Across this past decade, I have often asked of the air, “What the cock is it with atheism?”. Being nitrogen, oxygen and argon, the air is ill-equipped to answer. As are atheists. I have read their books which do not provide answers as to why I should be bothered actively opposing God. Their unsatisfying explanations include “because humanism”, “people are dying in wars made entirely from religion” and “FLYING SPAGHETTI MONSTER”.
I wanted to have a little look at how atheists are, in fact, themselves deluded if they believe God to be a force of such foundational importance, He needs enemies. It is my view that He is dead and that atheism is about as urgently needed as a force for cultural good as McCarthyism.
Atheists are attempting to dilute the potency of a force that is already just homeopathic strength.
Now. I do understand that secularism is a decent enough aim. While I don’t think the matter of separation of religion from our public institutions is as pressing as, say, the loss of our public institutions, I can see that it has some merit.
For mine, the greatest threat to what remains of our liberties is not religious moralising but the moralising effects of a global market. And I really can’t see how anyone can see that, say, Islamist soldiers or apparently religious politicians in liberal democracies are not formed and motivated much more by trade and economic conditions than they are by the idea of God.
But, you know, if you want to spend all your time scrubbing the last trace of religion out of everything, go for it. I guess. There are worse hobbies.
But I don’t know if there are hobbies more pitiful than the posturing of atheism itself.
Arguments for or against the existence of God are NOT compelling. They are embarrassing. I cringe when I think of Christopher Hitchens, whom I once found very funny, give himself over to the cheap entertainment of formal atheism. He said things that he would not have tolerated from an undergraduate to an audience who slaver for cruelty. An audience who would rather spend their time making easy, easy, easy fun at not-terribly-powerful people for kicks.
“Hahaha flying spaghetti monster” is such a crock. It might feel great to deride the faith of others but if it is done—as it is so often—as a form of intellectual sport, then its participants can only be seen as defeated.
Because, really, the haven’t read the playbook. They don’t seem to know that God is already dead.
It was more than three hundred years ago that God first became unwell. Your basic atheist might know Descartes as a proto-scientist whose methodical doubt was used to “prove” the existence of God. But, the thing is, Descartes had no choice but to come up with that conclusion. If he had published his Meditations—the stuff that accelerated us into an age of Reason—with the thought that God was already dead, then he would have himself been quickly found dead.
Like Locke and other important Enlightenment philosophers, Descartes had to hedge. He had to say, in delivering to the world a shocking new thing like Reason which took its cue from doubt rather than from faith, that God still existed. And so did Locke, the honourary founding father of America. Read Locke. He says that it is no longer supernatural laws that govern the world but natural laws.
This is a monumental shift.
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, God began to die. The men who killed him were forced to animate his corpse for a while to ensure their own survival. But this new age, which then chugged into industry, had already started the process of taking those old supernatural laws out of the minds of everyday people.
By the time we get to the middle of the nineteenth century, great thinkers could already see that God had changed in the minds of the faithful. Even Karl Marx was impatient with atheists. In 1842, he wrote a letter suggesting that there should be less trifling with atheism “which reminds one of children, assuring everyone who is ready to listen to them that they are not afraid of the bogey man”.
So in mucking about with God, atheists were reviving an idea that had already died.
By the time Nietzsche arrived and told every fucker who would listen that Good and Evil were things with a history, it had become quite clear that morals were not universal but something with a genealogy. THERE IS NO SUPERNATURAL FORCE, said Nietzsche and he echoed, as great thinkers are wont to do, the spirit of his times. God was just dead, he said. You’d think the atheists would have got the message that their efforts in removing a God that no longer functioned as a reality principle were not needed.
By the time Freud called religion an effect of the unconscious mind needing to deal with the oceanic feeling of being alive, you’d think they might have learned that they had nothing to say.
But, no. Apparently. Despite the fact that there is hard evidence that religion functions as a sort middle-manager for political-economic interests and despite the fact that the greatest minds of the last three hundred years have all observed how God had already died as a thing that influences everyday people, these fucking idiot atheists are still banging on. Still telling the bogeyman that he doesn’t exist.
I am just going to say it again: religion is no longer an organising principle or force. It is simple a means to convey and conceal more powerful ideology.
Now, I will say that atheism has had some accidental value. When the Four Horsemen (Dennett, Harris, Hitchens and Dawkins) started their millennial roadshow, some people started considering the basic and crucial thought that there are ideas that influence our behaviour; that there are central organising principles on which our everyday transactions are predicated.
The bright ones went on to read backwards in time and then syntheise theories for themselves about how power works. The bright ones went on to see that Hitch was out to whore his erudition in the years before his death.
The dumb ones went on to say “haha flying spaghetti monster” and fund videos that, presumably, will go on to say “haha flying spaghetti monster”.
Atheism actually annoys me now so much more than faith. True faith, as much as I don’t have it. is now something that is a radical act. Honestly, I think someone trying to live their life in a truly Jesuit way, for example, is pretty good compared to the way most people live their lives.
I am personally not a foundationalist of any sort. I do not believe in God or gender or the primacy of language or the “human spirit”. I believe in struggling to find post-humanist ethics and to revive the good parts left of Reason and in shifting power to make a more pleasant world for the people doomed to live. And central to this sort of necessarily messy thinking is that power, like hope, is everywhere that certainty isn’t.
Power is wielded most effectively by true cynics. If you think those truly powerful conservatives who declare their their faith in God chiefly because they have faith in God, you are quite wrong. For powerful cynics, God is a convenience. And religion is a means of legitimising power.
That’s all it is for the genuinely powerful, though. If it were not religion, then it would be another handy organising principle. And in many cases, it is. Think about the current horror in Australia’s detention camps; here, religion is not used as a means to justify horror. Instead, we are told that Rational Policy, the mutant descendent of Cartesian thought, is a way to explain horror.
Reason, like religion, can function as a rationale for power. And in attacking religion or reason, all we are doing is attacking the rationale. Not the power itself.
I have written these thoughts down quickly and I am unsure if they will be of any use. But please, at least, understand that my shambolic account of atheism as impotent is based in some reading on the matter and perhaps before you think about committing yourself to donating to it or believing that AWFUL nonsense about secular humanism, you should maybe read and think as well.
Most of the great books on the subject are now freely available online. Because people wrote about the death of God so long ago, all of these books are now out of copyright.
And so, let’s abandon the old idea of atheism, too. It is a useless protest to a bogeyman well past his expiration date.