Considering Satan-talk

William Blake,  The Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun  (1803).

William Blake, The Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun (1803).

Catholics don't talk much about Satan, Anglicans don't talk much about Satan, and we Unitarians certainly don't talk much about Satan, but then why would we? Most of us have moved away from the primordial God, and whether we have retained ‘God’ language at all, we certainly don’t use it in any conventional sense. And when it comes to ‘Satan’ language, well, what use is it?

To describe anything in such terms is akin to describing something as evil (devoid of all good). We may naturally recoil from such strong language, after all no person or even ideology for that matter can really be devoid of all good, can it?

I have recently been re-reading one of those seminal books in my life, Thomas J. J. Altizer’s ‘The Gospel of Christian Atheism’. If you’re unfamiliar with his argument I will summarise it briefly: He argues that in the Jesus narrative, we have a figure which acts as a prophetic reaction to a distant and capricious God. In Jesus we have an expression of the divine which is in-fleshed, brought down to earth, and upon this earth is destroyed. Jesus is a metaphorical expression of the divine choosing self-annihilation. Upon the cross the primordial self-contained being is shattered, so aching and painful an event, that as quickly as God dies, he is reimagined into the heavens, the die is recast: and the priests’ cultic work resumes.

The crux of Altizer’s apology then is ‘The death of God’ – this is the true Gospel – that in Jesus, God would negate himself, in order that we might be liberated from our divine overlords, the alien other. This is a perpetual negation of God’s power which continues in the Spirit as it is ever diffused out into the world.  As such, the divine is poured out of the heavens, and relocated in each one of us.

Where does Satan fit into this mythology? Drawing upon William Blake, Satan is unveiled as the body of this very same dead God. Religion becomes a force of oppression when it acts in opposition to the negating impetus of God inaugurated in the crucifixion of Jesus. This exposé of Satan as the body of God – which is to say the delusion that the heavens are still occupied by the alien other – illuminates regressive Christianity as an ensnaring institution which undermines our true humanity. This perpetual drive of God’s self-negation can be understood then as the ‘Kingdom of God’ itself becoming ever more a reality, as humanity is liberated from the capricious other, and can enter into its new epoch, free from transcendent norms and meaning. The antithesis of the Kingdom of God then is Satan, the dead body of God, the regressive impetus towards diminishing humanity’s divinity – and re-asserting the dead God’s authority.