The Richard Dawkins Delusion is Coming to LaLa Land

Biologist Richard Dawkins, the author of the God Delusion, will be coming to speak (in early October) in my neck of the woods (Southern California), and his soon visit prompts me to ask a simple question:

  • What might it actually be like to live in a world that is completely disillusioned?

In other words, what might it be like to live in a time where everybody lives in high irony and sees the wires behind all of the Great Oz’s curtains? When Richard Dawkins’s “disillusionment movement” succeeds, what then? Personally, I don’t think we would find ourselves in anything like a utopia. I suspect that, rather than humans collectively facing existence in this disillusioned mode, and living with it happily ever after, that we would instead put up different kinds of curtains against reality. Maybe they wouldn’t be religious curtains, but they would still be curtains of concealment from the full implications of the meaninglessness of human existence in a universe devoid of telos

Put simply, a world of atheists might well be a world in collective performance of Beckett’s play, Waiting for Godot. Godot in this case is not God, but death. What does one do while waiting for death? Well, you have a meal, and then talk a bit, and perhaps have children, or start a war, or a blog, or maybe pursue a career, or jerk off. In short, you get entangled in diversions (as the characters in Beckett’s play do). And this, ladies and gentleman, is what Nietzsche called “the last man”—the kind of person that he believed the God-disillusioned West would culminate in producing. Comfy. And pathetic.

In short, diversion and delusion share a lot in common, and in an atheist world scrubbed of religion, there will be a good deal of neurotic deck chair shuffling on that Titanic, accompanied by the popping of a lot of anxiety reducing pills. Religion just won’t be in the mix of anxiety reducing agents. The God delusion will be replaced by the Huxlian SOMA illusion. Further, I suspect that most people in the atheist future (it’s coming, right?) will not be able to tolerate this entirely disillusioned world for too many decades, and will start getting out of line—creating new religions, returning to old religions, and starting eccentric mass movements—to overcome their outrage at being sensitive consciousnesses condemned (by no one in particular) to the limitations of life in a body, and to mortality. In other words, the atheist world of the future will probably start to look basically like the predominantly religious world of today. If you could buy stock in book futures, here’s a tip: Franz Kafka will sell well in our collective atheist future.

In sum, I don’t think that whatever atheist utopia some of us think that we are aiming for is inherently stable, or even all that much more desirable than the situation we’re in now. Our existence is a flungness into we-know-not-what. How do you ever get used to that, and acclimate and normalize that, without illusions, repressions, dissociations, and, yes, even delusions? So welcome, Richard Dawkins, you great slayer of delusions, you! Welcome to Southern California, the home of, well, Hollywood!

You’re not against Hollywood, too, are you? I didn’t think so.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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8 Responses to The Richard Dawkins Delusion is Coming to LaLa Land

  1. makarios says:

    thank you, ya, drab and tasteless, pills, booze and surface relationships, chronic worries about catching the latest STD while demanding the right to fuck strangers, face-lifts, striving for more free time but unable to get it because you also want more money to buy more things to prove that you really do have worth and value, and finally encouraging kids to be brave in the face of a life lived out in absurdity. sounds charming.

  2. Matt says:

    Sorry, but I don’t buy this atheism = nihilism stuff at all.
    When I rejected the Christianity I’d been brought up with and embraced atheism, the world seemed brighter, happier, and more full of promise and interest than ever before.
    Embracing atheism means that our life *now*, our existence *now* is what matters. If you see emptiness and a lack of meaning in the here and now, then atheism is a reason to change things, to improve things, in the here and now!
    That to me is so much more positive and exciting than waiting for some ill-defined afterlife or pretending there’s some trascendent meaning just beyond our grasp.

  3. santitafarella says:

    Matt,

    I go back and forth on the nihilism issue. I, too, have had my time of religious belief (in my teens), and atheism, early on, felt like an enormous liberation from a lot of self-harming thinking. I continue to believe it was. I thank “God” that atheism was available to me as a teenager. And I thank “God” for the strident atheist tracts that I encountered when young (because they helped me break some “spells” upon my psyche that needed breaking). But alas, I’ve mellowed, drifted into agnosticism, and have sympathy for some of the arguments that theists make. Mentally I’ve been free to think for myself for a long time, and so now I’m turning that freedom back upon atheist liberation itself and giving myself permission to consider the God question again.

    As someone who has been on both sides of the fence, I do think that atheism has a very frail underbelly, and that when things go profoundly wrong with one’s life, atheism is very cold comfort. If, for example, you discover that you have a chronic disease, or may die soon, or if you have family members (especially children) facing death (people you love so much that you can barely face life without them), I think that atheism’s resiliant confidence in its efficacy breaks down. Atheism has something to offer the young, the well off, the bohemian artists, the intellectuals, and the physically healthy. But that ain’t where most of us are at. There must be very large compensations when you ask people to live without hope. We are the only animal that lives in the face of death. Religion, obviously, functions as a compensation for that fact. It takes a very resiliant (or cognitively dissonant) person to face existence like Taylor does in Planet of the Apes. Not everybody is heroic. I would ask you to read Sophocles’s Oedipus before concluding that facing the unvarnished truths of your existence is a path of bliss. Oedipus, you’ll recall, at the end of the play, tears out his eyes, and few people have ever been more noble or brave than Oedipus, or more devoted to reason and the truth. I realize I’m treating a fictional character as “real”, but it is not wise to completely ignore the lessons that are within our culture’s greatest works of art.

    I’m sorry for the long response, but I want to say one more thing. I also thank “God” for my youthful time of belief. I feel that my life would have been enormously impoverished without it (and even in the presence of the harm it did to me). I learned to love language and literature via the King James Bible. I learned to think theologically at a young age, and this helped me think generally. I learned to wrestle with God. Like having children, experiencing religion from the inside is part of being human. It’s not something you can get vicariously. To someone who has never been religious or never had children, that person might think that they are not missing much. But there’s a lot there from the inside. And you are not the poorer for knowing it. And religion is a foil for growth and resistence. It is Jacob wrestling the angel. Richard Dawkins, in my view, is a deeply religious man (though he completely denies it). He is Jacob. He feels the need to wrestle with God. I still do. You still do. Anybody with a serious intellectual and emotional life must.

    Here’s the real test of atheism. Live your atheist life without God as a foil, and without concern for ultimate questions. Make of your atheism a positive philosophy in which you simply ignore God and “God people” completely. Live like Howard Roark in The Fountainhead, focused on your Apollonian projects, unconcerned with the wars of religion and supernatural foolishness. Suddenly the nihilism and functionalism and pointlessness of existence comes to the fore. And then you’re back fighting with the god-believers again. The psyche needs an overgoing foil, even in the negative. At least I do. Maybe I’m overgeneralizing, but don’t you feel this Matt, just a little bit?

    —Santi

  4. Matt says:

    No, I don’t feel that at all. It’s part of the human condition to look for meaning, but religion strikes me as a very *very* sub-standard source of meaning.
    You say that it offers comfort in times of stress. That may be true in some cases, but I think that’s indicative of the pervasiveness of religious belief in our culture, and the associations it has, rather than a sign of any intrinsic worth.
    I personally find it unethical, if not downright immoral, to tell comforting lies to people rather than doing something practical to improve their lives.

  5. keziarhh says:

    @Alan: Oh please, evantually there will be someone who wants to have children and blablabla. Have you experienced pregnancy? Do you really think ALL women have the same emotional and physical capability to go through it?

    And why is it wrong to enjoy my freedom? My decision to not have children won’t cost you anything or create another WW IIII. I bet you wouldn’t be happy be happy if someone forced you to stop ‘communicating’ with God.

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