Run Away, Run Away!

God save us from atheist whining | Nathalie Rothschild | spiked

In an article outlining the importance of coming out, Silverman speaks of the ‘fear of rejection’, the ‘shame’ and the ‘mental and physical’ toll experienced by closet atheists. Admitting you’re a non-believer is, Silverman says, ‘the first step’, but he implores readers also to be ‘proud, open, honest’ atheists and not ‘another closeted victim of the Christian right’. The advice here reads like a 12-step programme for people recovering from religion. Rather than a positive clarion call for secular values, this is a self-help scheme for people who see themselves as traumatised abuse-victims.

If you are one of the pathetic creeps who needs a big, fat, atheist daddy-dictator to protect you from a so-called “non-existent sky-daddy”, you deserve all the angst and mental suffering you can get. Go have a big group hug and cry about it.

Yes, it’s true: I have no sympathy for existential cowards, and that is the typical position of the professing atheist.

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11 thoughts on “Run Away, Run Away!

  1. Atheism = lack of belief (in ‘God’ in this case – the quotes are a sort of ontological quarantine measure). Simple as that. Atheism isn’t a belief in non-belief, it’s just non-belief.

    Belief follows from need – emotional need; which works in strange ways, normally below the conscious level. To use the terminology I learned in education, it is the affective, not the cognitive domain that is operating here. Argument is pointless.

    Is Dawkins the “atheist daddy-dictator” you have in mind? I haven’t much time for him myself. Reading a book by Lewis Wolpert recently (a somewhat similar UK scientist-atheist) what struck me was the lack of interest in the historical construction of Judaeo-Christianity. It is simply taken as a couple of ‘givens’ for them to knock down: all-powerful, solitary God; immortality of the soul. In a way they are rather lazy. True scepticism would inquire further into the influence of, say, Plato; the bete noire of (you guessed it) “The Eighth Nature” by P.W.Miles.

    What on Earth is an ‘existential coward’?

  2. Yes, I have heard that atheism is not a belief, but rather a lack of belief. However, as a truth claim, it presents itself as a positive, empirical statement of fact. Any “fact” is not a “belief” (or so I am told by science dilettantes), but is simply true without being “believed”. It is a kind of absolute knowledge, abstracted from the self or, indeed, any human influence. This is an example of existential cowardice: the refusal to accept responsibility for one’s thoughts by claiming that they are not one’s thoughts, but merely the acknowledgment of objective facts, unpolluted by humanity. Atheism does not require such a totalizing position, but the profession of atheism creates it.

    I do not know whether Mr. Dawkins has decided to pursue a political career in the US, although I doubt he would be able to rise to the rank of dictator, if he did; after all, it would require a constitutional amendment and ratification by two-thirds of the states. I was referring to the attempt by the Reason Rally to obtain a special political status for atheists against the ignorant masses of god-believers. Of course, the only way to ensure their protection from hate speech and belief profiling would be to prohibit public readings and assemblies by the god-believers. I think the Russians had tried such moves before their change of government in the early 1990s.

    I recently encountered a critique of Plato that identified him as the source of all decadence since Alexander the Great, including HaShoah, birth control pills, and bacon. I’m trying to avoid those people, though, because the thought of doing without bacon is quite depressing.

  3. That’s an interesting reply Dave!

    My dictionary (Chambers) says: “Atheism, n. disbelief in the existence of a god.” I need only look into my thoughts, ask myself “Do I believe in this God”, answer “No I don’t” and I am an atheist! I don’t need to ‘claim’ as you put it, that this God does not exist. In fact I am not obliged, under the definition, to communicate anything of this to any other person. In any case, as I mentioned before, I feel that argument and reason have little bearing on the matter, and there is therefore no point in bringing them into play – even in my own thoughts, let alone anywhere else.

    As for ‘existential cowardice’ – I’m still struggling to understand what you say. It sounds as if you had something specific in mind.

    We get the odd religious flurry over here. Recently Baroness Warsi (a not universally popular ex-Muslim Conservative chairperson) kicked up a fuss by saying on the occasion of a visit to the Vatican: “It seems astonishing to me that those who wrote the European Constitution made no mention of God or Christianity” – not very tactful toward the Turks (aspirant members). Politicians here don’t usually (as she put it) “do God”. Tony Blair had to be watched closely by his handlers I believe.

    Regarding Plato, Popper suggests in “The Open Society and its Enemies” that he was a power fantasist, seeming to imagine himself alone as the guiding hand of his Republic. He was certainly a reactionary of deepest dye. He wanted to revert Greek society to its original aristocratic form, and keep it there. The purpose of the State, he said, is to prevent change.

    I especially dislike the substitute emotion he invented, known as Platonic Love. It is wrapped up with the soul’s separate existence from the body, and the notion that it is the business of humankind to put as much distance between the two as possible. The influence on subsequent religious developments seems clear.

    I think he perverted abstract thought, which the Greeks had just discovered. Abstractions – the Good, the Beautiful, Truth, Justice and so on – were made quasi-real, as the Forms, and thereby appropriated as emotional tokens, so to speak. The ‘ideals’ which people are always invoking, rarely troubling to specify what they actually mean, as any honest thinker should do – democracy, human rights, and such – are descendants of Plato’s.

  4. I agree that there is no point arguing about atheism or non-atheism. I am more interested in the friction points or discrepancies in various statements, regardless of how they are labeled, as claims or otherwise. The pretense of objectivity without acknowledging perspective is one such viewpoint.

    Kierkegaard described cowardice in terms of a crowd:

    For every single individual who escapes into the crowd, and thus flees in cowardice from being a single individual …, contributes his share of cowardice to “the cowardice,” which is: the crowd.

    Go here if you wish to see the parenthetical phrase I deleted:

    http://www.ccel.org/k/kierkegaard/untruth/untruth.htm

    I tried to read The Republic, but I couldn’t see the point. The shorter dialogues are more tolerable. Socrates is kind of a funny character, like a cross between Homer Simpson, Lieutenant Columbo, and Chauncey Gardner; but I enjoy Aristotle more. The Politics really illustrates how stupid almost all modern political commentators are, insofar as they fail to see any historical context more than four years old.

    I’m not sure that mind/body dualism can be blamed on Plato–wouldn’t it be better to blame Descartes? Plato’s original ideas are virtually unrecognizable today. And I don’t think the religious notion of “Platonic love” is really as old as you seem to think it is; it is more like a Roman Catholic rationalization of Plato than anything from the Bible, and I think it entered into popular religion through romantic poetry, rather than the other way around.

    Surely, people waste a lot of time trying to rationalize their idealism without clearly defining why they have ideals. Emotional tokens are not so much a problem, I think, as the notion that abstract thinking leads to an apprehension of factual truth. But on the upper end, don’t you think that later thinkers (Leibniz and onward) were able to formulate a straightforward symbolic logic without hindrance from Plato?

  5. I have been considering the meaning of Platonic hatred, Patrick, after juxtaposing your perspective with that of my bacon-abstaining friends. My friends are admirers of Pre-Socratic legalism. Without having read your book, I will speculate that you are an admirer of Pre-Socratic materialism. Is that a fair estimation?

  6. Hi again Dave. It’s really kind of you to reply once more. Like you I’m interested in “friction points”, “discrepancies”… and I also believe one sometimes makes progress by bouncing ideas back and forth with others even if they hold quite different views – dialectic, in a word.

    The Kierkegaard strikes me as a fair example of a Platonising imitatio Christi: “And therefore everyone who in truth will serve the truth, is eo ipso in some way or other a martyr…” etc, etc. Self-pitying drivel posited on a Platonic ideal. Kierkegaard again: “Therefore was Christ crucified, because he, even though he addressed himself to all, would not have to do with the crowd.” So he traipses round Palestine for years on end, pursued by hordes of disciples, but no way are they a crowd. (I am criticising Soren here, not Jesus).

    I agree, the Republic is hard to understand. I have found with Plato that he becomes clearer if one approaches him in a scoffing and satirical spirit. To demonstrate this my novel incorporates a full length verse-parody of the Symposium; perhaps best taken in context. Regarding the Republic, I think it puzzles because of the sheer emptiness of the curriculum. For example, the Guardians are supposed to spend ten years studying “mathematics” – but it is only simple arithmetic, no more than you would need to add up a column of figures. They spend another ten years on astronomy; but it is only an “ideal” astronomy; they are not to study the motions of the actual planets, because these are but unreliable images of their true “forms”.

    Popper points out, the Greeks had a disposition to believe that all truths were to be found in the words and concepts of their own language; hence Socratic questioning; hence the axiomatic-deductive method. The Republic is a sort of prospectus, I feel, for the Academy – Plato’s very own talk-shop, which seems to have succeeded as a paying proposition. Maybe that is one reason he is revered to this day.

    The “Phaedo” contains the primary arguments for the immortality of the soul, put in the mouth of the soon-to-quaff-the-hemlock Socrates. How touching. I am sorry, but like I say, for me Plato is best approached with a scoff and a sneer.

    I didn’t even know there was pre-Socratic materialism! The term suggests some tortured Heideggerian quest for what really exists, what “is”. Is it water, is it fire – gosh what is all this, you know, stuff?

    Back to Platonic love. “It is the love of soul for soul / As once did Sappho true extol” – from the verse-parody I mentioned (part of the joke is to transpose the gender of the guests). I agree it has a long and tangled history, but it is evident, for example, in Dante – I mean the role of Beatrice in leading him to Paradise. Dante was a Catholic, to be sure. To let a cat’s whisker out of the bag, the event has been portrayed in the following terms (not mine): “And it cometh to the eighth Nature; and all they that are present rejoice, and congratulate the coming of it.”

    “Emotional tokens are not so much a problem, I think, as the notion that abstract thinking leads to an apprehension of factual truth.” I’d say that logic, deduction, are in fact potential methods of arriving at that certainty which we (and Plato) term “knowledge”. For example, I know the square root of two is irrational. I don’t have to just believe it, I can prove it.

    “later thinkers (Leibniz and onward) were able to formulate a straightforward symbolic logic”. That was the programme of Positivism, which seemed to gain new impetus when Frege nailed mathematical logic in symbolic form, in spite of having to dodge a googly one (Briticism) from clever-clogs Bertrand Russell. However, the logical positivists, Wittgenstein and the like, never realised the wider dream.

  7. I guess I never saw Kierkegaard as a Platonizer so much as a Socratizer. But he doesn’t address anything concretely and directly, so it’s hard to accept him on face value. Nevertheless, that is the source of my notion of cowardice.

    I didn’t even try to understand the Republic, because it didn’t seem worth it. It’s a case study of why one shouldn’t try to extrapolate from ideal principles to political practice.

    I’m sorry to hear that you associate the presocratics with Heidegger. Without Heidegger’s influence, I’m not sure it would be possible for us to misunderstand anything as much as we do now. I know of the presocratics through Lucretius and the 20th-century naturalists.

    I’m afraid I don’t know that much about “Platonic love”—I always assumed it was invented in the medieval period. But my view of it is filtered through the nineteenth-century Romantics. Does the modern analog have anything to do with Plato? The platonic Form seems to survive only in Gnostic revivalism.

    Logic and deduction are wonderful methods of arriving at certain knowledge, but not necessarily fact.

    I’m still not sure what were the consequences of abstract thought being perverted by Plato. Does it prevent us from attaining something?

  8. Hi and thanks again Dave. Just a few quickie replies then I’ll leave it for now – I have got a lot to do on promoting the book.

    Our knowledge of Socrates is mostly (not all) through Plato. Socrates as reported by Plato seems to have evolved away from the real Socrates, but it’s a matter of debate.

    Popper saw the implications of the Republic, and how important to subsequent thinking Plato’s mindset had been. “The Open Society”, though impeccably learned, was so vitriolic an attack that maybe for that reason it failed of its purpose.

    I didn’t mean to associate Heidegger specifically with the pre-Socratics. I was just expressing, clumsily maybe, some scepticism as to the value of a priori thinking generally.

    The primary source for Platonic love is the Symposium; it can’t be understood without taking that on board. The ideas come through in, as I mentioned, Dante, and also for example in Spenser. Of course, Plato advocated the love of man for boy…

    Yes, I think Plato’s influence did ‘pervert’ thought by giving quasi-concreteness to abstractions. People prefer the concrete to the abstract; one learns this as a teacher. I’ll leave it there, but thanks very much for the conversation.

  9. I think you’re saying that Plato’s “quasi-concreteness” is a rhetorical strategy that leads people to mix corporeal and non-corporeal entities, and this miscegenation doubtless leads to bad science and effete idealism, not to mention a stifling of sexual energies.

    Sounds like your book should be a hit with fans of Popper, Pullman, and Crowley! Try marketing it to some of the modern Jungians, as well.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  10. Well Dave… I guess I had better reply, as if my work gains any traction it might very well call forth ideas of the type you outline – but wrongly.

    “Stifling of sexual energies”, Crowley… no it isn’t horned-god style male-Wicca or Satanism. Lucifer does put in a showing, but he is played for laughs, as a foil to the heroine’s forthright interview manner (she gets a job as a demoness, the ultimate model for the scene being Paradise Lost).

    Modern Jungians… if this means Robert L. Moore or Clifford Mayes (wearers of Jung’s mantle who I just found on Wiki having never heard of them before), no they aren’t my target market either.

    I do like Erich Neumann (a largely forgotten student of Jung). In fact I got my last three chapters out of his “Amor and Psyche: The Psychic Development of the Feminine” !

    Pullman… a fellow Englishman and unbeliever, but a mediocre (at best) writer and wildly overpraised IMHO. I looked at “Dark Materials” and it was awful. I gave up on it.

    I do have hopes of capturing the Oswald Spengler fan base. Here is a link to explain why. I really won’t be offended if you take it out – it’s your site. Facebook membership required (free to register, of course):

    http://www.facebook.com/#!/notes/patrick-miles/oswald-spengler-the-monomyth-henry-miller-and-me/109657449164221

    With very best wishes

    Patrick

  11. I didn’t mean the actual psychologists who like Jung, I meant the poets and storytellers.

    Spengler is awesome–not because I’m a fan, but just because I’m impressed by the kind of epic scope he captures.

    Wow! There’s no pigeonhole that will hold you, that’s for sure. On the other hand, it must be hard to define your niche market. Really, you remind me of Robert Anton Wilson, for sheer audacity: his readership is diverse, yet relatively small. If those guys took you up, they would endlessly promote you.

    Say, you didn’t follow one of those guys over here, did you? They paid me a friendly visit last year when I mentioned them before. They are a fun bunch, but disorienting.

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