If you have been checking the English speaking world’s intellectual and spiritual pulse over the last decade, you may have noticed a resurgence in atheist propaganda. From best selling books to political activities, the atheist block has come out of its closet and now brazenly flaunts its heathenism for all the world to see. Just this last week, I wrote about the D.C. atheist campaign for Christmas.
When I was a student in Paris, I was struck by the hostility with which religion was treated by many folks. I had discovered the French revolutionary laïcisme, and I witnessed public attacks of Christianity that I would not have imagined possible. The scorn, hatred, and disgust for religion in otherwise decent, cordial people shocked my Midwestern piety. I knew atheists back home, but they were young disaffected social rebels on the fringes—and they were wise enough to keep their blasphemous rumors to themselves lest they create public outrage. However, when enough folks realize that they are not alone, their numbers embolden them to overcome their cowardly reticence. We are now seeing the fruits of atheist liberation, I suppose, and instead of bath houses, we have book stores, coffee shops, and the “grassroots” organization of the Democratic Party.
Not all of the écrasez l’infâme crowd self-identifies with the Left. For the Right—in America, at least—has many liberal roots, and liberals from Jefferson to Mill to the crowd at Reason Magazine today have proven ever inhospitable to the religious proclivities of their countrymen. Moreover, the Nietzschean component of the American Right, which overlaps the liberals to some extent (as with Rand and her idolaters), introduces further hostility in the Right’s relationship to the preachers of the slave morality. A new discussion site, Secular Right, provides a meeting place for those enemies of Leftist collectivism who feel a bit left out of the communal warmth of most American conservative pow wows. John Derbyshire and Heather MacDonald are among the contributors to the page.
I have enjoyed the lively reaction that the site has elicited in the right-leaning blogosphere. What’s Wrong with the World, the National Review Online, Lawrence Auster’s View from the Right, The American Conservative, and others have commented on their renegade compatriots. Secular Right is still too new for me to pass judgment, but the posters’ initial foray into the public square has largely focused on emphasizing their specific difference—through assaults on religion and on religious conservatives. It is as if they are finally airing their pent-up frustrations about all those annoying Christians with whom they grudgingly must cooperate to keep the socialists at bay.
I have not written about atheism much, yet, though it certainly is an interest of mine. Some years ago, I coined what must be the case for some of us in the fold—we must go through life ever surrounded by the temptation of nihilism.
Michael Novak has written many thoughtful articles on atheism. I recommend “Christmas Atheists,” “Lonely Atheists of the Global Village,” and “Letter to an Atheist Friend,” written to the aforementioned Heather MacDonald. I especially appreciate that Novak describes various species of atheists in his “Christmas Atheists” article; the reasons and motivations behind people’s opinions are much better indicators of their intellectual and spiritual state than their “positions” are. I would much rather a man be an unbeliever hostile to Christianity who is nevertheless wholly committed to finding the truth than an apathetic cultural Christian for whom the greatest questions and matters hold no interest. With the one, his response matches the importance of the object; with the other, he might as well be a cow—for he is bovine with respect to matters divine. This is excusable in cattle, who glorify God not through contemplation but perhaps through chewing the cud. For a man, it is a ghastly condition.
I, myself, do not think that most self-proclaimed atheists are really atheists. Most of those folks simply hate Christianity and do not find in the term agnostic a strong enough revolt against the established spiritual order. Agnosticism is for wussies; a real man denies God outright. I do not casually interpret an intellectual movement with such blasé psychoanalysis, but much personal exposure and experience indicate that most modern American atheists trace their theological opinions to personal or emotive hostility rather than to the sound reason and scientific rigor that they constantly intone with hallowed sanctimony. Much of the criticism of the Secular Right site points this out, as well. Folks with otherwise sound reasoning and habitual commitments to truth radically depart from their normal sober course when matters of religion appear; such incongruity in a character betrays something irrational in the works.
Yet, my assertion that most atheists are not truly atheists goes beyond a reductive psychoanalytic dismissal. For I hold that the only true atheists are nihilists, and few people are truly nihilists. Consistent nihilism does not seem to be a possible intellectual or practical stance in human life; we have to accept some sense of identity, of consistency—of order—to assert and to do anything. Haters of Christianity assume the title atheist for themselves, but they restrict the meaning of the divine to the Christian or Abrahamic paradigm. Universally, the divine is the highest thing, or non-thing, in one’s understanding, or misunderstanding, of reality. Christian haters like Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins are not atheists because they implicitly and explicitly believe in an order to reality. Anyone who figuratively “bows before the altar of science” thereby truly acknowledges a god. This god may not be a personal god of traditional Western religion, but it is an order, principle, or matrix of laws that causes, explains, encapsulates, or provides the setting for the whole. An angry “atheist” may accuse me of doing violence to semantics, but he thereby refuses to think outside the Abrahamic box that he so much despises.
A more honest man would conclude that a rejection of God was a rejection of reason, of metaphysical and physical principles, of values and identities that we have no right to assert and cannot prove. Such an honest man turns the antinomies of reason viciously against their old Prussian expounder himself, not content to leave science, empiricism, or other pet epistemological domains protected against the powerful and all consuming, including self-consuming, NO of nihilistic hermeneutics. Such an honest man might therefore feel the need for something in the absence of being, and he might, therefore, without basis and justification call for the will to create its own rules, values, principles, and order. He pegs everything on the will, but he knows, and admits, that nihilism robs us even of the will—and of the self. Futilely heroic becomes his tragic dirge in praise of damned man. This man, more than anyone, can claim to be an atheist—but he does so with anguish; for he knows what the nothing does to the mind.
I love this man, and I think that he can instruct those who have ears to hear. Yet, few have such ears.