“The entire devil is found here: in the desire to exclude God, in the desire to always be by himself, to always belong only to himself, to be entirely within himself and always for himself, to be forever hermetically sealed in opposition to God and everything that belongs to God.” + St. Justin Popovich
I was never an atheist. I could not, no matter how hard I tried, disbelieve in God. I have always believed, to the point where God’s existence seemed to me to be simple fact (this often contributed to my complete confusion regarding how one could be an atheist at all). This kind of faith can be both a blessing and a burden, and influenced my intensely anti-Christian, antitheistic worldview.
When a friend of mine who was a practicing pagan asked me whether I actually believed in God, I said “Yes, I do. It’s just that I am against Him.” This frightened her – that, and the fact that I wore an inverted cross around my neck, which she considered a form of extreme negative energy. Her general commentary consisted of a kind of fear and worry for the state of my life. And this was not coming from a Christian of any kind, but someone who identified with Wicca, and it.
Since I could not not believe in God, I wrestled and struggled with the concept instead. I absolutely hated God, or at least my conception of Him. To me, God was a cruel tyrant, a sociopathic power-monger who went so far as to butcher His Son in a kind of self-pity display. My view of God was aptly encapsulated by the death metal band Immolation in the artwork for their album Failures for Gods. In the art, Jesus Christ was depicted as an emaciated leperous being beckoning terrified humans to their doom. In effect, it was seduction through fear. The key to the picture was that behind the mask of the suffering Christ was the devil, strong and empowered appearing. This art completely captured how I felt about Christ – that His sole reason for His being crucified was to give an excuse to punish us for not feeling sorry for Him. I know it sounds distorted and truly, it is.
I was an antitheist, and a rather rabid one at that, knee-deep in the culture of satanic black metal wherein I drowned myself in the nastiest, most underground and cult bands I could find. I wasn’t just against Christianity; I hated it. In fact, I viewed it as the supreme evil on earth. God dwelled somehow just behind the veil of empirical reality, trembling with hatred and barely holding Himself back from punishing humanity. Mercy was non-existent. And so, my motto was “With my art, I am the fist in the face of God,” garnered from black metal band Darkthrone’s song “To Walk the Infernal Fields.” My life, I decided, would be this fist. Oddly (considering black metal subculture usually gravitated towards fascism), I was an ardent fan of the anarchist philosophers such as Mikhail Bakunin and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.
Bakunin described the devil as “the eternal rebel, the first freethinker and emancipator of worlds,” (qtd in Fr. Seraphim Rose, Nihilism) and this is precisely how I viewed him. This sympathetic view of Satan is something adopted by many these days who probably have no idea what it is that they are implicitly standing for. I suspect that, in the black metal subculture, bands such as Watain and Deathspell Omega saw the fakery and satanic posturing that many bands (and perhaps fans) had fallen into, thus accounting for their “religious” or “orthodox” satanic theology that informed their music and lives. The “religious” black metal scene was and is deadly serious – the devil is not a joke to these people.
Ironically, it was bands like this that began to change my mind about my own satanic posturing. The last black metal CD I ever bought was Deathspell Omega’s Kenose, a disc full of such horrific aural evil that I began to really reconsider what it was I was into. Somehow the dark acts and crimes committed in 90’s Norway by members of Mayhem and Emperor didn’t shock me enough; nor did the reading of Lords of Chaos, a particularly vivid account of the black metal subculture and its sordid, violent history.
The appeal for me in black metal was not exactly its cold emotionless evil, but rather, its intense passion. Every fibre of the movement was anti-Christian, and it fed my hate. Black metal culture seemed a giant flip-off to the fakery and showy nature of mainstream heavy metal; as I remember Darkthrone once remarking, black metal had far more in common with punk than metal. And even though many in the black metal scene were intensely hostile towards each other, there was still a sense of brotherhood in the agreed-upon hatred of all things Christian. My last words to a friend as I left my hometown of 19 years were “Fight Christ,” and I meant it. Christ was the ultimate nemesis, and even though I knew it was a losing battle, it was a lost cause worth going down for.
By the time I reset my life and moved halfway across the country to start fresh, I was roughly 100 lbs., with skin tinted green with toxins. I was a venomous, hateful early 20-something who could barely hear the mention of Jesus without wanting to spit. I hated nearly everything and everyone, including myself. Somehow, in the midst of it all, I viewed myself rather pathetically as some kind of rebel.
I’m sure you get the picture. Now, as an Orthodox Christian, I have a completely different picture of those days of mine. Fr. John Romanides, a modern theologian I have learned is much-maligned by non-Orthodox, writes: “Those who oppose God’s will are enemies of God and see God as an enemy in spite of the reality of God’s friendship and love towards them. It is because of their hardship that the love, friendship, the deifying grace and glory and kingdom and place of God reach the unrepentant enemies and the fallen angels as eternal fire, outer darkness, and place of torture.”
This was my life. I felt tremendous pain within myself everyday. I felt like a worm pinned under a fork, being tortured with a lit flame. I tossed and turned, writhed and fought with every inch of my being the chasing, incessantly hunting God that sought me in the darkest depths of a Hell of which I was the chief architect. The more I fought God, the more pain I was in, the more dead I felt. It was all rooted in an intense pride, a pride that sought to have me exalt myself above God Himself by declaring him to be a tyrant, unjust in the extreme.
The devil, whom I had almost in some bizarre sense “befriended”, left me a shell of my former self. I was starving, hateful and nihilistic, a spiritual and physical weakling. I think in hindsight, “Despite the darkness and the laziness, I called.” (Pope Shenouda III)2