Atheism, Old and New
Atheism seems to be quite self explanatory term. Granted, we do live in atheistic societies, in the sense that religion in the proper sense of the word is almost completely ejected from political and cultural deliberations. Even more so, this applies to academia. Finally, at least half of the peoples which we could still, at least by their geographical situation or ancestry, call Europeans are actually shedding the residues of their religious past.
Yet, are we to blame this on atheists of our age, especially the so called “new atheists”?
In this podcast we’ll answer this question in the firm negative.
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Transcript (please note that for all unscripted podcasts transcripts are edited rendition of what was said, so they syntax is not always congruent to original audio.):
Welcome to Kali Tribune podcast.
This time around we’ll talk about atheism. Now, by atheism we’ll try to pinpoint something that is nowadays not so much focused upon by both actual, so called, “atheists” as well as the enemies of atheism. We’ll talk about what I would call atheism in the classical sense.
To explain what I mean, I’ll first define atheism in the non-classical sense, something that I don’t really consider to be atheism – not worthy of the name, so to speak – and this is what is colloquially understood as “new atheism”. For those who don’t know, this is the atheism of the sorts you can find in people like Richard Dawkins and his ilk, and it is the most frequent form of so-called atheism that you run into online, which is an interesting peculiarity.
The reason why I don’t consider it to be atheism at all is not because those people secretly believe in God; the reason is that I don’t think they are up to the task, that is to say, they are not really confronting the reality of not only God but also of everything that comes with the faith in God or even the intellectual realization of the existence of God; something that in contrast to them their predecessors in using the moniker ‘atheists’ (not predecessor in generic sense) understood quite well.
So by atheist I would understand somebody like Nietzsche, for instance, or Marx or Freud, or
Democritus and Leucippus – the Greek materialists or atomists – Epicurus even, although Epicurus is rather close in nature with these new atheists but not as close as it may seem at the first glance.
Namely atheism is a metaphysics that is built upon the premise that at the center of all there is nothing.
The atheism so-called that does not grasp this is not atheism in the proper sense for the simple reason of being unable to reach its necessary standpoint and, I would say, it’s proper mentality. By mentality I consider the mental attitude in the ontological sense, where when you take it, your whole existence is modeled upon it – and even ages can have mentalities and peoples can have mentalities, but originally, let’s say: eminently, individual persons have mentalities.
However, new atheists just don’t reach this point. They are not mature atheists, i.e. they are not attacking the problem they believe they are attacking. The reason for this is – let’s try to explain – that atheism is in its essence a negative stance; atheism is not affirmative stance so it is the stance, or attitude, where you negate something as illusory. In this case you negate the existence of the First, of the Origin in the widest possible sense, although most of what we know as atheism was in fact an attempt to prove that there is a no Creator and this is strictly anti-Christian atheism, and, as I said, the most of atheism we have to deal with is anti-Christian, because most atheists are in fact lapsed Christians, that is to say, they belong to Christian European civilization, but they come from the ilk that rejected Christianity – rejected it in its essence, but not in its form, because willy-nilly they use Christian terms and they use, let’s say, metaphysics that was developed by Christianity and try to invert it; something that’s quite obvious in people like Marx, for instance, but we’ll come to that.
Now, this idea that atheism is a negative stance, which is, I don’t think assailable, comes with a package, that is to say, a luggage that is also very interesting. This means that atheism is not an original stance; it’s not the first stance you can get, because you cannot start from negation. This is very important – even at the acme of theological thinking, in apophatic theology, you have to have a presumption that you started with cataphatic theology, that you first developed all the affirmations you can have of God before you start to indulge negations, i.e. go into negative theology, because affirmation is naturally prior to negation and this is very important and it is something we today tend to forget, because a lot, if not the most, of modern and post-modern culture is built upon the negation – it’s been built upon the assumption of the original negation, not the original affirmation, which is very, very important thing and, like all important things that are at the bedrock of something, it tends to get neglected intellectually.
So in order to be an atheist you have to know what being “theist” means, and now I’ll qualify terns I use once more: “theist” is an expression that I use only for convenience purposes, but taken in itself it is completely meaningless to me. From what I gathered from this internet circuit, theist is a kind of guy who argues for the existence of God, it is not the guy who believes in God or who has some kind of insight into metaphysical origins – by insight I mean some kind of knowledge, for instance, of his own ignorance or something like that. Theist has no existential meaning. I saw people who defined themselves as theists become atheists, then turn back to being theists, and then converting to a form of original church, whether Catholic or Orthodox, and changing confessions or subdivisions inside a confession with no problem, just because from this new stance they get, or the new confession they start to profess, they think they have better arguments. This is meaningless. It is playing being religious, a game, because once you belong to a religion to just change it is not such an easy thing, because we are not snakes, we don’t shed our skin every year. Shedding of skin is something that requires a sharp knife and when human being is concerned the changing of one’s confession, if he holds it in the true sense of the word, is quite akin to stripping of his skin. So just to note this in order not to think that I somehow consider, for instance, internet theist vs. new atheists arguments to be in any way important for the problem of atheism as such; I’m using the term only for convenience sakes.
Well the thing is that the stance of affirming the existence of God and the metaphysical mentality that relies on this is the original human stance, and it can have different forms, depending on the one hand on culture or, on the other hand, on the degree the God himself was having dealings with certain peoples. For instance, it’s quite different to believe in Aztec sun god or in Yahve, or Jehovah, as you say in English – the God of Isaac, Abraham and so on and so forth. This is not the same thing, obviously. Yet as a stance, as a necessary stance, it is, because even the one who believes in something that Christian would rightly define as demon, rather than god, did not simply try to invent god, as some anthropologists would like you to believe, but has to have some form of piety or some form of relation towards what transcends him, because it is natural for humans to have something like this but this particular someone has it in a quite perverted form.
Now, atheism is a stance that tries to destroy this – to prove to man that this metaphysical center in all its forms is wrong, that it is the result of illusion and in order to do that – and this is the most important thing – atheism intellectually has to correspond to the depth of the religious reality or metaphysics; and old metaphysics was always religious; it would always put God in the center, whether in the ancient world or in middle ages, so godless metaphysics, at least in the West, is quite a novelty, a 17th to 18th century novelty.
Atheist, therefore, has to correspond to the challenge. And atheists who corresponded to this challenge were people of the ilk of Friedrich Nietzsche for instance and I’ll illustrate what this means: Nietzsche understood that center doesn’t hold and his interpretation was that center was for all our history and especially the history of Europe, an illusion in fact. But in order to assume this – he thought he discovered it – in order to discover something like this you have to go into center itself, obviously, so you have to be able to understand where theology comes from, where faith comes from, where, for instance, Christianity comes from, where Platonism comes from. You have to understand the thing that you try to destroy or, rather, try to denounce and this is something these new so-called atheists don’t understand, because Richard Dawkins and such people are still on the level of the late 19th century British radical liberals like Charles Bradlaugh or, interestingly enough, his platonic partner Annie Besant, the successor to H.P. Blavatsky at the chair of international Theosophy. They were these original new atheists. Their atheism was non-metaphysical, not up to this challenge and was more like built upon the notion of common sense that is peculiar for English culture, not for other cultures; maybe American that is derived partly from English but it’s not something that German would call common sense or Slavs would call common sense or even French. It is therefore something different; it is non-intellectual in the sense that it does not attempt to apply any kind of deeper thinking – critical thinking – to, let’s call it: “phenomenon of religion” or “phenomenon or metaphysics”, but just throws it in the dustbin for pragmatic reasons, because if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t exist. They have an idea of how religion should work so, for instance, if there is a God we all should have ice cream when we want it or such things. And I’m only paraphrasing here some of the actual arguments of these people who don’t realize that it’s a very rare thing that you encounter a religion so perverted that one of its main tenants is that God should provide you with something just because you are. This is not something you have in religion, because religious need is not the need for happiness in the material sense and these people, being liberals, considered this to be an end of human life – materially based happiness, and that God is the one who should provide it; if he doesn’t provide he doesn’t exist.
However, in reality this is not the case. Religion always comes from quite deeper recesses of human being – religion has to do with salvation, even when the salvation is understood in terms of God providing rain for the crops, because God providing rain for the crops is not the fulfillment of the individualistic pursuit of happiness, but a plea for survival of the whole people. This is quite different thing and it is something that is prevalent among human societies from the beginnings.
Now, you have the school of thought, a positivist and/or functionalist, Emil Durkheim in France and Auguste Comte before him, people who practically created sociology, and some anthropological musings from the beginning of 20th century where this was understood as a typical form of the primitive society that later develops into scientific society, where science assumes the function of religion. This is wrong and superficial in its own way but it’s still deeper than new atheism, because new atheism doesn’t take into consideration anything except the present of the individual and his imagination. I think I remember Dawkins put forward an argument how some primitive tribe lives in a village near the river where crocodiles eat people, so they start praying to crocodiles or something like that – I don’t remember how it went but I know that it was “a thought experiments” because people like this always do thought experiments – they don’t deal with reality, they are dealing with their own imagination. If you have a big river there are always places with no crocodiles and no people, no matter how savage, are so stupid to not to realize causal connection between crocodile and being eaten. They just build their village elsewhere. I mean even those primitive religions have more depth but this is also, I think, an example of the colonial way of thinking, supposedly very unpopular now with this Black Lives Matter idiots and such, but still working. It is the kind of thinking where you take your own cultural idiosyncrasies and hyposthasize them as guidelines for human intellect in general. So this is very much afoot with those so-called liberals, but that’s a subject in itself.
What I want to show here is that atheism requires much more; it requires much more depth and this depth was achieved, I think, uniquely by Friedrich Nietzsche. He paid the price for it and you have to pay a price for it – God is not to be joked with – and Nietzsche is a very good example of somebody who went all down the line to be a prophet of nihilism; the prophet of the absence of God, on assumption that absence means that there most certainly is no God; and he lived according to this choice that I consider wrong but don’t consider to be shallow, although a lot of Nietzsche’s cultural critique and analysis of culture I find very superficial; his epigrams that are considered to be the ultimate in wisdom and style of writing I don’t consider to be that interesting or even aesthetically pleasing; but I’ve read Thus Spoke Zarathustra and when you read that book you see that this man is drawing from deep sources, he’s not shallow and, not being shallow, he pays the price. There is some weight to what he says. Also, Marx was a genuine atheist and what Marx did, along with his in contemporaries in the left Hegelian movement, was genuinely to take religion and invert it, because he understood that religion is a positive phenomenon in the sense that it is a reality; that you cannot just be astonished over the fact that people believe in God. Yet it’s an ideology – so destroy the ideology, put the inverted world from its head back on its feet, that is to say in a Communist – Socialist paradise, working men’s paradise, where man will produce his own essence through creative work, through praxis. And we all know how that ended up.
But it’s a significant intellectual stance built on reality, whereas “new atheism” is not built on reality; it is built on adolescent imagination and, to conclude this podcast, I’ll give you one illustration of what I mean.
When you hear this expression: “flying spaghetti monster”, i.e. when someone says that God is something akin to this, it just shows you how immature such people are, because the notion of God is never something out of the cartoon. There were no cartoons in primordial jungles. For instance, ancient Mexican gods were nothing like that; they had more subtlety, they were semi-anthropomorphic deities but there were certain givens, as eternity, power over elements and such things that are not cartoonish, because having the notion of God – the notion of origin – it is not always understood as personal origin, although I think it should be understood as such. Anyhow it is already something that transcends imagination. It has to be expressed in images and even in Christianity it is expressed in images, because we have to use images, but in primitive religions images prevail over substance contained therein.
On the other hand, when you have “flying spaghetti monster” this means that you would want to have some kind of benevolent monster over you because that’s what you learned from your favorite cartoons and such notion is tenable only after 1990’s, I don’t know whether they got it from Beavis and Butthead cartoons or something like that, it makes no historical sense; it is something that is very peculiar for the Internet generation, where people don’t have a sense of continuity in history and, correspondingly, they lack the sense of the past and they don’t have sense of heaviness of things, of weight of things, of how profound things are; how recent we all are and how conditioned by our past we all are. They just play around with images and notions, and this is very insulting, because, for instance, somebody like me can have an argument with somebody like, I wouldn’t say Nietzsche himself, but at least somebody who has made such deep decision to atheism – there are not many such people, you know. Discussion with somebody like that is like a Faustian discussion, it is a discussion where there is a deep understanding and deep aversion, deep enmity, but both interlocutors stake their existence on this discussion, whereas somebody like Dawkins and new atheists are merely annoying although one should not underestimate their influence, because universities are invaded by such people and they are very difficult to argue with, not because they are smart but because they don’t live up to the standard of the argument. The people most difficult to argue with are little children and you can say in these modern times that a little child is wiser than old man which is a new notion of the supremacy of the child, something completely nonsensical and non-historical; when child poses you a question of a type: “what is this”, “why is that”, it never knows how to stop asking questions, whereas real intellectuality is built upon an ability to stop asking questions. not to continue ad infinitum. Children can’t understand that, because they are immature and when you discuss with children some philosophical matter you will be refuted by their inability to gain common ground with you. Intellectual life is not a life of combat, there has to be agreement and congeniality even in opponents in order to have an intellectual life or even intellectual clash, but, of course, this is something you will not be able to explain to children and this is what I meant by new atheists not really being atheists.
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