, occasionally annoying, that its loss cost me just a little less emotional disturbance than if I had, on a walk, lost my calling cards.”
-Charles Baudelaire, Le Spleen de Paris, XXIX
On April 30, 1966, Anton LaVey founded the Church of Satan, the first organized religious organization dedicated to satanic belief.
LaVey’s definition of Satanism, however, differs greatly from both the public perception of “Satanists” and the wide variety of secular pagan practices lumped together under the banner of “heresy” by churches throughout the medieval period to the present day. The Church of Satan does not, in fact, believe in either the devil or Hell, instead claiming Lucifer is simply an archetype of perfected living worthy of emulation. Satan, they assert, embodies rebellion against Judeo-Christian and Islamic faiths and embracing of individualism and logical reasoning.
It’s basically Ayn Rand’s Objectivism but with an emphasis on hedonism and “might-makes-right” over ingenuity and logic. From an article on the Church of Satan’s website:
“Let me conclude this brief overview by adding that Satanism has far more in common with Objectivism than with any other religion or philosophy. Objectivists endorse reason, selfishness, greed and atheism. Objectivism sees Christianity, Islam and Judaism as anti-human and evil… At the same time, Satanism is a “brutal” as well as a selfish philosophy. We do not hold, as do the Objectivists that the universe is “benevolent.””
LaVey’s version of Satanism, then, is distinctly removed from the straw-man version of “satanic” rituals and beliefs used by Western Christians for decades to rally against things like rock-and-roll and Dungeons and Dragons.
That’s not to say that the more traditional, demon-worship version doesn’t exist. But LaVey was the first to codify a religion under the moniker of “Satanism,” even if his version disputed the existence of both Heaven and Hell.
But why Rand’s Objectivism? In wanting to systematize a version of “satanic” belief based around rejecting Abrahamic beliefs, LaVey found a kindred spirit in the novels of Rand, herself a fervent materialist, atheist, and harsh critic of Christianity. Rand praised the virtue of individualism, which is to say putting oneself and one’s interests above those of others, a belief echoed repeatedly by members of the Church of Satan.
Yet, for as long as Rand’s writings have been around, Christians from the Western world have tried to reconcile her Objectivist beliefs with various forms of evangelical theology. In an interview with Forbes, the producer of the film trilogy adaptation of Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, himself a trustee of the Randian advocacy group, the Atlas Society, stated:
“There must be room in Objectivism for charity and benevolence.”
Dr. David Cotter of Colorado Christian University has written many defences of what he believes to be Rand’s Biblical bent. In “Check Your Premises: Ayn Rand Through a Biblical Lens,” Cotter acknowledges “[Rand’s’ understanding of the nature of human beings and God deviates significantly from the Bible,” however he insists that “Rand’s conception of the ideal man has striking features in common with Jesus Christ.”
Rand’s ideal man, as she defined him, is rational, independent, guided exclusively by reason, possesses great self-esteem, and has no faith in anything. Of course, as she herself professed, there’s a great deal more to her ideal human carrying out a pure Objectivist lifestyle, but the core of that person is relying on their own cognition and reason.
Now, in one sense, this individual is a far cry from the character of Christ as depicted in the Gospels, caring only for himself and relying solely on his own faculties rather than praying to and teaching of a higher power.
But at the same time, Rand’s definition, particularly when isolated from the bulk of her writing and controversial statements over the years, is malleable enough to fit into any preconceived theology or ideology. The Church of Satan can emphasize the parts about the ideal man having great self-esteem and no faith in a higher power in order to promote their focus on hedonism and self-congratulation. Meanwhile, Christians and Randians wishing to bridge the gap between the Christian faith and Objectivist practices can focus on how Jesus was in fact rationally-focused and independently-driven. They can even select key quotes from Rand, like this from one of her letters:
Jesus was one of the first great teachers to proclaim the basic principle of individualism — the inviolate sanctity of man’s soul, and the salvation of one’s soul as one’s first concern and highest goal; this means — one’s ego and the integrity of one’s ego.
Many readers of Rand love to apply her words directly to their own beliefs, and the ease at which they do this (as well as the driving force behind why they do it) is largely related to the fact that Objectivist philosophy makes people feel good about themselves. It elevates both the individual and the individual’s self, placing the isolated perspective at the centre of its structure. The ego-driven life and belief appeals to so many because, unlike many other philosophies and theologies, it requires you not to expand your understanding, but relax into your default perception of the world.
All sensory information we absorb is filtered through the lens of ourselves because we can only perceived the world from our own point of view. Empathy is a learned behaviour and it requires a great deal of effort to separate your cognitive abilities from the desire for self-preservation and self-fulfilment. Whereas Objectivism supports a lifestyle where the view of the self and its importance is never challenged, at least not outside of its own parameters.
Now of course, Rand wanted people to utilize Objectivism to improve their understanding of the world around them in order to improve their own quality of life, to create great works of art, and achieve amazing feats. As Rand herself said, “[man’s] own happiness [is] the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” However, with the individual’s happiness as her or his moral purpose, the definition of “productive achievement” changes as well, depending on what makes this person happy.
Without a traditional moral centre for her philosophy—having already rejected all notions of empathy, altruism, and compassion—what the individual chose to count as quality improvements, great works, and amazing feats remains up to, you guessed it, themselves. So not only does the individual have the permission to focus their energies entirely on him or herself, that person also gets to define the end goals they work to achieve. This means the individual can assert their happiness and the noble activity of pursuing it are focused on either achieving pleasure in the name of Satan or wealth in the name of Christ.
Reason and logic may have be Rand’s focus, but by leaving the obligation to define its final goal up to the individual, Objectivism gives this person freedom to define their own happiness so long as they justify it with “logic and reason” to the only judge that matters: her or himself.
And this leads us to a truth that anyone of any age can decipher on their own: if you want to be selfish, there’s a million ways to justify your actions to yourself. You can say you deserve it, that it’s only fair in light of the circumstances, or you can appeal to a complex system of conflicting religious aspirations and incomplete philosophy touted by the writer of poor prose-laden speculative fiction.
Of course focusing on the self is not an inherent evil. We are limited in how we perceive and parse the world around us because we only witness it through our own minds, fallible and flawed as they are. But caring for the self, that is wanting truly good things for it is not a bad thing. It’s when the self is prioritized above others that self-love turns to self-interest and to self-centredness. And it’s right on the threshold of that transition where the Church of Satan and Christian Objectivists want to find a balance.
For LaVey, it’s about believing in a world where everyone is free to follow their own self-interest in pursuit of pleasure and self-actualization. But this world does not exist.
For Christians trying to thread Jesus through the needle of Objectivism, the goal is the same although with the added difficulty of allowing the full breadth of the Gospel exist alongside self-interested followers of Christ. If you can find a way to defend self-interest without sounding like you are deriding the suffering of others, then you can find a way for Jesus to be fully God, fully man, and fully Objectivist ideal. But Jesus is not so malleable.
For Jesus, as understood through the writings of the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament, care for the self is inherently conjoined with care for the collective, and vice versa. We do not exist in isolation, not as children, adults, elders, or long after we’re gone. We inherently exist in community with others and the salvation He promised was given to the collective of humanity just as much as it was to each individual.
Christ’s salvation and redemption, the core of the Gospel message, is just as much focused on the individual as the entire collective. The collective is itself one, while made up of distinct individuals. Paul outlines this in 1 Corinthians, saying:
“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.”
For, within Christianity, the individual cannot pursue their faith in isolation, but only when bolstered by the community of believers. Of course, the church body is full of problems as every person brings with them their fallibility. No church group exists without conflict, and by grouping together the community of Christians risks creating more problems for each of its members, who must take on others’ problems as their own. But by embracing the community, listening to one another, delving into prayer and the scriptures as a collective, with humility, these obstacles can be overcome. Again, from 1 Corinthians:
“But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”
The community brings greater knowledge and support to the individual that they cannot create on their own, but it also adds more problems for the individual. But God, in His redemptive power, makes the community part of the solution as well.
This is the same with every relationship, including one with God Himself. The individual, in pursuing what is best for their life, has to over its own fallibility and faults, which it cannot do on its own. Entering into relationship with other people means welcoming in greater strength, wisdom, and ability it could not achieve on its own, but that relationship comes with the added challenge of the other people’s faults as well as the challenges of maintaining that relationship. Entering into relationship with the Creator equally presents both added strength, wisdom, and ability as well as a myriad of problems, but not from the infallible God but rather through the challenges to the individual He provides, which include the challenge to love not only oneself, not only one’s church community, but the entire collective of humanity.
It makes sense why both Christians and Satanists prefer to seek out a philosophy and methodology that encourages them to discard the collective, instead seeking to reassert the primacy of the individual. It’s easy and it’s simple. It simplifies things and gets rid of all the potentially problematic relationships that would seek to deter the individual from her or his own happiness.
Of course the entirety of the Gospel is focused on relationships in the form of loving God and loving your neighbours (i.e. everyone), so unlike Christians, Satanists can embrace Objectivism without fear of hypocrisy (although calling yourself a Satanist while asserting the non-existence of the devil comes with its own semantic difficulties).
For in asserting the ability of Objectivism to join with the Gospel is a grave error in judgment. The individual exists in Christian faith but only in the context of a valued and distinct member of the collective. The testimony and personal life of the individual are still appreciated and respected in the church, but not isolated from nor elevated above that of the whole community (both the community of believers and the community of the entirety of God’s creation, i.e. everyone).
So in order for Objectivism and individualism to function alongside the Gospel, they must be malleable; altered to the point of being unrecognizable. For every end goal of Rand’s Objectivism—where the independent, rational human being, with great self-esteem, must seek out their own, individual happiness—must be scrubbed clean and replaced with assertions that the individual, within the community of believers, must commit to reason and faith, in humility, to seek out God’s love and truth. All rejections of the “monster of ‘We'” in praise of the “god of ‘I'” cannot exist alongside the God of love for whom there is “neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female,” but for whom “all one in Christ Jesus.”
But for some, altering the text of Rand, which allows a flexible morality that requires very little of the individual aside from asserting its own dominance, is much more difficult than chopping and screwing the message of the Gospel. Thus is born the hybrid, contradictory Christian Objectivist. Although the Christian who embraces an egocentric belief does not have to be familiar with one word of Rand in order to justify a life of self-service to her or himself, this altered version of the Gospels permeates every corner of the Christian faith today. The service of “I” in exchange for the rejection of “We,” or rather, the “We made up of I and You and Him,” exists everywhere, whether publicly acknowledged or unconsciously accepted.
The Christian church that embraces the dominance of “I” over all else, especially over the love and message of Christ to serve all others (i.e. everyone… like, EVERYone) in this way takes on the appearance and approximation of another church, one that venerates another, completely different individual, even if it too chooses not to acknowledge his very real existence.