Over the past few years, I've been getting progressively more interested in a rock band called Ghost. Beyond their fantastic catalog of eclectic, metal-infused melodies, they appeal to my ex-Mormon appreciation for blasphemy and sacrilege by presenting themselves as a singing Satanic papal figure backed by a group of nameless ghouls on various instruments.
They don't sacrifice goats onstage. They're not that kind of Satanists. They're theatrical, tongue-in-cheek devil worshipers who draw upon the long, messy history of religion for inspiration in their flip-the-script lyrical style.
|[gratuitous mid-concert camera phone shot]|
Tobias Forge, Ghost's frontman who has portrayed a string of different servants of Lucifer on several tours, was recently interviewed in the New York Post and, as always, I was impressed by how insightful, how rational, and how generally non-evil he was:
The problem with religious doctrine, as with politics, because of its ability to give people authority, it has a tendency to attract people that want authority for all the wrong reasons, and that is what it has done across all time.... But, then again, in all fairness, I am not saying that there shouldn’t be faith. It’s completely different things. The belief in something bigger and supernatural is not the same thing as linear religion.
Let's compare and contrast this devil-praising shock rocker with the illustrious Dallin H. Oaks, apostle of God and heir apparent to the mantle of prophecy after Nelson:
We live in a time of greatly expanded and disseminated information. But not all of this information is true. We need to be cautious as we seek truth and choose sources for that search. We should not consider secular prominence or authority as qualified sources of truth. We should be cautious about relying on information or advice offered by entertainment stars, prominent athletes, or anonymous internet sources. Expertise in one field should not be taken as expertise on truth in other subjects.
We should also be cautious about the motivation of the one who provides information. That is why the scriptures warn us against priestcraft. If the source is anonymous or unknown, the information may also be suspect.
Our personal decisions should be based on information from sources that are qualified on the subject and free from selfish motivations.
Okay, first of all, I'm contrasting Oaks's words with the words of an "entertainment star," but the reason I have a greater degree of trust in what the musician has to say is because of the content of his statements, not the source of the statements. That's an important thing that Oaks is trying to sidestep—that stars, athletes, and anonymous internet sources can share truth. Should we assess our sources to try to make sure they're being honest? Obviously yes. Should we assume a source is wrong or selfish or dishonest if it's anything other than an LDS scripture or an LDS apostle? Obviously no. When we're seeking truth, the substance of a claim or argument should matter more than the status, vocation, or anonymity of the person presenting it.
Nowhere does this apostle say anything akin to "to be fair" or offer any kind of praise for anything he opposes. At no point does he validate the thinking behind opposing concepts. He uses the word "should" frequently to instruct behavior instead of less absolute words like "tend" that leave space for complexity. And perhaps most importantly, he refuses to acknowledge that ecclesiastical leadership is particularly attractive to people who crave authority—because he's always too busy defending his own:
Whoever exercises priesthood authority should forget about their rights and concentrate on their responsibilities.
—Obliquely smacking down Ordain Women in the April 2014 General Conference
I know that the history of the church is not to seek apologies or to give them.
—Refusing to admit in 2015 that his infallible institution had mistreated LGBT people
It's wrong to criticize the leaders of the church, even if the criticism is true.
—Responding in a 2007 documentary to clarify a less pithy version of this he taught in 1986
For further contrast, let's go back to Tobias Forge, a man who doesn't seem to present himself as an unassailable authority:
I am not against the idea of believing. I am not an atheist ... The whole institution of Christianity being based on that book, being based on the premise that he was conceived out of nowhere—it's kind of hard to believe. But on the other hand, I do believe in the idea of a historic person named Jesus that was a kind of chill dude who was just telling people to chill and be nice to each other. And he got penalized for that. So I'm not dismissing the whole thing as bullshit. But I definitely believe that tormenting other people because of the Bible and for that to be—for lack of a better word, Gospel ... I think that is not very nice.
Does he come off as absolutist and authoritarian? No. Does he seem more open-minded, more empathetic, and less obsessed with the status of his own institution than Oaks is? Absolutely.
I just think it's amusing that a man who's penned such a moving piece of musical praise to Lucifer (mostly as a parody of worship songs) is somehow more respectful, more aware of nuance, and more open to other ideas than some of God's chosen mouthpieces. But, then again, there will always be people who call evil good and good evil. Dressing up as a Satanic pope doesn't mean you can't be a thoughtful, perceptive, inclusive person—and dressing up as a Priesthood authority doesn't mean you can't be a thoughtless, uncompromising, abusive person.
Oaks is equal with parasites and moving without eyes. Ghost just wants us to come together, together as one.
That last bit probably sounds dumb to everyone except Ghost fans.