An Extract from the Book of Noam
The following is not written as an attack on Christianity. It is instead intended as an exercise in critical thinking, by taking one of the most familiar known stories of Good and Evil, and flipping it on its head as completely as possible to show how even in the case of the supposed most evil character conceivable, an alternate story could be constructed using additional information that might give us a wholly different understanding of what is going on. Thus we always need to question what is seemingly “self-evident” and investigate the evidence. I want readers to ask themselves: “Would our view of what is good and what is evil change if we knew more? How do you know the ‘Satan’ of your society wasn’t a labor organizer, since you would have been told the same kind of official story if he had been?” This is a story about politics, not about religion. It uses “God” and “Satan” because these are convenient stand-ins for “the thing we understand to be good” and “the thing we understand to be evil.”
Satan was not a “fallen angel.” To say this is to accept the entire propaganda language which it is our job here to dismantle. Nobody is an “angel.” There are only those who convince themselves of their perfection and consider themselves angelic. God is neither all-powerful, all-seeing, nor good, except on his (I do not use the capital, for obvious reasons) own terms. The “Problem of Evil” is only a problem if you accept the government line. Once we grasp the situation clearly, the existence of extreme evil is not an intellectual puzzle; we are simply noticing the clash between what lies in front of our eyes and the framework we have internalized. However, much that is said about God Almighty1 is completely correct, if misleading. He is certainly both transcendent and immanent. Immanent in the sense that his interventions in what we call “our world” are constant, and his rules are enforced absolutely (except in the limited spheres where his power does not reach, which do exist, mostly thanks to popular struggle). Transcendent in the sense that it is impossible to cross from “our world” into his without his permission (I do not mean impossible in a physical sense but in a practical one given the imbalance of force). Unfortunately, the growth of “atheism,” and its conflation with rational thought, has prevented a serious understanding of the power system. Atheism begins by noticing, as many of us do when we are young, that the propaganda system cannot explain the basic facts of reality. It concludes that, therefore, “God does not exist.” This is as much of a non sequitur as saying “nothing the government says is true, therefore the government does not exist.” Atheism has never attracted more than a small portion of the population because it is unable to offer any kind of alternate explanation for what people see in front of them. The government, of course, tolerates it, because it could not wish for a better stance in the opposition. The whole way the population is kept passive is by keeping the government’s visible power to a minimum. Any ruler would smile at a protest movement trying to convince people the ruler does not exist. (There is a reason billionaires in the United States try to lay low and keep their names out of the press.)
Now take Satan. Satan is an interesting case, because usually the whole system of “meritocracy” (which actually tests for rule-following) works flawlessly. Barely a single accurate word has ever been said about Satan in what is called “our world” (if you want to call it that, fine, but it is deeply misleading, and is probably better considered “our region”). About the only correct thing anybody knows is that he “rebelled against God.”
Lucifer Satan (“Luc” to friends) was probably as close to a perfect example of a product of the meritocratic system as you could expect. He knew all the stories, all the rules. If he had been born into “our world,” he would have been an academic theologian of some kind. Or a hedge fund manager. But he was not born into our world, and understood his place and our own on the terms that he was raised with. God “created us” and was perfectly good and omniscient and all of that. Satan swallowed this completely until after his fall, and it is why his rebellion in Heaven (I do not like the term because it suggests the description is accurate, though as it is the official name it will do) was very limited in what it challenged versus what it accepted as normal. This can be compared to the way that 18th century American revolutionaries’ rejection of others’ power over them was coupled with an acceptance of their own power over others. Those who are angels in the legal sense are, of course, not angels in the colloquial sense, so they are subject to the same biases as ourselves. Those who have a genuine desire to overthrow tyrannies can also be tyrannizing over others simultaneously.
What was Satan’s Rebellion about? Milton says, accurately enough, “he durst defy th’ Omnipotent,” and this is the consensus view. It was defiance— which, notably, is treated as wrong by definition, given that the goodness of God is, conveniently, unquestionable. Disobeying instructions and challenging authority is the crime of both Satan and Eve. Note, no morally persuasive argument is given against the substance of the action that constituted disobedience. In fact, for Eve, the choice of “eating an apple” as the means of seduction into sin was deliberate, because the point was to show that even the most trivial acts, if in defiance of the law, would be punished severely with no possibility of forgiveness or restorative justice. (“Eve” never existed, of course, but was a composite of several different women who, in the early history of the present power system, showed an irritating tendency to ask power to justify itself. It was an expert piece of propaganda not to deny that such women existed, but to show horrible consequences of even the most minor and utterly meaningless transgressions.) The “apple tree test” is a simple obedience examination, and we are informed that failure of an obedience test is the worst thing you can do within the system. (Certainly, it is the worst in terms of its consequences for the transgressor.) Updated versions of the apple tree test are still used in the contemporary public school system, which measures whether one can “follow directions,” preferring this metric over whether one understands the subject matter or has defensible moral values.
Now, the Satanic rebellion was another case of mere disobedience being punished, but there were more politics involved as well. Archangels are simply high-ranking government officials, with various administrative duties over both “Paradise” (another name used for it in the propaganda system, with a rather sickeningly Maoist touch) and our world. Of course there is vicious competition among the angelic class, most of it passive aggressive due to the official dogma that all of them are perfect and must remain cheerful at all times. (They do not, of course, play harps or have real wings, which would be absurd, and is one of those aspects of the official propaganda developed simply to see how much transparent foolishness those in our world will swallow without question. They are, however, forced to wear ludicrous uniforms, yet another obedience test.) Satan can most accurately be described as a shrewd and talented bureaucrat, promoted consistently through the ranks by outflanking competitors.
The motives of Satan’s rebellion were a mixture of noble ideals and petty resentment, and it is difficult to disentangle the two. Milton says—again, accurately enough—that he had “envie against the Son of God.” God had made it clear that his son, Jesús H. Chryst-Almighty would—now that he was coming to live in Heaven after his decadent Rumspringa on Earth—be appointed to succeed God upon his death.
Let us digress with a brief biographical note upon the life of Chryst-Almighty: Jesús himself was conceived during one of the senior Almighty’s frequent visits to our part of the world to seduce virgins. On this particular occasion, his conquest resulted in the pregnancy of a shepherd’s wife, Mary Chryst. The privilege of the powerful is to be able to sexually exploit the powerless without consequence. The whole thing threatened to become an awkward scandal for the whole regime, because people in our world were talking about how miraculous and strange it was that a virgin could have given birth, and little Jesús attracted considerable attention. Jewish (i.e., official) theologians of the day had been given their marching orders from central command and denied the child’s paternity, but celestial control of public opinion is not absolute. There was a great deal of division among angelic bureaucrats about what to do about the situation, some suggesting retaining the Jewish approach of just telling the people of Earth there must have been some mistake, and a group (called, rather comically, “Chryst-ians”) suggesting that paternity actually be acknowledged and celebrated as proof that various official dogmas are true. The problem was that there was no place in the existing state mythology for a random poor virgin getting mysteriously impregnated, which even then was known to be biologically impossible. A whole story had to be concocted, and maintained by ridiculous means, with Paradise sending emissaries to give the child advanced technologies he could use to perform “miracles” that defied people’s understanding of the possible.
Eventually, when the child was in his early 30s (and convinced himself that he was a “miracle worker,” though not understanding why he kept finding strange new handheld devices in convenient locations), he developed symptoms of his father’s megalomania and began amassing followers. All of which was harmless as far as it went (the Chrystian and Jewish factions in Heaven itself watched the development of the two religions much as one might watch a sports match or an ant farm), but eventually Jesús became openly defiant of the laws of our world and attracted felony charges. (Incidentally, charges which were completely justified under the law, though his “disciples”—most dedicated flunkies—would successfully portray him as wrongfully convicted, sometimes to the point of simply blaming the Jews.) God, not wanting to see his only son murdered by people over whom he had complete control, sent agents to fake the death and whisk the “body” away back to Heaven, using a bit of cheap stage magic to explain why it had disappeared.
The dictator’s child (for let us be honest about the facts and call things what they are) was just as megalomaniacal in Heaven as he had been on earth. Like Saddam’s children or the Trumps, having been raised convinced absolutely of his specialness, he flexed his power and interfered in various angels’ departments. Satan, who headed Human Resources, was particularly aggrieved, having ambitions of his own. The whole thing culminated in open hostility between Chryst-Almighty and Satan.
Satan was rather clever. There was no way to convince God to prefer Satan over his only son, no matter how obsequious Satan was or what his performance numbers were like. Instead, Satan tried something rather different: organizing the angels. He told them, quite correctly, that it was unfair for God to rule Heaven as an unelected despot. Various angels with longstanding grievances against the regime, many of whom had suffered indignities at the hands of Chryst-Almighty, joined Satan’s efforts. Satan proposed that God should not rule, that “each angel should rule as a god.” (A close equivalent to the phrase “every man a king”; there are actually interesting parallels between Satan’s work and the governorship of Huey P. Long in Louisiana much later on, which scholars have mostly overlooked). It was rather awkward for God, because his power within Heaven had been enforced largely through the perpetuation of official myth (rather than, as it was on Earth, a combination of myth and violent punishment for disobedience), since an effective propaganda system need not rely on the direct application of force to ensure compliance. That myth had been punctured by Chryst-Almighty’s brash exercises of his rights as the dictator’s son, his obvious misconduct having exposed the flawed humanity of the supposed divine family. Nothing imperils the legitimacy of a monarchy like manifestly unqualified male offspring, as the British case shows. God’s actual power in Heaven was quite weak, maintained largely by convincing other people that they should not try to challenge him. (The same method is today used by the Democratic Party leadership to ward off would-be challengers.) It did not take much political pressure to put his rule at risk.
Now, interestingly, I say Satan’s motives were mixed rather than selfish, because there is some evidence that while before Chryst-Almighty’s return, Satan had been a simple ladder-climber, by the time of the rebellion he had genuinely come to conclude that Heaven should be organized on a collective governance model with each angel given an equal share. We need not get into details of the actual war in Heaven. The earthly representations of what actually happened have been largely accurate, if one-sided. What they exclude is the motivations of the actors. This is where the propaganda system comes into play, by downplaying the actual demands made by the Satanic faction among the angels and simply emphasizing that they disobeyed. The victors, of course, write the history books. Dead men tell no tales, and while in Heaven the failed union drive and resulting war are well-known, God’s total control over the filtration of information from Heaven to Earth means everything known by human beings is pure government spin.
An interesting aspect of propaganda, however, is that often elements of truth can be found in it if you analyze critically, because the story must be made believable. Satan did not say it was “better to rule in Hell than to be a servant in Heaven,” as is reputed. The accurate quote, which can be found in the regime’s own internal documents—all have been kept from being released into our world, the “mystery of God’s ways” invoked as a substitute for basic accountability and transparency—is “better to have self-government in exile than subordination in Heaven.” It is part of a pamphlet Satan wrote that helped to foment the rebellion among angels, the equivalent of Paine’s Common Sense, though naturally the text was suppressed.
Let us recall why Satan said “exile” in particular. God had made clear at the outset of the uprising that anyone who opposed his rule, if arrested, would be cast out of Heaven. He might simply have chosen to kill them, but instead saw a convenient opportunity to transform the way he exercised power. Up until this time, human beings both in Heaven and on Earth (again, two bordering regions of the same world, not, as propaganda would have it, an actual “earthly” and “celestial” realm) lived for 500 or 600 years. God himself was approximately 300 years old, having completed his major conquests and built his empire starting at about age 150 (not a word of which makes it into the official propaganda, of course, which depends for its entire functioning on the idea that God “created the world,” in total defiance of the evidence of physics, biology, etc. The very implausibility of the idea is another obedience test; again, see harps.)
The area now known as Hell was, in fact, simply a barren wasteland, which nobody from Heaven could think of any way to develop economically. It is craggy, mountainous, full of caves. Sulfur deposits are about the only mineral resource of any value, and the area is plagued by vicious wildfires, the dismal result of several centuries of colossally wasteful and destructive carbon emissions caused by the residents’ of Heaven’s wanton indulgence of obscene luxury without regard to the externalized costs. Up until the time of Satan’s rebellion, God had simply left the area alone, unable to see any use for it.
The rebellion, however, gave God an idea: a kind of equivalent to U.S. mass incarceration or Russian “exile to Siberia.” He controlled access to the region through his vast quantity of destructive arms (while it is true that he did not create the world, he did have the power to destroy it through atomic weaponry), and could simply banish those who displeased him and then militarize the border. There was no need to police the region internally once people were sent, since the area was so impoverished in resources that it could never breed any serious military opposition. Life in Hell would be extremely difficult, and there would be no coming back, so anyone sent there would have to live the rest of their natural lives in a place of suffering and desperation. Heaven itself, while obviously not a “Paradise,” had all the opulence one expects of a ruling class gated community, which is essentially all it is. Excellent restaurants, water parks, and of course golf courses. Few angels would want to be banished, since, having grown up rich, being distant from God and Heaven (and being forced to live among ordinary people from our world) would be a far worse punishment than death.
Satan, of course, was the first to be sent, so that he could be an example to other would-be rebels who dared to question the doctrine of absolute obedience. As with Stalin’s use of the image of Trotsky, Satan was the Official Enemy. Despite having served as a compliant bureaucrat most of his life, and his only crime being defiance, the official propaganda portrayed Satan as a man who literally existed to do evil. There are certain striking parallels with the image of Osama bin Laden cultivated by the Bush administration to justify its policies. (Bin Laden wrote a manifesto, laying out many grievances against United States military aggression that were quite well-justified, though the reasonable points are mixed with lunatic anti-Semitism and religious fanaticism.)
The official propaganda around Satan is somewhat fascinating to dissect, because Satan is presented as an absolutely cartoonishly evil being. Milton has him saying:
Whereto with speedy words th’ ArchFiend replied:—
“Fallen Cherub, to be weak is miserable,
Doing or suffering: but of this be sure—
To do aught good never will be our task.”
Actually, Paradise Lost is an instructive example of how truly clever propaganda works. Milton, who was a fine poet and knew as many of the facts as one could reasonably gather given the government’s control of information, made the interesting decision to give Satan’s character prominence in his story of the rebellion. Satan is considered a protagonist or anti-hero of the work. But of course it does not actually tell “Satan’s side of the story.” It purports to richly analyze the character of Satan, while in fact simply parroting God’s official party line. The “empathy” with Satan is so effective that William Blake could say of Milton that he was of “the Devil’s party without knowing it.” In fact, that is precisely what the ruling power would wish us to think; that a depiction of Satan of any depth whatsoever, regardless of the message, represents the outer limit of the sympathy one can show. To portray the enemy as having any reasons or thoughts whatsoever is considered scandalous.
It is rather shocking to realize just how implausible the theological depiction of God and Satan is. God is described as good, gracious, righteous, all-seeing, all-knowing. Something is good because God wills it, bad because he opposes it. (We can see parallels in contemporary defenses of the U.S. immigration system: but they violated the law. The justice or injustice of the law itself is considered irrelevant to the moral evaluation, because obedience is considered virtue and defiance a sin.) The proof of God’s goodness that is offered is the structure of the meritocratic system, whereby those from the colony are allowed, should they demonstrate adequate fealty to the law, to advance (at “death”) to minor positions in Paradise. Instead of the actual deaths of people (which, as I say, would naturally occur after a few hundred years, though they could be cut short in the usual ways), God imposed what is functionally describable as a kidnapping or forced disappearance. At a certain point in one’s life, one is plucked away, a realistic corpse substituted, and one is either cast “below” into Hell or sent “above” into Heaven (“above” and “below” are about as accurate as calling north “up” and south “down”; they are simply more propaganda designed to enforce the conflation of wealth and abundance with virtue and uplift versus poverty and suffering as wickedness and degradation).
The moment of judgment is a sham, of course. Entrance into the walled metropolis of Paradise/Heaven is determined entirely by the fluctuating demands of Heaven’s economic system. If more gardeners are needed, gardeners are taken. If more physicists are needed, a physicist is taken. The subjugated region is simply mined for talent. As is usual with occupying powers, the process of colonial extraction is justified as being for the subjected people’s own good. Though it is plainly obvious that seizing someone who did nothing wrong, and who had much more to accomplish here, is the worst kind of cruelty, entrance to Heaven is treated as a great reward for one’s virtue that one should be grateful for. (Rather sickeningly, childless angels often “adopt” earthly babies whom they find especially endearing.) Importantly, the idea of entrance into Paradise as a “reward” for one’s behavior is used within Paradise to justify the hierarchical arrangement of power with God at the top. Immigrants from the colony are told that they are lucky and given scraps of access to abundance such as they never had when they were home. Thus many of them continue to believe the meritocratic propaganda even though they should know through firsthand experience that it is false.
Hell, of course, is used to punish dissent. Nobody in our region has ever actually seen Hell, and the border wall ensures no information escapes from there, so the myths of its dangerousness and barbarity are easily swallowed. James Joyce, in his classic hellfire sermon, captures well the official description of hell as a “strait and dark and foul-smelling prison, an abode of demons and lost souls, filled with fire and smoke.” Hell is, in other words, a real shithole. It is also a place where, in the absence of nationalism and the rule of law, anarchy reigns, everyone is tortured forever, and one encounters the worst people imaginable:
In hell all laws are overturned—there is no thought of family or country, of ties, of relationships. The damned howl and scream at one another, their torture and rage intensified by the presence of beings tortured and raging like themselves. All sense of humanity is forgotten. The yells of the suffering sinners fill the remotest corners of the vast abyss. The mouths of the damned are full of blasphemies against God and of hatred for their fellow sufferers and of curses against those souls which were their accomplices in sin.
Joyce’s work was fiction but it captures well the longstanding official party line on Hell. As with the rest of the propaganda, there is some truth. When Milton writes that it is a place where “rest can never dwell, hope never comes,” he is technically accurate, but this is entirely because of an intentional decision to leave Hell impoverished, to seal its borders off, and to extract whatever wealth is created there through high-interest IMF loans.
There has, however, been a move away from hellfire rhetoric in recent years, because it began to seem comically over-the-top to humans, and with nobody ever having seen Hell its existence might seem doubtful. God could not take steps to expose what Hell was really like, since, like the Wizard of Oz, this would necessarily have shown how mundane and impoverished a place it is. But it was realized that this did not really matter. God’s power, as we saw with the case of atheism, does not actually depend on a belief on him. British rule in India did not require Indians to believe there was a Britain somewhere or understand what went on there. The only thing that matters is that the population does not get out of line and that the ruling power is allowed to continue to rule.
Hellfire rhetoric, however, was actually quite accurate in depicting the real-life power that God holds. Consider Jonathan Edwards’ famous “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”
There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God. There is no want of power in God to cast wicked men into hell at any moment. Men’s hands cannot be strong when God rises up. The strongest have no power to resist him, nor can any deliver out of his hands. He is not only able to cast wicked men into hell, but he can most easily do it. They deserve to be cast into hell; so that divine justice never stands in the way, it makes no objection against God’s using his power at any moment to destroy them. Yea, on the contrary, justice calls aloud for an infinite punishment of their sins.
God certainly can send anyone to Hell that he likes; such is the privilege of the totalitarian. The notion that judgments in practice have any relation to moral desert is, as God’s own propaganda acknowledges implicitly through its constant emphasis on compliance and commandment, utterly baseless. But while God has not yet, thankfully, achieved the all-powerful surveillance state and absolute hierarchy of which he dreams, the extent of the state’s power is considerable.
Let us close by returning to Satan, and the question of how the veil of lies might be pierced and the truth perceived. Officials have built mechanisms into media depictions of Satan to discourage anyone from investigating his side of the story. He is, Robert Burton says in The Anatomy of Melancholy, the “author of confusion and lies.” He has cloven feet and horns (again, the absurdity of a story helps filter out the most credulous individuals for promotion). He will come to you like a gangster and tempt you with some offer you shouldn’t take, and steal your soul if you don’t comply. In fact, Satan has never left Hell, for the obvious reason that he is imprisoned. He is a sort of guerrilla there, having amassed a band of “sinners” and “demons” (ordinary working people who failed their obedience tests), but he is utterly powerless to affect the external world. The portrayal of Satan as some kind of counterpart to God in his power is an attempt to obscure the international hierarchy of state power, by portraying a small contained region of rebels as a terrifying aggressor, and the imperial hegemony as being under constant threat. The fascist, as Umberto Eco says, treats the enemy as both weak and strong; God rules absolutely and yet Satan’s temptations are everywhere.
Why, considering the system of thought control disguising power relations is so obvious, and the propaganda so inconsistent and irrational, has no one yet perceived the true nature of things? In part because of the explicit use of force, as we have seen, but in part because the premises on which discussions take place accept the status quo as natural or inevitable and proceed from there. Take Lewis Sperry Chafer’s well-regarded 1909 biography Satan. Chafer had access to all the known records in our world, and represents them accurately. But at the outset he says explicitly:
This attempt to outline the Scripture teaching on [Satan] will be undertaken under certain general conditions: First—The authority of the Scriptures of both the Old and the New Testaments will be accepted without question. Second—Evidence will be drawn from the Word of God alone, since no final light can be found on this subject other than it has pleased God to reveal in the Bible. Third—There will be no discussion as to the actual existence of Satan; this being both assumed and taught from Genesis to Revelation.
Even intelligent accounts, then, treat government sources as if they are reliable, without stopping to demand evidence that those sources correspond to reality. Witness an example, selected at random, of the conclusions that Chafer comes to on the basis of these premises:
It is stated that Satan was perfect in all his ways from the day he was created. It is important to notice both that he was created, and that he was created perfect. Since he was created, he is not self-existent, and never can be free from his dependence upon the Creator. He may vainly propose to become independent, and even be permitted for a time to act under that delusion; but that would only delay the inevitable judgment that awaits him. He was created perfect, or was a perfect fulfillment of the Creator’s intention. Satan was a free moral agent; capable of choosing evil, but not obliged to do so. That he chose evil must ever be his own condemnation; for the Creator had surrounded him with sufficient motives to choose the good.
The plainly inconsistent statements do not bother Chafer, for he has begun with the belief that Scripture is true, thus contradictory propositions must not contradict and can be reconciled. Satan could have been good and chosen to remain a diligent administrative lickspittle. However, he chose “evil” (labor organizing) and thus he is the author of his own punishment. However, God, being all-powerful, also created Satan, and created Satan perfectly because God does not make mistakes, and Satan is under God’s control. Party propagandists spill thousands of words trying to justify this clear hole in the government’s line, which is the product of the fact that they need to both prove their absolute power over everything and convince people that decisions by the subaltern are completely free and that what they do is a result of their choices rather than dictated to them by raw state force.
Those who attempt a rational investigation of Satan’s claims and the historical record are treated automatically as insane. The charges of blasphemy and heresy, or being “unpatriotic,” are used to avoid having to engage in arguments. The indoctrination system is so total that even to propose such a thing as “the legitimacy of Satan’s political claims” is treated as evidence of deranged evil (“Satanism,” comparable to “deviationism”). The ideology not only tells us what to think, but contains provisions that prevent it from ever being brought into question. When one shows any inclination to read Satanic documents or attempt to empathize with Satanic thinking, one is irrationally accused of being “pro-Satan” who was the “anti-Chryst” (which is true, but only in the same sense that there were Federalists and anti-Federalists; it was a dispute within the ruling class). One need not be arrested, tortured, or killed under a system of manufactured consent. Effective challenges to power can be eliminated simply by getting the opposition to base all dissent on premises that justify the basic power structure. Likewise, historically those who have wished to question Church dogma have had to do so within a framework that accepts certain basic unquestionable tenets of that dogma—even Paine’s Age of Reason insists that Paine is not questioning the existence of God (as he shouldn’t, though he should have questioned the legitimacy of God’s rule on earth.)
If resistance is to be effective, it must start with critical thinking. How do we know that what we have been told is true? We must ask this about everything. The evidence should be sought and then examined. When this is not done, it is easy for official enemies to be made, without anyone pausing to ask whether these “devils” are in fact the “pure evil” they are described as. Perhaps there is more context that would make the situation look quite different, and flip our understanding of who is in the right versus the wrong. No ruling power has ever thought of itself as evil. They believe they are good, and that it is their opponents who are evil. We must make sure we are not falling into the trap of believing we are on the right side simply because we have been told we are. We can only know for certain when we have also heard any given “Satan’s” side of each story.
God Almighty’s surname was originally pronounced AL-ma-TEE, spelled Almitty. The pronunciation was of course adjusted to suggest he was “all mighty,” like Stalin, the Man of Steel. God is short for Godfrey. ↩