This post started as a joke. Or at least, I didn't take it completely seriously -- and I still don't. But maybe I take it just a little bit more seriously now than I first did.
What got me started was reading an online essay critical of Ayn Rand which mentioned that philosophical passages from Atlas Shrugged were said to have been plagiarized in The Satanic Bible. I found this information startling. The Satanic Bible, by Anton LaVey, was a book of religious inspiration and instruction for LaVey's Church of Satan, a San Francisco-based 1960s religion that survives to this day.
Out of curiosity, I decided to perform a Google search for the combined terms "Ayn Rand" and "Satanism."
I got 95,900 hits.
Now, I'm not claiming that all these hits are really relevant. Google seems to accept words like Satan and Satanic as equivalent to Satanism, so Web pages using any of those terms in conjunction with Ayn Rand will come up. And of course I did not review all 95,900 pages. In fact, I scrolled through only the first 120 results, clicking on the pages that look interesting. Even so, it's clear that there are literally thousands of pages on the Internet claiming some kind of connection between Ayn Rand and Satanism.
One of those pages is found on the Web site of the First Satanic Church. Their "links page" prominently includes the URL of the Ayn Rand Institute. (Amusingly enough, on another site a budding Satanist says he was feeling pretty good about the First Satanic Church -- until he saw that they linked to Ayn Rand! This may be the first time that someone has regarded Ayn Rand as actually worse than Satan.)
But why would the First Satanic Church include this link on their page? Well, apparently Ayn Rand's ideas really are influential in some Satanic circles. Here are some representative comments from a web site called SatanService.org:
Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand, is an acknowledged source for some of the Satanic philosophy as outlined in The Satanic Bible by Anton LaVey. Ayn Rand was a brilliant and insightful author and philosopher and her best-selling novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead continue to attract deserved attention for a new generation of readers. I am a strong admirer of Ayn Rand but I am an even stronger admirer of Anton LaVey for the vital differences between the philosophies of Objectivism and Satanism.
The author then spells out various differences between the two "philosophies," before finishing up with a sales pitch for Ayn Rand:
Let me conclude this brief overview by adding that Satanism has far more in common with Objectivism than with any other religion or philosophy. Objectivists endorse reason, selfishness, greed and atheism. Objectivism sees Christianity, Islam and Judaism as anti-human and evil. The writings of Ayn Rand are inspiring and powerful. If the reader has not yet experienced her power, try her novelette Anthem for a taste. You will almost certainly come back for more.
Another Web site, cheekily calling itself the600club.com, states authoritatively:
Modern Satanism can only be traced back to 1966 when Anton LaVey shaved his head, performed a ritual and declared the formation of the "Church of Satan." The religion (or anti-religion if you will) was composed as an answer to organized western religion and culture's repression of natural instincts and desires.
Major influences of the Satanic Philosophy are as follows:
• The Magick of Aleister Crowley, and the works of the Abbey of Thelema.
• The Cynical anti-theistic viewpoints and writings of Friedrich Nietzsche
• The Objectivism philosophy of Ayn Rand
• The Comical and Social viewpoint of people like P.T. Barnum
• The brutal reality of Ragnard Redbeard's writings.
So there's Ayn Rand, nestled securely if uncomfortably between the flamboyant warlock Aleister Crowley and the circus promoter P. T. Barnum. An overview of Satanism in Cornerstone magazine confirms that Objectivist philosophy was important in the development of the Church of Satan, and adds in footnote 20:
By "objectivist", we refer to Ayn Rand's philosophy, objectivism. LaVey, and as a result Satanism, was heavily influenced by both Rand and Nietzsche. See, for example: Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged (New York, New York: Signet, 1957); Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness (New York, New York: Signet, 1964). LaVey stated that his religion was "just Ayn Rand's philosophy, with ceremony and ritual added." LaVey as cited in Bill Ellis, Raising the Devil: Satanism, New Religions, and the Media (Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 2000), 180.
The above quote from Anton LaVey, that the Church of Satan was "just Ayn Rand's philosophy, with ceremony and ritual added," mirrors a comment made by his daughter and fellow Satanist Karla LaVey, who described the Church as "humanism or Ayn Rand with ritual." (This quote is cited on p. 699 of Michael Aquino's book The Church of Satan, downloadable in PDF form here; it is taken from a 1972 article.)
Rand's influence in Satanic circles continued well beyond the 1960s and '70s. Here is an excerpt from an interview with Phil Marfuta, who founded the America Online-based United Satanic Front in 1997. Marfuta is described as a member of The Church of Satan.
Interviewer: I seem to recall that you're involved with some on-campus clubs; namely, the Objectivist and Extropian clubs. How does Satanism relate or differ to what these clubs promote?
PM: Yes, I belong to both clubs. The former is simply a social group of like minds, while the latter is more of an activist/intelligence promotion group.... I'm less concerned with the groups themselves, and more with their semi-Satanic philosophies. I find Objectivism to be extremely similar to Satanism, perhaps more so than any other form of philosophic thought. I also think Ayn Rand is overlooked by many as a significant influence on LaVey. Essentially, Objectivism advocates selfishness, pride, love of life, rejection of mysticism, elitism, personal freedom, and many other things which have come to be associated with the Great Archetype, Satan. The Libertarian political party, which many Satanists identify with, actually arose from Objectivism as well. Ayn Rand also gives, in my opinion, better logical arguments for a Satanic Lifestyle than I've seen any Satanist give. I have never failed to strike some chord with Objectivists, either, though I would only consider a few de facto Satanists. There are several differences between Satanism and Objectivism in both theory and practice, the addition/lack of Satanic Rituals being the most obvious one (Objectivism is militantly anti-spiritual, even in regards to the diluted half-deception we employ). Theoretically, Objectivism is more Utopian than Satanic - Rand believed that a true Objectivist society could work, while I personally feel the majority of people are either unwilling or incapable of taking personal responsibility and handling total personal freedom. I think the realist in me rejects this concept - I think a Libertarian/Objectivist society would collapse from the abundance of the Satanic Sin of Stupidity. Additionally, exploitation is a no-no in Objectivism, while a Satanist usually feels no qualms about taking advantage of the foolishness or gullibility of someone else, even if it is only to teach them a lesson. Lastly, Objectivism regards relationships from person to person as an equal, fair-share trade agreement; though Satanism clearly advocates this between two Satanists, it also embraces the life of the strong at the expense of the weak, when dealing with inferiors. In practice, Satanists are far more sensual and inclined to the arts, while Objectivism stresses logic over dabbling in the subjective. Personally, I feel one can most certainly have both! Most of the Objectivists I meet are some of the most brilliant and fascinating people around, but who lack social skills and come off as "geeky" - this isn't a problem if it works to your advantage, but I see very few Objectivists who practice the art of Lesser Black Magic (even if it would go by another name).
The Objectivist influence on Satanism is strong enough to have prompted an item included in a questionnaire circulated among Satanists by "a scholar of alternative religions" at the University of Wisconsin. He writes, "I have begun to organize what I hope will be a long-range study of Satanism. As the first step in that study, I am collecting demographic data to acquire some sense of the extent of contemporary Satanism. The following questionnaire asks for basic information from which a profile of Satanists can be constructed." The questionnaire includes:
QUESTIONS ABOUT SATANISM'S INTELLECTUAL HERITAGE. Specific thinkers other than Anton LaVey are often mentioned as influencing modern Satanism in one way or another. To what extent are you familiar with:
10. Aleister Crowley?
11. Charles Baudelaire?
12. Frederick Nietzsche?
13. Ayn Rand?
14. Ragnar Redbeard?
A 1978 U.S. Army handbook on various religions, intended for use by chaplains, reports the following about the Church of Satan:
HISTORICAL ROOTS: The Church of Satan is an eclectic body that traces its origin to many sources - classical voodoo, the Hell-Fire Club of eighteenth century England, the ritual magic of Aleister Crowley, and the Black Order of Germany in the 1920s and 1930s. It departs from its predecessors by (1) its organization into a church, and (2) the openness of its magical endeavors....
CREEDAL STATEMENTS AND/OR AUTHORITATIVE LITERATURE: The writings of Anton S. LaVey provide the direction for the Satanists - "The Satanic Bible", "The Complete Witch", and "The Satanic Rituals"... Members are also encourage[d] to study pertinent writings which serve as guidelines for Satanic thought, such as Mark Twain, Niccolo Machiavelli, G.S. Shaw, Ayn Rand, Friedrich Nietzsche, etc.
Not all Satanists are affiliated with the Church of Satan, by any means. Some of them, in fact, regard the Church of Satan with disdain. One critic writes:
LaVean Satanists claim to be the "orthodox" faction, but they don't even believe in Satan as a real being. Their "Satanism" is basically an excuse for selfishness and self-indulgence and often parody the values of Ayn Rand and Nietszche.
The criticism of LaVey's views as a mere "parody" of Rand (and Nietzsche) raises the question: To what extent does the Church of Satan actually reflect Objectivist philosophy? Opinions seem to differ. One writer opines:
... the egoist values articulated by Anton Szandor La Vey are extremely similar to the egoist values of Ayn Rand. I agree with that, and I admire La Vey for the same reason that I admire Rand, Spengler, and Nietzsche. The Ego in the Infinite, the Will to Power, is, in fact, the true Weltanschauung, the leitmotif and driving force, of our Western high culture, and the Gothic-style "Faustian" Christianity as it has actually been practiced in the West, the Christianity of the Crusades, has always been much closer to La Vey's doctrine than it is to the Sermon on the Mount.
One of the featured reader reviews on the Amazon.com sales page for The Satanic Bible agrees:
Before LaVey, nobody identified Friedrich Nietzsche, Ayn Rand or Jack London as "Satanic" philosophers. Indeed, a cursory view would suggest these three thinkers have little or nothing in common: Rand considered Nietzsche a syphilitic madman and despised Jack London's ardent socialism. Yet LaVey found common elements within their writing -- a rejection of herd mentality and consensus morality, a philosophy which placed Self-Aggrandization above Self-Sacrifice, and a militant atheism. These, and other writers, were the inspiration for LaVey's "Satanic Bible" ... which, in turn, was the inspiration for many who have followed in LaVey's footsteps.
The FAQ page of a Satanism Web site addresses the question, "Do Satanists have specific role models?"
The saints of our religion have been those great men and women who were the "movers and shakers" of their day - those great philosophers and inventors who helped reshape the way in which we view our world - the paradigm shifters! We proudly present this partial list of names; Ayn Rand, Camille Paglia, Dr. Jack Kevorkian, Friedrich Nietzsche, H.L. Mencken, Wilhelm Reich, Nikola Tesla, Bertrand Russell, Oscar Wilde, Madonna, George Carlin ... and many more!
I am sure that many, possibly all, of these people would have resented being included in the list of Satanists. But evidently these "paradigm shifters" are regarded as Satanists by those in the movement. One of them is a bibliophile who has a Web page called "Welcome to my Occult Library." He explains:
This page is here to provide you with an arsenal of titles you can find to study Magickal Arts. When I started collecting books on Satanism, Magick and the Occult, it was hard to find such books. With lots of research and going to MANY bookstores, I started growing my library.
The Virtue of Selfishness
The Virtue of Selfishness, by Ayn Rand, is included in his list.
So it's clear that many Satanists themselves regard Rand as an important influence. But are they right to do so? Have they understood her ideas correctly? For one answer, let's return to SatanService.org :
The Satanist, on the other hand, exhibits a behavior 180 [degrees] from that shown by the masses. The Satanist, seeing the mediocrity around him, desires nothing more than to truly live his life free from the interference and petty controls of others. Does this mean that all Satanists are misanthropes, more suited to the life of a hermit? Not at all. However, the Satanist truly has the desire to free himself from the shackles with which the masses have bound themselves.
It has been said that most of history's greatest leaders, those with the most profound influence on the course of history, have been Satanists in all but name (and perhaps, say some, in name as well as deed!). This is an extension of the Satanic impulse to rule over one's own destiny. It just so happens that one of the easiest ways to do that is to control the destiny of others as well. Power, then, is not an end in itself to the Satanist, whether it is power over a single individual or power over an empire spanning continents. Power, in the sense of being able to have others follow your own Will, is merely a means to achieve the second Satanic goal-- freedom of action.
This may seem to be a selfish attitude, and it is. It should be remembered that the Satanist does not waste compassion, or empathy, on those who are undeserving. If the vast majority of the population-- the Masses-- can be efficiently and effectively turned into a tool to serve the ends of the Satanic Magician, then so be it. In fact, the Satanist is actually doing them a favor by providing them with the guiding force of a strong Will which they so desperately crave! Satanists should follow the example of Ayn Rand and see selfishness for a virtue, not a vice.
A good deal of this would not be unfamiliar to readers of Ayn Rand -- "seeing the mediocrity around him ... desires nothing more than to truly live his life free from the interference and petty controls of others ... free himself from the shackles with which the masses have bound themselves ... rule over one's own destiny ... does not waste compassion, or empathy, on those who are undeserving ... follow the example of Ayn Rand and see selfishness for a virtue, not a vice."
On the other hand, some elements are quite contrary to the mature views of Ayn Rand, who would not agree "that one of the easiest ways to [control one's destiny] is to control the destiny of others" or that "the vast majority of the population -- the Masses -- [should] be efficiently and effectively turned into a tool to serve the ends" of the powerful man. In these respects, the Church of Satan and like-minded associations depart quite radically from Rand's later viewpoint, though they are not inconsistent with some of her earlier writings, as found in her youthful journal entries and in the first edition of her novel We the Living.
Or at least they depart from what we might call Rand's "official" doctrine. On the other hand, it could be argued that Rand never did reject her Nietzschean roots as thoroughly as she and her admirers have claimed. Though she inveighed against the evil of seeking power over others, she also spent fourteen years and more than 1000 pages spelling out a vision of the future in which her handful of superior men look on in supreme indifference while "the masses" die of starvation. And there are certainly major passages in Atlas Shrugged that carry the same Nietzschean tone audible in her earliest writings; the "tunnel disaster" sequence, especially its climax, comes to mind. To the extent that there is a disconnect between Rand's stated philosophy and the actual implications of her fiction, it is an open question which element appeals more strongly to her (mostly young and impressionable) readers.
How about the claim that Anton LaVey lifted key elements of The Satanic Bible from Atlas Shrugged? This assertion, which is made frequently by both supporters and detractors of the Church of Satan, appears to be somewhat overblown. It's clear that LaVey had read Atlas Shrugged, or at least John Galt's speech (a long philosophical diatribe near the end of the book) and tried to incorporate some of its ideas in a simplified form. LaVey himself never denied this influence. But there is no real plagiarism. The same scholar who circulated the questionnaire among Satanists points this out in a later article:
I should finally mention that, in circles critical of [the Church of Satan], one often hears the accusation that LaVey's "Nine Satanic Statements," one of the Church's central doctrinal statements, is an unacknowledged "paraphrase...of passages from Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged" ... However, when one actually examines these parallels (which are conveniently laid out in Appendix 11 of Aquino's The Church of Satan), one finds that this is a caricature of LaVey's indebtedness to Rand. For example, the first Satanic Statement is:
Satan represents indulgence, instead of abstinence!
The Rand passage presented as the source of this statement is:
A doctrine that gives you, as an ideal, the role of a sacrificial animal seeking slaughter on the altars of others, is giving you death as your standard. By the grace of reality and the nature of life, man-every man-is an end in himself. He exists for his own sake, and the achievement of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose.
Rather more lengthy than LaVey's "paraphrase." The second Satanic Statement is a brief as the first Statement:
Satan represents vital existence, instead of spiritual pipe dreams!
And the Rand passage said to correspond with this Statement, though shorter than the first, is similarly distant in style and content from LaVey:
My morality, the morality of reason, is contained in a single axiom: existence exists-and in a single choice: to live. The rest proceeds from these.
And there is a similar disparity in the other "parallels" between the Satanic Statements and Rand. Thus, even if it is true that LaVey was looking at Atlas Shrugged when he composed the Nine Satanic Statements, it would be more proper to say something like he was "inspired" by Rand rather than to assert that he "paraphrased" her work.
Of course, it makes little difference whether LaVey quoted Rand verbatim or merely tried to capture the flavor of her ideas. At least one Objectivist-turned-Satanist sees a clear affinity between the two movements. George C. Smith, in Appendix 11 of Michael Aquino's The Church of Satan, writes:
Although like others I now have some obvious points of disagreement with Objectivism, the legacy of this enormous Satanic break with the past remains a fact of history that is of prime importance to Setians [Temple of Set members, i.e. Satanists] everywhere. To imply or state that the Church of Satan was the first to clearly state the Satanic ethic is to ignore the continuing impact of Ayn Rand and individualists influenced by her work such as Nathaniel Branden ... and Harry Browne ... ( p. 484)
Please understand that I was an Objectivist prior to joining the Church of Satan. It was the intellectual rigor demanded by Objectivism which enabled me to appreciate the full meaning of the Satanic Bible. At the same time I first completed reading it, I said that here I had found an Objectivism with an open mind concening paranormal phenomena. (p. 486)
Some quotations are worth repeating:
Please understand that I was an Objectivist prior to joining the Church of Satan. It was the intellectual rigor demanded by Objectivism which enabled me to appreciate the full meaning of the Satanic Bible.
Somehow I don't think this is a compliment that most Objectivists would be very happy to accept.
I found one other quote in my Google search, which, while not directly relevant, seems like a fitting way to close. An Objectivist discussion group was considering the question, "How did you discover Ayn Rand's ideas?" One fan wrote that when it was discovered that he was reading The Virtue of Selfishness,
My mother hit the ceiling. You'd have thought Rand was advocating baby murdering or Satanism or something.
Hmm. "Baby murdering" ...
... "or Satanism" ...
You never know. Maybe his mom was on to something.