“Snow”, by Kobudo, from the album “Ototabi” (2013)
More poetry, and a bit of historical background, a sort of “how did I get here?” moment.
I once had a co-worker, almost 20 years ago now, who was an intelligent and articulate atheist, and who never tired of explaining to me how ignorant and superstitious was my embrace of the Catholic Faith. I think of Pauros sometimes, and the irony of his name, whenever I dwell upon the inevitability of self worship in any philosophy which denies the existence of God.
He, Pauros the Greek, was an Ubber Geek, and knew not much at all outside of our shared programming specialties, namely COBOL, Pascal, Borland Delphi, and C++Builder. That was back when the civilized world was completely engulfed in its Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt regarding the approaching end of the world, the secular end-times, also known as Y2K.
We were both employed in part because of our knowledge of and ability to program in COBOL, and to maintain the COBOL based financial systems for a Health Region with thousands of employees.
These systems were running on a UNIX platform, a large-scale computer system, Hewlett-Packard if I remember correctly, although I was not the network admin. I think I might have also been employed there because I was the only other programmer in the whole department who could work with Pauros the Greek.
Anyway, the point was that he could not bring himself to imagine anything that couldn’t be tested and proven scientifically, empirically, he always insisted that he needed data to back up anything and everything. He refused to contemplate or imagine the universe and everything in it as a subset of reality, created by a being who existed outside the universe.
My fallback position when beaten down by yet another tirade about my “primitive superstitions” was “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” – Hamlet (1.5.167-8), Hamlet to Horatio, or simply to drop some offhanded remark to the effect that “Solipsists are out of touch”.
This always provoked sulking followed by further tirades on the “stupidity” of my views. It was a really fun place to work. Pauros the Greek simply couldn’t admit that his “beliefs” were every bit as much “faith based” as mine.
He and another similar friend, Caoimhín the Celtic Prince, who I met later, have always personified what I see as wrong with Atheism. Behind all their precisely articulated views was the same premise: there is no God, no ultimate meaning beyond ourselves, beyond self.
Both were fundamentally unhappy people, for example, Pauros was working hard on getting rid of his third wife without loosing any money and Caoimhín never landed a wife, though not for want of trying. They both were completely wrapped up in and focused on what was wrong with the world of their existence.
But, no answers were forthcoming to the “Why?” question. If life was meaningless, why didn’t they just kill themselves? Pauros’ reply to that question was, “Well, a lot of people do kill themselves because they don’t have the courage to live with the truth.” Caoimhín, on the other hand, believed that it was possible and desirable to be a good person (where did his standard of ‘goodness’ came from? No answer there).
Caoimhín, curiously a big fan of LOTR, maintained that life was worth living, even at a time when he was dieing of bowel cancer. Maybe Caoimhín, in his clear and present understanding of the end, was perhaps more of an “Atheism Lite” philosopher, maybe “meaning” was creeping in “at the end of all things”.
Neither Pauros nor Caoimhín could ever explain how life could be worth living and yet have no meaning? This paradox was not even acknowledged. But atheism, when consistently, logically, lived out, seems to me to be a life of self-deception or despair, or some combination of both, a sliding scale of illogic and unhappiness, a pride in despair, so to speak.
This is all about pride, despairing pride, lonely pride, providing the self I worship with a dark comfort. This is sin, this feeling of superiority is terribly attractive, easy to get attached to, like so many of life’s pleasures.
Once you are there, in your despairing superiority, it is hard to to give it up. Its akin to the feeling of superiority one is tempted with when the current government, which one didn’t vote for, takes everything to hell in a hand basket, and one feels a smug “I told you so…”.
On the part of the atheist, any departure from this “rational” superiority of despair, any turn towards not having “the courage to live with the truth”, would mean that all those superstitious people you have so enjoyed mocking and sneering at really do know more than you. It would mean you’re not so special any more, it would mean giving up being special by virtue of the belief that everyone else is a fool.
Unfortunately, self-referential meaning is only a short-lived stop-gap: it is real only in the sense that the stage set of Elsinore Castle (see Hamlet quote above) or Darth Vader’s Death Star is a real place. We can suspend disbelief while the play (our life) is being performed, but at some point, the curtain falls and one must leave the theater. The “poor player” strutting his stuff must leave the stage.
So, if “Helping Others”, “Doing Good Work”, and “Having Friends” are just a “stage setting” and “green screen special effects”, then what? Pauros and Caoimhín seemed to share a vision, that vision which John Lennon articulated in the popular song “Imagine”, and it’s beautiful song . . . if you don’t think too hard about it. If we don’t think about it then the “nowhere” outside our “ME” universe surrounds our cold fortress of solitude, and there is nothing else, no joy, no forgiveness, no point in anything, just put your Ruger in your mouth and save the planet from your wasteful consumption of resources..
The vision: “Imagine there’s no heaven. Imagine there’s no hell. Imagine all the people, living life in” … WTF Man? Take religion out of the picture, and everybody spontaneously starts living life in peace? Whaaa? Now I have been around the block a few times, my blog is named “notmyfirstrodeo” for a reason. In my experience, peace is not the default state of human beings. All I need to do is look at myself, and most of the people I have met over the last 50 years, to recognize that anger, jealousy, insecurity, envy, contempt, selfishness, fear, and greed are deeply rooted in the core of every human.
Even a cursory look and listen about us today with unjaundiced eyes reveals the big lie of our atheistic culture. There is no god, there is no devil, there is nothing outside of the self … and all the evil we see playing out everywhere around us is just a figment of our imagination. They are not really people, they have no value, out out brief flame. Medical malpractice, traffic accidents, abortion and euthanasia, mercy wagons, 9/11, all the same … erasing the inconvenient …
It seems to me that a cultural embrace of atheism, namely “Secular Humanism”, leaves folks with all the same problems as history suggests, but worse! The 20th century’s atheistic human rights track record, that is, the human-rights track record of atheist countries, like China, and the Soviet Union, and Canada, is poor.
I know and understand the difference between imagination and wishful thinking. If atheism is true, if life truly has no meaning, then all of our actions cannot have any meaning either, there is no right or wrong, no rights and no responsibilities, no justice, no love, entropy rules and at the end of all things we are just so much rotting meat turning into dust.
And the difference between imagination and wishful thinking is beautifully captured in the poem “Dover Beach” by Mathew Arnold:
Matthew Arnold, 1822 – 1888
The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast, the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
… and miles to go before I sleep …