The anti-religious religion of Peter Boghossian and Michael Shellenberger

Some people reading this might have some idea who Peter Boghossian is. He’s an atheist philosopher, of the New Atheist school in particular, the kind of atheist who loves getting self-righteous about their beliefs in a way that outmatches even many religious moralists. He’s also a conservative ideologue, in fact he’s pretty notorious for submitting intentionally absurd hoax papers for the purpose of “debunking gender studies”, which his employer, Portland State University, determined to be a violation of its ethics guidelines concerning research on human subjects. Like other New Atheists, Peter Boghossian is enamored with ideas about opposing vague constructs called “wokeness”, which he believes to be a threat to liberal democracy. Often times you find that “wokeness” is a thing that people struggle to define. Personally, I really hate the term “woke” as a way of describing anything. It’s a vague term often meant to describe any political position you happen to despise. But on November 11th, Peter Boghossian posted on Twitter a spreadsheet detailing the characteristics of what he called “the woke religion”. Ironically enough, I think it also exposes his own inner “religious thinking” for lack of a better term, as well as the true content of the manufactured “war on wokeness” now peddled ruthlessly by the mainstream of politics. So, let’s take the opportunity to dissect it.

Apparently compiled by both Peter Boghossian and Michael Shellenberger, himself a self-described “eco-modernist” and noted conservative contrarian, the table is divided between seven vertical categories and ten horizontal categories. The categories of the vertical axis consist of “Racism”, “Climate Change”, “Trans” (as in trans people), “Crime”, “Mental Illness”, “Drugs”, and “Homelessness”, all of them seemingly pet issues for conservative culture warriors. To be honest, I’m surprised “Immigration” and “Islam” aren’t sections here, considering where this is going. The cateogries of the horizontal axis consist of “Original Sin”, “Guilty Devils”, “Myths”, “Sacred Victims”, “The Elect”, “Supernatural Beliefs”, “Taboo Facts”, “Taboo Speech”, “Purifying Rituals” and “Purifying Speech”. Some of these sound like song titles from a shitty glam rock album. But, more importantly, they sketch out what Boghossian seems to think a religion is, and how “wokeness” supposedly works. First there’s the “original sin” doctrine, or rather what we’re supposed to take as an expy to the original sin doctrine of Christianity, here meaning basically the idea of a crime or transgression taking place which is responsible for the current problems of the world. Then of course there’s the people who are responsible for it. Then you have “Myths”, which apparently are supposed to be a creation story, which will seem all the weirder when we analyze what these “myths” are. There are “Sacred Victims”, who continue to be affected by “Original Sin”, and there are the “Elect”, a chosen few gathered to right the wrongs of the world. The “religion” is equipped with a set of “supernatural beliefs”, here defined as “beliefs beyond scientific understanding or known laws of nature”, and, of course, has attendant categories of “forbidden speech”, which attacks the “religion”, as well as counteracting categories of “purifying speech”, which upholds the “religion” while alleviating guilt.

So, Boghossian’s construction of “the woke religion” is apparently a salvationist religion in which there are, judging by the table, multiple original sins that need to be redeemed by an enlightened Elect, supported by purportedly non-scientific beliefs, origin myths, purification rituals and speech, and, of course, the persecution of heretics. Boghossian here is trying to frame all of his critics and opponents as being religious fanatics, or just given over to religious thinking in general, and it’s very obvious that Boghossian’s idea of the nature of religion is informed almost entirely by Christianity. The whole concept is essentially a caricature of Christianity, the religion most defined partly by the concept of “original sin”, though unlike Christianity or any other religion it also involves the presence of an “Elect” to be set up to correct society, which actually sounds a little more like Plato’s Republic than Christianity or any religion. Then again, perhaps “the Elect” is meant to have the same meaning as “the Church”.

At this point I believe it’s worth bringing up that Boghossian’s understanding of religion is, like that of many other atheists, a very narrow understanding of religion, one that only really responds particularly to a generalized set of claims made by or about Christianity, as well as maybe Judaism and Islam. It is entirely inadequate when addressing the diverse reality of religion, both historical and present, or many claims made by non-Abrahamic religions. Ideas about original sin, the temptations of devils, spiritual elects, and the like are all absent in the polytheistic religions of the world, and in the historical context of the pre-Christian world, Christianity actually seems unique, perhaps even “eccentric”, in this regard. Hinduism has one God, expressed through many deities, and Hindu class society does affirm a sort of elite spiritual caste at the top, but there’s no original sin in Hinduism. Nor is there original sin in Buddhism, with suffering merely being a product of continuous arisings of craving and ignorance that don’t seem to have an obvious starting point; there is no descent from purity to impurity. Shinto does emphasize ritual purity, very strongly indeed, but it has no concept of original sin. Finally, the nature of the gods of polytheism seems distinct from the One True God imagined by the monotheist faiths and likely the same God that is the sole focus of atheist responses. They are powerful, but not omnipotent, nor omniscient, or even omnibenevolent, they do not deal in the sort of divine command that God is known for, and in some belief systems they are not even immortal.

With that out of the way, let’s examine what Boghossian and Shellenberger seem to think is the “woke religion” in terms of what its apparent beliefs are, and this is where things get truly bad.

One thing I should note right out of the gate is that Boghossian uses the term “supernatural beliefs” not to refer to any actual supernatural claims but instead to claims that very much pertain to worldly society, often with scientific support, but which he himself happens to disagree with. For example, one of the “supernatural beliefs” he lists is “humans are causing sixth mass extinction”. Putting aside the obvious problem that the scientific community seems to suggest that this is indeed happening, it beggars belief to suggest that this might be interpreted as a “supernatural” claim. Do mass extinctions happen only because of a God flashing a magic wand, or like lightning bursting out from another dimension? No, they are very much naturalistic phenomenon, and until today they were all caused solely by extant, uncontrollable natural phenomenon. Or how about “prisoners aren’t guilty, the system is”. Again, we might well ask questions about the system that makes sure that non-violent drug offenders, often African-Americans, spend years of their lives in prison, while allowing millionnaires who literally committed murder to avoid incarceration, but how in the world are we to take that as a “supernatural” claim, or even a particularly extraordinary one? I also fail to see how decriminalization as a means to prevent addiction and overdoses qualifies as a “supernatural” claim. These are just a handful of examples of Boghossian’s absurd labelling of whatever claim he dislikes as “supernatural”.

The “Racism” section of the table begins in predictable fashion. Slavery, referring mainly to the Atlantic slave trade, is the “original sin”, the machinations of mercantile slavery here are somehow given a cosmic status that perhaps was never afforded to it by actual anti-racists, and white people and the police are the “guilty devils”, the implication being that Boghossian assumes that white people are assumed to never be capable of being allies in the struggle against racism or of dismantling racial hierarchy. The “Myths” section is ostensibly supposed to refer to “creation myths”, but contains nothing of the sort. Instead it contains strawmen such as “Asian success is due to Asians participating in white supremacy” and “structural racism is the cause of all racial inequality and the only explanation possible for disparate outcomes by racial group”. The “Sacred Victims” are of course non-white and indigenous people, and the “Elect” meant to save them are Black Lives Matters, critical race theorists, and basically a selection of anti-racist intellectuals that he doesn’t like (not that I’m a fan of Ta-Nehisi Coates or Robin DiAngelo either, just so we’re clear). Black Lives Matter here is supposed to be taken as a kind of elite movement, an appendage of the establishment meant to scold white people, when in reality they seem to repeatedly criticize mainstream Democratic politicians, such as Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, and have more recently earned the ire of the establishment for their declared solidarity with Cuba against US imperialism. The “supernatural beliefs” section here is just a joke. It consists almost entirely of strawmen, and the otherwise not incorrect claim that racism is as bad as ever. The “taboo facts” section would imply “things forbidden to say”, but claiming that racism is declining and that interracial marriages are broadly accepted is not the edgy, rebellious, or controversial statement that Boghossian thinks it is. If anything it just shows he understands very little of the subject, as is demonstrated by his claim that racism can simply be wished away through a single legislative act (surely “magical thinking” if I ever saw it) and that “black wealth” supposedly rising is somehow proof that African-Americans do not experience systematic incarcertation and brutalization. “Purifying rituals” here seems to mean essentially any policy intended to address racial inequality that isn’t the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as more performative measures that don’t actually address it, while “purifying speech” seems to include obscure phrases no one uses as well the concept of intersectionality itself. All in all a truly baffling mixture.

I kind of stress the implications of Boghossian’s apparent beliefs on racism. Based on what we’re looking at here, Boghossian might be a racist. He opposes the idea of any structural barriers explaining the prevalence of racism and the negative outcomes of black people, and it is my suspicion that when he hints at “other possible explanations for disparate outcomes by racial group”, he’s trying to hint at something more essential, like IQ, genes, or phenotypes. And if he isn’t, he will likely assert that the problem is cultural, that African-Americans partake in a culture of violence and the glorification thereof, while of course conveniently ignoring similar cultures among white men or even the very existence of “white trash”. Either Boghossian believes that black people are genetically predisposed to crime, or he simply believes that black people have a uniquely violent culture, and in either case, this clearly is racist, and so Boghossian has irrational racist beliefs. It’s also quizzical how he maintains the idea that rioting is inherently apolitical as a means to denounce it. What does he think the Rebecca Riots were? How does he think Stonewall fought for gay rights? In certain contexts, rioting can take on political significance as political actions. But of course even this is hardly relevant since he’s clearly referring to the 2020 “riots”, after it was found that 93% of the so-called “riots” were actually peaceful protests. You know, for someone who might claim to advance evidence-based beliefs over faith-based ones, Peter Boghossian certainly doesn’t seem interested in any evidence that might contradict his racist faith. I suppose this is the first proof that not believing in a god of any kind doesn’t actually make you any better at evidence-based critical thinking.

The “Climate Change” section is no better. In fact, it’s one of the clearest proofs that Boghossian has no idea what he’s talking about when he tries to discuss science. Here the Industrial Revolution and fossil fuel use are “original sins”, and the “guilty devils” are climate deniers, the Koch Brothers (who often fund them), and huge multinational corporations. Yes, Boghossian and his friend are actually defending corporations through their implication as persecuted heretics, and yes, the implication of climate deniers as the same type of heretic shows their sympathies towards climate change denial. The “Myths” section comprises of entirely scientific and factual claims about climate change, the “Sacred Victims” section is essentially a way of belittling indigenous people who might have their lives completely destroyed by the worst effects of climate change, and “the Elect” consists of an absurd mixture featuring climate scientists, the United Nations, Greta Thunberg, Vandana Shiva, and the long-dead economist Thomas Malthus, never mind that Malthus tends to be despised by many progressive thinkers as a racist because of his ideas about overpopulation. The idea that man-made climate change will make humans as well as the majority of Earth’s lifeforms extinct is inexplicably dismissed as a “supernatural belief”, as is the study of tipping points and the idea that prosperity does not equal happiness. Nuclear power advocacy is somehow framed as “taboo”, when in reality it isn’t, as are certain talking points about renewable energy, which are in reality anything but fringe, while “taboo speech”, meant to imply true but heretical ideas, consists of a string of delusional nonsense and non-sequiturs. “Purifying rituals”, yet again, consist mostly of any attempt by state policy, society, or the individual to address climate change whatsoever, although I will say: “net zero” really is just a buzzword.

This section is also, in my opinion, a good glimpse into the inner religious thinking of the otherwise secular atheist Peter Boghossian. If, as the common atheist does, we define religious thinking as meaning faith-based beliefs, not based in evidence or critical thinking, then to be perfectly honest Peter Boghossian embodies this in spades, even in just this one topic. One example of “taboo speech” is “wealth is good”. Why? How much wealth? For whom? Evidently not for everyone. Wealth is apparently so good that most of the world isn’t allowed to have it, and instead it must be concentrated into the hands of an abject minority of the global population. This is a value judgement that is never questioned. By his terms, it is an assertion of faith over reason. The idea that fracking actually reduces carbon emissions flies squarely in the face of basic facts about fracking and the methane gas it releases. The idea that human civilization, in its current trajectory, can continue to exist, at least without a significant reduction of prosperity, is quite possibly the most faith-based position you can have on climate change. If you think that humans can keep consuming the earth’s finite resources ad infinitum, destroy the ecosystems that sustain life on earth, and continue perpetuating anthropogenic climate change, and not expect that civilization will collapse or be significantly imperiled, you have way too much faith in the status quo and its power to resolve our situation.

More scientific ignorance and arguably faith-based talking points comprise the “Trans” section, and this one sure is a doozy. The “original sin” here seems to be the reduction of gender to the traditional sexual binary, which is then conflated with gender, and the “guilty devils” who perpetuate it are TERFs, as well as people who oppose trans athletes competing in the games of that correspond to their gender identity as well as “mandatory use of pronouns”. I think we can tell who’s side Boghossian takes here. The two “Myths” listed are either a strawman (“trans women or trans men are identical to biological women or men”) or actually a proven fact (“Violence against trans people is on the rise, disproportionate, and due to being trans”). The “Sacred Victims” are of course trans and non-binary people and the “Elect” are essentially any individual or group advocating on their behalf. The idea that puberty blockers and gender affirmation surgery have any effect on your gender or your sex is dismissed as a “supernatural belief”, yet another abuse of the very concept, and the other claim is simply s strawman.

It’s when we get into his idea of “Taboo Facts/Speech” that the depths of this ignorance extend even further. He claims that social acceptance of trans people is increasing. This is despite the fact that more trans people are being killed each year, and there seems to be an entire media apparatus dedicated to defending transphobes and never facing any political challenge because of it. He claims that trans kids “often benefit from parental involvement”. The truth of that claim really depends on what he means by “parental involvement”. We have evidence to suggest that strongly supporting trans kids in how they want to live, just letting them be themselves while accepting their validity and not withholding parental love because of it, dramatically reduces the overall risk of suicide for trans people. If that’s what we mean by parental involvement, then yes, trans kids do overwhelmingly benefit. But I suspect that this is not what Boghossian means. It’s clear that he in fact despises trans people or sees being trans as a purely ideological construct rather than an age-old reality of the human species. In which case, parental involvement for him would mean that the parents of trans kids repeatedly deny the validity of their identities and raise them to deny themselves. There’s no evidence that trans kids benefit from it, and in fact we have evidence that this is actually more likely to lead to trans people committing suicide. And, of course, like any died-in-the-wool transphobe, he brings up “detransitioners” as a “forbidden” subject, the supposed heretical status of it being a way to delegitimize trans people as tyrants. Putting aside the fact that J K Rowling can be defended for using “detransitioning” to justify transphobia, if you actually cared about evidence, you’d learn that “detransitioners” consist of less than 1% of the trans community, who themselves are a group that already consists of around 1% of people, and if you actually cared about logic, you’d realize how stupid it is to ban people (including children) from having gender affirmation surgery or getting puberty blockers on the basis that the tiniest possible minority might want it banned, especially if you’re OK with children going through other body-altering surgeries if it means saving their lives. Once again, by Boghossian’s own standard, his claims about trans people are in fact “faith-based”, since they are not evidence-based and reject evidence-based conclusions.

Before we get into the next section, are you beginning to see the big picture so far? So far the “woke religion” seems to consist of anti-racism, or at least any anti-racism that does not accept the liberal-conservative faith that believes racism has already been resolved, the acknowledgement that man-made climate change is a real and tangible thing which threatens the continued existence of human civilization and life on Earth, and the basic scientific reality that trans people are real and valid as well as the basic moral position that you should accept them for who they are and let them be themselves. “Wokeness”, then, seems to just mean any vaguely progressive position you can take: or more accurately, it means any scientific or social reality that you dislike and thus have to rationalize as a totalitarian conspiracy.

In that spirit, let’s examine the “Crime” section, which shows his fundamental deference to authority. It’s very clearly his way of whining about people who acknowledge capitalism at the root of any social frustration that might culminate in criminal behaviour. The “Myths” here consist of the almost universally acknowledged fact that the American police force descended from slave patrols, and that large numbers of black people are slaughtered by the police. At his most shockingly out of touch, he also claims that black people killed by police officers are considered sacred. Yes, in Peter Boghossian’s fucked up mind, there are people in America who, when they see a black man pass them by, they will immediately prostrate themselves in worship. Again we see evidence of Boghossian’s possible racism, as to be completely honest it sounds like something a white supremacist might say. Another possibile indicator of this strand of racism is his claim that the “Elect” of the “woke religion” on crime consists of Black Lives Matter, progressive district attorneys, police abolitionists, and George Soros. I trust that I don’t need to explain what’s anti-semitic and white supremacist about blaming all social and racial unrest on one rich Jewish man.

In yet another abuse of the concept of a supernatural belief, he defines “Supernatural Beliefs” to include the idea that “Prisoner’s aren’t guilty, the system is”, which is just a strawman directed at anyone who thinks we should address structural inequality in order to resolve the problem of crime, as well as the idea that “Jails and prisons aren’t necessary”. The “Taboo Facts” include the dizzyingly mainstream and common belief that the police reduces crime, and that the “taboo against cooperation with police and prosecutors is a barrier to successfully prosecuting criminals”. That’s doing all the work isn’t it? What matters to Boghossian is not necessarily justice in itself, but rather just “prosecuting criminals”, which in itself could just mean arresting and incarcerating more people. You merely want a justice system that meets arrest quotas, not necessarily a justice system that resolves crime. He also blames anti-police protests for increasing criminal emboldenment through police pullback. Again I would point to the ACLED data for 93% of the George Floyd protests being peaceful as evidence to disprove his claim. And of course, he’s one of those people who still hasn’t figured out that nobody actually believes “all lives matter”.

I mean, think about it. Let’s go back to the logic that Boghossian would like to talk about. The only thing to understand about saying “all lives matter” is that it’s meant as a response to Black Lives Matter, on the grounds that Black Lives Matter is somehow an exclusionary statement on the value of human life in the abstract. “All lives matter” is thus, in theory, an axiomatic statement that every human life has the same value, defined in terms of a kind of individualistic egalitarianism. If that’s the case, then guess what? You don’t believe it, and in fact I’d even argue that nobody does. Or, if you/they do, then you/they certainly are willing to make a lot of exceptions to that rule. How many people who respond to Black Lives Matter and their supporters with “all lives matter” actually care the lives of people settling in camps and crossing the ocean to flee their countries of origin? Certainly not enough to oppose them being labelled “migrants” and either getting shot or interned by the state. Sticking to Boghossian, the lives of trans people, indigenous and non-white people, and, as we’ll see, the mentally ill and the homeless don’t seem to matter to him, at least since he is willing to disregard their needs for failing to conform to his moral ideology. And what about in a more everyday sense? Does the life of someone who invaded your home and either abducted or killed your family matter as much as the victims? Does the life of a dictator matter as much as the lives of his oppressed subjects who might be about to violently overthrow him? Our willingness to put up with countless imperialist wars might suggest that the lives of the people of the countries we invade don’t matter, no doubt because they are strangers and foreigners. And what if we extend that to non-human life forms? Clearly, our attitude towards climate change suggests that human comfort matters more than the survival of countless non-human life forms. And even older, perhaps more animistic cultures, clearly didn’t think all non-human lives were sacred enough to not devour them. And if you’re squishing flies, spiders, and ants to death for the high crime of being creepy crawlies, or defend industrial factory farming because it gives you the meat you eat, then yes, something tells me all lives don’t matter that much to you. I sincerely wish people would give up the pretence.

Moving on, we come to the “Mental Illness” section, which is certainly an unexpected endorsement of conformity from an atheist complaining about enforced conformity. The premise he establishes is that “the woke religion” believes that psychiatry and the Enlightenment are responsible for inventing mental illness as a way to control neuro-atypical people. Of course, the “Sacred Victims” are neuro-atypical people and non-conformists, already suggesting that he ridicules and hates anyone who doesn’t conform to society (except himself, of course), and the “Elect” meant to save them consists of “advocates of mentally ill” as well as a motley crew of intellectuals such as Michel Foucault, Thomas Szasz, and R. D. Lang. Never mind for a moment that Michel Foucault was just this year accused of raping young boys in Tunisia based in the testimony of people who immediately retracted or walked back their claims, and the media or parts thereof just uncritically parroted those claims as objective truth. So much for darling of the establishment. As opposed to the “supernatural beliefs” that mental illness is made up and that mentally ill people should self-medicate freely, he advances the supposed scientific truth that mentally ill people are disproportionately violent and that many mentally ill people need or claim to benefit from “involuntary treatment”. The part that does all the work is “involuntary treatment”. What kind of “involuntary treatment”? What does it involve? Considering that he views neuro-atypical people as “Sacred Victims”, an inherently derisive category, and believes the word neuro-atypical is itself a mere buzzword meant to signal virtue, I suspect that Boghossian would be fine with taking autistic people away to have electroshock treatment to control or “cure” their autism. Another case where all lives don’t matter to the guy who says all lives matter.

The ” Drugs” section is yet another instance where Boghossian’s attempts to define progressive and/or libertarian positions on drug policy as faith-based superstition fly directly in the face of empirical reality. He attempts to portray the idea of decriminalisation and legalization of drugs as vital to preventing addiction and overdose as a “supernatural belief”. Aside from the obvious abuse of the very term, what Boghossian won’t tell you is that it’s actually true. In 2001, Portugal decriminalised the personal possession and consumption all drugs; those found to have a supply, rather than being arrested, were expected to appear before a local commission about treatment, harm reduction, and support services. This was accompanied by a broad cultural shift in attitudes to drugs, and resulted in a dramatic decrease in drug addiction, substance abuse, and related deaths. This, keep in mind, was after decades rampant drug abuse and deaths from overdose. Portugal is thus a shining example of how rehabilitation over punishment is the more effective way to resolve the problem of drug abuse than the other way around, and to claim the contrary would, again by Boghossian’s own standards, be a faith-based claim, not an evidence-based claim.

It is also apparent that Boghossian blames George Soros for widespread proliferation of drugs, since he appears as one of the “Elect”, along with the Harm Reduction Coalition and the Drug Policy Alliance, set up on behalf of drug users, who are the “Sacred Victims”. Again Boghossian is perpetuating an anti-semitic conspiracy theory in which Jews are accused of spreading drugs everywhere, which white supremacists believe is an effort to weaken the white race. Yet more racism from Boghossian and his friend. Boghossian then claims as a “taboo fact” that liberalisation, decriminalisation, and normalisation of drug use increases drug addiction. The evidence points to the contrary, but that won’t matter because it contradicts Boghossian’s faith. Distributing clean needles and providing services for homeless drug addicts is dismissed as a “purifying ritual”. I suppose it’s purifying in at least one sense; namely making sure the needles are sterile so that you don’t get infected with something and die. Oh look, more lives that don’t matter to the guy who says all lives matter!

And in that spirit we come to the last section of the table: “Homelessness”. It seems to be yet another way of whining about people who think capitalism causes problems by dismissing it as an “original sin” doctrine. The idea that homelessness is caused by poverty and high rents is classed as a “Myth”. Again, any available evidence on the subject suggests that it’s not a “myth”, but that doesn’t matter, because Peter Boghossian just religiously despises homeless people. The idea that people live in tents and sidewalks because of poverty is dismissed as a “supernatural belief”, and it is misleadingly presented as something people might “decide” to do. You wouldn’t “decide” to live under a bridge if you had the choice, you only do it because you’ve lost everything and have nowhere else to go. Logic might tell you that, but for Boghossian, his faith, albeit a godless faith, overrides logic. This faith also seems to override the facts about homeless people experiencing more violence, since Boghossian dismisses this as a “supernatural belief”. Instead he asserts that homelessness is caused principally by addiction and mental illness despite all evidence to the contrary and claims that trauma and abuse have declined. He also argues that subsidized housing should be contingent on abstinence. While he might consider that to be “taboo speech”, his ideas are already mainstream policy: it’s called means testing. Unsurprisingly, free housing and any programs focusing on homelessness that aren’t punitive in nature are dismissed as “purifying rituals”.

By now we have a clear picture of what “the woke religion” looks like, and by extension what “wokeness” is. It seems to just be a collection of progressive policies and ideas that Boghossian and his friend don’t like, and in particular policies and ideas that seem to involve criticially addressing the current structures of power. To call something “woke”, then, is to attack it for daring to challenge existing laws, norms and power structures on the subject of race, crime, gender identity, drugs, homelessness, really any issue, or for more generally questioning the status of quo of “Western Civilization”. That, I think, is one of the other almost religious ideas found among some sectors of the New Atheist. The more palatable form of this embraced even by non-reactionary atheists is the cult of the Enlightenment. It all starts from this idea that we progressed from being backwards apes in the throngs of religious superstition to being people who conducted their lives and thoughts based on rationalistic logic and reason. The more self-aware atheist is usually prepared to acknowledge the fact that this all came with a bucketload of colonialism and attempts to justify racism through science and even philosophy, though I suspect many New Atheists will simply gloss that over. That’s because the Enlightenment, or its twin phantasm called “Western Civilization”, are both functionally a kind of sacred center, a sort of ground of being for the worldview they would prefer to be dominant. The ideas they oppose have but one thing in common: they challenge a set of ideas that have been crystallized as the social basis of “Western Civilization”, which are justified through what seems to be the rationalist’s version of what is otherwise the typically faith-based thinking they might claim to oppose, and so they amount to blasphemy. You might say it even counts as “taboo speech”, ironically enough. Instead of an unshakable faith in one God and the promise of eternal life in heaven, these people have an unshakable faith in the order and progress of “Western Civilization” and its culture (often in the sense of a particularly homogenous culture if you know what I mean), and will bitterly defend that faith against anyone who criticizes their beloved civilizational order.

In the end, all this talk of “wokeism” seems like a cargo cult, an article of faith in itself, and just to show you that, let’s briefly, and only briefly, dip into Michael Shellenberger’s article on why “wokeism” is a religion. In it he mentions having met Peter Boghossian, who he describes as his new friend, and claims that Boghossian resigned his post at Portland State University “in response to Wokeist repression”. What Shellenberger won’t tell you is that Boghossian has been doing his “anti-wokeist” liberal-conservartive schtick for years now, and Portland State University kept rehiring him each year, for a decade, and before his resignation he was scheduled to teach philosophy for the next term, even after he was found to have committed ethics violations through his hoax paper. The university didn’t ask Boghossian to resign and there was no major campaign to get him fired. The “Wokeist repression” that Shellenberger and Boghossian are referring to is nothing more than the fact that Portland State University wouldn’t play ball and accept Boghossian’s hoax papers to prove his point that they would publish anything if it sounded “woke”, not to mention that Boghossian himself is unpopular and despised by his students for his nonsensical and bigoted political views. In fact, he hasn’t been particularly well-liked even by many atheists over the years. And for all his bullshit about being silenced and repressed, he has openly praised the Hungarian autocrat Viktor Orban for silencing his critics by defunding gender studies courses. This isn’t even the only time Boghossian has defended fascism. He defended violent neo-Nazi thugs from being referred to as Nazis, has appeared with the white nationalist Stefan Molyneux to accuse the left of being “the new racists” while announcing a broad trend of people calling guys like Molyneux out for their often cartoonishly misogynistic views as “the death of rational discourse”, and more recently has done a sitdown with far-right ideologues who think colonial violence was a good thing. Boghossian himself also likes Viktor Orban’s ideas about academia so much that he openly called for the defunding of Portland State University, a move widely suspected to be motivated by not giving him tenure. Meanwhile mainstream media seems to uncritically support his claims to being repressed by “woke” academics, while big name atheists like Richard Dawkins defended him for his attempt to submit a feminist version of Mein Kampf as a hoax.

Incidentally, it also turns out that Shellenberger and Boghossian got their concept of “the Elect” and many aspects of their “taxonomy of woke religion” project from John McWhorter, a conservative intellectual and the author of Woke Racism, who uses the term to refer to a class of progressive “neo-racists” and, well, perhaps anything else; seriously, McWhorter never adequately defines the term for himself. Shellenberger just summarizes it as “people self-appointed to crusade against evil”, which is meaningless. But apparently this junk philosophy can be endorsed by big-name skeptic atheists like Michael Shermer (who, by the way, is a sex pest) and fans of people like Sam Harris will simp for his work anyway, thus the New Atheist movement continues its reactionary drift.

This is the truth behind Boghossian’s and Shellenberger’s claims about “wokeist repression”. It’s all a big lie, a grift concocted by Boghossian to try and gain sympathy from idiots who might be inclined to believe his philosophy, and judging by the fact that Shellenberger endorsed him and became his friend after the fact, the grift seems to have worked. It’s nothing more than a pathetic manifestation of ressentiment that disguises rank failure, abject ignornace, and petty malice as common sense rationalism and skepticism, while framing the people opposing it as totalitarians, authoritarians, illiberals, what have you, which then justifies his own proposed actual authoritarian suppression of critics. But what’s really interesting and which I feel the need to stress more than anything is that his views, if we take them seriously, are fundamentally faith-based in the very sense Boghossian means when he condemns faith-based thinking. So much of what Boghosssian believes is proposed in direct contrast to evidential reality, and often seems to consist in what might otherwise be called “magical thinking”, or at least follows a similar logic. The way that the modern atheist movement, or at least certain sectors thereof, are defining themselves or have been defined by starkly reactionary tendencies, especially to the extent that they are supported by pseudo-science that presents itself as science, will never cease to fascinate me, between Peter Boghossian’s absurd attempts to frame everything he doesn’t like as a superstitious religion that must be purged and Lucien Greaves with basically everything he’s been doing up to this point. I’ve honestly been beginning to wonder what they’re even for over the last couple of months.

Strange bedfellows?: Peter Boghossian appearing on Fox News to complain about the nebulous spectre of “woke ideology”

Religion and revolution and Fire Emblem: Three Houses

As something of a change of subject, I’d like to revisit the world of video games, and video game stories, in the manner that I often did in the early years of my blog. I’ve had a Nintendo Switch for over a year now, and recently a game came out that my brother told me about wants to play himself. That game is Fire Emblem: Three Houses, the latest in the line of Fire Emblem games, a series of tactical role-playing games and one of the most popular role-playing hame series’ in Japan. In this game, unlike in previous installments, you can choose between three houses within the land of Fodlan, and the one you choose is the one you will teach as their professor and carry its students to victory in battle. Not being particularly enamored with the series, I didn’t care at first, although it was amusing to think about considering it kind of reminded me the Three Kingdoms period of China, and from there the Dynasty Warriors games (incidentally, Koei Tecmo, the company that makes the Dynasty Warriors games, was involved in the development of Three Houses). But then my brother told me that, in one of the factions, you can fight the church. That’s when I became interested in playing it.

The reason I decided to write this post is because, after playing the game, I became very interested in the storyline the game had to offer, and the many narrative quirks that presented themselves. Those who have followed my blog since its early days know that this is the kind of thing I sometimes like to talk about. For example I talked in the past about not only Shin Megami Tensei in particular but also games like inFamous and Dynasty Warriors for anything in the plot that inspires me to write about it here. In Fire Emblem: Three Houses, it’s probably the first time in a long time that I felt that I had a lot to say about a video game.

But before I go on, a plot summary is in order. You’re the son or daughter (per your choice) of a mercenary named Jeralt, who works for the Church of Seiros, a religion that in many ways resembles Christianity but centers around the worship of a goddess (referred to in universe as Goddess or The Goddess) rather than God. After saving some students from the Officers Academy at the Garreg Mach monastey from bandit attacks, you find out that these students are also the leaders of their own respective houses – The Blue Lions, The Black Eagles, and The Golden Deer. Each of these houses represent different territories in the world of Fodlan. The Blue Lions represent the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus, which seems to be a religious monarchy where the nobles and the royal family are devout believers in the Church of Seiros. The Black Eagles represent the Adrestian Empire, the largest power of the three which also has a tenuous relationship with the Church of Seiros. The Golden Deer represent the Leicester Alliance, which is perhaps the most curious of them all in that it’s not an empire or a kingdom but instead a league of noble families ruled jointly as a republic, governed by a council of the five most influential families, and is apparently neutral towards the Church of Seiros. Anyways, early on in the game, after being introduced to the Officer’s Academy and its students, you become enlisted as a professor of the Officer’s Academy and you’re asked to choose which of the three houses you take under your tutelage. The first part of the game consists of you teaching your students the ways of battle, and the second part sees the three main powers at war with each other, and you will end up fighting for one of them based on which of the houses you picked at the beginning.

From this point on, expect quite a few spoilers for this game.

So anyways, I mentioned earlier that one of the factions has you fighting the church? Well, that faction is The Black Eagles, representative of the Adrestian Empire, led by the Adrestian princess Edelgard von Hresvelg. At some point in the game, she confides in you about her beliefs about the Church of Seiros and these things called Crests. Crests are these weird sigils you see in the game’s story that are supposedly blessings from the Goddess. They seem to confer special abilities and exceptional strength and power to those who bear them (that is, those who are either born with Crests or have Crest Stones implanted into their bodies). In terms of gameplay, these Crests are basically combat buffs that confer various effects upon a character’s abilities during battle, and allow certain characters to wield unique weapons (referred to as the Hero’s Relics, or just Relics). It’s also very tied to heredity and nobility, as the Crests are often prized after by noble families, even, as shown in the game’s story, to the point that they disown their own children if they lack a Crest. But for Edelgard, the Crests are to blame for what is, in her view, a brutal and irrational social order. And, if you think about it, this makes sense.

The world of Fire Emblem: Three Houses is very obviously based around medieval Europe in large part, and the time frame within the game even suggests the story taking place in what is Fodlan’s version of the 12th century, albeit with noticeable anachronisms. In real life, medieval society was intensely aristocratic, being ruled by a hierarchy of lords and their servants, with of course the royal family at the top of that hierarchy. Their systems of government were characterized by the idea of divinely-ordained hereditary rule (or “the divine right of kings” as you’re told in history class), wherein the head of state derives authority from being the member of a special aristocratic family and lineage, this authority often secured by religious backing and ceremony. Now imagine that sort of society, but then add to the mix the ability to inherit special abilities via the Crests. Or hell, the Crests don’t even have to be real. You could just have a religious belief system or superstition that has something like that, and the nobles act based on that system of thought. It would indeed seem like an irrational place, and a fairly hostile and cut-throat one too, with the nobles competing for who has God’s favour as signified by the inheritance of supernatural powers. Why would you not want to get rid of such a social order? Not to mention, the Crests in-universe essentially damn you into just being an object of the desires of noble families, who seek prestige and glory from members who have Crests. And in some cases having the Crests can also turn you into a literal monster. Also, it’s possible to artificially implant crests into a person – through horrible, agonizing and for all I know illegal experiments and surgeries (referred to in-game as blood reconstruction surgery) that also tend to fail and result in either insanity or death for the subject. Even successful surgeries tend to have terrible side-effects, such as reduced lifespan in the case of Lysithea, one of the characters. And if that’s not enough, these experiments are often explained as having been carried out on unsuspecting children, and the only two “successful” subjects of these experiments mentioned in-game are Edelgard and Lysithea, with other subjects being shown to have either died as children or lost their sanity. So Edelgard’s stance on the Crests in the game is completely rational and justified, especially given she and her siblings have gone through those same experiments, in which her siblings lost either their lives or their minds.

The Black Eagles path is seems to be as thrilling as I hoped. The archbishop Rhea, when you defy her will and side with Edelgard during Chapter 11, declares that she will rip your heart out and transforms into a fearsome white dragon, who seems to have been lampshaded earlier in the game as “The Immaculate One”. After this, your fellow Black Eagles students join you, Edelgard and her loyal bodyguard Hubert, and declare war on the Church of Seiros, and their allies of course. What fascinated me deeply was that Hubert and Edelgard reveal that they have a whole manifesto lined up, in which they say they’re going to expose the evils of their enemies and the Church, presumably as part of a new ideological mission. That moment, to me, was more epic than I expected, although I didn’t see much come of it in the game’s story. Chapter 12 was pretty exhilirating in that sense, I got the real sense of excitement of actually fighting the ordained “good guy” organization. The rest of the path is basically you carrying on Edelgard’s mission of unifying Fodlan by defeating the Church of Seiros and its allies (the other two lords), until finally you fight Rhea, who turns into the dragon you saw before.

One of the “good” guys, a murderous dragon!

Now, here’s the thing, take note of how this game seems to demonize those who oppose the Church of Seiros. The only time the game wants you to think of a character as a malevolent force, for some reason it’s mainly people who oppose the Church of Seiros. This is typically Edelgard and Hubert, although for all of that the game actually manages to do a good job of making them actually likeable, leading to a bit of confusion as to where they actually stand on those two character. There are also “those who slither in the dark”, the only characters in the game who can technically be counted as unambiguously villainous. Although their actions are decidely evil, there cause is a rather curious one: supposedly they want to, as Myson (one of their agents) puts it in the Blue Lions route, “return this world to mortal hands”. Although it is possible to interpret that as wanting to free the people of Fodlan from the control of the ruling goddess or more or less her people, unlike with Edelgard they seem to be more motivated by vengeance and hatred than any liberating vision for humanity, and are revealed to have been responsible for the murder of the goddess Sothis and the genocide of her offspring at Zanado. This lends itself to the real conflict buried beneath the war between the three main powers: that is, the conflict between the draconic children of the goddess, including Rhea who controls Foldan from the shadows via the Church of Seiros, and her ancient enemies, the Agarthans, who murdered Rhea’s kin and talk about Sothis as a false god. This aspect of the conflict is somewhat important in the Black Eagles path, where Edelgard and Hubert and their allies are among the only people who talk about liberating Fodlan from divine rule and bringing it under the control of its human population. If you engage in support conversations with Hubert you eventually get a sizeable hint of this emphasis: he talks to you about how he believes the goddess failed to govern the world, how the human species steps up and take the lead where the divine fails, and how the human species should fight to preserve what makes itself human. On the whole, it’s all very interesting how the designated villains of the game all want to put the human species first above the gods. I wonder why that’s supposed to be evil. But evil it is according to the game, or at least that’s implied to be the case considering most of the available routes in the game have you defending the Church of Seiros and opposing Edelgard, with no real justification as to why you should support the church.

It’s almost like the game wants you to side with the Church of Seiros. In fact, even if you take the Black Eagles path, the game still basically wants you to side with the Church of Seiros no matter what, even if it means betraying Edelgard. Even though you agree to teach Edelgard and side with her faction for the rest of the game, you don’t actually get to side with Edelgard unless during Chapter 11 of the story you talk to her in Garreg Mach monastery and agree to accompany her to the city of Enbarr for her coronation as the new Adrestian emperor (or empress, rather). You also have to get a support rank for Edelgard of C or higher, which you can do by talking to her, fighting alongside her, giving her gifts, inviting her to tea etc., like you would for any of the other officers in the game. You have to do this before the Chapter 11 mission starts. If you don’t, you’ll miss the chance to see that event, and if you miss that event you won’t be able to trigger this path, and be locked into the Church of Seiros campaign, which has you and the other Black Eagles (except Hubert) fighting against Edelgard and the Adrestian Empire in the name of the Church. If you suceed in unlocking that event, then after you defeat Edelgard in the Conflict in the Holy Tomb mission, Lady Rhea orders you to kill Edelgard, but you’re given a choice as to whether or not you want to kill her or protect her instead. Choosing to protect Edelgard sets you on the alternative route where you fight alongside Edelgard against the Church of Seiros for the rest of the game. To be honest, when I playing the game I didn’t assume that was the case at all. I just played the game and encountered that event, and while there was a choice indicating you could alter the story in this path, I assumed that I was actually doing the Black Eagles path as it was supposed to play out. But nope. In the main playthrough, you’re actually supposed to try and kill Edelgard after defeating her in the Conflict in the Holy Tomb.

And you know, through all this I think it’s worth visiting the question, “just what’s so great about the Church of Seiros anyway?”. Let’s think about this in terms of the main character’s life. It’s implied throughout the game’s story that the Church of Seiros has been trying to manipulate you for whatever purpose they have in mind, and Lady Rhea seems to have some mysterious plans for you. Early in Chapter 10, after your father Jeralt dies at the end of the previous chapter, you discover his diary in the room where you would once find him. In the diary, it’s revealed that Jeralt had developed mistrust towards the Church of Seiros after his wife died (which was also around the same time the main character was born), and the baby protagonist developed very bizarre behaviours, such as never laughing or crying as a normal baby would, and most bafflingly of all not having a detectable heartbeat despite having a pulse (which really confused me when I saw it because, usually, if you don’t have a heartbeat, that means you’re dead). Perhaps thinking that Rhea had plans for the child that he wanted no part in, Jeralt decided to start a fire in Garreg Mach monastery, spread false rumours about his child having died in the fire, and fled from the monastery with the child. Eventually you figure out that Rhea, and the Church of Seiros, was using you as a pawn for their plans to preserve their dominance over Fodlan. It turns out that the main protagonist possesses the Crest of Flames, which is the Crest of the goddess of this game’s universe (identified within the game as Sothis), and since by the end of Chapter 10 you’ve awakened that goddess’ power by having her merge with you, Rhea seizes the opportunity to try and use you to revive the goddess, who apparently is the mother of Rhea. That’s why Jeralt initially left Garreg Mach and took you with him, because he realized that Rhea saw you as essentially a vessel for her own power, a pet project of sorts, and wanted nothing to do with. Of course that didn’t stop him from coming back in the beginning of the game, but I digress. Regardless of what side of the story you play for, you eventually figure out one way or another that Rhea has, all this time, been using you as a vessel in order to revive the goddess Sothis, who is implied to have died at some point in the events prior to your arrival in the game’s story (even though you can see Sothis in the game in the form of the green-haired sprite who greets you at the very beginning of the game). To that end, it seems Rhea initiated an experiment through which you inherited the Crest of Flames and through which Sothis’ spirit entered your mind and body, so that eventually you will become one with Sothis’ power, which Rhea believes will signal the return of Sothis to the world so that she can rule Foldan once again. Essentially, Rhea is using the protagonist as a puppet to re-establish divine rule over mankind. The sting in all this, however, is that this Crest is apparently the main reason the protagonist is still alive. But there’s a problem: after defeating Rhea in the Black Eagles route, the protagonist loses the Crest of Flames and, while it at first appears that the protagonist is dead, it soon becomes clear that you actually survive and live to see Edelgard establish her dominion over all of Fodlan.

It’s not just what the Church does with you that makes me think that maybe they’re not the good guys here. Just look at what they’re seen doing in the first part of the game. The Church of Seiros makes it very clear at an early point that if you oppose them, you end up dead. An early example of this is in Chapter 3, wherein the Church orders you to suppress a rebellion by Lord Lonato, in which civilians are also slaughtered by Church forces. Most of the cast reflects on this as a tragedy if not an outright atrocity, even if they ultimately see their actions as necessary, but Rhea has no qualms about the whole thing. To her, even the civilians were just more sinners “pointing their swords towards the heavens”. There is also Chapter 4, where you’re introduced to a faction known as the Western Church. The Western Church appears to be a breakaway organization of the Church of Seiros, believing in ultimately the same goddess and having similar teachings (at least seemingly), but at some point it diverged from the central Church and broke off in order to become its own sect. This sect considers the central church to be a heretical organization, perverting the true teachings of the faith of the Goddess, and consequently considers Lady Rhea, its archbishop, to be an apostate. Think of the Lutherans in their attitude to the Catholic Church, only with goddess worship. Anyways, some mages apparently affilitated with the Western Church attempt to steal the Sword of the Creator from the Holy Mausoleum during the Rite of Rebirth ceremony. After you defeat the mages and acquire the Sword of the Creator, three men who are identified as followers of the Western Church are summoned before Lady Rhea, and her underling Seteth and a mercenary named Shamir, who inform them that they are to be executed for this transgression, as well as for the rebellion fought by Lord Lonato and the fake assassination letter that was spread afterwards. The men insist that they are not affiliated with the Western Church, and that Rhea is making a mistake, but Rhea and her underlings are not inclined to listen to the men or give them any sort of court hearing, and instead simply give the order for them to be executed. Interestingly enough, one of the men remarks that Rhea has already slaughtered many members of the Western Church, and calls her a monster for it. Of course, later on it would seem he turned out to be right in at least one sense of the word. In any case, strict punishment is how we’re shown the church enforces its rules and its authority. This of course makes the students of the Officer’s Academy begin to feel more than a little afraid of Lady Rhea, and rightly so. In addition, some time after this event, there is a side-quest that requires Catherine or Ashe being in the party wherein you kill more of the Western Church members for no real reason. It’s explained that it has something to do with the assassination attempt, but other than that it’s not too clear what the Western Church is doing that could justify attacking them, let alone executing them as Rhea is said to be about to do.

This also makes itself all the clearer towards the end of the Edelgard playthrough. Once you defeat Seteth and Flayn, she vows to condemn you to eternal torment of being chained to boulders in the desert until your skin rots, and during the final chapter, she orders Catherine, one of the Knights of Seiros, to set fire to the city of Fhirdiad – a move so callous and desperate that even Catherine objects to it. To make matters worse, setting the city on fire would only really make strategic sense if it was to trap the advancing army after it had already advanced into the city, but the fire starts before Edelgard’s forces even enter Fhirdiad, and it’s never suggested that the intent is to trap the invading army. So this was a massacre of Fhirdiad’s citizenry that was undertaken as a desperate show of force. Rhea makes it painstakingly clear that she will slaughter as many people, whether innocent civilians or enemy combatants, as she deems necessary in pursuit of her goals. And it’s not just Rhea who is prepared to slaughter just about anyone. The Church of Seiros has in its ranks a knight named Catherine, who seems heroic at first glance until you see support scenes featuring her where she argues in defence of the killing of innocent people, not just in hypothetical scenarios but also in relation to real (in game) scenarios, such as the execution of Christophe (the son of Lord Lonato) by the Church of Seiros. She also mentions to her friend Shamir that, if she weren’t her friend, she would cut her down on the spot for saying that she doesn’t understand or identify with the Seiros religion or Rhea.

One of the “good” guys, who candidly talks about slaughtering children!

Rhea’s tyrannical regime isn’t simply limited to how many people she is willing to kill either. At some point in the game, it’s revealed that Rhea’s enemies, the Agarthans, somehow managed to develop technologies similar to technologies that exist in the modern world, or sometimes even more advanced than our technologies. For example, this appears to be the first Fire Emblem game in which there’s talk of ICBM missiles existing in-universe. The reason you don’t see it in the game for the most part is basically that technology was mostly destroyed by Seiros. At some point in Fodlan’s history, the Agarthans decide to go to war with Sothis, which is apparently interpreted as them being corrupted by power and thinking themselves as gods. In response to this, following the War of Heroes in which Seiros emerged victorious, Seiros forcibly prevented any sort of advanced civilization from being able to interact much with the people of Fodlan, as well as preventing the people of Fodlan from advancing technologically past the medieval stage. The remnants of Agarthan technology still exist in Fodlan, however, in a hidden underground city known as Shambhala (wait, as in that Shambhala?), located beneath Hrym territory in the Adrestian Empire. This, incidentally, is one of many things about the game that reminds me of the plot of Shin Megami Tensei IV, which starts off in the medieval-esque Eastern Kingdom of Mikado which is actually a dome covering a demon-infested modern Tokyo, or the plot of the movie Hard to Be a God, in which a group of scientists travel from Earth to find an alien planet similar to Earth but stuck in the Middle Ages because its rulers suppress any spark of intelligence that might lead to their equivalent of the Renaissance.

Also, in Chapter 5, it’s revealed that the Relics (basically sacred weapons) turn people into monsters if they are wielded by people without a Crest, and Rhea doesn’t want the people knowing about that, so she orders you to keep what you saw during the fight with Miklan, who transforms into a monster while wielding the Lance of Ruin, to yourself, arguing that the public would lose faith in the nobility if that information were to become public knowledge. This is strange considering she also argues that this transformation was divine punishment from the goddess for Miklan not being “worthy” of using the Relic, an argument you’d think the people of a highly religious medieval society would not have trouble believing if advanced publicly. In Chapter 7, on the Golden Deer route, Claude finds a drawing of a creature called the Immaculate One while researching the Crests, and Seteth, one of Rhea’s aides, discovers this and asks for it to be handed over. When Claude guesses that Seteth is going to make sure the drawing isn’t seen again, noting that the monk Tomas told him that the Church of Seiros likes to bury artefacts that they deem problematic, Seteth fails to refute this and insists that he has no time for Claude’s “foolishness”. In fact the Garreg Mach library is explained to only contain books that are approved by the Church of Seiros. Every new book sent to the Garreg Mach library is directly approved by Seteth before being allowed to go on the shelves, so that nothing the Church deems harmful or inappropriate can be viewed by the students. All this establishes very firmly that the Church of Seiros likes to keep secrets from the public, as well as the protagonist and its students, and keeps a tight control of what information the denizens of the monastery can access in a rather censorious fashion.

Edelgard, being the opponent of this regime, is cast with malevolent intentions due to her being the real identity behind the Flame Emperor. But even in her capacity as Flame Emperor, she objects to the horrific methods of Solon as seen in Remire Village, and states that had she known about it she would have stopped it. Even as the Flame Emperor, even in the conversation with Thales and Monica (who is actually Kronya), she makes it perfectly clear that there will be no salvation for Thales and his kind. And in any other playthrough, after you defeat Edelgard in the Holy Tomb, she gives a speech to her followers and forces where she explains essentially the same thing she explains to you in the Black Eagles playthrough. Almost as though she has a set of actual goals and principles that are opposite to the Church of Seiros, and this isn’t a cover for some vague sense of ambitious greed. Of course, the Church of Seiros interprets this to be nothing more than just the desire to conquer all of Fodlan (which, mind you, used to be under the control of the Adrestian Empire originally but let’s not get ahead of ourselves), and Seteth even goes so far as to claim that Edelgard plans to make herself into a new god, which never actually happens in the game’s story. Even Claude, who is more or less a skeptic of the Church of Seiros, ever-suspicious of its ambitions, simply dismisses Edelgard’s vision as “reckless ambition”. But even when you oppose Edelgard, you don’t get the sense that she’s actually malevolent other than the fact that she has Demonic Beasts in her army, and it’s not explained why she has them in her army. In the second battle at Gronder Field, Edelgard genuinely shows remorse at having to fight and presumably kill her old classmates and probably friends, resolving to fight on only because there is no other choice, while her main rival Dimitri is very much eager to slaughter as many of them as possible (hence the meme where he says “kill every last one of them!”). And for all the talk her being driven purely by selfish ambitions, it’s established early on in Edelgard’s support scenes that the biggest motivation for Edelgard’s plans comes from the fact that the nobles of the Adrestian Empire seized control and ensured that most of her siblings would die for the sake of barbaric Crest-related experiments, and her resolve to change the world stems from her desire for a world where such horrors will never be allowed to happen again. I’ve seen Edelgard compared to Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones (and, to be fair, she does come across as quite similar at times), but I haven’t seen her exhibit any of the same tyrannical zeal or death-or-glory bloodlust that Dany (as she’s often called by fans) has. Even her enemies such as Seteth end up conceding that she is not some cruel tyrant who holds her people in a vice-like grip. The only thing you can say about her that’s questionable is her association with those who slither in the dark, and even then it’s explicitly clear that she hates them and is only really using them in order to unite Fodlan and eventually kill the shadowy beings she was previously manipulating. The only other thing is her telling her followers in the Black Eagle path that Rhea destroyed Arianrhod, when really it was Arundel who did it. But, honestly, if her being questionable is as bad as she gets, then compared to people like Dimitri and Rhea, she’s hardly the least sympathizable character. In general the main source of how Edelgard is supposed to be evil in the game that her path is supposedly built upon bloodshed, as Dimitri says in the Black Eagles route, “built upon corpses and tears”, which, let’s be real, is no more the case than for the path of Dimitri, the Church of Seiros, and even Claude. The Church of Seiros, as we’ve established, is behind a lot of bloodshed even at the early chapters of the game, and Dimitri did not see fit to condemn them for it, even after he bore witness to innocent people being slaughtered during the suppression of Lord Lonato’s rebellion. So frankly, I find this angle to be unremarkable, unconvincing, and hypocritical.

And not to mention, after you defeat Rhea, there’s no hint that this is supposed to be a bad thing. In fact, the game, in a strange twist, makes it objectively clear that you’ve done a good thing and earned a good ending (and yes, I’ll say say it, the best ending), even after trying to trick you into thinking that you’re taking a bad path in the game story. Although you lose the goddess’ power, you and Edelgard unite the land of Fodlan under the Adrestian Empire, and abolish the authority of the Church of Seiros, while your allies wage war on the Agharthans and their forces. The tone of the ending is resoundingly positive. I half-expected the music and the narration to be either pretty grim or very ambiguous, as though mourning Rhea and the Church of Seiros and wondering if what you did was really good. But that doesn’t happen at all. Instead, it quite rightly treats you as though you’ve liberated the people of Fodlan. And far from the implication that the forces of darkness are ready to take over Fodlan, the game implies that, after the events of the story, you and Edelgard’s forces will move on to fighting the villianous entities referred to as “those who slither in the dark”. It’s so bizarre, the game almost tries to get you to think you’re supposed to be on the side of the Church of Seiros, but when you take the complete opposite path, you find out that the Adrestian Empire are essentially the real good guys.

So, what’s the point of siding with the Church of Seiros? Because of some goddess? Because for some reason you like the same religion that has already been a hegemonic force of spiritual subjugation for less than two thousand years in the real world only this time it involves goddess worship and a bunch of anime characters?

Well, to be fair, given that you actually do get to side with the Church of Seiros by betraying Edelgard in Chapter 11 of the pre-Black Eagles route, we can actually get an idea of just what you’re getting by siding with them.

For starters, if you don’t come with Edelgard to see emperor Ionius, you are locked into this route by default should you pick the Black Eagle house in the beginning of the game, and when that happens the rest of the house all turn on Edelgard and accuse her of having used them as pawns, and vow to strike her down. Of course most of the cast is motivated by selfish reasons to betray Edelgard: Ferdinand, for example, is prepared to fight her because his father was stripped of his title as Prime Minister and placed under house arrest, not realizing that his father led a coup in which her father was stripped of much of his power so that he and Arundel could whisk Edelgard to Faerghus and perform cruel experiments on her and her sibilings. In fact most of the other seven nobles who took part in the coup are also the fathers of many of the cast of characters you meet in the Black Eagles house (namely those of Caspar, Bernadetta, Linhardt, and even Hubert). The entire point of the campaign is centered around stopping Edelgard’s efforts to “rule all”, which ultimately just comes off as hypocritical because unifiying all of Fodlan is exactly what Edelgard’s opponents end up doing anyway – Claude unites Fodlan under the Leicester Alliance (and has you rule nin his stead), Dimitri unites Foldan under the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus, and the Knights of Seiros unite Fodlan under the rule of the Archbishop (which ends up being you).

The only other thing worth noting is that this playthrough feels like it’s almost a clone of the Golden Deer playthrough, with much of the events taking place within it being identical, and at least one mission bears similarities to a chapter from the Blue Lions playthrough. So if you decide to tutor the Black Eagles and then side against Edelgard, you essentially do another version of the Golden Deer playthrough, with the main difference being that you play as what’s left of the Black Eagles class, who are now part of the Knights of Seiros, you skip the second battle at Gronder Field, and you fight Rhea at the end. Honestly there isn’t much to say about what you’re fighting for by betraying Edelgard, because of the subject of what you’re fighting for doesn’t seem to come up in the playthrough. I see a lot of the characters talk a tiny bit about what they claim to be against and why they oppose Edelgard, but nothing about what they stand for. It seems to be just you fighting the Empire in order to preserve the status quo. You also don’t learn any major plot revelations that you don’t get in the Golden Deer route, other than Seteth and Flayn being revealed to be “children of the goddess” (which you probably would have guessed early on in the game anyway given the hints you get in Part 1), and that they can shapeshift which explains Rhea turning into a dragon. However, Rhea does tell you that she created the protagonist by implanting the Crest of Flames into his/her heart, and apologizes to you for wanting to use you as a vessel for her ambitions to have Sothis rule the world, and that the protagonist’s mother was another of her creations, who also had the same Crest in her body before her death. She also reveals that she at one point saved Jeralt’s life through some kind of blood transfusion, giving her some of her own blood. All to create a being capable of housing the consciousness of the long-dead progenitor god. After this revelation, however, Rhea transforms into the Immaculate One and some monsters referred to as White Beasts start appearing out of nowhere, and you’re tasked with defeating them. In the end, you’re set to become the new ruler of Fodlan, uniting all of Foldan under your reign and the Church of Seiros, and the Adrestian Empire, the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus and the Leicester Alliance all, for some reason, cease to exist. Wait, wasn’t the game telling me I was supposed to stop Edelgard from doing that?. Oh wait, Edelgard wanted to destroy the church, so I guess that’s different.

You know what, let’s address that here. One of the main objections to Edelgard’s ambitions that springs up a lot throughout all of the playthroughs where you oppose her is the complaint that Edelgard is forcing her views onto others. Flayn, for example, remarks that Edelgard has high ideals but doesn’t care what the people of Fodlan think. The problem with this argument is that it’s ultimately a shallow and self-defeating one: the same could be said of any ruler, or indeed any society from the perspective of its critics. In fact, you could just as easily apply this to the Church of Seiros and the system of nobility. Who asked for this system? Who asked for representatives of the goddess to rule over the people? Who asked for society to be arranged in feudal fashion as it is in Fodlan? But this is what has people in Fodlan opposing Edelgard’s ambitions? Some hollow, pitiable spiel about voluntarism? That’s just a farce in my opinion. But apparently Foldan’s system of religious feudalism is worth preserving enough on the argument that it is only in the Black Eagles playthrough that you actually fight them. Kind of makes me wonder about the developers and their conception of the ideal society, just a little bit. And for all Seteth’s self-assurance that the people cannot understand Edelgard’s ambitions, evidently half of the entire continent understands it enough that you have swathes of people ready to fight for her ideals.

Of course, those people are just brainwashed idiots aren’t they?

There’s an unofficial rule in storywriting that I’ve come across: show, don’t tell. If you’re going to try and paint Edelgard as a villainous figure, or rather semi-villainous given the intentional moral ambiguity of the story, you have to be prepared to show Edelgard doing things you can identify as potentially if not outright evil. But, in playing the game, I never actually see Edelgard do evil things, or have a direct hand in evil things happening. You hear about Edelgard being willing to commit atrocities in order to achieve her goals, but in the actual game story you never see Edelgard actually commit atrocities or order her subordinates to do so. In the Golden Deer route Claude claims that Edelgard’s forces order the citizens of Enbarr to act as a kind of human shield for her forces, but you never see citizens deployed in any version of the invasion of Enbarr, meaning you don’t have to fight or avoid citizen units, which leads me to believe that Claude is basically lying to you – and funny enough, it’s only here that anyone ever claims that the Enbarr citizenry is being used as a human shield, as neither the Blue Lions nor the Seiros routes mention that. She’s described as being so consumed by her ambitions that she alienates and antagonizes the people she cares about, but this never happens in the game, at least judging from the fact that many of her classmates can be seen fighting alongside her in every route except the Church of Seiros, and in that example it’s only because you convince most of the Black Eagle house to turn against Edelgard.

Even if you oppose Edelgard, you don’t actually get the impression that she’s even trying to be malevolent. Even with Dimitri, Edelgard never stopped considering Dimitri to be her friend even as she has to oppose him, a fact that Dimitri is only capable of recognizing if you play the Blue Lions playthrough. For the most part, her malevolence is just something that people in the game and people talking about in the game just, well, talk about, but with no clear reference to any actions Edelgard takes. All we get is her stated willingness to “stain her path with blood”, which is a vague statement in the context of war. Really the worst you can say about her is that she won’t compromise with the enemy and she’s willing to use shadowy monsters who she will eventually destroy once she’s done with them. Again, if that’s the worst thing about her, worse people have existed within both the game’s setting and real world history. The closest thing the game gets to depicting Edelgard as a villain is when she turns into a monster called Hegemon Edelgard, for absolutely no god damned reason other than so that she can be presented as a threatening monster. None of the other lords have this happen to them, and only two other characters turn themselves into monsters, Dedue and Miklan, and of them the only one with something of an explanation is Miklan. Her transformation exists solely to dehumanize her and vilify her ideals so that Dimitri, after all the effort he spent regaining his humanity, can just dismiss the compassion he felt for his former friend. In summary, it seems like the entire time the game is just trying (and arguably failing) to tell you what to think about Edelgard and the morality of her actions, but without actually showing how evil Edelgard is.

But you know, the strange thing is, it seems like, had this whole story been real, it seems to me like the Adrestian Empire would have won the war, and that’s important because it plays into the way the game deals with the morality of the factions and how the protagonist plays into it. Let’s think about it as realistically as possible. The Adrestian Empire would have the geographic advantage of covering more than half of the map of Fodlan. They’re strategic areas are noted to be well-fortified, built to last defensively and defended by capable generals, and the imperial army is quite probably the most unified and stable force of the three factions. Faerghus’ resources are noted as being rather thin, with many lands within the territory described as harsh and infertile which would make agriculture difficult. In addition, the kingdom is not necessarily a unified territory. In fact the Leicester Alliance was the creation of Faerghus nobles who split off from the kingdom during its history. Internally the kingdom had some instances of coups and assassinations among the nobility, which calls into question the stability of the kingdom. The Leicester Alliance is easily less stable but for different reasons: although nominally united under a leading noble house or houses, the nobles constantly squarrel with and betray one another, sometimes leading to internal conflict. Not to mention, with Fhirdiad captured, the Kingdom is severely weakened, with just a handful of nobles putting up resistance against the Empire. Another thing to take into consideration is defections. Dimitri’s descent into brutality and madness would create quite a bit of motivation to defect. As a historical example, the Three Kingdoms general Zhang Fei’s frequent tendency to abuse his officers and even punitively execute them eventually led to some of his officers killing him and defecting to the Wu kingdom in 221. And with the alliance, it’s only a matter of time before some of the nobles, who are sympathetic to the empire, just let them pass through. On top of that, for the talk of Edelgard being “willing to commit atrocities”, the Adrestian Empire would, realistically, have quite a few opportunities to achieve their goal of conquest with as little bloodshed as possible, and in some cases no bloodshed at all. All of this is taken from the situation as is observed in pretty much all of the story routes in the game except for the Black Eagles route. Not to mention, outside of the Black Eagles route, it is strongly implied that, had it not been for the protagonist, Dimitri would meet his death while trying to rush into Enbarr. With this in mind and Claude’s limited ability to keep the Alliance stable, the victory of the Adrestrian Empire would have been inevitable in a real setting, and per the game’s story it seems that the only thing really stopping the Empire from achieving its inexorable victory is the protagonist.

Also, since we’ve established the deciding role of the protagonist in how the war plays out, let’s talk for a moment about the Crest Stones and the appearance of Demonic Beasts. In Chapter 11, the Flame Emperor and his forces invade the Holy Tomb in Garreg Mach in order to seize the Crest Stones. At first you wonder why they could be doing this, but then you remember that Crests have the power to turn people into monsters. Once you understand this, you figure out that the Adrestrian Empire was gathering Crest Stones for the purpose of creating an army of monsters referred to as Demonic Beasts in order to bolster their forces. But there is something noteworthy about this element. In all the routes where you oppose Edelgard, you find Demonic Beasts among the ranks of the imperial army, but on Edelgard’s route you never see them. In the Black Eagles route, before the timeskip, it’s strongly implied that, if you come over to her side, then Edelgard could effectively discard the aid of those who slither in the dark. This tells me that you joining her side changes the course of her plans rather significantly, and indeed she seems to directly hint at this at some point in the Black Eagles route where Edelgard talks to Hubert about the Sword of the Creator and its potential in the hands of the protagonist. In fact, in Chapter 8 after you defeat Solon for the first time in Remire Village, the Flame Emperor appears and straight up tells you that, if you join her side, she would be able to subdue and contain the violence of those who slither in the dark, perhaps even vanquish them entirely, and achieve her goals without their power. This also plays into a certain of the protagonist acting as the only thing keeping either Edelgard or Dimitri from becoming truly malevolent. The problem, of course, is that even here Edelgard never actually comes off as very malevolent (mostly because the extent of Edelgard’s evil is never actually demonstrated in-game), and in the case of Dimitri, you don’t do much to stop Dimitri’s rampage of revenge until after the death of Rodrigue (more on that later). Honestly it seems like a no-brainer to me: just side with Edelgard so that she doesn’t have to rely on those who slither in the dark in order to achieve her goal of abolishing the Church of Seiros.

The Flame Emperor speaks the truth

Being as we’ve gone into depth as to what Edelgard stands for, and not to mention Rhea’s ambitions, I think it’s worth delving into what Edelgard’s other main rivals stand for. After all, this is a game where you can choose between multiple factions, each seemingly with their own vision of Fodlan. Edelgard’s two main rivals are Claude von Riegan, who is set to become the leader of the Leicester Alliance, and Dimitri Alexandre Blaiddyd, the prince (and eventually king) of Faerghus.

During the Golden Deer playthrough, Claude tells you that his main goal is to unify the Leicester Alliance by bringing it under his influence, and then eventually unify all of Foldan under his ideals, and then expand his ideals past Foldan’s borders and onto to the rest of the world. Of course this would be functionally no different to Edelgard’s plans to unify Fodlan by conquest but let’s not that get in the way of “giving the CEO of racism a talk” (as the memes put it). What are Claude’s ideals exactly? Well, Claude explains that, when he arrived in Foldan, he found that many of the people of Fodlan were a parochial and chauvinistic people, tending to look down foreigners as animals or even beasts, which he says is the same attitude that people had in the land of Almyra, where he was born. Based on that and his talk of breaking down walls it seems safe to infer that he wants to create a society based on universal tolerance, through what is basically imperial expansion of course. A major part of Claude’s plan is to “bust open” Fodlan’s Throat, which is a mountain range that also serves as a border between Fodlan and the land of Almyra, which periodically starts skirmishes on the border in order to show off their military strength. This goal entails the destruction of a fortress protecting the eastern border in order to weaken the border and allow free movement of people, goods and cultures between the two territories, which he believes will eliminate prejudice from both lands. Claude is basically a liberal expansionist, like Woodrow Wilson, William Gladstone or basically the core of the Democratic Party. He even comes equipped with some convincingly liberal axioms, such as “ignorance breeds prejudice” and “new ways of doing things are always met with resistance” – the latter of which is funny, because resisting new ways of doing things is precisely what he’s doing by opposing Edelgard.

Curiously enough though, Claude, similarly to Edelgard, expresses skepticism of the Church of Seiros, and even explains to you that, without Rhea, people would theoretically become free to think for themselves for the first time, without the pressure of the church or the nobility. He even acknowledges that he and Edelgard have similar ambitions, but sheepishly dismisses her methods on the grounds that they “require too much bloodshed” (as though the whole point of the story wasn’t about war). Funny, the empire allows rival territories to continue existing as vassals and through much of its campaign set about simply capturing rather than destroying territories, and in fact we soon find that it’s the Church of Seiros and Dimitri, not the empire, who are obsessed with bloodshed and set about killing as many people as they can, but don’t allow that to ruin Claude’s fetish for neutrality. In any case, the irony of a game where there are not supposed to be golden good guys is that Claude is, seemingly, the least morally ambiguous character in the game and often seens pretty much benevolent. Sure he talks about cooking up devious schemes and poisoning his enemies, but not only does he never seem to actually do anything that can be counted as malevolent, he’s nowhere near as willing to do the same sort of schemes that Edelgard is ultimately revealed to have carried out.

The thing is, though, I ultimately think of Claude’s ideals as weak. He doesn’t challenge the Church of Seiros and doesn’t seem interested in challenging the nobility, other than opening the borders which presumably goes against many of their wishes. That’s an important detail because no matter what path you take in the game, you run into all manner of horror stories involving many of the characters and their relation to the nobility. There’s Bernadetta who was often imprisoned by her father to teach her to be a submissive housewife and eventually practically kidnapped by one of her mother’s attendants and that’s how she wound up at Garreg Mach. Characters such as Mercedes and Ingrid talk about how their parents wanted to them marry off to some rich noble against their wishes for profit, and in one of their side-quests (or paralogues) you end up fighting them. Edelgard’s father, the emperor Ionius IX, was rendered politically impotent by a cabal of nobles (including Duke Aegir who is Ferdinand’s father) and she herself was shipped off to Faerghus against her will because of Hubert’s father. Sylvain, who on the surface appears to be little more than a philanderer, actually broods on the fact that he’s only valued by people, including women, because of his Crest, because of the realization that, so long as he has a Crest, he will never be related to or judged as a real person, and consequently he believes he will never find anyone who actually loves him as a person. Numerous characters have backstories which shed light on the harsh reality of the system of nobility in place. But Claude never expresses any real interest in changing this in the game’s plot. In fact the only person who wants to change it in the games is Edelgard, and Claude opposes her for her radicalism. He’s also aware that the Church of Seiros has been lying to the people of Fodlan and not to mention stands in the way of Claude’s plan to liberalize the contient, but we don’t see him do anything about that, and nor does he seem too motivated to really oppose the Church. Again, only Edelgard actually wants to overthrow the church. That’s, ultimately, my problem with Claude’s ambitions. Even with his knowledge of Fodlan’s history, he has no desire to topple the societal structures that generate problems for its people. Some might say that it’s all tied back to how he doesn’t actually want conflict, he doesn’t want violence, war or bloodshed to befall the land, and that’s admirable, but beyond his message of tolerance there’s not much to say for his ambition. Not to mention, if you play any of the routes where you don’t side with him and you don’t kill him, he formally dissolves the Leicester Alliance, steps down as its leader and then rides off into Almyra never to be seen again. When push comes to shove, he doesn’t really care.

Before fucking off back to Almyra, I hope.

As for Dimitri, he says that he believes in some vague idea of justice, but what does that justice mean? Well, at some point in the Blue Lions path he tells you that he wants to stop the strong from trampling the weak. It’s a fairly generic moral stance, but seemingly a benign and understandable one. Actually, to be fair on him, in Chapter 3 of the Blue Lions route we see Dimitri sincerely condemn those in power who claim to value justice only to take as many lives as they please, and even empathize a little with Lord Lonato on the grounds that he didn’t view his path outside the lens of the pursuit of justice, and even suggests that, rather than kill Lonato, the Church forces should have tried to pursue a peaceful end to the rebellion. That’s pretty impressive, even if it can be taken as naive. But this moral stance is contrasted sharply by how, in Chapter 8, he tells you that he his one reason for coming to Garreg Mach was so that he would some day get revenge. This also colours the way Dimitri develops as the story progresses. Before the Battle of Garreg Mach, he becomes increasingly tense and obsessed with the memories of Duscur, and after Chapter 11 he passes the point of no return after finding out the Flame Emperor is Edelgard, after which point he becomes genuinely deranged and maniacal, relishing in the thought of senseless slaughter and fantasizing about crushing Edelgard’s skull with his hands. Dimitri had long believed the Flame Emperor to be responsible for the Tragedy of Duscur, a series of massacres in which numerous royals and nobles of Faerghus, including Dimitri’s father Lambert, were assasinated. Of course, the Flame Emperor didn’t actually have any hand in those massacres, and indeed she openly condemns the events at Duscur and Enbarr as unjust, and not to mention it’s eventually revealed that Lord Arundel and Cornelia are the real culprits behind the Tragedy of Duscur, but let’s not let that get in the way of Dimitri’s Old Testament God instincts.

Anyways, five years later, after the timeskip, we no longer hear about justice and virtue, in fact he doesn’t care about these things anymore for most of the playthrough. When you and Dimitri set out to rout some theives infesting what was the Garreg Mach monastery, he becomes enraged when you point out that some of them might be stealing just to survive. He talks of slaughtering all of the theives lurking in Garreg Mach, even if they only steal to survive, justifying his actions with his longstanding belief that the strong should be stopped from trampling the weak, in his words “even if it means becoming a rat myself”. Thus all that seems to remain of his moral compass and ethical conceits is just a way to rationalize senseless brutality. When one of the Adrestian generals, Randolph von Bergliez, is captured by Dimitri’s forces, he laughs when you suggest he give him a quick death rather than the two sadistic options he presents: either he forces Randolph to watch as he executes his comrades one by one, or just gouges his eyes out. Before fighting Randolph, when he rhetorically asks Dimitri “life is worthless to you, isn’t it?”, he says “you took the words from my mouth, general!”. After you mercifully execute Randolph to stop Dimitri from torturing him, Dimitri dares you to kill him, and says that if you don’t then he will keep using you and your allies until you die. His obsession with revenge is also complimented by frequent instances of Dimitri hearing voices in his head which he interprets to be the spirits of his deceased royal relatives. All he wants to do in the Blue Lions playthrough is to strike out at the Imperial capital so that he can kill Edelgard, believing that it will end the war and quell the haunting voices of the dead that linger inside of him.

He gets so bad that even Felix, who is normally all too eager for battle, suggests that he’s gone too far. But then even before the war phase of the game Felix recounts a story in which Dimitri suppresses a rebellion so brutally and with such savage glee that he didn’t even recognize him as human, a fact that the pre-war Dimitri is forced to recognize when confronted with this story and so cannot deny the truth of the matter. This rebellion, as it happens, was his first experience in battle as a commanding officer and took place two years before the events of the game and thus preceded the suppression of Lord Lonato’s rebellion. Hell, if you talk to Felix as early as Chapter 2 in the Blue Lions route he warns you not to trust Dimitri because he thinks of him as an animal, and even during the prologue chapter, your protagonist thinks to himself about Dimitri, “I sense darkness in him”, suggesting that there’s a malevolent aspect of his personality that will become a major part of the plot – and, just so you know, that never happens for the other two lords. While Dimitri tries to say that his enemies are the same as him, don’t be fooled: there are few characters in the entire game who are as monstrous as the fiend that Dimitri becomes. And, of course, in order to justify his madness, he tries to convince you that you and him are of the same kind because you pursued the people who killed your father, Jeralt, in Chapters 9 and 10. Of course, the comparison is ultimately shallow, given that after defeating Monica/Kronya and Solon you don’t go down a rampage of revenge like Dimitri does, but, again, that fact would just ruin Dimitri’s narrative. That fact will never stop him from dehumanizing his enemies, treating them as little more than beasts with human faces. He is also so blinded by his desire for revenge that he cannot even take joy in the victories his forces win in battle in his name, referring to one battle in Chapter 16 as a farce despite the victory. But most tellingly of all, when Gilbert asks Dimitri in Chapter 17 if he feels no hesistation about killing his former friends and classmates, he says simply that he is used to killing familiar faces by now, with a visible smile on his face. This attitude is a stark contrast to the attitude held by his rivals Edelgard and Claude, both of whom express sorrow at having to fight their former friends at Gronder Field and in general, and it is the most revealing as to who the truly malevolent of the three lords are.

Trust me when I say this is one of the least frightening things he says.

But, it’s worth noting that Dimitri doesn’t stay in his vengeful stupor throughout the Blue Lions path. At the end of Chapter 17, after the second Battle of Gronder Field, Randolph’s sister Fleche attempts to kill Dimitri in order to avenge his death, only for Rodrigue to shield him and get stabbed instead of him, thus Rodrigue died to save Dimitri’s life. Initially Dimitri doesn’t learn much from this, and he still tries to march single-handedly to Enbarr, this time guided by the sentiment that nothing really matters anymore because “death is the end”, and refuses to listen to you because he just wants to die already because he thinks of it as the only way to free him from the voices of the dead. However, as the next chapter begins, we start to see him questioning his desire for revenge and changing course. Instead of marching on to Enbarr like he originally planned, he decides to instead turn back to Fhirdiad in order to take it back from the Empire. And then, Dimitri pulls a face heel turn: he apologizes to the entire party for the bitter and vengeful path he led them through, along with the senseless suffering he caused, and announces his intention to return to Fhirdiad and greet its people as their rightful king. He states that he will stop listening to the voices in his head and start doing what he actually believes in. But what does he actually believe in?

Well we can certainly say he’s learned to renounce vengeance on a moral level, having figured out that Fleche’s attempt on his life was ultimately his fault because of the vicious cycle that the pursuit of revenge creates. Other than that? It’s not too clear. He doesn’t seem to care about the conflict between the Agarthans and the children of Sothis, and he has nothing to say about the Church of Seiros other than he supports them for some unspecified reason. Even after he gets over his obsession with revenge against Edelgard, it still seems that all he really wants is to defeat the Empire. We get two reasons for why this is: some generic line about “restoring peace”, and revenge (the latter, strange as it may seem, ultimately makes the most sense). When Dimitri prevails at the end of the Blue Lions playthrough and Fodlan is united under the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus, the conflict between Sothis’ forces and the Agarthans (or “those who slither in the dark”) is not at all addressed, and we don’t know what Dimitri intends to do about them. All that happens with Rhea is she steps down as Archbishop after being rescued from Enbarr, for a reason that is as entirely unclear as the reason she was held captive in the first place. Nothing happens in relation to the Church of Seiros, although we can assume Dimitri wants to keep them around. All we know of the kind of world Dimitri intends to build is that he wants to get rid of “all kinds of oppression”, but there’s no basis for establishing what that could mean and also it’s entirely laughable to think that a theocratic government with no intentions of not being a theocratic autocracy is going to get rid of oppression. At least Edelgard wanted to abolish the nobility along with the Church and apparently even hints at making it so that the title of emperor is no longer hereditary somehow.

Beyond all of that, Dimitri is generally distinguished from the other three lords by his willingness to accept the status quo of Fodlan society. Whereas Claude is skeptical and mistrustful of the Crest-based noble order but merely doesn’t do much to change it, and Edelgard wants to bulldoze that order entirely and replace it with an egalitarian meritocracy (albeit an imperial one), Dimitri believes that this order and its customs exist for a reason. He believes that if the people of Fodlan no longer valued the Crests, then the noble bloodlines that carry them would fade out or no longer be strong enough to oppose the threats they were supposedly keeping at bay. But he is not a mere conservative in this sense, and, when you ask what he believes, he states he believes that those with Crests and those without should learn to co-exist and respect each other based on the merits that they both bring to the table. He also thinks this attitude should apply to all other major aspects of society, such as noble lineage, race, religion and ideology. Essentially he’s a similar type of reformist to Claude, but perhaps with even less ambition. He opposes Edelgard’s vision because she wants to bring about revolution via the Empire supposedly at the expense of countless lives (which, as we’ve established, doesn’t entirely pan out the way he would describe it), and saying that by contrast he wants the war to end “through acceptance, not annihilation” (which is laughable considering almost all of Dimitri’s actions and statements from Chapters 11-18).

The best picture we actually get of Dimitri’s beliefs is in Chapter 21, when Edelgard has the opportunity to meet Dimitri and explain her vision. When she explains to Dimitri that, in reality (or at least from her perspective), her war would in the end lend to the least casualties, which is very likely to be the case if this war were to play out in real life, the death toll of the war ultimately lower and more bearable compared to the suffering that the world of Fodlan imposes upon its people, Dimitri refuses to see her point and accuses her of being obsessively devoted to the war (as opposed to his own obsessive devotion to waging war against the Empire and killing Edelgard of course). Of course we do get some vague ideas about faith, with Edelgard saying that she would rather people be able to rely on themselves while Dimitri insisting that there are those who cannot live without their faith. What’s really interesting about this scene is that we actually seem to get something similar to the conflict between the Law and Chaos factions in the Shin Mgeami Tensei series. He even accuses her of being a Social Darwinist, claiming that her path is the path of the strong and can only benefit such, despite no indication of that being an aspect of her actual worldview and her even positioning her cause as a struggle for the weak and the downtrodden. Dimitri even accuses her of wanting to become a goddess. Strangely enough Dimitri actually has the gall to advocate that it is the people, not the rulers, who change the way of the world, despite his system of government literally being predicated on the hereditary authority of a singular ruler (a fact that Edelgard directly calls him out on when he says that a “highborn” person like him cannot know how the poor really feel). On the whole it seems that Dimitri’s ideals are ill-formed and only make sense as reaction to Edelgard’s vision.

The biggest problem with Dimitri in my view is twofold. First, the most obvious problem, is that Dimitri never leaves behind his obsession with vengeance and never becomes something of a good person unless you side with him (except, for some reason, in the Black Eagles playthrough, where he doesn’t even have his eyepatch). Unless you take his side, he will continue to be the brutal and deranged prince that he turns out to be, and this would have inevitably led to his death in his attempt to charge into Enbarr. The only reason he stops is because after Rodrigue’s death you somehow convince him that his desire for revenge is pointless and that he needs to fight for something other than vengeance. You’re the only reason that Dimitri doesn’t stay a psychopath, which tells me that his destiny was to be a psychopath. The second is that, any way you slice it, Dimitri spent his whole life in pursuit of revenge and ultimately bases his fight against the Empire on a lie. Edelgard had no role to play in the Tragedy of Duscur. That was all the work of Arundel and Cornelia, though Arundel (as Thales) claims it was done for her benefit. But he was prepared to believe that she caused it, based on nothing other than Edelgard being the Flame Emperor, and it is only in Chapter 19 that he suddenly says that that he always suspected that Arundel was behind the Tragedy of Duscur. The problem here is that he never expressed this suspicion anywhere in the game and spent so much of the game holding Edelgard responsible for the entire thing, so I don’t know where he suddenly got to the part where he realized Arundel was behind it, but he’s full of shit if he tells you that he always thought Arundel was behind the massacre, otherwise he wouldn’t have gone insane when he found out Edelgard was the Flame Emperor. With this in mind and just how ill-defined his ideals are, coupled with what I’ve explained about what the reality of Adrestrian conquest and victory might look like (not nearly as bloody and annihilationist as Edelgard’s enemies would suggest), it just strikes me how, in the ultimate analysis, Dimitri’s fight is ultimately for nothing. There’s no reason to for him to fight her other than to defend Faerghus from invasion and because he initially believed her to be responsible for the events at Duscur, all else is just a cheap rationalization from there. If all his cause has was a lie and nothing in the way of a well-defined set of ideals other than constantly talking about chivalry and knighthood, nothing is all it’s going to be.

Sometimes the memes say it better than anything else

It’s because of all this that I find Edelgard to be the most sympathizable faction leader in the game, and her cause to be the most sympathizable, and cannot be convinced otherwise.

But there’s one thing that bothers me. Even in the Black Eagles ending where you side with Edelgard and defeat Rhea, there are a lot of plot holes that stem from issues and details that remain unresolved. For example, in Chapter 11, it’s revealed that Edelgard is the mysterious “Flame Emperor” from earlier in the game. In fact, this is lampshaded later in Part 1 when, after the Flame Emperor disappears, people talk about Edelgard having wandered off somewhere. But what’s not answered is why Edelgard felt the need to go around bearing the guise of the Flame Emperor. It’s also not clear why she allies herself with “those who slither in the dark” to begin with. All Edelgard tells you is that she’ll explain it later, but she doesn’t get the chance to do so before you get sent into a coma for five years after the invasion of Garreg Mach in Chapter 12. And, most egregiously of all, the Black Eagles path, during the second half of the story doesn’t have you fighting those who slither in the dark in any capacity. It consists of 18 chapters, shorter than the other storylines, and it ends with you destroying Rhea. While the idea of that path ending with the fight against Rhea is a fitting conclusion to a path where you’ve set yourself against the Church of Seiros, it would be even better if you got to fight, say, Arundel/Thales after all the shit he put Edelgard through, maybe uncovering the real conspiracy that those who slither in the dark were getting up to. Like I said earlier, show not tell is a basic rule of storytelling. Although it is believable that Edelgard’s forces will oppose them, due to the multiple times Edelgard and Hubert express genuine hatred for those who slither in the dark and very clearly intend to dispose of them, we never see them fight any of them during the second half of the game except in Chapter 16 where they fight Cornelia, a royal mage of Faerghus who is implied to among their ranks. I have the feeling that the route was laid out this way in order to prevent each of the routes from ending in the same way – after all, two routes in the game (the Golden Deer and Church of Seiros routes) both have you fighting those who slither in the dark as the final enemy. But even then, why is it so short? Is it because the Adrestian campaign backed by you would be a short and easy victory in the long run, or is it because they didn’t want to include a missing confrontation with those who slither in the dark that might ruin the moral ambiguity they intended? In either case, it leads to the Edelgard route being incomplete. In fact it is because of this as well as a lack of fully animated cutscenes compared to the other routes as well as being much shorter than the other routes that some fans of Fire Emblem believe that the route may not have been originally intended to be included in the game, and may have been rushed out before the game’s release.

In sum, I believe that the game’s treatment of Edelgard as a potentially sinister figure, and indeed casting her as the only lord who turns into a monster at any point in the game, and the fact that within the game you are not actually supposed to side with her, to the point that her own route is actually an alternative route as opposed to the actual route (in which you betray Edelgard on behalf of the Church of Seiros), and the decisions that were made for writing that route leads to the conclusion that Edelgard was intended to be, at least ultimately, a villain or primary antagonist. They couldn’t depict her as an outwardly malevolent character, because that would undermine the intent to create a morally ambiguous setting, filled with reasons to justify supporting or opposing either of the lords you’re asked to choose from, so instead they simply cast her as an overly ambitious extremist, a bit like the way Dynasty Warriors games used to treat Cao Cao until the sixth installment of the series (a point worth noting considering that Koei was involved in the development of this game), while still giving some tells that she’s meant to be more malevolent.

The reason I find this rather telling on the part of the developers is because of the setting all of this is situated in, and the roles played out therein. Keep in mind that in the game Edelgard is one of the only characters to actually oppose the Church of Seiros, and quite possibly the only one giving a clear vision of how bad it is and what the world would be like without it. Everyone else either supports the Church of Seiros or just doesn’t care enough to oppose it, thus they end up opposing Edelgard’s vision. While many character express grievances towards the system of nobility, it seems no one actually seems interested in changing or abolishing this system except Edelgard. And only Edelgard and Hubert talk about bringing Fodlan under the control of human power and freeing them from the rule of shapeshifting gods. All of these are talked about in the game to some extent, and Edelgard is the only character who actually wants to do something about it in a way that actually leads to meaningful change in the only way that makes sense. That, strictly speaking, is Edelgard’s crime within the game’s story, or more specifically being willing to start a war in order to achieve those goals. As though the Chruch of Seiros was ever going to peaceably accept its own abolition, as if their living gods would willfully relinquish their power. The ultimate message here is impossible to escape: the Church of Seiros is ultimately good, and the nobility is only a flawed system that could do with reform rather than the decrepit injustice that it is actually shown to be, and if you have enough of a problem with this system that you decide that it needs to be gotten rid of for the good of the people, then you’re a tyrannical ideologue seeking to subjugate the people and build a utopia on a foundation of corpses. Of course, we all know where we’ve heard that before. In fact, considering the game’s setting, I’d like you to imagine if we had that attitude towards the Catholic Church. Indeed, imagine if, in the 18th century, the French and American revolutionaries had that attitude to the French and British monarchies respectively.

So in a nutshell, don’t listen to Fire Emblem: Three Houses fans who think that Edelgard can be counted as one of the bad guys in the game. All they end up doing is apologizing for the feudal-religious order in a game where you actually have the chance, and very good reason, to oppose it. In other words, Edelgard did nothing wrong.

And so, the only righteous path lies before you.

A history of Satanic Temple shenanigans

Oh boy, have I got a treat for you. The Church of Satan released an article on their Twitter, a fact sheet about The Satanic Temple, written by Reverend Joel Ethan, outlining evidence for The Satanic Temple being a parody activist group, in their words, “a self described “Yes Men” styled satire/activist group that uses satanic-themed imagery and language to get media and public attention”. For those who perhaps don’t know what Ethan is talking about, the Yes Men are an activist group that impersonates high profile individuals, particularly the heads or spokespeople from major corporations, and creates fake, satirical websites to impersonate the web pages of individuals and/or corporations they dislike in order to raise awareness about various social issues that they’re concerned with.

What I intend to do with this post is explore the points raised by the Church of Satan in-depth, to explain the important details and why they add up. There’s fourteen points in the article so I will probably have to truncate my analysis for each of them. Either way this is going be another very long post, and I will leave the link to the article by Joel Ethan at the end of this post. By clicking that link, you can access all of Ethan’s sources for yourself and draw your own conclusion.

First, Ethan states that The Satanic Temple began as a film project, specifically as a fictitious Satanic cult set to appear in a mockumentary movie entitled, funny enough, The Satanic Temple, centering around “the nicest Satanic cult in the world”. There was apparently hoax involved surrounding The Satanic Temple’s alleged support for Florida Governor Rick Scott, which the Miami Herald revealed was essentially a publicity stunt, the true purpose of which has never been revealed by the group’s founder, Lucien Greaves, who himself was also the casting director for the movie. What’s interesting about this is that if you were to perform a search of The Satanic Temple’s Rick Scott rally on the Internet, you’ll find that this mock rally was reported by many mainstream news outlets as a bunch of Satanists seemingly expressing genuine support for Rick Scott’s “religious freedom” policies, when it was a stunt.

During this time, it appears the organization was also billed as having a belief in a literal Satan, to quote from their webpage from years ago:

The Satanic Temple believes that God is supernatural and thus outside of the sphere of the physical. God’s perfection means that he cannot interact with the imperfect corporeal realm. Because God cannot intervene in the material world, He created Satan to preside over the universe as His proxy. Satan has the compassion and wisdom of an angel. Although Satan is subordinate to God, he is mankind’s only conduit to the dominion beyond the physical. In addition, only Satan can hear our prayers and only Satan can respond. While God is beyond human comprehension, Satan desires to be known and knowable. Only in this way can there be justice and can life have meaning.

Hail Satan!

You read this doctrine any way you want, but to my mind this does not necessarily suggest that Lucien Greaves intended the organization to be a theistic Satanist group. Remember that they started out as a satirical religion for a mockumentary. It’s reasonable to assume then that this statement of belief is not, in fact, a genuine statement of doctrine, but a part of the act. Curiously enough, however, among the documents contained within The Satanic Temple’s trademark filing, one of them makes, alongside this statement, the following statement:

The Satanist harbors reasonable agnosticism in all things, holding fast only to that which is demonstrably true. The cultural narratives through which we contextualize our lives must be malleable to conformity with our best scientific understandings of the material world… Those understandings, in turn, must never be so rigidly codified as to themselves be inflexible to advancements yet unknown. Thus, Satanism is an evolving religion, unfettered by arcane doctrines born of fearful minds in darkened times. Belief must reconstruct itself to fact, not the other way around. This is the Luciferian impulse to eat of the Tree of Knowledge, even (and especially) when to do so irretrievably dissipates blissful and comforting delusions of old. That which will not bend must break, and that which can be destroyed by truth should never be spared its demise.

Sound familiar? It sounds a lot more like The Satanic Temple we know today other than the belief in a literal Satan serving as Man’s conduit, on behalf of God no less, to the point of seeming like a contradiction, perhaps even a more sincere statement of belief that the former statement about God. In fact the first half of that statement can be found on the IndieGogo page for their Adopt-a-Highway campaign (which incidentally seems to have failed to reach its goal of $15,000).

Then there’s Malcolm Jarry, the co-founder. You might remember him from the post I wrote about him where I took him to task over the concept of “Jewish Satanism”. In a New York Times article dated to July 2015, Jarry states openly that the original idea for the movement was as a secular activist response to George W. Bush’s creation of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, a US government office created to support religious organizations. He envisioned The Satanic Temple not as a genuine expression of Satanic philosophy, albeit one at odds with the Church of Satan’s ideas to an extent, but as a protest movement against George W Bush’s religious conservatism, well before discussion about religious freedom was as big as it was in the 2010’s. He and Lucien had been planning for something like this for apparently a long time, presumably waiting for the opportunity to get started.

But there’s another interesting aspect to this story as well. It seems that the artist and former high priest of the Church of Satan Shane Bugbee appears to have exposed Lucien Greaves and Malcolm Jarry back in 2014. Writing for VICE Magazine (ordinarily not my favorite source for journalism, let’s just say), Bugbee revealed that a man named Doug Mesner approached him at his home asking for a copy of a republished edition of Might Makes Right by Ragnar Redbeard, the very same book that he would later go on to denounce over its apparently racist content and from there complained about Anton LaVey’s views about social stratification, meritocracy and egalitarianism. How’s that for an irony? He later produced illustrations for the book and, in 2002, Shane Bugbee did a radio show with Doug where they discussed that very same book. Doug is also recounted by Bugbee as having been introduced to many intellectuals at Harvard University, some of whom he apparently later exposed as frauds. He also recounts of how he, apparently, would insult and harass alleged survivors of ritual abuse. Bugbee also revealed in a separate blog post that he was asked to take the role of someone named Lucien Greaves, implying that Lucien Greaves was, at the time, not a person so much as a persona or a character utilized by The Satanic Temple for their purposes, the role of whom was eventually taken on by Doug Mesner himself. As for Malcolm Jarry, according to Bugbee he is actually a man named Cevin Soling, who also happens to be the owner of Spectacle Films, the studio that was working on The Satanic Temple mockumentary and have also documented their adopt-a-highway campaign. Interestingly enough, simple searching for Cevin Soling will show you that the same man who owns Spectacle Studios is also an alternative rock musician and an advocate for the abolition of public schools, which he thinks are brainwashing American children, and got interviewed by Stephen Colbert about his film The War on Kids. He also identifies Cevin as one of two rich kids financing The Satanic Temple, the other being a man named David Guinan, who is apparently director at a company called Arise Media.

Going back to Mesner, it’s in the same VICE article authored by Shane Bugbee that Doug Mesner outright admitted to starting The Satanic Temple as a dark religious take on the Yes Men, as well as a “poison pill” in the debate over the proximity between church and state in America.

So far I’m getting a picture of how back in the early days of The Satanic Temple, and perhaps even well before its foundation, that this was not intended as a serious religious movement at all, but rather as a satirical political activist movement with clear political goals in mind. I must say, if only Tucker Carlson had actually done that amount of research into Lucien Greaves and The Satanic Temple before the two terrible interviews he did with Lucien Greaves, then maybe he would have actually got one over on Lucien Greaves instead of practically whining about how Satanism as a whole is not a real religion because he’s a Christian but hey; I guess I’m getting ahead of myself. Jarry also proves to be an interesting character. If Shane Bugbee is correct and Malcolm Jarry is indeed Cevin Soling, then from the outset this seems like a man who is strongly invested in social activism, and one of his main themes seems to be children and public education, and apparently gay marriage and abortion if the Times of Israel is anything to go by. So a very politically-minded, noticeably liberal and left-leaning political themes, which if you’ve ever looked into The Satanic Temple seems to be one of the main themes of the organization. What’s also fascinating is that, around 2013, you’ll notice that Doug is fairly chill about the fact that he’s not very serious about this and it’s actually just a satirical group, whereas in later years it almost looks like he and his cohorts are taking this project more seriously. So is it a case of do they believe their own hype now, or is this still part of an act, just that instead of being simply satirical they intend it as a much more serious political movement?

Now, the next thing brought up is the bizarre fact that the website for The Satanic Temple seemed originally to list the founder not as Doug Mesner/Lucien Greaves, but instead a man named Neil Brick, the head of an organization called SMART, which claims to publish information about stories of ritual abuse. Apparently Doug Mesner and Neil Brick had a falling out over the subject of ritual abuse. I’m guessing Doug put Neil’s name there as prank gesture? By the way, Neil Brick’s SMART organization seems to get into some interesting shit, at least according to Doug in his article on a website he runs called The Process Is. Just read this section from an article he wrote about them. This is from when he visited a SMART conference in 2009.

The S.M.A.R.T conferences are an opportunity for the victims of the satanic conspiracy to exchange their horrific tales, offer support to one another and, most importantly “just be believed”. Victims are encouraged to bring an accompanying “support person”, as much of the material covered in the 2-day series of talks is considered to be “triggering” (that is to say, it may cause flashbacks in the similarly traumatized).

Does that sound familiar? Because to me it sounds like an SJW conference about misogyny and rape. It sounds like Hillary Clinton and scores of modern feminists ranting about how people who tell you they were raped should just be automatically believed even in the absence of credible evidence. It sounds like the Alex Jones-inspired equivalent of a Tumblr convention. And here I was beginning to doubt horseshoe theory. Not to mention, What. the fuck. is this shit?

“We could all decide [Satanic Ritual Abuse] isn’t really true”, LaBrier announced, provoking no real discernible response from the crowd.  She admits that she could pass off her “recovered memories” as “hallucinations”.  But then, “the events [of the past] are not important to me anymore”.  Their only significance is in “what they mean to me in my evolution as a human being.”  Indeed, she will conform reality to her beliefs rather than the other way round.  As she recalls warning possible skeptics at a talk she delivered to an Indiana University class, “Don’t you ever question my reality!

You know I think I can see the problem Doug might have had with such a gaggle of conspiracy theorists. Particularly when, according an article he posted on the Daily Kos, he saw people rant about “using musical tones and quantum physics to open up portals into the spiritual realms”. Yeah, can’t imagine why Doug might think this guy’s nuts.

Moving on a step, the article next claims that The Satanic Temple is a registered trademark of the United Federation of Churches LLC, registered to Douglas Misicko, apparently the true identity of Doug Mesner (which would make Doug Mesner yet another pseudonym), who is apparently behind another group called Reason Alliance, a non-profit corporation that supports pretty much the same ideas as The Satanic Temple. In fact it looks to me like Reason Alliance might just be another extension of The Satanic Temple. This also seems to relate to the After School Satan project. While The Satanic Temple publicly claims that they believe that religious organizations should not be tax-exempt, they, via Reason Alliance, applied for tax-exempt status and successfully obtained it. Now that I know this, it strikes me how hypocritical Doug Menser and Malcolm Jarry are, going out of their way to apply for tax-exempt status while simultaneously saying they don’t believe religious organizations should be tax-exempt. Almost as if, like so many cliche American left-liberals, they don’t practice what they preach. Unless what they preach itself is only an act. Or maybe applying for the tax-exempt status itself was a prank, a way of impersonating a religious organization whilst simultaneously preaching against religion. Now maybe that’s giving Doug Mesner too much credit.

You may remember Brian Werner, former high priest of The Satanic Temple as well as the lead vocalist of a long-standing death metal band named Vital Remains. He resigned from the organization back in 2014, and he had quite a few complaints about them, which he explained in his video. He views the organization as hypocritical because while it ostensibly resents hierarchical order, in contrast to Anton LaVey and the Church of Satan who, at least in its early years, embraced meritocratic hierarchy, its leadership gave Werner the title of High Priest for his perceived merit within the organization and had no qualms with handing out titles like “reverend” to various individuals. I suppose this is all part of the act as well, surely? He also complained that the leader, Doug Mesner, was appointing chapter heads without a vote from anyone, one of them told him that he had never read The Satanic Bible or heard of Aleister Crowley, Michael Aquino or the Al Jilwah, a Yazidi holy text I recognize as a book held in high regard by some theistic Satanists. He stated that this person, along with several other individuals he recognizes as clowns unworthy of the Satanic mantle, only got into the organization because they were appointed by someone behind the scenes. He also expresses resentment and despondence over how, apparently, he and Doug were loyal friends during his membership of the Satanic Temple, they were seemingly like brothers, and how after the statue had been completed and Werner wanted to talk to Doug about what was going on, he didn’t try to address those concerns with him and instead had a lawyer do the talking for him. After this, he complains that while almost every Satanic movement agrees fundamentally, on some level, with the original tenets of The Satanic Bible – individual sovereignty, reverence of individual will and power, the strong shall rule the weak and the clever shall rule the strong, refusal to turn the other cheek when one is smited, opposition to psychic vampires, and control of one’s own destiny; the tenets he recognizes as being pretty much universal to all strands of Satanism (and like any true Satanist I agree with them as well) – he recognizes that The Satanic Temple doesn’t embody these ideals. Like I mentioned earlier, Doug shuns these ideals, because they are not compatible with his egalitarian leftist outlook.

What’s more, two spokespeople from The Satanic Temple were interviewed by one Lauryn Petrie on a blog called Broke Ass Stuart, and this is what they had to say about membership.

No. There’re two types of membership. Anybody can go to the national site at with a simple email address you scan sign up for the newsletter and become a member. And then there’re Chapter members, and that requires some responsibilities to be involved on some level. Every Chapter does that a little differently. No has to pay anything unless you want a card and a certificate. That costs $25, but by no means do you have to do that. If there’s a local chapter where you are, to join you do have to be accepted, but there’s no initiation or anything. You don’t even have to be a Satanist, you can just be a strong ally who believes in the political and secular actions without being super stoked about all the aesthetic aspects.

So according to them, you don’t have to be a Satanist, not even by Doug Menser’s idea of what Satanism is, in order to join The Satanic Temple. All you have to do is support their political causes. I think if Brain Werner had seen this, he would see this as further evidence of his conclusion that The Satanic Temple aren’t actually a Satanic organization.

Finally, you know all that business with the Ten Commandments monument, back when I actually kind of supported The Satanic Temple’s efforts to erode the influence of Christianity? Well Ethan, in his final point, points out that The Satanic Temple’s campaign to erect a Baphomet statue alongside the Ten Commandments were immaterial, and that they had nothing to do with the case. Instead, the ACLU, representing Christians who viewed the monuments presence as a means of political grandstanding over what, for them, is a sacred part of their religious faith. But after the ACLU won, The Satanic Temple publicly claimed victory for this whole thing, and people believed them. Why? Easy. Because The Satanic Temple generated publicity, they “started a conversation”, you might say, by doing precisely fuck all other than troll their political opponents. I say fuck all, because once you look at what the ACLU had to say, this wasn’t actually about The Satanic Temple’s grievances at all. They just shared the same views on the subject and took the credit.

And that’s all the points that Joel Ethan brought up. What’s funny is that really none of this is new information. It was out there, and the parody act that they did in 2012-13 was apparently known for quite some time, but apparently it didn’t occur to many people, certainly not to me at the time, and certainly not to the mainstream media – can’t say I blame them in retrospect, such facts would run counter to a narrative that was tied to a lot of publicity, controversy and therefore ratings. The Church of Satan seems to just be re-posting these facts, apparently simply to inform us all that this is the case. I can’t say I know if that’s true, I don’t know what their true motivations are for reposting the old information besides their obvious rivalry with The Satanic Temple. I have to say though, I am convinced more than ever that The Satanic Temple are atheists pretending to be Satanists, using Satanism as a costume for their own political goals, and I feel disappointed with myself for not knowing some of this information much sooner.

I am finished with this organization, not that I was ever a member. With all due respect to anyone reading, if anyone still believes that these people are real Satanists, when in fact they weren’t even genuine from the beginning, I can’t help you. I am more opposed to them than ever now, for I have come to realize that these people are outright charlatans and deceivers. They don’t care about Satanism, they don’t practice Satanism philosophically nor do they practice what they preach, they have never been Satanists, and worst of all they lie in order to advance their own goals. Ironically, all to fight lies and perceived tyranny.

The Church of Satan’s Fact Sheet on The Satanic Temple, via Reverend Joel Ethan:

Freedom has no value in religion

Isn’t it ironic that Christians, especially in America, talk about freedom? Why? Because Christianity, and religion in general, has no value for freedom. All that freedom Christians talk about is probably just them trying to justify Christianity and make it compatible with the American philosophy, which, otherwise, it isn’t (but that’s a later topic).

In most, if not all religions, freedom has no meaning or no value at all. You live, or are expected to live, by predetermined standards, and whatever you do is already pre-ordained by a god who supposedly knows what is and what will be. There is virtually no such thing as freedom in religion.

Really, the only freedom religion values or cares about is the freedom to spread the word, follow the faith, or worship the god, as well the false freedom called “freedom from sin” or “freedom from desire” (as it is in Buddhism), which in reality simply means being an uptight, over-moral, religious drone, or an empty husk who has cut himself from his humanity. Also, the Bible seems to mention the freedom to choose to be slave.

Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a covering for evil; live as God’s slaves.” – 1 Peter 2:16

Yep, the Christian Bible actually says we should live as God’s slaves. And Christianity wouldn’t be the only religion. Pretty much all religions require submission to a god, law, or perscribed doctrine (the latter two especially if a religion is atheistic, but all religions require submission to a doctrine). That is a commonality in all religions. And this is how religion cannot and does not value freedom.

Why I hate religion as a concept

This is about religion in general, as you can guess. I am anti-religious, that much is already clear from previous posts (that doesn’t make me an atheist). Though I respect some religions, like Hinduism, Buddhism, Shinto, pagan religions, and even Satanism to a small extent, along with other religious ideas, I still very much hate religion as a concept. Why? I’ll tell you.

It turns virtues into moral obligations

Virtues, by definition, are characteristics that make one admirable in people’s eyes. They are characteristics of moral excellence, not necessarily laws of morality. What religion does is socialize, if you will, virtues and turn them into codified moral laws outline how you should behave or not behave.

It turns mythology into doctrine

Mythology and religion are not the same. Mythology is great. At it’s heart it’s about storytelling, an art form as old as mankind himself, right down to when we first started gathering around fires and telling each other stories, long before the English language had been invented. Religion, on the other hand, is designed around creating a moral doctrine or dogma for you to follow in hopes of acheiving salvation or so-called spirituality (religion doesn’t real spirituality, but rather uses spirituality as a hook to lure fools in). To do this, it transforms mythology from almost spiritual storytelling to a matter of faith.

It socializes tradition into law

Traditions are customs that different people have and that have been passed down by enough generations. Religion, however, turns that into a religious law for all people to follow. Even little beliefs among religious people become full on doctrine, such as when the belief in the Assumption of the Virgin Mary became dogma, and thus mandatory.

It furthers social control and the power of the state

It seems as though religion has always had a special relationshop with the state, the authorities, and the ruling classes. Those sorts of people have always use religion to falsely justify their authority, especially when their authority unjustified. Popes, Lamas, Ayatollahs, and other such religious leaders have attempted to impose their dogma on whoever they see for ages now, and they work within secular authoirty. Religion has been in bed with state for so long, that separation of religion and state is an important issue of modern times.

It ruins war

War is always spoilt and corrupted when you try to use religion to support it. I’m not saying that war is never right, but I’m saying wars can be unjust if religion is used to support it. Through religion, war is turned into a campaign of religious cleansing on the part of both sides (if both sides are religious), with only the religious viewing it as “fighting the good fight”.

But in the end…

All religion ever was is a mass cult

All religion has ever consisted of as a concept is the idea that if you worship our god, follow our dogma (moral or othwerwise), and believe what we tell you, you’ll get into heaven, achieve enlightenment, or some other form of salvation or spirituality. In fact, salvation has always been the hook to lure in those who aren’t strong or wise enough to save themselves or forge their own path. It’s nothing but a cult-like entity, with no worth other than to the desperate, the weak, and the gullible. The sad thing is, even if we get rid of religion, what’s stopping other dogmatisms from replacing it, as long as people are weak and in need of a voice telling them what to do so that they can save them, rather than take the initiative to save themselves. I wonder what the next religion will be?

That sounds likely, don’t you think?

My problem with “New Atheism”

The Four Horsemen of New Atheism, apparently. Not nearly as badass as the other Four Horsemen.

Atheism simply means not believing in the existence of a god. That’s all there is to it. Unfortunatelty, not everyone understands it that way. In fact, very often, atheism gets lumped in with secularism, maltheism, naturalism, antireligion, the value of science and logic, and materialism. There’s even a bullshit belief that not believing in god makes you smarter, and that believing in god makes you stupid. This is the fault of what is only generously called “new atheism”.

These guys are responsible for the current of image of atheists, and they are complete posers. I don’t mind that they criticize morality of god, but it seems like they forgot they they’re supposed to be atheists, because for a brief moment it appears that they actually believe in the Christian God, just that they hate him. This is especially true of Christopher Hitchens (in fact, that’s what he’s most famous for). The difference between “new atheism” and actual atheism is that real atheism just says there’s no god and nothing else, while new atheists believe that “religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises”. That does not describe atheism. It describes antireligion.

To be fair on them, though, they may be both atheist and antireligious, but I have never seen their criticism of religion being treated as antireligious, which it actually is. All their antireligion and secular advocacy has been misguidedly lumped in with atheism. Why? Maybe because “new atheism” gets the most media attention, but that only comes from the fact that, most of the time, all they do is promote themselves and proselytize their views. Their books sell for millions of dollars and are considered best-sellers, and some of them make documentaries solely for the purpose of espousing their viewpoints, far from exposing the truth as they’d like you to think. Probably the king of new atheist promotion is Richard Dawkins, who, though good at criticizing Christianity, tends to be incredibly condescending towards religion in general and anyone who believes in anything that isn’t scientifically proven. His fame probably comes less from his outspoken advocacy of atheism and criticism of religion and superstition, and more from the fact that he’s had nine TV documentaries and several publications all promoting said views.

Pictured: a constantly self-promoting poser

I swear they’re no different to fundamentalist Christians or evangelists, in fact one could call them atheist evangelists. Why? Because they treat their own opinions, and science itself, as a gospel of truth. Now I’m opinionated and somewhat judgemental myself, but at least I’m not going around creating a secular religion for all to follow and making idiots of those who don’t. Even then, all that matters to me as that, in my eyes, they’re all posers.

What I also dislike is that, much like the dogmatic fundamentalist Christians, they miss the bigger picture. Life isn’t all about science and logic. In fact, there’s a lot about life science can never prove, and religion can’t prove either. Lots of times, life is about your own judgements. But for new atheist thinkers, science is a gospel and a secular religion, though they’ll never say that. The problem is when religious scientism and militant materialistic atheism become the atheism of the modern time, or, in other words, the “new atheism”.