Ah, J K Rowling. I don’t think I was ever a fan of her work. I remember being given one of the Harry Potter books in the form of an audio cassette when I was a kid, and I remember having two Harry Potter video games in the house, but my interest in the franchise never extended beyond having played the games once and dressing as a Hogwarts wizard when I was like 6 years old or so (in my defense, all the kids in my family did it at the time). The movies based on the books were even less appealing to me for some reason, so all told I never cared much for the Harry Potter franchise or for J K Rowling as a person. And so, years later, I like many people saw the broader culture around the Harry Potter franchise as a form of cringe, and the frequent proliferation of Harry Potter references as cultural signifiers within liberal politics and many other ideologies to be even more cringe-inducing, emblematic of almost every inane moral and cultural piety in society that I despise. In a way, they’re a modern Iiberal equivalent of the kind of bourgeois social-democratic moral idealism that Walter Benjamin railed against in his 1929 essay Surrealism.
Now, however, we’re in a very peculiar cultural moment where the Harry Potter franchise is not only considered unfashionable but also an increasingly considered toxic cultural artefact, due largely to the fact that its author, J K Rowling, has for the last couple of years become prolific in using her platform to espouse transphobia. Attendant to this fact is her tendency to declare herself, or for others to declare her, a victim of that ever-nebulous “cancel culture” (which, much like “wokeness”, serves as a poor substitute for the concept of political correctness), and in this she’s managed to garner a certain measure of public sympathy despite (or in some cases because of) her views. The fact that Rowling and other transphobes such as Rosie Duffield have apparently faced death threats from what is most likely some lone nut or too has done much in the eyes of a British media already sympathetic to transphobia as their pet manufactured “taboo speech” to bolster her image as a persecuted and cancelled woman who dared only to assert “unpopular opinions” about “biological fact” (and they mean this in a very two-dimensional sense). It’s in this context that the prevailing struggle in modern “Western’ and particularly British culture is to re-evaluate the legacy of the Harry Potter franchise, or more specifically to determine the extent to which it is acceptable to still appreciate the Harry Potter books and movies despite their author’s grotesque bigotry.
Although that particular question is all too familiar to me in that it recalls the subject of black metal, one of my favourite musical genres which similarly invites challenges regarding how best to approach beloved art in association with problematic creators, this article will not explore that question. That said, though, before we approach the real subject of what I want to say, it should be noted that transphobia is not the only toxic aspect of Rowling’s creative legacy. More recently people, are becoming more aware of the fact that, despite Rowling famously declaring that Albus Dumbledore was gay, her work nonetheless has certain homophobic tendencies, such as the fact that she depicted lycanthropy as a metaphor for the AIDS virus (though of course, being a liberal, she tried to pass this off as commentary on conservative moral panic rather than vilifying gay people as “bug spreaders”). Even Dumbledore’s homosexuality is never validated within canon, and if anything it can be argued that the canon depicts his gay crush as his Achilles heel, which is all the more troublesome by the fact that Dumbledore is the only apparently confirmed gay character in Harry Potter. There’s also the fact that she depicted bankers in the form of the Grimgotts, the goblins who run the wizard bank, which is increasingly notorious due to the fact that they’re depicted as greedy, hook-nosed creatures, which is very similar to long-established anti-semitic caricatures depicting Jewish people as similarly greedy and hook-nosed in order to frame them as evil masterminds of capitalism or the banking industry. In short there’s actually a bit of a tapestry of bigotry.
In order to meaningfully oppose Rowling and her ilk, and in order to meaningfully oppose the bigotry they espouse, it is necessary to challenge the foundations of the bigotry that they espouse. In other words, the legacy of ideas that animate the bigotries that Rowling presents. And in this, I believe there is an element in the room that must be confronted: Christianity.
It’s often forgotten that the Harry Potter franchise carries with it a hefty legacy of underlying Christianity. It may seem strange given that the series is all about magic and wizards, both subjects usually proscribed in Biblical injunction, and indeed the idiot brigade that is Christian fundamentalism accused Harry Potter of being a “Satanic” influence promoting witchcraft with this injunction in mind. Some Catholics have even abjured Harry Potter by declaring it as “Gnostic in essence and practice”, with predictably no self-awareness considering that the “Gnosticism” he is referring to is literally just esoteric Christian mysticism. But Harry Potter is nonetheless a Christian fantasy, or at least a secular work that still has some codified latent Christianity within it. I’ve been meaning to explore and comment on this for some time now, ever since I heard that people were worshipping Harry Potter as Jesus and treating the books as a kind of modern sacred literature. Aside from the obvious question of “why would you want to do this?”, there’s a lot to go into and at least it’s not too late to do so.
Let’s start with one overlooked fact about J K Rowling herself: she is a Christian, and a fairly committed one at that. Given that at least half of British society is broadly irreligious, and given the ostensibly liberal politics of Rowling, you may well have assumed that J K Rowling was an atheist. But in fact she is a Christian, she considers her Christian faith to be very important to her life, and she seems to be a member of the Church of England. She has repeatedly stated that she is Christian over the years, and in fact has gone out of her way to elaborate on the Christian themes in the Harry Potter novels. That said, the way she communicates it in her interviews, it seems to manifest as a vague reference to abstract and broadly more universal moral pronouncements such as “choosing between what is right and what is easy” (conveniently lacking any definition of what is “right” or “easy”). However, there are allusions to Christianity so familiar that even Christians, or at least some of the smarter ones, can observe them for what they are.
It’s easy enough to snicker at the thought of Harry Potter being likened to Jesus Christ, and I imagine there’s fundamentalist Christians who consider that whole comparison to be blasphemy, but there are apparently several allusions that are meant to connect Harry Potter with the story of Jesus. Harry Potter dies in order to make Voldemort mortal and therefore vulnerable, only for Harry to then return to life so that Voldemort can be defeated, thus apparently saving the world. This is pretty unequivocally a parallel with the basic premise of Jesus Christ dying and then coming back to life in order to redeem mankind of its sins. The difference is that instead of going to Hell to defeat Satan before his resurrection, Harry in his post-death/pre-resurrection state meets Dumbledore, who although definitely not God has been compared to the traditional image of the Christian God, and instead of going to heaven Harry gets married and has three kids who he sends off to Hogwarts. But regardless of the differences, the point of the Harry Potter story is that it culminates in a salvific conflict between “Good”, as represented by a dying-and-rising Harry and his friends, and “Evil”, as represented by Voldemort and his allies. Thus the central premise, the central conflict, of the Harry Potter books and films is a latent from of what is basically the Christian message.
That’s one of the more basic and familiar forms of Latent Christianity in Harry Potter, certainly among the most discussed. But what about the relationship to bigotry?
The easiest place to start would actually be the anti-semitism, which Rowling expresses in her depiction of the Gringott bankers. Despite the declaration of the New Testament that there is neither Jew nor Greek in the eyes of God, the founding fathers of the Christian church were vicious anti-semites who either invented or at least codified the very same canards against Jews that would re-emerge in both medieval and modern anti-semitism. St. Paul appeared to refer to Jews, or rather “they of the circumcision”, as “unruly and vain talkers and deceivers” who subvert entire households and teach false or forbidden teachings in pursuit of money (Titus 1:10-11). Keep that last part about money in mind for certain modern caricatures about the greed attributed to Jewish people by anti-semitic bigots. St. Ambrose praised the burning of a synagogue by a mob of Christians and took responsibility for it on the grounds that “there should no longer be any place where Christ is denied”. St. Jerome referred to Jews as “congenital liars”, accused them of tempting Christians into heresy, and believed they should be punished until they confess, which thus serves as a grim antecedent to the Inquisition that would come centuries later. John Chrysostom, who was an influential and powerful church ideologue, wrote an entire tract called Adversus Judaeos (literally “Against the Jews”), in which he accused Jewish people of murdering Jesus, described synagogues as brothels and criminal assemblies among other slanderous charges, claimed that Jewish priesthood was offered, bought, and sold for money, and advocated for the slaughter of Jews on the grounds that he believed them to have demons inside their souls and synagogues. Tertullian, in his argument against Marcion, declared that the Jews were an inferior people in order to oppose the idea that the God of the Old Testament was too harsh, essentially saying God’s oppressive cruelty is the fault of the Jews for disobeying or not believing in God rather than the fault of God – after all, the Christian God has to remain blameless of evil, or else the whole premise of Christianity falls apart.
As a side-note, it is humorous to account for the fact that some scholars comment that early Christian anti-semitism emerged in the context of a harsh period for the church, a time where the church was fighting for its survival at a time where Christianity had not yet become the dominant religion and was still persecuted by the Roman state. The fact that anti-semitic rhetoric continued to be trafficked in the Christian world for centuries after Christianity became the state religion of Rome, and the fact that Christians were actually persecuted less frequently in Rome than later Christians would have you believe, would all put a damper on that. But more importantly, if we are to take as fact that the church fathers employed anti-semitic rhetoric to survive, then this only means that Christianity established itself as a religion of love, mercy, forgiveness, and the equality of all peoples in the eyes of God only to immediately discard such concerns when the task of establishing the church proved unforgiving. That Christianity inverted its own supposed teachings of mercy, forgiveness, and love so quickly in its life is if anything among the strongest proofs that Christianity was always a fraudulent religion, and that the Western world for well over a thousand years was foolish to have believed in it.
To return to the central subject as it relates to the Gringotts in Rowling’s books, Christian anti-semitism is at the root of traditional stereotypes about Jews as being greedy and unscrupulous money-lenders. The sinful reputation of money-lending is often traced to Jesus’ Cleansing of the Temple, but it also has older roots in Old Testament prohibitions against usury (Exodus 22:25) and charging interest except for foreigners (Deuteronomy 23:19-20). It’s important to remember at this point that Christian attitudes to the rich depended on whether or not you used your wealth “righteously” or “sinfully”. There were the rich who were “wicked and merciless”, who used their wealth in an evil way not aligned with God’s will, and there were the rich who were “merciful and loving”, who used their wealth in a righteous way aligned with God’s will. If we take into account the Christian view on money-lending and the vituperatives directed against Jews, it probably doesn’t take much guesswork to figure out who the “wicked and merciless” rich might consist of in the eyes of the early Christians. Sometimes the anti-semitic tirades of early Christians, and later medieval Christian ideologues such as Martin Luther, have been compared to the Nazis and Adolf Hitler, and in this light it is worth remembering that Nazi economics was predicated on a division between “schaffendes kapital”, meaning “productive” or “creative” capital, and “raffendes kapital”, meaning “predatory” or “parasitic” capital. “Productive”/”creative” capital referred to the national capital that was held to be the source of economic utility and technological advancement, while “predatory”/”parasitic” capital referred to finance capital, stock trading, and banking, all of which were directly attributed to Jews by the Nazis. It’s easy to connect ideas like this back to the distinction between the “good” rich and the “evil” rich, and how the implications of the latter probably would’ve meant Jewish people vilified as evil money-lenders.
Speaking of Nazism, the Harry Potter universe contains something called the Werewolf Register, created by Newt Scamander in 1947 as a register of all werewolves in Britain. Those who were werewolves were apparently required to register, and it is not clear what happens to those who did not register. Keep in mind at this point that werewolves are intended to be coded representations of gay people who contracted AIDs, and that Newt Scamander is also the protagonist of the movie Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, which is part of the Harry Potter series. Thus, in Rowling’s universe, gay people are represented as werewolves who need to have a Nazi-esque registration system account for them because of their predatory nature. But we’ll come to the significance of that soon enough.
Now let’s address the big elephant in the room, Rowling’s transphobia. Rowling’s transphobia can be summarized via the following precepts: she rejects the idea trans people are real on the grounds that this supposedly means “sex isn’t real”, which simply means that she believes in an essentialist understanding of binary biological sex as the sole determinant of your gender identity, she believes that trans people are conspiring to force lesbians to date them and thus, in her view, date men (a talking point that was more recently platformed in an entirely sympathetic light by the BBC), she compares trans people to incels and Donald Trump, she believes that trans women are men who view womanhood as a costume, she claims that trans people regularly commit acts of violence against cis women, and she believes that allowing trans women to use the women’s bathrooms will result in a tidal wave of male sexual harassment and assault against women.
These are all obviously bigoted beliefs, and they fall under a family of ideas referred to as trans-exclusionary radical feminism, which its adherents prefer to call “gender-critical feminism”. You might be wondering how much of this has to do with Christianity beyond just the fact that a lot of conservative Christians are also transphobes. The Bible apparently says nothing about trans people, and the only verse I’ve seen that even comes close is an admonition against people who cross-dress (Deuteronomy 22:5), so some might think there’s nothing transphobic about Christianity. But, there’s a problem. In his City of God, Augustine condemns the rites observed in dedication to the Great Mother, most likely referring to the goddess Cybele, who he asserted surpassed the other gods in “crime”. He condemned the sacred rite of Cybele for its “cruel custom”, or rather the “consecration of mutilated men”, by which he seems to be referring to the galli, who were the priesthood of Cybele. The galli were priests who worshipped Cybele, led public festivals in her honour, and, to complete their initiation into the cult of Cybele, cut off their male genitalia so as to re-enact the mythical castration of Attis and unite with the goddess, and from then on they spent the rest of their lives dressing, presenting, and likely identifying as women. It’s these priests that Augustine referred to as “wretched” or “miserable men”, who he claims partake in a deception via rites he deems more abominable than any other pagan custom observed in Rome. If we note that the galli might well have been trans according to scholars, then the “deception” Augstine refers to may refer not simply to the “deception” of the goddess but also to their female identity being a “deception”; in other words, Augustine believed that the galli priests were men who meant to deceive society into thinking they were women. The standard “gender-critical” or transphobic argument about trans women is exactly the same, that trans women are actually men trying to deceive people into thinking that they’re women.
As is the case with modern transphobia, Augustine’s transphobia intersects with homophobia through his reference to the priests of the Great Mother as “effeminates”. There can be no doubt that he is referring to them as “effeminates” because of their presentation as women and the radical abjuration of their physical masculinity through the act of ritual castration. But Augustine’s denunciation of the galli as effiminate can be seen to echo another older Roman trope: in the eyes of Roman society, men who lost their physical manhood in some way were no longer seen as men. Homosexuality was sometimes denounced in Roman society, and often in the context of attacks made by Roman politicians against their political rivals. From the standpoint of Roman norms of masculinity, being a man meant penetrating people with your penis and having the ability to do so. To be a man and receive penetration from another man was, in effect, to be seen as a woman instead of a man. This idea of masculinity in its relation to homosexuality continued into the medieval Christian era of Europe, which also seemed to have much more lenient standards for lesbian sex than male homosexual sex. John Chrysostom viciously condemned homosexuality as “vile” and an “insult to nature”, and argued that men who received sexual penetration from men lost their manhood and became women. Roman and later Christian attitudes to the galli are thus linked to Roman homophobia in that both the galli and gay men are condemned or at least ostracised for being men who have abandoned or desecrated their manhood.
This in my opinion leads into another modern issue with Christianity and homosexuality that emerges from progressive attempts to claim that homophobia is not latent to Christianity. One argument I’ve seen from some Christians is that certain Bible verses that are invoked to justify bigoted attitudes towards homosexuals are not meant to reference homosexuality but instead reference either effeminacy or a more general weakness of character (which, keep in mind, seem to have been linked together in patriarchal Greek and Roman society). By modern standards, this would appear to exonerate the Bible from charges of homophobia. The problem, however, is that in the ancient context, particularly the Roman one, effeminacy and homosexuality are linked, and gay men are socially condemned because, in their eyes, being a man and being penetrated by another man meant the loss of manhood, and with it Roman notions of pride and honour that were supposed to be attendant to the traditional male. This is an idea that is still carried forth in traditional Christian denunications of homosexuality. So, in my view, the Bible is hardly exonerated and remains an anti-LGBT text.
Before anyone signs off thinking that Christian homophobia has nothing to do with the Harry Potter series whatsoever, let’s first return to the problem of the AIDs werewolves from earlier. Much of the stigma surrounding AIDs and HIV stems from the idea that these were “gay diseases”, diseases that you supposedly only got if you participated in homosexual sex, and this also fed into the idea that gay people were out to prick you and get you infected with AIDS and HIV, which comes from the idea of homosexuality as being predatory, which is itself had been a talking point for decades. The Christian movement had long held similar prejudices about homosexuality. John Chrysostom not only described homosexuality as vile and unnatural, but he also liked to frame homosexual sex as inherently abusive, and describing it as a violent sedition incited by the Devil or as the manifestation of God’s wrath against idol worship, and the abuse of two people of the same sex by each other. This itself seems to be a commentary extrapolated from Paul’s own condemnation of homosexuality. Paul condemned women for “changing natural sexual relations for unnatural ones”, and men for “abandoning natural relations with women” in favour of “lust for one another” (Romans 1:26-27). The fact that some modern scholars might interpret this as a condemnation not of homosexuality but of male rape and child abuse, besides requiring us to ignore plain text on the matter of “rejecting relations with women for lust with one another”, invites only the supposition that the Christian view of homosexuality was that it was a kind of violence for those who participated in it.
And so we come back to Dumbledore, who for a while was the only confirmed gay character in the Harry Potter series according to its author. Dumbledore may not be depicted as effeminate, but the only homosexual relationship he is shown is one in which he is victimized. Dumbledore was in love with a man named Gellert Grindelwald, who never really reciprocated his feelings and instead took advantage of them, which Dumbledore eventually realized and became heartbroken over it. This would mean that the (for a time) only gay character in the series is a man who had been effectively shamed and weakened by his pursuit of a gay relationship, and as a result he took on a life of celibacy. Although there’s definitely no sex involved, Grindelwald is clearly the dominant component of this relationship, rendering Dumbledore entirely submissive to his manipulations, and the resulting damage done to Dumbledore in the context of the only gay relationship hinted at in relation to at least the original books weaves a tapestry more or less in conformity to Roman ideas about homosexual relationships which then informed Christian homophobia. Thus, this is a relationship which displays Latent Christian ideas about homosexuality, and it serves to cast aspersion on homosexuality writ large.
There’s another Latent Christian prejudice in the fact Dumbledore, the only confirmed gay character, is officially celibate. While many might have congratulated themselves over the supposedly emancipatory or “progressive” depiction of Dumbledore as a gay man, in reality his sexuality is never validated in the series. I guess Rowling was of the presumption that homosexuality cannot be validated in fictional representation without it taking the form of overt sexualization. Though, of course, this celibacy follows his break-up with Grindelwald. In either case the celibacy establishes a divide between the “good” homosexual who chooses not to act on his desires for other men versus the “bad” homosexual who pursues a gay relationship. Grindelwald is the “bad” homosexual who explores a gay relationship with another man, but in a way that is depicted as cruel and manipulative, leading to the despair of his ex-lover Dumbledore. Dumbledore thus becomes the “good” homosexual, who abstains from such pursuits and devotes himself to a different pursuit, namely the study of wizardry and ensuring that good prevails over evil.
The universe of Harry Potter is a universe where the sole concern is the triumph of the good wizards against the evil wizards, which in the seven original books culminates in the death and resurrection of Harry Potter as Jesus Christ. This also means that the problems of the system that everyone lives in, which I have to stress is a pretty rigidly classist system, are never really addressed because the order of things is legitimate in the same sense that wealth is legitimate in Christianity: as long as it follows “good” instead of “evil”. Villains in this setting include a pale Satan expy, werewolves that are actually coded gay people with AIDs, and a gay man who breaks Dumbledore’s heart, among others. There’s a lot of Latent Christian context for the Harry Potter series and, by extention, much of Rowling’s views as well as the bigotries that they involve. As people re-examine the Harry Potter franchise and its negative legacy, my advice is for people to sincerely challenge Christianity, rather than seek a sanitized version of it.
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.
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.
This last year has convinced me more than anything that conservative politics is entirely morally bankrupt, and their discourse on the increasingly nebulous concept of cancel culture serves as the basis of their moral decay. Earlier this year, we saw this with Republicans leveraging the non-issue of Dr Suess retracting a couple of books in order to avoid talking about why they voted against every Covid-19-related spending bill put forward and would not support a rise in the minimum wage. Now, we see this with conservative ideologues going on record to say that the Inquisition was better than modern “cancel culture”.
What I’m referring to is a Daily Wire segment in which Matt Walsh, a conservative pundit who has his own show on Daily Wire, actually argued that the Inquisition was “caricatured”, as in its crimes were somehow blown out of proportion, and that it was much better than the “cancel culture” supposedly perpetuated by “trans activists”. The following is taken from a clip shown on Jason Campbell’s tweet:
As for the videos, they demonstrate an important thing: that gender ideology, more than any other leftist doctrine, is spread and propagated by force. What you’re witnessing in videos like this is a modern form of forced conversion. Gender activists compel normal people to affirm their doctrines under threat of public shaming, loss of income, or violence, or all three in some cases. In a forced conversion centuries ago, or even today in some parts of the world, you may have been coerced into affirming their religious doctrine under threat of being burned at the stake. Now you’re coerced into affirming the doctrines of the gender cult, under threat of having everything else in your life, aside from your physical body, incinerated. Trans activists are basically what your public school history teacher told you the Inquisitors were. The difference is that the Inquisition has been caricatured. I mean, it was far more defensible than modern day cancel culture is, especially the cancel campaigns waged by trans activists. Also, in this Inquisition, of today, the Inquisitors are not trying to coerce a belief in or submission to any sort of eternal, celestial God, but rather, they themselves are the gods. At least that’s what they believe, and they want us to believe, or pretend we do. All while posturing as the victim, in an exchange that they instigate, with someone who does not want to be part of it. That’s how the game works, and it is repulsive.
So, according to Matt Walsh, “gender activists”, who are also “trans activists” (he uses those terms interchangeably and without meaning), are persecuting “normal people” (a concept equally without meaning) for crimes against the holy gender cult, which somehow involves trans people being worshipped as gods (which is basically just the same delusional bullshit that Jonathan Pageau believes), and the Inquisition of old was much better than this, in part because the people who were killed and tortured in the Inquisition were killed and tortured in the name of God instead of being cancelled by trans people, or something. Yeah. As long as that’s where we’re at now, if we’re really at the point where we’re having to talk about whether or not the Inquisition was better than “cancel culture” (a term that I despise for numerous reasons), let’s take a look at what’s actually being talked about for what they really are.
Everyone knows about the Inquistion, though not everyone has the right idea of how many people died in the Inquisition. By the year 1530, up to 2,000 people were murdered by the Inquisition, and throughout its 350 year lifespan, the Inquisition is estimated to have killed around double that number. The Inquistion is well known to have used torture in order to extract confessions, whether genuine or false, from those accused of heresy. In addition, the 1578 edition of the Directorum Inquisitorum, courtesy of Francisco Peña, advocated for the use of torture in cases of possible mental illness in order to efficiently determine whether or not the mental illness was fake or not, and it advised Inquisitors to not worry too much if the defendant died as a result of this treatment. So the Inquisition were quite prepared to kill many people under their custody if it meant stamping out heresy. On top of that, the Inquisition was viciously anti-Semitic and was a project of Catholic anti-Semitism; they burned Jews on the stake for refusing to convert to Catholicism, they persecuted Judaism to the point of mass burning copies of the Talmud, they explicitly targeted supposed Jewish influence through the conversos (meaning Spanish and Portugese Jews who converted to Catholicism), the Spanish Inquisition was started in the first place in order to target conversos in order to ensure that they were loyal to the Church, Inquisitions were ordered by Catholic monarchs specifically out of fear of “Jewish influence”, and the Inquisition was also involved in the expulsion of Jews from Spain and Portugal.
Now, in contrast, let’s try to examine whatever incident Matt Walsh is talking about that he deemed fit to compare with the Inquisition. The clip presented by Jason Campbell comes from an 8-minute video from Matt Walsh’s YouTube channel, itself a clip from the Matt Walsh Show, in which he responds to a viral TikTok video of a trans person berating the manager at a Sonic Drive-In over their being misgendered. Yes, that’s literally all this is. Matt Walsh ranted about forced conversion and defended the Inquisition over a dispute at a Sonic Drive-In. To be more specific about what happened, Eden Torres, a trans woman, was having an argument with a Sonic manager over the fact that their staff repeatedly misgendered her, calling her “sir” when in fact she identified as a woman, after they saw her dead name (their birth name in accordance with the gender they were merely assigned at birth) on her credit card. The manager seemingly apologized, but then said that “we have employees here that are gay” as though that somehow justified her being misgendered. When Torres pointed out to the manager that she was talking about gender-based discrimination and asked the company to stop discriminating against her, the manager asked Torres if her name was feminine, and insisted that Torres was not being discriminated against when she said it wasn’t. The manager then asks what he can call Torres, Torres asks what he would assume when looking at her, and the manager told her she looks like a man, at that point Torres dismissed him and drove away.
At this point I’m not sure what world Matt Walsh and others like him, or The Daily Wire for that matter, think we live in. This isn’t “forced conversion” to some abstract, alien, authoritarian ideology. Or at least it’s not what almost anyone thinks when the words “forced conversion” spring to mind. Seriously, which do you think is worse? Being a Jew or a heretic in the Middle Ages and getting tortured or killed for not believing in the Catholic Church, or being some asshole who misgenders a trans woman and is publicly called out as a transphobe? Is the prospect that people might boycott Sonic Drive-In for their transphobia really so bad that we might compare it to the mass execution and deportation of non-Christians? Is being expected to refer to the desired pronouns of an individual really a sign of obeisance to their divinity, and is it truly comparable to the expectation to uphold the catechisms of the Catholic Church on pain of basically death? And don’t give me some bullshit about losing your jobs or having everything other than your body being incinerated, because you know that isn’t actually happening. You know, J. K. Rowling is a TERF and I see no signs of her career taking a dive after her remarks about trans people. If anything, she got a bit of a pity party going for her after some motherfucker sent her death threats. Someone who was truly expunged from society and its remit for being treated with some semblance of deceny is probably not going to be defended in that event – after all, if you were truly deemed scum of the earth by society, why should society care if you lived or died? Instead J. K. Rowling got a lot of praise from a wide variety of public figures. Recently, in fact, Dave Chapelle defended J. K. Rowling’s opinions on trans people and supposedly got a standing ovation from the audience. That’s not exactly the mark of a man shunned by society if you ask me.
If you’re at a point where you’re going to tell the whole world that thousands of people getting killed, tortured, and kicked out of a country for having the wrong religion is somehow better than being vocally condemned by the public for being a transphobe, then that to me is a sign that your discourse regarding the subject of “cancel culture” is completely fargone and unservicable to anyone. It actually calls for anyone still into this to re-examine why they’re into it or ever were into it at all, because, for all the right’s talk about left-wing snowflakes, this talk of how the Inquisition would be better than getting “cancelled” on the internet is the most cliche, pathetic, snowflake shit I’ve seen in a long time. You’re actually willing to defend people getting burned at the stake and stretched at the rack for religious reasons just so you don’t have to deal with someone calling you a piece of shit on Twitter or Facebook? What kind of weak, man-baby attitude is this?
I guess if the human body is completely worthless to you and the soul and its place in God’s kingdom is more important, then maybe from that perspective being burned alive must seem like a cakewalk. At the very least, I can sort of respect someone being so willing to face down death like that. But even then, shouldn’t your possessions mean nothing to you as well? I mean, what’s the point of worrying about losing your possessions or your job for saying what you believe in if, in the end, your soul still gets to live forever in heaven while everyone else goes to hell? And, if anything, you have less obstacles to that salvation by having less stuff and money to attach your soul to. What’s the problem? The problem, as I see it, is that this was never about standing up for your beliefs in the face of some mob, and it was never about freedom of expression or speech. It was only ever about Christian conservatives having the right to their ideas of the boundaries of gender identity going unchallenged as the default mode of social life that everyone had to conform to, not to mention Christianity as the dominant religion never being challenged. It’s about social control, not freedom.
It’s safe to say that the influence of conservatism on society has been declining in recent decades, which is obviously eroding the popular consent that conservatives need in the context of a bourgeois-democratic society in order maintain the social control that they desire. Thus, the conservatives, even when they seem to be politically ascendant, are slowly losing power. That’s why they can claim to be victims even when they usually aren’t being victimized by anyone, because conservative victimhood is the experience of the loss of power and privilege in a culture and population that increasingly despises the conservative agenda. And you know what the big joke is? Conservatives so often like to claim that modern people, especially leftists and liberals, are weak snowflakes who get assmad when life doesn’t go their way, but conservatives have always proved to be the real snowflakes, especially over the slightest inconvenience to their worldview and their social agenda. And remember, these are the same people who have been at the forefront of almost every major censorship campaign throughout the 20th century and much of the 21st century. These are the people who have sought to cancel any expressive deviation from cultural Christianity, such as how they whipped up a media circus against Rosaleen Norton, which led to police raiding her house and eventually her becoming a recluse for the rest of her life. These are the people who are now trying to turn around and act like they’re crusaders for freedom of speech and expression.
I’m sick of this shit. Tell them to fuck off, but not before you get the chance to remind them of how weak their cherished Western Civilization truly is. After all, how strong is a society that we’re supposed to believe is going to collapse if being trans is seen as a normal thing, that it cannot survive such a blow without the return of the Inquisition? Frankly, I’d say such a society isn’t very robust at all, and deserves the fate of decay.
Have you ever had that feeling when you encounter someone you really found fascinating, whose work got you thinking about something in a bit of a different way from before, and you start taking influence from them, and then you find out that they’ve made such egregious errors of judgement that it makes you question what you want to do with them, and then you feel kind of lost? That’s what happened regarding Rhyd Wildermuth. I discovered his work a few months ago, in the process of rediscovering Gods and Radicals, itself part of my own process of rediscovering, and re-envisioning, Paganism as a religious world-outlook, onto which Luciferianism as an esoteric outlook can be formatted in my own syncretic way. He inspired some ways of thinking about Paganism or had me thinking of some beliefs I always kind of had in a way that, at that time, I didn’t imagine before, or at least pointed the way to them. But recently I’ve begun to think he’s actively taking the side of some bigoted and reactionary corners of the online left – either that or he’s just too stupid to know the difference and he ends up as a dupe – and that has me questioning myself quite a bit. I mean don’t get me wrong, his more recent article on anarchism was very questionable enough and I had a lot of problems with it, but what I’m about to tell you is much worse. It has to do with two online left figures widely known for their snobbish, reactionary bigotry and who together form a kind of red-brown alliance in online circles: one is an (apparently) anarchist YouTuber/podcaster by the name of Angie Speaks, the other is another podcaster by the name of Aimee Terese. One of them, Angie, seems to be a friend of Rhyd Wildermuth’s and is actively platformed on Gods and Radicals’ website. This is a problem for reasons you are about to see.
This all started a few days ago when someone showed me a short Twitter thread that Angie posted last week, in which she attacked people who “”try to be something they’re not”. If that sounds vague, I’ll just post a screenshot of the thread below here:
Now this on its own can invite a fair few questions. What “self-hatred” is she referring to? Who are the people “trying to be something they’re not”? Why is aversion to said people “not bigotry”, and for that matter why the need to refer to bigotry, since this reference implies a response to accusations of bigotry? Who is “not living their truth” and why is it “perfectly natural” to be “creeped out” by them? But the answer to all of those questions, to anyone reading between the lines, is that Angie is referring to trans people. She believes that trans people are not and cannot be the gender they identify as, that they hate themselves, and that cisgender people being averse to them is “natural” because they are “uncanny” and “deceptive”. This is in part a fairly textbook case of ignorance about trans people, but also an equally textbook case of transphobic bigotry, since the whole premise of Angie’s argument is that she thinks trans people are inherently disturbing and that it’s both acceptable and justified for others to be disturbed by them and treat them like scum. When it’s coming from a right-wing conservative, and a Christian one at that, the bigotry tends to be easy to spot and most people react accordingly. When it’s coming from someone who calls themselves a leftist of any sort, the same is also almost true, except that for some reason there are more people willing to take them at face value or give them the benefit of the doubt, because left-wing transphobes, unlike right-wing transphobes, have the habit of masking the same exact bigotry in a labyrinth of intellectual jargon and obfuscation.
This is also not Angie’s first time being transphobic. In April, Angie, after seeing a video of a schizophrenic trans teenager panicking because their mother deadnamed them repeatedly and was in the process of kicking them out of their home, responded to said video by calling the trans person in question a “brat” and remarked that parents would “many parents would rethink having zoomer/ millennial brats if they new it entailed paying for their lifestyle and housing in adulthood”, among other things.
Just to emphasize, the poor individual with the green hair is pleading to anyone watching their TikTok video to help them find a new home in order to get away from their parents, because said parents are abusing them, and Angie’s response to this is to make it seem like the teenager deserved what they got, because of their “strange interests” (as though witchcraft somehow isn’t considered a “strange interest”) and supposed “bullying”. Angie decided to frame the teenager as the bully and her parents as the real victims, and following this she released a nearly-hour-long YouTube tirade about “narcissism”, “validation”, and “social justice”. Angie’s open and public stance on someone having a mental health crisis while being verbally and mentally abused by their parents and thrown out of their home is in fact a dispenser of abuse rather than its victim. Angie is thus justifying the suffering of young trans people, and is therefore a transphobe. Insofar as Angie considers herself to be a feminist, this would mean that she is also a TERF, a trans-exclusionary radical feminist (more on that later).
Oh and did I mention that she’s basically a white nationalist who is in turn supported by other white nationalists and also literal, actual neo-Nazis? Because that’s pretty important.
Aimee Terese is the only contemporary “Marxist” I am aware of who has actually been promoted by white nationalists as an ally of their cause. Consider American Renaissance, the organization founded by the white nationalist and alt-right thought leader Jared Taylor. On their website one of their authors, Chris Roberts, wrote an article on December 11th 2019 titled “Aimee Terese: Contrarian, Marxist — White Advocate?“, in which Roberts goes through a gallery of Terese’s many takes which he finds agreeable to his own white nationalist ideology. In the same vein, the website for the National Vanguard, which is an actual neo-Nazi group founded by a fairly notorious neo-Nazi named Kevin Alfred Storm, also published their own article expressing solidarity with Terese, written on July 28th 2020 by an anonymous author going by “Dissident Millenial”. Titled “Aimee Terese — A Witty Marxist and Fetching Thorn in the Side of “Woke” Liberals“, it contains basically the same collection of tweets as Chris Roberts’ article with basically the same intent, but the author also adds a certain degree of flirtatious feeling to it, almost like a pathetic attempt to get a date. She’s also known to be rather friendly towards a white supremacist and Daily Stormer contributor named Joseph Jordan (known on the internet as Eric Striker), and had agreeable conversations regarding Striker’s views on the “j-left” (presumably meaning “Jewish left”, implying the left they don’t like is a form of anti-white Jewish subversion). When this naturally attracted the ire of the rest of the online left, she pretended not to know who Striker was, accused people of policing her, preceeded to police other people for retweeting her enemies, and had Eric Striker come to her defence.
If you advertise yourself as a socialist, indeed the one of the “only real socialists” on the internet, but you echo the views of white nationalists and neo-Nazis, are friends with neo-Nazis, and will defend association with neo-Nazis, the possibilities are that you are a Nazi or a white nationalist yourself, or are just so colossally stupid that it isn’t even worth contemplating.
Of course, so far I’ve gone through all of this information without once tying it back to Rhyd Wildermuth. But that changes now. You’ll remember that I mentioned that Angie Speaks is still listed on the Gods and Radicals website, and still has a page on that website. I contacted Rhyd Wildermuth via email about much of what has been discussed previously, and expressed concerns about him platforming a transphobe with links to white nationalism. What you’re about to see below is his response:
I’ve checked out the links you provided and none of these amount to evidence of Angie being anti-trans or aligned with white nationalists.
Her views align with a growing number of Black Marxists (see for example the repeatedly de-platformed Black Marxist professor Adolph Reed, as well as many of Cornell West’s recent positions) that neo-liberal ‘anti-racism’ only reifies race, because it is much better for the capitalists that poor people blame each other for ‘systemic oppression’ rather than fighting the capitalists together. While I do not have experience with Aimée Terese, after reading the screenshots provided in those links it appears she is also critiquing this same problem.
I have known Angie personally for many years, by the way, and can assure you she is not anti-trans either. She has absolutely critiqued much of the neoliberal (capitalist) dogma around trans identity and the aggressive subsection of twitter that has called for the death of cis gays who will not have sex with trans people, as well as the many rape threats against gender critical women on social media (see my own critique of this here, with links to large archives of this behavior ).
While some of her own rhetoric can absolutely be quite provocative in a way in which I myself would never engage (it’s one of the reasons I completely left social media in August), it would take much more for me to silence her–or anyone–on our website.
Thanks for your email.
In short summary, Rhyd Wildermuth has seen what I have sent him and does not believe that Angie is anti-trans or aligned with white nationalists, thinks of her as an intellectual critic of neoliberal identity politics doing nothing but critiquing “neoliberal dogma around trans identity”, treats Aimee Terese as yet another of said critics while seemingly not touching on why white nationalists and Nazis seem to actively promote her content, and will not dissociate her from the Gods and Radicals website. Let’s go through this response point by point.
I’ve already established that Angie is in fact anti-trans, so there’s no need to go into too much detail about that. What I could do, though, is get into Rhyd’s justification for why he maintains this idea that she is not anti-trans. He says that she has “critiqued much of the neoliberal (capitalist) dogma around trans identity”. What is that “neoliberal dogma”, exactly? Judging from Angie’s statements it would appear that this “neoliberal dogma” is nothing more than the assertion that trans people are the gender they say they are, and that gender affirmation (or reassignment) surgery is valid. How exactly this is “neoliberal dogma” is a bit of a mystery, unless you consider that perhaps calling it “neoliberal dogma” serves as a way to de-legitimize what is otherwise essentially scientific consensus on the subject of being trans, and in a way that can seem palatable to certain idiotic leftists obsessed with certain ideas of “proletarian culture” against “bourgeois culture”. The only other “neoliberal dogma” I can see is the idea that trans people shouldn’t be deadnamed ad nauseum, let alone at all or by their parents for that matter, and shouldn’t be thrown out of their homes for suffering a mental breakdown because of it. And again, the only reason that’s seen as “neoliberal dogma” for some is because it can serve as a convenient intellectual justification for being cruel to trans people.
The other flank of his argument that Angie is not anti-trans is that she is also critical of “the aggressive subsection of twitter that has called for the death of cis gays who will not have sex with trans people, as well as the many rape threats against gender critical women on social media”. As ludicrous as this all sounds, the tell is in the phrase “gender critical women”. “Gender critical” is the politically correct term for what are otherwise called TERFs – trans-exclusionary radical feminists. These feminists believe that trans women are actually men seeking to “invade women’s spaces”, borrow arguments from homophobic evangelical Christians to justify discrimination against trans people, and they have the habit of threatening violence upon people they disagree with – or at least, they like to stick razor blades under their posters to slice anyone who tries to pull them down. So for a start, it’s the TERFs that like to do the silencing in broad trends. As for the “death and rape threats” accusation, even the Twitter album that Rhyd cites isn’t necessarily the smoking gun that he thinks it is. Not least if you remember that Twitter is not representative of the entire LGBT community – in fact, it’s not even representative of the whole population. Besides which, no matter how many people in the LGBT community actually hold the kind of absurd and bigoted opinions towards homosexuals Rhyd alludes to, that doesn’t suddenly mean that Angie isn’t transphobic anymore than US imperialism suddenly means Iran isn’t an authoritarian theocracy. And even if there are people on Twitter who shit on gay people for not dating trans people, is that really worse than the fact that trans people can be murdered on a whim, with violence against trans people increasing, and their murders often still going unreported, and failing that they’re still regularly denied housing? That’s something that, for some reason, Angie and Rhyd don’t seem interested in talking about, or Aimee Terese for that matter, or any TERF. Or, for another matter, Glenn Greenwald, who went from one of the best journalists in America willing to stick his neck out to stand up to right-wing authoritarianism in Brazil, to a tired old centrist crank whining about how he thinks gay people are being replaced by trans people or some nonsense like that.
Oh but then there’s the point about Angie not being associated with white nationalism. Rhyd insists that Angie is not associated with white nationalism via her links with Aimee Terese, and that instead she is part of a growing movement of black Marxists (only two are actually cited) that are united by the contention “that neo-liberal ‘anti-racism’ only reifies race, because it is much better for the capitalists that poor people blame each other for ‘systemic oppression’ rather than fighting the capitalists together”. This, again, is deflection. For starters, “neoliberal anti-racism” is never specified, but we can only assume it refers to various liberal ideas about race and discussion thereof. Without being given any canards to examine, we can sort of dismiss this by pointing out that many leftists who aren’t what we might call “class reductionists” already tear apart the work of people like Robin DiAngelo as essentially an arm of corporate power against working class coalition building and organization, in favour of socialist anti-racist projects that still emphasize the inclusion of various identity-based struggles.
There’s a reason for this that I’ve come to understand. In the past, there were communist parties that expressly refused to include struggles for black liberation in their political program, no doubt to emphasize that the class struggle was the only struggle. The main example of this would be the Communist Party USA, which in the early 20th century followed this exact approach even to the point of denying the existence of racism. The end result was that some black workers abandoned the communist parties, and the left, to support Marcus Garvey, a proto-fascist black nationalist and an admirer of the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Of course, many who didn’t instead turned to the much more radical Black Panthers, who unlike Marcus Garvey actually did frame demands for black emancipation in the context of a revolutionary agenda. The point being, socialist movements that dismissed liberationist identity-based struggles ended up losing people to anyone who might champion whose causes instead, even if that included fascistic ethno-nationalists. That historical reality may end up explaining why certain “class reductionist” or “class first” leftists end up morphing into reactionaries, often of the white nationalist variety. So contrary to some talking points about how “woke” leftists are creating fascists, the communists who followed the approach that Angie and Aimee would have them follow were the ones actually creating fascists.
Returning to Angie, for a moment, if the idea is that she’s critiquing identity fetishism in the sense of leveraging racial identity against the working class, that’s frankly laughable. In many exchanges, including only a few years ago in which she was arguably just as much an “identity-fetishist” as the people she now hates, she will, during the course of argument, not hestitate to leverage the fact that she’s a black woman in order to shield herself from criticism. Not exactly something you’d expect from someone interested in fighting “identity politics”. Since Rhyd claimed that Aimee Terese makes basically the same critique, we should briefly address her once more. While Terese is framed as an opponent of “identity politics”, we can see from her tweets that she spends a lot of time leveraging white identity against a multicultural elite, which is the quintessential and core politics of white nationalism. Also, for someone ostensibly keen to oppose identitarianism, why is Aimee Terese an anti-Semite? Just a month ago she produced a meme which depicted mass vaccination against Covid-19 as some kind of Jewish plot to enslave non-Jews.
I guess I can’t blame Rhyd too much for not knowing about this, not having dealt with Aimee before. But I’ll bet Angie knows what she’s doing, considering that they are friends and fellow travellers. Insofar as Aimee Terese is a white nationalist, and there really can’t be any denying it at this point, Angie’s links to white nationalism are pretty definite. She’ll never express white nationalism ideologically herself, but she will ally herself with white nationalists seeking to infiltrate the left as comrades in being “cancelled” by everyone else, thereby creating a network of influence. This along with the obvious transphobia is the problem with Gods and Radicals still having Angie Speaks on their website.
In light of all this Rhyd Wildermuth’s stance is clear: he is on the side of TERFs, and from the sounds of it might be a TERF himself, and so he has no problem with transphobia except to the extent that he likes to deny being anti-trans. He has seen evidence to corroborate Aimee Terese being a white nationalist, which would mean that, because Angie networks with Aimee, Angie represents a point of connection between left-wing contrarians and white nationalism, yet has chosen to dismiss the idea of Aimee Terese being a white nationalist, which functionally means he denies that Angie has any connections to white nationalism, and therefore he will not distance himself from her. By continuing to have Angie on the roster of the Gods and Radicals website, Rhyd gives his website a place in that same network. This means that at this point Rhyd Wildermuth is an ally to some very bigoted people.
What does this all mean? Well, it does mean I’m feeling extremely conflicted, mostly because his writings on Paganism proved to be informative of the way Paganism and radical left-wing political thought could intersect and helped light the way to a meaningful Pagan left-wing critique of the Enlightenment, plus his website still has a lot of good work on it, in the form of not just the articles not written by Rhyd, as well as some he did write, but in the form of the books they have (Kadmus Herschen’s groundbreaking True to the Earth is on that website). But while all the good is still there, knowing that Rhyd is willing to go out to bat for these disgusting reactionaries makes things very painfully inconvenient. The best outcome of this is that this complicates my ability to appreciate his work, but the worst possibility is that he’s trying to smuggle some pretty chauvinistic attitudes into Pagan left-wing spaces.
To close out this post, I’d like to make a point about why being a TERF doesn’t make much sense if you’re serious about Paganism. Christian culture may have made a big point about hierarchical masculinity and femininity being fixed essences and set in stone by God, but while even pre-Christian societies tended to be patriarchal, there is also a lot of evidence that they tended to accept trans identity to some degree. 3,000 years ago, the Persians recognized a “third gender” alongside male and female. In Sumeria, the priests of the goddess Inanna were men who discarded their masculinity and became women, and Inanna herself was revered for having the power to change men into women and vice versa. In India, the Hijra were a kind of “third gender”, considered either intersex, transgender, or asexual, who, although often marginalized in Indian society, have been present within it since antiquity and can even possess religious significance. In pre-Christian Norse society, transgressing gender norms could be seen as a source of profound power, and the god Loki himself moved through the genders almost on a whim, a fact that the Norse also tended to accept of their gods in general. And of course, the Amerindian (or Native American) tribes are known to have acknowledged over a hundred different gender expressions, and many tribes had a variety of ideas about people who did not fit the traditional male-female dichotomy, which were then suppressed by the dictatorship of colonial morality.
The point I’m trying to make is that the Pagan world did not have the problems with accepting the identity of trans people that Christian culture or more particularly modern Western culture has up to the present. So what’s stopping Rhyd Wildermuth, a Pagan, from taking effectively the same stance as his ancient pre-Christian forbears and accepting trans people as valid? By legitimating the TERF stance on trans people, endorsing the delegitimating of the identity of trans people on TERF grounds, and falling into identity-based sectarianism between trans people and gay people based on some dumb bullshit on Twitter, itself trumped up by TERFs, Rhyd does not seem to take seriously or grasp the extent to which Paganism endorses the acceptance of the identity of trans people. It also means he doesn’t take too seriously the way he talks about the Right Sacred and the Left Sacred. By his terms, the Right Sacred segregates Man and the Sacred and rigidly enforces the boundaries of experience. The TERF position is all about rigidly enforcing conservative gender norms as the mandatory experience of gender. It doesn’t matter that this hierarchical conservatism happens to be disguised by the rhetoric of female empowerment and liberation, because hierarchical conservatism it most certainly is in reality. So, by Rhyd’s terms, the TERF position is that of the Right Sacred, which he tends to see as inferior to the Left Sacred. To take the Left Sacred, with its emphasis on liberation, disinhibition, and transgression of the boundaries of experience seriously, it would be far more sensible to embrace a society in which the boundaries of experience can be freely transgressed, and therefore being trans should be considered valid in itself on those grounds at least. But even without that framework, being trans was simply considered to be valid in the Pagan world, or at least it was a recognized social category even in the context of societies where this was still marginalized. It’s not something that has recently sprung up as the product of liberal modernity.
In broad terms, Rhyd Wildermuth is taking the wrong side of an issue where we on the left, and we as Pagans, really should not be having such a hard time being on the right side of, and his willingness to defend transphobes who also happen to network with white nationalists is a major problem for his own credibility, and unfortunately that of Gods and Radicals, which is his website. Perhaps it can be maintained that we need not completely disregard the work of Gods and Radicals because of it, but then perhaps it would be better if there was another Gods and Radicals that isn’t run by someone who may be a TERF.
I was recently reading a book by Michel Onfray, the French atheist, libertarian socialist, and hedonist philosopher, called A Hedonist Manifesto: The Power to Exist. I took a brief interest in the book on the grounds that I thought that, maybe, I might like its way of sketching out of a materialist hedonist philosophy, and was especially attracted to Onfray’s idea that he wanted to present a materialist historiography of philosophy to counter and combat the dominant, idealist historiography of philosophy. But upon reading the book, not only did I find myself disappointed by its ultimately lacking content, riddled less with explication and more with mere assertion or pronouncement, I also discovered that he had a grotesque and bigoted attitude towards autistic people that finds expression in this book.
Onfray’s bigotry is specifically arrayed against autistic people, who for some reason he despises and treats as a synonym for a kind of pathological narcissism and solipsism (you may be familiar with this sort of pablum from Jonathan Pageau’s homophobic rant against Lil Nas X). Here is but one example from page 20:
A large part of traditional, classical, idealist philosophy keeps reproducing these scholastic schemes. There are interminable discussions about the gender of angels, heaps of sophistries, ad nauseum rhetorical spins, willful verbal obfuscation, religious neologisms, onanistic and autistic approaches to practice, and other peculiar symptoms. A kind of schizophrenia always threatens philosophers who segregate theory and practice. But in secluded cabinets—like the philosopher under Rembrandt’s stairs — they can live and make a living from his teaching…This is the character of the Philosophy Professor — well described as a Socratic functionary. Is he a corporate sellout? I would say that Hegel is the epitome of all the vices of the profession.
Autism as a term is invoked alongside onanism to collectively denote some sort of pathological self-gratification that involves seculsion and endless speculation on rhetoric. The implication by this comparison would be that autistic people are narcissists who seek to seclude themselves from society in order spend their time stuck in self-masturbatory exercises. This is, in many ways, the sort of stereotypy that is all too typically levelled against autistic people by those who want neither to help nor to understand us.
The next extract from the book is a long one because it requires the inclusion of context, but here it is from pages 40-41:
The philosophical tradition claims to dislike the I. It announces all over the place that it hates the Me. Many contemporary philosophers unabashedly defend this theoretical position. Then, in their books and articles, they spill forth details of their childhoods, confide their biographies, and give testimonies of their education and formative years. Some provide minutiae of their family’s agricultural property; others talk about their adolescent scholarship; and still others write entire books recounting the details of a long nervous depression.
This kind of schizophrenia leads to a contradiction: either they are right to condemn the Me, in which case they should be silent about it, or they can speak in the first person, in which case they should reconcile their system with their personal outpourings. I believe it is necessary to revise the theories as well as to continue the kind of existential autoanalysis that allows us to understand where our thought comes from, what it is, and where it is going.
This does not entail an egoistic religion—a cult of the Me that is autistic and narcissistic—nor does it entail a loathing of everything that manifests in the first person. It is about properly understanding the Me and giving it its due. We don’t want to become dandyish caricatures or lust after metaphysical chalices; rather, we compose ourselves in the world without hysteria or grandiloquence. We should be neither critical nor thanatophilic, but logical, like Descartes, who, for the sake of his metaphysics, looked for and found an I. It’s essential to do something similar to enable a new ethics. Without a point of departure, there can be no ethical goal.
The top paragraph sort of a silly argument in itself, but more importantly for the purpose of this post, Onfray seems to be yet again referring to the term “autistic” to denote a kind of megalomaniacal and pathological self-centeredness, one that Onfray has to invoke in order to defend egoism as a concept from accusations of endorsing radical selfish individualism – an idea that, you would think, Onfray shouldn’t even have to conceive of a problem in defending considering he endorses ideas of “egodicy”.
The next extract is from pages 75-76, and concerns Onfray’s views on art:
Some clever people, camping out in their aesthetic marketplaces and doing their philosophical commerce, actually think that a history of art is possible…As long as you keep it concise! They dissertate about concepts divorced from any context; they gloss, like Plato’s contemporaries, ideas about Beauty-in-itself, the essence of Beauty, ineffable and unspeakable Beauty, or Beauty as a vector of transcendence; that is, they insist on the truth of its existence. From it, they can derive God, who they carefully guard from danger. They get a great deal out of a schema that is so philosophically easy.
The reactionaries among them—in the etymological sense; the most conservative to say the least—forge a common cause with two or three artists who pass for part of an intellectual avant-garde. The media elevates a fool who shares the same aesthetic picnic with scruffy, unknown auteurs who are convinced that their obscurity bespeaks an unfathomable depth. They collect neologisms, webs of glossolalia over the subject of ineffability, the unsayable, the incommunicable, “the veil,” and other baubles of negative theology. It all amounts to a banal, autistic, and solipsistic exercise. No need to speak of proper and formal analysis.
Here Onfray is talking about the art press as well as an unspecified category of avant-garde artist, who he despises because he believes them to be solipsistic, self-absorbed, narcisstic, and obsessed with indescribable categories of experience that, he feels, allow them to position themselves as the only ones who can talk about them. Once again, the term “autistic” is invoked as a descriptor for this, alongside “solipistic”, thereby by connecting the experience of the autistic spectrum with solipsism, perhaps even identifying the two with each other, which thereby establishes his attitude that autistic people are solipsists.
Our next extract is from page 82, and once again it involves on Onfray’s views on the art world as well as culture in general:
Our nihilist modernity, which is both commercial and liberal (these epithets being synonymous), is foolish in its use of objects, words, things, bodies, everything both immaterial and material. Nothing escapes the total domination of negativity: we hate the self, others, the flesh, the world, the real, images, and life. We celebrate hurt, feces, filth, autism, degradation, waste, infamy, blood, death, screaming, and the like.
The contempt for autistic people is barely even hidden. Autism is paired with feces, filth, degradation, waste, blood, death, screaming, and other negativities, and is in fact an array of negativity that he believes dominates our culture and what we celebrate about it. It kind of dovetails with a lot of reactionary conservative criticisms of modern culture where they look at the art world as in a degenerate state because it moved away from the schools of art that sought solely to imitate and glorify natural form and affirm their desired social values. Carl Jung had a similarly pathological attitude towards modern art, which he believed represented the forces of satanic, anti-Christian pathos seeking to destroy Christian culture, the conservative Dennis Prager famously complained the left supposedly ruining art by elevating urine and feces, and of course, the whole concept of “degenerate art” is a flank of Nazi ideology, upon which it invented the concept of “Kulturbolshevismus” (“Cultural Bolshevism”), or “Cultural Marxism” as it is known today (among many other names). But more to the point, it is starkly ignorant. Putting aside the sheer disgusting contempt involved in positioning autism as a category of cultural decay, the idea that autism is celebrated in contemporary society is simple nonsense! If it were, we wouldn’t have to worry about being treated like we’re freaks who should be avoided. I actually remember hearing from an autistic adult about being harassing by some asshole who talked to him like he was nothing but a benefits scrounger. In the United Kingdom, the government practically disincentives autistic people from marrying or perhaps even having relationships where they share their lives together because autistic people can face losing their benefits after a few days of moving in with a partner and making it official, and frankly I am not convinced that Britain is the only country where this is the case. And of course all of this is to say nothing of the fact that, in our culture, you can bully an autistic person into committing suicide and then nothing happens. We don’t get a lot of justice in our lives, so don’t you dare talk about how our culture “celebrates” autism.
But of course, none of that stops Onfray from repeating his association of autism with egoism in the very next page:
Hysterical exhibitionism is not sufficient for creating an artistic moment. We know that craziness and schizophrenia can become paradigms in an ill era, but we cannot accept a new norm that turns the resident of a mental hospital into the apotheosis of contemporary reason. Hölderlin’s, Nietzsche’s, and Artaud’s insanity interrupted their work. It required much of their biographies to be bracketed. However, it does not constitute their final word, method, or truth. Egotism, autism (egautism), narcissistic solipsism, glossolalia, verbigeration, deliberate refusal to communicate with others, not taking care of our bodies—we are deluded to take these as positive models.
The last extract regarding Onfray’s attitude towards autism comes from page 87, where he enlists the philosophy of Cynicism as a force “against autism”:
There is a vulgar cynicism in this religion of merchandise. However, if we put it up against Diogenes’s philosophical cynicism, we may be able to imagine an escape from nihilism, at least within the context of aesthetics. Against its negativity, we can contrapose the positivity of Diogenes’s great cheerful health, transmission of codes, and the communicative acts. This tradition leads to a rematerialization of the real and fights, at every turn, against pathology, autism, and the rarefaction of immanence.
Yes. Onfray sincerely believes that autism is something to be combatted and that it can be combatted through Cynicism. It’s a shame, really, because I actually like Cynicism as a philosophy in many ways, and, judging from a lot of what Onfray writes in his book, I don’t think Onfray understands Cynicism very well despite claiming to uphold it. I mean for one thing the Cynics were very pro-nature in a way that Onfray simply isn’t, and many Cynics abhorred social convention as an impediment to real virtue that could be found in alignment with nature. Some even expressed criticism of the mythical Prometheus because they saw in as the author of the artifices that led to the corruption of mankind, which to me is a problem for Onfray when he goes on about “Promethean Bioethics”. And frankly I do not think Diogenes was especially well-known for his gaiety, his physique, or even his good health.
Now you might think that Onfray’s comments about autism are somewhat incidental and grandiose, and don’t play a very big part of his overall philosophical worldview. Well Onfray’s worldview may not center around the subject of autism, but there is one critical aspect of Onfray’s vision of how society should work that, I think, has disturbing implications for how he views autistic people and many other types of people who are generally considered “abnormal”. In a nutshell, Michel Onfray is a supporter of eugenics. Indeed, from my standpoint, he may be one of the few modern leftists who actually maintains support for eugenics. The “Promethean Bioethics” section of A Hedonist Manifesto contains a whole section titled “A Preventative Eugenics”, in which he explicitly argues for eugenics on the grounds that it would “neutralize” negativity from the world, create a happy society consisting of “healthy” individuals, and allow humanity to “master and possess” nature. He insists on calling this “libertarian eugenics”, but if you actually read the section you’ll find that there is nothing particularly libertarian about his vision of eugenics other than he claims it’s not based on race. In fact, just look at this paragraph from page 106 and you’ll see that he seems to argue for eugenics as a way of ensuring that all people conform to some codified idea of normalcy from birth:
Without engaging in Byzantine debates, most of us can agree on what makes a happy or wretched presence in the world. For any future being in the world, it would seem that health is preferable to sickness, ability to disability, form to deformity, normality to abnormality. Anyone who would prefer sickness, disability, debility, deformity, or abnormality, that is, whoever would deny the existence of those categories, seems to me to be ontologically criminal in their refusal to act when given the possibility of transgenetic avoidance.
Onfray spells it out for us. “Normality” is preferable to “abnormality”. Anyone who opposes this is “ontologically criminal”, meaning that they are basically as close to evil as you can get for someone who, ironically enough, seems to support some concept of moral relativism in his book. Conformity to normalcy, therefore, is paramount, and that means ensuring that you conform from birth is ontologically mandated by Onfray’s vision of society. Nothing about this is very libertarian at all. You would think that a consistent libertarian outlook would mean accepting the freedom of others to not be normal, and you would think that a consistent relativist would treat the concept of “normality” with suspicion, skepticism, or even outright contempt. But such is not the case for Onfray, because all he wants is a world where classically beautiful people are born in the world to spend their days artificially enhancing themselves, indulging every kind of pleasure no matter how empty, and lording over the world as the masters of nature, thoroughly alienated from life by increasing artifice over the natural world. What this means in relation to autism is that autistic people are not “normal”, and that means that they will be bred out of existence in Onfray’s utopian society, and that this is a good thing to the point that you are utterly evil for opposing it. Anyone advocating that autistic people be allowed to be born into the world, be treated with compassion, respect, and dignity, and enabled to lead happy and fulfilling lives in the same way that non-autistic people are, would be labelled an “ontological criminal”.
The whole irony of this argument is that, despite Onfray’s commitment to secular atheism, his argument for eugenics will only serve to benefit the homophobia of the religious reactionaries of the creeds of Abraham. Think about it. “Normality” is preferable to “abnormality”, but who is he alone to define that? Homosexuality is still seen as rather “abnormal”, and being trans is unfortunately still considered by many to be a pathological aberration, which leads to trans people and homosexuals still facing some discrimination within society and struggling with either self-denial or in some cases, in America at least, eviction by their parents or landlords. The argument that Onfray puts forward can easily be put to the service of the idea that homosexuality, bisexuality, or gender dysphoria should be systematically eliminated via eugenics, thereby breeding LGBT people out of existence. In fact, I have actually seen someone argue in defence of eugenics as a “cure” for gender dysphoria. Onfray probably doesn’t intend for this sort of society to come about, but that is what he will get.
But to be honest, it’s what he says right before that paragraph that is if anything even more revealing:
If eugenics is condemnable, it is not so in itself, in some absolute sense, but because of the name that qualifies it. What about a libertarian eugenics? What would that mean? It would be a strategy of avoidance with a simple aim: to increase the chance of a happy presence in the world. It would do away with the idea that some sickness, suffering, handicap, or physical or psychological wretchedness vitiates any joy that might issue from our existential potentiality. Therefore, it is to decrease the chance of a wretched presence in the world.
That last sentence is the most important. “To decrease the chance of a wretched presence in the world”. For Michel Onfray people who aren’t “normal” are nothing more than “wretched presences”, who society should really do away with. He talks about how we should do away with the idea that some sickness, suffering, handicap, or “wretchedness” should impair the joy that we feel in our existence, but if he were serious about that, then eugenics would not even be on the table. If he was serious that being disabled or something to that effect should not vitiate joy, then he should be interested in creating a society where the disabled or just differently abled aren’t treated like abominations of nature and are instead treated like actual human beings, worthy of living a good life free of discrimination and suffering, but instead he wants a society that is so bigoted towards the disabled, differently able, or “abnormal” that it strives to breed them out of existence. Michel Onfray, it seems, experiences a reduction in happiness and joy when he sees that non-normal people, inclduing autistic people, exist in the world, and because he would rather that they cease existing entirely, rather than have a society where such people can expect compassion and dignity. People always think of the problems of the “abnormal” in terms of some innate defect, and never think of the life they lead in terms of the society they live in, and I suspect this is because the question of a more tolerant and compassionate society is incommensurable with the question of innate defects, and that addressing the former would make the latter quite useless and expose it for its inadequacy. In other words, it wouldn’t matter if you’re autistic or anything else “non-normal” because society would give you a good life, and apparently that’s not what Michel Onfray wants.
So I believe I’ve established with some adequacy the ableist bigotry of Michel Onfray as contained within A Hedonist Manifesto. The rest of the book is honestly nothing to ride home about. I felt like there were some potentially good lines of inquiry in other subjects but they don’t go anywhere, in fact much of Onfray’s book is pronouncements that don’t go anywhere and blind assertations without example. I think I might otherwise have liked Onfray’s efforts to posit the idea of a materialist historiography of philosophy and his attempt to advance some kind of Epicurean hedonist ethics, alongside many of the other influences he drews, but I feel like he simply invokes these influences without understand the significance and content of their teachings, and in general I don’t like Onfray’s fetishization of social norms, his anti-naturalism (at his own statement), his simultaneous affirmation of “aristocratic ethics” and his denouncement of supposed elitism, his transhumanism, his utopian and cult-like belief in human progress, and perhaps most of all his pro-eugenics stance and his bigotry against autistic people and the disabled. I will say that he definitely is right in his militant opposition to Platonism and it is good to see him emphasize the body, but I also have half of a mind to suspect that he may ultimately reproduce Platonic beauty by effect of his obsession with the reproduction of classical beauty by society, at the same time as him being open about being a postmodernist. In all, A Hedonist Manifesto was one of the most disappointing books I’ve ever read, and the worst libertarian socialist book I’ve ever read, and I say this as a libertarian communist myself. I’m almost glad that most of his books can only be read in French.
To be honest, I initially ignored the brew-ha-ha surrouding the pop rap singer Lil Nas X, his Satan shoes, and the song it was supposed to market, despite the fact it dovetails into the subject matter of Satanism. At the time I looked on it as a classic moral panic against “Satanism” in pop culture and thought little of it. Then I got alerted to a video released in April by a guy named Jonathan Pageau about Lil Nas X’s song, around whom the Satan shoes were marketed, and I decided that I simply had to write a response to it, and maybe advance some new takes in the process. Pageau’s video is titled, and I’m being serious, “Montero and Wandavision: How Satanism Functions”, and in it he argues that Lil Nas X, and Wandavision as well, are promoting Satanism through this engendering the decay of “Western civilization”. Also he apparently argues not only that witchcraft is real but also that the Malleus Maleficarum was an accurate account of the practice of witchcraft being played out in the present day. Or at least he argues for the relevance of what the Malleus Maleficarum says in a very roundabout way.
For context, the main subject of all this is “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)”, a hip hop song made by Lil Nas X and released in March 26th. The song is about Lil Nas X struggling with being gay in the context of his Christian upbringing, deep down wanting to have sex with men, and eventually embracing his sexual identity and owning what society perceives to be its subversive nature as part of that. To promote the song, Lil Nas X and Nike collaborated to release a series of custom Air Max 97 shoes referred to as Satan Shoes, which are essentially just sneaker shoes that sport Satanic imagery and supposedly made with a drop of human blood. Naturally, this courted controversy among idiots looking to use their faith as a basis to attack Lil Nas X for being gay and accuse him of seducing the youth into Satanism just like they said about every other pop musician ever. Evidently Jonathan Pageau, a Christian artist (he makes Orthodox icons for a living) and public speaker about symbolism and myth, is one of those idiots, but as you will see he goes above and beyond with his insane takes on the song.
Mindful of the fact that Pageau’s video is 36 minutes long, goes all over the place, and in general it can take me quite a bit of time to write response posts such as this, I will do the best I can to not make this too lengthy a post. So in that spirit, we’ll focus mostly on some very specific points/claims made by Pageau. For our purposes, this means ignoring everything about Wandavision in the video that isn’t otherwise pertinent to everything else we’re covering. The actual video is about both Lil Nas X’s song Montero and Wandavision, but I mostly just want to focus on his commentary on Lil Nas X and all things Satanic.
Right from the get go, we are shown that Pageau has no real idea who Lil Nas X is, and condescendingly treats him as someone “desperate for attention”. Regarding “satanic tropes and moves”:
None of it is arbitrary, but like any system of meaning, it rather has a strange coherence. This coherence can give us a few clues as to why this imagery would be used to attract the type of attention someone like Lil Nas X desperately needs in order to stay relevant in a post-Christian, blase, porn-infused, hungover culture.
Anyone who knows anything about Lil Nas X knows that he isn’t the kind of guy who would be “desperate for attention”. He shot to viral fame in 2019 with his single, “Old Town Road”, which stayed in the Hot 100 chart for 19 weeks, and since then he went on to be the most nominated male artist at the 62nd Grammy Awards, of which he won two awards (one for Best Music Video and another for Best Pop/Duo Group Perfomance). “Old Town Road” is still considered one of the most popular songs of the last few years, so needless to say he’s not exactly starved for attention. But even if it was all a scheme for attention, could we not say that it worked? And if it did, could we not make the argument that we in fact are not in a “post-Christian” age? If we were, then would we even be discussing any controversy relating to the opinions of religious Christians? After all, if we were in a post-Christian age, then Christianity would be irrelevant in the way that pre-Christian belief systems are generally considered to be irrelevant now. But then I suppose that, by “post-Christian culutre”, Pageau really means a generally secular culture where Christian religion isn’t forced on people by society at least in the way that it used to be, where Christianity has lost some of the power and influence that it once had, and irreligion, atheism, or alternative spirituality are experiencing some growth and openness.
After remarking dismissively about the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, as I suppose he should, Pageau begins to describe the music video for “Montero” and its imagery:
So the Montero video is a rather disturbing sight to behold. In a world inhabitated only by versions of himself, Lil Nas X sings about his intimate encounter, let’s call it, and his obsession with a man who has the same name as him, Montero, and Call Me By Your Name is the unofficial title of this song. The video is ultimately about one thing. It’s about pride. This self-love is represented as an exploration of the strangeness and idiosyncrasies of one’s self. Self-seduction, self-victimizing, self-abasement, self-gratification, and ultimately self-crowning. In speaking to his self-named lover, Montero tells us that “I’m not fazed, only here to sin. If Eve ain’t your garden, you know that you can.” And so pride as self-love appears ultimately as a sterile revolution against the natural patterns of the world. A desire for the world to be solipistic, to be contained by my self, for the world to be in my image, and a desire to be free from the usual constraints of natural patterns and cycles of being.
It is very important to understand what Pageau is trying to get at when he talks about things like “solipsism”, “pride”, “self-love”, and “revolution against natural patterns”. To do that, we need to remember the context of the song. It’s about Lil Nas X coming to terms with his homosexual identity, his struggle with his own self-denial in the context of a Christian upbringing, and eventual embrace of his identity as a homosexual. Where might “solipsism”, “pride”, or “narcissism” come in? Pageau will never outright say it, but it seems obvious that he is trying to say that homosexuality represents a deviation from the natural order or “natural patterns and cycles of being”, as set by God, and that the desire to be accepted for being homosexual is a form of solipistic rebellion against nature. His interpretation requires the ignorance not only of the fact that homosexuality was more or less normal in much of the ancient world (with Rome being a notable outlier), but also of the context of Lil Nas X’s own struggles with self-denial of his own homosexuality. Indeed, to underscore that, we need only address the lyric that Pageau quotes here: “I’m not fazed, only here to sin. If Eve ain’t your garden, you know that you can.” This is actually a reference to the fact that homosexuality is considered to be a sin in Western Christian culture, euphemistically hinting at the “forbidden” nature of the relationship that Montero wants to be a part of. Eve would be the woman in his lover’s life, the woman that he was probably partnering with as an act of self-denial to hide his real sexuality from a society that would not approve of it, and if this woman isn’t around to know about it, then perhaps Montero and his lover can freely pursue a homosexual relationship. All of this seems a lot more sensible an interpretation than some abstract nonsense about how Lil Nas X is declaring war on nature and God by being gay, which, on top of just putting words into Lil Nas X’s mouth and being homophobic, is Pageau looking at the satanic aesthetic and from there referring to the myth of Satan falling from heaven and projecting that myth onto the Montero song/video in order to working backwards towards his conclusion. If Pageau were a much more straightforward and honest man, he would be forthright in simply stating his opinion that homosexuality is “unnatural”, but perhaps he knows that this would ruin his effort to position himself as a somewhat respectable presenter of Christian mysticism, which is built on the ability to exploit ignorance.
He seems misinterpret another lyric as well:
He tells his self-named lover that he wants to, let’s say, I won’t quote it exactly but, let’s say, to put a child in his mouth. This is of course the ultimate image of sterility, of solipsistic dreaming, of this imagination which is taken up in fantastical places but does not produce body, community, or cohesion, but only causes revolution, fragmentation, and ultimately loneliness.
For starters, the correct rendition of the lyric is “Shoot a child in your mouth while I’m ridin'”. And all of that elaborate interpretation might seem compelling to someone who has no idea what Lil Nas X meant by that, but as to its actual meaning? It’s just slang for ejaculation. He’s jacking off into his lover’s mouth, basically. Riding is very obviously a reference to a sex act, which presumably ends in said ejaculation. It’s just Montero wants to do with his lover. That’s it. Now I’m sure that, as a Christian, Pageau would obviously have a problem with any form of ejaculation that doesn’t take place inside a woman’s vagina in the context of marriage, but it is not obvious what’s so sterile, or solipsistic, about jacking off in a guy’s mouth, except for what Pageau won’t tell you, which is that he thinks homosexual relationships in which men have sex with other men for pleasure is inherently unnatural and therefore solipsistic because it supposedly is at war with nature. Again I would note that many societies such as China, Turkey, and many African countries for instance considered homosexuality to be perfectly normal, and in fact during the age of European colonialism there were Moroccan visitors to France who were offended by the fact that French men did not engage in sexual relations with men. It was only after the West came in, conquered those countries, altered their societies, and spread the narrative that they were conquered due to their “decadence”, that attitudes towards homosexuality would change.
So we find Montero under the tree of knowledge in the primordial garden, where he is first frightened but then seduced by a serpent figure. The serpent figure is a hybrid in the traditional Renaissance depictions of the serpent, which has often been linked to Lilith by historians. The hybrid also takes on the image of the alien, so of course this hybrid alien demon serpent figure is one that has become the narrative monster of conspiracy theorists from David Icke to QAnon. So it could be easy for many to dismiss all this as a kind of trolling, and this is indeed the game being played, I think. But there’s something else going on, because even if it is just trolling the question remains, why does Montero invoke this very precise imagery in this video? To gain attention? To provoke? To subvert? Well yes, yes, and yes, but, the error that we might make is to believe that it stops there, that such an answer somehow explains what is actually happening.
With that, let’s cut in to explain what is actually happening. Since the serpent in the Garden of Eden is brought forward, it’s worth returning to what we discussed earlier, about the line in the song that says “I’m not fazed, only here to sin. If Eve ain’t your garden, you know that you can.”. We’ve already established that the line is a reference to how Montero tells his lover that he wants to pursue a homosexual relationship with him and that, if his female partner isn’t around, they can do so in his house without her knowing, free from prying eyes. The imagery of the Garden of Eden is an obvious call to the theme of sin. Traditionally, this means the first sin committed by Adam and Eve (or rather, first Eve and then Adam, establishing woman as the first sinner in an obviously misogynistic fashion), which leads to mankind being expelled from the garden by God. But in context, the “sin” as it relates to Montero is the “sin” of homosexuality, or more accurately the fact that society and his upbringing traditionally perceives homosexuality to be a sin against God. Lil Nas X only came out as gay in 2019, and around the same time “Old Time Road” was released, so he only felt comfortable being open about being gay to the point of declaring himself as such relatively recently in his life. Before then, he repeatedly denied the suggestion that he might have been gay, and apparently there was and might still be some apprehensions towards homosexuals within the country and rap music scenes. With that in mind, you can understand the lyrics of Montero in the context of homosexual desire and the struggle to find acceptance and fufillment, and the imagery in terms of that self-acceptance manifesting in the willingness to take on the subversive reputation of that: as in, “if I have to be a sinner, then so be it, I’ll embrace that if it means I’m happy with who I am”. It’s just about coming to terms with being gay, albeit in the context of a song about sex. Of course, if it actually were a Satanist message (and I maintain that it isn’t), then I suppose Anton LaVey did capture it best when he said “if you’re going to be a sinner, be the best sinner on the block”. But that has little to do with the message of the song. Montero doesn’t want to be a sinner, he just wants to be happy with being gay and have sex with men, and he just happens to be prepared to take on a subversive and sinful edge as a way of embracing his sexuality in a way that, ultimately, doesn’t actually lead on to a religious (or anti-religious) break with mainstream culture. Pageau speaks of how the imagery crystallizes the fears of many people, but what he won’t tell you is that it’s only bigoted Christian conservatives like himself who have any fears about the song or the video.
So in the video, after his seduction by the serpent, it follows Montero to a kind of coliseum where he’s chained and judged by cross-dressed versions of himself. He’s then stoned by these dusty zombie figures that are replicas of him, and then he’s finally killed with some disturbing sex toy.
That’s a buttplug, dumbass. Ever heard of it? More to the point, why do you think the people judging Montero and stoning him to death are all versions of himself? It’s because that scene is his own self-denial. He is a homosexual, but struggles for acceptance within society, and for him, like many other homosexuals, this has sometimes unfortunately meant that they may go through a process where, in order to be accepted by society even if that’s not for who they are, they find themselves internalizing society’s contempt for homosexuality and the premise that homosexuality is abnormal or that there’s something wrong with them, which is then explained away by homophobes as a kind of natural inner monologue that informs them that there is indeed something wrong with them, and so they judge themselves as sinners just for the “high crime” of existing as homosexuals.
He ascends into the sky to meet a shadowy angel, but this pole, this pole/lance, shoots up from below, and as Montero grabs it he begins to slide down in the guise of a pole dancer into the belly of Hell. And let’s be honest if there ever was a perfect representation of the, let’s call it, ontological reality of pole dancing, I’m pretty sure this is it. The pole coming up from below is of course an inversion of the spear of St. Michael, which is portrayed in medieval imagery as pinning down the great serpent, that is Satan, coming from above. And now this spear/pole is coming to claim Montero from behind, with all the undertones that that also includes. So even though it’s coming from below, it’s nonetheless this axis mundi, the axis of the world. It nonetheless is this hierarchy which connects heaven and earth together, though now it’s not a hierarchy seen from the side of the traditional ladder you see in icons of the ladder of divine ascent, which is going up in humility, worship, and self-transformation, but rather it’s this coming up from behind of revolution.
This is all already a lot to take in as is and he goes on about how the lance coming from behind is a metaphor for being chased out of heaven, but rather than put all that forward let’s just get to the point. When Pageau talks about the pole coming up from behind, I’m amazed he doesn’t do this but I think back to the lyrics when Montero says “Shoot a child in your mouth while I’m ridin'”. Montero is “riding” his partner, and while in heterosexual sex this would mean the woman “rides” on top of the man’s penis while he lays on his back, in a homosexual context this would instead involve a form of anal sex. So if the pole is coming from behind then in my opinion it’s pretty obviously sexual symbolism. But for Pageau it’s not as simple as it obviously is, and instead what would in context be a sexual reference becomes for him a symbol of ontological descent and revolution, spiralling down an inverted hierarchy towards Hell and damnation instead of ascending the hierarchy towards Heaven vis-a-vis the axis mundi and the divine ladder. This apparently is the “ontological reality of pole-dancing” (trust me, you will never find anyone else utter such a lunatic phrase), it’s a man sticking his penis in another man’s ass, which is apparently supposed to be a kind of “revolution”. The context of “revolution” here is clear, when paired with terms like “fragmentation” and “loneliness”. He means revolting against God, alienating yourself from God, and therefore sin, which is anything that separates Man from God or God’s will. Homosexual sex is therefore cast as a revolution against “natural patterns of being”, meaning God’s order, and is therefore a sinful inversion of Christian symbolism. So, again, we have a rather thinly disguised expression of religious homophobia.
So we see the movement from the periphery, we see it from the wheel that’s wrapped around the axis, which turns and slithers and seduces onlookers by its changeability, and by leading them into their passions.
Just bringing this up because, in the actual video, this commentary is accompanied by an image of a circulating image of the Ouroboros, the classic, ancient symbol of a serpent biting its own tail forming a circle, and it seems to me like Pageau is conveying a rank misunderstanding of the symbol. People bring up the Ouroboros image all the time and use it as an expression of self-cannibalism, usually in a figurative sense, but in many ways that’s just invoking the image of Ouroboros without understanding its significance. In its Egyptian origins, it was likely a symbol meant to denote eternity, which feeds into modern understandings of it as a cipher for the endless cycle of life and death. The idea of a serpent surrounding the world, the axis mundi, doesn’t strike me as having anything to do with Christian teachings, unless you count the “Gnostic teachings of the Pistis Sophia which speaks of an outer darkness surrounding the world in the form of a serpent, but I doubt that Pageau is speaking to a “Gnostic” understanding, being that he is at least ostensibly aligned with Orthodoxy. In fact, the idea of a serpent surrounding the axis mundi actually seems like it should be a reference to Jormungandr, the serpent son of Loki from Norse mythology, who grows to encompass the whole world and whose biting of his own tail will herald the arrival of Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods. But in general, there’s nothing about Ouroboros, or Jormungandr, that has anything to do with seduction or human passions, and this idea seems like an obvious projection of the symbolism of the serpent of Eden (and that of Satan) onto the image of Ouroboros, which fails to consider that serpents have had a broad symbolic meaning since basically forever and not all serpents, even within Christian symbolism, denote temptation and evil.
So ending up in a caricature of Hell, with a thorn-covered door, which is a nice touch in terms of symbolism, Montero lap-dances Satan into this simulated sexual act, to then himself come up behind the Evil One, to break his neck, steal his horns and his crown, replacing the Devil in what we could call a final revolution, a revolution which is the supremacy of the self.
Pageau sort of compliments this detail on the basis that he thinks it matches the idea of a Satanic story pretty well. But does it? The whole basis of Satanism is that Satan is supposed to be a positive figure in some sense, even in the case of the Order of Nine Angles and similar groups where the reason for that is that conventional evil in-itself is a positive thing. I suppose that, by taking over Satan’s throne and replacing him, you do loosely fulfill one criteria for certain strands of Satanism, LaVeyan Satanism in particular, wherein the goal of the Satanic individual is to be Satan yourself. On the other hand, those strands of Satanism would also emphasize that, in literal terms, there is no Satan except for you yourself, who strives to embody a Satanic ideal, and this is a point we’re going to get into again shortly. In general, though, you going in to kill and dethrone Satan, just because you’re not doing so in God’s name, is not necessarily a Satanic narrative. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a Satanic narrative where Satan is anything other than a positive influence, someone whose role is not to be as a rival for you but instead as a guide, an inspiration, a teacher for the Satanic path. Killing Satan in a Satanic narrative, for this reason, makes little sense, especially when the point of a Satanic narrative is in some way to extoll Satan as a representative of the Satanic ideal. But again, when Pageau says “a revolution which is the supremacy of the self”, this is what does all the work. Remember, Pageau’s argument is that the imagery of the Montero music video represents the triumph of a solipsistic self against the patterns of nature and being, which is essentially just his way of saying he hates homosexuality. The ultimate point in Pageau’s worldview is that homosexuality is a revolution that culminates ultimately in the dethronement of all values and the inversion of all hierarchies except for the self, and that’s ultimately because this is what Pageau would rather believe than just accept that it’s basically a queer narrative about a gay man struggling to accept himself, even when not only is that literally what Lil Nas X says himself but also Pageau shows those statements in his own video. Seems to me like he could have saved himself a lot of effort and maybe just made this about Wandavision instead.
Now, when we get to Pageau’s discussion of Satanism let me press this into your head: when I said Pageau was doing a Satanic Panic, I didn’t mean that lightly in the slightest. I mean literally, this guy literally believes that every edgy rebellious form of pop culture is Satanism. In the video he refers to “modern pop Satanism” and its imagery, which for him includes not only Anton LaVey but also bands like Black Sabbath and “heavy metal Satanism”, and in the video the footage that plays for “heavy metal Satanism” is a goddamn KISS show! It’s very obvious that this guy doesn’t have the slightest clue about Satanism let alone in rock or metal music, since not only does he never refer to any bands that might actually be considered satanic, not even Ghost, but the first band he refers to is Black Sabbath, the band that is known for using a right-side up cross rather than an upside down one for its imagery and also features openly and explicitly pro-Christian lyrics in its songs! This is literally just a rehash of the Satanic Panic of old, but in passing, and honestly I don’t think I’ve seen such a pathetic attempt to scare Christians away from metal music, let alone in 2021 of all times. Later in the video he mentions the band Slayer (who, by the way, disbanded two years ago and don’t plan on reuniting) in passing while discussing some trend of sacrilege against Christianity that somehow goes back to the Knights Templar. On top of just being insane gibberish, it also neglects that none of the band members in Slayer are actually Satanists, and in fact the lead singer Tom Araya is literally a Catholic.
He frames Satanism as “irony itself”, and in the process, he struggles to understand what LaVeyan Satanists, or really any atheistic Satanists, mean when they say don’t actually worship Satan. When atheistic Satanists say they don’t worship Satan, they don’t mean to say that their belief system is a joke, rather they consider that worship itself is an un-Satanic act, and that following the Satanic ideal or archetype means you shouldn’t worship anyone except yourself, because the Satanic ideal is that you are the only god, the only master, in your life, and that all the others are just projections of your own ego that will take control of you if you let them. Pageau whines that this is alien to the Christian way of ordering their lives around “faith” and “truth” (by which they only mean God’s “truth”). He rambles about how Satanists operate on self-righteous pride in their pursuit of destroying Christian ideas of meaning through embodying everything they oppose, and then brings this back to the Montero video by noting that it ends with Montero putting “the satanic crown” on himself. Then he claims that this is exactly what happened when The Satanic Temple erected their Baphomet statue, which if you’ll remember was the statue they planned to put on Oklahoma Capitol Building to protest its endorsement of Judeo-Christian religious values on secular government property. He derides religious freedom as an “ambiguous egalitarian notion”, and tries to describe the purpose of The Satanic Temple as demonstrating that most Americans are actually Satanists since they accept religious freedom, when in reality it was all just a way of getting local governments to either be consistent with secularism and have no religious symbols on their property or be consistent with “religious freedom” (which, contrary to Pageau’s claim, does not in this case refer to the “ambiguous egalitarian notion” he says it does but instead a dogwhistle for Christian supremacy) and endorse Satanic symbols and practices to show that they do not mean “freedom” only for Christians, and needless to say it succeeded in getting the government to choose consistent secularism.
Something to note is his rambling about hierarchies, which again is tied back to Montero, so let’s quote it here for a response:
In a traditional world, there is a hierarchy, and the monsters, the demons, the gargoyles, and especially the Satan or the opponent, are all on the outside, or they’re underground, they’re below us, and it’s best to actually not even pronounce their names. But now, in the context of liberty and equality driving social forms, the figure of Satan begins to appear as a dark prophet of the modern world, a noble Promethean who tragically stood against authority and declared himself equal to that which was above him. In the Montero video, Lil Nas X gets it right. Satanic imagery has never ultimately been about worshipping the devil but rather about embodying the revolutionary pattern through the type of pride exemplified by Satan in his war against Heaven, which ends with self-worship as self-crowning. And obviously it can’t really end that way, Montero’s only claim to the horns is violence and revolution, which means that there is always another pole-riding, lap-dancing person in line waiting to kill Montero and take the crown from him.
Let’s get something out of the way to start with: by “a traditional world”, he means a Christian society, albeit with some Greco-Roman influences. But even in the Greek world, although Hades was not worshipped and sometimes not named, he was indeed worshipped through proxies, and chthonic gods, who in Pageau’s view should be at the bottom of or outside the hierarchy, were often popularly worshipped in local cults and even form an integral part of the pantheon. In other pre-Christian societies, the “monsters” were sometimes paired with the gods and were not considered evil. And in most of the ancient world, there was no “Evil One”, no singular “Dark Lord” leading the enemies of the heavens who remains a persistent spiritual threat to mankind. That idea is the invention of monotheism. So “traditional world” only means the Christian world in practice. Pageau sort of gets the point of Satanic imagery, in a Satanic context, right when he says it isn’t about devil worship, but its emphasis on spiritual individualism is obviously filtered through the Christian mystical perspective so it becomes about ontological pride. But if we remember, this pride, this self-crowning, is for Pageau tied to what is actually supposed to be Montero’s struggle with and eventual embrace of his own homosexuality, so in this way Satanism as a phenomenon is cast by Pageau in terms of solipsistic revolution against God through homosexual sex. The last point is interesting, he insists that there is no genuine claim to the horns because it was inherited through violent overthrow. On this point, he may as well surrender the legitimacy of the United States of America, since the only reason that country exists today is violent revolution in the form of war against the British monarchy. And the point about how Montero will always be waiting for someone new to overthrow him, could the same not be said for Christianity, or for God? God is the supreme spirit in our culture as a result of his displacing all the gods who came before him, but the God that the West still worships was just one god among many in the land of his origin. He may have overthrown the other gods, but Pageau’s token, he too will eventually be replaced, or simply dethroned and replaced by a vacuum, for the age of Christianity cannot last forever.
We get to his discourse on the figure of Satan, and to be very honest it is all very empty. Pageau seems to deride contemporary religious scholars (who he describes as “anti-Christian”) for pointing out that the image of the Devil has nothing to do with the early Christian beliefs or the Bible and instead evolved gradually over centuries while picking up various outside elements, and he actually seems to think that the pagan elements of the Devil’s imagery consist in modern depictions like Neil Gaiman’s Lucifer, as opposed to the goat-like and hairy devils that were introduced by Christian eccelesiastics in the Middle Ages. And then we come to something he says that once again comes back to Montero and, honestly, I would like to take it apart:
So the reason why The Satanic Temple wanted to put up this stupid image of Baphomet in the United States is, believe it or not, the culmination of the same process which made Napoleon Bonaparte fill his Arc de Triomphe with Roman gods. And I wonder if Napoleon could perceive that this gesture of declaring himself emperor while putting a crown on his own head would culminate in a solipsistic video by a pole-dancing rapper who seduces the Devil to then only kill him and put the crown on himself.
So I take it that Napoleon wanted to establish secularism in a democratic context by juxtaposing Satanic symbolism alongside Christian symbolism in order to establish all religions as equally endorsed or repudiated in order to get the government to establish a neutral stance on religious symbolism? This is what happens when, instead of reading events and phenomenon as they are, you read them backwards from an a priori symbolic pattern that you establish in order to read reality in conformity to your own desires, preconceptions, or imaginations. Pageau fundamentally misunderstands the point of The Satanic Temple’s Baphomet statue, and I suspect that he may in fact be deliberately misleading the viewer. Pageau is not an objectiver thinker or analyst. An objective thinker or analyst would strive to read things as they are, whereas Pageau reads them based exclusive on some sort of mystical, clearly Platonistic ideas about pre-existing patterns of being that dictate the course of history and its meaning, which in reality is nothing but his own projection.
The reference to Napoleon invites the possibility of another such projection. Napoleon crowning himself emperor of France is supposed to culminate in Montero’s video, somehow. The reason, if you read Pageau carefully, is that Montero is solipsistic in the same way Napoleon is, and this means that in Pageau’s view the positive embrace of homosexuality by Montero is to be linked with solipsistic pride in the form of imperial ambition. This is another mystical reading that not only is suggestive of Pageau’s homophobia but also requires turning history on its head. Although it is fashionable for modern reactionaries to complain about “gay imperialism”, in all reality homophobia in a Western context can be thought of as a component of imperialism and imperial culture. In Rome we see that homosexuality, although it was practiced by members of the ruling class, was forbidden for everyone else on the grounds that it damaged “Roman manhood”, there were laws prescribing severe punishments for men having sex with men, and politicians liked to attack their rivals as “effeminates” and attach homosexuality with crime and conspiracy. In Roman religion, however, morality had very little to do with the worship of the gods as such, and more to social custom, but as Christianity rose, homophobia came to have a new religious basis dervied from the premise that homosexuality constitutes a corruption of God’s order as sin, and as Christianity became the dominant religion, European conquests of other lands often involved stamping out previously open attitudes to homosexuality and injecting their own bigoted attitudes through the transmission of Christianity, resulting in some of the homophobia you see throughout the world even as the West strives to overcome its own. Christianity is an imperialist religion. That is the logical outcome of a religion whose primary premises include the idea that what you believe is a determining factor in your supposed survival after death, and all of mankind must be “saved”, which necessitates Christian cultural imperialism. This is the real imperial ambition in the Western cultural context.
And, again, objectivity is not important to Pageau in the slightest, as he demonstrates of his worldview:
One of the historical moments where we can trace the origin of modern occultism and Satanism is when the Knights Templar were disbanded in the 14th century. The legitimacy of the accusations made against them is still being discussed interminably by historians. But in terms of social narrative, it doesn’t matter so much if you believe the accusations against the Templars or not. It is quite possible that they did not practice sodomy, they didn’t blaspheme against the cross or worship a strange god named Baphomet. In the same vein in terms of what we’re seeing today it doesn’t really matter if you believe the accusations against witches in the early modern period either, of these descriptions their Sabbat masses and their fornicating with demons. Of course one could argue about this in historical terms and people can do this interminably until they forget the original point of why such an accusation matters. What matters most is how these new possibilities, which appeared at the end of the Middle Ages, became something like a narrative space, where the opposite of Christianity, which was more implicit before, began to explicitly take form, in the form of explicit sacrilege and certain types of parody and inversion, and ultimately embracing the opposite of everything that Christians value.
So, the objective account of history in this regard does not matter to Pageau, only the narratives that can be made about it matter. The truth about the accusations against the Templars and “witches” don’t matter to him, only the fact that the possibility that they might have been heretics creates a “narrative space” into which the antithesis of Christianity might emerge. “Social narrative”, then, supercedes historical truth. I suspect that’s not arbitrary, since the historical truth tends to ruin Pageau’s “analysis”. The Knights Templar were not “opposite” to Christianity. They were a Catholic Christian military order that doubled as a charity and banking organization and were recognized by the Pope until Phillip IV, eager to escape his debts with the Templars, concocted fallacious accusations of heresy and devil worship in order to have them killed after the failure of the Crusades. Nor were most of the so-called “witches” “opposite to Christianity” in any real sense. Most of the “witches” were Christian peasants who either practiced some kind of folk magic in the context of their Christian religion or just happened to be unsociable towards clergy and had trumped up charges brought against them because of that. If anything, the real narrative of evil antithesis against Christianity was probably created by the Christians themselves. It was the medieval Christian establishment who concocted the idea of the Templars as heretics and witches worshipping the Devil. In fact, even the early Christians got in on this action. The 4th century Christian poet Prudentius accused the followers of Marcion of Sinope of worshipping the Devil, whom he believed created a shadowy cult that they follow in order to denounce God, and some of the racist blood libel tropes against Jews that have echoed over the centuries were advanced by some of the church fathers, who accused Jews of murdering Christians in elaborate sacrificial rituals, much as some pre-Christian Greeks had done. In fact, the main reason we have the Satan concept that we do today is because Christian theologians invented it in order to protect the supposed omnibenevolence of God from critical scrutiny, to have a scapegoat to blame the evil, suffering, and sin in the world on instead of God, who otherwise remains its true author as the creator of everything. So it is Christianity that created its own antithesis, and therefore the narratives of said antithesis. Pageau will never acknowledge this, not only because objective historical fact does not matter to him but also because this complicates his belief in the sublime perfection of Christian narrative and truth. This lack of concern for historical fact is also what allows Pageau to claim that the image of the Devil is based on the late medieval image of Baphomet, despite the fact that there was no “image of Baphomet” in the medieval era and the goat-headed Baphomet we know comes from Eliphas Levi, centuries after the Templars were burned to death.
It also doesn’t help Pageau’s case that not only were the Knights Templar most certainly not the fathers of modern occultism, but Eliphas Levi, one of the occultists he brings up, was a Christian mystic, and so were many other French occultists during his day, who were also utopian socialists. In fact, Eliphas Levi explicitly identified himself as a Catholic and referred to his esoteric belief system as Catholicism, condemned atheism and associated it with Satan, who he identified as a principle of evil based in the negation of God, and part of his doctrine of the fall of Lucifer consisted in the belief that he would eventually repent, be redeemed of his fall from grace, and return to God. Much of the occultism of the 19th century was based in some kind of Christian mysticism, sometimes framed as an attempt to revive the “Gnosticism” of old, and even Theosophy certainly could not be counted as “Satanic” by any stretch. Insofar as most of the old occultists believed some concept of Satanism was a thing, they hated it as a form of black magick, as the left hand path that was to be opposed by all serious practitioners of ceremonial magick. In fact, a lot of symbolism now used by Satanists, such as the upside-down pentagram with the goat’s head in it, was invented by magicians of this same Christian or Christian-inspired/adjacent background who were quite clear in their belief that it meant nothing good, and Eliphas Levi described the inverted pentagram as a hated symbol of evil. But insofar as that whole scene did end up creating the imagery that would later become associated with Satanism, then, again, you have nothing to blame at the root of it except for Christians, because, insofar as there is a “narrative space” to be discussed, that narrative space was originally created by Christians. Pageau also neglects to note that much of the occultism and spiritualism of the 19th century could be seen as an explicit reaction against the rationalism of the Enlightenment, which is something he should probably have considered before trying to tie occultism together with the Enlightenment to concoct some vague monolithic force of anti-Christian reaction.
Now, remember when I said at the beginning that Pageau actually believes that the Malleus Maleficarum is a credible account of witchcraft and also that witchcraft is not only real but also a threat to society? I wasn’t making that up. He goes into a general description of what the Malleus Maleficarum believed about witches, how they seduce men, kill children, abort fetuses, chop off men’s penises and all sorts of nonsense, and then explains how he thinks it’s all relevant to today. Trust me, if you thought Pageau was a bigoted asshole before, wait till you see him say this:
So 200 years ago I might have been mocked, maybe not even that long ago by the well-to-do for suggesting that a group of people would want such a thing for the world. And, to be honest, I can understand why the Catholic Inquisition actually rejected the contents of this book, and also rejected those that wrote it and were the proponents of its content. But if we see rather these dark descriptions as something like a narrative arc, which is moving towards the end or the dissolution of Christianity, we only have to ponder a moment to realize that, whether it is pornography, artificial insemination, whether it’s the proliferation and acceptance of abortion, or even young boys that have been put on hormone blockers, I can find prominent contemporary examples of all the “ancient witchcraft” I just mentioned. So then the early modern witches might have been projections or collective dreams, it’s possible, and people will argue either way, but it’s actually not that important to us, and we shouldn’t waste our energy on that. What matters is that these witches are healthy, they’re unabashed, and they’re winning the culture war today.
Pay close attention to what Pageau is saying here. When he says “such a thing for the world”, he’s referring to the absurd stories about witches killing children and cutting off men’s penises. The Malleus Maleficarum also actually espouses the belief that witches, after cutting off a man’s penis, animate that penis so that it can live as an independent creature and form nests like a bird. Pageau not only appears to be fairly serious about the idea that this all might be real in some way, but thinks that the current manifestation of this idea is men watching pornography (at least it’s implied, since none of these anti-porn grifters ever complain about women watching porn), women having children through artificial insemination, abortion being accepted or normalized, and trans people existing and getting access to puberty blockers. Remember that this ties back to what he sees as a narrative space of anti-Christian sacrilege and rebellion, gradually taking on the form of Satanism. His proposal is thus that this satanic narrative current is responsible for the creation of a modern witchcraft culture that manifests itself through trans people, porn, artificial insemination, and abortion, or let’s be honest just about any social change he dislikes or any liberalization of social norms which he feels threatens the Christian moral order. This is Pageau’s Satanic Panic, a homophobic and transphobic diatribe against social change and the acceptance of marginalized people, people who are often still marginalized even today (a marginalization that, frankly, I see Pageau playing a part in re-normalizing). And Montero, in Pageau’s narrative, is the crux of that panic. It represents, to him, a grand declaration of narcisstic desire and solipsistic rebellion against God manifesting in what is otherwise just a sex anthem about accepting your own homosexuality, which is itself a culmination of the supposed gradual embrace of Satan or Satanism and trangression of Christianity, thus Montero for him becomes a signpost for the broad transformation of society by witchcraft, which somehow involves sweeping social liberalization. Since he evidently considers trans people to be unnatural, and being trans as something that can only be forced on someone artificially, the whole narrative becomes another way of saying that there is a conscious effort by shadowy evil cabals to turn your kids trans or gay to erase cisgender and straight people, which is essentially just a form of Satanic Panic.
As I said at the outset, Wandavision will not be covered in this article, so we can skip his section on that, although I will say that somewhere in the Wandavision section he does reinforce his talk about the Malleus Maleficarum by taking Wandavision, or rather his misinterpretation of it, as secret proof that the Malleus Maleficarum was correct and that we need to burn “witches”. He’s ostensibly joking, of course, but it does seem like a roundabout way of tying the themes together. But after that, he ties it all back to the Montero video by saying that the whole Satan Shoes controversy and Wandavision are linked together by the same current of victimhood and pride, and are all proof of “American individualism showing its satanic colours”. Forget, of course, about the fact that American homophobia is still couched within the context of a culture of capitalistc individualism, because actual material causes and systems don’t matter, only projected narratives matter according to Pageau, and the narrative is that satanic individualism is destroying Western civilization through popular culture, despite the obvious problem that Satanism as an actual belief system has only ever been represented by a stark minority of people, and let’s face it even then some of them might actually just be vanilla secular humanist atheists who style themselves as Satanists but without much in the way of a distinct Satanic philosophy such as LaVeyan Satanism. Pageau frames it all as just a quest by power-hungry individuals who want to impose their idiosyncratic desires on everyone and transform society to suit said desires. Keeping in mind that the original thrust of this is a music video for a song about a gay who struggles to accept his own homosexuality and just wants to be accepted for being gay himself. Wanting to freely express and accept your sexuality is just “idiosyncratic desire” according to Pageau. This pathology expresses itself in yet another misunderstanding of what might otherwise be obvious:
In Montero’s Hell we see this engraving in flaming letters, we see the famous Latin phrase, “Damnant quod non intelligunt”, which means “they condemn that they do not understand”. What is wanted through these narrative tropes is ultimately the opposite of that, something like “the misunderstood will condemn them”. Something like “the exception will invalidate the rule”. So if in the Christian vision the shepherd is willing to lead the flock, to even leave it unprotected to go out and find one lost sheep, here we rather have this lost sheep demanding that the shepherd not bring the sheep back to the flock but rather bring the entire flock out into the wilderness. So if in traditional societies we see this scapegoat mechanism, of sacrificing the exception in order to preserve coherence, here, it is the opposite of that. It is the desire to sacrifice the entire world for the exception. On a social level this is what appears as an upside-down hierarchy, where the strange, the impure, the exceptional, the fluid, the rejected, the sick, and the unknown, become not those we need to help but they become a new measure by which all of society is evaluated.
The Latin phrase “Damnant quod non intelligunt”, or “they condemn that they do not understand”, is really doing all of the work for Pageau. The meaning of the phrase being placed there is pretty obvious. Who in the West has historically been condemned by those who do not, and often refuse to, understand them? Homosexuals. Montero and his lover are gay, society doesn’t always understand that, so their liasions are secretive to avoid prying eyes. They are condemned by those who don’t understand them, and in fact, the people accusing Lil Nas X of promoting Satanism and thereby “corrupting our children” are doing that condemnation, and so is Pageau. But Pageau can’t understand that, and instead he frames the Montero video in terms of an imagined message of sacrificing or subjugating all of society to an exceptional minority, in whose image the rest of society is remade, never mind that Montero never does anything close to that in the video. Pageau, it seems, cannot conceive of any acceptance of homosexuality, or trans people for that matter, as anything other than a tyrannical imposition of an exceptional minority upon society. In fact, he thinks of them as “sick” people, very openly telling you what he thinks of the idea of extending social acceptance to them even if he never says stuff like “sodomy should be banned”. Montero never advocates that the misunderstood condemn the majority in the video, nor is that idea ever conveyed in the video, but if the misunderstood do condemn the majority in some way, as they sometimes do, then maybe Pageau should consider that this the misunderstanding and condemnation of the majority biting them in the ass. You can only marginalize people for so long before they get fed up of society and turn against it. But since Pageau views “traditional society” (again, really this means Christian or “Judeo-Christian” society) as some abstract mythical reality whose value cannot be questioned, he will only be able to see people who aren’t “normal” as intolerant, narcissistic ingrates who want impose their way of life on everyone else. Pure bigotry, from the lens of Christian mysticism, is all that explains Pageau’s worldview.
In summary, Jonathan Pageau is intensely triggered by the existence of Lil Nas X’s Satan Shoes, and the Montero music video, because he sees it as a sign that the “satanic individualism” of secularism is threatening the social hierarchy of “traditional society”, meaning the social order of Christianity. What he means is that the acceptance of homosexuality as normal is a kind of “satanic individualism”, even though for most of the world homosexuality already was normal for probably thousands of years until Western empire showed up with its Christian tyranny. But bringing that historical point up will not matter, because, as I keep saying, Pageau does not care about historical facts, because history, objectivity, reality, these are not the core of Pageau’s worldview, and what is the core of his worldview is “our stories”, the narrative of how things happen, which means that the story we tell about our world is more important than its actual events and trends and how they actually play out, let alone the material structures behind them. Pretty much everything about Pageau’s commentary on Lil Nas X stems from a fairly obvious discomfort with the normalization of homosexuality, or just the idea that homosexuals can and should accept who they are without having to struggle with a self-denial demanded by a chauvinistic, culturally authoritarian society that tells them that there is only one acceptable way to be a man. This sort of thinking is to be ruthlessly opposed at every turn, and people like Pageau are to be treated as the repressive lunatics that they are.