EVERY SINGLE PERSON IS A GODDAMN CRIMINAL (AND OTHER MORAL OBSERVATIONS)
Every Satanist I know is a criminal.
Of course, this includes myself. I’m criming all the time. I probably didn’t even notice the last one. What was my first crime? I must have been barely more than a infant. A bad seed, you might say.
I’ve no guilt or remorse attached to these actions. I’d do it all again–assuming I bother to remember any of it. And in this way, I am…exactly like every other person in America, possibly the world.
All Satanists are criminals because they are people, and all people commit crimes. As they say: To err is human. And to arr is nautical.
(That joke is not a crime, but don’t let that stop you from shaming me.)
According to the non-profit We Are All Criminals, “One in four people in the US have a criminal record; four in four have a criminal history.” That’s actually the banner on their site.
WAAC founder Emily Baxter is a former defense attorney who was struck by the sentiments she heard from landlords and employer that criminality was equivalent to untrustworthiness. “I thought: How many times had I taken something that wasn’t mine?” Baxter writes. The only thing separating Baxter from her clients: The privilege of not having been prosecuted.
In a 2017 study by Rutgers University law scholar Douglas Husak, 70 percent of Americans say they have done something that could have resulted in jail-time.
Since all people are also liars, the real number is surely higher. And if you factor in all of the petty crimes, traffic violations, littering, loitering, and laws so obscure that you probably don’t even know you broke them, who’s left?
In a 2018 paper, CSU Chico’s Michael Coyne calls lawbreaking “ubiquitous” and adds that “to speak of criminal behavior as deviant nullifies the concept of deviance.” Coyne holds that in reality, all people uphold the social order–but also break it. Not only is this not contradictory, it’s unavoidable.
Four years ago I was reporting about this Tenderloin landlord who was in trouble for–and I’m not making this up–evicting a soup kitchen full of nuns. The building had a long list of health and code complaints, so I snuck in to see if it was as bad as they said.
Spoilers: it was. After some time nosing around, an angry man without a shirt asked why I was there. Actually I think he just said he was going to kill me, but I read between the lines. It’s one of those things you pick up on the job.
I don’t blame him: I looked suspicious as fuck, and this was his home. Cops came and “escorted” me out, but let me go after I proved which newspaper I worked for at the time. Still, they could have arrested me, since I was trespassing.
Naturally, I think this lawbreaking reflects well on me, compared to, say, getting wasted on cheap vodka at age 20 and accidentally setting my hair on fire. But that’s kind of the point: We always think of breaking the law as different when we’re the ones doing it.
Unsurprisingly, much of the population reflexively associates Satanism with criminality. Faux Satanist fraud Mike Warnke’s 1972 absburdobiography The Satan Seller convinced feckless fundies that Satanic cults handled “a large percentage of the drug traffic for Southern California,” while Warnke casually confesses to kidnapping, sexual assault, and conspiracy to murder.
Virtuoso confabulist Lauren Stratford’s 1988 tell-nothing book Satan’s Underground breathlessly describes her forced indoctrination into a devil cult after being trafficked by a faceless mob goon named Tony (because fucking of course he is), with lots of drug peddling, kidnapping, and infant sacrifice to spice things up.
If this sounds familiar, your one aunt who always gave the worst Christmas gifts is recirculating these accounts in meme form on Facebook right now.
During the Satanic Panic, the interchangeable terms “cult crime” and “occult crime” provided a new preoccupation for some police departments. In 1991, sociologists Ben Crouch and Kelly Damphouse surveyed nearly 1,400 “cult cops” in 41 states, who interpreted Satanist meddling as the root of all things from graffiti to missing person reports in their own Barney Fifedoms.
Religious language creeps into our discussions about legal matters today too. In his 2018 book The Prince of This World, theologian Adam Kotsko noted that when Ferguson, Missouri cop Darren Wilson testified about killing Michael Brown in 2014–I’ll pause to let you all age one million years upon realizing it was that long ago–he compared Brown to a “demon,” while the New York Times called Brown “no angel.”
In recent weeks, blundering default incumbent Donald Trump and many of the domestic terrorists in his constituency have stumbled back to a reflexive appeal to “law and order” in the face of continued domestic protest about the ongoing Failure Of Everything in American society.
Black Lives Matter protesters, we’re warned, are criminals. Left unstated is the extra work of explaining why that is any sort of problem in this particular case when it never seems to be for most of us.
To be clear, I actually do not have a cavalier attitude about the law. I find, say, the culture of ergonomic criminality hovering like a rogue parade balloon over the White House or seemingly most police departments, ah, a touch worrisome.
But that’s a judgment on my part, I can make an argument for why it’s so. But if we stop bothering with that critical thinking element, then laws stop being our tools and we start being tools of the law.
In her 1988 book Adam, Eve, & the Serpent, Yale professor Elaine Pagels writes that St. Augustine became the most influential of all Christian religious thinkers by creating “an uneasy alliance between churches and imperial power.”
Augustine believed all people were helpless before sin and must become slaves to a higher power, so he endorsed the Roman emperors as a suitable proxy for god on Earth. Legal codes are not moral codes–except suddenly in the Christian empire, they were.
By contrast, I think that as Modern Satanists we must reserve the power to determine the rightness or wrongness of actions outside of arbitrary power structures. Anything less is to abandon freedom of choice.
And choice–or as it was once was called, heresy–is not only elemental to Satanism, it’s fair to say that without any such thing it’s hard to conceive that there would be any Satanism at all.