Devil On My Mind (Part 2)

Cover art for The Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities

The Satanic Temple (TST) is an atheistic religion, meaning it neither believes in God nor an actual, literal Satan. Instead Satan is seen as “symbolic of the Eternal Rebel in opposition to arbitrary authority, forever defending personal sovereignty even in the face of insurmountable odds. Satan is an icon for the unbowed will of the unsilenced inquirer… the heretic who questions sacred laws and rejects all tyrannical impositions.”

Satanists, as envisioned by TST, are those who “embrace rational inquiry” and who reject superstitions and supernaturalism. They “actively work to hone critical thinking and exercise reasonable agnosticism in all things,” believing that one’s views must ultimately conform to the best scientific understanding of the world, and never the reverse. In other words, belief must follow science.

TST is not to be confused with the original Church of Satan founded by Anton Lavey in 1966, though its ideologies clearly evolved from it. Both are atheistic in nature but Laveyan Satanists still believe in magic or some sort of supernaturalism, claiming that it is still an undiscovered facet of reality.

It also rejects the authoritarianism found in other Satanist sects (yep, as with any other religion, there are several of those too) as well as the obsession they have in being the “one, true Church of Satan.” TST is quite open to working with other groups, Satanists or otherwise.

TST is quite active in the socio-political arena. In 2014, it started a fundraising campaign for a statue of Baphomet (the goat-headed demon) to be placed at the Oklahoma State Capitol. This was in response to a congressman’s donation of a sculpture of the Ten Commandments at the same place. The logic was that if the state allowed one religious monument, then it should likewise allow other religious monuments to be similarly placed. Otherwise, it would be violating the religious non-establishment clause in the US Constitution (also found in the Philippine Constitution) which prohibited favoring one religion over another.

The plan did not push through though as the Ten Commandments monument was destroyed that same year, and thus TST had no more reason to put its own monument there — and it also felt it was inappropriate to do so. They finally installed the Baphomet statue at the Detroit chapter of The Satanic Temple.

Another interesting campaign of theirs is called After School Satan, which blatantly proclaims to “counter evangelism in schools.”

“It’s important that children be given an opportunity to realize that the evangelical materials now creeping into their schools are representative of but one religious opinion amongst many. While the Good News Clubs focus on indoctrination, instilling them with a fear of Hell and God’s wrath, After School Satan Clubs will focus on free inquiry and rationalism, the scientific basis for which we know what we know about the world around us. We prefer to give children anappreciation of the natural wonders surrounding them, not a fear of everlasting other-worldly horrors.”

All this comes complete with their own religious literature, “The Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities.”

TST cleverly used a legal decision that was first exploited by evangelistic Christian groups to argue that the government cannot prohibit their groups from operating after school hours, nor can it discriminate against religious speech. Since TST is itself a religion, it could then also operate under the same legal framework as other religious groups.

When I introduced this topic last week, one of my readers found it interesting but objected to the group naming themselves The Satanic Temple. Doing so antagonizes majority of the world’s population and may not really be appealing to many.

Personally, I find the idea amusing and appealing to a certain demographic. It has some shock value and because of its religious classification, it can certainly penetrate in some areas that other organizations cannot. It has its own niche in the budding fields of agnostic-atheist groups.

While I don’t see myself joining them anytime soon, I wouldn’t mind having some of them over for dinner. Care to join us?

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

 

Devil On My Mind (Part 1)

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Being free from religion has enabled me to look at other religions in a new, often fascinating, way. Before, I would approach other religions with a mix of fear and trepidation, always on the lookout to point out what was wrong with them. Of course, what was “wrong” was always in relation to what my particular branch of Christianity found wrong, and I was always armed with the appropriate Bible verses to explain why such beliefs were unsound or even perverse.

This way of seeing prevented me from truly appreciating or even just understanding other religions. And I was careful never to dig too deeply because there was always that irrational fear that the devil was behind all other “false” religions and would use those to subvert and seduce me into their way of thinking.

Of course, there would be some Christians reading this who would say that the devil has in fact been successful in subverting my mind, seeing that I write and think as I do. Then again, they would have to say that for all other sorts of thinking that are not congruent with their own, and looking at the many variants, denominations, and offshoots of Christianity, I cannot help but think that even they cannot get their own house in order so until they get that sorted out, what they think of what I think is their problem, not mine.

Anyway, I have just spent the last hour or so reading about this religious organization founded in the US in 2014, and has since been quite active regarding controversial issues in secularism, child abuse, gay marriage, and so on. It is an interesting organization because its name alone will send shivers down the spine of most Christians and even the more liberal ones will feel a slight tinge of apprehension.

Before I reveal its name though, let me share its mission statement as well as its guiding principles or tenets, as published in its website (slightly reworded as not to give away the name of the religion at this point):

“[Our mission]  is to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense and justice, and be directed by the human conscience to undertake noble pursuits guided by the individual will. Politically aware, Civic-minded [members] and allies have publicly opposed The Westboro Baptist Church, advocated on behalf of children in public school to abolish corporal punishment, applied for equal representation where religious monuments are placed on public property, provided religious exemption and legal protection against laws that unscientifically restrict women’s reproductive autonomy, exposed fraudulent harmful pseudo-scientific practitioners and claims in mental health care, and applied to hold clubs alongside other religious after school clubs in schools besieged by proselytizing organizations.”

Its guiding principles or tenets are the following:

 

  • One should strive to act with compassion and empathy towards all creatures in accordance with reason.
  • The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
  • One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.
  • The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo your own.
  • Beliefs should conform to our best scientific understanding of the world. We should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs.
  • People are fallible. If we make a mistake, we should do our best to rectify it and resolve any harm that may have been caused.
  • Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word.

 

If that sounds like something you can rally behind, then you might want to consider joining this group founded by Lucien Greaves and Malcolm Jarry called the Satanic Temple.

 

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

 

Heaven and Hell (Part 4)

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Imagine, for a moment, that you are God.

In the beginning, there was only you (although it is not even right to speak of a “beginning” since you have always been, but for the sake of easy discussion, let’s just call that certain point in time the “beginning”).

Imagine the vastness of the universe, the multitudes of stars and galaxies that we have discovered in our lifetime — all of those are but a tip of your fingernail, or a single hairstrand of your being. But at this point of our imagination, none of those exist yet. Only you exist. There is no here or there, no light nor dark, no good nor evil, nor heaven nor hell.

There is only you. You are everything and everything is you — the ultimate state of perfection.

But perfection is quite static, and boring. Think about it. What do you do when you have everything you need or want, when you are already everything you desire to be? There is nothing more to strive for, nothing new to experience, nothing exciting to look forward to.

In fact, you do not even experience yourself as God, the creator, the most powerful, intelligent, benevolent and-whatever-superlative-you-can-think-of  being in the universe, because there is no universe.

There is just you. Only you.

And so you, as God, find yourself in this state of mind. You know you are God and you can happily live out the rest of eternity as this static thing, forever existing as yourself, but you lack that experience of being God.

One cannot fully appreciate the light unless one has experienced darkness, one cannot appreciate good unless one has experienced evil. There is no experience of being “here” unless there is also a place called “not-here” or “there” or somewhere else. In the same way, you know that you are God and that you are more powerful than…well, what else is there? So in order for you to experience being God, there must be in existence things which are Not-God. But how can that be since you are everything and everything is you?

Bang! The big idea hits you and you set your grand plan into motion. You break off a tiny piece of you, that tip of your fingernail, and make it forget that it is a part of you. You make it forget that it is in fact, you. So the universe is born and there is now a “there” to your “here.”

But you do not forget. In fact, you get to experience everything that is going on in that part of you that is Not-You — and there certainly is a lot to experience — wealth, poverty, greed, love, hate, anger, happiness, hunger, compassion, avarice, kindness, cruelty, awe, wonder, and so on. Everything that Not-You experiences is your experience regardless if Not-You decides to worship you, to deny your existence or to ignore you altogether. It doesn’t matter because in the end, Not-You returns to you and remembers and you can start the cycle again.

Big Bang. Big Crunch. Breathe in. Breathe out. Inhale. Exhale.

No heaven. No hell. There is only the eternal breath of God.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

 

Heaven and Hell (Part 3)

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Growing up with the idea of heaven was not as easy for me as one might think. There were many times I wished my life would just end; for me to go to sleep and not wake up. There were many times I prayed for God to just take me home. I do not remember clearly now the reason for such thoughts, but I remember having them from time to time as a teenager all the way to my twenties.

I am not suicidal. I have never seriously or actually attempted ending my life, though I do remember entertaining the thought and trying to decide which method would be fastest and most pain-free. At the lowest points in my life when I wanted to die, I wondered why most people, especially Christians, seemed afraid to die and clung on to life. Why would they endure the heavy cost of hospitalizations and being hooked up to this and that machine? Why delay the inevitable? Why not instead by joyful and excited to go to heaven and be with God?

There were early groups of Christians who thought this way, most notably the Donatists, a 4th century sect that went against the priests and bishops, believing their authority to be invalid and therefore refusing to be subjugated by them. They were politically active, stirring up violence and protests in the street against the creeping hold of Roman authority in the church. Even when most of the Christian world came to accept the emperor Constantine as a leader of the church, the Donatists saw him as the devil incarnate.

Donatists also thought that suicide, in the name of their cause, would make them martyrs and thus guarantee their place in heaven. This line of thinking is eerily familiar when one reads of the motivation of Japanese kamikaze pilots in World War 2 (redemption, payment for debts in this life, honor) and of suicide bombers who are promised heavenly comforts (the famed reward of 72 virgins) as well as earthly securities for the loved ones they would leave behind.

It is not difficult to see that this was a dangerous train of thought. In the 5th century CE, Augustine of Hippo (later canonized as a saint) condemned suicide as a violation of the fifth commandment “Thou shalt not kill,” explaining that the prohibition included the killing of one’s self and not just others.

By the 6th century, suicide had become a secular crime as well, which is not surprising knowing how tightly intertwined religion and government were at that time. Even those found attempting suicide were in grave danger of excommunication and all the social consequences that entailed. Those who died by suicide were forbidden Christian burials on “consecrated” ground, and denied ecclesiastical rights, which was a sure way into hell.

In the Catholic tradition, it is possible for a person to die with unconfessed sins. If they die with unconfessed venial sins (like lying, petty theft, and the like), they undergo a cleansing process in purgatory to be “purged” from these sins. If they die with unconfessed mortal sins (like murder, suicide, divorce, and even masturbation and participation in Freemasonry), then they are in very real danger of going to hell.

In the Protestant tradition, however, there is the belief that when one accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior, one is cleansed from all sin — past, present and future — and so one is now under the grace of God. The bible passage often quoted is Romans 8 which begins with saying that there is “no condemnation” for those who are in Jesus and ends with a grand statement that nothing, no powers, angels, demons, nor life nor death can separate a person from God’s love.

It is interesting to note though, that despite this, I have heard sermons or teachings from certain pastors (especially the more legalistic ones) that suicide is an unforgivable sin pointing to Jesus’ reference to an “unforgivable sin” in Matthew 12:31-32: “Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.”

The argument is that a Christian’s body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19) and so to commit the ultimate sin against one’s body by killing it is a “blasphemy against the Spirit.”

Nevertheless, in my experience, very few people today are willing to take a firm stand on who goes to heaven and hell. Even when I express my atheism to Christians, when I ask them point-blank, so do you think I’m going to hell? Very few would give me a straight yes or no answer and would be very roundabout in their responses, but mostly along the lines of “Who am I to judge? God will decide.”

 

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

 

Heaven and Hell (Part 2)

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Imagine a bird that can fly through space. This bird takes one grain of sand from a beach, then flies off to the furthest planet in the known galaxy and deposits the grain of sand there. Then it comes back, takes another grain of sand and flies off again and so on until there is no more sand left on the earth. The bird flies at normal bird speed (and doesn’t go through hyperspace or wormholes). Imagine how much time it would take for it to deplete all the beaches on earth of their sand.

And yet all that time, that hellishly long time,  is just like a grain of sand in the sea of eternity.

I heard that illustration of eternity from a pastor when I was a kid (though not as poetic). It was followed by the question, “So where do you want to spend eternity?”

I had two choices, either in heaven with Jesus (happy, happy, joy, joy!) or in hell experiencing first-hand what lechon goes through, and it would never end. At least the pig doesn’t feel itself burned to a crisp.

Of course I went for the first choice, as did every other kid in that group. I thought, who in his right mind would want to be a human barbecue forever?

As I mentioned in Part 1, one of my first concepts of heaven was that it would be a happy reunion with relatives who had passed away. That hope is still very real in many people. Just listen to the words of comfort people give to those whose loved ones have just died. Listen to the sermons of the priests or pastors or any clergy in memorial services. There is always that hope of “meeting them again” someday.

Even I wished so badly to be reunited with my favorite dog when she died unexpectedly one morning.

In time, I acquired other images of heaven. John 14 begins with Jesus telling his disciples not to be troubled (this was after he had announced Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial) and to believe in him. Then he said “In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you.” What a marvelous dream this is especially for those who do not have a home, or who live in shanties or even modest houses.

Revelations 21 gives us more grandiose images of the new heaven or the New Jerusalem, which is described like a souped up version of old Jerusalem complete with the walls and the gates.  Of course, the young me didn’t find anything suspicious then, but I felt awe and longing to see the gates made out of pearl, and the wall’s foundations inlaid with all sorts of precious stone, and the streets of gold.

And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.” (Revelations 21:23 NKJV)

This was also the place where God “shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” (Revelations 21:4 NKJV)

I must have been around 10 or so when my dad announced that there was a prediction that the world would end the next day and although it might not be true, it was best to be prepared. I was not only prepared, I was excited, and of course, a little afraid, but more excited than afraid.

With those images of heaven, who would not be excited to see it the next day? And I was sure I was going to heaven because I had said the salvation prayer and accepted Jesus into my heart — but just to be sure, I said it again, and was now sure. Sure na jud.

I woke up the next day and immediately ran to the window, expecting to see fire raining from the heavens, expecting to see Jesus coming down from heaven, and expecting myself and other believers to fly up and meet him in the air (because this is what I’ve always been taught would happen).

I was hugely disappointed that it turned out to be just another normal day.

 

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

 

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