NO FATHER, NO SON–JUST THE HOLY GOATS
Over on Twitter, a Catholic priest’s goat analogy has put him on the horns of dilemma–and he has nobody to blame but himself.
Friar Cassidy Stinson, a Virginia clergyman who bills himself “the Happy Priest” (apparently believing this is not a disquieting phrase?) produced a tweet thread this week titled, “The seven deadly sins as goats.”
And indeed, each tweet pairs a goat pic with a sin. Pretty self-explanatory, probably should have thought of it ourselves, but in fact I’m glad we didn’t, because the public response is by far more priceless with Stinson at bat, as most of his followers took one look at the pics and concluded–of course!–that “sin is adorable.”
The Happy Priest said this wasn’t quite what he had in mind, but what else could he possibly have expected? Whatever lesson he was trying to teach, it looks like he got one back: That there’s no use trying to cheat the inevitable.
This horny parable is well-timed, as we just released a new episode of Black Mass Appeal talking about, yes, the ages-old association of goats and goat imagery with the devil.
Joining us on that show we had Genevieve Church of the San Francisco-based non-profit City Grazing, which rents out its herd of goats to exercise the sin of gluttony all over your overgrown properties.
And it was a comment she made, remarking on the goats’ proverbial stubbornness, that got me thinking. Goats, she says, have an intense social hierarchy: “There’s always a goat that’s at the top.”
If you want a group of goats to follow you, get the top goat to go and the rest will fall in…but not always. “If they decide there is something on the other side that is more delicious, they don’t care,” Genevieve says.
“You can grab their leader and try to make it go, but the rest of the goats will not follow you” until they’ve satisfied their curiosity (or appetite) elsewhere.
Even the most wayward goat will, it seems, always wander back to the group sooner or later–they’re social creatures and also prey animals, so they know to stick together. But they’ll stick to the urging of their stomachs harder, it seems.
And that is also, I think, the nature of Satanism. Most Satanists’ spoken dedication to the concept of the individual verges on being reflexive–in fact we’ve written before about how there’s a real risk of this becoming a Satanic platitude.
For all that, we act in concert about as often as any other demographic: We form groups, we adopt codes, we may defer to leaders, we often collaborate, and we seek each other’s company in accordance with our personal comfort level.
If this seems contradictory…well, why should it? It’s not a contradiction for the goats. It’s in their nature to be willful–and cooperative. It’s their nature to act in groups–or alone. It’s their nature to be herded–except when they’re not.
Animals are never contradictory. Whatever they happen to be doing, by definition that’s their nature. If they’re surprising or unpredictable, maybe that just means we weren’t giving them enough credit. And humans, after all, are animals too.
Of course, it’s not the same thing: Human behavior is a matter of choice. But the character of that behavior isn’t necessarily different for all that. And why make things harder than they have to be? Should we really make it any more complicated than WWGD–What Would Goats Do?
I admit this is an attractive prospect from my point of view. But it has a problem: See, the behavior of animals is natural. And so is, say, Twitter users’ response to sinful but adorable goat pictures. You won’t get very far trying to buck either of them.
But “natural” is not necessarily good. Dying of cholera is natural, artificial water sanitation is not. And, ah, Genevieve may also have mentioned that sometimes the goats do things like urinate on themselves, or push one another into the electric fence. Because they are goats, after all.
The appeal to nature is not just a formal fallacy, it’s also nakedly opportunistic: We spend almost our entire lives flouting nature, then we call it in off the bench when we think its example benefits us rhetorically. Who are we fooling?
Satanists in particular are guilty of this. Old Anton LaVey’s Satanic Bible even explicitly called his church “a new religion based on man’s natural instincts” and advises, “You should act upon your natural instincts, and if you cannot without feeling guilty, revel in your guilt.”
It’s a good applause line, but in practice it’s a loser. Case in point, your nature will probably at some point urge you to do something that old Anton’s book argues against in some other chapter.
That’s why I favor retiring this shallow idea of what’s natural and instead cleave to the idea of what’s inevitable.
It’s inevitable that we’ll all “sin”–and that no amount of preaching will make us stop enjoying the things that people like the Happy Priest deem sinful. It’s inevitable that some of us will be queer. It’s inevitable that Twitter users will find goat pictures adorable. It’s inevitable that we will all be individuals–and group actors.
All inevitable things are, I suspect, natural. But not all natural things are inevitable–and thank Ba’al for that.
Of course, it could always be that the goats really are onto something after all. For example, I too have pondered pushing certain people onto an electric fence, if the opportunity so presented itself.
I don’t think I’d qualify this urge as inevitable. But maybe don’t roll those dice just the same.