Critical thinking is crucial to our never-ending pursuit of knowledge. This is true in the context of science, as well as our personal lives. Insatiable curiosity motivates us, and evidence is paramount. There is no blind faith here.
For many of us, it can be easy to let ideas like “critical thinking” or “the pursuit of knowledge” become parroted talking points rather than sincere motivation. The definition of critical thinking is the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment. In practice, you’ll find that many people have a much easier time applying their version of critical thinking when it’s being directed at something they disagree with or have a natural skepticism of. It’s far more rare to see it applied thoroughly to one’s own ideas, which is a core principle of the scientific method. Evidence is paramount, after all.
As for the overarching pursuit of knowledge, it benefits every aspect of our lives and drives the advancement of society. If you need to build a shelter, find food, write a computer program, raise a child, or launch a rocket into orbit, the first step is always going to be the pursuit of knowledge. Phrasing it as “the pursuit of knowledge” has a grandiose ring to it, but it’s something many of us do to varying degrees on a daily basis. Reading a book, article, or magazine is a common example. Taking classes online or in person. Watching How-To videos on the internet. Traveling. Having conversations with a diverse range of people, and of course, asking questions. These are all effective methods. Most of us are born with an insatiable curiosity, and it’s important to hold on to as much of that as we possibly can.
As children, we’re driven by this excitement and curiosity. Parents can attest to the avalanche of why questions that they are so often bombarded with. Kids have such an enthusiastic desire to absorb new information, experiences, and sensory input. Imagine a world where almost everything is completely new. Of course they’re excited about it! Surely you’d want to get a little closer to that thing and touch it. Open it up and see how it works. What does it do? Why does it do that? What can we do with it? What happens if we do this? As life moves on, we gain knowledge even when we’re not conscious that it’s happening. And as the decades pass, it’s easy enough to become desensitized. We gain a comfortable understanding of how things work, our strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. There’s also important work to be done, like washing the dishes or catching up on the latest depressing world news. With all of that going on, who has time to bother with new hobbies or challenges? Put simply, the people who value those things enough, will make time. And they will be much better off having done so.
Critical thinking is a skill or a habit that should be developed and nurtured because it has so many benefits. It allows you to analyze the pros and cons of different options in order to make informed decisions. It helps you identify the root cause of problems, and find effective solutions. By questioning assumptions and thinking critically about problems or obstacles, you’re able to come up with more creative solutions, and enhancing creativity is always a great benefit. Critical thinking also helps you express your ideas clearly and logically, which can make you a more effective communicator. And if you’re interested in greater personal and social responsibility, thinking critically about issues enables you to take a more active and responsible role in your own life and in the world around you. Developing the skills for this isn’t necessarily very difficult, it’s mostly a matter of altering some behaviors and building new mental habits. That’s easier said than done, of course. But it’s well within reach for most of us if we’re dedicated to self-improvement.
One of the ways I’ve forced myself to make a conscious change in behavior relates to the type of media I consume. Specifically, I’ve allowed myself to listen to perspectives that were previously off limits. As a teenager, my relatively limited life experiences up to that point led me to identify and register as a member of one political party. As all good American political participants do, I attached that to my identity on some level, and that meant that the people on the other team were the enemy. In the same way that you probably think of yourself, I knew that I was inherently good, and that my views were the right ones. Those on the other side were misguided, wrong, or even downright evil. After gaining a few extra decades of wisdom, I realized that the people on the other team felt the exact same way, that they are right and good. It takes a certain level of egotism to assume that all of the intelligent good people just happen to be aligned with you and your views. Eliminating that fallacious assumption is a great first step.
It probably started by accident for me. I played a video or a podcast that included someone with views that are generally associated with the opposing political team, and a shocking thing happened. They made sense. They said some things I agreed with. I was genuinely surprised, and I felt some uncomfortable cognitive dissonance creep in. Intrigued by this unlikely experience, I followed up to see what else they had to say. And as it turned out, they fit the same description as all of the people on my own team, which is to say that I agreed with some of what they had to say, but not all of it. In fact, that same description fits everyone in my life, and maybe the whole world. If I ever find someone who mirrors all of my opinions and perspectives, I’ll never need to speak to them at all. How utterly boring it would surely be.
But of course I didn’t stumble into anything new or groundbreaking. Sun Tzu popularized the concept of “know your enemy” a long time ago. The Art of War emphasized understanding the strengths and weaknesses of one’s enemies in order to defeat them. Even if your goal isn’t to defeat anyone in some kind of competition or debate, the importance of being aware of and understanding the motivations, beliefs, and tactics of those who are opposing you can’t be overstated. I would also suggest that our counterparts from across the aisle are not our enemy. Ignorance is the enemy. If absorbing information from the opposition furthers our understanding of the world, gives additional perspective, and strengthens our own arguments and beliefs, then we certainly shouldn’t consider them our enemy. They are a valuable resource that should be utilized.
While getting familiarized with opposing viewpoints is clearly a great benefit, it isn’t the only one. Another valuable part of this is getting to experience how the opposition sees you. If you live in a bubble of similar voices all aligned with your own, you’ll never get to understand how that resonates with the rest of the world. When the red team speaks, what does the blue team take from it? What reaction does it cause? What holes are they poking in the arguments? Are the counter-arguments valid? This is all extremely important if one is to gain a more complete understanding. As the scientific method dictates, it’s crucial that your information be challenged.
While it’s fairly obvious that critical thinking and the pursuit of knowledge are good things generally, and for the reasons mentioned, that doesn’t exactly make them satanic. As with each of the values associated with Outsider Satanism, what makes them satanic is a connection to satanic philosophy or the character of Satan as depicted in one form or another throughout time. For example, in the Christian Bible, Satan is portrayed in a negative light. However, he is also depicted as a tempter who challenges people to think critically and question their beliefs. Those are traits that are central to Outsider Satanism.
When it comes to Satanic philosophy, Anton LaVey’s Satanic Bible can’t be ignored, despite all of its abundant silliness. In The Book of Satan Anton wrote “I question all things. As I stand before the festering and varnished facades of your haughtiest moral dogmas, I write thereon in letters of blazing scorn: Lo and behold; all this is fraud!” He also added that “The truth alone has never set anyone free. It is only DOUBT which will bring mental emancipation.” When you dig through Anton’s dramatic delivery, what you’re left with is essentially question everything. The Satanic Temple has also made brief mention of it, stating “Satanists should actively work to hone critical thinking and exercise reasonable agnosticism in all things.” As you can see, the inclusion of critical thinking has long been a part of Satanic philosophy.
Critical thinking and the pursuit of knowledge are central in Anatole France’s The Revolt of the Angels. Satan is portrayed as a proud, intelligent character who becomes disillusioned with God and the hierarchical structure of heaven. In the story, Satan begins to question the fairness of the celestial order and the motives of God. One of the primary characteristics of Satan in the story is his intelligence and curiosity. He is described as being the most intelligent and wise of all the angels, and he is driven by a desire to further his understanding of the universe. He is also deeply critical of the way that the angels are treated by God, and he believes that they are being used simply for the glory of God. In the end, the novel suggests that the pursuit of knowledge is a fundamental aspect of being human and that critical thinking and questioning are essential to true understanding and enlightenment.
Despite the fact that both Church of Satan and The Satanic Temple advocate for critical thinking to some degree, the communities that have developed around each of them have attracted large numbers of people who seem unable or unwilling to apply any real critical thinking to the organizations themselves or the philosophies they were built upon. Of course this doesn’t describe all of the members of those groups, but far too many of them. It seems strange that people attracted to something at least partially built upon critical thinking would behave this way, but that’s how it’s turned out. A primary reason for this contradiction is the issue of ego and identity. Often enough, the type of person that becomes attracted to Satanism feels like an outsider in one way or another. When they find Satanism, and especially when they get a glimpse of a functioning Satanic community, they see hope. They get a taste of acceptance, maybe for the first time, and it creates a bond and a sense of loyalty. Many people are discovering Satanism after negative, unsatisfactory, or even abusive experiences with other religions. Now they’ve stumbled upon a goldmine of what they assume are like-minded peers. They often latch on, and identify with that particular organization or philosophy in a meaningful, sincere way. For some it can feel like the family they never had. And for many, it becomes an integral part of their identity.
What happens when criticism is aimed at your family? Or at the very thing that you attach your identity to? For many, the most natural reaction is to defend. An immediate, knee-jerk defense. Because of your loyalty or allegiance, that criticism can feel like a personal attack, so it’s understandable. However, it’s incredibly important to be conscious of this and avoid falling into it. It can also be embarrassing. Imagine, you discover an exciting new Satanic organization. You watch a documentary about all of the important projects they’re working on, and you’re exposed to all of these interesting, relatable characters. You want to be part of it! So you join them. You absorb all of their messaging, donate your spare money to the cause, and participate in as many of their happenings as you possibly can. You’re finally a part of a thriving Satanic community! Then, someone shows up in your corner of the internet lobbing all kinds of harsh criticism, accusations, and unfavorable facts at your beloved brand of Satanism. How would you react? Would you immediately begin researching all of the accusations with a completely neutral open mind? Or would you simply write them off as a hater, or acting in bad faith? If you found that the unfortunate accusations were true, would you be willing to do a total 180, and renounce your support for the organization? Or would your bias lead you to excuse the behavior in ways that you wouldn’t normally, in order to save face (known as the sunk-cost fallacy)?
Regardless of which side your emotions default to, you absolutely must use critical thinking and avoid bias. And without question, you have biases. When it comes to nearly every imaginable topic, we all have some inherent bias based on all of the experiences and information you’ve collected throughout your life thus far. And of course, all of that information is valuable. Those things are an important part of the overall wisdom you possess. You wouldn’t want to abandon the value of your own experiences and wisdom, but the importance of finding a healthy balance between relying on your experiences and remaining open to new information cannot be emphasized enough. These scenarios only touch on a tiny sliver of where we can and should apply critical thinking, but it feels relevant based on my experiences in Satanic communities.
When you find yourself presented with risky, uncomfortable, valid information, be like Eve in the Garden of Eden. Eat of the forbidden fruit of knowledge every chance you get.