"...it's not the training to be mean but the training to be kind that is used to keep us leashed best." ~ Black Dog Red

"In case you haven't recognized the trend: it proceeds action, dissent, speech." ~ davidly, on how wars get done

"...What sort of meager, unerotic existence must a man live to find himself moved to such ecstatic heights by the mundane sniping of a congressional budget fight. The fate of human existence does not hang in the balance. The gods are not arrayed on either side. Poseiden, earth-shaker, has regrettably set his sights on the poor fishermen of northern Japan and not on Washington, D.C. where his ire might do some good--I can think of no better spot for a little wetland reclamation project, if you know what I mean. The fight is neither revolution nor apocalypse; it is hardly even a fight. A lot of apparatchiks are moving a lot of phony numbers with more zeros than a century of soccer scores around, weaving a brittle chrysalis around a gross worm that, some time hence, will emerge, untransformed, still a worm." ~ IOZ

Feb 24, 2013

Atheist

I'm not an atheist because I don't believe in God.

I don't believe in God, which is a clumsy way of stating that I lack belief in God. Belief is a narrative function. Belief is a story upon the completion of which, in the final sentence of the text, or the last frame of a series of emotionally colored images, the believer is instructed to begin the story all over again. Belief refers back to itself, closing the story in order to re-open it.

I make no value judgment about that process.

I just don't tell myself these stories about a God which resolve themselves into narrative cycles whose only function is to prevent their own cessation.

It's not that I don't perform this function. I lack this capacity only at least when it comes to stories about god(s). I'm pretty certain I engage in this narrative function each time a take a step, or fall to sleep assuming I've a decent chance of waking up, or kiss my wife as if her reaction will be mostly enjoyable for all parties involved.

But, I'm not an atheist because I don't tell myself stories about this mutable character, god. I'm an atheist because none of these stories satisfy a significantly stronger urge to test the character of this character, and to always find it wanting. From my point of view, there is simply no way to posit any sort of god (a creature by definition more powerful than mere mortals, if only in the way comic book superheroes are more powerful, by possessing a hypertrophied attribute which allows this god a greater chance of winning feats of strength, or contests of wit) who interacts with humans and doesn't come out of the relationship having harmed the human person.

And there is no way to posit a god who doesn't interact with humans, but is somehow still known by them, and find that character credible. That story - the god who is known, but who exercises such restraint as to never interact with humans - corrodes itself the moment you begin to tell it. It generates doubt. It collapses its own ability to sustain itself to the end sentence, and the instruction to return to the beginning.

There can be no god who isn't a monster, in the same way that there can be no government which doesn't govern.

It's not that god is or isn't real. "Reality" wouldn't even begin to be a valid descriptor which could apply to creatures which are not bound by the realized constraints of existence within contingency. It's that any god which can be conceived, must be conceived of as a monstrum, as a portent of a thing which mutates into an agent of harm at the instant of its conception. And any god which could be conceived of existing beyond human knowledge, or effect on human existence, decays with an astonishingly rapid half life: the narrative degrades the story it's supposed to sustain.

If you can identify with that monster, and not immediately be sickened unto death, or feel dread at the consequences of your fealty to that story, by all means enjoy the behavior. I hear also that some rapists enjoy raping, which no more justifies rape than the consolation felt in supposed unity with god justifies what the god must be, or not be at all.


24 comments:

gamefaced said...

my atheism was hard earned. raised southern baptist with a personality that drove me to want nothing more than to please the adults around me, it took years for me to come out on the other side of the spectrum. atheism is one of the few things now a days that gets me defensive. my mom says i harbor christian anger, as in, christians make me mad. there's truth to that, but i wouldn't stop with christianity. i'm a little scared too, that without the exposure to crazy christian land and immersion in all that it morphs in children - my own son won't be so dead set against christianity or religion, maybe he won't appreciate the beauty of its absence having never been crushed to death by it. time will tell.

Jack Crow said...

game,

As someone raised in an intensely Catholic (convert) house, who "escaped" into evangelical baptist fundamentalism, I understand very intimately, in my own, way "anger with Christianity." I find within it, perhaps not unrelatedly, the narrative cycle with the most compelling foundation myth (powerlessness can redeem the world) and the greatest tendency to violate its own story.

I miss it, because certainty is intoxicating, and I'm a happy drunk. But, the key for me is to refuse all consolation. That's hard, and I can be unbearable in my pursuit of that mode of life. But, it also liberates.

Abonilox said...

Jack - Thanks for the comments over on my blog...

Another little wrinkle I'm wrestling with on this topic, apropos to your post, is the extent to which our emotional state of mind affects our response to questions of theism/atheism etc... I know that it did in my case. Recalling Hitchens, for example, I noticed a high degree of moral outrage at the idea of God(s). I continue to struggle to understand the basis of such outrage.

I'll accept the last bit as hyperbolic but essentially insightful. A theologian I like says something to the effect that we will ultimately resemble our image of God whatever that is. Too true, I think, hence the history of religious fascists and various other monsters.

Jim H. said...

I'm not an atheist. Atheism implies belief. Belief in "not god."

I'm an agnostic. Don't believe either way: "god" or "not god". Don't have the evidence or rationale or inclination.

If there is a cool way of conceiving of a let's call it god, A.N. Whitehead had a clean shot at the end of Process & Reality: Cosmos as organism attaining to consciousness of itself.

Belief (either way) doesn't matter.

Brian M said...

Another angry atheist here. went through a brief fundamentalist phase...not very deeply (I never memorized Bible verses or joined groups, really).

Yaheweh seems like a monster, by the very descriptions used to proselytize for him by "his" followers.

I thought this was a somewhat interesting discussion here...


http://rantswithintheundeadgod.blogspot.ca/2013/02/islam-and-secret-of-monotheism.html

Devin Lenda said...

On refusing consoling narratives:
http://larvalsubjects.wordpress.com/2013/02/26/vitalism-no-thanks/

gamefaced said...

jim h - while it's apparent you've found a title that suits you best and you're obviously smitten with its implications, i don't personally subscribe to your definition of atheist or agnostic, although i used to.
i didn't like calling myself an atheist because it felt smug, arrogant for me to profess a lack of a belief in god when i wasn't so sure if there was or if i even cared one way or the other. the further i've come from my christian upbringing and my young adult "demons" the more agnosticism was too weak for me. i am angry at the world's religions. the only belief i hold regarding god is that the time has come to stop placating the beast. and the only way i can sufficiently line up my ideals and morals with the expectations of religion and cultural/moral bankrupting of the earth's population is to be brazen and proud that i do not believe in a god or gods - period. over the years i've come to view agnosticism as a middle step, an apathetic pause to the ultimate goal of shedding all residual systems left over from the brainwashing of my younger years.
that being said, i don't have a belief in 'not god' i KNOW 'not god'. not god in the sense that i was raised, not god in the sense that the majority of the world's population accepts as a given.
by all means - call yourself agnostic. but don't tell me what my atheism implies. my atheism is seeded in wisdom, my own personal knowledge, not belief.

Jim H. said...

I know the fundamentalist brainwashing. I fought it most of the first 25 years of my life. Including seminary!

My nomenclature is simple philosophy. Logic. Propositional analysis. That's what I did (academically) after the Baptist thing.

I'm not going to argue semantics. I'm pretty much a robust relativist. Call yourself whatever you will.

I will say this: Many religionists, especially, Christian fundamentalists also claim to KNOW God personally through their personal relationship with their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I don't dispute this either.

It may be apathetic to disengage emotionally from religious discussion. Or not. It may be a passionate advocacy against extremism and authoritarianism.

I completely agree that the Empirical (as in, e.g., Roman, Sultanate) trappings of the world's organized religions are the source of much of the world's political & cultural problems.

Hierarchies of Authority (the worship of Power for its own sake) are repugnant to me.

Jack Crow said...

Jim,

You wrote: "I'm not an atheist. Atheism implies belief. Belief in 'not god.' "

This is exactly wrong. I mean that the error is a precise one, which makes it harder to recognize. A-theism doesn't suggest "no god." It can only describe a belief that god is not worth it, either because he likely doesn't exist, or because even existing, he wouldn't deserve recognition as a value.

I won't argue that this isn't a belief, but the belief is not properly "no god."

Jack Crow said...

Brian,

I enjoy that writer, but I have to get over the initial reaction to some of the arguments as "too clever for their own good."

Devin,

Thanks. I read the whole thing, and it echoes my own thought, (which I prefer, though, because it avoids dipping too much into the foolishness of formal philosophy).

I was coming back to write something else on the subject, but have discovered that Abonilox had a syzygy path, re: Calvinism.

I find Calvinism, Islam and some strains of Buddhism to be the most reprehensible of all religious developments, and also the most likely to approximate honesty about human authority over the universe. Islam is mathematical. It is, as the Ranter notes at his site, computer code for a universe without consciousness.

Calvinism and Buddhism also address the problem of consciousness, and are right about the consequences, while being wrong about the reasons.

Consciousness is excrement, it's what excreted after the chemistry has occured. It's epiphenomena. It's just that this isn't a bad thing.

Jack Crow said...

Abon,

I think the moral outrage is relatively simple. If any claim about a god is true, that god is a monster. I know that "any" at first glance appears to create too large a set, but the fact that we're dealing with creatures distinguished by their being-greater-than-human, to whom we must give love, or for pre-spiritualized religions, disaster preventing goodies, any claim about a god is a claim about how this supposed being is better than humans. A god, by being a god, must be at the top of the hierarchy, especially when we're introduced to the humiliation of that god as a prelude to his triumph.

This means that all claims about gods, including the ones which demonstrate how they love us and suffer for us, only work as claims about gods by distinguishing that these are creatures who have power over us, and who at best don't use it because they're better than us.

As a thought exercise, substitute "abusive husband" or "abusive mother" for "god."

Brian M said...

Jack: I like your last response to aboniblog. I just can't get George Carlin's monolog out of my mind, either.

As for Mr. Crane....I agree too there. The bigger problem is his apparant reliance transhumanism as the ultimate answer to the purposelessness and hostility of nature. Not sure I blieve that this is possible, so his theological goal of an immeasurably powerful transhuman mentality acting as a force of nature on the universe is either completely impossible or so utterly far distant in time that his reliance on this as an almost religious purpose for existence seems problematical. But...the wordsmithing and the ideas are fascinating if frightening.

(Just like I find some of your ideas frightening, but continue to come back!)

abonilox said...

Jack thanks for word of the day. Zyzygy. I looked it up. Great word.

Jack Crow said...

Brian, Abon -

The Christian communist Nietzschean Italian thinker, Gianna Vattimo, argues (After Christianity) that the only non-idolatrous treatment of god is the one which believes without any image, statement, article of faith or word (I paraphrase).

What he argues is that the death of god has to be treated as non-metaphysical and real, because there's no way to argue that (this is, again, my interpretation) that human minds, where god resides, are unreal, and the only possible relation to divinity.

What he seems to be saying is that anything which conceives of god, even in a personal way, attempts a strength of conviction which is false.

His approach to the Christian god is not exactly parallel to Batchelor's agnostic-atheist-nonspiritualist interpretation of Buddhism (Buddhism Without Beliefs), but it proposes a similar project: can the practice be entirely contained within sensory space, rejecting all metaphysics, and still be "worth" it?

To be vulgar for a moment, taking a shit is worth it, even when no ideas are formulated into logical propositions, about it. It's just not a universally true act.

And that's the problem with faith, in my estimation. It proposes to value everything, and therefore nothing, and it turns what we have (not everything, not nothing) into a wager that nothing is not the outcome of everything.

Jack Crow said...

Brian,

I enjoy thoughtful sci-fi about transhumanism (especially the cantakerous Swann's treatment), but the notion is monstrous. A transhuman entelechy would have all the necessary attributes of a god, and would treat with everything excluded from its threshold event as merely resources.

Now, I believe that we are all merely resources, in so much as we are matter, that consciousness is not value-conferring and that (especially in light of recent discoveries regarding the implications of the proposed Higg's Boson's mass) all this can only end.

Nothing has meaning. Meaning is like hope: it's the last affliction released from the Box.

But, being meaningless, having no teleology, lacking any purpose to which we must slave, largely powerless, weak against the backdrop of our cosmos, we are liberated from the heaviness of responsibility.

We are edge walkers, obviously - since death drives us through life. But, we owe nothing. Most of us will squander this, seen from the distance of our own lives, but the revolutionary liberation comes from discovering, in the way only a completely meaningless, accidental sentience can discover, that even squandering an unrepeatable existence is a tremendous advantage over never having the chance to fuck it all up.

A transhuman entity, like a god, is bound entirely by a different logic. It has a purpose, to dominate death, to survive the erasure of everything. That means that it won't just recognize that we are all resources. It will, like all descriptions of gods convey, organize everything towards its own survival.

Like a state. Or the Church. Like corporations, which "survive" the deaths of their constituent parts.

tsisa said...

Yes well, APPARENTLY light and wind go where they will. No one can predict it.

The Mathmos said...

Agreed on most points, Jack.

I'd argue though that there are meaningful struggles to be had and won before liberatory meaninglessness. The Utopia of a tired man (Borges) is still far from us. Many rich obscurantist mafiosos remain to be done away with.

Else we are merely valuing our own neuro-activity from under a jackboot.

Jack Crow said...

tsisa,

What I mean is that there is no way to conceive of god separate from word or text.

Try communicating or thinking about deity without words.

It cannot be done. God is a creature of the text.

Mathmos,

The confusion and miscommunication are all mine. I think "meaning" is a tyranny, in so much as it means "purpose imposed from without."

I prefer struggle without the context of a meaning, which usually implies a teleology into which people must be subsumed.

But, as you indicate and infer, it's essentially impossible to communicate this.

Devin Lenda said...

Thanks for the linkup, Jack. That nihilism post was born from this excellent post and comment thread.

Mathmos, I never got back to your comment from a few months ago (about this topic, actually) but I read it and it's now bouncing around in my head somewhere.

tsisageya said...

What I mean is that there is no way to conceive of god separate from word or text.

How do you know that?

Jack Crow said...

Share a concept of god with me, Tsisageya. Without words or text.

Brian M said...

Can one share any abstract concept beyond the immediately physical without word or text?

Jack Crow said...

Sure, Brian. I hug my kids all the time. This communicates complex, abstracted and subjective meaning.

What I cannot do, without the text, is teach them that this hug means that God loves them, or that they belong to civilization and the state.

But, my argument is that God is entirely conceptual. God is only a textual concept. Remove the text, show me an image of a vague figure grasping a bull by its horns, and neither I, you, nor anyone else can say with certainty, or even confidence, that this depicts a god, especially one which has demonstrable existence.

God exists only in language.

tsisageya said...

Share a concept of god with me, Tsisageya. Without words or text.

Okay, I guess you got me there.