Where to begin. This is more of this.
I’ve just been reading this article at Salon, another in the well-worn “science vs religion” vein. Interesting reading, but I was fuming mad just two paragraphs in.
Christianity is not the only religion. “Religious” DOES NOT EQUAL “Christian.” Gah.
Anyway. It’s an interview with a Catholic theologian named John Haught. Mr. Haught’s current work is developing a “theology of evolution.” He’s a big critic of mega-atheists like Dawkins, Hitchens, etc. Here’s Mr. Haught (emphasis mine):
[The “old” atheists] wanted us to think out completely and thoroughly, and with unrelenting logic, what the world would look like if the transcendent is wiped away from the horizon. Nietzsche, Sartre and Camus would have cringed at “the new atheism” because they would see it as dropping God like Santa Claus, and going on with the same old values. The new atheists don’t want to think out the implications of a complete absence of deity. Nietzsche, as well as Sartre and Camus, all expressed it quite correctly. The implications should be nihilism. . . . They thought it would take tremendous courage to be an atheist. Sartre himself said atheism is an extremely cruel affair. He was implying that most people wouldn’t be able to look it squarely in the face.
I think it’s time to get out the dictionary. According to my Oxford American Dictionary, atheism is “the theory or belief that God does not exist.” Okay. And nihilism: “the rejection of all religious and moral principles, often in the belief that life is meaningless.”
Haught goes on to talk about how only theism can “justify” hope. Hope!
I’ve been having a lot of interesting conversations about religion lately, which I’ll surely blog in the future. But for now, I’m just going to use the insights from those conversation to examine Haught’s assumptions. This is what he (and religion in general) are saying to us:
- There is nothing in the world that could inspire or account for hope.
- The world — the entirety of the perceivable world — is not enough to give life meaning.
- The entire world is not enough to generate moral principles.
- The entire world is not enough.
- Atheism is “extremely cruel” and most people just can’t handle it.
These ideas are not the work of Haught, and I don’t blame him for them. They are some of the most insidious ideas in modern culture, and I fucking hate them. Seeing them laid out like they are above, the reasons to hate them should be pretty clear. Basically, they’re all founded on the deep conviction that the entire world is shit.
Why is atheism “cruel”? It’s only cruel if you find the world to be so awful, so incomplete, so lacking, that an entire separate supernal realm is the only way you can bear to live.
And let’s look at the world “supernal” for a moment — it comes from the Latin supernus meaning above. It means celestial, literally — of the sky. But its usage, quite frequently, is “of exceptional quality.”
Embedded in our very language is the idea that to be of the sky is to be inherently better. Embedded in our language, our religion, our culture is the idea that THE WORLD IS BAD and that to be very good means to be not of this world, to be of the sky.
And this idea causes pain. It causes actual, daily pain in the lives of real people. It has caused me pain. It has rung me through several existential crises and brought me to the brink of suicide one or two or twenty times.
I don’t give a shit about truth. I just don’t. The only thing I care about is suffering. The only work we have to do is the work of preventing suffering. When a culture or an idea or a religion causes suffering, we should reject it. We should replace it with ideas that cause joy and love.
If anything is evil, this is. It is wrong to tell people that everything around them is bad. It is wrong to tell people that everything they will ever taste, touch, see, hear, or smell, everything they can ever perceive, is bad, wrong, tainted, sinful, “fallen.” It is wrong to tell people that the only real goodness, that the divine, exists in another realm which is by definition unreachable.
So this is my message today: The fact that bad things exist in the world does mean that the world is bad. The logical conclusion of “some things are bad” is not “everything is bad.” Some things are good. Some things are very good. Some things are senselessly good. Some things are absurdly, unbelievably, unjustifiably, unnecessarily good. And we don’t need God or gods or John fucking Haught to tell us that.
Let the entire world be enough.
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