April 17, 2018

Clockwork Oranges

You may not like what you see, but you will SEE!
via Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Anthony Burgess' "A Clockwork Orange"
Have you ever read Anthony Burgess' novel, "A Clockwork Orange?" For me, it's right up there with George Orwell's "1984," H.G. Wells' "Island of Dr. Moreau," and Frank Herbert's "Dune" saga for the literary works that have most influenced me. The reason I bring it up is because in the book, while the anti-hero Alex is incarcerated, the prison chaplain poses the question to the prison warden that fixing the problem of crime by conditioning criminals into experiencing debilitating illness at the thought of violence is a sin. According to the prison chaplain, it would be better that all people had free will and chose to do evil, than to have no free will and be compelled to do only good. 

So when I find things on the Satanic interwebs like this essay published by the Church of Rational Satanism (CoRS), it's Burgess' novel that I remember. You can read a much longer dissection of the CoRS's essay at the Devil's Fane, but having read the CoRS's essay I hear Burgess' priest on my right shoulder: is it preferable to be unbound by mental chains and also free to err, or is it preferable to be obligated to dogma and captive to rules? Me being who I am, I'd rather have more freedom to decide my affairs even if it means the occasional gaffe...

... and this is one of the reasons why I chose to become a member of The Satanic Temple (TST.) To be honest, this wasn't a recent decision -- I joined some time ago but decided to keep my affiliation to myself until I felt like I had reason to discuss it. And, to be honest, this was a much different affair than joining the Church of Satan (CoS.) The reasons that I decided to leave the CoS are outside the scope of this essay, but I bring it up only to compare the application process between the CoS and TST.

To join the CoS, one must send an application along with a one-time payment for $225, but this in fact doesn't qualify you as a full member, but instead as what might be considered a patron or a supporter. The reason why is because the application form submitted with the payment is considered only a declaration that the applicant agrees with the positions set out by the CoS, and beyond that nothing more. It is a one-way declaration of support, and at least in the eyes of the CoS doesn't confer anything except a card declaring the applicant a "Citizen of the Infernal Empire." If the applicant wants to well and truly become a member of the CoS and be mutually recognized as a Satanist, then the applicant must submit a second application consisting of dozens of questions used to determine if the applicant is a right-thinking sort of person. Once the applicant has been vetted by the leadership, only then will he or she be mutually acknowledged by the CoS. This process of charging an entry fee and requiring double confirmation is both specifically and explicitly designed to keep out the undesirables and control who may call him or herself a Satanist.

Meanwhile, to join TST one need only enter his or her name and email address into a form. That's it. There are options for members to spend $25 for a decorative certificate and membership card, but it's not required and to the best of my knowledge there are no exclusive benefits for card-carrying members. Otherwise, there's no entry fee, no application, and no purity tests. There's really only one caveat for membership, and that's the standard organizational policy that membership can be revoked presumably for bad behavior (don't be a dick, amirite?), and there's really only one requirement: applicants should understand, agree with, and adhere to TST's guiding tenets.

I was rather excited after being approved as an active, registered member of the CoS -- at the time, that meant something to me -- so you can imagine my surprise when left-hand woman to the High Priest of the Church of Satan, Magistra Nadramia, told me that I had to delete the photographs I posted on social media of my welcome package because it's "confidential information" for "members only" that shouldn't be shared because "people will make counterfeits." So after I decided that I would join TST and the only thing I had to do was check my inbox to click the anti-spam confirmation link, I thought for sure I was missing something -- was joining TST really only a matter of sharing my name and email address? Evidently, TST isn't concerned with purity tests and quality control.

And I get it, I mean -- this feeds into the big criticisms levied against TST: "They'll take anybody. They're scraping the bottom of the barrel. They don't even care if you're a Satanist." After all, just look at how much work the CoS puts into quality control: a strict internal hierarchy with multiple gatekeepers and high fences to keep out the ignorant, and only those who've demonstrated a detailed comprehension of the religion and philosophy are acknowledged. Meanwhile, membership in TST is as easy as voluntarily subscribing to a mailing list.

So the argument goes, recognized members of the CoS are intelligent and discerning individuals because they've not only learned the 9 Satanic statements, 9 Satanic sins, 11 Rules of the Earth, and Pentagonal Revisionism, but have also internalized the Satanic Bible. It takes a lot of study and personal application to do all these things, so that's evidence of will-to-power, right? Maybe yes...

... and depending on your perspective, maybe no. Another large criticism made against TST (and one which I've made in the past) is that the organization doesn't really have any literature, and that it doesn't really believe anything because it only has seven guiding tenets (which are really more like what you would call guidelines than actual rules.) So the accusations go, "See how flimsy TST is? See how thin their claim to be a true religion really is?" Well, I don't agree with those accusations because unlike the CoS which has a high initial bar for entry and then vigorously tends ideological hedges by keeping tabs on members to ensure commitment to right-thinking and the narrowly defined boundaries of its canon literature, TST has a very low bar for entry and then advances those members by strength of deeds and the volume of acclamation. Religiously, philosophically, and organizationally, what I've observed is that TST wants its members to think for themselves about how to use the loose guidelines of the seven tenets as a flexible and expandable foundation for further growth. But then, their aversion to authoritarianism is institutional and is only naturally reflected in how members are encouraged to treat themselves -- whether external or internal, subjugation to jealous tyrants is not welcomed.

Now, let it be known that I'm so obviously not a spokesperson for TST, and I'm not privy to secret knowledge about the organization, so if there's an 18th level grand magus about who wants to correct me on any of this you're welcome to join the conversation. What I'm saying here is based on what I can see in the news, what I read on Reddit, the limited conversations I have with other TST members, and what I learn through TST-affiliated bloggers, podcasters, and YouTubers. I'm not trying to speak authoritatively about TST, but only from what I've observed and experienced.

And going by what I've observed and experienced, TST doesn't nurture clockwork oranges. What I've observed is that TST would rather have a membership composed of individuals working to interpret and apply the guiding tenets in a way that makes sense to them individually even if different members fall short of the mark. What I've observed is that TST prefers to create fertile ground to nurture stimulating and productive members even if a few weeds must be tolerated or occasionally pruned. What I've observed is that TST's guiding tenets are, in their way, more demanding and challenging than the defined canon literature of the CoS because there's nothing clockwork about them. Contrary to the accusations made by the CoRS, CoS, and other interested parties, I've found that TST's guiding tenets require a substantial investment of time and energy, as well as a large degree of self-awareness -- and so say I, that doesn't seem a step out of line for anybody who'd call him or herself a Satanist.