Wednesday, December 28, 2005

More on Satanic Ethics (and Fashion)

A good friend emailed me in response to the conversation with a Satanist that I posted in three parts. He had some perceptive insights and asked a very good question that I'd like to share with other readers. His comments are in italics, followed by my reply.

I have a couple of comments on your exchange with the Satanist. First, logic certainly doesn't seem to be a big thing for him. He doesn't even recognize what a contradiction is. But self-deification comes through in his answers. Secondly, he did try to express a concept that may be legitimate as a rule for behavior. He denied the existence of an absolute moral standard based on right or wrong from God, but claimed a standard based on consequences. "If you do this it will only hurt you." He called it Karma and common sense, but I believe God uses that motivation, alongside the right and wrong motivation. "In the day you eat of it you will die," "Those who love money pierce themselves with sorrow," etc. Isn't it possible to arrive at some universal guidelines for behavior on the basis of consequences, apart from divine Law?

Thanks for the feedback on the conversation with a Satanist. I agree that God does use the fact that sinful behavior has negative consequences as a motivation. But I wasn't addressing the issue of motivation. I wasn't claiming that one should be motivated to perform or abstain from a given act on the basis of what is right or wrong. Rather, I was trying to get him to think about what best explains the fact that we can't help thinking and speaking in terms of objective moral truths.

The point I was trying to make was that even if we observe that a particular action yields harmful results, it doesn't follow that that action is morally wrong. At best, we can conclude that it is imprudent. Yesterday I broke out with what I believe is an allergic reaction to something my wife used in the wash. This morning when I was trying to decide how many Benadryl tablets to take, she said that I shouldn't (or ought not) take two because that would make me very drowsy. I decided to heed her advice but it wouldn't have been immoral or blameworthy of me had I decided to take two. The "ought" in her counsel is different from the "ought" in the statement "You ought not steal from your neighbor" as the latter "ought" conveys a moral prescription. Sure, pragmatic considerations can be helpful guides for behavior but they're not necessarily moral rules one is obliged to obey. Moral obligation requires some kind of moral authority. The Satanist, while denying the existence of a moral authority, expressed moral outrage as though some universally binding moral standard had been violated. This is why I wanted to press him on his likening urinating into the wind to doing violence to someone. He wanted to say that both are stupid acts with undesirable consequences yet it was clear that he made a moral distinction between them.

And while we're on the topic of Satanism, I came across this interesting article about a Swedish designer who has increased sales of a new jeans line by incorporating a Satanic logo, an inverted cross on the forehead of a skull. Bjorn Atldax describes himself as a "devout anti-Christian" and admits to using the logo to make Christians angry.

1 comment:

Mark Pettigrew said...

I just read several online articles about the Swedish designer Bjorn Atldax and his anti-Christian logo for Cheap Monday jeans.

I did a web search on Atldax's name, and found your blog. (My own blog, which you might enjoy reading, can be found at, and my e-mail address is I contemplated sending you an e-mail, since it said you lived in Illinois, and since I live in Chicago, but I didn't see your e-mail address on you blog site or in your Profile.)

I am always fascinated by claims, such as Atldax's, which blame Christianity for evil in the world. According to an article from the Associated Press, Atldax blames Christianity "for sparking wars throughout history". Perhaps he's thinking of the role Christianity played in sparking the American Civil War, which, as a result of the activism of numerous churches involved in the abolitionist movement, freed people from slavery!

Now, I'll admit that it would have been preferable if that liberation could have been accomplished without resorting to violence and bloodshed. Nevertheless, the cause was a just cause, and it's arguable that as bad as war is, it would have been even worse to continue to sit and look the other way while human beings were systematically cheated out of the enjoyment of the rights which are divinely endowed to every person.

Even if one is looking at other wars which were far less noble than the Civil War, it seems valid to ask whether or not it is fair to blame Christianity for those wars. If a person commits a crime in the name of the police department while impersonating a police officer, we do not blame the police department for that crime. We sensibly assign blame where it is due. Likewise, the fact that unjust and morally abhorrent acts are sometimes committed in the name of Christianity does not justify blaming Christianity itself for those acts. Many people who claim to be Christians are not true Christians, a fact acknowledged by Christ himself in scriptures. Jesus said that we would know people by their fruit. Anyone can call himself or herself a Christian, but the label itself means nothing if it is not supported by a lifestyle which is consistent with Christ's teachings.

This is not to say that Christians never do bad things. However, rather than saying that Christians throughout history have done bad things because of their Christianity, it would be more apt to say that they had done bad things in spite of their Christianity. Becoming a Christian does not confer instant perfection on anyone, myself included. We are all works in progress. So I have no problem with the idea that a person, whether he is inside or outside of the church, has the right to criticize individual Christians. But it takes an extraordinarily obtuse mind to fail to grasp the distinction between Christianity as a belief system and Christianity as it is often imperfectly practiced by individual Christians and by Christian institutions.

I think that any person who blames Christianity for history's wars, without also taking into account the many good things Christians have done for the world, is incredibly biased and one-sided. It is no accident that so many American hospitals have religious names. Christians have founded far more benevolent institutions, including the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, the YMCA and many more, than materialists and atheists could ever hope to realistically take credit for.

People who blame Christians and/or other believers in God for the "evil" in the world, while denying that there is any objective source of knowledge concerning right and wrong, are bundles of self-contradiction.

It is one thing to say that a thing bothers you personally. It is another thing to say that it's evil. To call something evil is to imply that one's dislike of that thing is more than a mere matter of personal opinion. It is to imply that the thing in question violates immutable, non-negotiable standards of behavior which are derived from an external, superhuman source. And that, by definition, requires a belief in some type of God. Not necessarily the Christian God, admittedly, but some type of God.

But people such as Atldax are seldom deep thinkers, so they are usually oblivious to the self-contradictory nature of their own statements. It is enough, for them, that they intensely dislike Christians. They may cite such things as wars in support of their dislike of Christians and Christianity, but those are seldom their real reasons. Their real reasons are usually far more personal. Perhaps they were abused by people claiming to be Christians, such as their parents. Or perhaps they merely resent the idea that God would make any demands on them in terms of their personal behavior, so they seek to undermine Christianity as a means of achieving "liberation" from God's demands.

As Christians, our challenge is to speak out against the blatantly anti-Christian activities of people such as Atldax, while simultaneously recognizing that we have a moral responsibility to address their concerns, both real and alleged.

We have a responsibility to live lives which are consistent with the teachings of Christ and his apostles. We have a responsibility to do our utmost to improve the lives of ordinary people, by addressing their emotional, material, intellectual and spiritual needs. We have a responsibility to do all we can to minimize the pain and suffering caused by war, and to seek peaceful alternatives to war whenever possible.

In the long run, that will be far more effective, as a means of combatting the negative anti-Christian activities of people such as Bjorn Atldax, than any boycott could ever accomplish.