Two weeks ago, Kristor published “The Archetypal Atheist.” This post argued that Satan rebelled against God because he believed God was a tyrant in the literal and original sense of usurper. He believed that God had arrogated a divine supremacy to which he was not entitled, and for this reason mounted the rebellion known to Christians as the War in Heaven. In his repudiation of, and rebellion against, God’s proper supremacy, Kristor said that Satan cast the mold for the spiritual type we know as the atheist.
One week later a crew of angry atheists barged in here and set to howling in protest against these “hilarious lies,” which they resented as the grossest calumny. What ensued was a long and at times splenetic thread that grew to more than two hundred comments in only five days. Masochists can read them under the original post.
The angry atheists covered a lot of ground in their hundred or so comments, many of which were prolix, but their basic complaint was twofold. First, they complained that Satan was not an atheist because Satan did not deny the existence of God. Second, they complained that to call an atheist the type of Satan was defamatory, because everyone knows that Satan is one very bad dude. If you are interested in the Orthospherian defense of Kristor’s thesis, I once again refer you to the original thread.
This post will not indulge in l’esprit de l’escalier. So far as I can see, the Orthospherian defense was spirited enough, and parting words after an opponent has parted are pusillanimous and low. What I will do is reflect on the general character of this encounter, and of our recent adversaries. In the course of last week’s exchange, I believe Kristor described them as interlocutors, but in this I think he was overly generous, or perhaps hopeful. Interlocutors discuss a topic, and by discussion help each other to a better understanding of the topic. They are like two men who climb towards the top of the same mountain by pushing and pulling one another from ledge to ledge. Adversaries clash, and in this clash strive to destroy or escape destruction.
Intellectual clashes are dismal affairs because no one emerges the wiser. When they are not boring recitations of arguments that have been made since Methuselah was in knee-breeches, they come down to oaths, grunts, and petulant cries of “that’s not fair.” For the adversaries, an intellectual clash also leaves an foul aftertaste. This need have nothing to do with chagrin or remorse, but is rather the Weltschmerz of Nietzsche’s “eternal recurrence.” It is the acedia that comes with the knowledge that this very same clash will happen again, and again, and again.
Intellectual clashes with atheists are especially dismal. They spew Weltschmerz like a squid; they belch acedia like a bonfire of old tires. A couple of years ago I was in a public toilet in Budapest, unaware that I needed to give the attendant five forints for the privilege. I had with me only euros and dollars, neither of which the attendant (a crazed woman) would accept, even in a quantity equal to 100 forints. She locked the door and shouted in Hungarian (which is unintelligible to me). I waived my euros and answered in English (which was unintelligible to her) and my German (which is unintelligible to anybody). Last week’s exchange with the angry atheists was a lot like that—roaring in a subterranean toilet with no hope of communication.
I am not impartial, but I believe most of last week’s roaring came from the angry atheists. No doubt there are roaring Christians in this world, but they prefer busy street-corners to obscure web sites. But who knows, that Hungarian washroom attendant (who got her forints in the end) may to this day remember me as bellicose and loud.
I must say that these angry atheists were a dauntless bunch, as angry atheists often are. Perhaps it is only because the timid atheists tremble with rage in silence, but in my experience atheists are assertive. They are confident that their beliefs are true, their arguments are unanswerable, and their adversaries are fools. This gives them an initial berserker advantage, but it also leads to rashness and comeuppance. We might call them rash rationalists since, however clever they are, they seem always to overestimate their cleverness.
Atheists have crashed this web site before. I mean crash in the sense of party-crashers, not computer meltdowns. I remember first seeing this years ago at the web site of First Things, when I thought the behavior very odd. Do gangs of angry or proselyting Christians “crash” atheist web sites? Perhaps they do, but if so, it would strike me as a uniquely futile (and Weltschmerz inducing) way to spend one’s time.
I must also say that these angry atheists are dogged. They wrote thousands upon thousands of words, each hefty comment thudding like a not-very-formidable battering ram against our fairly well-barred gate. They really, really tried to persuade us they were correct, perhaps even force an apostasy. They were not particularly skillful; but I have to give them an A+ for effort. I am ashamed to say it, but I wouldn’t send a tweet to save their souls. Atheists have what Christians used to know as zeal, and we should admire this in them.
Then why, you may ask, did I wade into this fray. I did it, alas, simply for fun; even though I knew I’d end up with this hangover of Weltschmerz and acedia. These angry atheists didn’t seem to be having much fun. It’s another thing I’ve noticed about atheists in general—they take their atheism very seriously. They may be jolly as Santa’s elves in other circumstances, but when it comes to clashing with Christians, they are as grim as men shoveling gravel. They are full of taunts but empty of jests. They sound like a man who has his fingers round your throat and is talking through clenched teeth.
It must be said that party-crashing atheists tend to be louts—louts who expect hospitality from those whose party they crash. They are like terrible guest who won’t go home at 2:00 a.m., but nevertheless complain that the drinks are running low, the snacks are cold, and the music is not to their liking. They rationalize this by claiming to be the true victims, arguing that they hold a license to loutishness that was purchased with the blood of martyrs. Because, once upon a time, people like us strapped people like them to stakes, and set torch to the faggots beneath their feet, they say they are entitled to plant their muddy boots on the table in our house.
So what is the trouble with atheists? Well they tend to incite clashes that leave me in a quagmire of Weltschmerz, for one thing. Not shaken or scared, just sad (but not for them, I’m afraid). And although they are brave and dogged, they are also some of the greatest bores and louts on God’s green earth. I say this as a man with a record of achievement in the higher reaches of both of these activities.