MATT DILLAHUNTY PROVES SATANISM IS AN ILLUSION, AND THAT’S OKAY
Atheist activist Matt Dillahunty brought his magic routine to San Francisco this week, and in the process taught us how Satanism works.
That wasn’t what he was going for, of course. Dillahunty’s “Magic & Skepticism” tour is, of course, about skepticism, not any other S-word. And the magic part means stage magic, not occultism.
(Although the thought of Matt wearing a sinister robe and pouring blood onto an altar of skulls might provoke me to pay more for a ticket next time.)
Even so, seeing his routine got me thinking. Magic—again, the stage kind—is a weird hustle. Because naturally the whole point is that it’s not really magic at all, it’s a trick. Or an illusion, as they prefer to say.
I think atheistic Satanism is an illusion too. And, just like Dillahunty’s magic act, that’s why we like it. In fact, it’s the whole reason anyone shows up.
Matt Dillahunty made his bones hosting the cable access show “The Atheist Experience” in Austin, TX, going back to 2005.
Before that he spent decades toiling as a Baptist, and even trained to be a minister until Lord Satan intervened and turned his heart to evil.
It’s possible I’m taking some creative liberties with his bio at the end there, but fuck it, truth is pretty elastic in America lately. Odds are by the time the election rolls around the color of water will be a wedge issue.
Nowadays Dillahunty does a lot of debates and public speaking. And he’s a stage magician too, because of course right? For the tour, Dillahunty does his act, and in between tricks he lectures about the idea of skepticism.
Stage magic hinges on simulated credulity. You can try to interrogate the tricks, but it tends to make you a shitty audience. And really, we want to be tricked. That’s why we paid to get in.
But you’re only kinda sorta tricked, because it goes without saying something’s up. The performer works very hard to fool you, but warns you ahead of time that fooling will happen. Only doggo memes give the game away faster.
(Assuming of course that Dillahunty is not secretly a real witch and the skeptic talk is just to throw us off. In which case I’m mad he thought of that before I did…)
In any case, this puts me in mind of a conversation we had on Black Mass Appeal. The old question came up: If we’re atheists, why bother with ritual? Why go through the motions if we don’t believe Satan and black magic exist? Why be Satanists at all?
There are of course some handy headshrinky answers. As a 2013 Scientific American article observed, “Rituals appear to benefit even people who claim not to believe. Psychologists have revealed rituals can causally impact people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.”
After studying athletes in 2012, University of Texas researcher Christine Legare noted, “Rituals provide a socially sanctioned opportunity to exert personal control in the face of uncertainty. The illusion of control may provide a competitive edge.”
Or, as old Anton LaVey put it, “It is one thing to know something intellectually, but to accept the same thing emotionally is an entirely different matter.”
But these answers, while presumably true, make us sound like ritualistic rubes. After Dillahunty’s act, I prefer to frame it in terms of being a willing audience.
The audience at a magic act wants to be stumped. Not because we’re chumps, but because therein lies the gratification.
It’s not real magic, but that’s okay, we’re not real suckers either. And nobody questions this consensual con. It’s illusion.
Like a stage act, Satanic ritual gratifies us psychologically. Like a stage act, Satanism is illusion, in emotional terms if nothing else. And that’s why it works.
So if you’re a Satanist who feels awkward about the role of ritual, or a sympathizer who doesn’t quite understand why atheists would bother being Satanists, consider the plight of a rabbit.
Nobody wants to walk around all day with a rabbit just stuck in their hat. You want to pull the rabbit out. When you do, everyone knows he was in there the whole time. But do it right, and it’s still amazing.