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.