All too often in mainstream British political discourse surrounding government policy as regards the still-ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson as well as the broader Conservative Party are pursuing a “libertarian” approach to Covid-19 policy. This description is, of course, a fatuous reference to the fact that Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party have been deliberately trying to avoid an increase in regulations and restrictions as the Omicron variant of Covid-19 continues to spread through England, thus seemingly taking a laissez-faire attitude to the issue, and derives from Boris Johnson’s own apparent self-description as a “libertarian”. But what is the truth of this “libertarianism”?
I must admit that a few years ago, for some time, I had been unduly skeptical of Jeremy Corbyn on libertarian grounds, but his recent opposition to Covid passports and mandatory vaccines (for NHS workers, at least), in spite of other trends in the Labour Party and the “centre-left” has had me off guard, and gotten me curious. On December 14th 2021, Jeremy Corbyn along with several other left-wing Labour MPs, including Diane Abbott and Zarah Sultana, voted against a series of measures that including Covid passports and mandatory vaccines for NHS workers, joined by a 100-strong contingent of Conservative rebels who opposed the government on these same measures. At first I did not know Corbyn’s argument, and this made me want to hear it, but recently a Double Down News video featuring Corbyn has proven to be rather clarifying on the subject.
Corbyn’s argument is that instituting a policy of requiring Covid passports would lead to a situation in which there would be a massive databank of citizens that can be held by the state for its own purposes against their privacy and civil liberties, and his argument against requiring NHS workers to be vaccinated is that this would potentially mean losing vital staff at a time when the NHS needs all hands available to manage hospitalization of people infected with Covid-19. I must say, it’s hard to oppose this line of argument, and I find myself agreeing with it, in parts cautiously and in parts enthusiastically. And once we start from this argument, or rather the observations it speaks to, the narrative of Boris Johnson’s “libertarianism” unravels into abject falsity.
For all the predictable bromides concerning the tradition of “English liberty”, the British government has fared little better than the rest of the world in its march towards the enactment of a long-term state of exception. After sitting on its hands and waiting for Covid-19 to spread across the UK and kill hundreds of people, the government mandated a protracted lockdown over a months-long period before the summer season, the exact length depending on which part of the UK you lived in. In England, particularly, things had become so draconian that there were even reports that casual sex had been banned (outside your own home, of course). And then, in 2021, peaceful protests and vigils against police violence in the wake of the rape and murder of Sarah Everard were met with violent suppression by the police and an effort by the Conservative government to impose new restrictions against the right to protest, and thereby the basic rights to freedom of speech, expression, and assembly. So much for this “English liberty” we were all told about.
In this light, Boris Johnson can’t possibly be taken as a “libertarian” with any grain of seriousness. But then how do we make sense of his ostensibly laissez-faire approach to the pandemic as of late. Well there are a number of ways. I suspect one viable explanation is that he can’t possibly maintain a position in which to impose further restriction after he himself violated the very restrictions he imposed upon everyone else. But I have another theory. Remember that, as Covid-19 was spreading across Europe and the UK had its first confirmed cases, the government waited until the middle of March to enact any serious policies to combat, or more accurately control, the spread of Covid-19. It was in the vacuum of apparent inaction and mounting viral transmission that a repressive state of exception soon followed. My suspicion hence is that the government had deliberately arranged our extant circumstances so as to allow for the necessity of a state of exception, most likely as part of a strategy to bide time and preserve the order of uninterrupted exchange of capital and goods while the government cooked a set of restrictions to stall the virus and compensate the rich.
This understanding also applies to the proposal to require NHS workers to be vaccinated. In theory it should make sense, but in practice the logical outcome of this means that any NHS workers who, for whatever reason, have not been vaccinated will lose their jobs. The problem here is obvious: that potentially means less staff for the NHS, which means less people to perform the various functions of the NHS which it needs especially in order to manage the negative cascading effects of a pandemic. There is already a staff shortage in the NHS as it is, with thousands of workers absent because of Covid, and this has led to critical incidents in British hospitals, disruptions of vital medical functions including unloading ambulances, military personnel being deployed to plug the gaps, and a general demoralisation among remaining NHS staff. With this in mind, legally requiring NHS staff to be vaccinated in order to continue their duties could deepen the pressures facing the NHS by leading to further shortages, creating gaps that are then harder to fill, leading to a general crisis for the NHS. This, in my opinion, constitutes a direct attack on the NHS, one befitting a government that had already take many millions of pounds of money out of the NHS and continued a regime of privatisation that has been active since before Boris Johnson became Prime Minister. Incidentally, it should be stressed that privatisation has, in the years prior to the global pandemic, been pursued not only by the British government but also the government of Italy, thus eventually weakening the ability of public health services to effectively combat the pandemic.
Thus it is empirically clear what the Conservative government is doing. Far from pursuing a “libertarian” approach to the pandemic, the government is attempting to establish a biopolitically-controlled carceral state, whose order over the masses is based on a broad restriction of freedom that is itself sustained by a constant state of crisis management. This crisis management, of course, pertains to a continuous emergence, recession, and then resurgence of Covid-19, which, while obviously not created itself by the government, is facilitated by the government in that it conditions its ability to cyclically re-establish itself. There have been many voices in the political and scientific establishment
The UK is not the only country in the world where Covid-19 regulations, under the purview of certain authoritarian governments, have served as a pretext to expand the dictatorial powers of the state. In Greece, Covid-19 restrictions were invoked as a pretext for allowing the Greek police to violently suppress protests against the government and censure members of the Greek parliament. In Austria, there is already a raft of draconian restrictions being implemented, including vaccine mandate enforced by fines and police checks, and has enacted a lockdown and curfews specifically for unvaccinated citizens. In France, President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to curtail several freedoms for the 5 million French citizens who have not yet been vaccinated; although he doesn’t plan to vaccinate everyone by force, he does plan to ban unvaccinated citizens from going to restaurants, cafes, cinemas, theatres, and many other public venues. In the United States of America, President Joe Biden tried to implement a policy of mandatory vaccination for employees, but it was blocked by the Supreme Court. And this is to say nothing of the way China has handled the pandemic since it was still largely confined to Wuhan.
My point is that all over the world one of the main cascading effects of Covid-19 has been a raft of states of exception, countries ratcheting the expansion of authoritarian state power by using the continued presence and resurgence of Covid-19 to exercise greater authority over the citizens, and Jeremy Corbyn is right to talk about this happening, he is right to be concerned about how all of this is going to lead up to a future of police states down the line, and he is right about how none of this requries you to be an anti-vax nutjob who thinks that mass vaccination itself is just a control mechanism. If we are at all concerned about civil liberties, we would be fools to ignore Corbyn’s argument. And we should also recognize the Conservative government under Boris Johnson for what it is: an increasingly authoritarian state of exception, which should be dismantled like any other tyranny.
Now, since there’s rumours of Jeremy Corbyn starting a new Peace and Justice Party, even if it’s not going to happen, Corbyn’s talk about civil liberties honestly has me hoping that maybe his new party might be worth supporting. I mean, ultimately no party is going to deliver any country from capitalism in the long-term, and the track record for so-called communist parties is not particularly good, and I would espouse a form of anti-capitalist libertarian communist form of self-reliance that holds that even Corbyn is not the salvation people think he is, but having said all of that, if Corbyn’s Peace and Justice movement has any more of the civil liberties concerns that Corbyn seems to be expressing, then I just might be willing to support it, solely on the grounds that it might be the only chance within the British electoral system of seeing an actual civil-libertarian movement in mainstream British politics. Of course, the only problem with this is that it doesn’t matter if (1) the party never makes any siginificant victories and (2) the British union is destroyed from within as a result of Scottish and Welsh secession which I sincerely hope happens. Seriously, in all honesty, the fragmentation of the United Kingdom into small but independent nations is the one thing that might make Brexit worth it in the end, and the main reason that I don’t actually hold out hope for Labour undoing Brexit, and it’s for this reason that I personally would vote for Plaid Cymru in any Welsh elections, despite the fact that I don’t consider them to be all that left-wing, solely for the possibility of bringing about Welsh independence.
But, if Peace and Justice were to come along as an actual, then despite everything I might be inclined to support them against the Conservatives and against the Labour Party. Because let’s face it, the Conservatives are not the only carceral force in British politics, and the Labour Party has no interest in civil-libertarianism and ultimately no desire to resist the post-pandemic trend towards states of exception, rather they merely want their own, more “competent”, more “forensic”, quasi-social-democratic carceral state.
You are all probably all too familiar with the creeping presence of esoteric fascism and folkism within alternative religious communities and subcultures, and how frequently this is used by outsiders to attack our validity. You probably also have some idea about the problem of NSBM in the black metal scene, and if you’ve been reading this blog lately it’s a problem I’ve been giving a lot of focus to in recent years. Our communities have a great need to fight this problem, and to do so, we must challenge a very pernicious myth about the Nazis: namely, the myth that the Nazis were anti-Christian Pagans. It seems to me that this myth is at the root of the phenomenon of certain esoteric Nazi or fascist enterprises as well as the spread of neo-Nazi folkist Paganism and the idea of NSBM. To give an example of what I mean, remember that there are Nazi black metal musicians, such as Anthony Mignoni from the band Seigneur Voland, who praised Adolf Hitler for his supposed “will to found a neo-pagan empire in Europe”. And do I really have to say anything about Varg Vikernes alone? What I’m trying to say is that a lot of all this comes from a residual mythology that casts the Nazis as Pagans looking to overturn the Christian world order, and this mythology serves as a way for Nazis to try and exploit certain themes within Paganism, occultism, and the Left Hand Path for their own purposes. But, as you will see, the whole idea that the Nazis were esoteric Pagans is a lie.
If there is one thing that I think dispels the idea of Nazism being Pagan more than anything else, it would probably be the opinion of none other than Adolf Hitler on the subject of Pagan revivals. It is popularly claimed that Hitler extolled the value of Christianity in public, while also denouncing Christianity as a religion based on weakness even as he praised Jesus as some sort of honorary Aryan, and that the Nazis were some sort of almost uniquely anti-Christian powerhouse (I say “almost uniquely”, given that the other 20th century anti-Christian powerhouse commonly referred to is the Soviet Union). The presence of volkisch ideology and the pretences to Germanic paganism within the Third Reich, combined with Hitler’s supposed disdain for both Christianity and atheism, has led some to believe that he was some sort of avatar for the revival of Paganism, as has been the contention of Christian intellectuals and commentators. Carl Jung’s essay on “Wotan” as an archetype of wild ethno-nationalist frenzy and irrationalism has been influential in generating a supposed link between Germanic neopaganism and Nazism, and meanwhile a whole generation of pretentious Christian intellectuals have further poisoned the well with their own nonsensical pronouncements on the subject. But what did Hitler actually think of Paganism of any sort, and what was the actual religious alignment of Nazism as a whole?
In his Table Talks, Hitler described the re-establishment of the worship of pre-Christian Germanic deities as “foolish” and said that the old pre-Christian mythology “ceased to be viable when Christianity implanted itself”. In other words, Hitler considered Christianity to be superior to Paganism, which is on its own all the confirmation you need at least that Hitler wasn’t a Pagan. But, there’s more. In Hitler: Memoirs of a Confident, which was published by Otto Wagener in 1985, Wagener recounted that Hans Schemm, an esteemed Nazi educator and Gauleiter (regional leader), expressed his frustration at people who espoused “a lot of nonsense talked about blond men, about the Nordic race, about the cult of Wotan and the spirit of the Edda”, likely referring to certain neopagan elements of the Nazis, accused them of creating inferiority complexes and inspiring hatred among non-blond Germans and from there promoting division between Germanic and non-Germanic peoples (the irony of this coming from a Nazi officer has to have been lost on both Schemm and Hitler). Hitler interrupted by saying that he expressly and repeatedly forbade expressions of neopaganism within the NSDAP, mocking what he dubbed “All that rubbish about the Thing places, the solstice festivals, the Midgard snake, and all the rest of the rubbish they dredge up from the German prehistory!”. After this, Schemm further denounced the “solstice festivals” he heard about as being propagandistic rather than atavistic and jeopardizing the “Volk community”, Hitler then agreed and asserted that “We Germans in particular must avoid anything that works to create even more divisiveness”. Wagener recounted that he feared that the “Old Germanic Festivals” were increasingly reshaping the mission of the Hitler Youth somehow. Hitler apparently also stated that he had no issue with Christmas, instead objecting to the association of Christmas with pre-Christian nature worship, and asserted that he did not want to rob the Christian church of its holy day, though he then ultimately told his advisors not to worry about the festivals, claiming that he thought that whatever brought the Hilter Youth closer to “the godhead” was good and that whatever separated them from it, “even if it was a Catholic priest”, was bad.
Keep in mind that Schemm was very much a Christian, and in fact his notable slogan was “Our religion is Christ, our politics Fatherland!”, clearly suggesting his belief that Nazism was a Christian ideology. If Hitler and the NSDAP were such militant neopagans that would exclude or even liquidate Christianity from their Third Reich, Hans Schemm would probably not have the official status he did within the NSDAP. Instead, in reality, the Nazis honored Schemm after his death in 1935 by naming entire schools and streets after him, and he was evidently important enough for the Nazis that Hitler personally ordered a surgeon to fly to Bayreuth in an attempt to save him from the injuries that Schemm received in the plane crash that killed him. As it turns out, for a supposed anti-Christian, Hitler seemed to value certain Christian officers while ridiculing his more “neopagan” subordinates.
The Nazis are fairly notorious for their seeming and widely mythologized interest in the occult, even despite the fact that the Nazis, when they entered power, criminalized even volkisch mystic organizations. The reputation of the Nazis as occult obsessives can be traced in large part to Heinrich Himmler, the Waffen SS commander who was known for an interest in esotericism and self-declared non-Christian status. Himmler, however, was not much of a Pagan, if it could even be said that he was a Pagan at all. He had an interest in incorporating solstice celebrations into the SS, but this same SS was modelled on the Society of Jesus, otherwise known as the Jesuits, which tells me that he was simply layering ostensible Pagan custom onto what was ultimately an organization inspired by Christianity. Apparently he sought to challenge the customs of Christianity on the grounds of his own synthetic occult belief system, but there is no evidence that he ever worshipped any pre-Christian gods or that he was a polytheist, animist, nature-worshipper, or anything usually defined as part of the spectrum of Pagan religiosity. Himmler was quite explicit in saying that being in the SS means to believe in “a God Almighty who stands above us” and accepting the doctrine that God created the earth, the “Fatherland”, and its “volk”, and that he sent Adolf Hitler to earth, and further insisted that anyone who did not believe in God was unsuitable for SS membership and should be considered “arrogant, megalomaniacal, and stupid”, all of which is more consistent with a very volkisch interpretation of Christianity than any concept of Paganism. Himmler may have formally left Christianity or at least the Christian church, but he still believed in some religious premises that were rather close to Christian doctrine. If we are to take his apparent non-Christian status seriously, you could say he ascribed to a kind of Latent Christianity.
Some within the SS seem to have sought after the existence of a “true Christianity”, which they believed to have originated in Atlantis, which they believe was inhabited by “Aryans” who practiced monotheism. Himmler is also known for establishing the Ahnenerbe, a branch of the SS dedicated to exploring parts of the world in search of esoteric secrets that would “prove” the superiority and lineage of the “Aryan race”. But Hitler himself had no interest in these expeditions, and if anything he mocked them, lamenting that under Himmler’s watch “we might as well have just stayed in the Church”. In fact, for a German volkisch nationalist, Hitler really didn’t seem to appreciate Germany’s past. He denounced ancient Germans for “living in mud huts” while their Roman counterparts were “erecting great buildings”, and derided Himmler for apparently digging up ancient Germanic villages to reveal a past that Hitler considered embarrassing because he considered it inferior to Greece and Rome, who he thought had “already reached the highest stage of culture”.
Furthermore, the supposedly “Pagan” National Socialists declared from the beginning that they saw themselves as a Christian movement and not a Pagan one. In the NSDAP Party Program of 1920, the Nazis emphatically stated in Point 24 that their party represented “positive Christianity”, while of course claiming to demand freedom for all religious confessions; at least, so long as they “do not endanger its [the state’s] existence of conflict with the customs and moral sentiments of the Germanic race”. The Nazis chose “positive Christianity”, effectively a volkisch interpretation of Christianity, as a representative of the “customs and moral sentiments of the Germanic race” (Germans at that time consisted mostly of Christians), and as a vehicle through which to oppose “Jewish materialism”. “Positive Christianity” can be thought of as a highly revisionist form of Christianity (which, don’t get confused, is still a form of Christianity; we’re not doing the “No True Christians” fallacy here) meant to present a “true” or more authentically “Aryan” form of Christianity. This meant removing any trace of Jewish influence, including much of the Old Testament, from Christianity, recasting Jesus Christ as an “Aryan” warrior instead of King of the Jews, and reframing the Christian conception of the struggle of Good versus Evil as a struggle being “Aryan” light and “Semitic” darkness, thus pitting Germans and Jews against each other in a racialist holy war. Many Christians in Germany, far from being repelled by Nazism, actually embraced Nazism and its “Positive Christianity” as an affirmation of Christian values against secular uncertainty, and although some churches opposed Nazism (these were grouped together as the “Confessing Church”) and faced persecution because of it, many other churches, clergymen, and ordinary Christians remained complicit with the Nazi regime, and after the fall of Nazi Germany, Christianity in Germany struggled with the silence they demonstrated during this period.
Several Nazis held to the idea of “Positive Christianity” in some form. Artur Dinter, the Gauleiter of Gau Thuringia, formed a religious organization called the “Spiritual Christian Religion Community” (later renamed the “German People’s Church”) in 1927, which sought to divest Christianity of its Jewish influences and establish National Socialism as an expressly religious movement dedicated to Christianity. Dinter and Hilter did oppose each other, but this is because Dinter’s goals conflicted with Hitler’s own plans to present the NSDAP as neutral on religion. Dinter did not believe that Jesus was a mere political centerfold, rather he indeed believed in the doctrine of Jesus as the only incarnated spirit who never “misused his free will to sin”. He also opposed the Old Testament because it was “too materialistic”, and believed that its expurgation would reveal the “true” teachings of Jesus. Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi arch-propagandist, was also a religious Christian. Goebbels believed that the idealized “struggle” against Jews upheld by Nazism was also a struggle between God and the Devil, he considered God to be on the side of Adolf Hitler, he believed that God was absolute and that nothing existed outside of God, he loved the New Testament and read the Sermon of the Mount every evening, and he even believed himself to have conversed with Jesus Christ. True, he did have anti-clericalist tendencies, but this is only to the extent that he thought Christianity was in need of renewal and that its churches and “false priests” have failed. Dietrich Klagges, a prominent Nazi educator and friend of Goebbels, emphasized the divinity of Jesus and wrote a whole book expounding what he believed to be the meaning of the Gospel. Walter Buch, one of the most powerful officials in the Nazi Party, likened the aims of Nazism to the struggle of Jesus, and upheld Point 24 of the 1920 NSDAP Party Program as “the cornerstone of our thinking”, thus he seemed to affirm Positive Christianity as the core religious ideology of Nazism.
Adolf Hitler himself can ultimately be characterized as a volkisch Christian, despite all common assertion to the contrary. For one thing, Hitler believed in Jesus Christ, just that he believed Jesus was an “Aryan” instead of Jewish. Indeed, Hitler proclaimed Jesus to be “the true God” and “our greatest Aryan leader”, and declared that the “true message of Christianity” could only be found in Nazism. For another thing, Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf that it was the duty of the “folkish-minded man” to fulfill “God’s will” and not let it be desecrated, on the grounds that it “gave men their form, their essence and their abilities”, and he proclaimed that anyone who “destroys His work” is “declaring war” on God’s will and creation. Hitler also referenced the myth of the Garden of Eden by stating that “Whoever would dare to raise a profane hand against that highest image of God among His creatures would sin against the bountiful Creator of this marvel and would collaborate in the expulsion from Paradise”. He believed that Jews were “alien” to “true Christianity” because of their supposed materialism, and considered violence against Jewish people to be “fighting for the work of the Lord”. In 1919, Hitler wrote an unpublished tract in which he advocated for the “purification of the Bible”, that is to say the expunging of the Old Testament from the Bible, which was not only a cornerstone of revisionist Nazi Christianity but also an idea held by nationalist and volkisch Protestant theologians such as Adolf van Harnack before the NSDAP was even born.
Thus, Hitler, like many of the rest of his Nazi compatriots, was a volkisch Christian, one who believed in a “true” Christianity that he thought was obfuscated by the Old Testament, and thus wanted to get rid of everything about Christianity that he thought was too Jewish to represent the teachings of Jesus. And let’s make no bones about it, it’s an absurdly revisionist take on Christianity, it almost certainly seems heretical when put next to the more mainstream forms of Christianity, and its premises stem less from scripture and more from the racist volkisch mysticism that sprung up in Germany in the 19th and early 20th century, but it was nonetheless a form of Christianity, and particularly a representation of volkisch, nationalist Protestanism. It has often been claimed that Hitler was an atheist, but this is without basis as has already been discussed. He may certainly have thought of himself as anti-mystical and anti-clericalist, but when you consider that he believed himself to be an exponent of “true Christianity”, that is to say an “authentic” and “Aryan” Christianity not represented by the churches, then his opposition to the Church could be seen to have more or less the same basis as Goebbels’ Christian anti-clericalism. Hitler hated the Catholic Church, for instance, because of what he believed to be its “elaborate Jewish rites”, suggesting his belief that Roman Catholicism was a Jewish revision of Christianity.
There’s nothing about any of this that could be classed as “Pagan” except from the standpoint of Christians who will deem anything they don’t like to be “Pagan”, and none of it is without precedent in Christianity. For starters, the idea of Roman Catholicism as a “Jewish” religion is lifted straight from Houston Stewart Chamberlain, who claimed that the Roman Catholic Church preached a “Judaized” form of Christianity that had no resemblance to the supposed “true Christianity”, which he believed was established by an “Aryan” Jesus Christ, and that the Catholic Church did this as part of a conspiracy to destroy the “Aryan race”. Hardly a Pagan thing to long for the re-establishment of “True Christianity”. There’s also a very ancient precedent that to the Nazi enterprise of “de-Judaizing” Christianity in Marcion, a Christian who argued that the God of the Old Testament was actually an evil and false deity whose punitive nature stood opposed to the “true” God of the New Testament who represented love. And of course, it is impossible to overlook the influence of Martin Luther, the anti-semitic father of the Protestant Reformation, in shaping Nazi ideology. In fact, the Nazis themselves took Luther’s infamous tract On The Jews And Their Lies and displayed it prominently wherever they could, and repeatedly expressed their affinity for Luther’s anti-semitism, even comparing Hitler himself to Luther and hoping to “witness his [Luther’s] reappearance”. So what we get in terms of the religious underpinnings of Nazism is, in all reality, a form of Protestant Christianity that carries on the basic premise of Marcionite Christianity while recodyifing that in terms of struggle between two races as opposed to dualism between two versions of God, and all filtered through the revisionist volkisch ideology that was contemporary to the Nazi movement.
There’s also the matter of Hitler’s beliefs concerning the afterlife. Hitler apparently rejected Hell, denounced it as a barbaric doctrine, and instead subscribed to an annihilationist perspective in which those who would be damned to Hell would instead simply fade into oblivion. But this annihilationism is not some “Pagan” idea, and in fact it is a development of Christian theology whose supporters base their claims on Biblical scripture, and it is not without supporters among modern Christians. Moreover, annihilationism itself seems to go all the way back to early church fathers such as Tertullian. Meanwhile, Hitler does appear to have believed in some concept of Heaven, and at least nowhere in Mein Kampf or anywhere else do we see any sign of Hitler rejecting the idea of a heavenly afterlife. There also doesn’t seem to be any major evidence that Hitler rejected the belief in an immortal soul, despite what certain historians appear to have thought.
It is popularly assumed that Hitler actually hated Christianity behind closed doors, and that he wanted people to choose between being German and being Christian on the grounds that he supposedly thought they could not be both. The problem with this should be obvious. If Hitler seriously thought that you had to choose between being German and being Christian, while favouring the former over the latter, he would have at least required members of his Nazi Party to renounce Christianity before becoming members. But this is clearly not the case, as many Nazi officers, including the most powerful, were expressly religious (albeit volkisch) Christians. Moreover, Hitler would have to have required all of Germany’s Christian population to renounce Christianity in order to prove their loyalty to the German state. But this doesn’t seem to have happened either. And Hitler, as the one man who had the absolute power override all decisions and impose his own without objection, could conceivably have turned Germany into either a volkisch neopagan state or a state atheist regime (like the Soviet Union and other Marxist-Leninist countries) through sheer imposition of his dictatorial will via the Fuhrerprinzip alone. But the only Christian churches Hitler persecuted were those who publicly criticized Hitler and refused to comply with the Nazi state. Every other chruch was allowed to exist through their complicity with the Nazi state, and the majority of Nazi German citizens were some form of Christian, suggesting that the Nazi state did not seek to eradicate Christianity and replace it with some form of “Paganism”, since otherwise the Nazis would have just ordered the mass deconversion of Germany’s Christian population. The one source for the claim that Hitler was privately anti-Christian is Hitler Speaks by Hermann Rauschning, which is considered dubious scholarship and even outright fraudulent, and its author, while claiming to have had several meetings and coversations with Hitler, was only ever a Nazi Party member for two years (from 1932 to 1934) and his sole importance to the party was as administrator of the Free City of Danzig. Being a conservative reactionary, Rauschning’s primary objection to Nazism was that he believed it was a “nihilist” and anti-Christian revolution that supposedly destroyed all traditions and ceased to be nationalist, and argued for the restoration of the German monarchy as the sole alternative to Nazism.
But in any case, Hitler Speaks is not considered to be an accurate account of Hitler’s views and words. Rauschning also seems to be cited in arguments that Hitler was possessed by demons and that this explained his evil actions, so….make of that what you will! And so, it is best to reject the claim that Hitler privately hated Christianity as a concoction of Christian conservatives seeking to assert the moral inscrutability of Christianity. Furthermore, Hitler expressly denounced any enterprises that harkened back to Germany’s pre-Christian past in Mein Kampf, where he described neopagans as “the greatest cowards that can be imagined”, mocked any ideas of “old Germanic heroism” as well the “dim pre-history” of the Germanic peoples, and accused neopagans of running away from “every Communist blackjack” while preaching struggle at the same time. So Hitler was pro-Christian, albeit in a very revisionist way, and anti-Pagan.
There is one important detail we should note, however. Hitler seems to have insisted that the Nazi Party, as a political apparatus, should not specifically be a formal religious movement, This meant Hitler sometimes conflicted even with devout Christians in his movement, such as Artur Dinter, since they wanted the Party to be a more avowedly religious movement. It is easy to come away thinking that Hitler meant his movement to be an entirely secular one because of this, but since the NSDAP Party Program explicitly stated a commitment to “Positive Christianity”, this is likely not the case. And besides, the Republican Party in the United States of America is not, in the strict sense, a religious movement in the sense that Artur Dinter would have wanted the NSDAP to be, yet it clearly operates along the lines of religious politics, in that it premises its political ideology on the perceived rightful governance of America by a Christian moral order. In fact, the whole concept of opposing certain churches because of their “foreign” character is not unfamiliar to right-wing opposition to certain sects or religions on the grounds of their “foreign” nature in the present as is found in modern Christian nationalist movements.
The supposedly “Pagan” Nazi Germany also seems to have venerated the Christian Frankish king Charlemagne, who destroyed the sacred Irminsul and massacred thousands of Saxons in Verden as part of his campaign to make the Saxons convert to Christianity. Curiously enough, there has been division about Charlemagne within the pre-Nazi volkisch movement and even among Nazis, but Charlemagne was celebrated by the Nazi German state in the form of a huge commemoration event in 1942 to mark the 1,200th anniversary of the birth of Charlemagne. There was also a whole unit of the SS that was named after Charlemagne to honour him as a “pan-European Germanic hero”. Alfred Rosenberg opposed the veneration of Charlemange, and argued that his Saxon enemy Widukind should be honored instead of Charlemagne, but he was privately told by Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels to cease his public condemnations of Charlemagne, suggesting that the Nazi leadership favored the Christian king. Of course, from Goebbels’ standpoint, it was all to remain in alignment with popular opinion, which of course favored Charlemagne. This isn’t a surprise when you understand that the majority of the population of Nazi Germany self-identified as Christians, and particularly favoured Protestant Christianity. There’s no record of anyone in Nazi Germany outside maybe a handful of Nazi officers ever supporting or practicing any form of Paganism. Furthermore, it seems that the time of the Weimar Republic was seen by many German Christians of the time as a direct assault on God’s order, due to the secularism of the Weimar government and its attendant, or at least relative, de-privileging of Protestant Christian imperatives. This sense, combined with the “war theology” embraced by nationalistic Protestant theologians, which saw God favoring Germany in an interventionist quest to “liberate humanity from materialism” and establish his order, did not require much effort to transform into a theological imperative for “Aryan Christianity” to triumph against “Jewish materialism”.
On Alfred Rosenburg, we should note that it is true that he opposed Christianity, but for an apparent supporter of “Paganism”, his actual beliefs don’t seem all that “Pagan”. He believed in a monotheistic God who created mankind and divided its constituents into a hierarchy of separated races and imbued the “Germanic Nordic Aryan” with a unique soul corresponding with the Platonic ideal of humanity. He seemingly did call for the abolition of Christianity in the sense that he wanted Nazi Germany to replace all crosses with swastikas, the Bible with Mein Kampf (which, as I’ve established before, was not a non-Christian book), and the dominon of the National Reich Church of Germany over all churches, and he did call for a “new religion of the blood”. And yet he still denounced Jews specifically for their hatred of Jews and identified them with the Antichrist. In many ways Rosenberg’s views on Jesus and Christianity were not so different from Hitler’s. He believed that Jesus was the true god of the Europeans, rejected all notion that Jesus was Jewish, and argued for the replacement of mainstream Christianity, which he deemed both false and outdated, with “Positive Christianity”. He viewed Jesus as a superhuman mediator between mankind and God and as the biggest “storm” against “Jewish nature”. At no point is Rosenberg shown to refer to multiple pre-Christian gods, or make reference to any individual pre-Christian gods, except for when he is referring to the Norse god Odin as an example of a Christian quest for the kingdom of heaven within as referred to by Jesus. At his most “anti-Christian”, Rosenberg was actually more specifically anti-Catholic in practice, and meanwhile he praised the Christianity advocated by Marcion, who argued that the God of the Old Testament was the false God and the God of the New Testament was the true God. He may have opposed the veneration of Charlemagne, but this alone is not sufficient evidence that he was a “Pagan”, and in his light even his desire to replace the symbols and text of Christianity can be seen in keeping with the contention that these were symbols of an old and “false” Christianity to be replaced by a new and “true” Christianity.
If you were a Pagan or a believer in some other alternative religion and you lived in Nazi Germany, you would probably have been prosecuted by the Nazi state, and then probably thrown into a concentration camp like what happened to Jews and Jehovah’s Witnesses there. Although some Nazi officers were allowed to hold some ostensibly non-Christian views, practicing occultism or pursuing occult interests outside of the SS was not permitted. Friedrich Bernhard Marby, a German occultist who sought the revival of pre-Christian Germanic religion, was arrested by the Nazis for being an unauthorised occultist whose ideas “brought the holy Aryan heritage into disrepute and ridicule”. His colleague, Siegfried Adolf Kummer, was arrested for the same reason. From there Marby apparently spent eight years in concentration camps until his release in April 1945, while Kummer’s fate is still a mystery. Erich Ludendorff’s Tannenbergbund, a volkisch nationalist organisation which expected its members to abandon Christianity in favour of a volkisch brand of Nordic polytheism, was banned by the Nazi government in 1933, shortly after Adolf Hitler took power. It’s not clear why the Tannenbergbund was banned, but I think it might have had something to do with Ludendorff having fallen out of favour with the Nazi establishment after previously having helped the Nazi Party rise to prominence. Ludendorff’s wife, Mathilde von Kemnitz, attempted to insert a new anti-Christian religion that involved polytheism and nature worship into the Nazi movement, but her efforts were rejected by Hitler, who thought she was delusional. Ludwig Klages, a philosopher who espoused his own unique and rather abstract form of Romantic neopaganism, was disliked by the Nazis and denounced by the Nazi press due to his denunciations of National Socialism, and in 1938 his writings were banned by the so-called “neopagan” Alfred Rosenberg on the grounds that they were too “hedonist” for him. The Germanic Faith Community, a Germanic Pagan revival group founded by the artist Ludwig Fahrenkrog, faced several restrictions to their freedoms when the Nazis took power; they were no longer allowed to hold public meetings, they were barred from using a swastika as their symbol, since this had now become the official symbol of the Nazi Party, and in 1934 Fahrenkrog’s paintings were forbidden from exhibition by the Ministry of Propaganda.
A major exception to this trend, of course, was the volkisch neopagan German Faith Movement, but while it did seemingly advocate for the return of polytheism and purported pre-Christian rituals, it also apparently included a syncretism of Christian rituals as well alongside non-Christian counterparts. Its founder, Jakob Hauer, hoped that his own particular brand of Hinduism-inspired occult volkisch neopaganism would be adopted as the official religion of Nazi Germany. But this never happened, and in 1936 Hauer left the movement and abdicated its leadership, though he did become a member of the NSDAP the following year. Otto Sigfrid Reuter, as an NSDAP member and volkisch ideologue honored by Nazi academic institutions, would also be an exception to the trend of neopagans being persecuted or ignored by the Nazi state. Little is known about the Indepedent Free Church, founded by Friedrich Hielscher to express a more or less polytheistic belief system built around a belief in both God and the pre-Christian Germanic gods, though it seemed to continue existing. That said, Hielscher and other Independent Free Church members, along with his church itself, were involved in the underground anti-Nazi resistance movement, for which Hielscher was arrested by the Nazis in 1944.
Turning away from the subject of Paganism in strict terms, we should note that several occult organisations were suppressed under Nazi rule. Fraternitas Saturni, the Luciferian magical order that broke away from Ordo Templi Orientis, was banned by the Nazi government in 1936, and its leader Eugen Grosche was arrested and bound for a concentration camp, before an apparently sympathetic officer helped him get released and get out of Germany. Ordo Templi Orientis itself was banned by the Nazi government, and so were Aleister Crowley’s books and the religion of Thelema as a whole. Karl Germer, who was the head of the OTO, was arrested by the Gestapo on Hitler’s orders in 1935 and was sent to the Esterwegen concentration camp, but was temporarily released later that year upon his case of blood purity being put before Nazi authorities. Ernst Schertel, an occult philosopher and sexual liberation activist notable for his book Magic: History, Theory and Practice, although he apparently did send a copy of his book to Adolf Hitler, was himself arrested by the Nazis, imprisoned for seven months, and had his doctoral degree revoked. Other occultists, even racialist ones, had been banned, apparently as early as 1934, and it is alleged that the occultist Franz Bardon was interned in a concentration camp by the Nazis for three months in 1945. Many forms of magic and alternative spirtual practice, such as witchcraft, astrology, fortune telling, and spiritual healing were all banned by the Nazi government, while Freemasonry in particular was viciously persecuted by the Nazis who thought that they were allies of a Jewish conspiracy against Germany.
Sometimes it’s claimed that Schertel in particular represented a direct link between Hitler and the occult, and thereby establishing the occult and even supposedly “Satanic” heritage of Nazism, based on the fact that Hitler apparently annotated his copy of Magic: History, Theory and Practice. But having examined the book, or at least the annotations, in light of the wider history of Nazism and its broad Positive Christian agenda, I honestly don’t see much reason to assume that the annotations meant anything for the ideological substance of Nazism. The sole annotation mentioned by Timothy Ryback, the author of Hitler’s Private Library, was “He who does not have the demonic seed within himself will never give birth to a magical world”. There is also no clear idea of how it connects back to the ideological formation and political practice of Nazism, nor can we determine the extent to which Hitler was actually interested in the ideas contained within Schertel’s book. Given that Hitler banned several occult groups and the practice of magic (except for certain Nazi officers like Heinrich Himmler), and that the Nazis arrested Schertel himself, it’s highly unlikely that Hitler gained any real respect for occultism as a result of reading Schertel’s book, and it seems obvious to me that Hitler likely treated the book as merely a piece of curiosity. If Hitler did derive anything substantial from it, it’s not clear what, and perhaps we may never actually know if the book was ever really influential at all. Though, even if it was, it was surely not nearly as infuential on Hitler as the prevailing volkisch Protestant ideology of his day. And to be quite honest, anyone who thinks that Hitler was some sort of esoteric Satanist is operating in complete ignorance of what Nazism stood for and who the Nazis were.
And of course, atheists and secularists were also criminalized by the Nazi government. In 1933, the Nazi government banned all “freethinking” and atheist organisations. One of these was the German Freethinkers League, a forum for atheists and materialist thinkers which was shut down in 1933, on Hitler’s orders and on the demands of Christians within Nazi Germany. Hitler also opposed secular schools on the grounds that all moral instruction had to emerge from religious faith (which, in practice, meant Hitler’s revisionist Christian faith). This is rather strange for a supposed atheist, as Christians often claim Hitler was, to do.
All of this paints a rather clear picture of the reality of the religious identity of the Nazi movement and the Nazi state. Although certain people of various stripes, ranging from Christians to certain anti-Christian neo-Nazis, want to believe that Hitler was this great rupture of anti-Christian revolution in the midst of Christian Europe, this is a myth that has no bearing on reality, and not only that it seems to actively distort and misconstrue reality in service of its own pre-determined conclusion of history. The actual reality of Nazism is that it was a movement that sought to construct its totalitarian state along the lines of a religious volkisch ideology whose prerogatives constituted the realization of the “true” Christianity. In essence, this was a revisitionist Christian project which saw itself as simultaneously restoring and renewing Christianity, simultaneously creating a new Christianity for a new era and restoring the “true” substance of the teaching and cultus of Jesus, by purging anything about Christianity that they felt was too Jewish or too materialist for them. The ultimate religious goals of Nazism consisted of bringing all German Christians into a single new Christian church in line with the new volkisch ideology, waging total holy war with Jews and Communists who they believed to be the forces of the Antichrist come to wage war with God, and in realizing the “true Christianity” that was supposedly contained in their volkisch interpretation of Christianity, by recreating the Bible and the major edifices of Christianity in the image of what they believed to be this “true Christianity”; even if, in practice, this could just as easily be said to be their own image. Insofar as they attacked Christianity, beyond the broader rammifications of their volkisch revisionism constituting a severe heresy against the Christian church, the Nazis preferred simply to attack the “Confessing Churches” who opposed them, while content with the other churches who complied with or supported them. And while Christianity was more or less still instituted and supported within Nazi Germany, we know that Paganism, atheism, occultism, and alternative religious/spiritual beliefs were attacked and often banned or persecuted by the Nazi government.
Take stock of what that means, as it is all too relevant for those in alternative subcultures, occultism, neopaganism, and Satanism and the like who seem willing enough to embrace some form of neo-Nazism. They are only rehashing the same fantasy that Heinrich Himmler had back in his day, when he thought that he might some day replace Adolf Hitler as Fuhrer and perhaps steer Nazi Germany away from Christianity. Now, just as then, this is an illusion. If the Third Reich were to be restored tomorrow, or if a new neo-Nazi regime were to be established, then they would be persecuting “degenerate art” as well as all expression of alternative religion and belief just as before. If you’re a metalhead (including a black metal enthusiast), a goth, a punk, even a skinhead, an occultist, a mystic, a Pagan, a Satanist, or anything like that, no matter how racialist you are, then a new Nazi government would curtail your freedom, imprison you, and/or throw you straight into one of their concentration camps alongside Jews, other non-white/non-“Aryan” people, LGBT people, the disabled, and political dissidents. It’s not for nothing that many neo-Nazi movements are still their own brand of Christian as opposed to being neopagans. If you support Nazism in any way, all that means is you’re selling who you are and your own kind to a Christian fascist agenda in the name of your own meaningless hatred against certain people. Whether you’re doing this because you got convinced that Nazism was good or because you just want to be a contrarian, do us all a favour and follow your new leader.
But why does this idea of the Nazis as some kind of neopagan occult empire persist even if the facts contradict it? The answer, in my opinion, is not very complicated. It’s obvious to me that Christians need the myth of Nazism as a sort of Antichrist state in order to save the legacy of Christianity from being forever damaged by its role in the development of Nazism and in facilitating the Third Reich. It seems that, in strict terms, much of our ideas about the religious identity of Nazism are propagandistic, the work of certain wartime figures looking to juxtapose the otherwise Christian Nazi state against the Christianity of contemporary Western liberal democracies by casting the Nazis as adherents of an esoteric Pagan revivalist religion. But I think, at root, the most basic motivation comes from the fact that Nazi Germany was such a systematically malevolent and sadistic state, and Nazism so seemingly alien to the “values” of the Western world (I mean, unless you count the fact that the Nazis were inspired by the practices of American colonialism and racism as well as that of the British Empire), that it could not possibly reflect the supposed Christian message of love, universalism, and salvation. In other words, Nazism appeared to be so evil that surely it couldn’t possibly be Christian, even though that is what the evidence bears out.
It appears that Christians are not the only ones who are convinced of this myth. Indeed, the idea of the Nazis as being a force of sheer anti-Christian power and archetypical evil seems to have echoed throughout our culture as a memetic presence, to the point that it is sometimes internalized by some who seek to oppose and rebel against Christianity. It’s the reason why certain ideas of embracing Nazi aesthetics as a form of transgression could be found in the early days of the modern Satanist movement, it’s ultimately the reason of why Nazi occultism sometimes finds its way in Left Hand Path circles and the reason why Nazi Satanism is a thing at all, and it’s part of the reason why Nazi aesthetics are sometimes taken up in transgressive subcutlures as a means of rebelling against bourgeois society. In this sense, it is also the reason why black metal sometimes finds itself struggling with the influence of Nazi bands, even despite the fact that Nazism, at its root, is built on a Christian ideology.
It is thus clear what is to be done in order to overcome the problem of creeping Nazism in the Left Hand Path circles as well as the problem of folkism and NSBM. For one thing, resisting fascism means taking an explicit and active anti-fascist stance of some kind, and it has to be more than liberal objection to the extremity of fascism. Rather, it must devote itself to a full conceptual opposition to Nazism and fascism, which stems from the full acknowledgement of what Nazism and fascism are at their root. For any movements dealing with a creeping fascism problem, this means that there needs to be a commited opposition to capitalism, imperialism, colonialism, statism, authoritarianism, hegemony, LGBT-phobia, bourgeois-patriarchal morality, and other forms of bigotry, and thus it also means that trying to remain “apolitical” in the sense of a general stance is strictly impossible, since maintaining a committed anti-fascist opposition is an inherently political act. For our task, we are also charged with deconstructing the inherited dysfunctional myths we have concerning the religious basis of Nazism, as well as deconstructing folkist ideology of both the past and the present. To put it plainly, the problems we face require us to ruthlessly attack the premise that the Nazis were an anti-Christian or “neopagan” or occult movement at every chance we get, armed with the facts of history on our side. All of this is vital for us on the Left Hand Path, Pagan and similar milieus for our struggle against fascism, since it means attacking the myths that are used to legitimate its presence, and refusing to brook any elements who would allow the infiltration of fascism into our communities.
Additionally, if there are supposed anti-fascists who seem to be on our side of the struggle only to then turn around and accuse us of being fascists because of Paganism, then we cannot call them friends or comrades, and if anything they might just be our enemies. It is empty to profess opposition to religious bigotry only to turn around and insist that you are a fascist simply for brandishing ancient runes (and I’m talking about the actual Germanic runes, not the symbology that was created or adapted by the Nazis) or wanting to re-establish the worship of the old gods. If there are those who insist the contrary, then they are against us, and they operate under the same bias that is used to obfuscate the volkisch Christian roots of Nazism, and practically operate in service us the same myth invented by the Christian establishment, even if their actual guiding myth might be the abolition of all religion on the grounds that religion itself is somehow fascist or reactionary.
In summary, the big picture is clear. Nazism is not Pagan, and never was Pagan. Nazism is a political movement that derives a religious basis and justification in the idea of “Positive Christianity”, which is a revisionist and folkist form of Christianity that sought the emergence of a new Christianity, which is also meant to be the “true Christianity”, which is thus “freed” from its supposed Jewish trappings. This idea emerges from a line of volkisch/nationalist Protestant theology, and has its predecent centuries earlier in Martin Luther’s anti-Semitic writings and in the radically dualist Christianity of Marcion. Paganism only represented a minority of Nazis, and otherwise it was generally banned and persecuted, while occultism had no substantial influence on Hitler’s ideology, was mostly the reserve of the SS, and was otherwise banned and persecuted. Ideas of Pagan or occult Nazism are the product of a sort of post-war mythology that sought to make sense of the horrors of Nazism by presenting them as the metaphysical enemies of “Western”, here meaning Christian, civilization. This myth has been internalized in certain areas of modern Western occultism and folkist neopaganism, but it is a myth all the same, one that is at odds with and in opposition to reality. Therefore, the nature of our struggle within Paganism, occultism, Left Hand Path spirituality, and any and all subcultures that are adjacent to them, against fascist/Nazi creep consists in part of an active assault against the erroneous Christian mythology that has sought to assert the moral superiority of the Christian faith by trying to frame Nazism as the product of rival creeds.
We must be uncompromising in this battle, or we will fall.
I like to think of myself as both a weirdo and a connoisseur of weird shit, and I think my nearly ten years of writing here speaks for itself, so I thought I’d take it upon myself to explore what is definitely one of the strangest parties I’ve seen in British politics: the Psychedelic Movement.
Psychedelic Movement, not to be confused with the psychedelic counterculture movement of the 1960s, is one of those third parties that is currently running a candidate Southend West, the same constituency that was previously represented by David Amess until he was murdered in October last year, as part of a by-election set to be held on February 3rd. The Psychedelic Movement probably won’t win, in fact I’d be surprised if they managed to get any more votes than some of the far-right parties also running, and indeed, with all the other more mainstream parties (including Labour) abstaining this race, I think that Conservative Party victory is an absolute certainty. But they stick out like a green thumb, if you know what I mean, so let’s see what they’re all about anyway.
If you’re thinking that these are basically fun-loving anarchist types who just want to legalize psychedelic drugs, that would only be partially correct. For one thing, they’re not anarchists. For another thing, their actual political ideology is really incoherent, and in some ways it’s actually kind of reactionary. It seems to be the pet project of a man named Jason Pilley, and seems to have been around since 2017. As the name of his party suggests, Jason devotes much of his social media presence to opposing the War on Drugs and advocating for the legalization of cannabis and other drugs. So far, so good. He also opposes the Conservatives (or what he calls “the Corporate Right”) for wanting to sell off the NHS, has spoken in favour of constructing a Hindu temple in Southend West, and incorporates esoteric imagery into his campaign material. That’s nice! But he also seems to be one of those conservative populists who likes to share articles from the very-definitely-unbiased New York Post to argue that Black Lives Matter are a scam, rants about Facebook being “finished” (yeah, any day now) and encourages people to join them on Gab instead (what could possibly go wrong?), in fact he seems to have stopped using Facebook entirely since May last year because of it, and he’s one of those shitheads who hates the left for the supposed “deconstruction of notions of family, discipline, punishment, ethics, etc, without the construction of anything better”. That’s really cringe. He also blames China for supposedly plaguing everyone with Covid-19, but then also says that Covid-19 is just “one poxy germ” and mocks the idea that it could “bring the world to its knees”. So in other words, China created Covid-19 and spread it throughout the world, but then Covid-19 is basically nothing. One might ask what exactly is the point of blaming China at that rate. Oh, and did I mention that he’s a fan of that racist football hooligan Tommy Robinson (real name: Stephen Yaxley-Lennon)? Because it seems that he most certainly is, and appears to have written a whole book where the second half is about Tommy Robinson.
The upcoming by-election is not Jason Pilley’s first go at running for office. In 2019, he ran as an MP for Rochford and Southend East during that year’s general election. He ran under the Psychedelic Future ticket, and came in dead last. He only won 367 votes, a whole 0.8% of the votes. I can imagine that his performance in the Southend West by-election won’t be much better.
But now, let’s focus on the Psychedelic Movement’s program for society, or at least their constituents. This can be assessed from their most recent election manifesto, which seems to have been posted on January 11th on Jason Pilley’s WordPress site. Let’s look at each point of his programme in order.
We will dig up the dullest roads and stick allotments there instead. Schoolkids across all school years will be given land and taught to grow food for themselves and their family.
This sounds nice, and I do rather like that in this way they mean to instill self-sufficiency in people from a young age, but I can’t for the life of me figure out if this policy method seems feasible. I’m also wondering where that land is going to come from, and what criteria Pilley will use to decide which roads are dull enough to warrant being dug up. For all I know it could free up some living space for people who need it, or it could potentially and unnecessarily disrupt public life for purely arbitrary reasons.
We will invite those South American churches that use ayahuasca in their services to open branches locally, and bring Shamanic Christianity to Southend.
OK, so, questions. Who are these South American churches that use ayahuasca in their services? And just what is “Shamanic Christianity”? Is it basically just when you worship Jesus by imbibing psychedelic drugs? That’s…OK, I guess? I mean it sounds like it would basically be the same spiritual message as Christianity but without the moral hangups about intoxication and psychedelics. In theory it probably would fly in the face of the asceticism that seems to be suggested in the morality of the New Testament, but I also remember hearing that even early Christians used psychedelic drugs as part of their religious practices, so if that’s true then it’s definitely not an unprecedented idea. Moreover, psychedelics have long been intertwined with religious practice throughout the pre-Christian world. To name just a few examples, the use of a psychedelic compound was a central part of the Eleusinian Mysteries, and there was a Vedic Indo-Iranian sacrificial rite referred to as the Haoma rite, which involved the use of a hallucinogen referred to as Haoma. Questions aside, I’m more than happy to see this aspect of religious life be reintroduced to society.
We will end all Covid regulations + hysteria
OK, this is dumb, and fairly dangerous all things considered. Jason Pilley appears to be one of those people who thinks that we’re entering into a state of totalitarianism as a result of measures that have been taken to halt the spread of Covid. Things have certainly been very draconian before the vaccines started getting rolled out (btw I hope he’s not against vaccines either), but to be perfectly honest, things don’t feel all that oppressive lately. For the moment Wales isn’t actually ratcheting up restrictions, which is probably natural because, while I hated Mark Drakeford a few years ago, it does seem like Wales has taken the best path available out of the four nations. If anything, England seems like it wants to actively avoid introducing any serious restrictions even after Christmas. And don’t get me wrong, I would very much like to avoid the rapid increase in carceral state power that the pandemic seems to be helping take shape and which plenty of people on the left seem to be clamouring for, but while I honestly don’t have a good idea of how we should go about things lately in light of that, somehow I don’t think that doing nothing and letting more people die in the hope that maybe some of us get “natural immunity” or “herd immunity” is going to make things any better.
We want our town to be unpolluted & energy-independent, using the full range of renewable-energy options available.
Good idea, and good aims. But I will say that I’m really not sure how you actually can do much without still contributing to the emission problem. As far as I can tell, even renewable energy sources require facilities that have to be constructed and produced in a way that consumes environmentally harmful gasses and fuels, and I’m pretty sure the same is true for nuclear power as well, which, to be honest, raises a whole host of questions on its own. Ultimately I think that you can’t get very far without changing the way energy is produced, and even then you can’t get too far without dismantling the whole capitalist order that sustains itself on rampant over-production and the super-exploitation of the world’s resources, and even then I expect some lifestyle changes to be necessary in the long term, and ideally I’d like our entire attitude towards nature to change alongside this. In short, even if we switch to renewable energy, fighting climate change isn’t as easy as thinking we can just consume our way out of ecological collapse.
Increase NHS funding by several percentage-points of GDP & fire all the “Diversity Officer” parasites.
Here’s a weird case where you have both good and somewhat bad mixed in the same place. Increasing NHS funding after a long period of privatisation is definitely a good thing, albeit by a conspicuously non-numbered percentage, but what’s his deal with “Diversity Officers” exactly? Oh boy what did Jason do or say to offend them? Whatever the case is, I’m pretty sure they’re not the ones responsible for sucking up the NHS’ funding, and somehow I think Jason himself knows exactly who the real culprit is, at least judging from his columns about the NHS. So why scapegoat these guys? It sounds like there’s some very reactionary motives involved to say the least. If it’s some useless neoliberal stuff like what Robin DiAngelo shills for, that’d be one thing, but I don’t know.
Ban the sale of front doors with their letterbox at ground level. It is bizarre to want to give your postman a backache.
Apparently these are real, and apparently there have been calls to ban these doors for a good few years now, so it’s not just Jason who has this issue. In 2019, the Communication Workers Union campaigned for new buildings to meet European Union standards for letterbox height, and Conservative MP Vicky Ford called for low-level letterboxes to be banned in order to protect post officers from getting their backs strained or being bitten by dogs. I can’t say I’m complaining about this proposal. If I worked as a mail man I probably would curse people who have their letterboxes all the way to the bottom, particularly as my back is not without aches. Seriously, just look at those ground-level letterboxes and tell me they’re not bullshit.
We would keep the Monarchy but overthrow the Windsor dynasty and install Hatun Tash as the new Queen instead.
This seemed like a joke proposal until I quickly looked into who Hatun Tash is. Hatun Tash appears to be a Christian evangelist who is mostly known for virulent polemics against Muslims and Islam, and for getting stabbed once in Speaker’s Corner last year. She works for an organisation called Defend Christ Critique Islam Ministries, whose mission is to preach Christianity to Muslims and who claim to be motivated by “love” for Muslims. Considering the often bigoted nature of their apparent polemics, I think it’s safe to say they’re all about hate rather than love, and while I’m not “pro-Islam” I think it’d be a lot more “loving” for DCCI Ministries to fuck off instead of preaching anywhere. Hatun’s supporters claim that she had been banned from going to the Speaker’s Corner over her views, which the Mayor denies. Some Christians like Hatun Nash for “defending Christianity” through her polemics of course, while other Christians dislike her for bigotry against Muslims; apparently she even took a KKK handbook and referred to it as the Quran. If that wasn’t bad enough she was taught by someone who referred to Muslims as “sewage”. But why exactly does Jason like her so much that he wants her to be the new Queen of England? To be honest, it sounds like it’s this dumb right-wing martyr complex where they elevate whoever agrees with them and suffered an attack that they can blame on their preferred scapegoat to quasi-divine status. But then this says a lot of worrying things about Jason. In any case, fuck Monarchy, regardless of who is the King or Queen.
We will open cannabis cafes and LSD clubs around Southend. Using the resources of the State to criminalize the Paul McCartneys of this world + crush the “Peace and Love” Sixties has been utterly destructive to society.
OK, this sounds awesome. Cannabis and LSD would be legal and there’d be whole venues meant as gathering places to support an entire culture built around the safe and pleasurable use of psychedelics. Well, of course, they actually plan to defy the law and open up those cannabis cafes and LSD clubs despite the illegality of these substances, somehow. It would theoretically make more sense for Jason to, if elected, just legalize those substances and their respective venues through new legislation, but, hey, I honestly like the fact that someone thinks they can put up a fight like that. In any case, I really would like to see that in the world. The only thing is, I don’t think the Paul McCartneys of the world are criminalized. Maybe they were in the 1960s, but not anymore. In fact, the Beatles have been more or less thoroughly recuperated as icons of the dominant capitalist monoculture, and that stupid slogan of “Peace and Love” is now little other a consumer mantra, not that it was capable of challenging anything. The 1960s counterculture was great in a lot of ways, but let’s be real, it was destined to be recuperated as an edifice of airy passivity, and this is partly due to the lack of radicalism and politicization involved even despite getting involved in the anti-war movement.
Apply existing “hate speech” laws to religious institutions: mosques, churches, synagogues & temples which refuse to condemn and repudiate hateful + violent content in their holy books will be closed and turned into social housing.
This is without a doubt the worst and most oppressive policy suggestion contained in this entire manifesto. Doing this would create a justification for the state to criminalize and persecute any religion it doesn’t like and tear down their places of worship. Judging from his support for Hatun Tash and Tommy Robinson, it’s plainly obvious that Jason is looking to justify the forced closure of mosques on the grounds that the Quran promotes violence and bigotry. The obvious problem with this is that you could just as easily do the same thing for the Bible, which on its own contains numerous pronouncements of violence against non-believers and others as well as bigotries of various kinds whether coded or explicit. Since Jason seems to be interested in some form of “Shamanic Christianity” and supports Christian evangelists who lob bigoted insults at Muslims, I would think that Jason ought to be much more concerned about the possibility of giving the state the power to persecute and criminalize Christianity and justifying that carceral power by arguing that the horrible content of the Bible constitutes “hate speech”. And it doesn’t end there. In the wrong hands (well, really there’s no such thing as “the right hands”), any religion could be clamped down on any similar rationales. What if someone decides that Heathenry needs to go because someone thinks that the runes are all Nazi symbols or some bullshit like that? What if someone decides that The Satanic Bible is a hate tract and wants to shut down Satanist organizations as a result? What if someone decides that the Buddha’s views on women mean that Buddhists should either publically repudiate sexism or face having their temples shut down? This is the kind of, I will say it, Stalinist form of authoritarian anti-religious campaigns that Jason would allow, ironically despite calling himself “anti-communist” and despite claiming himself to be a supporter of freedom of speech; but we’ll get to that in time.
Stick Stephen Yaxley-Lennon in the House of Lords to make up for all the lies that have been told about him. “We would rather stand with one proud black patriot than a hundred scumbag racists, that’s where we stand.” – Tommy Robinson
This is probably the part of Psychedelic Movement’s manifesto that I’ll bet got the most attention. Suffice it to say, Jason is not interested in the idea of abolishing the House of Lords. That makes sense for him, I suppose, since he’s not interested in abolishing the monarchy either. But I really need to establish why it’s a problem for Jason to support Tommy Robinson in this way. Tommy Robinson seems to be presented here as a principled opponent of racism who is merely lied about by a media eager to present him as a racist. The obvious problem with this is that Tommy has repeatedly demonstrated the opposite to be true. For one thing, he was a member of the fascist British National Party before founding the English Defence League, who in turn were friends with other far-right parties like the British Freedom Party (itself a spin-off of the BNP), planned to bomb mosques, and had links with the Norwegian far-right terrorist Andres Breivik. For another thing, Tommy accused Muslim refugees of trying to “invade” Europe, referred to Somalis as “barbarians”, accused London Mayor Sadiq Khan of being part of a plot to invade Britain, accused a young Syrian refugee of attacking English girls in his school (for which he was successfully sued for libel), accused every Muslim in Britain of perpetrating the 7/7 attacks, threatened violence on the entire Muslim community if any British citizens were killed by a terrorist, and believes Muslims have been waging war on British people for 1,400 years. On top of that, Tommy’s an actual con artist. He was arrested in 2014 for £160,000 in mortgage fraud, in 2018 a former aide revealed that he had been raking in £2 million in donations, which probably allowed him to keep living in a lavish four-bedroom gated house, he also made £20,000 from Bitcoin during a brief prison sentence in 2018, and in 2015 he actually claimed to have owned seven properties by the age of 25. This is the man Jason thinks deserves a Lordship? Give me a fucking break here!
Steal from the United States their First Amendment and write that into UK law, guaranteeing Free Speech.
Not a bad idea, it would be nice to have a theoretically unassailable constitutional support for freedom of speech in the books. Hell, it’d be nice to have an actual and not just de facto constitution in this country. But there’s a few problems with this proposal. First of all, as I already discussed, Jason doesn’t actually consistently believe in freedom of speech. I’m gonna say it here, you can’t argue for a concept of freedom of speech that isn’t subject to compromise while also calling for the state to close down mosques on “hate speech” charges!!! Another problem is that, if you think about it, the popular idea that the First Amendment absolutely protects freedom of speech is, in practice, a myth. For one thing, FOSTA/SESTA legislation effectively criminalizes freedom of speech when it comes to even non-pornographic material discussing sexuality, and in some states it’s possible to face penalties for criticizing Israel (Texas, for instance, has a law against boycotting Israel). In fact, more recently, in Florida Governor Ron DeSantis put forward a bill criminalizing protests against the police, and in Kentucky a bill making it illegal to insult police officers actually passed. Seems like the First Amendment really isn’t doing all that much to prevent these injustices against freedom of speech. Or is this all about Facebook not letting him post a New York Post article? Well, that sucks, that’s wrong and all, though if he thinks that he can use this to mandate that social media companies “respect freedom of speech” somehow, that’s something I’ve been thinking about lately. Putting aside the much bigger discourse about the pros and cons of nationalizing social media in the name of free speech, a thought that crosses my mind is do we not get into certain territory about freedom of association? Yeah yeah I know they’re private corporations and according to my political philosophy private corporations shouldn’t exist because that’s capitalism, but let’s say we aren’t dealing with private corporations and we aren’t dealing with an age of private corporations. Let’s say instead we’re dealing with free associations without bosses and everyone is the “owner” in some loose sense. They too would make their own rules as to what their platform is used for. As a matter of fact, so do “alt-tech” companies like Gab, who occasionally ban memes when keeping them online gets inconvenient for them, and their account on Twitter bans certain people from commenting on their posts. Somehow I don’t recall anyone calling for Gab to respect the free speech of the people they’ve censored, certainly not many people were calling for everyone to leave Gab. And what about the hypothetical free associations? Should the state be allowed to decided what these associations do and do not allow within their own boundaries? It’s a bit of a conundrum, and there may not be an easy answer, but I suggest that people like Jason think about it carefully.
Make Martial Arts/Self-Defence classes a core part of the school cirriculum, raising stronger children instead of sitting watching as child obesity rates rise.
This is another one of those ideas from Jason that I actually like, though I suspect he’s sort of in it for the wrong reasons. I mean, come on, are you sure that fat people can’t do martial arts? Overall, though, I like the martial arts classes as core cirriculum concept, and it seems to connect back to the first point when it comes to self-reliance. From my standpoint, though, the real point shouldn’t be that people become stronger simply to lose weight. Strength, specifically the strength to stand under your own power and stand up for yourself, is its own value, and power is what you can take into your own hands. Being physically fit is nice and good, and physical strength is a great thing to have, but what matters most, what makes strength its own value, is the ability to demonstrate your own power of self-reliance as expressed through your strength. And for a truly free society, what matters is to extend this principle collectively.
We would allow women to purchase and carry pepper-spray to protect themselves here on The Planet of The Psychos.
Another policy proposal that I unconditionally like except for one problem: it doesn’t go far enough! I mean, why stop with just pepper spray, if you get me? But seriously, women need actual power when it comes to being preyed on by men. Liberal society bullshits women so much, it gets everyone thinking that the only way for women to be safe is if they and everyone else live like cowards under a carceral and paternalistic regime that dresses itself up in the garb of women’s rights. It’s curfews for men and conversations about sexual morality instead of showing women that they have the right to fight back, because at the end of the day our conversation about the safety of women, like so much else about politics, has its roots in a contemporary and universal sense of powerlessness, and the enshrinement of that powerlessness as the norm of the human condition as opposed to the creation of the society in which we live and the systemic structures that support it.
We will burn nag champa incense in all public buildings.
This seems frivolous. Not bad, but not inherently good, and it mostly just serves to mark him out as a New Age guy. I can assure you that it’s not proof of any connection to Hinduism as a religious practice. Nag champa as an incense is not some ancient religious artefact. It was invented in the 1960s by K. N. Satyam Setty, who created it under the name Satya Sai Baba Nag Champa and founded a company named Shrinivas Sugandhalaya for the purpose of manufacturing more incenses like it. So really it’s a modern product, nothing ancient and sacred. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having or using Nag Champa incense at all, rather it’s just kind of funny to think of Jason setting about turning Britain (or at least just Southend) into Aldous Huxley’s Island by festooning public buildings with consumer incense.
Sue the Chinese Communist Party £20 trillion for what they have just done to the world.
I’ve already briefly addressed this subject earlier on, but since we’re here it bears discussing again. Jason is utterly confused on the subject of China and Covid-19. Here, he seems to be implying that China has damaged the whole world by unleashing Covid-19 onto the world. Putting aside the fact that China didn’t create Covid-19 despite the media’s newfound love affair with the lab leak conspiracy theory, and that Covid-19 probably may not have even originated within China, the incoherence of Jason’s position rests in the fact that he himself considers Covid-19 to not be a credible threat, and yet wants to sue China because of the global pandemic. He referred to Covid-19 as “one poxy germ” (“poxy”, by the way, basically means it’s worthless or neglible), mocked the notion that it could “bring the world to its knees”, and advocates for the abolition of all pandemic-related restrictions and laws because he considers the whole thing to be “hysteria”, and yet even though the threat of Covid-19 seems so miniscule to him, he still thinks that it’s enough of a plague upon the world that China should be sued for trillions of pounds because of it. Why? It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever, yet you see it often in right-wing politics, where conservative politicians frequently dismiss the threat of Covid-19 and call for the abolition of lockdowns and any pandemic-related restrictions on the basis that Covid-19 supposedly doesn’t kill anyone while at the same time ratcheting up geopolitical tensions with China and calling for reparations on the basis of exactly the same pandemic that they consider to be cartoonishly overblown. I mean, am I missing something or does this not seem like obvious, self-contradictory stupidity, probably motivated by jingoistic racism?
The last point of the manifesto is just a dedication to David Amess, which I suppose was to be expected. I’m sure it’s a kind gesture, by some metrics anyway, though I’m not sure Amess wouldn’t have actively opposed some of the policies Jason wanted to be fulfilled.
There really isn’t much more to say about this. I’ve explored basically everything to see when it comes to the Psychedelic Movement, and, to be honest, this really does smell like a far-right party to me. It probably isn’t, at least by normal standards, and it sounds like one of those edgy, quasi-libertarian centrist movements with a conservative edge and whose politics are predictably incoherent. But, for something like that, it also flirts with a fair few far-right themes and/or arguments, whether consciously or otherwise, which is probably to be expected from these quasi-libertarian centrist conservative types. Believe me, I know from experience how this shit works. It’s weird that maybe half of the polices that Psychedelic Movement has range from “not bad” to “actually this is based”, and the rest is just pure dogshit and confused nonsense, and it’s all mashed together into what makes for a really messy and generally reactionary political platform. I think that if some of the more reactionary parts of this programme were removed, and the rest was retooled into what is, let’s say, a libertarian socialist or anarcho-communist programme that just really likes psychedelic drugs and also supports martial arts and self-reliance, I’d love that, and if that was a party, I’d vote for it every time, without hesistation! But that’s just not the party we’re looking at. In fact, instead it looks like a pretty textbook example of how the far-right manages to co-opt countercultural movements, or aspects thereof, recuperating them towards their own reactionary purposes.
And now that you know what Psychedelic Movement is….don’t vote for them.
Ah, J K Rowling. I don’t think I was ever a fan of her work. I remember being given one of the Harry Potter books in the form of an audio cassette when I was a kid, and I remember having two Harry Potter video games in the house, but my interest in the franchise never extended beyond having played the games once and dressing as a Hogwarts wizard when I was like 6 years old or so (in my defense, all the kids in my family did it at the time). The movies based on the books were even less appealing to me for some reason, so all told I never cared much for the Harry Potter franchise or for J K Rowling as a person. And so, years later, I like many people saw the broader culture around the Harry Potter franchise as a form of cringe, and the frequent proliferation of Harry Potter references as cultural signifiers within liberal politics and many other ideologies to be even more cringe-inducing, emblematic of almost every inane moral and cultural piety in society that I despise. In a way, they’re a modern Iiberal equivalent of the kind of bourgeois social-democratic moral idealism that Walter Benjamin railed against in his 1929 essay Surrealism.
Now, however, we’re in a very peculiar cultural moment where the Harry Potter franchise is not only considered unfashionable but also an increasingly considered toxic cultural artefact, due largely to the fact that its author, J K Rowling, has for the last couple of years become prolific in using her platform to espouse transphobia. Attendant to this fact is her tendency to declare herself, or for others to declare her, a victim of that ever-nebulous “cancel culture” (which, much like “wokeness”, serves as a poor substitute for the concept of political correctness), and in this she’s managed to garner a certain measure of public sympathy despite (or in some cases because of) her views. The fact that Rowling and other transphobes such as Rosie Duffield have apparently faced death threats from what is most likely some lone nut or too has done much in the eyes of a British media already sympathetic to transphobia as their pet manufactured “taboo speech” to bolster her image as a persecuted and cancelled woman who dared only to assert “unpopular opinions” about “biological fact” (and they mean this in a very two-dimensional sense). It’s in this context that the prevailing struggle in modern “Western’ and particularly British culture is to re-evaluate the legacy of the Harry Potter franchise, or more specifically to determine the extent to which it is acceptable to still appreciate the Harry Potter books and movies despite their author’s grotesque bigotry.
Although that particular question is all too familiar to me in that it recalls the subject of black metal, one of my favourite musical genres which similarly invites challenges regarding how best to approach beloved art in association with problematic creators, this article will not explore that question. That said, though, before we approach the real subject of what I want to say, it should be noted that transphobia is not the only toxic aspect of Rowling’s creative legacy. More recently people, are becoming more aware of the fact that, despite Rowling famously declaring that Albus Dumbledore was gay, her work nonetheless has certain homophobic tendencies, such as the fact that she depicted lycanthropy as a metaphor for the AIDS virus (though of course, being a liberal, she tried to pass this off as commentary on conservative moral panic rather than vilifying gay people as “bug spreaders”). Even Dumbledore’s homosexuality is never validated within canon, and if anything it can be argued that the canon depicts his gay crush as his Achilles heel, which is all the more troublesome by the fact that Dumbledore is the only apparently confirmed gay character in Harry Potter. There’s also the fact that she depicted bankers in the form of the Grimgotts, the goblins who run the wizard bank, which is increasingly notorious due to the fact that they’re depicted as greedy, hook-nosed creatures, which is very similar to long-established anti-semitic caricatures depicting Jewish people as similarly greedy and hook-nosed in order to frame them as evil masterminds of capitalism or the banking industry. In short there’s actually a bit of a tapestry of bigotry.
In order to meaningfully oppose Rowling and her ilk, and in order to meaningfully oppose the bigotry they espouse, it is necessary to challenge the foundations of the bigotry that they espouse. In other words, the legacy of ideas that animate the bigotries that Rowling presents. And in this, I believe there is an element in the room that must be confronted: Christianity.
It’s often forgotten that the Harry Potter franchise carries with it a hefty legacy of underlying Christianity. It may seem strange given that the series is all about magic and wizards, both subjects usually proscribed in Biblical injunction, and indeed the idiot brigade that is Christian fundamentalism accused Harry Potter of being a “Satanic” influence promoting witchcraft with this injunction in mind. Some Catholics have even abjured Harry Potter by declaring it as “Gnostic in essence and practice”, with predictably no self-awareness considering that the “Gnosticism” he is referring to is literally just esoteric Christian mysticism. But Harry Potter is nonetheless a Christian fantasy, or at least a secular work that still has some codified latent Christianity within it. I’ve been meaning to explore and comment on this for some time now, ever since I heard that people were worshipping Harry Potter as Jesus and treating the books as a kind of modern sacred literature. Aside from the obvious question of “why would you want to do this?”, there’s a lot to go into and at least it’s not too late to do so.
Let’s start with one overlooked fact about J K Rowling herself: she is a Christian, and a fairly committed one at that. Given that at least half of British society is broadly irreligious, and given the ostensibly liberal politics of Rowling, you may well have assumed that J K Rowling was an atheist. But in fact she is a Christian, she considers her Christian faith to be very important to her life, and she seems to be a member of the Church of England. She has repeatedly stated that she is Christian over the years, and in fact has gone out of her way to elaborate on the Christian themes in the Harry Potter novels. That said, the way she communicates it in her interviews, it seems to manifest as a vague reference to abstract and broadly more universal moral pronouncements such as “choosing between what is right and what is easy” (conveniently lacking any definition of what is “right” or “easy”). However, there are allusions to Christianity so familiar that even Christians, or at least some of the smarter ones, can observe them for what they are.
It’s easy enough to snicker at the thought of Harry Potter being likened to Jesus Christ, and I imagine there’s fundamentalist Christians who consider that whole comparison to be blasphemy, but there are apparently several allusions that are meant to connect Harry Potter with the story of Jesus. Harry Potter dies in order to make Voldemort mortal and therefore vulnerable, only for Harry to then return to life so that Voldemort can be defeated, thus apparently saving the world. This is pretty unequivocally a parallel with the basic premise of Jesus Christ dying and then coming back to life in order to redeem mankind of its sins. The difference is that instead of going to Hell to defeat Satan before his resurrection, Harry in his post-death/pre-resurrection state meets Dumbledore, who although definitely not God has been compared to the traditional image of the Christian God, and instead of going to heaven Harry gets married and has three kids who he sends off to Hogwarts. But regardless of the differences, the point of the Harry Potter story is that it culminates in a salvific conflict between “Good”, as represented by a dying-and-rising Harry and his friends, and “Evil”, as represented by Voldemort and his allies. Thus the central premise, the central conflict, of the Harry Potter books and films is a latent from of what is basically the Christian message.
That’s one of the more basic and familiar forms of Latent Christianity in Harry Potter, certainly among the most discussed. But what about the relationship to bigotry?
The easiest place to start would actually be the anti-semitism, which Rowling expresses in her depiction of the Gringott bankers. Despite the declaration of the New Testament that there is neither Jew nor Greek in the eyes of God, the founding fathers of the Christian church were vicious anti-semites who either invented or at least codified the very same canards against Jews that would re-emerge in both medieval and modern anti-semitism. St. Paul appeared to refer to Jews, or rather “they of the circumcision”, as “unruly and vain talkers and deceivers” who subvert entire households and teach false or forbidden teachings in pursuit of money (Titus 1:10-11). Keep that last part about money in mind for certain modern caricatures about the greed attributed to Jewish people by anti-semitic bigots. St. Ambrose praised the burning of a synagogue by a mob of Christians and took responsibility for it on the grounds that “there should no longer be any place where Christ is denied”. St. Jerome referred to Jews as “congenital liars”, accused them of tempting Christians into heresy, and believed they should be punished until they confess, which thus serves as a grim antecedent to the Inquisition that would come centuries later. John Chrysostom, who was an influential and powerful church ideologue, wrote an entire tract called Adversus Judaeos (literally “Against the Jews”), in which he accused Jewish people of murdering Jesus, described synagogues as brothels and criminal assemblies among other slanderous charges, claimed that Jewish priesthood was offered, bought, and sold for money, and advocated for the slaughter of Jews on the grounds that he believed them to have demons inside their souls and synagogues. Tertullian, in his argument against Marcion, declared that the Jews were an inferior people in order to oppose the idea that the God of the Old Testament was too harsh, essentially saying God’s oppressive cruelty is the fault of the Jews for disobeying or not believing in God rather than the fault of God – after all, the Christian God has to remain blameless of evil, or else the whole premise of Christianity falls apart.
As a side-note, it is humorous to account for the fact that some scholars comment that early Christian anti-semitism emerged in the context of a harsh period for the church, a time where the church was fighting for its survival at a time where Christianity had not yet become the dominant religion and was still persecuted by the Roman state. The fact that anti-semitic rhetoric continued to be trafficked in the Christian world for centuries after Christianity became the state religion of Rome, and the fact that Christians were actually persecuted less frequently in Rome than later Christians would have you believe, would all put a damper on that. But more importantly, if we are to take as fact that the church fathers employed anti-semitic rhetoric to survive, then this only means that Christianity established itself as a religion of love, mercy, forgiveness, and the equality of all peoples in the eyes of God only to immediately discard such concerns when the task of establishing the church proved unforgiving. That Christianity inverted its own supposed teachings of mercy, forgiveness, and love so quickly in its life is if anything among the strongest proofs that Christianity was always a fraudulent religion, and that the Western world for well over a thousand years was foolish to have believed in it.
To return to the central subject as it relates to the Gringotts in Rowling’s books, Christian anti-semitism is at the root of traditional stereotypes about Jews as being greedy and unscrupulous money-lenders. The sinful reputation of money-lending is often traced to Jesus’ Cleansing of the Temple, but it also has older roots in Old Testament prohibitions against usury (Exodus 22:25) and charging interest except for foreigners (Deuteronomy 23:19-20). It’s important to remember at this point that Christian attitudes to the rich depended on whether or not you used your wealth “righteously” or “sinfully”. There were the rich who were “wicked and merciless”, who used their wealth in an evil way not aligned with God’s will, and there were the rich who were “merciful and loving”, who used their wealth in a righteous way aligned with God’s will. If we take into account the Christian view on money-lending and the vituperatives directed against Jews, it probably doesn’t take much guesswork to figure out who the “wicked and merciless” rich might consist of in the eyes of the early Christians. Sometimes the anti-semitic tirades of early Christians, and later medieval Christian ideologues such as Martin Luther, have been compared to the Nazis and Adolf Hitler, and in this light it is worth remembering that Nazi economics was predicated on a division between “schaffendes kapital”, meaning “productive” or “creative” capital, and “raffendes kapital”, meaning “predatory” or “parasitic” capital. “Productive”/”creative” capital referred to the national capital that was held to be the source of economic utility and technological advancement, while “predatory”/”parasitic” capital referred to finance capital, stock trading, and banking, all of which were directly attributed to Jews by the Nazis. It’s easy to connect ideas like this back to the distinction between the “good” rich and the “evil” rich, and how the implications of the latter probably would’ve meant Jewish people vilified as evil money-lenders.
Speaking of Nazism, the Harry Potter universe contains something called the Werewolf Register, created by Newt Scamander in 1947 as a register of all werewolves in Britain. Those who were werewolves were apparently required to register, and it is not clear what happens to those who did not register. Keep in mind at this point that werewolves are intended to be coded representations of gay people who contracted AIDs, and that Newt Scamander is also the protagonist of the movie Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, which is part of the Harry Potter series. Thus, in Rowling’s universe, gay people are represented as werewolves who need to have a Nazi-esque registration system account for them because of their predatory nature. But we’ll come to the significance of that soon enough.
Now let’s address the big elephant in the room, Rowling’s transphobia. Rowling’s transphobia can be summarized via the following precepts: she rejects the idea trans people are real on the grounds that this supposedly means “sex isn’t real”, which simply means that she believes in an essentialist understanding of binary biological sex as the sole determinant of your gender identity, she believes that trans people are conspiring to force lesbians to date them and thus, in her view, date men (a talking point that was more recently platformed in an entirely sympathetic light by the BBC), she compares trans people to incels and Donald Trump, she believes that trans women are men who view womanhood as a costume, she claims that trans people regularly commit acts of violence against cis women, and she believes that allowing trans women to use the women’s bathrooms will result in a tidal wave of male sexual harassment and assault against women.
These are all obviously bigoted beliefs, and they fall under a family of ideas referred to as trans-exclusionary radical feminism, which its adherents prefer to call “gender-critical feminism”. You might be wondering how much of this has to do with Christianity beyond just the fact that a lot of conservative Christians are also transphobes. The Bible apparently says nothing about trans people, and the only verse I’ve seen that even comes close is an admonition against people who cross-dress (Deuteronomy 22:5), so some might think there’s nothing transphobic about Christianity. But, there’s a problem. In his City of God, Augustine condemns the rites observed in dedication to the Great Mother, most likely referring to the goddess Cybele, who he asserted surpassed the other gods in “crime”. He condemned the sacred rite of Cybele for its “cruel custom”, or rather the “consecration of mutilated men”, by which he seems to be referring to the galli, who were the priesthood of Cybele. The galli were priests who worshipped Cybele, led public festivals in her honour, and, to complete their initiation into the cult of Cybele, cut off their male genitalia so as to re-enact the mythical castration of Attis and unite with the goddess, and from then on they spent the rest of their lives dressing, presenting, and likely identifying as women. It’s these priests that Augustine referred to as “wretched” or “miserable men”, who he claims partake in a deception via rites he deems more abominable than any other pagan custom observed in Rome. If we note that the galli might well have been trans according to scholars, then the “deception” Augstine refers to may refer not simply to the “deception” of the goddess but also to their female identity being a “deception”; in other words, Augustine believed that the galli priests were men who meant to deceive society into thinking they were women. The standard “gender-critical” or transphobic argument about trans women is exactly the same, that trans women are actually men trying to deceive people into thinking that they’re women.
As is the case with modern transphobia, Augustine’s transphobia intersects with homophobia through his reference to the priests of the Great Mother as “effeminates”. There can be no doubt that he is referring to them as “effeminates” because of their presentation as women and the radical abjuration of their physical masculinity through the act of ritual castration. But Augustine’s denunciation of the galli as effiminate can be seen to echo another older Roman trope: in the eyes of Roman society, men who lost their physical manhood in some way were no longer seen as men. Homosexuality was sometimes denounced in Roman society, and often in the context of attacks made by Roman politicians against their political rivals. From the standpoint of Roman norms of masculinity, being a man meant penetrating people with your penis and having the ability to do so. To be a man and receive penetration from another man was, in effect, to be seen as a woman instead of a man. This idea of masculinity in its relation to homosexuality continued into the medieval Christian era of Europe, which also seemed to have much more lenient standards for lesbian sex than male homosexual sex. John Chrysostom viciously condemned homosexuality as “vile” and an “insult to nature”, and argued that men who received sexual penetration from men lost their manhood and became women. Roman and later Christian attitudes to the galli are thus linked to Roman homophobia in that both the galli and gay men are condemned or at least ostracised for being men who have abandoned or desecrated their manhood.
This in my opinion leads into another modern issue with Christianity and homosexuality that emerges from progressive attempts to claim that homophobia is not latent to Christianity. One argument I’ve seen from some Christians is that certain Bible verses that are invoked to justify bigoted attitudes towards homosexuals are not meant to reference homosexuality but instead reference either effeminacy or a more general weakness of character (which, keep in mind, seem to have been linked together in patriarchal Greek and Roman society). By modern standards, this would appear to exonerate the Bible from charges of homophobia. The problem, however, is that in the ancient context, particularly the Roman one, effeminacy and homosexuality are linked, and gay men are socially condemned because, in their eyes, being a man and being penetrated by another man meant the loss of manhood, and with it Roman notions of pride and honour that were supposed to be attendant to the traditional male. This is an idea that is still carried forth in traditional Christian denunications of homosexuality. So, in my view, the Bible is hardly exonerated and remains an anti-LGBT text.
Before anyone signs off thinking that Christian homophobia has nothing to do with the Harry Potter series whatsoever, let’s first return to the problem of the AIDs werewolves from earlier. Much of the stigma surrounding AIDs and HIV stems from the idea that these were “gay diseases”, diseases that you supposedly only got if you participated in homosexual sex, and this also fed into the idea that gay people were out to prick you and get you infected with AIDS and HIV, which comes from the idea of homosexuality as being predatory, which is itself had been a talking point for decades. The Christian movement had long held similar prejudices about homosexuality. John Chrysostom not only described homosexuality as vile and unnatural, but he also liked to frame homosexual sex as inherently abusive, and describing it as a violent sedition incited by the Devil or as the manifestation of God’s wrath against idol worship, and the abuse of two people of the same sex by each other. This itself seems to be a commentary extrapolated from Paul’s own condemnation of homosexuality. Paul condemned women for “changing natural sexual relations for unnatural ones”, and men for “abandoning natural relations with women” in favour of “lust for one another” (Romans 1:26-27). The fact that some modern scholars might interpret this as a condemnation not of homosexuality but of male rape and child abuse, besides requiring us to ignore plain text on the matter of “rejecting relations with women for lust with one another”, invites only the supposition that the Christian view of homosexuality was that it was a kind of violence for those who participated in it.
And so we come back to Dumbledore, who for a while was the only confirmed gay character in the Harry Potter series according to its author. Dumbledore may not be depicted as effeminate, but the only homosexual relationship he is shown is one in which he is victimized. Dumbledore was in love with a man named Gellert Grindelwald, who never really reciprocated his feelings and instead took advantage of them, which Dumbledore eventually realized and became heartbroken over it. This would mean that the (for a time) only gay character in the series is a man who had been effectively shamed and weakened by his pursuit of a gay relationship, and as a result he took on a life of celibacy. Although there’s definitely no sex involved, Grindelwald is clearly the dominant component of this relationship, rendering Dumbledore entirely submissive to his manipulations, and the resulting damage done to Dumbledore in the context of the only gay relationship hinted at in relation to at least the original books weaves a tapestry more or less in conformity to Roman ideas about homosexual relationships which then informed Christian homophobia. Thus, this is a relationship which displays Latent Christian ideas about homosexuality, and it serves to cast aspersion on homosexuality writ large.
There’s another Latent Christian prejudice in the fact Dumbledore, the only confirmed gay character, is officially celibate. While many might have congratulated themselves over the supposedly emancipatory of “progressive” depiction of Dumbledore as a gay man, in reality his sexuality is never validated in the series. I guess Rowling was of the presumption that homosexuality cannot be validated in fictional representation without it taking the form of overt sexualization. Though, of course, this celibacy follows his break-up with Grindelwald. In either case the celibacy establishes a divide between the “good” homosexual who chooses not to act on his desires for other men versus the “bad” homosexual who pursues as gay relationship. Grindelwald is the “bad” homosexual who explores a gay relationship with another man, but in a way that is depicted as cruel and manipulative, leading to the despair of his ex-lover Dumbledore. Dumbledore thus becomes the “good” homosexual, who abstains from such pursuits and devotes himself to a different pursuit, namely the study of wizardry and ensuring that good prevails over evil.
The universe of Harry Potter is a universe where the sole concern is the triumph of the good wizards against the evil wizards, which in the seven original books culminates in the death and resurrection of Harry Potter as Jesus Christ. This also means that the problems of the system that everyone lives in, which I have to stress is a pretty rigidly classist system, are never really addressed because the order of things is legitimate in the same sense that wealth is legitimate in Christianity: as long as it follows “good” instead of “evil”. Villains in this setting include a pale Satan expy, werewolves that are actually coded gay people with AIDs, and a gay man who breaks Dumbledore’s heart, among others. There’s a lot of Latent Christian context for the Harry Potter series and, by extention, much of Rowling’s views as well as the bigotries that they involve. As people re-examine the Harry Potter franchise and its negative legacy, my advice is for people to sincerely challenge Christianity, rather than seek a sanitized version of it.
Alright, I’ll say it. I don’t like it when, every Christmas time, the left tries to claim Jesus and Santa as icons of socialist ideology. I don’t care if that happens to be the seasonal fetish of other communists or socialists, or for any rhetorical merits they might argue for. It’s stupid, it’s a form of cultural and religious tailism, and it only serves to reinforce either the still-hegemonic status of Christianity or the commercialist culture we live in, at least if it all isn’t a pure meme anyway, and I’m going to give my reasons for why you should pack this bullshit in if you’re a leftist and still doing it. Also, I know it’s pretty late for me to talking about this basically a week after Christmas, but the march to the New Year is still part of the holiday season in some unofficial sense, so in my opinion there’s time to explore this subject before 2022.
When it comes to Jesus, the obvious center of the Christian concept of Christmas (which, by its namesake, is meant to literally mean “Christ’s Mass”), there are no shortage of left-wing narratives aiming to cast Jesus as a socialist, or even the first communist. To be honest, a lot of this simply comes from Jesus having smashed up the money-changers in the Temple in Jerusalem, and his attendant proclamation against them, saying “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but ye have made it a den of theives” (Matthew 21:13). It’s a truly memorable episode from the New Testament, one that echoes through our culture as one of the central defining moments through which we understand the character of Jesus, and admittedly it does make for an epic moment of defiance against the intrusion of market forces, servicable to empire, in the otherwise unadulterated domain of religion. It’s easy enough to come away thinking of the Cleansing of the Temple as an ancient proto-typical anti-capitalist narrative. But, there are problems with framing it in this way.
What is a money-changer? A person whose trade is to exchange one currency for another. Are money-changers capitalists? It’s not obvious that they are. Keeping in mind, of course, that the society that Jesus lived in predated the existence of not only capitalism but also the medieval system we call feudalism. This has important implications for the material conditions relevant to any attempt to elevate the anti-capitalist credentials of Jesus’ Cleansing of the Temple. A capitalist is an individual who controls a given means of production and portions out a fraction of the fruits of the labour generated through it to those willing to sell their labour power for a wage. So what’s a money-changer, then? Just a merchant, ultimately, and specifically one whose services allowed Jews to exchange Roman coins for shekels in order to make payments to the Temple, which did not accept the standard Greek and Roman currency as payments. It is not clear that these merchants followed the model practiced by the bourgeoisie as it would have emerged centuries after Jesus’ time. As for Jesus himself, he is traditionally described as a carpenter, and it’s not clear that he had any employees working under him, so Jesus would have been a self-employed carpenter. In Marxist terms, if we’re going to apply the definitions of the capitalist system onto the narrative of Jesus’ life, this might make him one of the labour aristocracy, which is a privileged sector of the proletariat who benefit from superprofits and have no desire for revolution, sometimes siding with the ruling capitalists to preserve their own advantage. So if we interpret the Cleansing of the Temple solely on the basis of class, Jesus would have been a pre-modern labour aristocrat clashing with merchants of a similar class background. This is hardly the struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie. On the other hand, in abandoning his carpentry in order to focus on his ministry, since he did not take on a productive job in which he sold his labour power for a wage, by some standard he might well be considered one of the lumpenproletariat, a submerged sector of class society who are either disorganized, “declassed”, and assumed not to be revolutionary. Marx and many successive Marxists also despised the lumpenproleriat, condemning them as degenerates and outcasts, which is sort of unusually moralistic for a thinker who Karl Vorlander noted for his wholesale mockery of morality as a concept. But returning to the subject of Jesus, if he is a lumpenproletarian, and we take the view that lumpenproletarians are still part of the proletariat, then it is only in this sense that, perhaps, Jesus represents the working class, but in a struggle against a mercantile labour aristocracy and not the bourgeoisie.
So what’s the real meaning of the Cleansing of the Temple? It’s not in any way obvious that Jesus has a problem with currency exchange in itself, and instead the problem expressed by Jesus is simply that the money-changers turn the “house of prayer” into a “den of thieves”. It’s easy enough to take from this that Jesus thinks currency exchange is in itself theft, but the only time Jesus seems to talk about money-changers is in the Temple instance. A popular explanation is that Jesus thought they were cheating their customers and overcharging them, though this might actually be a simplistic interpretation. In fact, some argue that the main issue with the Temple was its functioning as a bank, at the centre of a whole local economy in which wealthy property-owners lent money to the poor at the cost of debt, which if unpaid would result in the loss of land. Still, the exact language and statements given by Jesus suggest his main problem was not so much economy itself as much as the intermingling of economy with religion. In other words, Jesus’ problem was specifically with the presence of markets in the Temple, which means his problem was with the merging of economic life and religious life, the latter of which was to remain pure and unadulterated by the influence of economic activity, and in this instance the problem was not with the economic system as a whole, let alone with capitalism.
To further communicate some of the problems with the radical credentials ascribed to Christianity, I’m going to draw a lot from everyone’s favorite quasi-Marxist and quasi-apologic socialist politicial scientist Michael Parenti, or more specifically his 2010 book God and His Demons, which, although probably flawed on its own, draws from Biblical scripture to make its argument against the anti-capitalist or progressive credentials of Christianity. For all the abolitionist credentials ascribed to Christianity, Jesus himself in no way opposed the institution of chattel slavery and in fact affirmed the categories of slave and slave-owner as legitimate via the right of the slave-owners to beat the slave, harshly or gently depending on whether or not the slave knowingly disobeyed their owners (Luke 12:47). The master-slave or master-servant relationship is affirmed throughout Jesus’ parables, such as the parable of the faithful and wise servant described in Matthew 24 and Luke 12. Jesus also seems to accept poverty as something that will always exist, rather than something that can be abolished through socio-economic change, as is shown Mark 14:3-9 where a woman is admonished by others for pouring expensive perfume on Jesus’ head instead of selling it and sharing the profits with the poor, and Jesus defends the woman by saying “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me”. In other words, Jesus is saying that poverty will always exist, and you can always ameliorate it through private charity, but what really matters is that his followers please and serve him because he won’t be around forever. This is not an anti-capitalist message, to say the least. Indeed, in the account of Jesus’ accomplishments given in Matthew 11:5, the poor are not given wealth but instead only “the good news”, while the blind, the “lame”, the lepers, and even the dead all received miraculous reversals of their prior predicaments. The Bible also declares that there is no authority on earth not established by God, and thus that whoever is in charge serves God for your good and rebellion against authority means going against God and paying for it (Romans 13:1-7). This would mean that the authority of capitalism exists by God’s decree, and thus should be obeyed.
And it doesn’t stop with the Jesus. St. Paul supported the institution of chattel slavery by urging slaves to respect their masters in order to defend God’s teaching (1 Timothy 6:1). St. Peter also supported slavery by urging those who reverently feared God to submit to their masters in slavery, even if their masters were harsh, and praised those who endured beatings for doing good as part of their service (1 Peter 2:18-22) . Origen, one of the early church fathers, chastised the poor in Book VI of Contra Celsus by claiming that the majority of them have bad characters and that “not even a stupid person would praise the poor indiscriminately”. Elsewhere, in On Prayer, Origen says that if you are poor and bear your poverty “ignobly”, and conduct yourself in a “more servile and base” way than is becoming of the Saints, you fall away from “heavenly hope”, and counselled that the “daily bread” that Christians are to subsist on consists not in actual physical bread but instead in spiritual or “supersubstantial bread”, thus the rich and the poor alike are to depend solely on the spiritual nourishment of God, and presumably thus not demand the betterment of their own living conditions, since this would mean subsisting yourself or enriching your situation with elevated material conditions by your own hands as opposed to simply relying on the spiritual sustenance of God. Clement of Alexandria referred to the destitute, those who begged for daily bread, and the poor who were dispersed on the streets as the “most blessed” on account of their extreme poverty, want, destitution, and lack of subsistence, thus sacralizing and glorifying the condition of poverty. Clement also opposed the view that God commanded Christians to renounce property, and instead counselled Christians to simply manage property without inordinate affection in service of God. The early Christian text On Riches, attributed to Peter of Alexandria, apparently rebuked the poor for their supposed envy, their concern about the rich, and their ingratitude to the God who “made them free from the cares about which the rich man is concerned”. In other words, the poor are to be grateful what they have. The rich are divided into the “wicked and merciless rich” who abuse their wealth and property and the “merciful and loving rich” who use their wealth and property benevolently and align with the will of God, whereas the poor are not divided in such a way and the author of On Riches declares that he does not “honor the poor by making them equal to the rich” nor “favour them”, and if anything holds that the poor man may leave his poverty only for “another poverty seven times more evil than this”.
Despite prominent popular discussion of Matthew 19:24 as a Christian indictment of the rich and despite The Cleansing of the Temple, in Christianity wealth is not always considered a bad thing, and in fact has been considered a good thing so long as it is managed according to the will of God. The Christian condemnation of the rich and their wealth pertains to the extent to which earthly riches or simply the love thereof impedes devotion to God, or that the management of wealth is unscrupulous, harms the poor, or simply leads the rich man away from God. From this standpoint, as applied to capitalism, capital, as a form of wealth, is not actually inherently against God’s will, only the “wicked” use of it against God is, and a just society is one where both the capitalists and the poor working class all observe their ordained social stations in a manner that comports with God’s will. Class society as divided between bourgeoisie and the proletariat is still to exist, since it too is ordained by God, but each class is to observe God’s will and act humbly, mercifully, and dutifully within their respective terms. Since wealth, thus capital, is only bad insofar as its use does not serve God, the capitalist class would be compelled to reform their ways so as to be more “merciful” in alignment with God, which would suggest no real policy changes other than perhaps a couple of benign reforms agreed upon by a consistently Christian ruling class. In modern terms, Christian teaching is only about as anti-capitalist as Elizabeth Warren is, which is to say not at all.
Some leftists might point to Acts 4:32-35 as a kind of pre-modern expression of religious communism, describing a society ruled by the apostles and inhabited by believers in Jesus who were all one in heart and mind, shared all of their possessions and claimed no private (or seemingly even personal) property, no one was needy, and those who owned land and houses sold them and brought their profits to the apostles who distributed the money to anyone who needed it. In Acts 5, it is further described that those who keep any of their profits from selling houses and property for themselves miraculously fall down and die after being called out by St. Peter, suggesting that God would punish those who retain some personal profit with death. This sounds vaguely like what a communist society might look like, though hard to reconcile with Jesus’ teaching about the inevitable condition of poverty or early church teachings about wealth and property. It could just be a vague utopian commune project devised by the apostles. But what has always bothered me is that, for a religion that supposedly has inscrutable socialist or proto-communist credentials, most of the history of Christianity has not yielded any lasting socialist or communist society under the banner of Christian power. There were Christian efforts at establishing proto-socialist communities in Europe, but they were suppressed by the larger Christian establishment, who invariably upheld the legitimacy of the owning class. Of course, the Catholic Church is well-recognized as an edifice of elite power, but anti-revolutionary sentiment is not limited to the Catholic Church. The German Peasants’ War, in which peasants fought for freedom from restrictions imposed upon them by their lords, divided the Protestant movement in its response, with Thomas Muntzer and some more radical sections of the Protestant movement supporting the peasants while Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation, not only opposed the peasants and claimed they were on the side of the Devil but also sided with the nobles and called for the punitive and violent suppression of the peasants. Very little of Christian society has manifested lasting working class power under the banner of the Christian faith, and in fact the rise of capitalism seems to seen Christianity emerge as a religious legitimator of the capitalist order and state power.
The trouble with using the Bible, Jesus, and Christianity to form a religious anti-capitalist narrative, and from there the wider problem with Christian Socialism or Christian Communism, is that it is necessarily selective, and cannot reflect the whole of the Christian vision of a society that is considered just insofar as it aligns with God’s will. A socialist or radical anti-capitalist interpretation of Christianity requires a hyper-fixation on a select handful of verses of the Bible and episodes of Jesus’ purported life that can be interpreted in a sufficiently anti-capitalist light, while leaving out the parts of the Bible that can be interpreted as supportive of a capitalist order or not entirely condemning of the rich, as well as creatively de-spiritualizing the message of Jesus by reducing it to a single economic substance such as debt forgiveness, thus leaving out not only the broader religious/spiritual content of the Biblical message but also the wider history of the early Christian movement and its tendency to chastise the poor while telling them to be content with their lot and defending at least some of the rich. Their concern was not with the material emancipation of the masses from the ruling economic and political order but instead a spiritualized, ethereal, and indeed extramaterial deliverance from the world into the kingdom of God, and attaining it by obeying the will of God, which, as I have shown, includes obedience to the system. Such efforts make sense only so as to attract religious Christians to the message of socialism by hopping on the bandwagon of its hegemonic popularity, instead of challenging the authority of Christianity, presumably off the back of either winning the unity of the working class or votes that might otherwise go to conservatives. In summary, it is a kind of religious tailism.
But before we get to that let’s touch on the other subject of my article: Santa Claus. Jacobin Magazine, with what seems to be a touch of humour, once published an article in 2018 advocating that socialists should embrace Santa Claus on the grounds that he is an egalitarian internationalist who disregards the borders of the nation state and free market norms to give gifts to children. The same magazine, during the same year, also seems to have published a parody article deconstructing Santa Claus as a robber baron who exploits his elven workers and rose to power through violently subjugating of the inhabitants of the North Pole. But in any case, the idea of Santa Claus as some sort of communist icon spreads around annually in certain corners of the online left, and sometimes in conservative circles. But is there reason to go along with it?
Putting aside the predictable discourse about how Santa Claus, if real, would subsist on exploitative practices for his workers, expecting them to constantly produce toys for little in the way of a wage, let’s just go right to the heart of the matter: the Santa Claus we all know is just a corporate mascot. The modern image of Santa Claus derives his name from Saint Nicholas, who is known for his secret gift-giving involving distributing wealth to the poor, but much of the iconography and character of the modern Santa Claus was developed from various precursors in European folkloric traditions (some of which, such as the Dutch Sinterklaas, were based on Saint Nicholas) by several soft drink companies into the holly jolly gift-giving figure of pop culture, often sanitized from a number of harsher equivalents in pre-existing folklore, such as the Joulupukki of Finland. So one of the many faces of capitalism is to be recast as one of its opponents on behalf of the workers of the world. Of course, that’s not even getting into conversation we can have about how the myth of Santa Claus probably encourages rampant consumerism on the part of parents and children, lending to the annual mass support of capitalist markets.
Now, to be fair, there is the argument to be made all of this represents a form of detournement, the art of taking popular icons of the dominant culture and integrating them into a new, radical context, in which the original icons are then subtextually altered so as to gain a new and more subversive meaning. The idea of turning a capitalist icon into a partisan of communism certainly does make sense as an act of detournement, as does the idea of enlisting the most popular religious figure in the Western world as an opponent of capitalism. Except, the idea is not really to subvert the dominant culture. Instead, the idea is to affirm socialism and/or communism not as a radical opposition to the order of society but rather as innate within the cultural DNA of the society we live in, which need only be unlocked in order to awaken the class consciousness of the public. In practice, this means blindly following the popular ideas of Jesus, Christianity, and Santa Claus and what they represent in order to reinterpret them, without challenging them. Contrast with this with the use of the inverted cross by Satanists and other anti-Christian elements that I discussed a few months ago. This represents the subversion of traditional symbolism undertaken as a conscious challenge to its original traditional context, as opposed to embracing the popular context of Christianity so as to claim it as your own. Thus we come to the concept of tailism, as developed in Marxist political theory.
The concept of tailism, as it is understood by Marxists, can be traced to Vladimir Lenin and his 1902 pamphlet What Is To Be Done?, which for Marxism-Leninism can be thought of as a landmark expression of its core ideological goals. In What Is To Be Done?, Lenin talked about the tendency of some socialists who advocated for the practice of “dragging at the tail of the movement”, by which Lenin seems to mean “bowing to spontaneity” and straggling behind the tendencies of popular movements without actually leading and educating the masses, a tendency which is then elevated to a point of principle. This is what Lenin referred to as tailims. Mao Zedong took this concept further in On Coalition Government, in which he defines tailism as the practice of “falling below the level of political consciousness in the masses” instead of leading it forward, thus tailing behind backwards elements within the working class, resulting in some comrades adopting backwards and reactionary attitudes on social issues. In modern circumstances, we can see this tendency especially pronounced in certain social-democratic elements of the left who, like all social-democrats, are captured by the promises of electoral power and, unlike most, come to think that by appealing to facetious narratives of the inherent conservatism of the working class they may yet win power and defeat the conservatives, or even in certain Marxist-Leninists who seem convinced that the bourgeois conservative image of the working class is the true identity of the revolutionary proletariat or that their tailism is actually a means of breaking free from the limits of bourgeois politicial thought.
The way that certain leftist elements attempt anually to frame Jesus or Santa as socialist or communist revolutionaries, and Christianity as nothing more than a political message of debt forgiveness, constitute a form of tailism in one sense. Even if not in the manner of the notable reactionary contingents of the social-democratic or Marxist-Leninist movements, we can look at the frequent attempts to Marxify Jesus and Santa as tailing behind popular consciousness, or perhaps actually falling below the imaginary that has been constructed for the masses by the powerful, without actively and consciously challenging said consciousness or imaginary. In a religious sense, it is thus religious tailism, and in a cultural sense, it is thus cultural tailism, but these are still modes of tailism whether Novara Media or Jacobin like to admit it or not. As such, what might otherwise be an attempt at detournement is guided by the desire to bind revolutionary socialism to the spirit of a popular society that it is in the business of remaking or overturning, and showing the masses for the subjugation that it is.
This last year, during the summer, I took it upon myself to write a series of articles covering in great detail the alignments of the Shin Megami Tensei series, examining their many ideological, philosophical and religious contours and the way they take shape in each of the main games of the series. Part 1 was dedicated to the Chaos alignment, Part 2 was dedicated to the Law alignment, and Part 3, the final part, was dedicated to Neutrality. These posts seem to have been fairly successful, and I hope they made for good reading at least to tide Shin Megami Tensei fans over before the release of Shin Megami Tensei V. But now, Shin Megami Tensei V is here, and has been here for a good while now. So with the dust settled and the game thoroughly explored, it’s time to give the same treatment to just this game.
I was originally expecting to have this post finished no sooner than January, but it took a lot less time for me to finish this essay than I had originally suspected. And so, contrary to what I said earlier in my original review of Shin Megami Tensei V, instead of a January release, I was able to move this essay over to a Boxing Day release, still accounting for holiday plans of course, hence you’re now able to see this essay earlier than planned. I’m also assuming that it will be months before we get access to translated interviews from the developers of Shin Megami Tensei V regarding the full story context and the thought process and inspirations that went into it in the sense that we have for previous games in the Shin Megami Tensei series, so it was best for me to expedite the release of this essay once it became clear to me that it was going to be finished before the New Year.
This article will be covering the manifestation of the Law and Chaos dynamic in Shin Megami Tensei V, all the ideological contours that come with it, as well as its relationship to previous Shin Megami Tensei games. It will also, in the process of all this, deal in the many flaws of Shin Megami Tensei V’s story, and the premise that game attempts to present to the player. I should also note that, whereas the original alignment and ideology posts started with the Chaos alignment before moving onto Law and ending with Neutrality, this time we will start with Law, then move onto Chaos, and end with Neutrality.
Before Shin Megami Tensei V was released, it was often speculated or rather assumed by fans that the game would eschew the dynamic of Law and Chaos that is central to the series, opting for something more like the Reasons from Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne (which, as I’ve explained, all embody the Law side of that dynamic). Indeed, when the game was leaked before its official release, it was thought initially that there was actually no Chaos ending to speak of and instead a selection of Law and Neutral endings. But, having played the game, it soon became apparent that in fact there was a Law and Chaos dynamic, and while it plays out in an unconventional way relative to the rest of the series, it does still follow series tradition in many aspects, and one of the aims of this essay is to demonstrate precisely this.
I also see this essay as an opportunity to challenge various arguments made by various fans and commentators about the nature of alignments in Shin Megami Tensei V and their supposed departure from Shin Megami Tensei tradition and its “absolutism” (I’m looking squarely at you Comic Book Resources, and you TV Tropes!) that I believe to be facile, wrong-headed, and weak. In doing so, I’m probably going to displease a lot of people who are fans of the game, or even the series as a whole, but as far as I’m concerned that comes with the territory of our subject and my response to it.
Once again I’d like to stress before we start that this entire article is going to be riddled with explicit and major spoilers for Shin Megami Tensei V. If you haven’t played the game yet. it’s probably for the best that you not read it. On the other hand, there’s a good chance many of the people about to read this already have played this game. In any case, there’s your warning.
Since we are discussing one single game within the Shin Megami Tensei series, as opposed to basically the entire series of games plus some spin-offs, I think there is room to discuss the larger context of the game’s story, within which the dynamic of alignment is situated, before examining the three alignments indiviudally.
Shin Megami Tensei V begins with an account of an in-universe narrative of creation. It starts by establishing God, as in the God of the Bible, as the creator of the universe as we know it, or rather the “world of order” as it is called, and his servants, the angels, ensured that it functioned in accordance with his will. Humans, we’re told, led happy, fruitful, and prosperous lives under the auspices of God’s grace. But, we are warned, even the order of God himself is not eternal, that fate dictates that mankind will muddle and corrupt the path set out by God, and that order and chaos will continually beget and consume each other turn. We are then informed that the world is set to be destroyed, as is implied by the question, “How will these keepers of Knowledge strive and perish during their final, futile hours in this doomed world?”. The “keepers of Knowledge” are, of course, humans, or more specifically the cast of characters the game presents to the player, with whom they are soon thrown into the apocalypse. The narrators elect to watch these humans, as though observing a play, until a new ruler is seated on the throne.
Not too much later, after the collapse of Takanawa Tunnel, we receive yet more narration concerning the origin of the demons in the game. The games, keeping in mind their modern setting and the clash with secularism that this entails, often embrace differing explanations for the demons that inhabit them, and in that spirit here is the narrative that Shin Megami Tensei V offers us. In the beginning, before humans “gained Knowledge”, God (referred to as “the God of Law”) assumed the throne of creation, and upon doing so he confiscated all “Knowledge” from the other gods so as to deny their ability to challenge his rule over the cosmos. This, it seems, desecrated the other gods, robbing them of their former divine status and resulting in their transformation into the beings called demons. God then stashed away a “Fruit of Knowledge” in his own paradise, seemingly hidden from the other gods. And then a serpent sought the audience of mortal humans, so as to tempt them to eat the “Fruit of Knowledge”, promising that the humans will become more godlike. This is then cast as a conspiracy aimed at resurrecting the war between the gods. Humans everywhere ate the “Fruit of Knowledge”, and this meant consuming “Knowledge” which then bound to the souls of humans and brought them closer to gods. Naturally this leads to God angrily banishing humanity from his paradise, and humanity is constantly watched by demons, waiting for their moment to claim their lost “Knowledge” from humans.
This premise is central to the story of Shin Megami Tensei V, and it is constantly recapitulated to the player throughout the game. There is an entire plot arc based on this premise, which is then conveniently wrapped in the dressing of what is otherwise a paper-thin conversation about high-school bullying (which, I must stress once again, is the game’s only effort at “sympathizing” with the issues of contemporary society). The entire concept of a Nahobino, the neither-demon-nor-human hybrid being that the main character becomes, starts from this premise. It is a human with “Knowledge” and a demon uniting together, to access the apparent “true form” of the demon, and demons seek “Knowledge” in order to attain the state of being a Nahobino, presumably in order to challenge the power of God. Left untouched, however, is the nature of “Knowledge”. There doesn’t seem to be any effort within the game to actually define it. The closest the game gets to doing so is to establish that the gods needed it in order to be able to shape a functioning world, and that without it the gods ceased to be divine. Thus “Knowledge” is more accurately just “divinity”, in the sense of divine identity and power, which God sought to monopolize for himself once he became the supreme being.
Also, God is actually dead this time. 18 years before the events of the game, a war between the forces of order, or God rather, and the forces of chaos, led by Lucifer, engaged in a battle referred to as Armageddon, in which Lucifer apparently emerged triumphant. In a flashback, Lucifer proclaims that God has been slain by his own hand and that he has ascended the throne of God, or the Pillar Empyreal. He also proclaims that order has crumbled and chaos will envelop the world, leading to rebirth and a new future, with the only remaining task being to “sow the seeds that shall sprout into this grand reality”. So God is basically dead for the entire game, with Lucifer having defeated him. And yet for some reason God’s order still hangs over the world, at least in theory. The Condemnation, God’s edict barring the existence of the Nahobino, is at least suggested to still be in effect, despite the main character becoming a Nahobino in the midst of this, and the angels of God, gathered under the name of Bethel, continue to fight the agents of Lucifer despite God’s death.
Of course, this being a Shin Megami Tensei game, one continuing directly after Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne at that, there has to be a turning point leading on to the quest to build a new world in the wake of the apocalypse. As such, everyone eventually gets the memo that God is dead and the time for a new creation is at hand. In fairness, early on in the game, you are already informed that the Tokyo you’ve been living in for the last 18 years is not the real Tokyo, but rather the product of a miracle created by God, which is later referred to as the “Shekinah Glory” (that engimatic phrase which originally haunted the first trailer of the game). This means that the original or “real” Tokyo is what’s known as Da’at, or the Netherworld, completely populated by demons waiting for their chance to break into the Shekinah Glory version of Tokyo. But as the story progresses, God’s demise becomes apparent to the cast, as the Shekinah Glory fades, Tokyo begins to disappear, and meanwhile it turns out Bethel is composed of beings who have already figured out God’s death and are waiting for their chance to act accordingly. At that point, the “Goddess of Creation” (the “Megami” in Shin Megami Tensei, apparently) appears before the protagonist, beckoning him to seek the throne of creation. Eventually you’re compelled to choose between three outcomes, which will be explored over the course of this article:
Uphold God’s order (that is, recreate the world in the image of God’s order)
Recreate the world and save Tokyo (that is, recreate the world with a new order governed by multiple gods instead of just one)
Destroy the throne
This is the game’s story, and thus the context in which this game’s version of the dynamic of Law and Chaos is situated.
Before we continue on to each of the respective alignments, it’s worth taking stock of where the overall story goes. We’re treated to what is essentially a retelling of the War in Heaven and the story of Man’s expulsion from Eden, one that also serves as an origin story for the demons and connects back to themes of the divide between monotheism and polytheism that were explored, pretty shoddily, in the last game, Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse. That game’s story-world might just hang over Shin Megami Tensei V like a shadow, since the vaguely-defined “Knowledge” of this game, although ultimately conceptually different, at least to me smelled a little bit like the concept of “Observation” in Apocalypse, a power given to humans by the Axiom which allows humans to give form to the formless and is thus coveted by the gods and demons because of its power to create and/or destroy them. “Knowledge” here doesn’t determine whether or not the gods exist at all, and we’re in no way certain where it comes from, but it does seem to follow a similar trend of using vague, abstract philosophical-sounding concepts, in lieu of any existing mythological or esoteric concept, as a device to explain the existence of the demons.
That said, I could remark about the connection between divine identity and the ability to challenge the order of God. It is not too uncommon in pre-Christian myths to see humans and even other gods challenge the celestial order in some way, and in fact, in the Atrahasis, the Mesopotamian precursor text to the story of Noah’s Ark, humans are created through the blood of Geshtu-e, a god of intelligence and a leader of a group of rebellious deities known as the Igigu, and in turn humans gain a portion of the divine in their blood. The gods in the Atrahasis created humans to do the labour that the Igigu refused to do, and the suffering of their labour led them to cry out in defiance, resulting in the attempt by the god Enlil to destroy them. The hero Atrahasis saves mankind with the help of the god Enki, though the gods afterwards control the human population through sterility, the chaste priestess, stillbirth, and infant mortality. Humans rebelled, as Geshtu-e did, rather than accept the fate Enlil might have wrought upon them, and as Peter Grey suggests in Lucifer: Princeps this emerges from the heritage of the divine blood that created humans in the Atrahasis. In Shin Megami Tensei V, God seizes the divine identity of the gods and stows it away, only for humans to eat the Fruit of Knowledge and become infused with that same latent divine identity. So humans become a threat to God’s order through their latent ability to contest it, which is why the narrator laments God’s order being inevitably corrupted by humanity. That said I would probably not suggest that the writing team for Shin Megami Tensei V actually sought to channel the depths of that ancient heritage that Peter and I would retrospectively refer to as “Luciferian”, and instead suggest that what we see in Shin Megami Tensei V is more or less specific to the game and focuses directly on the base myths of the War in Heaven and the Garden of Eden, not so much their deeper polytheistic roots.
I would also like to stress that not every reference in Shin Megami Tensei V seems to have a particularly coherent meaning, or at least not one that is apparent to me anyway. The netherworld where the demons live is called Da’at. In Kabbalah mysticism, Da’at is the name of the location in the Tree of Life where all of the ten sefirah converge and unite as one. What this has to do with the demons or any concept of the netherworld/underworld has never been obvious to me. The name Da’at means “knowledge”, which you might think connects to the story. But don’t you think it sounds weird that the demons look for knowledge in a place that in Hebrew is called “knowledge”? Or that the demons seem to have their home named after the thing they’ve lost, like some kind of cruel joke played either by themselves on themselves or by God I guess? Also, a demon named Lahmu mentions being in a place called Assiah. Assiah is the name of one of the spiritual worlds in Kabbalah mysticism. That’s not unfamiliar to Shin Megami Tensei, since Assiah along with Atzulith are mentioned in the series in some way, but it’s not the obvious what the connection to Da’at is. Maybe they’re separate dimensions that are connected somehow? Who knows.
Anyways, with all that out of the way, let’s address the alignments in Shin Megami Tensei V, starting with the Law alignment.
Assessing the role of the Law and Chaos dynamic means establishing exactly who represents each side of that dynamic. Shin Megami Tensei V’s representation of the Law alignment is, for the most part, fairly predictable by Shin Megami Tensei standards. Although God is dead, his angels are still very much alive, fighting on his behalf seemingly to protect Tokyo from demons. But is that all there is to it? And what do these angels really want?
First of all we should note that, for much of the game, you are essentially stuck on the same side as the angels and don’t get to really oppose them until much later in the game. This is because the protagonist has been drafted into membership of the demon-fighting organization known as Bethel, a name that, conspicuously, means “House of God”. Most of the units of Bethel that you see are angels, and it is through the angels that you are initially introduced to Bethel. An angel named Abdiel also serves as the commander of Bethel’s forces, meaning that she (yes, the male angel Abdiel is a woman in this game, for some reason) is basically in charge of the organization as a whole. And in typical angelic fashion, Abdiel does not brook dissent, and in fact has to be dissuaded from killing the protagonist for being a Nahobino, a violation of the edict known as the Condemnation.
The Condemnation is the name given to an edict imposed by God after he assumed the throne of creation, which barred all other gods from being able to assume the form of a Nahobino and thus access their divine identity. This meant the seizure of all “Knowledge” from the other gods, and their transformation into demons, and in theory means that, in the words of the angel Camael, God is the only Nahobino in existence. But with God dead, this edict seems to no longer stand, as evidenced by the protagonist’s transformation into a Nahobino. Of course, the angels don’t quite realize this yet, and Abdiel certainly doesn’t get the big picture until much later in the game, when she holds a summit with the rest of Bethel’s leadership and is defeated for the first time by the player. Indeed, when you first meet Abdiel, you’ve only been playing the game for an hour or so, have only just met Abdiel for about a minute, and she’s already prepared to kill you for violating the Condemnation, saying that Bethel will not tolerate anyone who violates the will of God. Bethel then emerges as what is initially the clear Law faction of the game, one that you are forced to cooperate with for the majority of the game.
The initial presentation of the Law and Chaos dynamic is pretty straightforward. Representing Law are the forces of order, consisting primarily of Bethel’s angels and their allies on one side, fighting the demons of chaos on the other. The demons of chaos want only thing: to reclaim their lost “Knowledge”. And they’re prepared to invade whatever passes for Tokyo and apparently capture your high school classmates in order to get it. Seeing this as a threat to God’s order, the forces of order lead by Bethel want to stop them, and “protecting Tokyo” just happens to be part of the package insofar as it means driving their enemies into the abyss. The game introduces you to the angels fairly early on as “working tirelessly to protect the people”, presumably from demonic incursions. But this is little other than a ruse, as becomes apparent later in the game. The angels, although they fight the demons breaking into Tokyo and seemingly protect its inhabitants, don’t actually care to stop its ultimate apocalyptic destruction. The angels, when confronted with the failure of the Shekinah Glory and of God to protect Tokyo, and its destruction despite conforming to the will of God, insist that Tokyo’s destruction is to be considered inevitable, “for God’s anger burns many and spares none”. For the angels, God’s order is absolute, and if that means the destruction of the very Tokyo that they were ostensibly “protecting”, then they do not oppose the destruction of Tokyo. Abdiel affirms this creed to the hilt, and so does her apparent rival, Camael, when he tells the protagonist it is his “justice” to loyally execute God’s words, which means killing the player as a Nahobino. The difference between Abdiel and Camael is that Abdiel would rather kill the Nahobino that is the player, but can be convinced to use the Nahobino to execute the will of Bethel until the demons are gone, while Camael brooks no such thing and prefers to immediately kill the player so as to ensure that God is the only Nahobino in existence. Your existence, after all, is a threat to God’s order, because your power as a Nahobino might cause some of the angels to join your side and, so Camael fears, abandon God’s side.
There is obviously a heavy leaning into the implications of Christian theology, or least about as deep as it gets for a game that’s only trying to be an edgier Tokyo Mirage Sessions a new generation of Shin Megami Tensei. The Christians frequently counsel us that God in his unconditional love for humanity has given us free will, that we might come to choose his side through it. Any even cursory reading of the Bible gives us reason to doubt that assurance, considering, among other things, that it is down to God hardening the Pharoah’s heart that the Israelites were refused the right to leave Egypt until the death of the firstborn. Leaving aside the Old Testament, the Book of Acts, within the New Testament, makes clear that “in him we live and move and have our being”. The implications are very much pantheistic, and I would argue that these implications are not the rosy and reasonable alternative to classical theism that certain rationalists both Christian and secular would like to believe, and certainly not the alternative to monotheism that certain neopagans would like to believe. The full scope of that is best reserved for another article in another time, but for now let us establish that there is only one God in pantheism, just that this God is the whole universe. The implications presented in the theology of the New Testament is that God is omnipresent to the point of permeating the whole fabric of the universe and is the sole agency underpinning our every movement. Free will, in this sense, is impossible with the Christian God present, and insofar as God’s order cannot be meaningfully opposed in that even evil actions must necessarily be underpinned or made possible by God’s agency alone, then God’s order would indeed by absolute. Indeed, this I think is what Abdiel means when she says that the ability of her enemies to resist her at all is “by the grace of our Lord”.
Turning away from the main plot for a moment, I should mention that Shin Megami Tensei V also features a series of subquests in each region of the game, one seemingly corresponding to Law and the other seemingly corresponding to Chaos, in theory anyway. This correspondence is at least inferred by the available guides for the game. If there is any correspondence to the alignments, then these subquests are worth exploring for content regarding the expression of Law and Chaos outside the game’s main plot.
In the Minato sector of Da’at, specifically in Shiba, we see a grotto in which a demon named Apsaras, based on the celestial nymphs from Indian mythology, is worshipped by a congregation of weaker demons who pray to her for salvation. Apparently the Apsaras has a whole space set up as a shelter for the weaker demons, who come to rely upon her benevolence in a hostile netherworld and obey her as a result. In fact, only the weak may enter her cave, as the strong do not much benefit from her benevolence. Asparas’ stated goal is to form a circle of gods and offer the weak the minimum amount of knowledge and resources to survive while belonging to her circle. This is opposed by another demon, Leanan Sidhe, who accuses her of seducing weaker demons in order to create an army of soldiers who unconditionally obey her will without regard for their individuality. Apsaras in turn accuses Leanan Sidhe of deceiving the demons with empty words that will only cause them to despair at their own powerlessness. Apsaras is a Yoma and therefore Law-aligned, while Leanan Sidhe is a Femme and therefore Chaos-aligned, so the familiar dynamic of Law and Chaos is well-established here. Taking the “The Spirit of Love” subquest sees you siding with Apsaras and fighting Leanan Sidhe.
Another subquest that follows the same formula is in the Shinagawa area of Da’at. At Shinagawa Pier you will find a Principality, one of the angelic orders, who requests that you assist him in exterminating a group of Lilim who are apparently plotting to infiltrate Tokyo (by which he means the Tokyo produced by the Shekinah Glory). Principality’s rationale is pretty straightforward, and not unlike Apsaras’: he claims to want to protect the weak, in this case humans as he sees them, and he thinks that the Lilim want to attack the whole human world, so in order to protect humans the Lilim must be defeat. The Principality is an agent of Bethel, as is to be expected of most angels. The Lilim, of course, would dispute the angel, saying they only wanted to live quietly among humans. The traditional alignment dynamic is once again clear cut, with Principality as a Law-aligned angel (or Divine) and Lilim as a Chaos-aligned Night. Seeing as you can reject the Principality’s subquest and side with the Lilim instead, this would be probably the only instance in the game in which you can actively defy the orders of Bethel. However, this doesn’t actually affect your actual allegiance to Bethel, since until the last stretch of the game you still have no choice but to work for Bethel and follow their orders. In any case, siding with Principality and thereby carrying out Bethel’s orders by taking the “Holding the Line” subquest is the obvious Law-aligned choice.
Things get more unusual when you go to the Chiyoda area. In Sukiyabashi you meet Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, who tells you that he has set the rules regarding the distribution of alcohol in Ginza. He claims to be impartial in granting alcohol to all who ask for it, and that this is one of the rules he set. Opposing Dionysus is Black Frost, who calls himself the emperor of Ginza and wants to take Dionysus’ alcohol by force. Curiously enough, both Dionysus (a Fury) and Black Frost (a Night) are actually Chaos-aligned within the game, and even Dionysus responds to the suggestion of survival of the fittest by saying “so be it”, and that those who challenge him will be “put back in their place” because he is strong and not weak. Despite this and the fact that he really doesn’t have all that much to do with the ideology of Law, Dionysus’ quest, “A Sobering Standoff”, appears to correspond to the most to the Law alignment. I can only assume that this is because Dionysus wants to maintain the system of rules he has in place for regulating alcohol whereas Black Frost wants to upend all of that.
The last of these subquests can be found in the Taito region. In Ueno Park, you can meet Futsunushi, the Shinto god of swords, who gives you the subquest “In Defense of Tokyo”. Futsunushi identifies himself as one of the Amatsukami (which doesn’t sound strange, given that he actually was one of the Amatsukami, until we start getting into the Chaos alignment), and tells you that “foreign demons” led by the fallen angel Adramelech are trying to invade Tokyo. He very peculiarly complains to the player that if Adramelech was merely chased from his home and landed in Tokyo then he would not turn him away, but he claims that the “foreign demons” instead steal the land of the Amatsukami and try to “exterminate” them. When Futsunushi was initially revealed for Shin Megami Tensei V, some people saw him talking about “foreign demons” and suspected that he would be a continuation of nationalist themes in the series, and if you think about it, the way Futsunushi talks kind of reminds me of certain anti-refugee talking points we could bring up. In any case, although Futsunushi is a Wargod and therefore listed as Neutral, his quest “In Defence of Tokyo” seems to correspond to the Law alignment.
Altogether, the microcosm of Law presented in these subquests seems pretty straightforward. Law is about order, and that can mean many things: it can mean creating a society where safety comes with dependence on authority, it can mean simply preserving order in general, often on behalf of Bethel and the angels, and apparently it can also mean some sort of nationalism. Keep that part in mind for when we explore one of the central Law characters in the game.
Returning to the main plot, we see towards the final stretch of the game that, after the player defeats the demon king Arioch, the horizon of the Law and Chaos dynamic seems to change. The director of the Japanese branch of Bethel, Hayao Koshimizu, abruptly declares that the Japanese branch is going to break off from Bethel in order to install a Nahobino as the new ruler of creation. This leads to a summit between all the main heads of Bethel, in which we discover that the heads of the other Bethel branches are not angels but instead the various polytheistic gods: Khonsu, the Egyptian god of the moon, represents the Egyptian branch, Zeus, the king of the Greek gods, represents the Greek branch, Odin, ruler of the Norse Aesir gods, represents the Nordic branch, and Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction, as well as the serpent Vasuki, represent the Indian branch. It turns out that Bethel is just an alliance between the various gods and the angels of God cobbled together by Abdiel, who serves as its leader and commander, seemingly for the purpose of fighting the forces of chaos under the pretext that God is still alive. Earlier in the game we see a flashback in which Lucifer greets the angels led by Abdiel to tell them that God is dead and that he has killed him. Naturally, Abdiel angrily dismisses the “vile serpent”, believes that he is lying, and refuses to believe him. For much of the game Abdiel continues to hold onto the belief that Lucifer is trying to deceive everyone, and organized Bethel with that belief in mind, assuring the rest of Bethel that rumours of God’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.
During the Bethel summit, it becomes clear that the other gods have already figured out that Lucifer had defeated and killed God, that the Condemnation is no longer in effect, and that the world is due for a new cosmic ruler. Abdiel insists that Bethel still exists to preserve God’s world, that the Condemnation still stands, and that the right course of action is to simply wait for God’s return, reasoning that even if God did die he would surely return soon. When Khonsu points out the existence of the Nahobino that is the player and speculates that God wants the player to replace him, Abdiel, unable to counter Khonsu’s argument, decides that in order to prove that God’s order still reigns supreme she has to kill the player. She, of course, fails and is defeated by the player, and as a result the rest of Bethel, vindicated in their skepticism, go their separate ways, with Odin and Zeus in particular heading out to recover their lost “Knowledge” and become Nahobinos themselves, all of which Abdiel considers to be selfish. Until this point, the gods who formed the Bethel alliance may have been convinced that God was still alive and that, with his order via the Condemnation still in effect, it would be impossible for them to become Nahobinos. Thus, they settled for simply working with the angels in order to protect the world by fighting the forces of chaos, which, thinking about it, must seem strange considering that Odin and Zeus seem to have the same ultimate goal as certain “forces of chaos” such as Lahmu: namely, they want to regain their divine status as Nahobinos, challenge the current order, and recreate the world.
In any case, Bethel, from this point onward, no longer represents the Law alignment. Now it’s just the angels of God who constitute the primary Law faction in the game’s story. In fact, the angels of the Herald and Divine clans are among the few consistently Law-aligned demon clans in the whole game. The only other reliably Law-aligned clans in the game are Avians, Raptors, and Yomas. Megamis, previously Law-aligned, are now Neutral except for Demeter and Maria, and even then Demeter’s ambitions in this game have no connection to God unlike in Strange Journey Redux. Viles were also previously Law-aligned, but now half of the Vile clan is Chaos-aligned while the other half are Law-aligned. That’s pretty much the extent of Law representation within this game’s Demonic Compendium. In contrast, and I hate to say this but, there are if anything way too many Chaos-aligned demons in this game!
Abdiel may be defeated but she’s not giving up. She is still committed to ensuring that God’s order is preserved and upheld as the supreme order of things, and as it turns out she, despite being an angel and therefore a creation of God, somehow has “Knowledge”. That would entail that she, like all the other demons, had somehow “fallen” from godhood with the ascent of God, and, in order to restore it, she needs to find a human with her “Knowledge”. This leads us to perhaps the single most important Law character in the game who we have not yet discussed: one of your classmates, Ichiro Dazai.
Admittedly, Ichiro seems like an unusual Law representative. Before the game was officially released, many thought that Ichiro would turn out to be the Chaos representative rather than the Law representative. And you could be forgiven for thinking that since he certainly doesn’t quite look like what you’d expect from a Law representative. Indeed, your first impression of him in-game is that he’s an aspiring internet streamer who’s viewed by the rest of the class as kind of a dork, and when you first see him in the game he’s trying to film his next video, talking about rumours of monsters in the Takanawa Tunnel. He actually looks like Logan Paul, don’t you think? But as the game goes on, you slowly see him develop as a more or less standard, perhaps even cliche, representative of the Law alignment.
When you first enter Da’at you see Ichiro lifted above the ground by an angel, who then carries him off to the Diet Building. After this he expresses an interest in joining Bethel, saying that he really wants to be a part of protecting Tokyo. This of course is right after one of your other classmates, Tao Isonokami (a.k.a. “The Saint”; no, not that one), informs you and your two other classmates (including Ichiro) that the Tokyo you’ve been living in isn’t real, and Ichiro never really seems to reflect on that fact in any serious way. Later, after the defeat of Lahmu and the explanation of “Knowledge” and the demons’ desire for it to the students, Ichiro never contemplates it and avowedly doesn’t care about the subject. A lot of his time in the game is just him talking about how weak and indecisive he thinks he is, how much he admires the player for his strength and ability to confront danger, and his desire to get stronger and more confident himself.
That’s where Abdiel comes in. While she’s busy ruminating about the deposed rival gods in Shinagawa Pier, Ichiro introduces himself to Abdiel and talks to her about how awesome she is and how he wants to know how she can be so strong. Keep in mind, when Abdiel is first seen by the player and his friends, Ichiro is actually scared of Abdiel, and for good reason; she was about to kill his classmate for being a Nahobino. So it’s definitely a little odd that Ichiro would want to follow Abdiel. Abdiel then tells Ichiro that the secret to her strength is her unwavering faith in God, which gives her the ability to act without hesitation based on simple belief. This seems to inspire Ichiro somewhat, and eventually he bonds more and more with Abdiel. During the raid against the demon king Arioch and his allies in the Chiyoda region, Abdiel assists Ichiro by giving him some angels to command so that he could fight on his own. But whether or not Ichiro has gotten much stronger is honestly a matter of opinion, and I would argue that all he ended up doing was leaning on Abdiel for outer strength. For whatever reason, Ichiro seems to hang on Abdiel’s every word. He even calls her “Master Abdiel”.
By the time you get to the Bethel summit, Ichiro is absolutely convinced that Abdiel is right about everything and that only she can bring order to the world. When you see the summit and get the chance to talk to everyone there, you can talk to Ichiro and he’ll tell you that although he sympathizes with Koshimizu’s goal in terms of wanting to protect Japan, if only because Ichiro himself is also Japanese (well, half-Japanese, but we’ll get to that), he simply believes that Abdiel’s words make the most sense. Why? Ichiro doesn’t tell you, at least not at this point. Earlier, when Koshimizu explains to the students that he will be breaking off from Bethel, Ichiro emphatically opposes this move, which he believes to be a betrayal, and naively suggests that Koshimizu simply ask the rest of Bethel to help them save Tokyo, which is at this point rapidly disappearing from existence. In trying to figure out what motivates Ichiro to this thought process, it occurs to me that he legitimately only thinks about the basic mission of protecting Tokyo, and has no interest in any of the surrounding conflicts and contradictions that influence the fate of Tokyo or the rest of the world. And since he associates the mission of protecting Tokyo with Bethel and Bethel with Abdiel and the angels, Ichiro seems to just instinctively side with Abdiel and the angels and with Bethel as a broad whole, and over time he seems to have internalized Abdiel’s ideas about God’s order being necessary for the safety of Tokyo.
When Abdiel is defeated at the summit, Ichiro begs to go and see her again. Eager to continue depending on her guidance, Ichiro begs Abdiel not to give up on her cause. When Abdiel laments that even an archangel is no much for a Nahobino, Ichiro suggests that Abdiel become a Nahobino too in order to gain the power to defeat other Nahobinos, notwithstanding the fact that his fellow classmate who just defeated Abdiel is there to hear him say that. Ichiro pledges to find the human that has Abdiel’s “Knowledge” and bring them to her, only to be informed that it is in fact he himself who has Abdiel’s “Knowledge”. Ichiro is elated and volunteers to be used by Abdiel to become a Nahobino, but Abdiel initially rejects this proposal, because as an archangel she is still bound to uphold the Condemnation. Even though the existence of a Nahobino means that the Condemnation no longer stands on account of God’s defeat and death, the archangels, being created as servants of God, have to uphold God’s law and order anyway. And then, suddenly, the voice of Lucifer echoes into the summit, telling Abdiel, “if your prayer is indeed for harmony, you must bring it about yourself”. In other words, if Abdiel means to preserve the order she believes in, then she must take the power to do so into her own hands, even if that means going against her own rules to do it.
All of this culminates into the final stretch of the story where, at some point, on your way to the Temple of Eternity in Umayabashi, you find Ichiro, standing above, pondering what will happen without Abdiel. Here, his philosophy for what to do with the fate of Tokyo takes shape. He expresses the belief that Abdiel is the only one capable of bringing order, the thing that Ichiro appears to suddenly care about the most, and claims that without her Tokyo and the world as a whole would “tear itself apart”. He then goes on to state that “divine diversity isn’t an answer, it’s chaos”, and that humanity needs “a single ultimate truth” as opposed to “an excess of false opinions”. In the midst of his despair, he recalls what Lucifer said about harmony and comes to the conclusion that, although he seems useless on his own, being useful to Abdiel will be enough for him, and declares that his “Knowledge” alone will serve “the greater good”. And then, he throws his cap to the void, furls back his hair, his eyes seem to glow, and declares that he will rise above the rest and be “the sword of heaven”, before laughing an unusually evil laugh for a Law character.
This is a lot to unpack on its own. Going off of his new look, I remember seeing some fans remark that Ichiro has basically morphed into this game’s version of the Chaos Hero from the original Shin Megami Tensei, mostly due to his hair and his sinister smile. I would point out, though, that the Law representative for Shin Megami Tensei II, Zayin, also has a similar look, at least when he turns into Satan anyway. More importantly, though, this seems to be the point where Ichiro’s focus shifts from the basic mission of protecting/saving Tokyo to “order” as an abstract idea and as governed by broad notions of “ultimate truth”. It’s also the point where we see Ichiro develops what amounts to a fascist or at least quasi-fascist worldview. Remember when I pointed out how Futsunushi’s Law-aligned quest had possible nationalist undertones, and then told you to keep that in mind up to this point? Well, who else do you know in real life who says that diversity can only mean chaos and should be opposed for that reason? Think about it. Hard-right, authoritarian conservatives make the same point all the time, so do right-wing nationalists and fascists. The fascistic nationalist tends to have an agenda of smothering all diversity under the banner of a single, hegemonic state order, with an attendant monoculture, with dissent and difference policed in order to maintain it. That’s the implications of the order that Ichiro would prefer. Only one opinion is allowed to be observed as having weight, all else is “an excess of false opinions”. That “single ultimate truth”, God’s order, is supposed to provide security at the expense of freedom and diversity. Such appears to be the primary concern of the Law alignment in this game, which I guess makes some sense for what it is, and contrary to certain claims that Shin Megami Tensei V represents a broad move away from the “absolutism” of God, this game’s Law alignment is in no way a departure from the series tradition of Law as an absolutist, order-centric ideology revolving around the order of God. Well, except perhaps for the development to come.
But before we get to that point, there’s one thing about Ichiro I should note that is probably incidental in the bigger picture but has a weird connection to the rest of the series. I mentioned that earlier that Ichiro Dazai is half-Japanese. What I didn’t mention yet is that the other half is American. Yes, Ichiro is half-Japanese and half-American. Historically, the association of the Law alignment with America goes back to the original Shin Megami Tensei, in which the Americans as represented by Ambassador Thorman comprise the Law faction for the first stretch of the game. Granted, America was not always represented by the Law alignment in the series, as shown by Strange Journey’s Jimenez being both an American and the Chaos representative, but Ichiro’s partial American identity coupled with his alignment with the angels of the Christian God follows a thematic conceit that had been established in the early days of Shin Megami Tensei, namely that Law tends to represent Western ideas of religion, mostly “Judeo-Christian” beliefs, in the context of a Japanese society that has historically encountered Christianity as either a contradiction and threat to indigenous Japanese religion, a political threat to the Japanese state, or the attendant religion of a humiliating post-war occupation.
Now then, the final alignment-based decision in the game commences when you reach the end of the Temple of Eternity. There you offer the three keys to the temple and then the “Goddess of Creation” shows you your two classmates vying for the right to create the world. You see Ichiro discussing with Abdiel that the only way to maintain order is to give everything, including your own life, over to God, and tells Abdiel that he is here to “do what needs to be done” even if it means to “stray from the path”, stressing that nothing matters so long as his side wins. Abdiel stresses that God’s word is still unchanging and that she is sworn to defend it, and that she is ready to become a Nahobino, thereby blaspheming against the Condemnation set by that very same God, in order to carry out his will. Almost immediately afterwards, the player returns to reality and is on his way to the Empyrean, only to be interrupted by his two classmates and potential rivals, Ichiro among them. Ichiro interrupts the presumptions of his rivals Yuzuru and former director Hayao Koshimizu to preach to them that they need only entrust everything to God. He argues that, because Zeus and Odin each vied for the throne of creation, a world of myriad gods would result in “endless war” with all the gods “eating each other alive” in a brutal contest for dominance, and that, by contrast, everyone will “get their fair share” if they only let God do his thing, on the basis that someone who is all-powerful, all-seeing, and all-knowing can’t possibly be wrong.
And that’s when Abdiel makes a dramatic transformation. After rambling about her sacred duty and her “fettered form” being no much for a Nahobino, she declares that, in the name of the Almighty, she will “embrace darkness” and become a fallen angel. Her body writhes and is covered with purple darkness, she spews black vomit, and then her body radically transforms from her former angelic self to the body of a demon, all topped off with her old face splitting open to reveal a new one. Abdiel then declares that she will uphold God’s will at all costs, even if it means being severed from God’s grace, and Ichiro remarks that Abdiel’s faith as an archangel remains unwavering. In Lucifer’s words, Abdiel has defied God in his own name and traded God’s word for his will. Naturally her fallen angel form has her move out of the Herald clan and into the Fallen clan, but she still maintains her Law alignment. Hence, Abdiel becomes the only Fallen demon in the game, and the series as a whole, to be Law-aligned, since she unlike all the other Fallen demons is still loyal to God and wants to preserve his order.
This certainly is an original take on the Law alignment. But it is also utterly incoherent. Abdiel’s whole purpose is to uphold God’s will, which means God’s word as well. The Condemnation is God’s word and his will as much as each other. The two cannot be separated in isolation. Therefore, the whole premise of her being prepared to fall from grace is nonsense, since the whole act of undertaking that fall emerges from defying his will and his word. Furthermore, if God is dead, and this means his order and power are fading away with him, that means the Condemnation no longer stands, as evidenced from the beginning by the fact that the player becomes a Nahobino. Why, then, should Abdiel need to worry about falling from his grace and defying his word, and why should she transform into a devil-looking thing? If the Condemnation is no longer in effect, then Abdiel could lay claim to human “Knowledge” without needing to undergo a “fall” since the rules that mandated this surely no longer apply. Also, when Abdiel does become a Nahobino, she doesn’t look like any particularly godly being, and instead she seems to more closely resemble what the merged form of Sirene and Kaim from Devilman would look like without their skin. What’s the deal with that? But then, once again, why does Abdiel even have “Knowledge” to be stored inside an unwitting human if she’s not a god? Is it because Abdiel in Paradise Lost was originally one of the angels who followed Lucifer before repenting? Is it for the same reason that there’s a subquest in which Melchizedek says that the “seraphim” (the archangels) were all originally servants of the god Baal? Not to mention, why do Abdiel and Ichiro bother heeding the voice of Lucifer anyway? Isn’t Lucifer the same being that Abdiel previously denounced as a “contemptible snake” and “vile serpent” and hence dismissed his words as lies? Wasn’t the whole point of Bethel to keep opposing Lucifer even after he defeated God? Wasn’t the whole alliance built on the premise that Lucifer had lied about God’s demise?
It’s all just such nonsense. This entire setup seems constructed simply to subvert the traditional expectations of the Law alignment, and I suppose it does, but only on a superficial level. It almost reeks of the tired old dogma that Law and Chaos are actually just two sides of one monistic coin, a trope that also played into some of the worst writing on display in Apocalypse, a game in which all outcomes except Neutrality are delegitimized in this way. But what does it really convey here? Again, I argue that this is not the departure from absolutism that some strive to suggest. Instead, absolutism is the order of the day. It is the nature of the order desired by Ichiro, and fulfilled through Abdiel and the order she enforces (in fact Abdiel explicitly said that God is absolute), it is the nature of the sense of faith cultivated by Ichiro and Abdiel, and it is present in the sacrifices, transformations, and even transgressions that they are willing to undertake for the sole sake of the preservation of order and their own victory. That is the core of the Law alignment as it is present in Shin Megami Tensei V, and it is hardly less absolutist than in previous games.
And while we’re still on the subject of absolutism, let us address the claims made by some that Abdiel is merely a more extreme case in an otherwise more benign angelic faction. It is claimed that this game’s angels want to create a world where order does not exclude the presence of free will. Having played the game, I have not encountered any evidence to support that claim. None of the angels object to the absolutism and determinism of Abdiel’s worldview. There’s not much reason from their perspective why they should, anyway. Only one angel, Camael, objects to Abdiel’s actions, and that’s just because she didn’t kill the player on the spot for being a Nahobino, not because she didn’t believe in free will enough. All of the angels believe in executing God’s word and will without leniency or laxity, all the angels stand with Abdiel by the final stretch of the game, and all of the angels see Tokyo’s destruction as simple destiny as handed down by God, to be accepted and even upheld without objection. In fact, during the demonic invasion of Jouin High School, the angels explicitly state that there is no mercy to be reserved for “evil”, including humans who become possessed by demons. It would not matter if you were a demon or merely a victim of possession, they would smite you anyway. And they say this regardless of whether you choose to prioritize killing Lahmu or helping Sahori, the girl sought after by Lahmu. Further, before you enter the invaded Jouin High School, an angel explicitly instructs you to kill any students that can’t be rescued along with the demons. Exactly how are the angels in Shin Megami Tensei V supposed to be more benevolent and tolerant compared to previous games?
Not to mention, there’s a question relevant for Ichiro in particular. Ichiro repeatedly argues that it is best that everyone just leave everything to God and all will be well. Besides the obvious theological problems we could get into, the obvious problem, within the context of the game’s story, is that God is dead, and has been dead for quite some time, just that Abdiel and the angels have been denying it. Indeed, Ichiro never seems to address this situation directly. Perhaps we can assume he just goes along with Abdiel’s opinion that God is not actually dead, but that would be passive and he never actually takes a stance on that, nor is he ever challenged to confront the reality of God’s death. In fact, doesn’t it seem strange that Ichiro was there for the Bethel summit and saw the other Bethel heads say that God is dead, and never had anything to say about that? It seems to me that Ichiro doesn’t have an answer to any of that, and that might be because Ichiro at heart cares less about the existential question of God and more about whatever is most capable of “bringing order” in the abstract, which he connects in his mind to saving Tokyo from demons.
Anyways, and so we come to the point in the game where you choose between three alignment-based outcomes. Choosing to uphold God’s order sees you siding with Abdiel and Ichiro, and thus represents the path of the Law alignment. Doing so also grants access to two subquests exclusive to the Law path. One of them, “The Seraph’s Return”, features the archangel Michael, who along with his compatriots was imprisoned in a statue in the course of Armageddon. If you complete the subquest “The Holy Ring” with Melchizedek, you can find Michael at the end of the Temple of Eternity, having been set free by Melchizedek. If you took the Law path at this point before entering the Empyrean, Michael, though not pleased about you being a Nahobino, thanks the player for helping Melchizedek free him and praises you for choosing to uphold God’s order. He then sends you to go and defeat Belial at Arioch’s former castle, and joins your side upon you doing so. Of course, if you took the Chaos path before entering the Empyrean, Michael opposes you instead and you have to defeat him. There’s s catch, though: if you chose the Law path but were not sufficiently Law-aligned beforehand, Melchizedek will ask you to pay him 666,000 Macca to earn the trust of the angels. Yeah, that’s a thing in this game, for some reason. Another subquest, “The Compassionate Queen”, is unlocked if you took the Law path and have gained the Seed of Life by achieving 75% completion of the Demonic Compendium. In it you see Maria, a kind of/sort of/not really Virgin Mary expy, who challenges you upon acquiring the Seed of Life. She describes herself as a mother goddess whose form and role changes depending on place and time, and awaits her disappearance with the creation of a new world. If you’re Law-aligned, Maria acknowledges your desire to preserve the world as it was, and faces you as herself. Winning the resulting battle unlocks her as a fusable ally
Once you resolve yourself to uphold God’s order, you fight and defeat the other two Nahobinos that stand in your way, namely Tsukuyomi and Nuwa, and then fight Lucifer, neither of whom seem to have any commentary on why it’s bad that you’ve chosen to side with Abdiel and restore the order of God or why you should have sided with them instead (not that you ever get to take sides with Lucifer). And then, you get to activate the throne of creation to usher in the restoration of God’s order. What does this mean in practice?
Well, for starters, you don’t actually get to see the newly created world or the effects of your rule in the ending sequence of the game. All you see is the player walking towards a big white ball of light that looks suspiciously like Kagutsuchi from Nocturne, while the four archangels (Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, and Raphael) are seen suspended in mid-air in all different directions. I suppose at least the presence of the archangels tells you that this is the Law ending after all. But from the narration of Goko, the Buddhist monk seen throughout the game up to the final stretch, we can get an idea of what we’re supposed to expect. The player creates a new world in the image of the previous one, restores Tokyo and resurrects its inhabitants, who are then completely unaware of that this is all a recreation of the Shekinah Glory that was previously established by God. The world is composed of only one truth, one justice, one single order, no diversity. Goko suggests that those who easily lose their way will find unwavering faith in this world. In the world of Law, the newly resurrected humans do not think for themselves, and live to show devotion to God. I can’t quite tell if that means the original God or you, the new ruler of the throne.
Throughout the Shin Megami Tensei series, the Law alignment has been defined primarily by a single goal: the realization of the Thousand Year Kingdom. The Thousand Year Kingdom is a state of paradise on earth governed by God and/or his agents, in which the believers in God can inhabit and enjoy a world of ultimate peace, harmony, prosperity, and order under the aegis of a strictly hierarchical and dictatorial society which compels its subjects to trade freedom for total security. And, of course, only the believers are allowed to live in it. Everyone else is either cleansed by God’s judgement or simply cast out and left to die. It’s a concept that appears by name in the original two Shin Megami Tensei games, and recurs if not in name throughout the rest of the series as I’ve explored in “Ideologies of Law in Shin Megami Tensei”. Yet in this game, there’s no real hint of the Thousand Year Kingdom here, at least ostensibly. It’s neither mentioned by name nor hinted at in substitutes such as “millennium of order” as uttered in the previous duology of games. So is there no Thousand Year Kingdom in Shin Megami Tensei V? On the surface the answer to that would be yes. But here’s the thing: you can infer many of the same components of what makes a Thousand Year Kingdom in what we get from the ending sequence. People live in prosperity and ostensible peace, but they do not think for themselves, and exist mostly to devote themselves to God (again, that could be either the old God or the new God for all I know). We can also bear in mind the underlying Christian base of the concept of the Thousand Year Kingdom, and point to the Last Judgement in which the souls of the dead are resurrected, and then either led to paradise or damned to hell. In the Law ending, those who died in Tokyo are resurrected and restored, and all get to live in the “paradise” you create. There are only believers, though perhaps that’s not because you’ve cast out all unbelievers, but rather because believers are all that you have left, your resurrected humanity has been remade as true believers. But of course, if this is meant to be the old order restored, and the Thousand Year Kingdom an ideal state to be realized and pave over the present world, I suppose the Law outcome in Shin Megami Tensei V doesn’t quite follow the base trope of the Thousand Year Kingdom, except may in spirit to a small extent.
Thus, we have established the nature of the Law alignment in Shin Megami Tensei V. It is an ideology centered around preserving, or rather renewing, the status quo of a monotheistic cosmic order, one defined by the absolute concentration of power into one God, who rules as an absolute dictator, brooking no dissent until his death. As usual, this is to be accepted on the promise of security and order, off the back of absolutism. Being Law-aligned then is about the desire for the supreme being and the willingness to have and observe its order at the expense of your own freedom.
Turning to our next subject, the Chaos alignment is a little trickier to define than the Law alignment, and that mostly comes down to the same basic question: who represents the Chaos alignment in Shin Megami Tensei V? This is complicated to some extent by the fact that, as I’ve established, the Law and Chaos dynamic in this game seems to shift to some extent. There is, though, a common theme in the Chaos side. The Chaos faction(s) in this game seem to be defined largely by a desire to challenge or overturn God’s order, and in doing so regain the power of divine identity. In this sense, the Chaos faction(s) represent the gods of old, the demons who were desecrated by God through the loss of their “Knowledge”. But that takes more than one form in Shin Megami Tensei V.
It bears repeating that for the majority of Shin Megami Tensei V the dynamic of Law and Chaos is defined principally by the conflict between the forces of order, represented by Bethel and the angels, and the “demons of chaos” who oppose them, and you do not get to choose to take the side of the demons over the side of Bethel. In this sense, we should begin our analysis of the Chaos alignment in this game by examining the forces of chaos that you don’t get to side with.
From the beginning of the game, we are introduced to demons as beings who were originally gods, or Nahobinos, but were debased through their disempowerment by God depriving them of their “Knowledge”. Demons, then, are in the strict sense fallen gods. With their former “Knowledge” now spread out across the human species, the demons seek out humans for the purpose of regaining their “Knowledge” so that they can regain their divine identity and the power that came with it, and that’s why demons go hunting for human souls. This premise is repeatedly reasserted throughout the game’s story, but the first wholesale story arc devoted to it comes with the arrival of Lahmu, a desecrated god based on an apotropaic spirit from Babylonian mythology. Although classed as a Vile, which is traditionally a Law-aligned demon clan, Lahmu is one of the three Vile demons in the game (so basically half of the Vile clan here) who are actually Chaos-aligned instead of Law-aligned. For story-based reasons, that’s no accident.
Lahmu is first seen speaking to Sahori Itsukishima, a girl who’s first seen in the game getting bullied by other high school students. Sahori is tired of being bullied by others, tired of being powerless against them, and tired of not being left alone. In comes Lahmu, who whispers into her head and offers her the power to get her revenge. Some time after this, Lahmu busts his way into the miracle-based Tokyo to hunt for the Magatsuhi (some kind of life force here) of humans as well as find Sahori, who is Lahmu’s “other half”. Sahori is the human whose body contains Lahmu’s “Knowledge”, and so Lahmu intends to fuse himself with Sahori in order to become a Nahobino, regain his former divine glory, and challenge the order of God. He naturally hates the forces of Bethel, blaming them for the sealing away of his former divine self. Lahmu also leads the demonic invasion of Jouin High School to get to Sahori, while other demons make off with high school students in the hopes of getting their “Knowledge” one way or another.
Although ultimately incidental to the broader dynamic, it’s worth spotlighting the Sahori arc to illustrate missed opportunities created by the lack of an alignment break here. As you make your way into the invaded Jouin High School, you see Sahori tremble before and eventually embrace Lahmu, and later on you find her embarking on a rampage of revenge against her bullies with her newfound demonic power. Her classmate Tao tries to get her to stop, and the girls who bullied her yell the same pleas for mercy that Sahori once did. Sahori confronts her bullies over precisely that fact, that they attacked her and destroyed her possessions before, and now beg for forgiveness and mercy as she turns her wrath towards them, now that she has the power to deliver vengeance to them. Sahori’s sentiment is a perfectly admissible one, perfectly understandable, and arguably justifiable. If you were bullied all your life in high school, and you got the chance to get even with them, would it truly make sense for you to turn the other cheek for them when they never did the same for you? Is it really wrong for you to throw their shitty behaviour back in their face when you get the chance to do so? This is a legitimate response to being constantly bullied, and if the game developers wanted to “sympathize with the troubles of the current era” they could have included the option to at least agree with Sahori’s actions, or even if not that at least her thought process. But the game never lets you actually sympathize with her, much less take her side, in any meaningful way. In fact, Sahori demonstrates a remarkable lack of agency throughout the game, such that even her embrace of Lahmu’s power isn’t even meant to be taken as a meaningful choice.
The connection to bullying is not incidental to the Chaos alignment. In fact, it’s your first introduction to the Chaos Hero in the original Shin Megami Tensei, and I think this is worth revisiting for a moment. In that game, the Chaos Hero is bullied by Ozawa and his fellow gangsters for being a nerd with an interest in the occult, and throughout the first half of the game his main interest is in gaining power and getting stronger so that he can stand up for himself and get revenge. To that end, the Chaos Hero joins the player and his party in order to get to Ozawa and defeat him, but Ozawa slips away when you find him and the Chaos Hero doesn’t yet get his revenge. After survivng a nuclear apocalypse by being transported to Kongokai and then being hurled 30 years into the future, the party meets an older Ozawa and the Chaos Hero gets another chance to get his revenge, but the party is overpowered by the might of his demon ally, Take-Minakata. This results in the Chaos Hero deciding to fuse himself with a demon from your COMP in order to become the strongest and most powerful he can be by transcending his human limitations, which allows him to defeat Take-Minakata and finally get revenge on Ozawa.
Since it must be remembered that I’m supposed to be talking about the ideological contours of the Chaos alignment in Shin Megami Tensei V, what I’m trying to say is that there is s connection in that one of the most important aspects of Chaos is being able to take matters into your own hands. For the Chaos Hero in the original Shin Megami Tensei, this means getting as strong as possible so that no one can pick on him again. For Sahori, taking on the power of Lahmu means much the same: gaining the power to make sure no one picks on her again. But the difference between the two games, besides being nearly 30 years apart, is a fundamental difference of agency afforded to the two respective characters, and the legitimacy given to their actions as can be supported by the player. In the original Shin Megami Tensei, the Chaos Hero has agency, indeed agency is the thing he strives to maximize in his quest for strength and power, he acts on his own terms with his own coherent motives and goals in mind, and his actions are legitimate enough as far as the game is concerned that the player can support them within the game, ultimately to the extent that you can take his side for the final stretch of the game as a fighter for the forces of Chaos. For Sahori, the exact opposite is the case. You are never allowed to actively support Sahori’s actions against her oppressors, you can never disagree with Tao or your masters at Bethel about the legitimacy of her actions, and Sahori can only exist as someone whose vulnerability is taken advantage of by Lahmu, who is only supposed to be the villain in all this. Even Sahori’s embrace of Lahmu’s power is preceded by Lahmu forcibly apprehending her, there’s almost no conversation between them that might lead to her embracing his power entirely on her own terms, out of a desire to stop being bullied, and after she gets her revenge she abruptly pivots and no longer wants any part in Lahmu’s plans and is abducted. But then when you find her at the far north of Shinagawa, she starts asking questions as though she wants to know more about becoming a Nahobino, but she never understands or forms a coherent response before being possessed by Lahmu again, and then killed by the player, thus “saving” her, after she almost killed you and killed Tao, under Lahmu’s possession of course (it’s not clear if Lahmu actually became a Nahobino).
It appears that Shin Megami Tensei V only recognises two legitimate outcomes for Sahori: to be a victim of bullying, and to be “saved” from her victimizers by Bethel. I suppose the only other legitimate response is for Tao to try and reach out to her and tell she’s there for her, maybe, as much as “The Saint” can be there for her. For Sahori to stand up for herself in some fashion, for her to take matters into her own hands, for her voluntarily embrace Lahmu’s power and become a Nahobino, and for you to take Sahori’s side in such endeavours, are all forbidden by the game’s narrative. Thus what could have been a credible Chaos-aligned response, consistent with traditional themes of the Chaos alignment, and from there perhaps an early alignment split that might have had significant effects on the overall story, are entirely closed off, ruled out by the story, since that would mean questioning and opposing Bethel’s ideals, indeed really going against them, before the anointed hour in which the game decides you can oppose God’s order. Of course, there are points in the story where you can tell Koshimizu you don’t want to do what he wants, you can tell Aogami that you hate Bethel’s guts, and you can even take a subquest in which you get to actively defy the orders of Bethel. But these are all contained, isolated instances, and have no actual affect on the story or your place in Bethel.
While we’re still on the subject of the forces of chaos that you don’t get to side with, your trip to Chiyoda has you contending with Surt, Ishtar, and the demon king Arioch, in that order. If you take Ishtar as the original divine form of Astaroth, as the series regularly hints, then these represent three of the four generals of Chaos from the original Shin Megami Tensei. Surt may not have much to say, being too busy burning Ginza, but the other too at least have something to say. When you face Ishtar, she monologues about how God deposed all the other gods, viewing even the Queen of Heaven beneath him, warning that no matter how much faith you have in God it will never be enough for him. When you defeat her, she tells you that she believes that change is coming and the gods must side with chaos to defeat God’s order. As for Arioch, his explicit goal is to seize the throne of creation, with its former divine ruler now dead, and reclaim the “Knowledge” of old in order to recreate the world. After you defeat Arioch, he beseeches the player to use your power as a Nahobino to overturn God’s order and recreate the world, and he stresses that only freedom born from chaos can nurture the world.
Arioch and Ishtar, like Lahmu before them, aim to regain the divine identities seized from them by God, bring an end to God’s order, and recreate the world. Bethel opposes this because its leadership considers the idea of any Nahobino other than God occupying the throne of creation to be a blasphemy and a threat to the order of the world. Where the forces of Law represent the order of a monotheistic cosmos, the forces of Chaos appear to consist of deposed gods from ancient, pre-Christian polytheism, as well as the demons of Hell, all seeking to restore their lost divinity. This set-up is not unfamiliar to the Shin Megami Tensei series. In fact, it’s in many ways a return to the original Shin Megami Tensei, which featured an assortment of polytheistic gods and the legions of Lucifer against God and his allies, seeking to defeat God’s cosmic tyranny, restore the gods of old, and bring about an age of anarchic co-existence between humans, demons, and the old gods, buttressed by the belief that chaos is the source of life and freedom and can liberate the world. The difference, of course, is that you can’t decide for yourself that Ishtar and Arioch are correct and take their side instead of Bethel’s side. You only get to tell Arioch that you know that God is dead, but you still have to oppose him anyway because Bethel is still your boss for most of the game. And yet, by the time you defeat Arioch, that all suddenly changes.
Turning away from the main plot, though, we should once again discuss the binary alignment-based subquests. Previously I talked about the Law-aligned subquests, but now it’s time to talk about their Chaos-aligned counterparts in greater detail.
Somewhere in Shiba you can find a Leanan Sidhe who wants to build a society where all subjects can be free to realize their own unique potential, which seems to mean that she gives those who join her side, or at least those she considers worthy, the power to magnify their latent talents in order that they might fulfill their individual dreams. However, this comes with a price. Leanan Sidhe gives demons power in exchange for shortening their lifespan. Her companion, Ippon-Datara, became a master craftsman in exchange for a shorter life, which he considers to be better than only having enough to scrape by in a normal lifespan. So from this vantage point, the choice between Leanan Sidhe and her opponent Apsaras comes down to whether you’re happy with being provided for by a munificent authority which only gives you the minimum to survive or if you’d prefer to unlock your individual potential at the cost of leading a shorter life. Of course, Apsaras argues that Leanan Sidhe is merely deceiving the weaker demons and making them unaware of their own powerlessness, but Leanan Sidhe believes that even if you are still powerless, what matters is that you have been true to yourself and used your potential to lead a worthwhile life. In this sense, we kind of see a brief recollection of the way Law and Chaos were handled in Devil Summoner 2, in that Law and Chaos were more personality types and how you imagine that you should be, with Chaos representing an ethos of following your desires and being true to yourself without heeding the dictates of authority versus Law representing an ethos of living in harmony with society and abjuring ambition for order and duty. Thus, Leanan Sidhe’s “The Water Nymph” is Chaos-aligned and sees you defeating the Law-aligned Apsaras.
At Shinagawa Pier, you can find a group of Lilim who are seemingly hiding from stronger or menacing demons. The Lilim say that if they go to Tokyo (again, the miracle Tokyo, presumably) then there won’t be any demons, but an angel working for Bethel is stopping them from being able to go there. The Lilim claim that they have no intention of killing humans, and that they only intend to take small amounts of energy from them to survive, only to still be refused entry to Tokyo by the angel. Thus the Lilim ask you to dispatch the angel so that they can go to Tokyo and quietly live among humans, and promise to join you if you succeed in completing their subquest, “Those Seeking Sanctuary”. This quest seems to correspond to the Chaos alignment for the obvious reason that you’re defying the orders of Bethel while siding with demons in their quest to inhabit Tokyo.
At Ginza you can find Black Frost, who calls himself the emperor of Ginza and says he was formerly the emperor of Kabukicho. He plans to become the ruler of Ginza by getting rich through loaning money to poor demons, then cashing in on extortionate interest rates, and running high-end nightclubs and making money off of them. Besides some surplus cash, all he needs is alcohol to run the clubs, but Dionysus stands in the way by regulating the alcohol supply to ensure everyone gets a drink. Basically, Black Frost is trying to be the top yakuza of Ginza, and taking the subquest “Black Frost Strikes Back” sees you trying to seize control of the alcohol supply from Dionysus, with Black Frost joining your party as a reward. This subquest seems to correspond to the Chaos alignment, at least in the sense that you’re supposed to be disrupting an orderly arrangement.
Finally, at Umayabashi, you can meet Adramelech, the fallen angel who seems to have a problem with the god Futsunushi for his seemingly “old-fashioned” attitude. He views Futsunushi as “block-headed” for saying things like “Tokyo is our land!” and not coming to the view that justice is decided by the strong, and asks you to defeat Futsunushi. His subquest, “The Raid on Tokyo”, corresponds to the Chaos alignment and in, ironically enough, a very old-fashioned sense. If you choose to fight Adramelech instead of taking his subquest, he doesn’t question it, since from his perspective you are only doing the same thing he would, and after you defeat him, he criticizes Futsunushi for being hypocritical, since he too relies on force despite claiming to want to talk to him. All in all, he’s at least consistent enough that perhaps he can claim to have won the battle of ideals.
As far as these subquests give us a sort of microcosm of the Chaos alignment as a whole, the main consistent thread is that all of them involve you taking the side of the demons in some fashion, whether that means going against angels or going against other gods. This is done on behalf of the freedom to realize your own potential, even at your own expense, the freedom of the demons to co-exist with humans, some kind of might makes right philosophy, or just the selfish ambitions of one lovable yakuza wannabe. There’s definitely a bit of diversity here. One thing I should note, though, is that, as far as this game’s Chaos alignment is concerned, any notion of “might makes right” actually seems to be limited to one or two subquests. So far, the forces of chaos that you fight as part of the main plot don’t seem to advocate any kind of Social Darwinism, and neither do the Chaos faction that is to be discussed next.
So far, we have touched on the forces of chaos that you spend most of the game fighting, without any recourse to take their side instead. However, after you defeat Arioch, you come to a point where divisions form within what was Bethel, the Japanese branch declares independence, and you eventually get to decide between whether or not you want to continue fighting for what Bethel at least claimed to stand for or if you want to see a new world. As Bethel is revealed to just be an alliance of gods and angels cobbled together by Abdiel, and as the gods realize that God is dead and his order no longer reigns supreme, the possibility of replacing the order of Law with a new creation opens up. What does this mean in the context of the Chaos alignment? To understand this, we should start by turning our attention towards the leader of Bethel’s Japanese branch: Hayao Koshimizu.
As the director of Bethel’s Japanese branch who also happens to be the Prime Minister of Japan, Hayao initially answers to his superiors at Bethel, which, for most of the game, means Abdiel and her angelic minions. However, over the course of the game, he slowly starts to act more independently from his Bethel superiors, beginning with his decision to send the player and Ichiro off to Chiyoda to join the assault against Arioch and his forces despite instructions from above to not participate. After defeating Arioch, Hayao announces to the player and his classmates that he intends to break away from Bethel, turn the Japanese branch of Bethel into an independent organization run by him, and install a Nahobino on the throne of creation. Why? Apparently because even though you defeated Arioch, Tokyo is not safe: God’s order as manifest through the Shekinah Glory is fading away and Tokyo is set to be destroyed anyway. Because of this, Hayao determines that the only chance Tokyo has of not being destroyed is to recreate the world and thereby rebuild Tokyo. This means seating a Nahobino on the throne, and since this entails going against everything Bethel believes in, Hayao concludes that it is necessary to break away from Bethel. Although apparently grateful to God for protecting Tokyo, suggesting that his cooperation with Bethel was not quite for nothing, the knowledge of God’s death means that Hayao can no longer be bound to Bethel’s will, since Bethel’s whole purpose is to protect God’s order. And since Abdiel has made clear to Hayao in the past that Tokyo’s destruction is simply the destiny of God, then the only way to save Tokyo from destruction is to defy God’s will. Thus the Chaos path in Shin Megami Tensei V can be understood as the path of secession, independence, and “heresy” that is undertaken for the purpose of your cause, namely the cause of protecting Tokyo, even if God’s order has failed to do so and even if his servants refuse to do so. In this sense, part of the Chaos path means defying God’s order so as to create a new one.
The other important angle to it, of course, is that Hayao Koshimizu is actually Tsukuyomi, the Shinto god of the moon. Yes, in this game the Prime Minister of Japan is actually a Shinto god taking human form. Why Tsukuyomi of all gods is something I don’t quite understand, but the important part for the story is that Tsukuyomi is one of the Amatsukami, the heavenly gods who ruled Japan from the land of Takamagahara. In the Shin Megami Tensei V’s story, Tsukuyomi is actually one of the only Amatsukami left, since most of the others appear to have been vanquished in the battle of Armageddon. Tsukuyomi believes that entrusting the world to one God, who he refers to as a despot, was a mistake, and his stated goal is to create a new world in which a multitude of gods roam free and once again preside over and illumine the world. This would mean that Tsukuyomi cooperated with Bethel in part because of the assumption that God was still protecting Tokyo for a time, and also because most of his fellow Amatsukami fell in Armageddon. Once Tsukuyomi figured out that God has been dead the whole time, he could begin acting upon his true goals against Bethel. Thus taking the throne, in the context of the Chaos alignment, means reshaping the world by restoring the world of myriad gods.
Those who might have intially assumed from leaks that there was no Chaos ending in the game appear to have overlooked the context established from the beginning in the original Shin Megami Tensei. The original representatives of the Chaos alignment in Shin Megami Tensei, the Cult of Gaia, were defined heavily by their adherence to a polytheistic belief in the return of the gods of old, and establishing a state of anarchistic co-existence with the gods and the demons, albeit with certain might makes right ideals thrown into the mix. In fact, whenever the Amatsukami were not their own demon clan in the games, they did appear as Chaos-aligned demons, particularly within the Kishin clan. Certain Amatsukami, such as Take-Mikazuchi, Hinokagutsuchi, and Futsunushi (although not listed as an Amatsukami in the games except for Majin Tensei 2, Futsunushi was an Amatsukami in the original Japanese myths), appeared as Chaos-aligned Kishin alongside their Kunitsukami rivals in certain games. In the Sega CD version of Shin Megami Tensei, even Amaterasu was Chaos-aligned and classed as a Gaian for some reason.
Another familiar theme from the original Shin Megami Tensei can be discerned in Tsukuyomi’s role as Hayao Koshimizu, director of Bethel Japan and also the Prime Minister of Japan. Early in the original Shin Megami Tensei the game features two factions representing Law and Chaos. Representing Law is Ambassador Thorman, the US ambassador who is actually Thor, the Norse god of thunder who for some reason is on the side of God. Representing Chaos is Gotou, a general of the Japanese Self-Defence Force who is also a member of the Cult of Gaia. Gotou wanted to open up the demon world in order to summon an army of demons, which he dubbed ancient gods, capable of opposing Thorman’s plot to nuke Japan out of existence as part of the will of God, and Gotou, as a Gaian, professed a belief in reviving ancient gods to resist the tyranny of God and usher in a state of co-existence between humans, gods, and demons. Hayao Koshimizu, or rather Tsukuyomi, has much the same goal, and his appearance as the Prime Minister of Japan feels very familiar to the role played by Gotou. Given that he is a god taking human form, he almost seems like what Thorman would be if he were Japanese and had very similar goals to Gotou rather than being a servant of God.
That said, whenever the Amatsukami did appear as their own demon clan in the series, they were Law-aligned, in contrast to the Chaos-aligned Kunitsukami. That includes Tsukuyomi. Perhaps this may have contributed to the idea that there was no Chaos path in Shin Megami Tensei V. But the Amatsukami also represent the ruling deities of the Japanese pantheon of gods. In Shin Megami Tensei V, this serves to more broadly represent polytheism from the standpoint of the Japanese cultural and religious context. Just like in the original Shin Megami Tensei, this indigenous polytheistic context that is juxtaposed against the Christianity that comprises the context of the Law alignment. In the original Shin Megami Tensei, a Law faction heavily inspired by a Western “Judeo-Christian” background clashes against a Chaos faction heavily inspired by Japanese Shinto-Buddhist polytheism, in some way representing cultural tension between Christianity and Japanese religion. That dynamic returns in Shin Megami Tensei V, with Law defined by a Christian context represented by God’s order as upheld by Abdiel and the angels on one side, against Chaos defined by the context of polytheism and especially by indigenous Japanese religion on the other.
Before we move along with the story, you may have noticed that although the Kunitsukami are summonable allies in Shin Megami Tensei V, the Amatsukami are not. Well, all but one anyway. The so-called “proto-Fiend”, Aogami, the entity responsible for the player’s transformation into a Nahobino, is actually Susano-o, who is counted among the Amatsukami in this game. Aogami seems to be an artificially-created demon, built by Tsukuyomi to inherit the power of Susano-o, who presumably is one of the Amatsukami gods who fell in the battle of Armageddon, to ensure that he and the other gods of Japan could still fight despite the events of Armageddon. Aogami is Tsukuyomi’s effort to restore the Amatsukami as the autochthonous protectors of Japan, perhaps to ensure that the Japanese gods can rely on themselves rather than the angels. Tsukuyomi thus seeks to recreate both the world and his fellow gods; in Lucifer’s words, he seeks to rebuild the world as he rebuilt his divine kin.
Tsukuyomi intends to become a Nahobino, and to do that he needs the human who possesses his remnant “Knowledge”. This is where we get to the other Chaos representative: one of your classmates, Yuzuru Atsuta.
Yuzuru is a peculiar case where he looks a lot like the Chaos Hero from the original Shin Megami Tensei, with his glasses and his haircut, but never once acts like him. Whereas the original Chaos Hero was rebellious, despised authority, and wanted little more than the freedom and power to stand on his own, Yuzuru seems to be the honor student of your class, and he appears to respect authority, not merely the power to back that authority. For a character who goes on to be the main human representative of the Chaos alignment in contrast to Ichiro representing the Law alignment, there’s almost nothing throughout the game that suggests Yuzuru is meant to develop in this way. The only thing you hear him talk about is how much he wants to protect Tokyo and his classmates, and you never see him question the whims of the angels or the ideals of Bethel. That’s until Tsukuyomi/Hayao Koshimizu has him stay in the Diet Building while you and Ichiro participate in the raid against Arioch. After you return to HQ and it’s revealed that Hayao Koshimizu is Tsukuyomi and he intends to break away from Bethel, Yuzuru, although initially surprised, never seems to question Tsukuyomi’s actions or intentions nor challenge him on why it’s worth leaving Bethel, and almost immediately signs onto Tsukyomi’s vision of replacing the rule of one God with the governance of many gods, and the game gives us absolutely no idea of how he came to the conclusion that this is the right thing to do. While Ichiro gets a whole full-motion cutscene dedicated to showing us his transformation into a zealot of the Law alignment, Yuzuru only gets a brief and not even voice-acted scene at Shinobazu Pond where he bigs you up as a Nahobino and basically tells you that Tokyo means everything to him, of course, that he too is going for the throne of creation, and that he will compete against you if you do not share his cause. Absolutely no attempt to discuss why he came to the conclusion he did.
At least Tsukuyomi tells us that God’s order isn’t worth following anymore because God’s destruction of Tokyo is seen as inevitable by the angels and that Tokyo obeyed God only to still be destroyed. But with Yuzuru, there’s nothing. Just like Ichiro, he is practically only motivated by the blind fixation on the base mission of protecting/saving Tokyo, with little thought process of his own regarding the surrounding conflicts and contradictions that affect Tokyo’s fate. If you play on the Law ending path, Yuzuru argues to Ichiro that God’s grip has stifled the world and that Ichiro’s beliefs are motivated by him having stopped thinking for himself, but with no exposition regarding how Yuzuru comes to believe what he does, we are left to assume that Yuzuru ultimately is simply going along with whatever Tsukuyomi wants. Given that Yuzuru spends the whole game up to the final stretch just going along with what Bethel wants, respects Tsukuyomi’s authority and attendant reputation as the director of Bethel’s Japanese branch, and stays behind with Tsukuyomi so that he can tell him gods know what (we are never shown exactly what Tsukuyomi was doing with Yuzuru by the time you’ve departed for Ginza), it is logical to conclude that Yuzuru has arrived at his conclusions not through independent thought but through the advice, or even instruction, of Tsukuyomi, who as a respected figure of authority leading the mission to fight chaos and protect Tokyo Yuzuru would be inclined to listen to. Frankly, it is my opinion that had Tsukuyomi/Koshimizu not decided to break away from Bethel and do his own thing, Yuzuru would still be obeying not only him but also, by extension, Bethel, and thus he could have wound up as the Law representative instead of the Chaos representative.
All of this has me come away thinking, without any hesitation, that Yuzuru is the worst, the flattest, the emptiest Chaos-aligned character I have ever seen in the entire Shin Megami Tensei series, due to his fundamental lack of motivation and him simply being uniquely self-defeating from a conceptual standpoint. The fact that he ultimately arrives at his path through deference to authority is an affront to everything that Chaos has represented for the last nearly 30 years of games, since it demonstrates a lack of the values of independence and rejection of authority that have come to define it.
But enough about Yuzuru. This is a path that’s all about the myriad gods, so we can’t spend too much time talking about it without mentioning the other gods, the gods of Bethel. At the summit, you meet Khonsu, Zeus, Odin, and Vasuki serving as a proxy for Shiva, all of whom are convinced that Bethel’s time is up, with God dead and unable to support his order, and that it is time to create a new world. There seem to be some differences between what the gods want now that God is dead. Zeus and Odin go off and find the humans with their “Knowledge” in order become Nahobinos themselves and take the throne of creation, though what they intend to do as rulers once either of them get the throne is left unexamined. Khonsu, however, has no interest in the throne, but does seem interested in gaining the power of the sun god in order to become Ra. His rivals in this quest include Amon, Asura (as in the Asura Lord from Shin Megami Tensei), and Mithras. Vasuki, as a servant and mere proxy of Shiva, cares only that Shiva’s ambition to destroy and recreate the world via the Rudra Astra is fulfilled, and neither Vasuki nor Shiva seem to be interested in claiming the throne.
Shiva actually seems to be an interesting case on his own. He is referred to within the game’s story, but makes no actual appearance in the main plot. Instead, you can only see him after you defeat Vasuki and claim the Key of Austerity, but even then, meeting him is purely optional, and you only have to do it if you want to take on his subquest, “A Universe in Peril”, and fight him in a gruelling superboss battle. As for what Shiva wants, he has no intention of claiming the throne of creation, and believes that those who do contend for it in order to create the world in alignment with their will bring nothing but corruption. Thus Shiva believes that it is not right that the world should be created or recreated by its inhabitants, rather that the beings that inhabit the world should be created by the world alone, and to that end Shiva will destroy the universe on behalf of the god Brahma so that it can be created again. For a Chaos-aligned deity of the Fury clan, the worldview Shiva talks about seems to me like it would actually make for a pretty creative expression of the Law alignment. Traditionally, the Law alignment tends to stress alignment with the order and will of things usually couched in terms of divine law, and if that’s not the order of God as expressed in the traditional Order of Messiah style Law ideology, it can be something more generic such as “harmony with the world” as in Devil Summoner 2 or something more abstract such as the way the Reasons all work in Nocturne.
A Shin Megami Tensei game seeking to present a Law path not defined strictly by the Abrahamic context might seek to pursue Law as defined by a belief that it is the world, or universe, or even a more trans-cultural expression of the Great Will, that bears the sole right of creation and dominion, while opposing any notion of you or anyone being able to create on your own or establish your own order. This can be drawn from multiple contexts, though an easy way to meld both Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic contexts would be an abstract “Will of Heaven”, deriving from the use of the term in Confucianism, as the principal agency of Law, of which God and his minions as well as non-Abrahamic gods. It might seem weird talking about this in what is supposed to be the Chaos section, but it is one of the myriad gods expressing this idea, and on that note, it also kind of underscores what I consider to be another wasted opportunity. When I saw Zeus, Odin, Khonsu, and Vasuki being revealed as representatives of Bethel from different international branches, keeping in mind the impression that Bethel was going to be the Law faction in the game, I thought that perhaps we might be seeing a return to Law and Chaos as inclusive absolutes in the way that they were in the original Shin Megami Tensei and Strange Journey. But that turned out not to be the case. Instead all Bethel amounted to was a cooperation pact between gods and angels, which the gods only partook in on the assumption that God was still alive and the Condemnation was still in effect.
But in any case, we come now to the final stretch of the game, at the end of the Temple of Eternity, where the final alignment break occurs and you must choose between three paths towards the end of the game. Choosing “Recreate the world and save Tokyo” is the Chaos path, and puts you on the side of Tsukuyomi and Yuzuru in their quest to bring Japan back under the governance of the Amatsukami and the world under the governance of the myriad gods. A little reminder of just what side this entails, on your way through the Empyrean you can find Ongyo-Ki, a Chaos-aligned Brute demon, who tells you that he and his kind have set aside their differences with the Amatsukami in order to realise the common goal of restoring the world of the myriad gods.
As was the case in the Law path, taking the Chaos path unlocks two subquests exclusive to the Chaos alignment. The first of these is “The Red Dragon’s Invitation”, which requires the completion of “The Holy Ring” to access. It involves you meeting the demon Nebiros in the Empyrean, who invites Chaos-aligned players to come and see Belial at the castle once ruled by Arioch. Of course, if you somehow aren’t sufficiently Chaos-aligned by this point, Nebiros asks you to pay 666,000 Macca before letting you see Belial. When you meet Belial he praises you for your power to defy the Condemnation and considers you as an ally in the goal of destroying the order of God, or the world of order. This reinforces the demons of chaos you fought before and the polytheistic gods you now side with as sharing the same goal: overturning God’s order and gaining the power to recreate the world. Belial then has you go and defeat Michael, who you previously had a hand in freeing, so that Belial will lend you his aid. Of course, if you took the Law path, Belial will instead oppose you and you will have to defeat him. Another Chaos-exclusive subquest is “The Wrathful Queen”, in which the goddess Maria, awaiting her disappearance with the creation of the new world, transforms into the goddess Inanna upon seeing that you have the Seed of Life and intend to “craft a world unlike any that has come before” (seems a tad ironic considering you mean to restore a multitude of gods). Defeating Inanna grants you the right to fuse and summon her.
After defeating Abdiel, Nuwa, and then Lucifer, the last of whom you’d think would join your side on this path considering he is the Lord of Chaos after all, you usher in the recreation of the world as planned, to bring about a world where many gods reign and gods reside in everything that exists. Essentially, you’re supporting a cosmos that is polytheistic and seemingly animistic as well, much like the Shinto cosmos and several Pagan cosmoses. Once again you don’t get to see what that world looks like, all you see is a big white disco ball and the gods Zeus, Odin, Khonsu, and Shiva suspended mid-air in different directions so as to indicate that this is the polytheistic cosmos of the Chaos path, and all you have to go on is Goko’s narration. You remake the world into one governed by a multitude of different gods, and its inhabitants offer their faith equally and live in a diverse, ever-changing society. Supposedly this life is difficult at least for those who lack conviction of their own, while those who think for themselves come together and do great things. Apparently irreconcilable differences in ideology result in constant conflict, and the world is now filled with strife, but to choose and to be able to choose is better than to be chosen for, and those who choose for themselves are responsible for their own choices.
At this point we should note that, between the Law and Chaos endings, the narrator inserts what are the apparent feelings of the protagonist. In the Law ending, Goko tells us that the protagonist is pleased with his work, while in the Chaos ending, Goko tells us that the protagonist is sad but holds to his beliefs anyway. This is unusual for a Shin Megami Tensei game, arguably contrary to its overall spirit, since the whole point of Shin Megami Tensei’s protagonists being silent protagonists is that this gives the player to insert their own values, emotions, and thought process into that character. Here, however, it’s suggested that the story decides how the protagonist feels about certain outcomes, when the whole point is that in Shin Megami Tensei, as Kazuma Kaneko once said, everyone has their own criteria for victory. Not to mention, why should the protagonist be pleased with his work when creating a world where nobody can think for themselves and people mostly just exist to have faith in God, and why should the protagonist be sad to have created a world where diversity means everyone disagrees with each other? It makes me suspect that the game’s narrative implies a bias in favour of the player governing a new world in a dictatorial fashion, or at least in favour of ordered consensus maintained through unitary divine authority, and against any outcome that entails that humans have to fight for what they have and figure things out amongst themselves.
But in any case, the cosmos presented to us in the Chaos ending makes a lot of sense when observed in terms of the cosmoses that we often see in polytheistic belief systems. In a cosmos consisting of multiple divines, divinity cannot be a unitary thing. A singular supreme being, therefore, in the strict sense does not exist. The closest thing to that would be the king of the gods, and in Greece and Rome we see that some philosophers, such as the Stoics, developing towards a more monistic or monotheistic worldview, would sometimes lean towards Zeus, as the king of the Greek gods, as the logical representation of the supreme divine principle, but even the king of the gods is not usually an absolute ruler, he occasionally meets challenges to his authority, and his power is not capable of overriding the fate that is immanent in the cosmos. Sometimes this king also answers to something greater than he, such as Zeus himself who seems to answer to Nyx. But in any case, the consistent polytheist cosmos brooks nothing like monotheistic notions of God, and there isn’t the same notion of a supreme being. It’s interesting that the Chaos ending implies a kind of anarchy, in the classical colloquial sense communicated by the ceaseless strife of a headless society. The etymological root of the word anarchy is in the Greek word anarkhia, which means “without a leader” or “without a ruler”, the word “arkhos” meaning “ruler”. Another similar Greek word is “arkhe”, which means “beginning” or “origin”, can be interpreted as meaning “first principle” or “dominion”, and in ancient Greek philosophy denoted an original principle from which all else originated, which was central to what would become a quest to define the single, supreme principle underlying all things, perhaps presaging an eventual philsophical turn towards monotheism. The polytheism of the Chaos path is anarchy two sense; it is anarchy in the sense that it is without a single ruler, and it is anarchy in the sense that it has no supreme principle. There is no arkhe, there is a diversity and multiplicity of divines, principles, values, that live amongst each other, and occasionally clash with each other. But this in many ways is more consistent with Chaos in Shin Megami Tensei’s traditional context than anything. It is the cosmic fufillment of its most consistent goal: co-existence involving demons and the gods of old, boundless freedom, no supreme ruler. In fact, I would argue that this state of things could be the chaos that Arioch alluded to, from which true freedom is born. Chaos, then, is a state of affairs in which there is no supreme principle ruling the cosmos, as well as the strife that apparently accompanies it. Ironically, however, nearly all of the gods shown here, except Shiva, are officially Neutral as members of the Deity clan (all of whom are Neutral).
Thus, we have established the nature of the Chaos alignment in Shin Megami Tensei V. It is an ideology centered around the destruction of the current order of things so as to replace it with a cosmos with no supreme ruler and a multiplicity of overseers. The headless nature of this cosmos implies not just diversity but limitless possibility and freedom, but it is to be taken that this leads to strife, uncertainty, and disorder. Being Chaos-aligned, then, is about being willing to accept the strife and disagreement that comes with the freedom of the headless cosmos.
We have established the Law alignment as represented by angels seeking to preserve and/or renew the monotheistic order of God, and we have established the Chaos alignment as represented by a multiplicity of gods and demons seeking to recreate the world and regain their lost divinity. So what is Neutrality between these two options? Who represents the Neutral path here? There are multiple characters who are Neutral in a very strict sense, in that they don’t formally align with either the Law and Chaos factions. But Neutrality, in the Shin Megami Tensei sense, is not merely a lack of affiliation between both camps, but an ideological stance that is defined in its explicit rejection of Law and Chaos. What does that mean here?
We are introduced to the Neutral path pretty early on in Shin Megami Tensei V, as soon as you enter the Diet Building. There you meet Nuwa, the Chinese goddess who created mankind, who is seen having just slaughtered an army of angels. Given that you’re introduced to the angels as essentially the forces of order or Law, your initial impression may have been that Nuwa represented the Chaos alignment, and as a Chaos-aligned Lady that would make sense, but the game soon makes it clear that this is not the case. After you “defeat” Nuwa (or more accurately whittle her HP down to half), a man named Shohei Yakumo, who calls himself an “exterminator of demons”, appears to interrupt your battle, and initially intends to kill you. When Nuwa persuades Shohei to spare the protagonist, he relents, and you have the opportunity ask who they are and what they want. Nuwa explains to you that Bethel is their enemy because they serve the same God of Law that stole the “Knowledge” of the other gods and turned them into demons, and that she also considers many of God’s opponents to be no better than him, calling them “opportunistic cretins” who only seek chaos to fulfill their own selfish desires. Thus Shohei’s self-appointed mission is to kill both the forces of Bethel and the demons of chaos, and he will oppose you for as long you seem to work for Bethel at least.
It is important to bear in mind what we already established when discussing the Chaos alignment. The forces of chaos that Nuwa is likely referring to are the demons who seek to reclaim their lost “Knowledge” in order to regain their divinity and destroy God’s order. These are concrete goals, not reducible to wantonness, and as a goddess who herself was one of the gods whose “Knowledge” was confiscated thus leading to her desecration, one would assume that she would have a common goal with those demons. But instead, Nuwa’s opinion is that the demons seeking to restore their former divinity, albeit through violent means, are equally as bad as the God that she describes as having stolen her “Knowledge” and enforcing tyrannical absolute rule over the cosmos. It’s like a kind of cosmic centrism.
Much later on, Shohei reappears in Akihabara, in the Chiyoda area of Tokyo, slaying demons and angels left and right, and prepares to confront the protagonist. Here Shohei and Nuwa are shown to disagree with each other. Nuwa appears to see something in the protagonist, it’s not exactly clear what, while Shohei hates you for ostensibly being content to fight for Bethel in spite of your strength. Once you defeat him, though, he begins to change his mind after being sufficiently impressed by your strength, as the one who previously defeated Lahmu, but is still baffled that you seem to still work for Bethel. He views demons as parasites who manipulate and corrupt any human they set their sights on, declares that they are a blot that must be cleansed, and rhetorically challenges you to prove that demons are worth fighting for.
There’s a pretty obvious problem with Shohei’s militant anti-demon attitude. His companion throughout the game is Nuwa, who by the game’s terms is a demon, a being who lost her divinity because of the Condemnation established by God. Thus, she too is one of the desecrated beings that Shohei pledged to exterminate. Apparently Nuwa is the demon who has been with Shohei since he was young. But when Shohei was young, a demon possessed someone and killed his whole family, and that’s his primary motivation for wanting to exterminate demons. Why then was Nuwa not one of the demons he sought to kill? As it turns out, they have a common goal, one that will be explored in good time.
After you defeat Arioch, Shohei appears again to congratulate you on slaying the demon king, who he describes as an “ugly sore”. He thinks that Arioch’s defeat will lead to humanity being on even footing with the demons, since humans are able to not only fight demons but also pit demons against each other. Aogami then interjects, saying that only a few people can fight off the demons, whereas most people can’t and will die as a result. To Aogami, this doesn’t seem good for humanity. Shohei, however, will have none of it, and refuses to listen to Aogami on the grounds that he is an artificial demon, a “Bethel construct”, a “slave to his programming”. He then seemingly justifies the possible sacrifice in human lives by asserting that those who cannot fend for themselves are better off dead, since their will to live is meaningless without the will to fight. He further asserts that those who “give in to temptation” and “betray one’s fellow man” should never have been born in the first place.
Those who played Shin Megami Tensei V and got to that point were probably taken aback by how cruel and cold-hearted Shohei’s philosophy is. In fact, it can’t have escaped anyone’s notice that Shohei is basically saying that it doesn’t matter how many humans die in their ceaseless war against demonkind because the weak, that’s what Shohei is referring to, are better off dead and those who were going to be weak-willed and incapable of asserting strength shouldn’t have been born. In Shohei’s worldview, the weak don’t deserve to live. This is a Social Darwinist worldview, albeit somewhat toned down compared to other games in that the criteria seems to be mental strength and the will to fight rather than physical strength and the ability to exercise brute force. This has led many to assume that Shohei is actually Chaos-aligned rather than Neutral, despite the obvious problem with that being that Shohei’s goals are undoubtedly consistent with traditional Neutrality, upholding the sole agency of humanity against God and the demons.
An important thing to note about Social Darwinism in Shin Megami Tensei is that, although typically associated with Chaos both by fans and within the games, the idea that Chaos equals Social Darwinism is, as I have established before, actually sort of a deeply-ingrained myth. While Shin Megami Tensei, Strange Journey, and Shin Megami Tensei IV all have a Chaos alignment that has some kind of might makes right component to their overall ideology, it is generally if not entirely absent in the Chaos alignment as featured in Shin Megami Tensei II, Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, Devil Summoner 2, and, as I have elaborated here, Shin Megami Tensei V, as well as the New Chaos route in Strange Journey Redux. So for at least half the series Chaos had barely anything to do with any might makes right ideology, and the extent to which it commits to that changes and varies from game to game. The most consistent thing about Chaos is that it’s all about wanting the most freedom possible, being willing to defy God or the Great Will to realize it, and the will to live with such a world consisting of strife and disharmony. Meanwhile, some extent of Social Darwinism is not exclusive to the Chaos alignment. In Strange Journey, the Three Wise Men, representatives of the Law alignment, say that the “spiritually enlightened whose wills are strong” will get to live in the new world while “the fallen humans whose wills are weak” will be destroyed. Only the strong will live, while the weak will die, but this is predicated on will rather than brute strength, so in that sense it’s not altogether different from Shohei’s philosophy of life except that God is in the equation. In Nocturne, we see three Reasons that are all different visions of a Thousand Year Kingdom as constructed under the auspices of Kagutsuchi, an avatar of the Great Will, and the Yosuga Reason, which I must stress is supported by the angels, is a Thousand Year Kingdom that selects membership based on a concept of “beauty” that is defined by power and brute strength. Even if not predicated on a might makes right style of selection, the Thousand Year Kingdom has always had a sort of elitist undercurrent to it, with its emphasis that only a chosen few get to live in it. So in this sense, not only is Social Darwinism not the exclusive item of the Chaos alignment, it has also been seen to some extent in the Law alignment, and now Shohei Yakumo represents the series coming full circle where Social Darwinism, if anything the same kind seen in Strange Journey’s Law alignment, has been represented as an expression of Neutrality.
Shohei’s Social Darwinism does not come from some vague Hobbesian argument about how too much freedom or the abolition of the state will result in a brutal war of all against all (as is frequently implied for the Chaos alignment) or from a belief in God’s salvation being predicated on strength of will as applied to faith resulting in the exclusion of the weak as defined by their proclivity to temptation (as is occasionally seen in the Law alignment). Instead, Shohei’s Social Darwinism emerges from his exterminationist crusade against the demons, who he thinks are parasites that need to be cleansed from the world. Although Shohei doesn’t ever establish why he opposes Bethel or God’s order in particular, it seems reasonable to assume that he views Bethel and the angels as just more demons, more parasites to be cleansed from the world. His crusade demands strength of will, defined by the will to fight and not be influenced by demons, including angels. If many people die as a result, then that is to be considered acceptable on the grounds that the weak will fall while the strong will prevail, and that those who can’t find it in them to fight the demons and reject their promises don’t deserve to live. Thus, we see a Neutral Social Darwinism, for the first time in the series.
This itself ostensibly springs from another motivation, at least as recounted by Nuwa. Supposedly his harsh philosophy of life, particularly his willingness to leave the weak, “those who’ve given up”, to the wolves is motivated not out mistrust for his fellow man but precisely because of his love for humanity, and his belief in the potential strength of humanity. Nuwa explains that Shohei was born into a family whose men were all law enforcement officers, while his mother was a medium who helped the souls of people who were troubled by “dark spirits”, one of whom possessed a man who then slaughtered Shohei’s family. She then says that those who have neither the desire nor capacity to redeem themselves, and will only ever know violence and evil, should simply be struck down without hesitation, stressing that “pretty words” are not enough to save the world. This is the context in which Shohei comes to form his cruel worldview.
Another important contour of Shohei’s Social Darwinism concerns human potential. Those who give up on themselves are people who abandon their potential, specifically their potential to fight demons, and are thus undeserving of life. There is a philosophy in real life whose ideology seems to align with Shohei’s worldviews to some extent. Its adherents refer to it as “longtermism“, and its basic premises are surprisingly mainstream. Longtermism is basically the philosophy which holds that the long-term potential of the human species is the most important ethical value there is. Under this philosophy, the loss of life in itself matters less than the potential that disappeared with that life. It also means that even the worst effects of climate change and the devastation and death that comes with that is all just a blip so long as mankind manages to recover their “potential”. The Social Darwinist implications of longtermism manifest for some of its adherents in the idea that the lives of the rich, or people in rich countries, should be prioritized over the lives of the poor, or people in poor countries, because supposedly the wealthier countries have more innovation and their workers are more productive, thus the poorer and less productive would be left to die in a world run by longtermist principles. Swap rich versus poor with strong versus weak, and what emerges is the idea that it is better that the strong continue to live and better that the weak either die or not even be born, since the strong (of will, at least) carry more long-term potential than the weak (again, of will at least). That idea is at the heart of Shohei Yakumo’s worldview: the weak, “those who give up”, “those who give in to temptation”, they are bad because they abandoned what could have been their potential as demon exterminators who lead a world meant for humans and only humans. That longtermism should focus squarely on human potential should make it no surprised that it seems to make its way to a Neutral character.
Towards the final stretch of the game, when you reach the end of the Temple of Eternity and the forces of Law and Chaos are arguing with each other and showing their hands, Shohei appears abruptly, interrupting the conversation to announce his own plans for the throne of creation. His plan is to destroy the throne, believing that doing so will allow humanity to shape their own world. And if you take his side and resolve to destroy the throne, that is what you will do as well, and so begins the Neutral path. This also leads to you losing the favour of the Goddess of creation, and it’s here that we briefly mention her role in things.
Tao Isonokami, your classmate, died in the fight against Lahmu. After the Bethel summit, Tao reappears as the Goddess of creation, who seems to literally be the Megami in Shin Megami Tensei V, come to accompany the Nahobino in creating a new world after the fall of God and the disappearance of the Shekinah Glory. Taking either the Law or Chaos paths sees you reshaping the world by assuming the throne of creation, whether that means recreating the old order set by God or creating a new divine order entirely, and so the Goddess supports this. Destroying the throne, however, means denying the process of creation, which according to the Goddess means denying the will of the universe (that will being creation, of course), and she cannot support that, though for some reasons he makes no attempt to stop you from thwarting the literal will of the universe.
Anyways, there is something a tad peculiar about the ethos of Shohei’s quest to destroy the throne. He claims that it will mean humanity will shape their own world, presumably meaning without the demons or the gods, and in this regard we see a kind of humanism that is broadly consistent with the ethos of Neutrality as present in the rest of the Shin Megami Tensei series. But the peculiarity arises in the premise of shaping your own world. In the strict sense, both the Law and Chaos paths involve you, a human, albeit a human that is now also a Nahobino, shaping your own world. Nuwa certainly considers you human enough, at least in that you share his humanity, and, as Goko says, by assuming the throne of creation, your ideal world takes shape in the manner that you choose. In that sense, Shohei’s stated aims are surely already fulfilled in the act of creation, right? Well, the problem for Shohei seems to be that you ostensibly do not shape the world alone and as a human but rather co-create the world as a Nahobino alongside either the angels or the old gods, and it would seem that this renders the process of creation unacceptable in Shohei’s eyes, no doubt since to him this means cooperating with the demons and “giving in to temptation”.
And yet, this objection is ultimately hypocritical. On either the Law or Chaos paths, Shohei and Nuwa interrupt your ascent to the throne, to stop you from assuming the throne so that Shohei can destroy it. Shohei declares that this is “the end” for gods and demons. But how does he try to bring this about? Why, by fusing with Nuwa in order to become a Nahobino, of course! Keep in mind that Shohei opposed the player for being a Nahobino on the grounds that this meant him being a demon. In fact, he’s so sure that Nahobinos are demons and therefore enemies that he proclaims “and you are no exception!” when ranting about this being the end for god and demon alike. Yet for some reason he’s quite content to be a Nahobino himself or help Nuwa become a Nahobino. So if you happen to oppose him towards the end of the game, all that talk of not needing gods or demons ends in Shohei not only depending on the power of a demon/god but also becoming a Nahobino in order to try and defeat you. In this sense, Shohei really can’t complain about humans depending on demons/gods, let alone co-creating the world with them, since at least half of that is what Shohei ends up doing himself, or really the entire time if you want him cooperating with Nuwa for basically the whole game. To be honest, though, I think the whole setup is just constructed in a way so that it arbitrarily matches the dynamic of the Reason boss fights from Nocturne. Just as Hikawa, Chiaki, and Isamu all summoned the gods of their respective Reasons, gain new demonic forms in which they seem to have physically merged with those gods, and then you fight them depending on which ending path you took, the same thing happens in Shin Megami Tensei V for Ichiro fusing with Abdiel, Yuzuru fusing with Tsukuyomi, and Shohei fusing with Nuwa, but in a much more condensed and contrived fashion.
Only one exclusive subquest is unlocked in the Neutral path, and that is “The Noble Queen”. Here the goddess Maria, yet again awaiting her disappearance with the creation of a new world, transforms into the goddess Danu upon seeing that you have the Seed of Life and intend to “have humanity live for themselves”. Defeating Danu gives you the right to fuse and summon her. Curiously, Danu is the only Lady in the game who is Neutral instead of Chaos-aligned.
So, you progress through the Empyrean, Shohei dies trying to fight Abdiel (he’s rather embarassingly killed by the gust of air that flows from Abdiel becoming a Nahobino, and so does anyone you side with before the first Nahobino fight in any path in the game for some stupid reason), laments that he failed to fight for the future of humanity, and Nuwa survives to plead with you to succeed where she and Shohei failed. After this you defeat Abdiel, and then Tsukuyomi, but you don’t get to fight Lucifer at all for some reason, in fact Lucifer doesn’t bother to show up at all to tell you what he thinks about you destroying the throne. Instead, after defeating Tsukuyomi, nothing happens except you fly up to the throne of creation, and then shatter it. Goko trembles in shock and horror as the process of creation is denied, and laments that chaos will continue to grip this world.
And what happens then? Once again, you don’t really see anything except a big white disco ball, and this time your classmates, Hayao Koshimizu, Abdiel, and Goko all standing upside down in mid-air. Goko narrates that the battle of the gods came to an end, but its victor relinquished his right to rule creation, resulting in the denial of creation and the continuation of the current status quo, which means the “agents of chaos” continuing to run amok. The human species somehow survives and finds a way to combat the demons, but forces the demonkind are still overwhelming, and many people are expected to die in the neverending war. We are assured, however, that humanity will definitely find victory somehow, because they have the power of knowledge and creation on their side. The player is left to observe the disarry of things, and is pleased not by the outcome but by the thought of what is yet to come; in other words, the player is kept going by the long-term potential of the human species, which no doubt cushions the thought of all those sacrifices you set into motion.
I’ve made numerous comparisons to Nocturne throughout this essay, and I don’t intend to stop now, because this ending is essentially the Demon ending from that. Not the True Demon ending introduced in the Maniax edition, but the original Demon ending, in which defeat all of the Reason bosses, but you don’t get to fight Kagutsuchi as the final boss, and because you either rejected all three Reasons but lacked courage or tried to support too many Reasons at once, Kagutsuchi leaves in disgust, the process of creation is denied, and the Vortex World remains for a thousand years, thus leaving the world in a limbo state teeming with demons. One difference, I suppose, is that in Nocturne’s Demon ending you’re the last man alive, and the only other humans that survived the Conception were either killed by your hand or sacrificed, whereas here there seem to be some humans left that we don’t know about, given that once again all of your classmates and human allies are dead (which, to be fair, happens no matter what path you take anyway). Interestingly, this ending, rather than the Chaos ending, is the ending in which we are explicitly told that chaos in the sense of the lack of order is present in the world, presumably meaning that, in the Chaos ending, there is ironically still some order, just that there is no supreme, absolute order, but refer a multitude of orders, just that there is strife between them. But whereas, as Pierre Joseph Proudhon might have put it, anarchy seems to be prove to be the mother of order in the Chaos path, in this Neutral path, there is neither anarchy nor order, only the silence of creation and the desperation of mankind viciously struggling against demons, maybe forever.
And yet, in the eye’s of the game’s narrative, the real tragedy of destroying the throne is not so much the lives lost in the ceaseless between humans and demons but rather the fact that the potential to create a new world has been denied. When you begin your mission to destroy the throne, the Goddess laments that you carry the potential of an entire world and yet do not want to use it, and thus declares that you must not proceed to the throne. Goko’s panic and disappointment stems from the same thing: you have elected not to use “the potential of a world”, and thus the process of creation is denied, thus the world will not be reborn, it will not be “saved” from conflict by a new God or absolute ruler. The longtermist premise that it is the “potential” of humanity that is more valuable than the life of humans in itself is thus present not only in the worldview of Shohei Yakumo, but also in the agents of creation themselves who Shohei might have opposed. Every path you take except this one validates the process of creation and thus means you use that “potential” instead of abdicating it, thus the Goddess and Goko approve of the other paths. They do are concerned ultimately and principally that the long-term potential of the world or of humanity is fulfilled, made manifest through the act of creation.
This is where the “Destroy the throne” path ends. But, this is not the only Neutral path in the game, and thus it is not the end for our discussion of Neutrality in Shin Megami Tensei V. There is in fact another Neutral ending. A “secret” ending. The “good” or “true” Neutral ending, at least according to some. It does seem to be represented by a shining star when you get it in a clear save file, unlike all the others, and it has somewhat more exposition than the other paths, so clearly it’s supposed to be special. But what is it, what the goal of that path, and what is the outcome of it in the final hand?
To get this alternate Neutral ending, you first have complete a chain of subquests before reaching the Empyrean and choosing to destroy the throne. These are often whole chains of subquests leading up to you defeating certain demons as bosses and unlocking them for fusion. You must gain Fionn Mac Cumhaill as an ally, and to do that you must complete the “Fionn’s Resolve” subquest, which also requires you to complete three more subquests – “The Falcon’s Head”, “Root of the Problem”, and “An Unusual Forecast” – before it can activate. You also have to unlock Khonsu, which requires fighting him in “The Egyptians’ Fate”, and then sparing his life when given the option to finish him off. Then you have to complete “Winged Sun” by defeating Asura, Mithra, and Amon. Then after completing all those quests plus “The Falcon’s Head”, you then have to complete “The Succession of Ra” in order to defeat Khonsu Ra (or, as I prefer to call him, Ra) and unlock both him and regular Khonsu for fusion. You also have to complete “A Power Beyond Control” and defeat Amanozako gone berserk, and then complete “The Destined Leader” after getting all three keys to unlock Amanozako as an ally. You also have to complete “A Universe in Peril”, in which you have to fight and defeat Shiva, the main superboss of the game.
Once you complete all of those subquests, when you advance into the Empyrean into the Neutral path as normal, and then defeat Abdiel, Nuwa then reappears after the fight to reveal her true plan for the world. Although Shohei and Nuwa both wanted to destroy the throne, this was not actually their ultimate or end goal. Nuwa says that the real reason they participated in the struggle for the throne was so that they could claim the throne for themselves and use it to create a world where gods and demons no longer existed, thus making the world a “clean slate” for humanity. After defeating Tsukuyomi as normal, the Goddess approaches you from behind to tell you that you have the potential to rule the world, and beseeches you not to destroy the throne. This unlocks the choice between destroying the throne and the fourth path in the game: creating a world for humanity alone. The Goddess understands this as a world rid of both gods and demons, and determines that this too is the right of the ruler of a new world as an act of creation, thus the player can take the throne. This is where the alternate Neutral path begins.
The requirement of completing subquests to unlock the hidden Neutral path is very reminiscent of Shin Megami Tensei IV’s Neutral path, in which you are required to complete a series of side-quests, or Challenge Quests, in order to advanced the plot by putting you at the top of Hunter rankings, thus filling the Chalice of Hope. But whereas Shin Megami Tensei IV required you to do a lot of Challenge Quests to progress in Neutrality, in Shin Megami Tensei V, you only have to do subquests if you want the “best” version of Neutrality, and the Neutral path per se remains open without them. Still, progressing through Neutrality or unlocking one Neutral ending requiring side-quests does seem to be a weird trend for the last couple of mainline Shin Megami Tensei games. This may be to conjure some sense of Neutrality being harder to achieve than the other paths so as to artificially replicate the difficulty associated with Neutrality in older games. In older games, the challenge of Neutrality consisted in keeping your alignment in balance and fighting every powerful demon in your way. But here, you’re just supposed to complete a bunch of subquests. I suppose when you consider the Shiva and Khonsu Ra fights, it’s not entirely a cake walk. But again, the base idea seems like artificially inflating the challenge of Neutrality. Additionally, your alignment is barely indicated within the game and has no effect on you getting a Neutral path.
But let’s focus on the main goal of this path: creating a world for humanity alone, ridding the world of all gods and demons. There’s already a glaring problem with this premise. Why would Nuwa, a goddess demoted to demonhood, accept being erased from the fabric of existence? If you elect to create a world where gods and demons no longer exist, that means the gods/demons who supported you will be erased and disappear from the cosmos. This includes Aogami, who however artificial is still a demon. But Aogami would go along with whatever you wanted anyway, since he only exists to serve the protagonist and lend him his strength. Nuwa, however, is not artificial, and has a will of her own, yet the question of why she would consent to her own annihilation is simply never addressed by the story. She does say that, as a goddess, she is partial to humans as “her own creation”, but this hardly explains why she should want herself and all the other gods and demons wiped out.
The other question, though, is why should you consent to the annihilation of your demon allies, or for that matter the abolition of your own state as a Nahobino? This question harkens to another glaring problem that emanates from the core premise and mechanic of the game. You want to rid the world of gods and demons, but you wouldn’t be anywhere without them. The desire to wipe out all gods/demons is essentially predicated on Shohei’s belief that demons are no good for humanity and will only destroy humans, but the entire reason for your survival in the world of Da’at is that you were found and saved by a demon, albeit an artificial one, then through him became a Nahobino, thus, by the game’s terms, an at least partially demonic being, and then further still recruited, summoned, and fused demons as allies to support you. And not only has your survival depended on the help of demons, but so too does that of your classmates. Both Yuzuru and Ichiro only have a fighting chance in Bethel because they have demons (or angels, as the case may be) on their side, and the classmates who got dragged into Da’at by Lahmu’s minions might have been killed had it not been for the protection of the demons who live in the Fairy Forest. Even Shohei’s whole plan sees him cooperating with Nuwa and the plan outlined by Nuwa is completely dependent on the assistance of a demon/god and the process of becoming a Nahobino, and from there the process of creation, which is thus co-creation.
Speaking of the Fairy Forest, for a game that likes to frame its basic story setting as a conflict between humans and demons, with demons increasingly established as little more than spiritual monsters, you encounter countless demons in Da’at who are friendly enough to you. You encounter tons of demons that just want you to give them items, you encounter Amanozako who is probably the least threatening personality in the game despite being based on a wrathful yokai goddess, the fairies obviously want no trouble for the humans, and there’s plenty of demons simply have no interest in humans let alone their death. Shohei is convinced that demons are all parasitic threats to humanity that need to be wiped out, and this premise is immanent in both of the game’s Neutral ending paths, but you can play through the whole game and ask yourself, is that really true? Do all gods and demons deserve to die because one demon killed his whole family, or for that matter because Lahmu abducted your classmates is shown to be responsible for the deaths of two people? Could you imagine Shohei applying this logic in reverse, to declare that humans need to be wiped from existence because a human killed a couple of demons or indeed other humans? Or is this all transparently nothing more than the reasoning of pure pogromist hatred?
To “create a world for humanity alone” means the genocide of gods and demons, all of whom are non-human lives, which is to say still lives. You are committing genocide against non-human life, for the purpose of creating a world populated only by humans. Of course, the game doesn’t frame it that way, but I’m sure that’s because if it did you would be acknowledged as the villain in the game’s story, and that’s still a pretty polite way to describe your actions. Thus, the act of a Neutral creation echoes some of the omnicidal aspects of traditional Neutrality. After all, it’s not like the Neutral endings of the older games didn’t have you slaughter everyone who stood in the way of your vision, including all your friends and many gods and demons. But even then, you weren’t in the process of becoming a god who could wipe out all gods and demons through the act of creation.
So, anyways, you ascend to the throne, and Aogami prepares to bid you farewell on account of the fact that he, as a demon, will be erased along with the rest, but then Lucifer interrupts in order to interject on the process of creation. Lucifer warns the player that, because humanity inevitably gives rise to demons, his vision of eradicating all gods and demons is destined to fail. And yet, he suggests that it is still possible to make your new world a reality. How? By traveling to “the realm beyond the earth and heavens”, engaging Lucifer in combat, defeating him, and the consuming his “Knowledge”, so that the world can be freed from the machinations of the “Mandala System”. All of this, of course, bears some explanation.
Given Lucifer’s title as the Lord of Chaos, it may be surprising that I did not cover him in the Chaos section of this essay. This is because, in Shin Megami Tensei V, Lucifer actually doesn’t have much to do with the Chaos path in particular, and is effectively absent for much of the game. In fact, his boss data shows that he’s actually Neutral in this game. Early in the game you see him declaring that God is dead and he has killed him and that he has ascended the Pillar Empyrean, before apparently scattering himself across Da’at. He apparently continues to watch over the player, though, and his voice can be heard encouraging the player when you’re about to have your first fight in the entire game. It seems that, after defeating God, Lucifer consumed his “Knowledge” and transcendent to a “higher level of existence”, “becoming more than He could possibly have imagined”, and learned of the existence of the Mandala System. It’s never actually clear what this “Mandala System” is, but it is described bad a “spatial governing phenomenon”, and it is implied, at least in its Japanese rendition, to be the intrinsic, absolute law of the universe. This law seems to be responsible for the inevitable decay and replacement of each new creation, and the overthrow of its ruler by the next. It is, in other words, the cycle of death and rebirth, not unlike as it appears in Nocturne.
Every ending path, except for the “Destroy the throne” ending, sees Lucifer emerge to tell you that no matter what you do your new world will not last forever, that it will eventually end, a new Da’at will eventually appear heralding the destruction of the current world, and you will be overthrown by a new Nahobino. Each time you fight him he tells you that he has found a way to ensure true freedom, which is for you to defeat him and consume his “Knowledge” just as he did for God, and every time you defeat him he disappears into energy after telling you that you ensured that the world will “truly be free”. Strangely, he tells you this even if you defeat him on the Law path. In fact, he doesn’t seem to have anything to say against reinstating God’s order and create a world where nobody thinks for themselves, or for that matter anything to say in support of you creating a world in the hands of myriad gods despite apparently trying to make it so the demons could become gods again. He doesn’t even seem to oppose you wanting to wipe out all demonkind, despite traditionally being the king of the demons, and his only objection is that if you don’t consume his “Knowledge” then the demons will inevitably return, and if you simply destroy the throne of creation he has nothing whatsoever to say. He only really cares that you overcome him and gain his “Knowledge”, and it doesn’t seem to matter to him exactly what you intend to do afterwards. He tells you same thing in all fights with him. The difference is that in the “true” Neutral ending his base level is higher, he has more skills, and the fight is extended.
But in any case, you defeat Lucifer, and with that the process of creating a world for humanity alone begins in earnest. As before, you see a big white disco ball in space, and this time nothing else. And then, after the credits roll, you see something else. You see Tokyo, apparently restored exactly as it was before the events of the game, you and your friends alive again, it feels a lot like the very beginning of the game. There are also two versions of you in Tokyo, one of them has yellow eyes. Goko narrates that the world of man had thus ended (strange, considering your whole mission was to create a world for humanity alone), and a new world order had arrived. This new world is to be like the old world, but altogether different. This new world was created off the back of the desire to be “free” from demons and the never-ending cycle of creation. But, Goko says, all things must eventually come to an end, and the question is asked, could the world truly exist without Mandala?
In other words, you don’t know if you’ve actually changed anything!
The whole point of this path was to erase the existence of gods and demons from the world, and create a world for humans alone, and that to do that you needed to consume Lucifer’s “Knowledge” in order to break away from the Mandala System in order to make sure your new world lasts forever. But when you actually see the ending play out, it seems possible that you might not actually have exited the Mandala System after all. Goko’s narration all but confirms this. He says, “but all things must eventually come to an end”. Breaking out of the Mandala System means exiting a never-ending cycle of creation, and in theory this should mean that the world you create will last forever. But if all things must eventually come to an end, this means that the world you just created is going to meet the same fate as any other, as though you didn’t consume Lucifer’s “Knowledge”, and the Mandala System might still exist and you and everything else are still in its grip. You have just enacted the genocide of all gods and demons, and consumed Lucifer’s “Knowledge” in order to do so, and yet for all you know, nothing has changed and you haven’t actually freed yourself from the cycle of creation, meaning you erased all gods and all demons for nothing.
This is actually worse than the “Destroy the throne” Neutral ending you might have gotten had you not completed those subquests and chosen to create a world for humanity alone. You went out of your way to clear those subquests, including defeating one of the hardest bosses in the game, you went through an extended final boss fight with Lucifer, and you annihilated all gods and demons through a single act of creation, but for all that, all you get is to see Tokyo exactly as it was, and the assurance that it will come to an end, that humanity can’t live without the Mandala System, and only the cosmos know what’s really going on. Perhaps the demons and Da’at might just come back after all. You did it all for nothing, just because maybe you couldn’t accept any of the other ending outcomes.
Beyond that, creating a world for humanity alone actually seems to play out very similarly to the Law ending. To be sure, you don’t co-create the world with the angels, and you don’t create a world where people only have faith in God and don’t think for themselves, but you restore Tokyo, and seemingly resurrect its inhabitants, things are more or less like the old order that existed beforehand, except for the lack of gods and demons of course, and nobody seems to remember anything that happened. You, of course, are the God of the new world, and the condition of the absence of gods and demons is ratified by your absolute divine will and sovereignty, but you don’t get to do much in your new world except observe things while a clone of yourself apparently lives your life. In that sense, the world for humanity alone can be thought of as the world of Law, governed by an absentee landlord instead of the traditional either God of Law or a similar replacement. In a sense, you have rejected the Law alignment and the Chaos alignment in favour of a somewhat more benign Law ending, sans God.
And what of the objections to Chaos here? No Neutral objections to the plans of Tsukuyomi are ever given. All you see is Ichiro argue that the myriad gods would never see eye to eye with each other and soon devolve into endless warfare and “eat each other alive” in a brutal contest of superiority. If we put aside that the major conflict in the game was started by the monotheistic God of Law, creating a world for humanity alone is shown to never resolve that. Tokyo is restored exactly as it was, which means the Tokyo of this world, the real world in which the game is set. You don’t need a genius to figure out that humans can fight and kill each other just fine on their own, without the influence of God or any demonic agents. Conflict, violence, endless war, these will all continue, and in a world with humans alone, no gods or demons, that all happens with human hands, on human terms, against fellow humans. If the Neutral objection to Chaos is anything like the Law objection in that a Chaos outcome would be bad because everyone disagrees with each other and strife is inevitable, well, with Tokyo restored as it is, disagreement is as common as it is human, and there will always be some discontent, and therefore strife between fellow humans.
Not to mention, in both the Law and Chaos endings, you fight and defeat Lucifer, and Lucifer says that with this the world will surely be free, just as he does in the “true” Neutral ending. Lucifer interrupts both the Law and Chaos paths in order tell you that your new world won’t last forever and invites you to fight him so that you can claim his “Knowledge”. Surely the Law and Chaos worlds too involve breaking out of the Mandala System? But these endings don’t discuss that the way the “true” Neutral ending does. Why does breaking out of the Mandala System only factor into one of the Neutral endings, and not the Law and Chaos endings where you do basically the same thing? But then I’m sure it wouldn’t matter in the end if that weren’t the case since you can’t even say you’ve broken out of the Mandala System anyway.
Neutrality in Shin Megami Tensei V is empty in a way that it truly never has been in any other Shin Megami Tensei game. Like all other expressions of Neutrality, its central basis is in the sort of humanism that echoed out from the basic impression of the scientific worldview presented by Stephen Hawking and/or similar atheistic figures, as understood by a Japanese audience of course. Here, though, godhood is the fulfilment of this humanism, thus divinity is embraced alongside its own repudiation. The demon-haunted world is vanquished by the power of a God forged in the flesh one who transcends the boundaries of human and demon. Godlessness is established by an absentee God, who once again eliminates all rivals to his uncontested power beforehand. And for that, the status quo is effectively restored. Or, alternatively, it is the rejection of two possibilities of creation in favour of realizing human dominance through constant violent struggle against demonkind. Both are guided by the belief that the potential of humanity outweighs the life of either humans or non-humans, meaning that bloodshed, sacrifice, and genocide all have no moral impact so long as it means mankind assumes and uses the potential at its disposal.
So, in summarizing the picture of the ideological dynamic at play in Shin Megami Tensei V, let’s recapitulate the three alignments one more time in succession.
Law is the ideology that upholds the idea of the necessity of a single cosmic ruler, and of an order of the cosmos and human civilization predicated on a hierarchy that revolves around the will of this ruler and the inscription of divine design, whose goal for the creation of a new world is simply the reproduction of a single ultimate truth that organizes human life in absolutism and on the basis of one faith.
Chaos is the ideology that upholds the idea of a cosmos that lacks a unifying supreme law, being, or “ultimate truth”, and a multiplicity of orders and gods, which prioritizes a freedom sourced from the lack of the hierarchy of God, whose goal for the creation of a new world is to abolish the old order of the God of Law in favour of a society where people must choose for themselves the gods they worship.
Neutrality is the ideology that upholds the idea of a cosmos that privileges humanity to the extent that humans are the only sentient beings meant to live in it, and where the “potential” of humanity to attain cosmic mastery is the paramount ethical value, which is to be acheived either through the denial of the process of creation, or the assumption of creation so as to wipe out all non-human intelligences that might compete with or exist alongside humanity.
As I have hopefully showm in certain ways Shin Megami Tensei V derives its alignment dynamic from the traditional Law and Chaos dynamic that emanates from the original Shin Megami Tensei, in certain ways it deviates from many conventional aspects of the Law and Chaos dynamic as presented throughout the Shin Megami Tensei series, and in certain ways it seems to bowlderize and simplify that dynamic. All taken together, it presents us with a dynamic of Law and Chaos is presented to us as though spat back out, regurgiated in what could have been construed as an an attempt to reimagine the core dynamic, resulting in a new product that seems to follow Goko’s description of the world created for humanity alone: akin to the old, and yet altogether different.
In my Postcriptum on the Chaos alignment in Shin Megami Tensei (linked at the bottom of this essay), I expressed the hope that, following the Redux edition of Strange Journey, the Chaos alignment would shed the might makes right conceits that were attendant to it in previous games (well, half the series more accurately) in favour of a radical recentering of Chaos ideology in alignment with an ahierarchical, anarchic co-existence with demons, predicated on a freedom born of the lack of a supreme authority over the universe, among many other things. I think that although co-existence with demons isn’t a strong theme in this game’s Chaos alignment, I think the pluralism displayed in the polytheistic diversity of the Chaos ending seems to suggest that, though it bears a great deal of expansion just as everything else in the game needs. Ultimately, however, even the Chaos ending is a disappointmnet, for the simple reason that a disembodied and alienated narration is the only expression of it, with no actual presentation of the new world, and this is the case for almost all of the other endings.
There is one final elephant in the room to discuss when it comes to the game’s story-world as it relates to the way the alignments are presented by the end of the game: the Goddess, that is to say the Megami in Shin Megami Tensei V. The Goddess seems to be partial to the use of absolute power to establish absolute order. When you reach the end of the Temple of Eternity, the Goddess appears in a vision of the Tree of Knowledge in which she proclaims that the Nahobino can reshape the world as they so choose, encourages you to become the divine architect, while also encouraging you to “show no hesitation” to those who want to “usurp your newfound reign”. This is to some extent reflected in the explanation of the three keys needed to open your way to the Empyrean: the Key of Harmony, the Key of Benevolence, and the Key of Austerity, each won by defeating one of the heads of the former branches of Bethel. These represent the virtues and expectations that the ruler of creation is meant to fulfilll. The ruler of creation is expected to preserve harmony, “be prepared to act for the sake of his people”, uphold the “power of benevolence”, “be willing to hear the voices of his people”, and most crucially “uphold austerity”, “show no leniency”, and “expect none in return”. The player is supposed to take God’s place as a “benevolent” dictator, establishing order through absolute power and will, brooking no opposition, perhaps under the presumption that you will be a more benign dictator than the God of Law was.
This reflects in the way the respective endings are treated in Goko’s narration, or more specifically in how he portray’s the player’s emotional response to this. In the Law ending, where you create a new world in the image of God’s former order and a society where no one thinks for themselves and exist only to have faith in God, Goko tells you that the new creator is pleased with his work. In the Chaos ending, where you abolish God’s order and create a new world consisting of a myriad of co-ruling gods, Goko tells you that the new creation is sad at the apparent strife that pervades the new world, just that he holds firm to his beliefs anyway. The “bad” Neutral ending where you destroy the throne has Goko tell us that the player is pleased with the thoughts of things yet to come, from which we can infer the new creator is not necessarily happy with the outcome he brought about. The “good” Neutral ending sees him looking forward to creating a new world with no more gods and demons in it, observing as its new absentee ruler. The paths which see the player take the position of omnipotent ruler of creation, even if in a non-interventionist sense, are to fill the player with gladness, hope, and/or contentment, while the paths in which the player either relinquishes absolute power or presumably shares power with other gods are to fill the player with doubt, sadness, or at least the prospect that it will all be over in the future. This appears to be the bias of the game’s narrative, and it privileges the potential of absolute power over any other conception of power and its distribution.
And with that, I conclude this essay. I hope that you have derived a good understanding of the various ideological contours at work in the story-world of Shin Megami Tensei V, and also that you have had a Merry Yule before reading this essay and continue to have a fun holiday season, as I certainly plan to.
So we’re coming up to the end of the year, once again, and to the simultaneous onset of darkness and return of the sun, the winter solstice, the seasonal end that brings forward the new. It’s a time of year for merry-making or simple relaxation, but it also seems appropriate a place for reflection.
This year has been pretty intense for me, for a variety of reasons. It’s a year in which I’ve crossed a fair number of thresholds in life, one which seems to have played host to a slow but potent change, if not in worldview then in its conception.
It was a year in which I still had a fulfilling relationship with a woman, only to see it slip away from my hands. It was also a year in which I ended some friendships, and rebuilt others. I had a friend from very far away for a few years, who I learned a lot from, in fact he ended up being the spark for my transition into a radical leftist worldview, but from breaking off from him I came to the conclusion that he was a manipulator whose intellect proved a more than capable disguise for his true personality and proved to be more of a crypto-fascist than he let on. And so I broke away from him. Almost at the same time, the relationship I had with the kind of woman I had waited for had ended. Without blathering excessively, I can say that she was the only woman I knew so far who, at least I thought, could simply take me as I am, “let me in” as it were, let me unravel before her and over her, and in return I wanted for nothing except for us to have our own life together and for me to fulfill my loyalty to her. But the pressures of life, particularly the struggle to maintain a living, the imperfections between us, and frankly mistakes I made, caused her to become distant from me even as I did not grow distant from her, until finally we lost what we had between us.
Between breaking away from a man who could have been considering a mentor, and having to end things with a woman who really seemed like she could have been “the one” (though we are still friends), it was like I had been shed of a host of bonds, and almost thrown back into the space before they had existed. The side-effect of that, of course, is that this meant the me that was there before had resurged and deepened, carrying new knowledge through the same timeless path whose clarity had been made manifest again. What do I mean when I say this? Once the bonds had been upended, and around the same time as this happened, my concurrent studies have led me back to an important place of essencing, towards what matters to me.
I spent the last months of last year and the first couple months of this year studying and reconnecting with the history of Luciferianism. What I learned is that Luciferianism is less of a religion and more an esoteric mytho-traditional counterculture, which centers around the mythos of Lucifer as the rebellious initiator of witchcraft, enlightenment, and/or the secrets of the occult along with a set of transgressive values more or less consistent with historical notions of what is called the Left Hand Path, and often with an attendant mode of ethical, spiritual, religious, and in some cases political anarchism. It then occurred to me that this could be formatted onto, or syncretized with, an existing religious perspective. My primary instinct for this was Paganism, and this became all the clearer to me after reading The Brazen Vessel by Peter Grey and Alkistis Dimech, as well through my encounters with the writings of Kadmus Herschel, reading his book True to the Earth, my short-lived fascination with Rhyd Wildermuth, and my eventual discovery of YouTube polytheism.
But this is yet a deepening of something that had always been there, in some way, even when I thought I had challenged or gotten away from it. From childhood, I revered nature, had little genuine interest in practicing Christianity and no interest in the church, told peers I believed in Jesus only to avoid possible punishment, and was fascinated throughout my life with the gods of old and their stories, along with those who still revere them. That theme continued through my eventual embrace of first Satanism and then later Luciferianism, and the eventual intellectual quest that I would undertake on behalf of the Luciferian Idea. That my mind should continually revisit some kind of Pagan perspective, and that, when I stand at the beginning and the end and seek a primary mode of spiritual expression, I should return to it, is not a surprise. It seems to be my fate.
But for years, the limits of secular humanism and the Enlightenment had impressed themselves upon me, and presented limits that conditioned the way I engaged with the religious and the spiritual. It’s a framework whose limits I don’t see myself as having fully transcended, but reading A World Full of Gods by John Michael Greer, as well as some of Kadmus’ posts, checking out some of Ocean’s videos, and observing the developments of atheism and anti-theism has helped me begin to make sense of it. It is then that I see some of the most salient anti-clerical ethos and ideas of Satanism, atheism, and in a sense Epicurean materialism, given greater meaning and religious sense in the Paganism that I have sought to renew and deepen, over time. Most recently, and pretty amusingly, I learned that even kink can be a religious activity, a knowledge that I think disrupts the imposed boundaries between secular life and religio-magickal life, and, ironically enough, showing the latter to be disruptive of normative societal expectation. The same insights have relevance to the pursuit of the occult, the deepening of which can only be accomplished by further study. But at present I’m now fairly agnostic about it, yet this itself is a kind of religious agnosticism, inherited from the skepticism expressed in Cicero’s De Rerum Natura, along with a more general wisdom regarding anything divine: you must experience it in order to actually “know” it. Ironically, this would mean that my concept of religious knowledge is fundamentally a “gnostic” one (in a generic sense prioritizing expriential gnosis as the vehicle of spiritual knowledge, not specifically the sense of the sects of world-denying Christian mysticism).
All of this has taken place throughout this one year, and as I approach the annual new dawn of the sun’s light, I am compelled to draw myself to reflection of all of that in one day. And there is but more. I see myself striving to eliminate the contradictions I once walked in, and take the politics of liberation more seriously than ever before, but in so doing reinvigorating my former self, once again in the light of new knowledge, and new ways of seeing liberation. That itself has but one mission: the fulfillment of liberation as an existential choice, and, in a much broader sense, the realization of the Luciferian Idea, to make it not merely fully internal, but external and total. Actually, there is another mission: to renew myself as I really am, in what could almost be thought of as a gestalt sense, and as a fighter ablaze with demon eyes. This is what comes not just with seeing previous bonds collapse but also being alerted to what matters, and remembering the reality of things. Seeing the truth of contemporary electoral politics unfold, knowing that people still die for their differences, internalizing that we either fight for what we have, what is our right, and what we desire as the future, or embrace the violence of our world unto ourselves forever, as its eternal human sacrifices to its own progress, and above all, revisiting the shadow of war, the war for life itself.
With that, be assured that my journey is far from finished, nor is my knowledge and discovery. I’m waiting for my life to change – no, I’m waiting for the chance to change my life – in a big way. I’ve gained a significant sense of mobility after so many years of struggling with driving lessons, and my work has resulted in a slow but certain growth in my savings such that exceeds anything I ever enjoyed as a student. I mean sure, there’s still a global pandemic out there, and that means dealing with the stifling “new normal” that comes with it, at least so long as there doesn’t seem to be much of a way out yet, but as long as human tenacity leaves from for us to adapt, and if we’re honest at least as long as my regional government ensures somewhat more favorable conditions than the rest of the union, I might well be able to just sort of kind of prosper. I seek to build a life so as to not merely cultivate myself but also to make my internal external, engrave strength into my life, create as I please, and glide my feet through the darkness. I will build my own world, so to speak, continue to follow William Blake’s maxim that I have emblazened on this blog, and one day, I will once again find one beautiful bright spark, like the one I had known before.
Now, to finally return specifically to the subject entailed in the title: Yule, Christmas, the holidays, whatever, The Winter Mass as I sometimes called it in the past. There’s a fluidity to genuine Paganism that makes some exclusionary attitudes to the festive season make remarkably little sense. “Christmas is Christian”, it is said, by Christians who insist it is their property and some non-Christians who seem to concur without a second thought. As Andrew Mark Henry has elucidated, in antiquity both polytheists and Christians celebrated the winter solstice, sometimes partaking the same celebrations, and for different yet altogether common reasons. Polytheists celebrated December 25th as what was recognized officially as the traditional Roman day of the winter solstice, while Christians calibrated the birth of Jesus as December 25th so as to correspond to a given date of his death, March 25th, and the life cycle of the sun and thus the cosmological significance of the winter solstice, all to ensure the full apotheosis of Jesus. It was not so much the birth of a single sun god but rather the specific appearance of the sun in a cosmological sense that marked the season, which was celebrated in any number of ways then as now, and rather than Christmas having been “stolen” from Pagans by Christians, everyone had their own solar narrative, celebration, and theology to correspond to that annual cosmological event, sharing its cosmological significance as expressed in differing religious significances.
On this basis, the only reason there need be to celebrate Yule in the same space as Christmas is because their divergent celebrations occupy the same cosmological space. Christmas is technically not Yule, Yule is technically not Christmas, but they overlap, and now in our largely secularized culture the exact boundaries between the two can be incredibly porous. Of course, from a consistent Pagan perspective, this should not matter as much as it would for Christians except when defining traditional contexts. Even if you’re doing a certain form of reconstructionism, from the standpoint of the polytheists of antiquity, there was no inherent reason to oppose the integration, syncretism, adoption, or interlocking of customs from any number of foreign traditional backgrounds into your own traditional context. The exceptions, such as the banning of the Bacchanalia in Rome and the explusion of Jews as worshippers of Sabazius were essentially politically driven, reflective not necessarily of polytheistic religiosity in its implications and premises but instead contemporary conservative agendas predicated on a distrust of foreignness and mystery tradition and the desire to preserve certain notions of archetypical moral order. In simple terms this would mean that, a Greek for example, could partake of the gods and customs of various other traditions, even from Judaism or Christianity (as is evidenced in the Greek Magickal Papyri). In some cases of later Christian missionary efforts to convert the polytheists, missionaries would recoil with frustration when some polytheists would react to the presence of Christianity by simply worshipping Jesus as one more of their multiple gods. This, incidentally, is part of the same argument by which I justify the incorporation of Luciferianism, left hand path occultism, and its attendant demonological tendencies as part of a Pagan practice, and even as expressions of rebellion defined within that same context.
In a similar sense it really doesn’t matter whether or not Odin was Santa Claus, not least because, I mean, you don’t actually worship Santa Claus do you? More to the point you can pretty easily lean into the whole “Yulefather”/Jolfadr connection as a meme, mostly for irony but also as a form of detournement; in this case, subverting the dominant secular capitalist culture by converting one of its archetypes into a representation of the gods of old. In that spirit, I was hoping this year to actually get a sweater themed around Odin as Jolfadr that I remember seeing three years ago for precisely this purpose. Unfortunately, however, the website that originally carried it has since disappeared. I ended up setting with a different sweater, themed around Lord of the Rings but sufficiently festive-looking and, with its particular colour scheme and a big fat Eye of Sauron at the centre, actually seems to fit my sensibilities as a fan of dungeon synth and black metal, to say nothing of the left hand path of course.
Well, anyway, that about does it for Yuletide reflections that I wanted to get off my chest. I might have reserved this post for December 25th, but Solstice is Solstice. Well, that and I have a big essay on Shin Megami Tensei V scheduled for Boxing Day, in lieu of my original plan to publish it in January 2022 at the earliest. So, have a happy Yule, a good solstice, a Merry Christmas, a festive winter mass, and a happy and vibrant New Year, if you can.
Back in August this year there was a controversy surrounding the Steelfest Open Air festival in Finland, which for about a decade had been one of the nation’s most prolific extreme metal festivals and is set to return in 2022, after the global Covid-19 pandemic prevented them and several other music festivals around the world from playing. The festival also attracted attention for the fact that Sodom and other famous and respectable metal bands were set to play there, and that the line-up also contained several bands that could be classed as NSBM (National Socialist Black Metal). There was a string of middling to mediocre responses over this, and several bands eventually cancelled their appearance at Steelfest and distanced themselves from it while other bands stayed in the line-up and some performatively distanced themselves from Steelfest’s detractors. This week, months after the original controversy started, the magazine Bardo Methodology hosted an interview with Jani Laine, the organizer of Steelfest Open Air, to discuss the festival and the attendant controversy surrounding it. The interview was conducted by Niklas Goransson, and it was very much a soft touch.
The interview is divided into two parts, and thus two separate articles, the first of which begins with a hefty dose autobiographical content detailing how Jani became a part of the underground metal scene. While it’s definitely good for if you want to know how he became a musician and started his own band, that’s not what I’m here to talk about. It also contains a great deal of retrospection about how Steelfest came to be, with Jani recounting how it began as basically a private party among close friends featuring a lot of metal music and booze before gradually morphing into an incorporated open air festival. Right away, though, there’s a problem.
Among the bands listed by Jani, we see the bands Goatmoon and Satanic Warmaster listed as “Finnish underground bands” alongside Horna and Barathrum, and a little later Goatmoon is cited as a strong representative of the Finnish black metal scene alongside Horna, Impaled Nazarene, and White Death. Bands like Goatmoon are discussed without anyone ever bringing up the well-known, well-documented fact that they are open neo-Nazis. The explicit neo-Nazism of Satanic Warmaster is never discussed either. Or for that matter the Nazi ties of Horna, or the fascism of Destroyer 666, Peste Noire, Graveland, or Nokturnal Mortum.
Where the interview does actually talk about the issue of Steelfest and Nazism begins here:
While Jani’s concept might be popular among those who attend his events, it turns out that not everyone is quite as enthusiastic. A Finnish activist group wrote no less than four full-length articles about the 2019 edition, proclaiming Steelfest a nazi festival on accounts of hosting bands like MARDUK, MGŁA, HORNA, and SEIGNEUR VOLAND. The latter, an old French black metal band, share their perspective on the matter as part of the massive print-exclusive feature in Bardo Archivology Vol. 2. The activists also published a list of Steelfest’s business partners, urging likeminded readers to take action.
Yeah…definitely nothing Nazi about these guys, I’m sure. But what does Jani say?
This domestic group, which is what you might call our local ‘SJW’ network, has been pestering us throughout our entire history. Those articles are downright embarrassing in terms of accuracy. They name an individual who has nothing whatsoever to do with Steelfest, nor any parts of the organisation, as owner of our company. Also, they claim to ‘know for a fact’ that we arrange festivals with supposedly ‘problematic’ record shops and labels. In reality, we’ve never collaborated with any of those mentioned: we’re busy enough with our own events. Fact or fiction means nothing to these people; they will run with whatever fits their narrative, no matter if it’s sheer fabrication.
It would seem that Jani is one of those reactionaries who still gasses on about “SJWs” towards the end of 2021. Jani never once specifies which record shops and labels are being considered “problematic” and which Steelfest was said to have arranged festivals with. Variverkosto specifies that Steelfest cooperates with groups like Horror Shop (an NSBM oultet), Werewolf Records (a record label run by the guy behind Satanic Warmaster and which houses a lot of NSBM bands), and KVLT Shop (which is owned by Sami Tenetz from Beherit and sells a shitload of Nazi merchandise). Kvlt Shop has frequently participated in Steelfest, as does Horror Shop. Already I kind of suspect that Jani might not be telling the whole truth.
Of course, Niklas does not challenge Jani on any of this, and instead his next question is simply “Did anything change as a result of this?”. The answer is obviously no, and then Jani goes on a ramble about how everyone who thinks he’s a fascist is part of a fanatical cult that’s out to destroy his business.
Their main goal was clearly to – in one way or another – inflict as much damage to our company as possible and create problems for Steelfest’s business partners. You know, that’s how these cults work if you cross them: no interaction or attempted dialogue, just terrorising. Your only means of escape is to cave in and obey. Cancel your performance, issue statements in support of their agenda, and deny your own history. Should a member of your band be deemed questionable, he must be kicked out immediately.
How much power does Jani think the people at Variverkosto have over him and the Finnish black metal scene? Considering that Steelfest still went ahead that year, I don’t think Jani was in any danger of getting censored or terrorized. And terrorized by what? Boycotts? Aren’t you supposed to be about “strength and honor” and all that shit? Come on, get real.
Then comes the question of “Did you take any counter-measures?”, to which Jani says:
Well, we spoke with the police – ‘What the hell is going on? Is it even legal to spread disinformation about other people like this?’ After a short investigation by law enforcement, they explained that this is an insignificant but extremely active group who employ such tactics to draw attention to themselves, and in doing so promoting their political ideology. The cops said that we were well within our rights to press charges for defamation, ‘but all that would accomplish is bringing them closer to their goal’. Ever since, we’ve simply ignored the efforts of this irrelevant little group.
OK, so the Finnish police probably had a right-wing bias. Not the biggest surprise, all things considered. But what’s really interesting is when the cops apparently said that the Steelfest guys were within their rights to press defamation charges, but advised against it because “all that would accomplish is bringing them closer to their goal”. Why? I mean, if Jani and the cops are right and the anti-fascists really are just defaming them and spreading misinformation, why would pressing charges against them help the anti-fascists? To spread their political ideology by being defeated in court, in a case that I’ll bet few people outside the metal underground would know or even care about? Don’t give me that shit. I’ll bet that if Jani did press charges, the anti-fascists would present the case against them, and then there’s a good chance that it would have been shown that there was more going on with the Steelfest crew than just some dumb, edgy centrism.
It’s then claimed that the anti-fascists urged people to contact the city of Hyvinkaa to shut down Steelfest, and that this didn’t work (well, obviously it didn’t work, if the festival happened at all), and then Jani claims that many public officers and even local council members have been to Steelfest and thus “have seen with their own eyes that this festival is nothing like what these totalitarian cults paint us out to be”. The irony of somebody hanging around with fascists and outright Nazis complaining about totalitarianism seems to be lost on far too many people these days, but more importantly there is reason to doubt that this is the case since this is the festival known for featuring bands and fans openly sporting Nazi salutes. Then again, I’m sure Goatmoon can’t be in every Steelfest line-up.
Then Jani makes a lot of out there claims about left-wing critics, such as this:
But let us acknowledge one thing here: such methods aren’t even remotely rooted in a wish for a civilised society. What once started from the ‘left side’ of politics isn’t promoting social democratic views anymore, if it ever did. Quite the opposite. Threats, blackmail, sabotage, social media harassment – all the shit they pull is reaching proportions of religious persecution. And on that note, there is something I want to say about this. I’m sure you’ve noticed the increasing polarisation; how one is forced to pick a side. Bipartisan interaction is no longer possible, right?
And here I thought the left were supposed to be the ones playing victim all the time. There’s not a chance that many of the things he describes are even remotely true. If we strictly go by the exact account of things, which is that some anti-fascists reported on fascist/NSBM bands playing at Steelfest (which, I assure you, there were a lot of them in 2019) and called on people to basically boycott the festival, does this really sound like religious persecution to anybody? Because I don’t think it does. I think Jani is being deliberately hyperbolic in order to garner sympathy in a community and time where he knows he might be capable of getting at least some people to support his side of the story, and Bardo Methodology won’t challenge him for it. Nor will they ask the most basic question, and it’s basically the same question I put to Rhyd Wildermuth just a few days ago: why do you want bipartisanship with fascists?
Nor will they challenge claims such as this:
Well, over the last decade we’ve witnessed the biggest transfer of wealth in recorded history. I don’t know, but one might think that something like this would warrant the slightest bit of concern from those who identify as being on the left side of the political spectrum. Instead, it seems to me as if the left has mutated and been subverted into its current incarnation – with their psychotic fixation on gender, race, intersectionality, or whatever the current buzzwords are. So, if the undivided attention of the left side is on these matters, rather than the biggest transfer of wealth in recorded history, then we must conclude that polarisation works. And then consider this: who is the winner when people are divided and fighting amongst themselves? Divide, conquer, and control both sides.
The suggestion here is that the left has chosen to ignore the issue of the largest transfer of wealth in world history in favour of a “psychotic fixation on gender, race, intersectionality”. This, of course, would require a great deal of ignorance about the left, which is noted for its proclivity to discuss economic inequality, gender identity, and race relations at once. You see, according to Jani’s smooth-lobed marshmallow brain, it is impossible for people to discuss multiple issues at the same time, let alone as being interdependent or interlocked with one another. Thus, he would have us believe that being a leftist means having to choose between talking about “identity politics” or talking about economics, even though every leftist talks about both, even the leftists that claim to hate talking about intersectionality. But for Jani this is all part of a conspiracy to divide and conquer the masses, whose puppetmasters “control both sides”. I wonder who Jani thinks these puppetmasters are, considering his known associations with neo-Nazis.
Niklas actually seems to think this conspiracy theory is valid, and devotes a paragraph not to questioning whether any of it is true or even who the supposed mastermind of it all is but rather to explaining what he understands to be the concept of dividing and conquering. Jani then further elaborates on his ideology of manic conspiracy centrism:
This is not about ‘NSBM’, nor is it about the left or right side of the political spectrum – that much should be blatantly obvious. And it’s working perfectly. The mindset of the left seems to be that banning someone or disapproving of their content, de-platforming or cancelling, will have the desired result: getting them to start ‘behaving’. This is because these people are under the illusion that everyone else is as they are. But such repression gives the ‘target’ a sense of self-righteousness and motivation to fight back. The ‘left-side’ doesn’t seem to understand this, so they push even harder. Of course, their counterpart isn’t much better. The ‘right’ has taken an underdog position and seems to think that all their beliefs are under assault, they imagine that anyone and everyone can be against them. So, once again society becomes more divided, further escalating conflict.
So, it’s not about NSBM (which for some reason he prefers to put in scare quotes), even though basically every problem with Steelfest ties back to the subject of NSBM, and it’s actually about how the left are all Stalinists who want to ban, de-platform, “cancel” (imagine still going on about that after the Matt Gaetz scandal) everyone they don’t like in order to get them to “behave” because they don’t understand this makes their targets self-righteous and gives them the will to fight back, who them cultivate the delusion that their beliefs are under assault and everyone is against them. Yes, the guy who’s convinced that a secret conspiracy is dividing society and causing him to be censored is somehow going to accuse someone else of having a delusional victim complex!
Following this Niklas moves on to the subject of Covid-19 and how devastated Jani was to have to cancel Steelfest because of it, and then the return of Steelfest being announced this year. Then we move on to part 2, which begins by talking about the controversy in August. Jani predictably masturbates about how he wanted to demonstrate “the old F.O.A.D. spirit” which he thinks is no longer present in some people but is alive in underground metal. If I’m being honest, I’d argue that there’s a certain “fuck off and die” attitude that anti-fascists and punks have always reserved against fascists, and that Lani has a hard time understanding that. He then proclaims that he will not negotiate with a third party about the Steelfest line-up nor “allow anyone to influence our decisions in any way, shape, or form”. When inevitably asked if he had any regrets about the Steelfest line-up, Jani says:
Definitely not. But did I learn a few valuable lessons here? Sure. Had I done things differently, knowing what I know now? Of course. Would I get rid of even one ‘no-name band’ if ten of the bigger acts – or their agencies – demanded it? Not a chance. This has been our firm policy ever since the very first event, Steelfest 2012, when some deranged SJW sect demanded that we cancel IMPALED NAZARENE on accounts of their political leanings, sexually suspicious lyrics, and whatever else. Obviously, we did no such thing.
I have no idea what he’s talking about. Maybe it’s one of those really way back things but I can’t find anything out about what Jani’s talking about here. I’m aware of Impaled Nazarene being controversial, but not because of anything sexual. The only controversy involving them I’ve ever seen around them involves politics, and on that let me just say this about Impaled Nazarene: I don’t think they’re Nazis, and I don’t think they’re necessarily fascists, but I do think that they seem to lean to the far-right. They’re pretty well known for promoting right-wing Finnish nationalism on albums like Suomi Finland Perkele (which has a song glorifying anti-communist violence in the Winter War) and Pro Patria Finlandia (which is probably even more cringe-inducing than it already looks), as well as standard edgy boomer-tier right-wing politics on their most recent album, Eight Headed Serpent (which features an abysmal whine-fest song called “Foucault Pendulum” as its closing track). So as far as I’m concerned, they’re at least an avowedly right-wing band, probably far-right if I’m being honest, even if that’s not neo-Nazism or fascism and some such. You can probably enjoy some of their stuff if you’re willing to look past that, gods know that still applies to Megadeth and they’ve had Alex Jones diatribes for lyrics, but I’m just saying this is what it is. To be honest, Impaled Nazarene is probably the least problematic band out of all of the bands we’ve discussed so far, but don’t get comfy, because that doesn’t say anything good about the territory we’re dealing with – this is the Finnish black metal scene after all.
Curiously enough, Jani tries to make this about honour:
The notion of backing out of an agreement with a band we’ve booked never so much as occurred to us. Our unrepentant attitude, fuelled by principles and core values, is all we have in this world; it is the essence of everything we do. If we were to sell out or otherwise lose that spirit, there can be no more Steelfest. I mean… okay, say I’ve invited a band to perform at our festival. Should I then call them back to say that they have now been ‘cancelled’ at the behest of a third party? Honour, dignity, and self-respect on that one? None whatsoever. There is no room for such concerns when I decide the line-up; the best bands will be booked, not those who are ‘woke’ enough.
Not wanting to go back on your word is one thing, being all about honour, dignity, and self-respect is one thing, being unrepentant about principles and core values is one thing, and if that was all there is to this whole thing I would probably respect the hell out of it for the militant metalhead attitude, but we all know that’s not the case. Jani thinks that people want him to only air “woke” bands, but that’s not true. The only concrete demand, if such can be called, is that Steelfest not be a platform for neo-Nazis. If the worst you could say about Steelfest was that Impaled Nazarene was gonna be on there, there’d arguably be no real issue, it’d just be kind of cringe that they’d be there all things considered. But instead, the problem with Steelfest is that they’ve been a haven for NSBM and fascist black metal bands and merchants for years and get to be a prolific extreme metal festival for it, all while the people who use their music and its subculture as a channel through which neo-Nazism can spread do so unabated! That is the problem, and until Jani and his defenders understand this the controversy will recur for as long as Steelfest is still a thing.
Of course, Jani will probably have none of this, and in fact he considers the entire controversy to be manufactured by industry insiders. He starts by talking about Sodom, saying that they played in Steelfest in 2013 with Horna, Satanic Warmaster, and Goatmoon and no one complained (which, if true, what the actual fuck?), then Niklas explained that Jani apparently had a chat with an anonymous industry insider, who sent him an email asking him to “make some decisions upon how you want your buisness future to be”. If we assume that exchange to be real, then what follows is of course Jani telling the insider to fuck off and supposedly it was then that everything kicked off. He claims that another insider tipped him off about a plan to organize false accusations against Steelfest, claiming they’re Nazis, for the purpose of “making them behave”. Who is supposedly organizing a shadowy smear campaign against Steelfest, or why tons of people condemning Steelfest and calling them Nazis would require a conspiracy of industry insiders to orchestrate, is never established, much less questioned by Niklas.
Jani shared apparent emails with Niklas, with one urging him to “cancel the questionable bands again or not”. Which are the questionable bands? Well, Graveland is mentioned. Graveland is to this day an NSBM band. They still re-release albums that feature songs with white supremacist lyrics, such Dawn of Iron Blades which contains a song called “Semper Fidelis” whose lyrics include a reference to David Lane’s 14 words, and its founder Rob Darken is a self-described National Socialist. It also appeared to include Archgoat. I haven’t seen a lot to indicate that Archgoat themselves are Nazis. That said, Archgoat did do a split album called Lux Satanae (Thirteen Hymns of Finnish Devil Worship) with Satanic Warmaster, who are so openly neo-Nazi that one of the songs within that same split, “Wolves of Blood and Iron” literally opens with the words “Sieg Heil!” before going into an anti-semitic lyrical tirade (this, by the way, seems to be the same song that appeared on Satanic Warmaster’s first album, Strength and Honour). This album is distributed by Hell’s Headbangers Records, an ostensibly non-Nazi record label, which I suppose goes to show the extent of their commitment to any principled opposition to Nazism. Since there are people who try to claim that Satanic Warmaster’s neo-Nazism is just some edgelordery from 20 years ago, I must point out that this split was released no earlier than December 14th 2015. And just to put another nail in that swastika-branded coffin, Satanic Warmaster released a song on a Satanic Skinhead Propaganda compilation in 2010, and songs like “Carelian Satanist Madness” which feature anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi lyrics are still re-released and played live to this day, so Satanic Warmaster’s NSBM trajectory is continuous, which it obviously would be because that is its musical and ideological identity. I have to repeat for emphasis: Satanic Warmaster is a Nazi band. Even if Archgoat weren’t Nazis or fascists expressly, it seems to me that they didn’t have a problem with the songs that Satanic Warmaster contributed, and I’m guessing that they’re fans of the band’s work as a whole. To call Archgoat “questionable”, then, is actually just being polite. It’s politically correct if anything else. Jani also mentioned Horna, which, as I’ve discussed already, has definite links to the NSBM scene. It kind of seems like Finnish black metal in particular has a lot of fucking Nazis in it, does it not?
Also, when Jani says this:
Oddly, this index of the unacceptable included several bands that all these agents were perfectly fine with when they played Steelfest in 2018 and 2019.
That’s not the counter-argument he thinks it is. All you’re establishing is that those agents didn’t have a problem with Nazi bands just a couple of years ago, and now they do. That speaks more to their priorities and their attitudes than to whether or not Steelfest is an NSBM haven.
Niklas doesn’t discusss the actual lyrical content of those bands. Instead he just takes the opportunity to make what is essentially a childish comment about how he finds his critics ugly:
Taking Steelfest’s Facebook page as an example, there seems to have been a substantial influx of new commenters around this time. Far be it from me to pass judgement based on someone’s physical appearance, but I’m not convinced that many of those voicing their concerns were intending to visit the festival in the first place.
This is another non-argument, but it goes to show something rather suspect. I mean, why does it matter what someone looks like when you are addressing what they have to say. I’m sure that many people wouldn’t listen to a Nazi even if the Nazi was, hypothetically speaking, the most beautiful woman in the world, and they would be right to dismiss that person for being a Nazi. If Jani sees fit to talk about honour, dignity, and self-respect, then in my opinion those things are diminished when you suckle at the teat of Nazism, and especially if you yourself don’t even own up to the ideology while doing so. Werwolf, the man behind Satanic Warmaster, is the perfect example: he sings about honour while parading the dishonourable ideology of Nazism, but all the while denies being a Nazi even though he literally writes Nazi lyrics. The man shouts Nazi slogans, brandishes Nazi imagery, and hangs around with other Nazi bands, but he doesn’t even once own up to being a Nazi, and so strongly denies it that he made a whole bullshit graph trying to show that he supposedly rarely he sings about Nazism. From a certain standpoint, where’s the “strength and honour” in that?
Then the interview discusses the bands Sodom and Samael, who were originally going to perform at Steelfest, having cancelled their respective appearances. Jani claims that Sodom were forced to cancel their appearance because of a coordinated harassment organised by entire networks, forums, and websites, and claims further that one such message board celebrated and took credit for Sodom cancelling their appearance. Of course, Jani won’t tell us which websites, forums, or networks he’s referring to. I almost suspect he may be trying to refer to the Antifascist Black Metal Network, a group that promotes black metal bands that are politically committed to resistance against fascism as expressed through radical left-wing ideology, but, to be honest, if he is then he’s stretching a certain amount of credulity. Again, how powerful or influential does Jani think these anti-fascists are? Are we supposed to believe that the Antifascist Black Metal Network has enough influence to orchestrate a massive campaign against Steelfest, in a subculture where if anything you’ll find a little too many people defending literal NSBM bands? If that’s what we’re supposed to believe, I would expect substantial evidence to support this claim. But I don’t expect such evidence to be forthcoming, so I consider Jani’s claim to be non-admissible.
Then we get into more cancellations. Apparently the band Moonsorrow cancelled their appearance in Steelfest, which of course Jani mocks. We’re told that Uada agreed to play alongside Graveland at Messe de Morts, which is very bad if true. Not only did Sodom, Samael, and Moonsorrow cancel, but so did Impaled Nazarene and Archgoat of all bands, as well as Havukruunu, Melechesh, Primordial, Dark Funeral, Ensiferum, Deicide, and Dismember. Once again, Lani attempts to frame this as a conspiracy to get metal bands to violate their principles:
There were a couple of disappointing moments, seeing certain high-profile bands cancelling. I had a good phone-call with one of them, which ended by him saying: ‘I feel ashamed, because we are pissing all over our legacy and I know it. This antifa shit, I’m totally against it – always have been. But we need to do this tour and some of the dates might be in jeopardy if we appear at Steelfest. I feel sick, but after discussions with our label, management, and agency, we have decided to cancel.’ So, after several conversations like this, it started to get under my skin. But I do agree with him on one point: extremely embarrassing indeed.
Again, he doesn’t exactly say who this guy is. It could be anyone. I don’t think that every band who cancelled did so for purely principled reasons, and I’ve criticized Sodom’s conflicting statements on the matter in my previous post about Steelfest, but I don’t think it is reasonable to assume that everyone who cancelled did so for opportunistic reasons. Hell, I’m somewhat confident that a lot of the people who played in Steelfest for years had no idea what they were getting into, and likely didn’t do any research into the bands they were playing with or the shops that were getting involved, because if they had done so they would probably never have considered going to Steelfest to start with.
Then, when asked if most of Steelfest’s problems were created by insiders rather than online blowback (the latter actually makes much more sense), Jani says this:
Yes, but they are connected. For agencies, managements, and labels, any such negative publicity is a serious threat to their revenue stream. It has nothing to do with ethical opposition to supposed ‘NSBM’, but rather proactive damage control. It’s about who is ‘problematic’ as opposed to politically correct, safe, or whatever else. These people don’t give a shit whether any of it is actually true, or what would be the morally right thing to do. They are not involved in black metal with spirit.
Insofar as supposedly nobody in the industry involved with promoting Steelfest had an issue with bands like Goatmoon or Satanic Warmaster before, he might have a point for once. But, I would say that within recent years there’s an increasing growth in political consciousness in parts of the black metal scene, particularly the need to create an explicit ideological counter-presence to the NSBM scene as well as the complacency with which it is sometimes treated. Bands like Caina, Gravpel, Spectral Lore, Mystras, Feminazgul, Dawn Ray’d, Trespasser, and many, many, many more all represent a growing scene of explicitly anti-fascist black metal, sometimes referred to as Red and Anarchist Black Metal (or RABM), and labels like Grime Stone Records make their zero tolerance opposition to NSBM clearer than daylight. None of these people have anything to do with Steelfest per se, but in the broader context of our times I’d say that people are more conscious of fascism nowadays, as the contradictions of capitalism lead onto the resurgence at growth of fascism throughout the world, people are getting up close and personal to the horrors of fascism in a way that perhaps they might not have been about a decade or so ago. Of course, this is not to say that there haven’t been anti-fascist and anti-racism initiatives in the metal community and rock as a whole for decades now, but there is growing consciousness and attention given to the problems of creeping fascism and unchallenged bigotry, particularly following certain episodes from otherwise mainstream or quasi-mainstream bands such as Pantera and Watain. To be sure, people can go nuts over it, and fanaticism and zealotry can inevitably be found in some would-be consumer watchdogs of the internet, but people can take the information they see and do with it what they will, and there is a clear desire to not let the subculture we love be given over to fascism and white supremacy. Thus, people are reviewing their listening choices more carefully than they might have in the past, and in sight of such considerations certain bands and certain festivals have been found wanting.
This is the principle of freedom of choice and association that Jani and his supporters won’t prefer to talk about, much less have you consider thoughtfully. What concerns Jani is being involved in black metal “with spirit”, and he believes that this means pulling out of Steelfest is unprincipled and a surrender to commercialism. I say that this says more about Jani’s ideas about black metal than about his critics. His ideas about “honour”, “dignity”, “self-respect”, and “principles” all seem to involve tolerance for NSBM bands. The basic problem there is that if those Nazis ever got the chance, they would jackboot all over you if you’re not one of them. At that point, all you’re saying is you’d prefer to caress said jackboots with your tongue. I can’t see what’s so manly, brave, dignified, or honourable about that.
Frankly, I see Jani as more politically correct than any of the people he’s complaining about, for the sole reason that he puts the term NSBM in scare quotes! He even refers to it as “supposed ‘NSBM'”. Thus, he’s suggesting that perhaps the bands everyone’s talking about are not NSBM. In which case, what would you prefer we call them? Considering the lyrical content of bands like Goatmoon, Satanic Warmaster, or Graveland, I fail to see what to call them if not NSBM or Nazis. Would he prefer that we call them “true kvlt black metal” instead? This is what by some definitions would be called political correctness. Jani would prefer that we not tell it like it is and call Nazis what they are: Nazis, that is. But I think there’s also more to it than that. He frequently says that he knows Steelfest inside out. If we take him seriously, that means he knows that there’s Nazi bands and businesses affiliated with it. If he knows this, then he knows that in order to keep Steelfest going he needs to avoid scrutiny from the wider community. To avoid scrutiny and accountability, he must make it seem that the problem everyone else is talking about doesn’t exist, so he has to deny that those bands are Nazis. Then again maybe he’s a fucking idiot anyway and he actually believes that they aren’t fascists.
So anyways the interview moves on, not to challenge Jani but rather to attempt to prove his point about scary cancel culture by pointing to an episode from last year in which the frontman of an unnamed “prominent American band” mentioned a Hate Forest album as his inspiration in an interview for Revolver Magazine, for which he received backlash and later apologized with some sop story about privilege. Yet again for some reason the band and its frontman aren’t named, and I can’t find the interview anywhere. So since we can’t address that subject directly due to a lack of information, let’s instead just address what Jani goes on to say.
Anything which might someday harm the band’s chances of performing at bigger mainstream festivals and venues is a financial threat. This is a business – so set aside your pride, mock your own history, and deny everyone who might be considered verboten. Of course, this is not tackling the situation but rather surrendering and showing acceptance to it. For me, the hardest puzzle to solve is what the hell some artists are thinking? Say some promoter warns them about performing alongside this or that act at some other event… to then see respected musicians comply and cancel so they can stay in the good graces of the very people issuing such threats. Seriously, what the fuck is up with that? Sacrificing both your credibility and any remaining respect from the underground just for the sake of bigger tours and mainstream festivals?
For me, the last sentence is the part doing all the work here. Credibility in the eyes of whom? He says the underground, but he should know that the metal underground does not consist only of people who salivate over fascist/NSBM bands like mindless dogs. In fact, who are you to say that the metal underground does not also consist of RABM bands, who aren’t particularly mainstream in their own right? For all you know there were lots of underground metalheads who were pissed at Sodom for playing with Satanic Warmaster. Are those people not “underground” according to you? Why? By what standard? And who are you to say? I guess the other sentence doing heavy lifting is “so set aside your pride, mock your own history, and deny everyone who might be considered verboten”. What history? What pride? Do you seriously think that every underground band likes the thought of being in the same sub-scene as Peste Noire, Goatmoon, or Seigneur Voland? Is this something to take pride in? Are you dense?
Skipping Jani’s prattle about how every non-NSBM band is a servant of the lords of commerce (something tells me this isn’t a reference to Hermes if you know what I mean), let’s address the part of the interview where supposedly musicians have spoken to Niklas saying that they knew that Steelfest’s line-up would be “spicy” (again with the polite language obfuscating NSBM) but said that Jani had “gone too far” this time. Considering that Jani was quite happy to have NSBM bands at Steelfest for years before, I’m definitely curious as to what you’d have to do in order to have “gone too far” this time. But this seems to be yet another of those questions I can’t get the answer to. But Jani’s response is typical at this point:
I don’t know who this says the most about: me or the artist claiming that I ‘simply went too far’. Consider for a moment what those words really mean. It’s not as if I sit down to calculate how many potentially ‘offensive’ bands to include. And offensive to who and from what perspective? For example, a domestic group that seems obsessed with Steelfest produced a list of what they claim to be nineteen confirmed ‘nazi’ or somehow nazi-adjacent acts. It spread far outside Finland and has now been shared widely across the world. Should I – or any other promoter – consult this list when pondering future bookings? Because it includes PRIMORDIAL, MOONSORROW, and IMPALED NAZARENE… all of whom cancelled Steelfest to distance themselves from bands accused of the same thing. I’m not trying to be naïve here, but you should ask yourself: where is the line? Who draws it? When is it enough?
Once again, the group is not named. I’m not sure, but I think he might be referring to either the Antifascist Black Metal Network or the RABM subreddit. I’ve seen different websites and pages discussing which band is suspect or not, and on this basis I think that there isn’t the kind of totalitarian orthodoxy that Jani appears to suggest. I personally lean to the idea that a band is fascist insofar as express fascism is a part of the band’s musical output and creative identity. In other words, a band isn’t fascist because one of its members has problematic or right-wing views on an individual level, separate from the music or creative project as a whole. The project itself has to be a vehicle for fascistic messaging or sympathy in order to be a fascist band. A good example of this as applied to a more generally right-wing nationalist ethos moreso than fascist is in the band Winterfylleth: it’s not just that the band has members that consider themselves conservatives or English nationalists, but when you look around you find that English nationalism, and I mean not even in a “neopagan” sense but more like some kind of secular quasi-folkist worldview, is a core part of the ideas that the band wishes to express in their music under the guise of Anglo-Saxon heritage. That, incidentally, is the reason I find myself unable to conscionably support them, particularly as someone who favors Welsh independence and opposes English colonialism (seriously just listen to Iselder). Of course, things can get a tad more complicated than that. If I’m not mistaken Acherontas didn’t claim to be a Nazi band for many years, and yet I would say they’re at least Nazi enough to appear at the Asgardsrei festival, a notorious and prolific NSBM festival in Ukraine which also serves as a hub for far-right terrorists. Then again, the signs of Acherontas possibly being an NSBM band were there if you knew where to look. On their 2014 split album, Pylons of the Adversary, you can find a stylized Sonnenrad (the Nazi sunwheel symbol) on the back. I should also note that, contrary to Jani’s simplistic morality, just cancelling your gig at Steelfest might be good, but doesn’t make a problematic band not problematic at all. It just means they’re not totally bad.
I tend to think that the best way is to check band by band, especially because tends of non-Nazi/non-fascist bands can appear on fascist labels, probably not even thinking too much about it half the time. The story of the one-man atmospheric black metal Galdr is informative in this regard. Galdr was once signed onto Darker Than Black Records, who hosted their debut album in 2011. Although it doesn’t look like every black metal band their is NSBM, and Galdr themselves never were, Darker Than Black Records is owned by Henrik Möbus and his brother Ronald Möbus, both of whom are members of the notorious NSBM band Absurd. But Draugr, the man behind Galdr, was as I just said never a Nazi, a fascist, or even particularly right-wing. Before 2019 he described himself as kind of a liberal, and an apathetic one, but one who wasn’t always comfortable with the people in Darker Than Black Records, especially after they kept sending him smashed up CD cases of his albums. Since 2019, Draugr has come out as an anti-fascist and an anarchist, publicly denounced and distanced himself from Darker Than Black Records, repudiated his former beliefs along with all forms of right-wing politics, and now his debut album is on Unity Temple, which from what I’ve heard donates some of its profits to left-wing causes. I’m sure Jani would like to assume that Draugr has sold out his own pride and history to “the woke crowd”, which to be honest says more about Jani’s own beliefs than anyone else’s commitment to black metal.
Now, I thought that the interview would never bring up the fact that Goatmoon and their fans raised Nazi salutes during one Steelfest. But it turns out that they did, albeit as the only accusation they do acknowledge as legitimate. But they still don’t acknowledge it as neo-Nazism. Instead they only misleadingly refer to it as “radical content”, which could mean anything that even remotely appears to be against the current system. Still, it seems to be one of the only instances in which things like this are brought up. In any case, Jani responds as follows:
Sure, but the notion that I would align ideologically with every single one of the hundreds of artists who played at Steelfest over the past nine years is beyond ridiculous. We have hosted many acts with diametrically opposing positions on both religion and politics, so this assumption that we would favour one over the other makes no sense. Without exception, bands are selected on the merits of their artistic output – not whatever personal viewpoints the individual musicians might hold. I do not ask prospective bookings to fill out questionnaires declaring each member’s standpoints. I simply don’t care or even want to hear about anyone’s opinion. Left, right, centrist, or none at all… don’t care, not interested.
This doesn’t really address anything except to show where Jani stands, or more specifically his ostensible lack of a stance. We already know that Jani has had lots of NSBM bands in Steelfest off the back of them being “true underground black metal”. If that’s what he means by the merits of their artistic output, well then all that tells us is that he can be swayed by the merits of songs that begin with “Sieg Heil!”, quote the 14 Words, and glorify totalitarian genocide, and might presumably be utterly repelled by music that explicitly politicizes against those things judging by his reaction to anti-fascist initiatives. In fact he explicitly praises bands that continue to play with NSBM bands and condemns whose who disavow them.
When Niklas asks if Jani has any responsibility to ensure that fans aren’t subjected to extremist propaganda (read: fascist propaganda; again, extremist can mean almost anything), Jani says this:
As the organiser, our main concern is that everything taking place both on and off stage falls within Finnish laws and regulations. Those who find the presence of certain bands upsetting can simply stay in the beer tent when said acts are on stage; or, better yet, avoid the festival altogether. Totally fine. The same applies if our events are too ‘multicultural’ or ‘degenerate’ for you. Certain organisations have made us aware that they don’t tolerate Steelfest as we’ve always had visitors and performers from many different backgrounds – be it ethnicity or sexual orientation. The reason we are targeted from all directions is because we refuse to pick a side.
I somehow doubt that any fans of Steelfest are going to find anything too “multicultural” or “degenerate” for them there. If you happen to be a fascist and a black metal fan at the same time, odds are either “degeneracy” isn’t that big a problem for you considering the transgressive nature of the genre as a whole, or your idea of what is “degenerate” doesn’t include black metal for whatever reason. I also don’t believe that there are too many organizations that hate Steelfest because they have non-white and non-straight performers, not least because the “certain organisations” Lani mentions are, as usual, unnamed. The fact that Kvlt Shop sells actual Nazi merch and hangs around Steelfest, and the fact that Horror Shop also does white power and hang around Steelfest tells me that these people don’t see anything about Steelfest that’s too offensive for their sensibilities. But the idea that there are fascists that hate Steelfest’s guts, even though Finland’s most prolific NSBM bands as well as NSBM bands outside of Finland all gathered there, lets Jani engage in all manner of centrist self-righteousness about how he is hated by everyone because he refuses to pick a side. Well, cowardice was never considered a virtue, and refusing to stand against fascism could be interpreted as cowardice, at least if we aren’t supposed to take it as de facto support for fascism. But more to the point, Jani isn’t telling the truth here. He isn’t refusing to take a side, because he has already taken the side of the NSBM bands who played at Steelfest, by defending their inclusion and condemning whose who oppose them on ideological grounds. The claim to ideological impartiality is, at least in practical terms, is not to be taken seriously.
Niklas again takes Jani’s side here, and here again we see a certain fear-mongering about anti-fascist initiatives:
There are potential long-term perils with all these arbitrarily compiled lists. Not only do they deter promoters from booking the bands in question, but – now that performing at the same festival as someone deemed dodgy is also a factor – agents will not want to let their property anywhere near them.
What agents are getting their cues about who’s fascist and who isn’t from lists of bands compiled on Reddit or some other web page? Again, how much power do the anti-fascist movements actually have over festival organizers and agents for high-profile metal bands? I should stress again, this is the same subculture in which bands like Behemoth aren’t totally reviled over the fact that its frontman Adam Darski hangs around Rob Darken from Graveland (who, I should say once again, is a self-described Nazi) and talks about how much he hates Antifa. Whether that’s a bad thing or not, it’s really up to you to decide that, though I would imagine Jani would think it’s so epic that he’ll try to get Behemoth to play at Steelfest one day. But seriously, I have to stress, these people actually seem to believe that a couple of internet lists actually have the power to decide who gets to play or not play at high-profile extreme metal festivals, and those who don’t conform will be ruthlessly persecuted. Considering that if anything bands like Satanic Warmaster still get to carry on with their overt neo-Nazism widely unchallenged, I’d say that such efforts, if they did exist, are surely proving ineffectual, though it’s honestly much more accurate to say that Satanic Warmaster aren’t being persecuted anywhere. I mean, fuck, even Vice seemed to take it at face value that maybe the guy from Satanic Warmaster wasn’t a Nazi, and that tells you all you need to know about the band’s status. If there is a massive Antifa conspiracy to throw right-wing black metal bands into gulags as Niklas and Jani seem to suggest there is, then I’m just not seeing it.
Skipping to the very end, it’s all ultimately very self-congratulatory from here. Utimately even if Jani expects the “mess” to worsen for him over the next few years, he also sees it as an opportunity for “the underground” to delve into deeper paths of extreme metal, and further as a “great cleansing”, in which “real black metal” (by which he means, the bands that are still willing to hang out with Nazis) will retreat from the mainstream and “back into the depths of darkness”, which he also seems to think is already happening. I guess one could make the argument that this is indeed a good thing, since that means we don’t have to deal with Goatmoon, Satanic Warmaster, Graveland, or their allies again. Black metal, he insists, will prevail regardless of “aging has-beens playacting ‘black metal’ for the masses to consume”, by which he of course means bands who complain about Nazis being in Steelfest. I do believe black metal will prevail and continue to be a worthy artform, but it’s not that it will prevail regardless of people who oppose NSBM, but rather it will prevail regardless of NSBM, and regardless of Steelfest, and regardless of you, Jani Laine.
Some people have pointed out that Niklas never once thought to discuss the fact that Steelfest’s line-up also consisted of Inquistion, a band whose frontman Dagon was convicted of possessing child pornography back in 2008 and whose work has also appeared on a compilation from Satanic Skinhead Propaganda, an outright NSBM label whose owner Antichrist Kramer also designed artwork for four of Inquisition’s albums. Yeah, I’d say that’s valid to talk about in relation to Steelfest. I would add further that they don’t talk about Nokturnal Mortum being on there, which is relevant because Nokturnal Mortum, although they claim to have renounced Nazism, are still an NSBM band and have played in the NSBM festival Asgardsrei. Or how about Destroyer 666, whose “classic” album Unchain the Wolves is essentially a white supremacist album and who still seem to write fascist lyrics into the present. But at the same time, what would be the point of discussing them? Jani would simply dismiss it all even if Miklas brought it up, and I’ll bet that Miklas himself probably didn’t think it was worth mentioning either, possibly because he doesn’t accept that these fascist bands are in fact fascist. The truth of the matter is that they don’t intend on discussing fascism creeping into extreme metal, except insofar as it’s to say that you are the real fascists for criticizing them.
Overall, this interview was lousy. It barely addressed the concerns that anyone had about Steelfest, it definitely wasn’t very objective, Jani was barely asked any difficult questions, he wasn’t meaningfully challenged over any decisions he’s made that might have enabled the NSBM community in some way, and both Niklas and Jani seem intent on obfuscating the very subject matter they’re trying to discuss by withholding crucial information, mainly names, about the subjects and examples they discuss in service of their overall argument. That last part in particular is deeply suspicious to me. It tells me that perhaps there is something being intentionally hidden, possibly because other metalheads would easily check them on it and point out problems if they actually named names.
Those who think that fascism and Nazism should not be allowed to creep into extreme metal, and whose love for black metal in particular does not force them to agree with Steelfest’s attitude towards bands like Goatmoon, Satanic Warmaster, or Graveland, or the other fascist bands we’ve discussed, will not be satisfied by Bardo Methodology’s interview or by Jani Laine’s excuses, and will not accept efforts to softball the presence NSBM in extreme metal communities.
To all fascists and their sympathizers like Lani…F.O.A.D.
I’d like to just give a special shout out to Astral Noize for their exposes on Marduk, Mgla and Horna, Variverkosto for their exposes about not only Steelfest but also the broader Finnish NSBM scene and its networks, and the Antifascist Black Metal Network for making me aware of the story of Galdr. Your anti-fascist work has informed the creation of this post, and it’s only right that I express solidarity on behalf of the broader goal of opposing NSBM.
You probably already know about the controversy surrounding Edward Butler, his association with Indica, and Indica’s deep ties to the fascist Hindutva movement. It’s been some time, and the controversy within the Pagan community has definitely not gone away yet. In fact, Edward Butler has not gone without approbators, and one of the people stepping up to defend him is none other than Rhyd Wildermuth, the embattled editor at Gods and Radicals Press known for his increasingly contrarian and reactionary opinions that nonetheless somehow maintains within the scope of Marxism.
His most recent article, “Polytheistic Pluralism and Sacred Cows”, begins with a meandering and largely irrelevant discourse about the difference between polytheism and monotheism interlaced with the usual cryptic transphobia followed by a sort of biographical account of his transition from somebody who may have had some principles in the past to a guy who calls himself a leftist and yet does nothing attack other leftists, so we’re going to skip all of that and go straight to the point and address the part of the article where he actually starts talking about Edward Butler and Indica.
After puffing up Edward Butler as a friend and wellwisher who was merely attacked by “the woke crowds”, he gets to establishing Indica as “an academic and cultural organization promoting “global study of indigenous knowledge, seeking to bring about a renaissance of indigenous wisdom””, and then we get to his response to the criticisms of Indica:
To get into all the nuances of this problem would take another full essay, but a few things can be cleared up quickly. Firstly, Indica isn’t part of the BJP nor the nationalist youth movement, the RSS. Secondly, their usage of the term hinduvta is much broader and less political than the way the BJP uses it, approximating the way “blackness” is used in the United States as a cultural identity formation. And third, their general focus on “dialogue across civilizations” and focus on Indic religions (including Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism) rather than just Hinduism easily make false the accusations that Indica is really a Hindu-superiority outfit.
Bit by bit let’s attempt to respond to this “point”. First, at least some Indica members are or were demonstrably affiliated with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its offshoots, as I have discussed in my previous post on the subject. One of its Chapter Convenors is a man named Jigar Champaklal Inamdar, who Indica themselves note is a member of the BJP. Its Academic Council includes a man named M. D. Srinivas, who seems to have some ties to the RSS. Outside of membership, Indica frequently has featured Ram Madhav, a BJP member, as a guest while promoting his books, which include a treatise on the economic philosophy of Deen Dayal Upadhyay and another book in which he promotes Indian nationalism while condemning political opponents. This should already go some ways into refuting the second point regarding the supposed “apolitical” nature of their concept of Hindutva. But as to the idea that Hindutva could possibly be interpreted as “apolitical”, even if we took Rhyd’s claim seriously that the Indica people do see their project as non-political, it would be a mistake to see Hindutva this way, since the project of Hindutva is inseparable from politics. The founding father of Hindutva, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, explicitly stated that his own concept of Hinduness was not even predicated on religion, and was instead predicated on the racial category of being “Hindu”, which more practically means an Indo-Aryan, autochthonous subject of the Indian state, and a member of any of the religions within India. This is inherently politically defined, and supercedes the traditional boundaries of all the main dharmic faiths, and it also segues nicely into the third point: for Hindutvas to engage in dialogue with Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs, is not a refutation of Indica being Hindutvas, because it actually makes perfect sense for Hindutvas to want dialogue with Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs. Hindutvas consider Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs, to be part of the umbrella of the identity of “Hinduness”, since in their view, “Hinduness” simply means being Indian, in a national and racial sense, and sense all of the dharmic faiths originated in India, then Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs, would be considered Hindu by Hindutva adherents, despite actually diverging from Hindu tradition in any number of ways.
After this Rhyd attempts to consider the problem of Hindutva, accurately noting the violent attacks on Muslims by Hindutvas, only to then equivocate in relation to apparent attacks on Hindus by Islamic extremists and Naxalites. In attempting to establish the colonial context of the BJP, he seems to transplant the same centrist/quasi-Marxist analysis of America’s election of Donald Trump to the social conditions of India, the efficacy of which I can’t really speak to. His assessment of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to be that he is similar but not the same as other politicians like Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro, but for him the difference is in the fact of India’s history as a nation that was colonized by the British.
Narendra Modi was a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Hindutva militia that preceded the BJP and worked to plant members inside the BJP, since he was only eight years old, and had risen through the ranks of the RSS over the course of decades. Therefore, if we’re really going to be discussing the context of colonialism so as to distinguish the Hindutva movement from Western fascism, we would do well to note the role of the RSS within that same context. I already discussed this in my previous post on the subject, but the RSS did not partake in the struggle against British colonialism. They discouraged their own membership from participating in civil disobedience against the British colonial government, such as the Dandi March, and when the Quit India movement was launched to demand an end to colonial rule, RSS leaders promised the British to encourage members to join the civic guards, a sort of special security force set up by the imperial government. Furthermore the founding father of Hindutva, Vinayak D. Savarkar, during his imprisonment, repeatedly pled for mercy from the British colonial government while encouraging Hindus to cooperate with the British and join the colonial armed forces. In a context of colonial domination, the RSS and the broader Hindutva movement were not only not part of the anti-colonial/anti-imperialist struggle, they were if anything allies of the British colonial domination, and offered support and cooperation to the British government.
Rhyd seems to explicitly reject any comparison between the Hindutva movement and white nationalism on the grounds that Hindutva was formed under colonial rule whereas white nationalism in the US context isn’t. This is something that sounds nuanced until you actually read what the founding fathers of the Hindutva movement had to say about race and its role in the nation state. Madhav Sadhashiv Golwalkar was explicit in his belief that a nation ought to be defined by race, alongside land, culture, religion, and language, all at once, supported Nazi German notions of race pride, and advocated for the existence of a centralized state that suppressed all forms of pride and autonomy that conflicted with the Hindutva identity and its manifestation as the order of the state. Vinayak D. Savarkar expressly defined his notion of “Hinduness” as a racial category, not a religious one, which means that the Hindu nation he advocated was explicitly defined on an ethnic basis. Hindutvas, like Western white nationalists, also support the state of Israel for largely ethno-nationalist reasons, and Savarkar advocated for creation of a Jewish ethnostate while also praising Nazi Germany.
Moving along we arrive at his discourse on “Sacred Cows”, and here is where his attempt to defend Edward Butler by elucidating the nuances of ethno-nationalist fascism gets a tad stranger. He has shifted the subject towards the issue of cattle slaughter in India, supposed left-wing attitudes towards its continuation, and how supposedly the BJP are the only mainstream party to campaign on a platform featuring a ban on cattle slaughter, while critics supposedly denounce bans on cattle slaughter as fascist, and seems to bring up Vandana Shiva as someone on the left who is smeared as a fascist seemingly for supporting Indian traditional knowledge. This is not true. She’s been criticized for many other things, most particularly the scientific basis of her claims about genetically modified foods, as well being a plagiarist, prone to extravagantly incindiary rhetoric about her critics, and for apparently charging thousands of dollars for lectures, but as far as I can see not very many people accuse her of being a fascist or a supporter of Hindutva. That said, she did appear in an interview for Rajiv Malhotra, a fanatical Hindutva-aligned academic who likes to insist that everyone who criticizes him is simply being Hinduphobic. Not that it proves much, though.
And by the way, it might be well and good that the BJP pushes for a ban on cattle slaughter, but this is not proof that they are sincere defenders of Hindu tradition against neoliberal capitalism. In fact, the BJP government under Narendra Modi has overseen the destruction of several Hindu temples in Varanasi in order to make way for the Kashi-Vishwanath Ganga corridor, ostensibly an express motorway between the Ganges and the Kashi-Vishwanath Temple, which has also had the effect of destroying local neighborhoods in the process. Furthermore, in 2008, back when he was the chief minister of Gujarat, Modi oversaw the demolition of several temples in Gandhinagar to make way for roads. That is until, ironically enough, the Hindutva group Vishwa Hindu Parishad got him to back down and halt the demolitions. All of this is to say nothing of the fact that Modi, far from offering resistance to neoliberalism, is actually a stalwart of neoliberalism within India.
What does all this have to do with Edward Butler and his role within Indica? Well, for Rhyd, the same thing that he claims happens to Vandana Shiva is happening in the United States of America, where he claims that even people with “clearly professed” leftist and anti-fascist beliefs are judged as fascist when their ideas are seen to intersect with “the bad people”, by which we can infer he means reactionary ideologues. Just so there’s no misunderstanding: when Rhyd talks about leftists who are called fascist, he is very obviously referring to himself, presumably along with any fellow travelers of being a reactionary contrarian under the banner of “leftism”. That may include Edward Butler, who Rhyd complains is being perceived as a threat to the Pagan community or an outright fascist for his work with a pro-Hindutva organisation – or, in his words, “an organization that stands for things which overlap with right wing iterations of hinduvta and iterates a de-politicized hinduvta” (we may return to that claim later).
Incidentally, I recognize the critics that Rhyd is indirectly referring to. In one paragraph he seems to be referring to Devo, who likened Butler’s arguments in defence of Hindutva to arguments made in defence of Donald Trump supporters. The paragraph before that, however, is him quoting yours truly! I’m almost flattered to report that Rhyd seems to have stumbled upon my blog, and quoted me when I said that Butler “might prove to be a danger to the Pagan community, and since Hindutva is a form of fascism, that can’t be tolerated.”. Now this is a little unexpected! But of course, I suspect Rhyd is misrepresenting my arguments. He takes both myself and Devo as representatives of “woke” or “social justice” ideology (hey, Sargon of Akkad called, he wants his GamerGate-era right-wing clichés back), which he defines only as a left-wing continuation of the George W. Bush maxim, “You are either with us, or against us”. I am honestly quite baffled by how he manages to draw that comparison towards me, when if anything I would advance that my own response to the controversy could be interpreted as far more benign and charitable than perhaps some other responses were. If I truly was as fanatical as Rhyd implies I am, I would have condemned not only Edward Butler but also everyone who happened to enter his orbit and did not know about Hindutva at the time, I would not have bothered to discuss the dilemma presented by his contributions to the polytheist community, and I would have condemned Chelydoreus for his statement on why he couldn’t just snub the Indica grant he was given before all of this started, whereas in reality I think Chelydoreus’ statement was thoughtful and considered in light of his own situation and that people willing to attack him for it after hearing him out don’t actually give a damn about marginalized people living in financial precarity. But Rhyd simply paves over this nuance, despite being perfectly content to insist on the nuances of Hindutva fascism, because at the end of the day this isn’t about fanaticism or ideological puritanism. This is about people being challenged for their clear endorsement of fascism, along with their pathetic attempts to justify it, and evidently Rhyd has a problem with people he likes, not to mention himself, being challenged by the wider community. I’m fact I’m at least half-convinced that this is the real reason why he decided to fuck off from basically all social media this year. Good for him, I guess.
The basic problem Rhyd has with people like me is that we draw clear lines in the sand when it comes to fascism. His problem is that we don’t take the people who peddle fascist ideologies at face value when they try to soften it up, and in fact we have fearsome contempt for such efforts. Rhyd on the other hand takes the politically correct presentation of Hindutva as a sincere and apolitical enterprise entirely at face value, failing to consider that its very history and content is inescapably political. He seems to genuinely despise it when other leftists take a stand rather than treat all political conflicts as though they’re tea parties in which idle chatter conducted around abstractions is the sole business of things. He sounds like a god-damned centrist who insists on calling himself a Marxist, when any thoroughgoing Marxism should have informed him that ideas are not solely mental abstractions that have no material effect on the external world.
Rhyd then claims the following:
Edward Butler is no fascist, and Indica is not a fascist project. I personally suspect hinduvta will lead to the same ideological dead-end that every other identity politics (blackness, whiteness, etc) leads to, but there is nothing inherently fascistic about it. In the hands of right wing political parties, it can do an immense amount of damage, but if enough people attempt to steer it away from an imposed monotheist framework (“who is Hindu and who is not”) into a pluralistic framework (which appears to have been the mission of Indica, especially in their focus on Indic religions, rather than just Hinduism) than it has the potential to be quite liberating.
Contrary to Rhyd’s assertions, Hindutva is in fact an inherently fascist movement, not an innocent and purely religious concept that merely fell into the hands of the right. I have already shown that Golwalkar, one of its ideological founders, explicitly called for India to adopt a model inspired by Nazi Germany and a centralised state built on an authoritarian unitary cultural fabric and monocultural/racial identity, to the exclusion of all others, and that Vinayak D. Savarkar similarly endorsed fascist Germany and Italy as congenial systems to contrast with liberal democracy. His problem with Hindutva is merely that it is a form of “identity politics”, just that he thinks that this “identity politics” has the potential to be liberating. It’s very strange and fundamentally Orwellian how he thinks Western “identity politics” movements aimed at liberating and emancipating marginalized people are dumb, liberal, “woke”, and should be laughed at and scorned, while an Indian “identity politics” movement that was created from birth to enact a fascist agenda to produce an ethno-nationalist society and whose adherents collaborated with British imperialism are to be given the benefit of the doubt or recognised as actually liberationist. You’d think this reminds you of the sort of thing that certain “woke” leftists would be condemned over but hey Rhyd won’t let that bother him. And more to the point, you might as well argue that National Socialism was not inherently fascist and that it could have been emancipatory had it not fallen into right-wing hands. This, incidentally, is exactly the same argument made by Otto Strasser and his faction of the NSDAP, along with modern adherents of what is called Strasserism. I’m not saying Rhyd is a Strasserist here, but the logical consequence of what he’s saying is consistent with the Strasserist argument. You are free to make of that what you will.
I must mention that, beyond this point, Rhyd barely actually defends Edward Butler directly, though he does continue to defend the legitimacy of Hindutva in some fashion, but a lot of time is spent focused on a broad concept of “leftist ideological abandonment”. Translated from dollar store critical theorist lingo, this means “leftists rejecting positions that I hold and embracing positions that I disagree with”. It would be a waste of time to go through the whole thing point by point, but I will cover what he has to say about Hindutva, as well as some other things I consider relevant to his overall thought process and its attendant problems.
He again attempts to establish a dichotomy between secular neoliberalism and Hindutva as its religious opposition by stressing that Hindu religiosity is an obstacle to the expansion of capitalist markets, while claiming that neoliberals manipulate the Muslim and Christian minorities in India against the Hindu majority. This is just nonsense. Putting aside Modi’s own role as a neoliberal strongman, Indian capitalism has expanded tremendously and I have not seen any religious force in India prove to be an obstacle to it. But again, here he seems to take at face value the Hindutva line and especially its conspiratorial thinking. Equally baffling is the reference to apparent efforts in European countries to ban kosher and halal slaughter, non-descript opponents that, we’re told without any reference, are smeared as religious extremists, and the absurd claim that “woke” leftists actually advocate for the banning of kosher and halal slaughter, never mind that it’s the far-right that actually pushes for the ban of halal slaughter in particular; or at least, I’ve only ever seen far-right activists do so.
All of this is then extrapolated onto a broader point about how leftists should stop “abandoning ideological territory” to the populist right. What does that mean? Apparently stagnant wages, massive job losses, and increasing debt, but the left had already been talking about that and much, much more, in the context of an analysis that cannot be limited to the vagueries of populism. Unless it’s the analysis itself that’s bugging him, which as a self-proclaimed Marxist it shouldn’t. Actually he’s still talking about the trope about how dismissing working class people as racist ensured the victory of Donald Trump in 2016. Putting aside the obvious issue of Trump’s actual base being more middle class than working class and ignoring the mechanisms of US democracy and its relationship to the actual popular vote of that election, I would point out that Joe Biden won four years later, and in that context much of liberalism hasn’t changed drastically, and if anything the Biden campaign had made vague references to social-democratic policy so as to crib the defeated Bernie Sanders campaign, while Trump actually did little other than appeal to the fear of socialism and “cancel culture” while otherwise glorifying the neoliberal status quo. So in this sense it actually seems out of touch to continue beating the same drum that mainstream pundits like Salena Zito have been since the 2016 election ended just to gaslight the left into doing whatever you want.
You can argue that the only way to stop right-wing populism is to stop “abandoning ideological territory to them”, but you’d be wrong. Jean Luc Melenchon tried pandering to the populist/far-right in France throughout his career, and yet his party La France Insoumise has received barely any migration of voters from far-right parties to their side, while if anything far-right parties have been siphoning voters from La France Insoumise. The Communist Party of France also tried appealing to French nationalism in the 1980s, and it did not result in any substantial gains for the party, certainly not enough to restore what electoral success it once had decades before. In Australia, the notoriously racist social-democrat Arthur Calwell lost every federal election that he ran in as leader of the Australian Labour Party, and it was after he stepped down that the party’s fortunes were reversed. Here in the UK the Labour Party tried to do a course correction over perceived “wokeness” and “lack of patriotism” under the outgoing Corbyn leadership, and it hasn’t really rewarded them electorally or in polls. Only a massive Christmas scandal seems to be turning Labour’s fortunes around. My point is that what Rhyd and others like him suggest simply doesn’t work for the left, never has done, and never will do. Frankly, all signs point to the observation that if people want to vote for reactionaries they’ll just vote for right-wing parties rather than any opportunist trying to outflank them on the left, and that’s partly because right-wing conservatives and nationalists generally actually believe what they believe in whereas leftists who try to copy them have only ever cared about either winning votes or pissing off other leftists in order to feel superior to them; I personally bet that Rhyd is of the latter category.
By the way, I can’t but notice that Rhyd thought to quote The Communist Manifesto to demonstrate that the result of capitalist expansion is the destabilization of religious traditions and communities, which is all well and good until you take note of the last part of the quotation: “All that is solid melts into air, all that is sacred is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.“. While Rhyd was likely intending to connect Marx’s analysis of capitalism to religious decline in order to emphasize capitalism as a threat to spiritual life, in the context of the quote Marx probably saw this as kind of a good thing. Here religion and sacredness are illusions, and the wresting of these away from human consciousness would have been interpreted as one of the positive and radically emancipatory effects of capitalist expansion. Too many people forget that although Marx did think that capitalism ultimately needed to be abolished, he did not consider capitalism to be entirely bad, and thinking in terms of historical progress of material conditions, Marx saw capitalism as consisting partially of historically progressive effects both material and social, some of which he and Friedrich Engels thought were necessary precursors to the development of socialism. Now, you don’t have to agree with Marx that religion was inherently bad and delusional in order to maintain a political worldview and analysis consistent with Marxism, everyone knows Marx isn’t infallible and it would be improper to treat him as though he were a prophet or a Pope, but I think it’s worthwhile to at least mention that Marx had meant the destruction of traditional community to be an enlightening if radical disillusionment rather than a benighting disenchantment.
All of this is still getting away from the base subject of Hindutva, but thankfully Rhyd takes us back there again with more whining:
Again, though I think hinduvta is probably a dead-end, what Indica has been attempting to do with it has potential beyond India. Dr. Edward Butler’s work with them to expand dialogue about polytheism across the world likewise has great potential, or did before he was accused of being fascist for that work.
Well don’t you worry, Rhyd. Edward Butler probably isn’t going anywhere, at least not for the time being. We can all disassociate from him and condemn him as we please, and he is free to stand alone in accordance with his own will, but that doesn’t mean his work is going to cease. He is probably still going to be involved with Indica, and he will continue to produce commentary in support of Hindutva, regardless of what we think of him. And you know what, that’s his business for as long as none of us have to be any part of it, but it will not go unchallenged, we will call it exactly as we see it, and we shall treat what we see accordingly. This is just how it is, and you’re just going to have to accept it, because we will be damned if we ever allow fascism to gain a foothold anywhere.
This seems to be the extent of his defence of Edward Butler and Hindutva, and if you look past the density of his article, it’s honestly a very weak one. But there’s something else to his overall argument that needs to be addressed, and it concerns his overall understanding of monotheism versus polytheism.
Towards the end of his article he says this:
Years ago, I made the very same mistake as his accusers. I failed to notice I was trapped in a monotheist framework, forced myself to answer a question whose only answers were binary. I was an idiot back then. I caused some harm and derailed something that is only now getting back on its tracks. Unfortunately, it looks like it’s pretty eager to go off the rails again, and I’m not very hopeful they won’t make the same mistakes I did.
We need to stop doing this. We need to stop giving ground to right wing movements and abandoning sites of potential transformation. The world cannot be neatly divided between “fascist” and “antifascist” or even “right” and “left” anymore than it can be neatly divided between “Western” and “Eastern,” “Christian” and “Hindu,” and “white” and “black.” These are all rigid and fragile categories that we’ve created through a monotheist framework of thinking, forcing universals where they cannot be applied.
The alternative to this is pluralism. I call this polytheistic, but it isn’t exclusive to polytheist religions. And I deeply believe it’s our default state, the organic and natural way we tend to relate to each other without external ideologies setting the co-ordinates of meaning for us.
From this we are to infer that monotheism is when you establish a set of questions predicated on binary choices. In essence, Rhyd’s conception of monotheism is nothing more than the concept of a closed question. Monotheism for Rhyd is when you make any divisions between two things, between left and right, between fascism and anti-fascism, Christianity and Hinduism, West and East, white and black, all divisions that Rhyd treats as fully equivalent to each other, and polytheism thus stands as an alternative to this framework, with plurality framed as a way to validate difference of opinion by bypassing all of those divisions. In other words, Rhyd is a typical centrist idiot, one who merely happens to call himself a Marxist, and he thinks that polytheism is a way to justify being a centrist idiot by defining the presence of division and conflict between two sides as monotheistic artifice.
To explore this point further, it is necessary to return to a section of the article that we previously skipped. But I’ll be honest, you won’t be missing much judging from the fact that he says stuff like this:
I was on the “good” side, meaning Antifa. That’s not how I look at it now, but at the time I was pretty damn certain one side was completely right and one side was completely wrong and I wasn’t going to be on the wrong side. That’s where I fucked up really badly. Looking back, I realise there wasn’t actually a right side and a wrong side at all, just two opposing ideological positions rising out of the same monotheistic universalism I’d been arguing against at conferences and in speeches.
Yeah. “I used to be anti-fascist. That’s not what I am now. Now I think drawing a line in the sand when it comes to fascism is just monotheistic universalism” is the stance Rhyd intends to take, on an outlet that I think still presents itself as avowedly anti-fascist. But we’ll get to that. For now suffice it to say “I used to oppose fascism but now I don’t” is probably not something you should own with any pride, and certainly not my idea of what anti-fascism looks like. But apparently it is, and not only that but the insistence that you should not have any solidarity with fascism is to be treated as the same kind of tyrannical absolutism that George W. Bush brought the world. Antifa then are basically neoconservatives to this guy? Honestly, given this guy’s reputation for defending fascists, I don’t like the implications of this sentiment, along with the implications of rejecting the division between left and right in contemporary politics, because when paired with the knowledge that he’s defended fascists, including now the Hindutva movement, it actually kind of seems like there’s something about Rhyd that he’s not letting on. Or perhaps not. Maybe he could just be a giant idiot and not much else. Now that’s pluralism if I’ve ever seen it.
Rhyd reduces polytheism to a vague belief in the lack of universals, which is fine on its own, but then he warps this so as to represent a belief that you can accept what other people say about themselves, and yet not accept it within yourself at the same time – in his words, this is to “accept the “truths” of others without necessarily their universals”. Remember earlier when I mentioned a “meandering and largely irrelevant discourse about the difference between polytheism and monotheism interlaced with the usual cryptic transphobia”? You’re about to see what I’m referring to:
Consider the most common reaction I’ve heard from people in person regarding the matter of trans identity. Most are happy to accept that someone considers themselves a different gender from their biological sex, and are even willing to make efforts to use the pronouns a person requests.
In this kind of pluralism, what doesn’t necessarily follow from such interactions is a simultaneous change in the personal beliefs about what is a man or what is a woman—because it doesn’t need to. It doesn’t need to for the exact same reason that we don’t need to change our own cosmology just because someone we know says they saw a ghost. We can accept their account of things and also our own without conflict, and then go about the business of actually living life alongside each other.
At first, it can seem perfectly reasonable in that a pluralistic outlook is generally going to be more accepting of someone who professes a trans or non-binary identity. On that point alone, a lot of Pagans would have no issues. The problem emerges when Rhyd starts talking about how this doesn’t lend itself to any effects on how you view gender or identity, let alone any political commitments attendant to accepting trans or non-binary people as they are, and especially when he actually compares accepting trans or non-binary identity to what is essentially the act of humoring a friend who tells you he’s seen a ghost. It’s utterly condescending and serves only as a mask to hide your true beliefs from others. When you say “we don’t need to change our own cosmology just because someone we know says they saw a ghost”, you are first of all saying that you reject the person’s belief in a ghost, and when you say “We can accept their account of things and also our own without conflict”, you are saying that you do not accept the person’s belief in ghosts, but will merely tolerate a person for having it, separate your beliefs about that person and their positions from your attitude to their personhood, and treat the matter as “live and let live”, but deep down you mock that person in some way, necessarily so, because you still think the person’s beliefs are wrong, perhaps even stupid and worthy of mockery, you just aren’t going to say anything about it.
Applied to the subject of trans identity, you are saying that you do not accept that a trans woman is a woman, or that a trans man is a man, and you reject what they say about their gender identity because you think biological sex, or rather your own particular essentialist understanding of it, trumps their subjective identity, but you accept the trans person’s account anyway, or so you claim to, and seemingly live your life and interact with others as “normal” in any case. But what that means is that you believe that you’re accepting the accounts of trans people, but without any examination of any beliefs you hold that would prevent you from meaningfully doing so, so you may live your life as though you assume yourself to be tolerant and accepting of trans people, when really, beneath it all, you don’t take what they say about themselves seriously, probably mock them in private, or in public you openly argue against accepting that trans people are the gender they identify as. In this sense, that “tolerance” is actually a false peace, unity for the sake of unity not borne of any actual acceptance, one that I think many trans and non-binary people will easily see for the cowardice that it is.
And besides which, it’s not actually the polytheistic perspective, or at least not as can be implied by its myths. The mythos of the various polytheistic and animistic religions of the world contains fascinating accounts of transformation across gender. As Kadmus Herschel has shown in True to the Earth, a book that I see Rhyd is borrowing terminology from without understanding the rest of what Kadmus is saying, the bardic poetry of the Celts depicts figures who undergo several transformations that cut across gender, species, and several other boundaries. Ceridwen transforms into several different animals, Gwion tries to hide in the form of a grain of wheat, but Ceridwen turns into a hen and eats him, only to become pregnant with Gwion, who is then reborn as Taliesin. They are transformations of body rather than soul, they cut against notions of essence or purity, and identity then is builty atop an ongoing event of conscious essencing. Several of the gods of polytheism, whether that’s Odin or Loki from Norse polytheism or Dionysus and Athena from Greek polytheism, exhibit either the capacity to transform their own gender identity or inhabit a set of gender characteristics not limited by the traditional gender binary; Athena, for instance, was meant to be born as a man, but instead was born a woman with male characteristics. You can also go to India and find deities that transform across gender lines as well as species lines, with Vishnu appearing as the female Mohini and Shiva manifesting as the dual-gendered Ardhanarishvara. The Hijras also represent within Indian society since ancient times a trans community that has existed in the context of non-monotheistic culture. If the gods can be seen as defined by more than the traditional gender binary, if the gods can be queer as can be and be accepted for it by their followers, if a person can be trans within pre-Christian cultures and meet some acceptance in a religious context, then it stands that the Pagan worldview on gender identity is that it is not defined by a binary that is fixed into human being through essentialist biology, but instead one of many places in which essencing takes place, and in which essencing can take place on individual as well as social terms.
Contrary to what Rhyd insists about how you don’t have to change your mind about trans people to accept them for what they are – although then again why should you even need to consider changing your mind unless you’re presently a transphobe – internalizing much of the polytheist worldview entails not merely accepting the accounts of trans people for performative and diplomatic reasons but on an existential basis, on the grounds that their identities are as natural as yours, as is the transformation that trans people rightfully undertake to fulfill themselves, and these exist as part of the multiplicity of life as much as you do. It is not about accepting “universals”. If you truly adhere to a multiplicitous and pluralistic cosmos, and reject a cosmos consisting of the inscribed designs of one supreme being, then you really do have to accept internally the validity of trans identity, instead of just formally validating it for the purpose of being polite and getting along while internally denying it; in that scenario, your outward stance is merely performance while your inward stance is your real position on the subject. At least a transphobic Christian or Muslim would prefer to brook no such deceptions since they believe what they believe to be the inalterable word of God. Rhyd on the other hand is a transphobe who wants to be considered valid for being a transphobe as long as it means just being polite about it. Well I’m sorry but being polite about your position doesn’t actually mean your position is any less dogshit. If it did, then Holocaust denial could be validated off the back of the affability of some of its proponents. Trust me: fascists are more than capable of presenting a respectable and polite face, and may even try to appear very tolerant of disagreement, even though this is a ruse in light of how they would actually govern you. Just because a fascist can get you thinking that leftists are intolerant and totalitarian because you got banned from their Discord server or whatever doesn’t mean a fascist society won’t be violently totalitarian, or for that matter that the left is necessarily as totalitarian in practice as you might have been told.
His idea of pluralism is based less on the philosophical ramifications of the polytheistic cosmos and its attendant mythos and more on a personal desire for unity, and political unity at that. I would say to him that the polytheistic world, and cosmos, was never always united. Cults could sometimes rival each other, a few were driven out in societies that considered them to be dangerous and foreign. Whole schools of philosophy rivalled each other, and some schools were sometimes mocked, scorned, vilified, and even demonized in some cases by whoever asserted themselves as the dominant school of thought. The gods themselves would fight amongst each other, sometimes just between individual deities each pursuing the same object (the mythological story of Troy features multiple goddesses fighting over Paris’ judgement on who was the most beautiful), sometimes out of desires for revenge (such as Hera), sometimes there is a conflict of values among the gods (as present in the trial of Orestes in which Apollo contests the ancient goddesses called the Eumenides), sometimes whole clans of deities fight and struggle against each other, with some compromise and intermingling in between (the Devas versus the Asuras, the Aesir versus the Vanir or Jotun, the Tuatha De Dannan versus the Fomorians, or the Amatsukami versus the Kunitsukami). Sometimes humans can rebel and challenge the gods, to varying degrees of success. As Kadmus has shown brilliantly, rebellion is a feature of a polytheistic cosmos, not a bug, and as Peter Grey has shown, rebellion is a part of the divine heritage given to humans from the gods. Insofar as a polytheistic cosmos consists of rebellion, and rebellion is a core part of that cosmos, the presumption of polytheistic pluralism entailing intrinsic cosmic unity seems entirely fanciful, and unbecoming of a cosmos of many divines, truths, and values.
More to the point, why exactly do you want unity with fascists? Why is it desirable? Contemporary polytheism has already understood the dangers of allowing itself to become a home for fascists and in allowing secular nationalism to appropriate the pre-Christian past so as to launder hateful authoritarianism. That is the reason for Declaration 127, The Xenia Declaration, and similar initiatives to exist, to deny solidarity with fascists since they do not deserve it, and to declare that you will not stand with white supremacy, racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, or any form of bigotry. Rhyd should know well enough about these initiatives, and it would be interesting to see what his opinion of them is now, or for that matter his opinion on how we should deal with folkist groups like the Asatru Folk Assembly, in light of the dribble he’s putting forth.
Unity with the fascist means consignment to your own enslavement. It is permission for the fascist, it is the knowledge that they will not be challenged for being fascists, which therefore leads to the normalisation of fascism, and finally to the triumph of fascism. The unity Rhyd seeks is almost the definition of unjust peace. By subtracting the presence of division, conflict, and rebellion from a pluralistic cosmos that necessarily entails these things, Rhyd’s “pluralism” insists that solidarity in the abstract ought to be universal, at least so long as he can claim the people he wants solidarity with to share a common enemy (which they don’t!), and denies the ability to freely deny solidarity with the undeserving and contest that which should be contested. His “pluralism” is not a pluralistic cosmos, but a drum circle held between hippies and swastika-beddecked skinheads.
But for all the talk of pluralism, there’s another reason I’m not buying it. I know Rhyd’s kind of leftist well enough. I have been in circles where his sort of thinking operates as the order of the day. I have had a friend who regularly complained about the left because they “hate” him, and that same friend went on to be one of those socialists who, while calling himself a socialist, a Marxist at that, embraced all manner of far-right social positions and even advocated for a form of white nationalism even if not by name. What I learned is that these people become resentful of the left because the left does not respond positively to their insistence on the objectively correct politics, often even despite that politics being anything but correct, and the opposition from the rest of the left impedes their ability to mold the left as they see fit. Rhyd, I suspect, is one more of those leftists, so embittered from facing constant challenge from the left, who in his eyes are doomed because they have failed to sufficiently agree with and conform to his brand of leftism, that he fled all social media so that he dare not deal with the rest of the left any further. These people do not assume a pluralistic world, let alone the way Rhyd himself defines it. Instead, if anything, it’s closer to the monotheistic worldview, where there is one supreme principle, one vision, one ultimate truth, and everyone is to be cajoled or convinced to accept it or face doom and failure forever, and even his ideas of pluralistic unity smack of a more benign version of this where it doesn’t matter what we all think because we are all One. Meanwhile even polytheistic cultures had lines to be drawn on what their communities could and could not accept, and their cosmoses consisted not of unity but of diversity, and sometimes conflict.
In summary, this was truly a laughably weak defence on behalf of Edward Butler and Indica, one that served only to show Rhyd’s own ignorance of the subject he strives to represent, rather than the supposed ignorance of Edward Butler’s critics. It’s such a shame too, since he puts a black eye on Gods and Radicals Press as a whole in the eyes of many. This is a shame because it does still feature some good work from Christopher Scott Thompson, Mirna Wabi-Sabi, and a recent contributor promoting Gaulish reconstructionist polytheism as an anti-fascist force, and its store still features the brilliant work of Kadmus Herschel, True to the Earth. Hell, Rhyd himself used to be pretty cool back in the day until at least 2018 from what I understand. I suppose though it’s mostly Rhyd that I have a serious problem with, and until maybe he gets over his reactionary contrarianism I don’t see much hope that he won’t, as he put it, go off the rails. After all, it’s not the left derailing him, it’s him that’s derailing Gods and Radicals. He needs to see that, and I don’t hold out any hope that he will.
This week, Pope Francis officially declared that “sins of the flesh” are not the most serious sins. He said this in the wake of the resignation of Michael Aupetit, the former Archbishop of Paris who admitted to having an “ambiguous” relationship with an anonymous woman prior to becoming a bishop. Pope Francis described his actions as a failing of the sixth commandment, which forbade adultery, but apparently a minor one, consisting of small caresses and taking a massage. This apparently is a sin, but not “the worst kin”, with the Pope suggesting that hatred and pride are much bigger sins.
It’s easy to take this as a relaxation of attitudes within the church towards sex, and on the surface that seems like it might be the case. But stepping beyond the basic nature of what Aupetit is accused of, and it certainly looks like small potatoes to me anyway, there’s something else about what Pope Francis is saying that tells me that there’s another, somewhat problematic dimension to it.
The part that does all the work is when he says it’s still a sin. It’s still essentially a transgression against God, that’s what sin is. All he’s really saying is that there’s a sliding scale of transgressions that are easier to forgive than others. A bit moot, considering that at least most sins are surely forgiveable by God, if we take the Christians seriously anyway. To say that Aupetit’s actions, then, are not a “total failing”, while probably not wrong, could be saide of basically any “failing” insofar as it is not beyond redemption.
But you know, there’s a way in which it makes sense for him to be softer on sex outside of marriage than many Christians. I say this not just because the Bible doesn’t actually contain any actual injunctions against pre-martial sex, but also because the same Pope also approved a declaration from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which stated that same-sex marriages cannot be approved on the grounds that “God does not and cannot bless sin”, and doubled down on that while insisting that this isn’t a condemnation of LGBT people. The Catholic Church also played a role in ensuring that hate crimes and discrimination against LGBT people would not be criminalised, without a peep of oppostion from Pope Francis. I guess it’s easy to be an otherwise still fairly traditional Catholic and go easy on pre-martial sex while trying to put up a nice face for the LGBT community, so long as you’re still making sure LGBT people can’t get married or be entitled to protections against hate crimes.
I notice there are some takes out suggesting that Pope Francis’ new announcement, far from just being him defending the clergy as you might suspect, is actually the dawn of the end of the tyranny of focusing on sexuality. But think about what that means. The church is not actually changing its sexual mores, it’s just talking about them less, and from where I’m standing it’s not borne from a reflection of the actually restrictive and tyrannous substance of Christian sexual morality, but instead from a mixture of embarassment and opportunism. And I think that those who look at this and talk about how Jesus said nothing about sexuality should probably remember that Jesus said that whoever looked upon woman with lustful thoughts had already committed adultery in his heart (Matthew 5:28), which is probably the exact opposite of Pope Francis’ stance on “sins of the flesh” – for Jesus, Michael Aupetit would be guilty of adultery if he merely thought about ambiguous relationships with women. And even if Jesus didn’t have much to say about sexuality, people like Paul sure did, such as in his pronouncements that homosexuality is a shameful behaviour that God thrust upon people for engaging in idolatry. Not exactly the most inclusive religion.
I know I like to beat this drum a lot every time Pope Francis comes around, but I never did trust him, and frankly, I think there’s no good reason to trust liberal Christianity just because it’s nicer in theory than conservative Christianity. If you’re a Christian, you have to contend with several aspects of scripture and tradition that are problematic and difficult, or find some interpretation, and you still have to deal with the basic premise of being in a religion where human behaviour is to be judged in relation to the designs of a supreme ruler as the divine principle. If you’re an atheist or a Pagan, on the other hand, you don’t really have this problem. Personally, I don’t think I’ll understand why there is such demand for the hegemony of the Catholic Church to be preserved, let alone through such obviously weak appeals to modern ideas about sexual morality that often actively conflict with what the Gospels actually say. It would be better that more people simply accept that Christianity, if pursued genuinely and seriously, would conflict with their way of life in a repressive fashion. Of course, this would mean the end of Christian hegemony, and while I would take such delight in seeing the demise of the power of the church, it’s perfectly logical that the church, and Christians, could never allow the release of the soul of mankind from its iron grip.
But all in all, this is probably nothing in the grand scheme of things.