Joe CarterJun 8, 2011
Over the past few years, Anton LaVey and his book The Satanic Bible has grown increasingly popular, selling thousands of new copies. His impact has been especially pronounced in our nation’s capital. One U.S. senator has publicly confessed to being a fan of the The Satanic Bible while another calls it his “foundation book.” On the other side of Congress, a representative speaks highly of LaVey and recommends that his staffers read the book.
A leading radio host called LaVey “brilliant” and quotations from the The Satanic Bible can be glimpsed on placards at political rallies. More recently, a respected theologian dared to criticize the founder of the Church of Satan in the pages of a religious and cultural journal and was roundly criticized by dozens of fellow Christians.
Surprisingly little concern, much less outrage, has erupted over this phenomenon. Shouldn’t we be appalled by the ascendancy of this evangelist of anti-Christian philosophy? Shouldn’t we all—especially we Christians—be mobilizing to counter the malevolent force of this man on our culture and politics?
As you’ve probably guessed by this point, I’m not really talking about LaVey but about his mentor, Ayn Rand. The ascendency of LaVey and his embrace by “conservative” leaders would indeed cause paroxysms of indignation. Yet, while the two figures’ philosophies are nearly identical, Rand appears to have received a pass. Why is that?
Perhaps most are unaware of the connection, though LaVey wasn’t shy about admitting his debt to his inspiration. “I give people Ayn Rand with trappings,” he once told the Washington Post. On another occasion he acknowledged that his brand of Satanism was “just Ayn Rand’s philosophy with ceremony and ritual added.” Indeed, the influence is so apparent that LaVey has been accused of plagiarizing part of his “Nine Satanic Statements” from the John Galt speech in Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.
Devotees of Rand may object to my outlining the association between the two. They will say I am proposing “guilt by association,” a form of the ad hominem fallacy. But I am not attacking Rand for the overlap of her views with LaVey’s; I am saying that, at their core, they are the same philosophy. LaVey was able to recognize what many conservatives fail to see: Rand’s doctrines are satanic.
I realize that even to invoke that infernal word conjures images of black masses, human sacrifices, and record needles broken trying to play “Stairway to Heaven” backwards. But satanism is more banal and more attractive than the parody created by LeVay. Real satanism has been around since the beginning of history, selling an appealing message: Your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.
You can replace the pentagrams of LeVayian Satanism with the dollar sign of the Objectivists without changing much of the substance separating the two. The ideas are largely the same, though the movements’ aesthetics are different. One appeals to, we might say, the Young Libertarians, and the other attracts the Future Wiccans of America.
What is harder to understand is why both ideologies appeal to Christians and conservatives. My guess is that these groups are committing what I’d call the fallacy of personal compatibility. This fallacy occurs when a person thinks that because one subscribes to both “Belief X” and “Belief Y,” the two beliefs must therefore be compatible. For example, a person may claim that “life has meaning” and that “everything that exists is made of matter” even though the two claims are not compatible (unless “meaning” is made of matter). This take on the fallacy has long been committed by atheists. Now it appears to be growing in popularity among conservatives and Christians as well.
But to be a follower of both Rand and Christ is not possible. The original Objectivist was a type of self-professed anti-Christ who hated Christianity and the self-sacrificial love of its founder. She recognized that those Christians who claimed to share her views didn’t seem to understand what she was saying.
Many conservatives admire Rand because she was anti-collectivist. But that is like admiring Stalin because he opposed Nazism. Stalin was against the Nazis because he wanted to make the world safe for Communism. Likewise, Rand stands against collectivism because she wants the freedom to abolish Judeo-Christian morality. Conservative Christians who embrace her as the “enemy-of-my-enemy” seem to forget that she considered us the enemy.
Even if this were not the case, though, what would warrant the current influence of her thought within the conservative movement? Rand was a third-rate writer who was too arrogant to recognize her own ignorance (she believed she was the third greatest philosopher in history, behind only Aristotle and Aquinas). She misunderstood almost every concept she engaged with—from capitalism to freedom—and wrote nothing that had not been treated before by better thinkers. We don’t need her any more than we need LeVay.
Few conservatives will fall completely under Rand’s diabolic sway. But we are sustaining a climate in which not a few gullible souls believe she is worth taking seriously. Are we willing to be held responsible for pushing them to adopt an anti-Christian worldview? If so, perhaps instead of recommending Atlas Shrugged, we should simply hand out copies of The Satanic Bible. If they’re going to align with a satanic cult, they might as well join the one that has the better holidays.
Joe Carter is Web Editor of First Things and the co-author of How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator.