[Ryan] ‘LUZ’: Romance and Devilry

When I was 18 I had a crush on a Catholic girl. The relationship was doomed from the get-go, which is why there was no relationship and there was no get-go. My family, going back for generations, is Southern Baptist on my mom’s side – that is, Shi’ite Baptist; that is, “there’s-a-direct-line-leading-back-to-Calvary-and-it’s-filled-with-Baptists”-styled Baptists.

You pull out a graph and show the direct (or indirect) lineage from Roman Catholicism to Anglicanism to Separatism to Puritanism to the Particular Baptists and so on and so forth, and you get nothing. They don’t blink. Landmarkism is quite the drug.

Or, you take it another way: You trace the line from Roman Catholicism to John Wycliffe to John Hus to Petr Chelčický to Conrad Grebel to Balthasar Hubmaier to Pilgram Marpeck to Menno Simmons, to the old “Anabaptists” to their somewhat-less-pacifistic and considerably-less-exclusionary descendants, you get the same. Nothing. Southern Baptists trace back to Calvary because Southern Baptists trace back to Calvary, and we know that, of course, because Southern Baptists trace back to Calvary.

That is to say, not an inch is given to the possibility that Catholics are regenerate. It’s a zero-sum game. You’re Catholic or you’re Christian.

They’ll grant that other Protestant sects may in fact be legitimate expressions of “the faith once delivered,” but it’s a tenuous concession, and it’s always contingent upon the Protestantism of its object.

That is to say, there was no version of this where I was going to date (and potentially marry) a Catholic girl without pulling my family apart at the seams.

That’s an exaggeration. My Shi’ite Baptist relatives are Shi’ite in the way that Shi’ites have been Shi’ite for the bulk of history: That is, generously; more receptive to difference and dissent than you’d ever guess at the outset; generally welcoming, if abrasively so; they are the Right Wing of the Right Wing, but they’d do anything for anybody, just about, including the folks the Late Night News Programs have taught them to fear and disdain and vote ill-advisedly against the interests of.

They would have adjusted, had I married (as they see it) “outside the faith,” as they are currently adjusting with several other family members who did exactly that; but it would have “shaken things up,” and I doubt – at 18 – that I was anywhere within hailing distance of being mature enough to manage their disapproval with patience and grace.

I mention all of this because Luz is a film about a devil on the prowl for a Catholic girlfriend.

*

Satan, and his co-workers, have become cartoon characters, more or less. There have been some serious academic tomes on the subject and a handful of worthy “Catholic horror movies,” but all around the subject is a wasteland. If we once fixated past the point of advisability on “how many angels could dance on the head of a pin,” we’ve swung the other way, and with a vengeance.

We invoke the devil when we’re passing the blame for our actions (“The Devil Made Me Do It”) and not much else and, as a result, don’t give much thought to the subjectivity of the “prince of the power of the air,” as Paul names him in Ephesians. That’s what Luz is doing.

It’s a character study, you could say, not of any “character,” per se, but a kind of Sub-Personal Force that underlies the action we watch on screen.

We open in a diner. A young woman approaches a drunk doctor. They talk, and then kiss, and then talk, and then the woman stops being a woman – for a time, she stops being anything, she passes her subjectivity to the doctor in a bathroom stall not unlike how Jason Voorhees leaps from body to body in the much-maligned film Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday.

The doctor goes to visit a patient locked in a conference room at a police station, as these things go. He is the doctor, but he isn’t the doctor – he’s dormant hardware co-opted by malignant software, some devil on the prowl for something, for some reason.

The doctor’s meant to do an examination, but his examination plays more like hypnosis: the girl keeps chanting some dark incantation so the cops stage a procedure to probe the interiors of her mind and find what’s going on, and why, and how. It does not go as planned, since the doctor is the devil and not the doctor, and all hell – quite literally – breaks loose. One officer is mangled and another is barricaded in a sound booth and the devil and his swarm of host-bodies take the girl in hand and profess their love.

A happy ending, I guess, or something, and certainly an interesting one considering the implications: Devilry is lonely; whatever else it might be, it is not satisfied; it does not get the job done.

To be a devil is to follow your appetites wherever they might take you, unconstrained by “norms” or “moral order.” That’s how devils become devils, according to Milton.

The Bible doesn’t say a whole lot about any of this, but we can deduce a fair amount from the scraps that fall from the table. You don’t have to buy the Milton narrative wholesale to buy that Satan, at his core, is what happens when God’s “creative energy” – given to us, and everything, at our creation, by his good pleasure, to go forth and give life and shape and joy to everything, all the time, everywhere, simply because, because it’s good to exist, and it’s good to enjoy, and it’s good to share, and it’s good to do and to make – when this overwhelming “creative energy” bursts at the seams outside God’s good “Moral Order,” his good “Creative Design,” his “Benevolent Desire for the Flourishing of All Things” all the time; when “creative energy” is not directed by benevolent energy, we become satan.

We become “satanic” by Sataning. LaVeyan satanism, by virtue of its connection to Ayn Rand, bears some testimony to this in the sense that it fetishizes autonomy for its own sake. But, even then, LaVeyan satanism fetishizes a different sort of autonomy than that pursued by Satan himself. For Anton, there are limits to autonomy. Autonomy is not “be-all-end-all,” not really, because your autonomy ends where someone else’s autonomy begins.

Fair enough, but why should it? I agree that it should – but why? Because “creative energy” must be directed by benevolent energy, evidently, but that’s outside the purview of Satan. Anton LaVey directs the “creative energy” he so vociferously claims with a “benevolent energy” he has no particularly good reason to embrace as authoritative. Once you subjugate your “autonomy” to “benevolence,” you’ve embraced something like a moral order.

You’ve embraced a telos you did not create and can scarcely enforce and can only subject yourself to or rebel against. In other words, LaVeyan Satanism is not satanic. You don’t satan as a Satanist. You’re doing a different thing. LaVey’s Satan is not Milton’s Satan, it’s barely even Rousseau.

This is a good thing. The result is that the average Satanist is a very good person, and a good neighbor, probably a good spouse, and so forth. There has been and remains an unfortunate prejudice against Satanists in the Americas, but it’s unfounded; your objections to LaVeyan Satanism are mostly aesthetic.

But it also means that, as a Satanist, you are mostly inoculated from the profound loneliness of devilry.

*

“I was watching television with Melania, and I saw Pastor Jeffress,” in Donald Trump’s retelling. “And I said, ‘Look at his mouth move! Look at how quickly that mouth moves. It’s like a machine gun! I would never want to see that used against me someday!’ ”

According to an article by Michael J. Mooney, “Trump’s campaign ask[ed] Jeffress to pray at a rally in Dallas that fall, and soon the two forge[d] what they describe as a friendship.”

Mooney continues: “Jeffress insists that theirs isn’t just a quid-pro-quo sort of friendship, a calculated, cynical partnership. He says he genuinely enjoys Trump’s company. He’d like to think they’d be friends regardless of the presidency.”

Plenty of things about Trump give Jeffress pause, but not the sort of pause it would take to drive him toward opposing him: “I ask if he at least holds Trump accountable. Does he ever criticize the president in their private meetings? “If it had happened, I wouldn’t tell you about it,” he replies, “because I just feel like friends don’t do that to one another.”

As it turns out, the fears that led Trump to reach out to Jeffress were unfounded. If Trump turned pro-Choice, or began nominating liberal SCOTUS judges, the pastor suspects that Evangelicals might turn on him. But not Jeffress himself: “These changes would be deal-breakers for evangelicals politically,” Mooney paraphrases, “but not for his own relationship with Trump.”

“I’m his friend,” [Jeffress] says. “I’ll never walk away.”

Mooney’s article changed the way I think about Jeffress. I grew up in the Dallas area. I became a Christian during the second Obama administration when Christian radio was mostly Right Wing panic and baptized victimology, with Jeffress at the forefront: Turn the radio dial on any given afternoon, and it’s likely that you’ll catch the tail end of a Jeffress sermon.

As is to be expected, I was drawn to him initially: He casts a fairly clear vision for what the Christian life is about; As Viktor Frankl might say, he maps out a rather straightforward pathway toward “meaning” that mostly anyone could follow. Per Jeffress’s narrative, Christianity is a game you can win.

But that gets old, and quickly. I remember the afternoon when, while listening to my hundred-somethingth Jefferess sermon while commuting to the Del Taco where I worked, it occurred to me that I had never – not once – heard the gospel coming forth from his pulpit; at least, not on its own terms.

The message of “Christ crucified,” it seemed, was a prop. It was jet fuel meant to make the man’s politics soar, to use a really stupid analogy: The liberals want to tell you how to earn your way to heaven by (insert Left Wing policy-proposal here), but the Bible tells us that the only way to get to heaven is by asking Jesus into your heart, et cetera.

So I cooled on Jeffress, to understate wildly. His sermons weren’t sermons, they were long-form Breitbart articles delivered weekly to an audience of the well-intentioned but wildly misled. I concluded that Robert Jeffress was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a political operative painted up like a cleric.

I think I was wrong.

Increasingly, it seems as though Jeffress is more delusional than deceptive, more naive than calculating. Jeffress genuinely thinks that Donald Trump is his friend.

But he is also wrong, probably.
Because Trump lives in hell, and hell is anathema to friendship. He seems nearly devoid of subjectivity. His experience almost purely reactive – Donald Trump is a machine that, once rigged, can seldom stop; that eats everything because it needs everything. To call a partnership with Trump a “Faustian bargain” is to understate.
Which is to say that, in “this precarious moment,” we’re governed by a paragon of cosmic loneliness – a man incapable of friendship and warmth, of unbought affection and gratuitous faithfulness. Donald Trump is what it looks like to satan.

That is to say, it is lonely to be Trump, like it’s lonely to be Satan, like it’s lonely to be the unseen daemonic force at work in Luz.

Winning the affections of a rebellious Catholic high school girl will not solve that problem any more than winning and keeping a presidency, or leaving heaven’s courts with one third of God’s angelic forces. Only the gospel, reconciliation with God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, will bring our cosmic loneliness to rest.

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