Convivium was a project of Cardus 2011‑2022, and is preserved here for archival purposes.
Pretenders to the Devil’s ThronePretenders to the Devil’s Throne

Pretenders to the Devil’s Throne

John Robson argues the vanity of Ottawa’s recent Satanic mass wasn’t just that it mocked Catholicism. It’s that the assembled Devil worshipers didn’t sincerely believe there’s a Devil.

John Robson
5 minute read

Convivium recently spoke charitably of a confrontation between Christians and Satanists in Ottawa. But count me out, because the only thing more foolish than chanting “Ouroborindra ouroborindra ouroborindra ba-ba-hee” convinced nobody will answer, is doing so thinking someone might.

I know charity is an important virtue. I feel the want of it keenly. But even charity must have a certain hard edge in steering people away from disaster. As C.S. Lewis writes in Perelandra, pure charity without a trace of human affection is “so unlike the love we experience that its expression could easily be mistaken for ferocity.”

I wouldn’t know. And at any rate Rebecca Atkinson in Convivium described the scene with human charity: “A crowd of an estimated 200 people spilled onto the sidewalks of a downtown street in Ottawa’s Byward Market to counter Canada’s allegedly first satanic black mass occurring inside a bar on the opposite side. This wasn’t a protest or a riot. No cars lit on fire, no violence broke out, not a word uttered one side against the other. Quite simply: two sides, completely and utterly opposed, participating in practices in which they believe.”

I respectfully, even quasi-charitably, disagree. I agree that the Christians who turned up believe in their practices, including for some the Catholic Mass of which, Atkinson rightly notes, the satanic “ritual” is “by definition an inversion.” It’s a tribute vice pays to virtue that blasphemers must go to Mass to find something to invert. 

And I’ve always been very impressed by the Catholic insistence that its sacraments are not symbols but real acts. Too many mainstream Protestant churches now contain nothing that isn’t already self-parody. But to avoid a doctrinal drive-by, Protestants who meet Lincoln’s criterion that a preacher should look like he’s fighting bees don’t do communion precisely because they don’t really believe there’s blood in the chalice. But they do believe God is real. And not only God.

Reality can be a difficult concept. In Miracles, Lewis speaks of the shock of discovering that when you talk, God talks back. You reach out, and He does too. And you recoil, channeling Victor Frankenstein: “You have had a shock like that before in connection with smaller matters – when the line pulls at your hand, when something breathes beside you in the darkness. So here, the shock comes at the precise moment when the thrill of life is communicated to us along with the clue we have been following… ‘Look out!’ we cry, ‘it’s alive.’ And therefore this is the very point at which so many draw back – I would have done so myself if I could… An ‘impersonal God’ – well and good. A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads – better still. A formless life force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap – best of all. But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband – that is quite another matter. There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly; was that a real footstep in the hall? There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (‘Man’s search for God’!) suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him? We never meant it to come to that! Worse still, supposing He had found us?”

Terrifying. When one of his pilots tells John Wayne’s Major Daniel Kirby in Flying Leathernecks that he gets so scared he starts to sweat every time he starts a combat mission, Kirby responds, “Any time you meet a guy who says he doesn’t, avoid him. He’s an idiot.” And from A Grief Observed, Lewis asks, “What do people mean when they say, ‘I am not afraid of God because I know he is good’? Have they never even been to a dentist?”

Anyone who takes Christianity seriously longs for the moment when God answers, and anyone who takes seriousness seriously dreads it. Who am I to stand before God? And what will I find myself having to do? Charity? Oh dear. And as Bob Hope said, “Humility? I’ll pass.”

Thus, at the end of The Last Battle all the creatures who stream past the door fear Aslan. But those who also love him come in while those who hate and fear him go into the darkness. Which is all fine and good because fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. But we’re not talking about God. We’re talking about the Devil. And what sort of idiot would reach out not for a hand but for a claw?

Apparently it was Baudelaire, not Lewis who said, “The devil’s best trick is to persuade you that he doesn’t exist.” But I’m pretty sure the sentiment is represented somewhere in The Screwtape Letters, and rightly so. 

If you even began to suspect that some of your impulses, ones you regretted, ones you cherished or ones you hadn’t thought much about, were coming from a malevolent external source you’d surely change your ways for the better. But it’s also true in the far deeper sense that if you somehow became truly persuaded that the Devil existed you would flee at all costs, even into a church. As Chesterton wrote, “My wife, when asked who converted her to Catholicism, always answers, ‘the devil.’”

As a matter of logical necessity, if the Devil exists so must God. To be sure, in That Hideous Strength, Lewis explores the psychological and spiritual reasons why that rational process might not lead where it should, even or perhaps especially in highly intelligent and strong-willed characters like John Wither and Augustus Frost. 

But the fundamental reality of a modern Black Mass is that the people taking part do not believe. Perhaps Aleister Crowley did. But not these Ottawa pretenders, one of whom chirped, “We use the idea of Satan symbolically, it has a lot of deeply-held meaning to us because a lot of us have identified with that sort of anti-hero character for a long time.”

One can hear Screwtape chuckling at this drivel. Using Satan symbolically cannot have deeply held meaning, and to be a rebel is now the conventional wisdom. Even though a true rebel has always been one on the side of virtue against an apparently overwhelming hostile universe, and as sinners we are all anti-heroes, the sentiment is unbearably trite. Which is precisely where its danger lies.

It is a perilous incarnation of the modern spirit that treats everything with ironic, relativist frivolity. Anyone who takes the Devil seriously is ready to take God seriously. But these people are not serious or sincere. They do not think the Devil will respond and they certainly don’t want him to. Which is the best way I can think of to be caught off-guard and drawn in if he does. Not with a flash and a bang but a wink and a whisper.

Sincere devil worshipers? For their own sakes, I wish they were.

Convivium means living together. We welcome your voice to the conversation. Do you know someone who would enjoy this article? Send it to them now. Do you have a response to something we've published? Let us know!   

You'll also enjoy...

Why the Queen is Better Than We Are

Why the Queen is Better Than We Are

Coyne tells us that "the people love her not because she is some sort of saint, but because she is Queen, and she is Queen for no other reason than because she is the eldest child of the late King The monarchy will only be popular, and will only survive—it should only survive—as long as it continues...

Let Free Markets Distribute

Let Free Markets Distribute

G.K. Chesterton was right about almost everything, John Robson argues, except economics, which he got horribly, horribly wrong.

What’s In a Mass Murderer’s Name?

What’s In a Mass Murderer’s Name?

Drawing on research and arguments from the Columbia Journalism Review, Convivium’s Rebecca Darwent argues there is no place for profiling murderers in the news.