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Monday, June 25, 2012

The Devil You Know

Good Guy Lucifer is an advise animal macro series, based on a cover illustration from DC Comics, that establishes Lucifer as a foil for the God of Abraham. Although he can be co-opted anyone with a computer and free time, he lends himself to a particular formulaic usage. He provides an antidote to the virus of self-loathing inculcated by religion. As many atheist scholars point out, religion is inherently authoritarian. The very notion of the sacred renders interest in the material word profane by contrast. God brought humanity into this world and can take us out on a whim. Because our very existence is contingent on God's grace, we are condemned to grovel at his feet. Where God ostensibly created humanity for his own amusement, Good Guy Lucifer affirms our desire for autonomy and engagement with the material world. Where God punishes us for being exactly as he made us, Good Guy Lucifer accept and understands human nature for what it is.

The Good Guy Lucifer meme is especially effective for exposing the fallacy of sin. There is, in fact, a Good Guy Lucifer meme for each of the seven deadly sins. Christianity treats sin as a supernatural force, inextricably bound to earthly conduct yet transcending the material world. Vicarious redemption, also known as salvation by grace, does nothing to resolve any real wrongdoing. It bundles and transfers transgressions to a third party, like mortgage-backed securities. Worse yet, it honors deathbed conversions of psychopaths and condemns ethical nonbelievers to eternal torture for the mere thought-crime of skepticism. 

A prominent obsession of the religious right is regulating sexual behavior. This can be understood from the perspective of lust as a sin. Marriage is perhaps the best index of social attitudes on appropriate sexual conduct. When women were considered property, polygamous marriage was more common. The fact that same-sex marriage is not yet universal is a vestige of inequality between the sexes. There is no reason for gendered legal status where women have the same rights as men. Good Guy Lucifer understands that sex is the natural expression of healthy desire. While self-regulation is arguably preferable to indiscriminate public sexual display, there is a vast difference between self-imposed impulse control and abstinence motivated by religious notions of sin.

As reasonable as it may seem to object to excess in principle, even gluttony is not exempt from the Good Guy Lucifer meme. Understanding gluttony as a sin, however, misses the point. It is human nature to enjoy things that bring pleasure. Everyone must weigh the costs and benefits of immediate gratification. One who can defer gratification is said to possess higher emotional intelligence. Those who are driven by compulsion may need clinical help. Dismissing these compulsions as sin demonstrates how useless and dangerous the concept of sin really is. Good Guy Lucifer sees no harm in enjoying the things that bring pleasure. He leaves it to individuals to regulate their portions.

In an age of austerity and opulence, greed stands as the metaphorical "sin" of indifference to human suffering and deprivation. Good Guy Lucifer sees greed merely as the driving force for achievement, which it is in an equitable, incentive-based economy. The notion of greed as a sin obscures the real problem of pathological indifference.

Fatigue and lack of motivation are common indicators of depression. Dismissing depression as the sin of sloth is not only simple-minded, it is dangerous. Good Guy Lucifer understands this. Moreover, it is human nature to enjoy leisure. Like gluttony, sloth is a matter of degree. Opportunity and reward being equitable, each person strikes an optimal balance between work and leisure based on a desired level of material comfort. The ruling class never suffers deprivation because of sloth. The Protestant work ethic seems to apply only to the working class. 

Good character is often measured by slowness to anger and quickness to forgive. Anger management may be an index of character, but a character defect is more complex than the concept of sin allows. Good Guy Lucifer understands righteous anger. Wrath is not a characteristic of a docile underclass. Perhaps wrath best betrays the authoritarian motives underlying the concept of sin. 

Envy is arguably a petty emotion. To desire something merely because someone else has it, without regard for its intrinsic worth or whether one has earned it, is infantile. It is human nature, however, to measure one's own happiness against the outward signs of the happiness of others. We emulate those we admire and we want to believe ourselves worthy of the lives we imagine that they must have. Good Guy Lucifer understands the human propensity for envy. The juxtaposition of austerity and opulence is bound to provoke envy. The ruling class depends on envy not developing into wrath.

Understood as arrogance, most people would agree that an excess of pride is a character flaw. Arrogance is associated with an exaggerated sense of one's own worth, often demonstrated by an undue sense of entitlement. The story of the Garden of Eden, even metaphorically, represents the denigration of intellectual curiosity and a tribute to willful ignorance. Without pride, the only motivation to achieve is for divine approval or material reward. Good Guy Lucifer understands that a sense of accomplishment is just reward for a job well done.

Good Guy Lucifer demonstrates effectively the fundamental flaws in the Christian concept of sin. Sin as a supernatural force has an ambitious, unitary agenda. The concept is not only simplistic, but also masks more complex problems such as developmental needs, psychiatric disorders and economic injustice. The contradiction of sin is that the condemnations are for temporal comportment in the material world, but are supposedly founded on transcendent, eternal truths. As Milton's Lucifer waged an epic struggle against the divine despot, Good Guy Lucifer represents the struggle for real free will, without the choice between willful ignorance and eternal torture

Good Guy Lucifer projects an irony not unlike like Steven Colbert's. He betrays an antitheistic subtext by coyly rationalizing his self-interested role in mankind's perditionOne of the reasons that religion, especially monotheism, is characterized as anti-human is for its impossible expectation of self-denial. Good Guy Lucifer is the antidote. Good Guy Lucifer is a revolutionary figureWith the increasing boldness of the religious right, Good Guy Lucifer has the potential to become a powerful rallying point for atheists on par with the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster was an ironic response to the encroachment of Intelligent Design on the science curriculum. It was a pretext for insisting that if the claim that God created the universe is to be given equal weight with evolution, the claim that the Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe must also be give its due. It is a case that could only be made through irony. Followers of Good Guy Lucifer could make an ironic case against public displays of worship. Unlike the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Good Guy Lucifer rejects God's narcissistic need for worship

Atheists are often expected to stand in reverent silence during compulsory prayer or look the other way when religious displays are installed on public land. There is an expectation that only rival religions have a basis on which to claim offense at public displays of worship. Unlike atheists, followers of Good Guy Lucifer could register righteous indignation that worship is against our religion. As a rival religion, The Legion Of Good Guy Lucifer can claim some of the special privileges that Christians are demanding in the name of religious freedom. As a non-religious interest group, atheists are denied these protections that Christians are demanding. Where Colbert's SuperPac ironically demonstrates the absurdity of corporate excessThe Legion Of Good Guy Lucifer, through irony, can demonstrate the absurdity of religious freedom as the freedom to marginalize atheists.

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