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I, Satanist; Atheist: A Gothicist's Thoughts on Atheism, Religion, and Sex

I frequently write about Gothic horror on this blog, as well as metal, videogames and sex. In relation to those topics, I've never written about my religious views. I wanted to do that, here. Before I do, a shoutout to the YouTuber TheraminTrees, whose videos on atheism are an effective and stylish introduction to the topic.

I'm not religious at all; I am atheist, specifically a Satanist. I have been since was I small. I'm not naïve enough to think that fake gods aren't dangerous. The world is littered with graveyards filled by phony crusades. Sadly the living are tyrannized not by gods, but the people who worship them. There's so many things worse than dying, testified by the presence of the religiously indoctrinated and abused.

I have no faith in the devil as "real," either. This being said, I cannot question "his" effects on my nascent mind. Growing up, I watched horror films, and obsessed over the obscene—cartoonish violence depicted on VHS rental store box art; I fell asleep in Sunday school. Those lessons could not reach me, and I gravitated towards my grandfather's nightly readings of Lovecraft, and my mother's of Coleridge, Tolkien and Bulgakov. My brothers and I jammed to Metallica on cassette; we fought over Beethoven on CD. 

In this sense, the Christian lessons were not only wrong, they were insipid. I might make exceptions for Milton, Dante, and some of the wilder stories, but allegory is different than straight up proselytization. In the past, I've hesitated calling myself an atheist—if only because I entertain the suspension of disbelief for so-called "religious experiences," the sort described by Rudolf Otto in his seminal work, The Idea of the Holy (1917). Nonetheless, an atheist is what I am.

In short, Otto sees ghost stories as an offshoot of the Numinous, aka the Mysterium Tremendum or divine wrath. There needn't be a god for this sensation to work. For me, enjoyment of this "presence" amounts to Satanic apostacy. My cultivation of "exquisite torture" is wholly cultivated, prepared by me with the expectation of a desired response. Similar to the uncanny as being predictable, this doesn't denote the presence of a Christian god (or any other); it simply means that certain thoughts excite me, but not at other peoples' expense. 

Otto described the symptoms of religious experience as extending from an indescribable power (which he pointedly describes in Latin terms, however futile). Yet, the activity itself is tied up in rituals that are completely demonstrable. The Gothic, my area of study, is a graveyard—of sedimentary conventions and effects, but also authors. Built upon the dead, these dead-obsessed ghouls reach into the present, bringing their tricks (and posthumous schools of thought) with them: Walpole, Reeve, Radcliffe, Lewis, and Beckford; followed by Dacre, Shelley, Austen and the Brontës... followed by Poe, Hawthorne, Stoker, Dunsany and Blackwood... followed by Lovecraft, Borges, and M. R. James... followed by King, Ligotti, Rice, Barker... And so on.    

Quite the garden of forking paths, and I've barely scratched the surface. My own area of study (metroidvanias) is none of these people, but without them, my work would have no grounds to exist. The palimpsest is vital, if only to rip it apart and piece it back together in some new, nightmarish form. But in doing so the desired results are not deterred; they're catalyzed. For me, it's that delicious feeling of self-destruction that gets me going—of awesome, unknowable gods staring me down and me them. It's hardly mysterious, and only feels that way through base, animals reactions from which my elevated mind cannot escape.

This is the only reasonable conclusion. Anything else is a leap of faith, orchestrated by those who wish to cultivate ignorance as a meets of control, eliminating thought. The Gothic does no such thing. It deconstructs previous ages through dark reinvention, providing an awareness of death, and constant rejuvenation felt on the edge of destruction (fatal ignorance versus Promethean wisdom). There's no perfect story, but the chaos makes a lot more sense because it describes, and compiles, a human condition fraught with peril. 

The attitude behind this invention may be secular, but the religious components are still used, as are their notorious symptoms. As stated previously, I thrive on the paradoxical delights of tangible annihilation. In this aspect, I can respect the notion entertained by outmoded thinkers like Donne. Metaphysics is bunk; the sensation is not, and this can be a powerful tool when married to open minds, critical of those who might abuse the same tools. There's always a man behind the curtain. This person needn't be a humbug.

The Gothic doesn't forgo science; it opens the mind through older ways of thinking. This Wisdom of the Ancients can be used to critique the present, including aging powers that haven't gone anywhere. Gothic stories thrive on suggestion—and ultimately the reveal of—hidden tyrants, charlatans, and murderers. Those in power today are not so different. A change of perspective is vital in ousting them; it robs them of their hypnotic power by taking away their modern camouflage.

An element of play is present throughout. Yes, I've learned to study the world, but also to have fun doing so. Religious groups deny fun by prescribing the Truth—not because fun destroys (no matter what they claim), but because it encourages thoughts that ultimately expose those in power as frauds. Gothic devices let me play with Satan, and such play has taught me vital lessons: Satan is perverted by the "holy" as a demonizing tool. There's no belief in it for me, only a trust in the process, exposing those who seal themselves off through abjection. For me, the horror of the debased priest is two-fold: deserved schadenfreude, and exposing a perfidious system whose ancient abuses refuse to die.

I see the victims of religion as ignorant, with minds like children encroached upon by manipulative adults. Our aforementioned humbugs, these rapacious, greedy vampires exact money and sex from their victims. It brings the old expression "taking candy from a baby" into uncomfortable focus. The key to freedom is learning. A way to lubricate of this escape is entertainment—not the dull, brainless sort, but the acquisition of rapturous carnal knowledge. 

Modern sex needn't be a vector for disease. The properly educated not only avoid infection through smart health-related choices (condoms, good communication); they can distance themselves from unhealthy sexual attitudes that encourage bad relationship practices. Religions forbid love through outmoded views of what love even is. Older Gothic stories openly moralized, to be sure; they still clued the reader in, letting lurid reveries of oh-so-naughty sex to fuel the reader's insatiable appetite.

It's important, here, to acknowledge the difference between fantasy and fact; the exploration of wicked desires on the page, stage or screen provide a healthy alternative to real life risk-taking. Two consenting adults can even explore these avenues together, but theirs is a union informed by texts open to such possibilities. So often the attack on so-called "terrorist literature" was the defilement of young women's minds, the owners bent on turning the page like Narcissistic Eve rather than marry who they're told to. God forbid!

A common phobia is the destruction of the ancestral bloodline (see: Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher"). But terrified readers overlook the actual death of male tyranny in the process. The modern world, and its enlightened minds, demonstrate how such systems can crumble, but Romance needn't die; it merely endures within those who find love through healthier, sexier means. The cultivation of fearsome fantasies amounts to a rolodex of select encounters, the daily entry chosen through mood. Gotta keep things fresh, folks.

Dark fantasies can persist, even those that give pause by how dark they seem; and yet, so long as total, group enjoyment isn't questioned, these displays can be allowed—doubly so if they are explained as planned and understood as fun. The imperiled lady might learn to crave and want such things, or the lord, or the observer(s). Submission, to one's desires, coincides to "ghastly" fantasies that reflect a public awareness. They're Sontag's Camp, placed in quotes. The aim isn't to sicken, but to play and delight at repurposed signifiers: "Take me to you, imprison me, for I, [...] never shall be free, / Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me."

And note how the body mysteriously responds! It is what it is—a fact only discovered through the encouragement of play as a learning tool. Not only is the sex better (trust me, it is); the disillusion of tyranny can vanish, replaced with entertaining tales of darker times. And if actual trauma continues to exist on Earth, the Gothic mode allows for earnest communication. I'd trust the playful humanitarian—not the religious practitioner—to tell the difference between joyous entertainment and harsh reality. Experience is always liminal, because we're not omniscient. Those who claim to be are liars, and want to exploit you.

No matter what Austen teases (re: Northanger Abbey), religion begets "dangerous confusion" far more than Gothic novels. To say otherwise is to treat people as stupid, incapable of thinking for themselves. We're not born wise, but freedom of thought is precisely what Gothic stories encourage. The fact that such thoughts remain tied to symbols and stories is Derrida, telling it like it is: Il n'y a pas de hors-texte ("There's no outside of the text."). There's no escaping the past—merely an enabling of the reader to relate to it presently and in salubrious ways. My life is a testament to that fact. I think, but my thought is tied to the enjoyment of "ancient" texts on par with jouissance (a fancy word for orgasm, but also intellectual stimulation).

The next time someone denounces Satan or atheism (or attacks a harmless group of people different from themselves), think how those same individuals acquire sex through imperfect power exchange: the Catholic priest who rapes the choirboy, the alt-righter male who shames women but craves the big-titty Goth GF, etc. Hypocrisy can be so telling, and few outcomes are more hypocritical than failed celibacy. These persons want sex. What they don't want is consent.

Not all atheists are sexually active, and I'm sure the average religious person won't let religion interfere with their sex life (mild sarcasm). Nonetheless, the tacit promise of compulsive sex remains for so many religious cults. Sex is ordained, regulated by those in charge. Think of a world where sex is given freely, through a market of mutual consent. This might sound like work, but it makes for healthier relationships, and ultimately better sex (re: "She wants your dick."). These require learning what others want, but this isn't so hard: You merely have to listen, and express a willingness to participate.

My atheism hasn't affected my ability to be happy, and my life as a Gothicist is full of meaning. I confess, I was exposed to quite a bit as a youngster (re: the sex scene from The Name of the Rose, depicted above), but never with malice. I was always eager to know more. Contrary to what you might have been told, we have only one life. Why waste it by denying ourselves the finer things, while pretending divine grace somehow measures up?


About me: My name is Nick van der Waard and I'm a Gothic ludologist. I primarily write reviews, Gothic analyses, and interviews. Because my main body of work is relatively vast, I've compiled it into a single compendium where I not only list my favorite works, I also summarize them. Check it out, here!

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