At one level, this is simply yet another sign – after the ridiculous vampire example I cited over at k-punk – that, so far as the Secumenical west is concerned, nothing is beyond the pale. (Except Christianity of course, which, as some – though, praise Uttunul, not all of the responses to my Passion of the Christ post confirmed, is embarrassingly unacceptable to the postmodern, post-Enlightenment, patholiberalized west.)
The RN Satanist episode could seem simply comic, and indeed it is uproariously funny. What next? An al Qaeda operative being welcomed into the US military? A Nazi claiming political asylum in Israel? Given that it can only be fear of litigation that has prompted the Navy’s tolerance, this incident is further confirmation that in the west, Lawyer Plague has long since gone virulently endemic, a sick and sickening cultural virus eroding all personal responsibility and ethical accountability in a kind of perverse fusion of corporatism, Derridean deconstruction and Clintonian equivocation (‘it depends what you mean by “is”‘). In the lair of the blurred, the lawyer-liar is king. (Or Prime Minister).
At another level – and this perhaps amounts to the same point differently put – the sublime hilarity that the Royal Navy Satanist evokes indicates that the Wittgensteinian logic of mystagogic ‘tolerance’ has reached its inevitable, absurd conclusion. Repudiating the Logical Positivist philosophy to which his early work had contributed, Wittgenstein famously argued that religions were ‘language games’, ‘forms of life’ which could not be rationally analysed or assessed by those not participating in the ‘way of living’. Logical Positivists were wrong to demand that religion (or any other discourse) be subject to logic or empirical verifiability because both logic and science were themselves only language games, no more – or less – valid than any other. There was no meta-language game, no transcendent perspective ‘outside’ the play of different discourses which could legitimately claim to arbitrate them. It’s a short step from this to the now widely accepted postmodern ‘incredulity towards meta-narratives’; no surprise, then, to reflect that Lyotard leant so heavily on Wittgenstein in The Postmodern Condition.
Now, as we are all well aware, for Wittgenstein, as for his postmodern successors, there would always turn out to be a meta-language after all – the meta-language of language games itself, with its implicit, unworkably paradoxical ethics of obligatory tolerance towards all cultural groups. The incredulity towards meta-narratives wasn’t itself a religious conviction, just as cultural relativism isn’t a cultural position. It is – in the unstated view of its adherents in the Secumenon – just ‘normal’, a state of disbelief those not fortunate enough to be members of the Western elite can look forward to one day attaining.
One of the many virtues of John Gray’s work is to expose the appalling hubris of the Secumenon’s unstated presuppositions about the superiority of their vacuous quasi-scientistic anti-theism. In Al Qaeda and What it Means to be Modern, Gray demonstrates that the positivist cult of science is in effect a religion, with its own unargued assumptions, priests and observances. This could sound like language games all over again, but Gray is no postmodern relativist. Rather, he is an anti-modernist Schopenhauerian pessimist, gleefully-gloomily eviscerating what he identifies as the West’s deepest religious commitment: faith in Progress.
Yes, everything is religious – especially the militant atheism of the White Euroisie – but some religions are more dangerous, more pernicious than others. Hence Gray’s paralleling of Islamofascism with the CrUSaders is not a banal gesture of moral equivalence (‘they are both as bad as each other’), it is a recognition that al Qaeda and Bush are both fundamentally modern, both fundamentally modern(ist). For Gray, the way out therefore seems to lie in a rejection of the disastrous modernist myth of Progress and a qualified return to the pre-theistic cyclical time in which history is without any meaning, redemptive or otherwise.
Gray is rigorously Schopenhauerian in his belief that the problem is the Western subject’s belief in itself. It is precisely Ego that is the problem, the hell in which we are trapped, burning. But this Ego is merely maya, appearance, phenomena: the task for human beings is to suspend these mirages in order to flee the Burroughs’ ‘penny arcade peep show’, the endlessly turning ferris wheel of desolate hedonic repetition, the Garden of Delights.
All of which brings us back to Chris Cranmer, the Navy’s Satanist. Cranmer is a member of LaVey’s Church of Satan, which holds that ‘Satan represents indulgence instead of abstinence’ and ‘Satan represents all of the so-called sins, as they all lead to physical, mental, or emotional gratification.’
What could be more drearily banal than this weary black candle-lighting for egoistic carnality? It might be uh tempting to decry Cranmer and LaVey’s version of Satanism as a sad travesty of ‘true’ Satanism, but isn’t the uncomfortable reality for the transgressive Marilyn Manson panto crew that Cranmer and LaVey’s tawdry cult of Self is a kind of fundamentalist Satanism, a pure Satanism stripped of all extraneous stage-setting histrionic devices?
Satan is well known to the prince of Lies. With this in mind, we must concede that Blair and Clinton, in this respect if no other, are much more Satanic than Bush who, as s The Economist has long argued, is at least honest about what he is. Devil’s Advocate was an atrocious film, but its premiss – that today’s Satan would be the head of firm of lawyers – was compelling and provocative, because it appreciated that the postmodern – the cultural logic of late Kapitalism, Jameson was right to insist – might be defined as the moment in which ubiquitous Law displaces – or, to use Kafka’s terms – indefinitely postpones, Justice. And postmodern Law is precisely not some transcendent absolute but the bad immanence of a Kafkaesque legal abgrund, a self-supporting, literally interminable, bureau-labyrinth.
Yes, Satan’s dominion is the realm of the worldly. Hence the crucial scene of temptation in the desert:
‘Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus turned back from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert, where for forty days and for forty nights he was put to the test by the Devil. During that time he ate nothing, and by the end of it he was hungry. “If you are the son of God, command this stone to become a loaf.” But Jesus replied, “Scripture says, ‘Man does not live by bread alone’.”
Then, leading him to a height, the Devil showed him in a moment of time all the kingdoms of the world and said to him, “To you will I give all this power and their glory, for it has been handed over to me, for me to give to whom I choose. Worship me, and it shall all be yours.” But Jesus answered him, “Scripture says, ‘You must worship the Lord your God; him alone must you serve.'”
Then he led him to Jerusalem and set him on the highest parapet of the Temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said to him, “cast yourself down from here, for scripture says, ‘He has commanded his angels to guard you,’ and again, ‘They will bear you in their arms lest you strike your foot against a stone.'”
But Jesus answered him, “Scripture says, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”
Having run through every way of tempting him, the Devil left him, until the opportune moment. (Luke 4:1-13)
As Jack Miles observes in Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God:
‘In this episode, which gave rise to the proverb “Even the Devil can quote scripture,” Jesus and the Devil confront each other as duelling Jewish intellectuals.’ The issue is: what kind of power do Jesus and Satan have?
It is clear that Satan’s dominion extends to everything in the world, including Jesus’ own organism (which he is able to physically transport). The temptation, here as in the Passion later, would be to submit to the carnal cravings of the organism, to take the easy option offered by the pleasure principle, and therefore to grant credence to the worldly.
Yet, here as later, Jesus is impassive. He is precisely not Passionate; his strength lies in quieting the relentless demands of his own organs, in overcoming the default human tendency towards Spinozist passivity.
As The Passion of the Christ makes clear, the Devil, however, preys upon the passive. Not only the militantly psychotic Roman soldiers who gleefully beat the upstart Messiah, but also the apathetic passers by, the crowd who either participate in the baiting, sneering and humiliation or else stand by quietely and permit it to occur.
What then, are the 21C equivalents of the Romans and the passive Crowd? Well, for the moment, if not for that much longer, Amerikkka is the Spectacular-Optical Kapital of the carnal-worldly. Military might and the power of the $ and the degraded hyperstitions they generate – there’s no point doing anything, global Kapital is inevitable, unstoppable – these are the means by which Wordly passivity weighs upon us, inducing us to wall ourselves up further in our the luxury padded cells of our Oed-I-pod Hells.
Satanism is not aberrant, transgressive, dangerous.
It is normality in person.