Archives for posts with tag: atheism

Despite the Dawkinsian rise of the New Atheists, true religious rejection in contemporary society is actually fairly low. Not literally believing that two of every animal could fit on a wooden ship, or that a man could survive inside of a whale is not new, and theologians have been discussing the purpose of religious allegory since religion has been around. It is a discussion that takes place within religion, not outside of it. Beyond this theological non-argument “against” God, there are asinine claims like religion could never contribute anything like the iPhone, as if that is the purpose of religion, or even something worth striving for at all. These are not rejections of religion; these are a waste of time.

I want to talk about true rejection. Friedrich Nietzsche deconstructed the entire Christian faith and found it abhorrent. Nietzsche wasn’t rejecting God qua God, he was rejecting an entire social order that a belief in God entailed. “God is dead” was the death of Christian morals, beliefs, social norms, and institutions, and that void where God-as-institution used to be is what Nietzsche set out to fill. Nietzsche sought to take the power that resided in God and install it into man (yes, man, Nietzsche is quite famous for his misogyny). Not just any man, as Nietzsche believed that the pussification of Europe had created the 19th century equivalent of the cuck (soyboy? I think I’m falling behind in my alt-right slang…), but a future man who would rise above the beta herd: the Übermensch.


The Alphamensch

A slightly earlier contemporary of Nietzsche, who rejected religion with just as much enthusiasm, was Mikhail Bakunin. However, rather than a Promethean heist of power from God, Bakunin saw the religious subservience to God mirrored in subservience to the state, and, recognizing the oppression in both, rejected the notion of power entirely. Not necessarily authority, as he says that when it comes to matters of the railway, for instance, he defers to the engineer, but he would never allow the engineer power over himself. Bakunin saw the same problems as Luther, but rather than try to rectify the problem with more God, he wanted to pull it out by the root.

If someone follows the rules without question because they perceive some degree of moral infallibility in their authors, whether they are the secular laws of the state, traditional social mores, or the divine scriptures of revelation, then they possess religious fervor essentially indistinguishable from any other fundamentalists. Atheism means questioning the face of religion regardless of the mask it wears. Given how religion was founded in power (power over morals, the family model, social hierarchy, sexuality, and so on), if we reject religion, that power has to go somewhere, and allowing it to disperse throughout other institutions is just infusing religion into other aspects of our lives; rejecting it becomes absurd hypocrisy.


I’m against gay marriage. Not for religious reasons, I just think the institution of marriage is sacred. I am basing this on literally nothing.

Nietzsche’s vision is Hobbesian in nature. He believed enemies were more important than friends, and a friend that wouldn’t stab you in the back wasn’t worth having at all. The continuous warfare between “friends” was supposed to keep the Übermensch in top form, I guess until he slips up and takes a blade between the vertebrae. The lives of others are supposed to only be seen as instrumental to the Übermensch’s goals, since the only thing worth having is power, and we should all live, constantly striving for more. Like with Hobbes, it seems the only way there could be any form of social cohesion is if the most Über of all the mensches can seize power, might making right, and use his totalitarian control to ruthlessly enforce his will until one of his “friends” overthrows him in a vicious coup. This libertarian wet dream (minus the social cohesion) is one possible direction we could follow if we decide to take God’s power and make it our living goal.

Luckily there are alternatives. What would abolishing power look like? Bakunin’s vision had societies organizing their institutions democratically. Industry would be managed by its employees. There would be no state government because Bakunin believed that we could collectively run our own affairs without overarching regulations so long as everyone had an equal say. Bakunin’s methods for achieving this utopia may be even more violent than anything Nietzsche might conceive, but the vision itself for a world without God is certainly much more palatable.


Communism ≠ Anarchism, but this image is just amazing.

Regardless of your approach, be it Nietzschean or Anarchistic, rejecting God requires recognizing the multifaceted power that historically has belonged to God. Institutions that rely on power require justification for that power; without God, scrutiny becomes a social necessity, lest we fall into hypocritical dogmatism.

What does it mean to be an atheist? Many people conflate atheism with scientism, the unabashed fellatio of scientific idealism. The universe is provably more ancient than 6000 years old, therefore God does not exist. Beyond scientism, atheism is often confused with Western-centrism. Women wearing head coverings are being oppressed, therefore God does not exist. However, being an atheist isn’t simply being a contrarian who establishes their beliefs solely as oppositional to religious and cultural dogma, it is its own unique belief set. And I do mean a full set of beliefs because true atheism requires more than just a belief in the lack of a God or gods.

Friedrich Nietzsche, as I’m sure everyone knows, is the guy who said that God is dead. Unfortunately, this has become a meaningless phrase to be scribbled on the inside of a bathroom stall, typically followed by the equally useless retort, “Nietzsche is dead – God.” Taken out of context, the quotation just seems like a badass way of saying there is no God, but the ‘death’ motif is not used simply because Nietzsche is metal as fuck. It is very deliberate. Let’s look at the full context, from the book The Gay Science:

THE MADMAN—-Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: “I seek God! I seek God!”—As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated?—Thus they yelled and laughed

The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.

“How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us—for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.”

Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars—and yet they have done it themselves.

It has been related further that on the same day the madman forced his way into several churches and there struck up his requiem aeternam deo. Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but: “What after all are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?”

“God is dead” is not a celebration, nor even is it an exclamation of God’s ultimate non-being. Consider the Thomas theorem – If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences. God most certainly exists since people do define Him as real, and through that definition, His presence has material consequences on humanity unconditional to whether or not He is objectively ‘real.‘ God had been the foundation of Western civilization for centuries, and arguably still is, and therefore His non-existence is not a simple void to be filled by smug self-righteousness as shown by the townspeople in this parable (and in many atheists today, even); it is the destabilization of our entire world, plunging us into darkness. The prime basis for morality, purpose, hope, identity, and even society itself, the measurable ‘consequences’ of God, are no longer relevant; this is not some triviality to be approached with condescending mirth. This is a dirge.

Without God, our morality is flummoxed by David Hume’s Is/Ought problem. We cannot look at a state in the world and derive a moral obligation from it without first imposing a human value. For example, economic inequality is a thing that exists. Any ethical action must first be based on a value statement: equality is good, therefore measures must be put in place to redistribute the wealth, or competition is good, therefore there must be losers, therefore inequality is not inherently bad so long as competition is allowed to flourish. If there is a disagreement, it is entirely possible that no middle ground could ever be reached because each party may be working from entirely different foundational premises. If there is no objective measure of value, such as through God, then subjectivity infects moral decision making and clouds the process.

Nietzsche’s solution can be summed up quite succinctly in his own words, “Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?” This is in reference to Nietzsche’s problematic Übermensch: the being who has ascended their own humanity to become something greater. We Übermensch create our own values and disregard other opinions because we’re super great and other people are only ever means to our own ends. While certainly a solution to the problem of a now deceased diety, the sociopathy and narcissism of the Übermensch makes it less than appealing in a broad application.

There are, of course, other solutions. I have already written out my perspective on secular morality, as well as on finding meaning, so I won’t bother going over those again. For our identity, we must consider Jean-Paul Sartre’s theory, existence before essence. If our essence (the you-ness that defines you) precedes our existence, for example if we are made for a divine purpose, or we are built in such a way that we are driven in a particular direction (eg. toward God/goodness), then we as individuals can never define ourselves as we are limited by an essence predetermined by outside forces. If existence precedes essence however, then we can fully define ourselves based on our conscious choices and freedom. We must endure the responsibility of building ourselves, which is no small task to bear.

This is why agnosticism cannot work. If there is no God, then answers to these questions must be found through secular means, and if there is a God or gods, then the answers would be provided there. Agnostics, those who sit on the fence between these two positions, cannot offer any solution because there is no solid foundation of faith upon which it can be built. Descartes was only able to overcome his doubt to build the infrastructure of his philosophy when he realized there was an all-powerful God whom he knew would never deceive him. How can you build an identity if you are ambivalent as to whether your purpose has been predetermined by some divine force (God, fate, etc.) or not? If there is a God or gods, then presumably their impact on the universe ought to be acknowledged, and answers would need to be derived from within that paradigm. Even Nietzsche, despite his often harsh criticism of religions, admired that they at least offered answers, even if those answers were now obsolete.

New Atheism, as proselytized by the likes of Richard Dawkins and company, is partially responsible for this diversion away from building identity, hope, meaning, etc. toward an atheism that mostly insults the intelligence of religious individuals, possibly as a continuation of the post-modernist trend to deconstruct ideologies rather than create solutions. Really though, people have been complaining about the inconsistencies and implausibilities in religion since Xenophanes 2500 years ago. Criticizing religion based on reason achieves little because what separates religion from atheism isn’t the illogical myths, it’s the promulgation of answers to these existential questions that atheists must answer for themselves if they wish to maintain coherence in their godless world view.

Post-script: Yes, atheism is a faith. Consider our senses, and how terrible they all are. Our eyesight is poor, our hearing is garbage; none of them are remotely close to being the best in the animal kingdom. We rely on our massive brains to distinguish ourselves from an otherwise entirely mediocre body. However, it is incredibly naive to think that our brains are perfect considering how sub-par the rest of us is. To think that we even have the capacity to have full, universal understanding is beyond egotistical. More likely is we don’t. If we consider that there must be something that exists beyond our cognizable capacity, as there quite reasonably may be, then to claim complete atheism requires just as much faith as there does to claim that there is a God that exists within that realm. You might reasonably claim that because this realm by definition exists outside our capacity to understand it, we could never coherently speak about it, and you’re right. That’s where faith comes in.

Normally I like to direct my condemnations toward atheistic and secular modes of thinking. Not because those beliefs are wrong, but because I think there should be more critical thinking in that area outside of the typical “godless, amoral monsters” attack that is too easily repudiated. The God-Shaped Hole argument has some validity, but that’s another blog for another day.

Today I’m going to bat for the other team, and give a couple of examples of things I find wrong with religion specifically, that don’t exist outside of the religious realm.

The first issue I have with religion is the hypocrisy. This centres mostly around morality:  religion is, at its foundations, a strict guide on how to behave. However, as I illustrate in my previous blog post ( we choose our own moral code, and the rules of holy scripture become less of a rigid set of ethics, and more of a timid suggestion.

This wouldn’t be as much of a problem if people admitted that they were using those rules as suggestion rather than as stone cold fact. But this is not often the case, and people will defend adamantly that they are absolutely correct in their way of thinking because their way has fancy words like “Thou” and “Shalt” in it. This is despite these people either glossing over or downright ignoring the Thous and the Shalts that contradict some of their other firmly-held beliefs.

Atrocities may be committed in the name of secularism and atheists may hold atrocious beliefs, but since they don’t have a rule book that says otherwise, it can’t be considered a hypocrisy.

The other issue that I have with religion is the notion that only things that make us miserable can be considered morally acceptable, and if it feels good then it must be wrong. This is of course an exaggeration, but it’s still true to some extent. There is the puritanism, the guilt, the asceticism, and in the extremes we have the self-flagellation, the sexual mutilation, etc. associated with religion, and because of that association, these are seen as morally proper conduct.

This stems from the belief that religion should be a restraint on the natural urges of human desire, and yes, some restraint is a good thing. But humanity seems to like taking things way, way too seriously, and because of this , this way of thinking has far surpassed reasonable levels. It has even gotten to the point where we have secular beliefs that have been created by this “misery leads to morality, and pleasure leads to sin” way of life, such as sex is bad, drugs are bad, and veganism is somehow a good thing.

I’m not advocating hedonism, but religion’s restraint on basic human urges and desires needs to be examined a little more thoroughly. WHY do we slut-shame? WHY is marijuana illegal? It wasn’t secular thinking that led to these beliefs, and yes, an argument can be made that patriarchal cultures lead to slut-shaming, but where did the belief that sex is wrong come from in the first place?

When I think about critiques of religion, and there are many, I always think of John Lennon asking us to imagine a world without religion, and I do, and I believe most of those critiques would still be around. However, I don’t know if these two issues that I have raised would be. There are obviously moral regulations that people can be hypocritical about in secular circles, but no ethical rules are as absolutist as religious ones, which makes the hypocrisy that much more apparent. And you know, maybe humanity would find a way to severely oppress our natural desires outside of religion, or maybe we would simply be content oppressing ourselves in other ways, but who knows.

Who knows?


Post-script: I’m not saying that religious ethical beliefs are bad. I’m saying that embracing some and renouncing others is hypocritical if you also suggest that all of those rules are good and proper. Also, vegans, I’m just teasing you. Hugs and kisses!