Theistic Satanism: Home > To Pagans > Stop scapegoating Satanists! > Isaac Bonewits and "dualism"
Isaac Bonewits and "dualism"
by Diane Vera
Copyright © 2005 Diane Vera. All rights reserved.
In his infamous anti-Satanist diatribe The Enemies of Our Enemies, Isaac Bonewits claims that Satanists in general are "Christian dualists." What does he mean by "dualism"?
In "the Enemies of Our Enemies," a hyperlink on the word "dualistic" leads to a page titled The Evolution of Dualism: A Chart showing four alleged kinds of "dualism": (1) Zoroastrianism, (2) Gnostic Christianity, (3) medieval Christianity/Islam, and (4) scientific materialism. The chart gives what, as far as I am aware, is a reasonably accurate summary of black-and-white thinking on the part of the first three worldviews listed, but then makes the highly questionable claim that "scientific materialism" manifests pretty much the same kind of black-and-white thinking as "medieval Christianity/Islam" except that "spirit" and "matter" have been transposed.
According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Dualism:
The term ‘dualism’ has a variety of uses in the history of thought. In general, the idea is that, for some particular domain, there are two fundamental kinds or categories of things or principles. In theology, for example a ‘dualist’ is someone who believes that Good and Evil — or God and the Devil — are independent and more or less equal forces in the world. Dualism contrasts with monism, which is the theory that there is only one fundamental kind, category of thing or principle; and, rather less commonly, with pluralism, which is the view that there are many kinds or categories. In the philosophy of mind, dualism is the theory that the mental and the physical — or mind and body or mind and brain — are, in some sense, radically different kinds of thing. Because common sense tells us that there are physical bodies, and because there is intellectual pressure towards producing a unified view of the world, one could say that materialist monism is the ‘default option’. Discussion about dualism, therefore, tends to start from the assumption of the reality of the physical world, and then to consider arguments for why the mind cannot be treated as simply part of that world.
Note: materialism is monistic, not dualistic. As with mind and matter, so too with spirit and matter. Materialism denies that a spirit world even exists apart from matter. Dualism would be the view that spirit and matter both exist and are distinct. Thus materialism is the inverse not of "Christian dualism" but of Hindu-style spiritual monism, which holds that only God/spirit is real and the material world is an illusion (Maya).
Furthermore, there is no black-and-white "good vs. evil" dichotomy inherent in scientific materialism, which is a metaphysical/ontological theory, not an ethical/moral theory. There do exist atheist/naturalist/materialist fanatics who regard all forms of religion and spirituality as evil, but there also exist plenty of atheists/naturalists/materialists with a live-and-let-live attitude toward religion.
Bonewits even goes so far as to claim that scientific materialists, like all the other three worldviews listed, put "women" and "sensuality" in the dark/evil/unenlightened category. Although misogynistic and prudish scientific materialists do exist, secular humanists and other Western atheists/naturalists/materialists are in fact more likely than most other people to support both feminism and sexual freedom.
As for "Christian dualism" itself, even Bonewits admits, in "The Enemies of our Enemies": "Ironically, the attribution of godlike power (as in, for example, the supposed ability to perform “counterfeit miracles”) to their Satan by fundamentalists, who pride themselves on being so orthodox, is historically a sign of Christian heresy — monotheists are not supposed to admit that their Evil God is as powerful (or even nearly as powerful) as their Good God." Many Christians are indeed dualistic in practice, if not in theory; and there is even some support for dualism in the Christian Bible, where Satan is referred to as "God of this world" (yes! -- "God" -- see 2 Corinthians 4:4), "Prince of this world" (e.g. John 14:30), "Prince of the power of the air" (Ephesians 2:2), and a being with enough power that He could, apparently with at least some hope of being convincing, "tempt" Jesus by offering him power in exchange for worship (Matthew 4:9). And Christians traditionally lump together "the Devil, the world, and the flesh." But not all Christians are dualistic. Many of the more liberal Christians, and even some conservative/orthodox Christians, do not believe in a Devil at all. Belief in a Devil (however powerful or not) has never been one of the central defining tenets of Christian orthodoxy. The Devil is not mentioned in either the Apostle's Creed or the Nicene Creed, for example.
As for Satanists being "dualists," Christian or otherwise, what can this possibly mean?
Only a small minority of theistic Satanists are dualistic in the sense of duotheistic, believing in a cosmic conflict between Satan and the Christian "God" as the two most powerful entities in the universe. As far as I can tell, such a belief is typically held by recent deconverts from Christianity, who in most cases outgrow it. The vast majority of theistic Satanists (or at least the vast majority of those who remain Satanists for more than a year or two) believe in other theologies. Some are monotheists; many are polytheists. Some are deists and some are pantheists. And, of course, the best-known type of Satanism is LaVeyan Satanism, which is atheistic/symbolic.
The vast majority of theistic Satanists are not moral dualists either. Most of us do not see Satan as "evil" (from our own point of view -- see What is Satanism? and see my article Satan and "Evil" in Christianity (and Satanism)), but, at the same time, most of us do not see Satan as a total goody two shoes either. Nearly all of us do see Satan as being better for humankind than Jehovah, whom many of us regard as a would-be tyrant. But the more intellectually mature theistic Satanists can see plenty of shades of gray on both sides -- and plenty of other sides too, not just two.
I personally am inclined to see something more like a polarity, rather than a good/evil dualism, between two types of deities: (1) those who, like Jehovah, promote conformity to a unified social order, and (2) those who, like Satan, promote independence, innovation, and the exploration of unknown or forbidden realms. Perhaps this isn't quite what Bonewits would call a "polarity," since the two are often in conflict. However, humans do need both social stability and innovation/change, in varying degrees. I also believe that there are other types of deities too, whose concerns do not revolve around things like human social conformity or nonconformity.
Perhaps Bonewits realizes he can't justify a claim that Satanists are "dualistic" in terms of theology, metaphysics, or ethics, so he tries to nail us down in terms of attitude instead. In "The Enemies of Our Enemies," he wrote:
Of course, being the Christian Dualists that they are, most Satanists of the four sorts I’ve mentioned so far insist that, “There are no categories of Satanists — there are Satanists and nuts” (Tony Levy, aka “Anton Szandor LaVey”). In other words, “us real ones” vs. “all those other fake ones.” Sound familiar? Each Satanic organization and individual insists that it and it alone is the arbiter of who is or is not among the elect and actively despises all the others. That “all” is important, for while members of any religion may want to know who is or isn’t a fellow religionist, and may even have a low opinion of some other faiths, the wholesale dismissal of all other paths as evil or inferior is perhaps the defining characteristic of a Christian (or Islamic or Zoroastrian) Dualist.
Alas, it's all too true that the Satanist scene has had lots of thoroughly nasty infighting. It's also true that too many Satanist leaders have been ridiculously dogmatic and have displayed ridiculously arrogant attitudes both toward other kinds of Satanists and toward people of all other religions and worldviews. Unfortunately, Anton LaVey set a very bad example in these regards, and too many other Satanist leaders have followed in his footsteps.
However, by no means do all Satanists share these attitudes. Many Satanists are sick of the infighting and are quite willing to try to get along, both with other kinds of Satanists and with other people in general. Also, although Satanism does attract its share of people who crave the illusion of certainty on spiritual matters, there are also plenty of Satanists with enough intellectual maturity to recognize that one-true-wayism on spiritual matters is just silly.
So there is reason to hope that the Satanist scene will outgrow one-true-way attitudes as it continues to grow and diversify.
There have even been quite a few failed attempts at an ecumenical "Satanic unity." Instead of "Satanic unity," I personally think it would be better just to encourage a live-and-let-live attitude and more respect for variety as a good thing in and of itself. Greater respect for variety (while still accepting some degree of conflict as both inevitable and necessary) would certainly be consistent with the things most of us believe Satan stands for in the human realm, including individuality, freedom, and thinking for oneself.
Now for some comments on Bonewits's claim that "the wholesale dismissal of all other paths as evil or inferior is perhaps the defining characteristic of a Christian (or Islamic or Zoroastrian) Dualist." First, one-true-wayism is not, in and of itself, dualistic, let alone a defining characteristic of dualism, Christian or otherwise. If anything, one-true-wayism could perhaps be called "epistemological monism."
One-true-wayism can (though it doesn't necessarily) lead to "dualism" in a social sense if/when it spawns oversimplified us-vs.-them thinking, lumping "them" into one big box and seeing "them" as all alike in some fundamental way. When us-vs.-them thinking is combined with one-true-wayism, the stereotyped "them" consists of all who disagree with the one true way, e.g. the hardcore fundy Christian idea that all non-Christian religions are inspired by Satan. However, us-vs.-them overgeneralizations and one-true-wayism can exist apart from each other too. A one-true-wayer need not believe that all who disagree have anything in common other than just being insufficiently enlightened. It's also possible to believe in us-vs.-them oversimplifications without being a one-true-wayer; an example would be some of the less obnoxious types of racial nationalists/separatists, who claim not that their own race is the only good race, but rather that the different races are inherently incompatible for whatever alleged reason.
Neither one-true-wayism nor oversimplified us-vs.-them thinking is unique to Christianity, Islam, and Zoroastrianism. A very dogmatic one-true-way attitude is found also in Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism, for example. As for us-vs.-them thinking, well, I'm going to have to talk to some anthropologists about this, but I would expect it to be rather common in nearly all human societies. I suspect that oversimplified us-vs.-them thinking is a normal manifestation of human tribal instinct, and that transcending it requires a fairly high level of intellectual and emotional maturity.
Anyhow, Bonewits correctly points out that Temple of Set founder Michael Aquino is guilty of both one-true-wayism and "dualism" in the sense of us-vs.-them oversimplifications. He quotes Aquino as saying, for example: "All conventional religions, including the Pagan ones, are simply a variation on the theme of reunion and submergence of the self within the natural universe." This and other sweeping overgeneralizations by Aquino are one of the reasons why I never tried to join the Temple of Set.
However, by no means are all Satanists prone to either one-true-wayism or us-vs.-them dualism. In fact, it seems to me that I and quite a few of the Satanists in my forums are significantly less "dualistic," in many ways, than Bonewits himself is! I hereby dare Bonewits to join the Yahoo groups Theistic-Satanists-and-others and Theistic-Satanism-ethics-and-politics and see for himself.
Bonewits himself has clearly not transcended us-vs.-them dualism, and neither have many modern Pagans. As we have seen, Bonewits inaccurately classifies not just Satanism (all forms of Satanism) but also "scientific materialism" as a "dualism." To me, these are examples of Bonewits indulging in some pretty blatant us-vs.-them dualistic oversimplifications, in his case using alleged "Christian dualists" as his "them." He seems absolutely determined to squeeze us all into that one big bad box no matter what.
One of his excuses is the all-too-common claim, echoed by Bonewits, "that you have to be a Christian, a Moslem, or a Zoroastrian in order to worship or even respect the Devil because nobody else believes in him." This is as ridiculous as claiming, for example, that anyone who believes in or worships any of the ancient Greek deities today must be a practitioner of one of the actual religions of ancient Greece. Bonewits himself would know far better than to make the latter claim, given his article on Paleo-, Meso-, and Neopaganism. Indeed, Bonewits has often criticized many Neopagans for imagining that they practice a full-blown "Old Religion." Yet, like too many other Neopagan spokespeople, Bonewits insists that Satanists must "really" be Christians, despite the many clear, obvious, profound, and easily knowable (because Christianity, nnlike the religions of ancient Greece, still does exist today) differences between Christianity and most forms of Satanism. In this regard, Bonewits is little better than the fundy Christians who insist that Pagans must "really" be Satan-worshippers.
Bonewits not only echoes that all-too-common bit of nonsense; he carries it a step further than many other Neopagan spokespeople would. As I pointed out in the pamphlet To Pagans: Explain your beliefs without maligning another minority religion, Bonewits uses Christianity as his catch-all box for any Western belief systems he doesn't like. Not only does he classify Satanists as "Christian fundamentalists," but he also classifies "Secular Humanists and other Western atheists" as "Christian heretics" (not just, say, “Christian-influenced,” which would be accurate) because "the God and Devil they don’t believe in are the ones defined by Christian doctrine." By the latter reasoning, Bonewits ought to consider most NeoPagans to be "Christian heretics" too, yet for some reason he doesn't.
It is actually quite illogical - and a direct inversion of Christian monotheism, by the way - for Neopagans to single out the Christian "God" and Satan uniquely for disbelief, given their willingness to accept the existence of just about every other god that just about every human society has ever believed in. It's reasonable for a polytheist to believe that the Christian "God" isn't the true cosmic creator God, as Christians believe he is. It's also reasonable for a Pagan to choose not to revere any figure in Christian mythology. But why would a polytheist deny that the Christian "God" and Satan exist in any form at all? In his keynote speech at the New York City Pagan Pride Day festival on Saturday, October 1, 2005 C.E., Bonewits claimed that even Santa Claus is in some sense real, simply because so many children have believed in him.
In "The Enemies of our Enemies," Bonewits displays still more dualism of his own in his categorization of Satanists. His first two (and implicitly largest) categories are "liberal heterodox" and "the conservative orthodox or fascist sort," classified in terms of their political views. In his classification scheme, he conveniently ignores theological distinctions (e.g. atheists vs. monotheists vs. duotheists vs. polytheists) altogether in favor of political and social distinctions, perhaps because even the most cursory glance at the wide variety of Satanist theologies would immediately belie his claim that we're all just a bunch of "Christian dualists."
Bonewits's classification of Satanists in terms of political views is vastly oversimplified. Satanists, like people in general, hold many different political views. Fascists are a small though vocal minority; they do not constitute an "orthodoxy." Satanism does attract more than its share of political extremists of various kinds - a fact consistent with many Satanists' understanding of Satan, Who encourages all manner of challenges to the status quo. Yet there are plenty of Satanists with moderate political views as well.
I myself tend to be left-leaning in most (not all) of my political views. But I've also spent time reading some of the passionate debates that different kinds of right-wingers have had with each other - and there's quite a variety of them. Personally, I feel that the whole one-dimensional "left"/"right" dichotomy is a vast oversimplification of the range of political views that people can hold. A much better - though still simplistic - way to classify people's political views can be found on the website The Political Compass.
Bonewits is - surprise, surprise - definitely not immune to dualistic us-vs.-them overgeneralizations in the political realm. Like many left-wingers, he has a tendency to lump all right-wingers into one big oversimplified box, just as many right-wingers tend to lump all left-wingers into one big oversimplified box too. He falls into this trap even though he himself is aware of the problem of us-vs.-them dualism from the left, or at least from Democrats. In his article A Call to Arms, he complains about the radio network Air America seeing itself as "a voice for the Democratic Party, dualistically mirroring Faux News and the right-wing radio stations." Yet his article "The Enemies of Our Enemies" says the following about Satanists of the alleged "conservative orthodox or fascist sort":
These are the right wing Satanists who like to stress the might-makes-right, dictatorial side of the Satan image. ... Note that right wingers (whether Satanic or other Christian sorts) often present themselves under more appealing terminology, such as by calling themselves "Libertarians."
Whoa! Libertarianism and authoritarianism are, in fact, radically different from each other. To insinuate that right-wing libertarians are really just authoritarians/fascists in disguise is not just dualistic but downright paranoid. It "dualistically mirrors" the McCarthy-era notion that all or most leftists and liberals were really communists or communist sympathizers and loyal to the Soviet Union rather than than to the United States.
What is true is that politicians, of both the Republican and Democratic parties, spew a lot of two-faced rhetoric in an attempt to pull together the ideologically diverse coalitions that make up those two parties.
On the other hand, grassroots political activists, whether "left wing," "right wing," or neither, are another story. An activist dedicated to the cause of libertarianism is highly unlikely to be a fascist in disguise. Ditto for most ordinary folks who adopt the label "libertarian."
Many Christian religious right wing activists have two-facedly whined about their own alleged lack of religious freedom, by which they usually mean lack of "freedom" to impose their own beliefs on others by force of law. But, while advocating what they call "freedom," most would not go so far as to claim to be "libertarians." More often they call themselves "conservatives."
Admittedly, there are indeed some Christian right wing grassroots activists, e.g. Gary North and other "Christian Reconstructionists," who have advocated extreme authoritarianism (desiring the enforcement of "Biblical civil law" including death penalty by stoning for homosexuals and "idolators") while at the same time claiming to be "libertarians" (though they aren't really libertarians in even an economic sense, since they advocate a restoration of the Biblical "year of the Jubilee," thereby forbidding the permanent sale of land). But they are the exception, not the rule. (For more about Christian Reconstructionists and the Libertarian Party, see this critique of Christian Reconstructionism, published in the mainstream libertarian magazine Reason.)
Admittedly too, Anton LaVey's views were another odd blend of libertarianism and authoritarianism. But this doesn't make the Church of Satan a bunch of fascists in libertarian drag. If anything, they tend to be libertarians in fascist drag. Quite a few Church of Satan members seem to enjoy throwing around words like "fascist" just to be shocking. As a result, the CoS has attracted some actual fascists and even some actual neo-Nazis too, even though LaVey was of Jewish ethnicity.
As far as I can tell, most Satanists see both fascism and neo-Nazism as being contrary to the individualism which many of us see as being at the heart of Satanism. I personally see Satanist fascists and neo-Nazis as being rather stupid, given that Satanists most likely wouldn't be tolerated in a fascist or neo-Nazi state.
Also, the independent (non-CoS and non-ToS) theistic Satanist scene has grown dramatically over the past several years, at least online, and theistic Satanists are far less likely than CoS members to say things just for shock value, including throwing around words like "fascist."
By the way, Michael Aquino's fascination for Nazi occultism - a fascination which has attracted a few actual neo-Nazis to the Temple of Set too - does not mean that Aquino himself is secretly a neo-Nazi. The Temple of Set's General Information Letter contains the following:
In the United States the 1960-70s CE, despite [and in part because of] periodical psychopolitical strains such as the Vietnam War, generally represented a period of flourishing liberalism and freedom in personal affairs. Exploration and innovation were tolerated and encouraged in society. It was a time of breakthroughs in civil rights; of increased respect for racial, ethnic, sexual, and religious groups. There was controversy; but on the whole it was constructive and progressive in tone. By the end of the 1970s, despite continued growing pains, Western culture appeared to have moved decisively into the utopian “Age of Aquarius”.
The 1980s, however, heralded a sharp and surprising reversal of this climate into conservatism and intolerance. The most primitive, fundamentalist branches of Christianity gained converts and sought political power. And controversial minority groups were assaulted with fresh waves of discrimination and repression.
A Nazi sympathizer, even a secret one, or a person trying subtly to attract neo-Nazis for whatever reason, would NOT characterize the 1960's and 1970's C.E. as "on the whole ... constructive and progressive in tone" because of "increased respect for racial, ethnic, sexual, and religious groups." Anyone with political views even remotely near the ballpark of neo-Nazism would consider the 1960's and 1970's to have been an absolutely disastrous time. If he were a neo-Nazi trying to disguise himself as a libertarian, Aquino would complain, as even some genuine libertarian conservatives do, about the 1960's and 1970's having been a time of erosion of "true freedoms."
For some reason, Bonewits claims that the "liberal heterodox" Satanists are "generally young" whereas the "the conservative orthodox or fascist sort" are middle aged. Maybe this was true back in the 1960's when Bonewits was a member of the Church of Satan, but it certainly isn't true anymore. I haven't noticed any significant correlation at all between political views and age.
Bonewits also implies that "liberal heterodox" Satanists, if not young, must necessarily be immature:
These are the anarchist sorts, generally young, who stress the revolutionary or Luciferian side of the Satan myth. They are essentially rebelling against subservience to the Christian God, the sickness of Christian morality, and their parents. A sizable proportion of them might have become Neopagans if they had heard of us first, and some of them do so later on. Some of them alternate between calling themselves Satanists or Pagans, depending on whom they are addressing, much to the annoyance of real, adult Pagans. As far as I can tell, they seem to grow out of being Satanists when they finish adolescence (which can, alas, take decades for some).
Perhaps he feels this way because he himself went through a brief Satanist phase in his late teens before becoming Neopagan? There are indeed quite a few young Satanists for whom it turns out to be just a phase.
But there are also plenty of people who have evolved in the opposite direction. I, for one, was a Goddess-oriented Neopagan for several years before I began to identify as a Satanist. And, for me personally, embracing Satanism led to many huge steps forward in intellectual maturity. (Among other things, I became less prone to various kinds of us-vs.-them dualisms than I had ever been before, including radical feminist female-vs.-male dualism. I also felt prodded to study various ideologies I found abhorrent, and I learned a lot by so doing.)
I would not claim that either Satanism or Neopaganism is inherently more "mature" than the other. There exist both naive and sophisticated forms of both Satanism and Neopaganism. I do believe that going through a series of at least several major paradigm shifts, in almost any direction, can help a person mature intellectually. By seeing the world from several very different points of view, one can gain a much deeper understanding of the world while at the same time coming to realize how little one really knows.
In his keynote speech at the New York City Pagan Pride Day festival, Bonewits denounced "dualism" on the grounds that it leads to the "demonization" of people one doesn't agree with. In "The Enemies of Our Enemies," Bonewits himself displayed not just us-vs.-them dualism but also outright demonization. The article begins with a blatant Big Lie: an insinuated claim that Satanists in general, like the more fanatical fundamentalist Christians, "would like to destroy" Pagans. He presents no evidence whatsoever for that extreme and alarmist claim.
Bonewits correctly noted the one-true-way attitudes in his quotes from Michael Aqnion. But there's a huge difference between simply believing that your own path is the truest/best path, even being rather arrogant about that belief, and going so far as to want to destroy all other paths. As I pointed out in the pamphlet To Pagans: Explain your beliefs without maligning another minority religion, Aquino's statements do not evidence a desire to destroy. He has not claimed, for example, that everyone outside the Temple of Set will be punished eternally, or that modern Pagans are any kind of threat to other people. Aquino, like Bonewits, indulges in some us-vs.-them dualism as well. However, unlike Bonewits, Aquino does not demonize his "them"; he just regards his "them" as not worthy of much attention.
Many Satanists do indeed hate the bigoted attitudes of some Pagans such as Bonewits. But the vast majority of us have nothing against those Pagans who aren't similarly bigoted. Only some very immature Satanists "would like to destroy" Pagans.
In his article "A Call to Arms," Bonewits wrote:
Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Fundamentalists have long been waging a “culture war” with the Western world’s concepts of justice, science, democracy, and pluralism, which they refer to as “the Forces of Evil.” It is well past time for liberal, moderate, and even conservative Jews, Muslims, Christians, Neopagans, Unitarian Universalists, Atheists, Agnostics, and everyone else who isn’t a religious fanatic, to start consciously fighting back against deliberate ignorance, religious bigotry, and sanctified violence — that is to say, against Fundamentalism.
Fundamentalism is a mental and spiritual illness that endangers and oppresses billions of innocent people around the world. It is a dysfunctional form of belief that deliberately attempts to control its victims to prevent them from ever becoming more enlightened, because its leaders know that scientific education, exposure to other lifestyles, gender equality, and spiritual awareness all spell the end of their dictatorships. In fact, ancient and modern Fundamentalism is the most dangerous collection of “cults” in history.
I agree with all the above. I would add that fundamentalist tendencies aren't found only in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, but also in other religious categories as well, including even Neopaganism - and yes, including some rather vocal forms of Satanism too, I will admit.
However, whereas Bonewits calls on "liberal, moderate, and even conservative Jews, Muslims, Christians" to repudiate the fundamentalists within their own religions, he apparently would never even consider asking Satanists to repudiate fundamentalist tendencies within the Satanist scene - which would indeed be a reasonable thing for him to ask, if he were to do so. Instead, Bonewits seems absolutely determined to believe - in the face of even the most glaring evidence to the contrary - that all Satanists are "fundamentalist Christians."
In "The Enemeis of Our Enemies," one of his ways of dismissing the evidence is by dismissing "Internet Satanists," of whom he claims there are only "a couple of dozen or so (posting under multiple pseudonyms) in the world." Maybe he just hasn't revised this paragraph since the Internet first began to become popular, but there are clearly many more than a couple dozen of us on the Internet now. He also claims that none of our ideas have "anything to do with Neopagan polytheology," when in fact many of us are polytheists. He even has the gall to complain about the inevitable fact that some of us have gotten very annoyed at his bigotry: "If you don’t fall for their nonsense, or even worse, argue with them, their veneer of civility vanishes swiftly in a firestorm of invective, slander, and occasional email bombing." By the way, I wouldn't claim that Satanism and Neopaganism "are really the same thing," but there is indeed considerably more overlap between them than Bonewits is willing to admit.
On or off the Internet, various people have doubtless attempted to educate him about Satanism. He dismisses their attempts as follows:
I don’t care if it’s possible to come up with superficial arguments that the Devil “isn’t really such a bad fellow,” or to claim that you’re really worshipping the Norse deity Loki, or the Egyptian god Set (who supposedly was “originally” a Not-Completely-Bad Guy 4,000 years ago), or various Lovecraftian critters, and that all these spirits were “victims of bad public relations.” Such arguments don’t change the subconscious images that most people (including the Satanists themselves) have of these entities, nor the nature of the psychic energies that they tap into.
What Bonewits doesn't seem to understand here is that all that "evil" imagery is helpful in challenging us to re-examine our ideas from the ground up and to face down our fears. And an absolutely key part of thinking independently is a willingness to explore the forbidden. Furthermore, it can help a person become more skeptical of "demonization" in general, thus less vulnerable to propaganda. As Tim Maroney explained in Hekate and the Satanic School:
The veneration of demons is not, as is commonly believed, the "worship of evil", but an escape from the authoritarian mentality of "us vs. them", of allies and enemies, of repressive and arbitrary regulations expressed for power itself rather than for the general interest, of good and evil as absolute forces in the world rather than as subjective judgments applied to human behavior
In his article Understanding the Religious Reich: or, The American and World-Wide Threat of Fundamentalism, Bonewits wrote:
Unfortunately, trying to discuss religion with a Fundamentalist (and many Evangelicals) is like trying to discuss color theory with people who can only see black and white. When you try to point out, however diplomatically, that their vision is limited by their inability to see red, green, blue or yellow, they will insist that it is your view that is the limited one, because you can’t see that a black and white world view is more accurate in some ultimate way. If you suggest that the universe is more complex than their dogmatic divisions of 100% Truth vs. 100% Falsehood, they will accuse you of being dogmatic, because you refuse to concede that their dogmas might be 100% True.
Alas, if I were to get into a debate with Isaac Bonewits, it would most likely consist of me trying to tell him about all the other colors I can see besides black and white, in response to which he would most likely spend hours and hours insisting that, no, I can't possibly really be seeing all those colors, because anyone who uses the dreaded S word must be colorblind! For whatever reason, evidently it would shatter his little world to give even the slightest consideration to the plentiful evidence that he is just plain wrong.