A 2020 ELECTION PARABLE: WHEN THE INFALLIBLE TURNS OUT TO BE…FALLIBLE
I put this blog off last week because everybody needed more election stress like we needed a pineapple enema, and by everybody I mean me.
But after I stared at a map of Pennsylvania so many times in the past four days that Philly steaks appeared in my kitchen purely via sympathetic vibrations, the world greeted this morning’s news with, ah, some relief. So here goes.
If you asked me what the worst day of my life was–well first of all, why did I invite you over? But the answer would be simple: 21 years ago, when my father died. That was so long ago now it almost feels like someone else’s memory…until it doesn’t.
If you asked me about my second-worst day it’d be a close race, but November 10, 2016–election night–presents a very strong contender. Probably so for some of you too, isn’t it nice we have things in common?
That day also taught me important things about being a Satanist, but possibly it took until today for me to fully realize what all of those things were.
We’d founded Satanic Bay Area (then Satanic San Francisco) a year prior, but I still felt very tentative about my religious identity. Chiefly because I’d never before thought of myself as having a religious identity, short of mentally chanting the phrase “oh god oh god oh god” during certain social interactions.
I had not given much robust thought to what I thought the term “Satan” meant. I knew that this concept was important to me, but I couldn’t have told you why. (On that note, don’t go back and read the blogs from 2016. It’s like eating the shell of the egg…)
Then the election happened. And it did not kill me, which was pretty inconvenient all things considered. Instead it taught me the true meaning of the word “disbelief”; even now, on certain emotional levels, I can’t accept that the last four years happened. It just doesn’t make sense.
When that dissonance threatened to overwhelm me, I’d sometimes soothe myself thinking about Gustave Dore’s 1866 illustration of Satan sprawled in a lake of fire after being cast out of Heaven. In hindsight it’s lucky I don’t go to therapy, as this spared my analyst from the self-loathing of listening to me talk about this new mental tic.
And I thought about the lines that accompanied the image: “Him hurled headlong, flaming, from the ethereal sky, with hideous ruin down to bottomless perdition, in adamantine chains and penal fire. He lay rolling in the fiery gulf, confounded though immortal, for now he thought both of lost happiness and lasting pain.”
I’d read the passage many times, but now perhaps I understood it better. THIS is what that moment feels like, I realized; to suffer failure and disaster on such a scale that all you can do is lie there and think:
“What do I do now. What. In the WORLD. Do I do now?”
At times, these meditations helped. They didn’t make anything better, but they helped. Much later I’d think about this period when considering my ideas about Satan as an icon of human fallibility–our potential for loss.
Those ideas were still not quite complete when I wrote that blog, because I wasn’t able to articulate why this concept made me feel so satisfied. Losing, after all, is not only miserable, but dangerous: Failing can pose existential threats. Why was this a theme I wanted to so enthusiastically associate with Satan?
Skip ahead to this week: We had another election. (Had you noticed?)
The result was quite different. Some people are taking it better than others. Smug scarecrow brought to life by a witch’s spell Sean Hannity is in such deep denial that he suggested Thursday we should just do the election again. Because it went so well everybody will be eager for seconds I guess?
Right-wing social media seethes with murderous intent, wild-eyed conspiracy, and, more than anything, disbelief. But it’s not the disbelief I experienced four years ago: These people are not grappling with dissonance. They don’t FEEL dissonance. They suffer from disbelief in a literal sense.
This blank-faced refusal to accept is what psychologists call “denialism,” and it’s closely related to conspiracy thinking. “Denialist arguments are often bolstered by information taken wildly out of context, wielded selectively, and supported by fake experts,” NPR wrote roughly one million years ago in 2009.
Everyone does this. Some of us do it more. Some of us do it so much that we drive to an election center with a silver Humvee full of guns. People are complicated I guess.
The words of a faceless Canadian Qanon enthusiast (fuck, the spirits I’m going to have to exorcise for even typing that phrase…) struck me particularly on Twitter:
“Trump must be sold out and crucified, buried for three days, then get resurrected, defeating evil.” (Of all things about this sentence, it’s the word “must” that’s hanging me up the most…)
This plays into an admittedly odd-sounding thing I said on a recent episode of Black Mass Appeal: The gospel story is sort of a shitty version of the Satan myth.
Like Satan, Jesus is a revolutionary who fails. He challenges the power structure of his time–the Romans, the Pharisees, the king, the corruption he perceives in public life–but his rabble-rousing results not in popular uprising but in death.
It’s a sobering story…that his future followers completely stuff up. All of their rhetoric is framed to suggest that Jesus somehow actually won. He was not a subversive outlaw condemned by corrupt authority, he’s the super secret king of the universe, the ULTIMATE authority, despite all appearances.
Within 100 years, John of Patmos’ hysterical visions pictured Jesus as a conquering hero riding out of the sky with a sword on a white horse. They couldn’t have missed the point any better if they tried.
All I’m getting at is, it is just possible that the rhetoric of triumphalism and Dominionism that saturates our peers up to their eyeballs has left them ill-prepared for the reality of their own fallibility.
“Here’s a tip: GOD WINS. GOD WINS,” a Twitter conspiracy asshole with the whites of her eyes rolling told me on Friday. But she’s wrong: god loses too. Because god is just you.
Through art, myth, folklore, and religion, we can confront our anxieties about our fallibility and vulnerability and hopefully achieve catharsis, especially through the myth of Satan, “the Prince of Exiles” and “stepfather of those robbed of pardon,” as the decadent French poet Baudelaire called him.
If we don’t, then we condemn ourselves to the one true Hell: denial.