SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
May 10, 2009

Satan is Real

 

Hardly a day goes by when I’m not reminded once again that human beings really are astonishing creatures.

            (Take that as you will.)

            Of all the lively characteristics of Contemporary Man, few astonish, amuse and frighten me quite as much as the tenacious persistence of his more ridiculous superstitions.

            I’m not talking about some forgotten tribe in Borneo believing they can end a drought by sprinkling chicken blood on the ground, or the inhabitants of some far-flung village in north India flying into a wild-eyed panic at word the Monkey Man has returned. I’m talking about hardened, world-weary New Yorkers.

            As sophisticated, technologically advanced, and cynical as we’re supposed to be, we (well, they) refuse to let go of our most ancient and absurd fears and beliefs. We chortle in smug superiority every time we hear about those “poor primitives” in India freaking out when the Monkey Man shows up, but believe you me, drop hints of a monster on the loose in Manhattan, and you’d see the same kind of pandemonium—only a thousands times more devastating and hilarious. If you don’t believe me, go to the Meadowlands Fair this summer and stand at the back of the crowd during the “Girl-to-Gorilla” show. Christ, I’ve seen terrified mobs rip through the side of a tent in their panic to get away.

            Few superstitions hold as powerful a grip on the collective civilized psyche as the fear of the devil. You can joke about religion all you want, but bring up Satan in mixed company and watch all the levity melt away, only to be replaced by unease and vague worry. It’s just better for everyone if you don’t, y’know . . . mention that name. It’s nothing to joke about, dude—something bad might happen. Even supposedly intelligent and reasonable people get all weird and itchy if you mention the devil.

            It seems ridiculous to me that in this day and age with so many other things to worry about, that people would still be scared to death of Satanists, but they are. It’s an insane, irrational fear I’ve been running into far too regularly and for far too long, especially considering that I’m not a Satanist.

            Back in Philly, I worked at a used bookstore. On occasion—for reasons we needn’t ponder—I wore a bolo tie whose silver clasp was in the form of a coiled snake with turquoise eyes. It was just a thing someone from Oklahoma had given me, and it meant nothing. Yet one day I was confronted by a customer who demanded to know if my tacky bolo tie was a Satanic symbol.

            “No,” I told him, a little confused by this. “I’m afraid it’s . . . just a snake.”

            “Well, you might want to be careful with things like that,” he warned.

            Umm . . . all right.”

            I put him down as just another crazy nut, but things like that kept happening. At some point in the mid-nineties, I was about to be offered a job when some of my potential co-workers approached my potential supervisor to lobby against hiring me, arguing that I was some kind of a “Nazi devil worshipper.” And these were people who had never met me, never spoken to me, and had only barely seen me. But I guess that was enough to tell.

            (I still got the job.)

            At one point a long time ago, I was working for a publication that prided itself on being hip and cutting edge and cynical and all that shit. One day a new editor came on board. He seemed like a reasonable enough fellow and I wanted to start things off on the right foot, so I gave him a copy of a book which I had inscribed “All the beast.”

            He thanked me for the book, and things were fine for the next two weeks. Then he called me into his office and sat me down.

            “What did you mean by that?” he wanted to know.

            Given that I hadn’t spoken with him in three or four days, I had no idea what he was talking about.

            “Umm,” I replied, “what did I mean by, um, what?”

            “By what you wrote.”

            Given that my job involved writing many, many things every week for this publication, I still had no idea what he was talking about.

            “Umm . . . which thing that I wrote?”

            “In the book.”

            It took a few more questions before I was finally able to pinpoint that he meant the silly inscription.

            “Oh, that?” I said. “That was . . . ummm . . . a joke.”

            “A joke.”

            He seemed less than amused, so I began explaining it to him. “Yeah, you see, most people say ‘all the best,’ but in this case, see, I, um, I added a letter . . . ”

            Even after I finished explaining it, he didn’t seem terribly amused. He glared at me from the other side of his desk, saying nothing.

            “I guess it’s kind of a Satan thing,” I explained further.

            This did not help matters.

            “And you consider that a ‘joke.’“

            I shrugged. “Guess so.” Last time I give this guy a free book.

            He eventually released me from his office, but that was hardly the end of it. A week later he asked me to compile a list of “all my celebrity friends” for some stupid feature he was planning.

            “All my . . . celebrity friends? Well, umm . . . ” I shrugged again, then shut up and set to it. It didn’t take long.

            About ten minutes after I turned the list in, my phone rang. It was the editor calling from his office twenty feet away.

            “I see you’ve included someone from the Church of Satan,” he said.

            “Yeah?”

            “We’re not running someone like that.”

            “Pardon?”

            “We will not include anything like that in the paper.”

            “Umm . . . why not? He’s been in the paper plenty. He’s a smart guy.”

            “We just won’t. I don’t want him there.”

            In the weeks that followed, every time he saw me he made some comment about “me and my Satanist friends.”

            Even though he tossed out some cockamamie reason when he fired me a month later, I knew full well that he fired me because he was a-scairta da debbil.

            Three years later while preparing for another job, I was warned in advance that it would probably be for the best if I mentioned nothing of a Satanic nature around any administrators or supervisors.

            “But you’re talking about academics.”

            “It’s just better not to. You don’t want them to get the wrong idea.”

            I’m obviously being accused of something, but I don’t know what. Not that I’m offended in any way by the association—but it would be more effective if I was actually a Satanist. It’s reminiscent of other periods in history, when I might’ve lost my job or been threatened in some way for associating with Jews or communists or Catholics—or Satanists, for that matter.

            While I have many friends who happen to be Satanists (and we share a number of ideas in common), I’m also friends with a number of Catholics and Buddhists and Jews and Baptists and hippies (even though I’m none of those things)—but that doesn’t lead to any trouble. Which may explain why I find this phenomenon all the more fascinating.

            Where does it come from, this fear? Is it some kind of lingering childhood thing? Or is it the result of all those media reports about ritualistic child abuse, animal sacrifices, and stoner teenagers killing their pals while blasting Ozzy? Or could it really be that these quivering, frightened sheep honestly believe that even making lighthearted jokes about the Prince of Darkness will somehow conjure him up and lead to bad things? We’re living in an age of microscopic computers, instantaneous communication and information, and gene therapy. If that really is the case, we’re more doomed than I realized.

            None of the real Satanists I know have ever abused a child or knowingly hurt an animal, though some may have blasted Ozzy at one point or another. They are, for the most part, extremely bright, extremely rational people. They’re well read, they’re cultured, and more often than not, they’re nice as can be. Hell of a lot nicer and smarter than the knotheads who are scared of them, that’s for sure.

            Funny thing, now that I think about it—these days it seems the only people who don’t believe in the devil and his scary magic powers are . . . the Satanists.

            Yes, well. I’ll probably continue to think the whole thing’s a hoot until I’m accused of “witcherie most foule” and dragged off to the gallows.

 

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