And then there was that one time Napoleon accidentally proved there was no god using math.

Well, okay, that’s not really quite what happened. Makes for a snappy opener though. The real historical anecdote is more like this:

Pierre-Simone Laplace, the great French mathematician, showed off his model of planetary orbits to the emperor. Whereas I can’t even calculate the tip on a restaurant bill when someone is watching.

Napoleon asks Laplace, where is god in his model? Laplace tells him, “I had no need of that hypothesis.” Which is a nervy thing to say to a guy who can have you shot if he thinks your snuffbox is too fancy.

Anyway, this story may or may not ever have happened. I mean, atheists on the Internet are always repeating it, and when have we ever been wrong about something?

But it came to mind because over and over again we’re asked, in so many words, where god is in Satanism. And, well, you know what we have to say to that.


Napoleon Boston council satanism

“Alllll by myself…”


This came up recently in response to a USA Today story under the headline, “Should the Boston City Council have to let Satanists lead an opening prayer?”

Which of course is a stupid question and the hed would be better composed as “Boston City Council should let Satanists lead opening prayer.” Or even better, “For fuck’s sake are we still on about this?”

Boston opens public meetings with religious “invocations,” one of the more damaging holdover practices from 19th century America that doesn’t involve a Confederate flag or an arbitrary cap on immigration.

In a turn of events only slightly less inevitable than a drunken mailman trying to deliver envelopes to the clown mouth at the drive-thru, the Satanic Temple petitioned to invoke at a meeting, on the very obvious grounds that there’s really nothing anybody can do to stop them.

“This is something that should be open to all faiths,” co-founder Malcolm Jerry told the paper. “We just want to be respected and treated like members of the community that we are.”

Well that sounds traumatically reasonable. I wonder how USA Today readers can possibly pass a hot enough take through their systems to keep the Internet from shutting down?

Many comments on the story are supportive. Others are stupid, but to such a degree as to render themselves immediately null, like one of those mutant lab animals that can’t breed in the wild: “Alexandria Cortez is spreading Satanism through the House of Representatives.”

Because what’s more on-topic in a discussion about Boston Satanists than a New York Catholic?

One sentiment stands out because of its obnoxious persistence: “If they worship Satan then they must also acknowledge god almighty, so how do they not realize they will be defeated?”

Variations of this response spawn A LOT on the Internet. This of course is a failure of reading comprehension, as well as just comprehension generally.

As that very article notes, most Satanists are atheists who believe in neither the devil nor god, so this is like asking why we haven’t yet acknowledged the Aryan genetic supremacy of star-bellied Sneetches.


Napoleon boston council satanism

Relationship status: It’s complex.


But increasingly I’m finding this answer–though factually correct and contextually important–inadequate. For one thing, some Satanists out there DO believe in such things; and while I’m generally hazy on how those beliefs are composed, that doesn’t have a thing to do whether or not people have equal access to public forums.

Does our deference to atheism actually address the question? What if I DID believe Satan was real; does it follow I’d have to believe in a corresponding god? I guess I’d be expected to. But what if that’s a too-narrow definition?

There’s lots of devils to go around. The Satan of, say, Bernard Shaw’s Don Juan In Hell is not the same as the Satan of Washington Irving’s The Devil and Tom Walker.” Or of Juan López Moctezuma’s Alucarda. Or of that show with Tom Ellis. This list could go on indefinitely.

To my mind, almost any concept of Satan is equally valid. I guess they’re not equally as good, but we’ll save that for the ranked choice voting before the apocalypse.

I can’t conceive of any devil concept without a corresponding deity to defy, and also I wouldn’t find much utility in such a story myself. But that doesn’t mean such a story couldn’t exist or have value.

I suppose there is a risk of stretching the word “Satan” so far that it starts to lose value or become watered down. I wouldn’t say anything goes. But I would say that for all of us, there’s probably a little more that goes than we’re initially willing to concede.

Napoleon wanted to find god in Laplace’s math. USA Today readers want to find him in atheistic Satanism. Both cases make the same error: assuming only one possible perspective on a subject.

I’m not saying anybody has to overhaul their beliefs; atheistic Satanists need not throw out our longstanding Romantic ideas about Satan the god-defying revolutionary in favor of deity-free demonolatry-based devil worship where Satan exists as pure gnostic meme thought (or whatever…) to prove we’re open-minded.

But whenever we demand–justly–that other people diversify their ideas about religion, civics, society, and Satanism, let’s always acknowledge that each of us can probably also stand to accept some new and more radical idea about something sooner or later.


Napoleon boston council satanism

“On the other hand, maybe I’ll just stay on the rock forever. The rock’s been good to me. It’s a solid option.”