Are You Really Sure You Want God to be Dead?

If atheism were to achieve its “godless humanity” wish, what Huxlian Brave New World might arrive with this advent? If you’re an atheist, doesn’t this give you just a little bit of pause? Or is atheism simply a matter of truth for you, and you believe that the truth is that no mind precedes matter—and there are no gods, period—and so we should now let the chips of history simply fall where they may? But still, don’t you wonder—as a practical matter—what you are wishing for? Might it be prudent to manage religion’s current evils and work with them, as opposed to running blindly to other evils—ones born of a godless world—that we know not of?

In short, do you imagine that you can simply leave a hole in the human psyche and then, when things go bad, say, “I had nothing to do with it”? Is there any reason to think that atheism, for example, will not open the world, by the absence it generates, to other irrational horrors (as in 20th century Stalinism and Maoism)? I remember, for example, in the first year of the Iraq War, that part of the scandal of it was the Bush administration’s failure to seriously explore what would happen in Iraq after a hole in power had been generated. The museum in Baghdad was looted, religious factions fought, and Rumsfeld said, “Hey, it’s not our fault.” But that’s bullshit. You can’t break things and have nothing to replace them with. What’s atheism breaking, and what’s it replacing the broken pieces with? Stoicism? Consumerism? Communism? Capitalism? Scientism? Eugenics? A Ray Kurzweil utopia?

Speak.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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18 Responses to Are You Really Sure You Want God to be Dead?

  1. bob clapp says:

    Short answer: Theism has never been right about any question concerning the phyical universe or about biolgical life, and has never given or discovered a single medical, technical or scientific advancement.Where as science, technology and medicine have provided all of them. Long answer: Buy a copy of my book listed on my WEBSITE,or send me your address and I’ll mail you a complimentry copy.

  2. amarinaccio514 says:

    I have pondered that many times…..and have decided that it IS indeed best to let religion live on, because it satisfies the majority of the population a.k.a. the shallow end of the gene pool. Fear, morals and complacency are awesome ways of keeping “STUPID” in order. JUST GET GOD OUT OF POLITICS!!!!! AND OUT OF THE WAY!!!!!

  3. santitafarella says:

    Amarinaccio:

    The political philosopher John Gray might agree with you. I raised the questions above because I’ve been grappling with Gray. You might check out one of his books (such as “Black Mass”) at Amazon.

    —Santi

  4. santitafarella says:

    Bob:

    You sound pissed. Obviously science answers scientific questions better than religion can, but how have you arrived at such cocksuredness that there is no mind prior to matter when it comes to the beginning of the universe?

    Are you a strict materialist/naturalist? Do you think free will (for example) is an illusion? A product of blind atoms rustling in the void?

    —Santi

  5. morsec0de says:

    I wonder what you consider ‘godless humanity’ to be?

    My wish is to live in a country with a secular government. People are free to believe what they wish as long as they don’t infringe upon the rights of others.

    Obviously I’d prefer if more people were atheist, but that matters less to me than freedom.

  6. santitafarella says:

    MorsecOde:

    I’m thinking of Lennon’s song: “Imagine no religion . . .”.

    What would it be like to live in a world in which literally everyone gave up on god-belief—and was raised without god-belief—and people even gave up on hoping that there was any meaning or purpose in life (beyond what we could construct among ourselves in the short term)?

    What sorts of frissures would appear in the collective psyche, what new social dynamics? Would it be better than the diversity of religious and non-religious beliefs that jostle and contend today? I seriously doubt it. My bet is that there would be a return of the repressed (to put it in Freudian terms) and that forms of “religion” would manifest that would be every bit as psychologically complex and problematic as what we have today. UFO cults might be an example, and zealous iconoclasts like PZ Myers.

    —Santi

  7. morsec0de says:

    “What would it be like to live in a world in which literally everyone gave up on god-belief—and was raised without god-belief—and people even gave up on hoping that there was any meaning or purpose in life (beyond what we could construct among ourselves in the short term)?”

    You’re asking two entirely different questions.

    A world without god-belief is not a world without meaning. Yes, it is meaning we make for ourselves, but so what?

    I think the US, at least, would be mostly the same. Most people operate as if there is no god during the day anyway. If they all believed that all the time, we’d be a decent secular country.

  8. santitafarella says:

    MorsecOde:

    You don’t think that there is a problem of meaning in adopting atheism? Nietzsche thought there was. He thought that you had to face nihilism head-on to absorb the death of God and clear the ground completely of Christian ethics and rethink everything.

    You think Nietzsche was wrong? You think you can simply overlay your atheism with Christian ethics and Sagan Cosmos videos for “inspiration”—and call yourself a humanist—and then dance merrily forward into the godless future?

    Bread and circuses?

    —Santi

  9. morsec0de says:

    “You think you can simply overlay your atheism with Christian ethics”

    I don’t.

    A great many of my ethics, personal freedom high amongst them, are completely anti-Christian in nature. Those of my ethics that are common with Christians are those that existed long before Christianity did, and so I see those as human ethics.

    The universe and our fellow human beings provide more than enough inspiration. I need not create something supernatural to inspire me.

  10. santitafarella says:

    MorsecOde:

    Let me try again. I’ll lose the “Christian” in ethics and simply ask this: Once you have embraced atheism, do human ethics have to be rethought? Why, for example, should you follow the age-old cross-cultural religious admonitions to altruism? Why not be (for instance) a Rand devotee or a Nietzschean?

    And why not do things that broach traditional religious boundaries wherever convenient or advantageous to your self-authenticating purposes or survival?

    For example: Why is personal freedom a high value for you? Do you just like to live in the delusion of freedom, and think all people should share it? It is not even coherently atheist to believe in free will, is it? If you’re a strict materialist, and all movement of atoms in the universe can be accounted for by physical and chemical causes having very definite physical and chemical effects, then we live in a determinist universe and free will is an illusion, right?

    You don’t think that when you choose to crook your arm that you’re mind has disrupted the direction that the atoms of your body were going in, do you? You surely, as an atheist, must believe that the chemical and physical properies of your brain were already moving in a determinate direction prior to producing in you the thought, “I will crook my arm”, right?

    Whence freedom in atheism? Freedom, as you are using it, derived from Locke, who professed to be a Christian. He wasn’t functioning on your premises. Given your very different premises, doesn’t freedom have to be rethought as a value?

    —Santi

  11. morsec0de says:

    “Once you have embraced atheism, do human ethics have to be rethought?”

    Certainly. If not the ethics themselves, the justifications for them.

    You seem to think, or at least imply, that the only justification for altruism is a god telling you to do it. I’m sorry, but that’s wrong. Altruism has been demonstrated to lead to healthier, happier and more comfortable lives for those in the society.

    “And why not do things that broach traditional religious boundaries wherever convenient or advantageous to your self-authenticating purposes or survival?”

    Do these traditional religious boundaries have any justification beyond being religious and old? If not, then I have no problem ignoring them.

    The rest of your comment is philosophic silliness, as far as I’m concerned. Inconsequential to the real world.

  12. santitafarella says:

    MorsecOde:

    You said: “Altruism has been demonstrated to lead to healthier, happier and more comfortable lives for those in the society.”

    Okay, so you’re a utilitarian, right? And in circumstances where altruism isn’t doing the good things you list, you can ditch altruism, correct?

    It’s a pragmatic call for you, is that fair to say?

    And as for freedom, you’re not willing to engage the question of the coherence of atheism and freedom, or look too closely at the logical consequences of your materialist premises. Shouldn’t that tell you something?

    —Santi

    • morsec0de says:

      Free will is the conversation I find boring and useless. Particularly when a religious person posits it, since they believe in an omnipotent god, which allows for zero free will.

      Freedom is something else entirely.

      It again comes down to health and happiness. That’s what freedom gives people. It has been demonstrated.

      “And in circumstances where altruism isn’t doing the good things you list, you can ditch altruism, correct?”

      Give some circumstances, by all means, and I’ll let you know.

  13. santitafarella says:

    MorseCode,

    You’re using John Locke’s categories, and piggy-backing on his theist premises with regards to free will. I’m just asking for some thought about what it means to say—“The universe is a closed system wholly explained by physical and chemical cause-effect determinate relations—and oh, yes, I also believe in free will!”

    I’m sorry, it’s not a coherent position.

    As for a circumstance where altruism can be ditched, how about cannibalism? If you’re in the mountains, and part of the Donner party, eat away?

    —Santi

  14. morsec0de says:

    “As for a circumstance where altruism can be ditched, how about cannibalism? If you’re in the mountains, and part of the Donner party, eat away?”

    Not at all.

    If you’re stuck and legitimately can’t find or hunt for food, one potential option is if one person dies first that person can be used as food for the others.

    But that’s still altruism, on the part of the person offering themselves to be eaten after they die.

  15. santitafarella says:

    MorsecOde:

    And if they don’t offer, can you kill one of them? Why not? You’ve got to eat, don’t you? It’s their family or yours, right? Survival of the fittest?

    And are you responsible for your choice (to kill or not to kill), or is your free will in this circumstance an illusion? And responsible to whom, exactly? Another free-will illusional conglomeration of atoms?

    Or do you believe that humans have real free will (not illusory) and that the lives of others outside your circle, in a pinch, actually matter? Matter to whom? Why?

    The dog chases its tail.

    —Santi

  16. morsec0de says:

    “And if they don’t offer, can you kill one of them? Why not?”

    No. Because you will infringe upon their rights and freedoms as another human being.

    “You’ve got to eat, don’t you? It’s their family or yours, right?”

    No, sorry, but it doesn’t work that way. If I have to steal for my family, yes. Because stealing is less harm. If I have to defend the lives of my family, then yes, because killing an attacker is less harm than letting my family die. Killing for my family, no, that’s worse harm than letting myself or my family dying.

    “Survival of the fittest?”

    What about it? Survival of the fittest is a simplistic way of describing the way nature functions. It isn’t a philosophy to follow. And besides which, there is more than one way to be most fit. Most fit doesn’t just mean “I can kill others”.

    “And are you responsible for your choice (to kill or not to kill)”

    To about 6 billion other humans, yes.

    “the lives of others outside your circle, in a pinch, actually matter? Matter to whom?”

    Of course they do. To them.

    I’m sorry if you don’t feel the same way. Or that you don’t feel that people’s lives and desires matter to you.

  17. santitafarella says:

    MorsecOde:

    Cheap shot at the end of your post—a gruesome assumption on your part.

    I’m simply trying to think, via talking to you, how atheism (and I am an agnostic) justifies its materialist assumptions. Obviously, atheism is not coherent with regard to freedom of choice in a world reducible to chemistry and physics, nor can it justify its ethical positions beyond a vague solidarity with others in similar fucked existential circumstances. I’m just not sure that’s enough. Where free will’s very existence is iffy and ethics is “based” arbitrarily on the cuddly (and perhaps false) idea of a global human nature (but not a global natural principle—survival of the fittest) it’s hard for me to see how you’ve made that choice. Camus-like rebellion against the indifferent universe? In other words, boxing at the air?

    Are you Sisyphus in the realm of 6 billion other unwitting Sisyphuses?

    —Santi

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