The Troubled Atheists

I suggested a few weeks ago that perhaps the reason Lucifer maintains his hopeless contest with God on the battlefield of the created order – being a seraph, shouldn’t he know better than to keep at it? – is that, in his initial turn from God he ipso facto turned from a full apprehension of the whole of Truth, which is to be found only in God, as God; and that this turn from Truth effectually blinded him, totally and permanently, to the whole Category of the Ultimate (which consists entirely of God), so that his thinking was thenceforth subtly and profoundly disordered. He would thenceforth have apprehended YHWH as merely a seraph like himself, and nothing anyone told him to the contrary could ever possibly penetrate his intellect and reform his understanding; for, the Category of the Ultimate having been excised from his intellectual toolkit, any inditia of Ultimacy would forever pass him by, completely unseen for what they were. They would be to him, wrongly, inditia of creaturity, or else simply meaningless nonsense.

In passing, I mentioned that this profound lacuna would render Lucifer an atheist of a sort, and a nominalist and a nihilist to boot. Not that his atheism would prevent his belief in the existence of seraphim, of course, for they are not divine; it would consist rather in his disbelief in God (this would, by the way, eliminate any belief that he, or Gabriel, or YHWH were supramundane – for if there is no God, then nor are there gods, properly speaking, but instead only quite natural simulacra thereof such as people Asgard in the Marvel comic books, who do not understand themselves as divine except by comparison to vastly less powerful creatures). Nor that his nominalism and nihilism would follow from his atheism, but rather that they would be other aspects of his turn from the Absolute: blindness to Ultimacy, and so to the Ultimacy of the Logos, entails incapacity to understand either that Forms in general (which all subsist in him) are objectively real (this being the nominalist bit) or that the Forms of Values are objectively real (this being the nihilist bit).

I titled the post The Archetypal Atheist, for as first and mightiest of those who don’t believe in God, Lucifer is the exemplification of the type, and its palmary instance. Not that all atheists are exactly like Lucifer, of course, except insofar as they have in common a lack of belief in God. Just as it does not follow from the redness of the archetypal fire truck that all fire trucks must be red, the atheism of Lucifer does not entail that all atheists must like him be liars and murderers – or fiery dragons.

An atheist blogger got wind of the post, and – missing the point of it – excoriated it as clueless. Then a band of atheist commenters descended on it. They were angry. They were contemptuous, snarky, insulting, puerile, facile, and inept. They did not want to understand the post, but only to heap scorn and derision upon it. In this they succeeded. But, not having understood it in the first place, they failed even to address it, let alone to refute it.

Indeed, it seemed that they just couldn’t understand it. Some could not read what it said, or write about it. Some could not comprehend basic logic, even when their errors of reasoning were explained to them many times, in many ways. They could not interpret the arguments properly, because they radically misunderstood so many of the terms in which they were expressed. They mocked the notion of the Ultimate and the whole discourse of metaphysics. If you can’t think in terms of Ultimacy, can’t use metaphysical concepts, then you can’t begin to think about God, properly so-called. At most you can then think about Great Big Creatures, like Thor and Loki in the Marvel movies. And that’s all that our atheist guests seemed able to talk about. Repeated references by the theists participating in the thread to the Eternal One met with blank incomprehension and ridicule, generating responses that pertained properly only to such contingent creatures as Aurora or Triton. They could not seem to grasp that a supposed refutation of beings like Pan or Balder could not even pertain to God.

Their atheism seemed to have completely disabled their ability to think properly about God, or to understand what sort of being he must be. It was a striking demonstration of just the sort of radical metaphysical blindness the post had conjectured must afflict Lucifer.

What was more – and not a little horrifying – was that they manifested the same bitter spite traditionally ascribed to Lucifer in his rebellion, and in his persecution of his fellow creatures. They were relentless, implacable in their bloody minded determination to destroy their theist adversaries. I suppose that in their hearts they felt as if they were on the side of the angels, of good, truth, and righteousness – that, i.e., they were Doing the Right Thing – for why, otherwise, would they persist in their angry apologies for atheism?

Nor were they happy warriors. On the contrary, they seemed beset with paranoia, apprehending attacks upon their persons when these were not even in view of the theist converse, taking umbrage thereat, and refusing to hear any mollifying words to the effect that discussion of such as Lucifer was not – of course – tantamount to discussion of them. They could not see this, at all. No; it was all about them. So were they immured incorrigibly in the torments of their outrage at the insults they wrongly apprehended.

This leads back then to another aspect of Lucifer’s rebellion, indicated but not named in The Archetypal Atheist: as well as atheism, nominalism, and nihilism, his turn away from Truth involved solipsism. To turn away from Truth is to turn away from the heart of what is objective and real toward what is less so, and thus to begin an inward gyre. Thus to turn from fellowship with God is in the end to turn from fellowship as such.

Having himself completed this turn, how then could Lucifer fail to see himself as completely meaningless and utterly alone (despite all those apparent others in his sensorium)? For the convinced solipsist, nothing transcends his life and situates it, nothing renders it meaningful, or important, or therefore truly good. Such minds are alone; and as alone, without point, and bereft.

20 thoughts on “The Troubled Atheists

  1. Pingback: The Troubled Atheists | Neoreactive

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  4. Insightful. Your description of Satan’s condition reminds me of my own sympathy for the devil. When I was a young child, I remember refusing to sing the kids’ Protestant churchy hymn, “If the Devil Doesn’t Like It.” At Vacation Bible School, the camp personnel liked to have children perform this tune, and I always caused concern because I disagreed with the song (a contrarian from my mother’s womb, it seems). I found it objectionable to want the devil to sit on a tack. My protest seems ridiculous now, but I guess that I felt sorry for the despicable creature even back then. How horrible it must be to suffer what you describe. And horrible for contemporary atheists, too, to be so disconnected from the divine.

    • Lucifer has always struck me as the archetypal tragic hero – well, protagonist, anyway. He offends – honestly enough, and innocently, trying to do the right thing so far as he can see it (why would he do it, otherwise?) – and then his horrible inexorable doom closes in upon him. No wonder he is bitter.

      It is hard and mean to wish him ill, to whom the maximum of agony is meted out already as proportionate to his crime. Nevertheless is it apt to wish confusion to our Enemy. Thus did our forebears hate Boney, and fight him with all their might, and wish him every manner of ill, even as they admired his genius and audacity.

  5. In his God of Abraham, Lenn Evan Goodman shows us the reality of Satan’s fall. How the self-styled Brights fail to see this is beyond me:

    Yet despite the spread of monotheist institutions and ideas, values continue to be sacralized that thwart and flout such basic goals and givens as these. Sacred values are disfigured and deformed—from the killing fields of Rwanda, Cambodia and Bosnia to the sweatshops of China, the brothels of Thailand, the South African townships, the streets of Kigali and Mogadishu, and the crack houses, glory holes, and needle parks of the West. One cannot say that without monotheism there must be paganism, for the disjunction is not perfect: one might have no god at all. But rarely is that socially the case. Religion, it seems, abhors a spiritual vacuum. And if gods are expressions of values, monotheists are rightly chary of the values that leap in to fill the vacuum. For values not disciplined by an adequate moral vision hold no guarantee of the respect for persons, regard for nature, reverence for life, or deference to the human image that the traditions of monotheism have struggled, not always with success, to define and defend. (Page X)

  6. and that this turn from Truth effectually blinded him, totally and permanently, to the whole Category of the Ultimate (which consists entirely of God), so that his thinking was thenceforth subtly and profoundly disordered. He would thenceforth have apprehended YHWH as merely a seraph like himself

    I didn’t mention it at the time of your prior post: I’ve encountered this idea years ago (I know not where), and it seems to make a lot of sense — Lucifer rebels against God because he doesn’t believe that there *is* a God; he doesn’t believe that the Being we call ‘God’ *is* “the ground of all being”, but rather is merely someone who got his hands on the levers of power, so to speak, before Lucifer himself did.

  7. The A-T tradition tells us that evil is a privation. On this view, could it be said that Creation itself is “evil” in the sense that it is not God and therefore imperfect? Only God is Pure Act and to the extent that Creation is not Pure Act, is the extent to which it is “evil”?

    • The good proper to a thing is privated only insofar as it fails to implement the properties of its own nature. We don’t say of a hinge that it is busted on account of the fact that it can’t swim. A tiger is not as perfect as God, but it is not therefore a defective tiger unless it has imperfectly what is proper to a tiger.

  8. I’ve come across quite a few atheists on the internet who assert their hope that there be no God. In other words, they prefer hopelessness, meaninglessness and an existence that, relative to eternity, is all but non-existent. Presumably this is their “hope” for their loved ones also. Why would one wish for such compared to the possibility of the Beatific Vision?

    • Well, you can’t hope for something unless you are not absolutely sure of it. No one hopes that the sun will rise in the east, or that 2 + 2 = 4. An atheist lacks belief in God, but does not certainly believe there is no God. That’s what the “high church” atheists insist atheism means, anyway. If even though you are not absolutely sure there is no God – ergo no Judgement or chance of everlasting damnation – you’ve lived your life as if you were, then you have to be a bit uneasy about how you’ve placed your bet on Pascal’s Wager. If you’re a sinner, and somewhere deep down you know it (as all of us of course do), and you have no intention of ever repenting, then you have lots of reasons to hope that the worst that is in store for you is nothing.

      • Thank you. That seems to cover it. Reminds me of that saying of Czeslaw Milosz where he inverted the Marxist charge of religion as being the opium of the people, instead suggesting that it is those who think they can sin without consequence who are on the opium.

      • Exactly. If monotheism is true, the stakes of human life – and the meaning, import, and significance of human life – are infinite. If God does not exist, there are no such things as stakes, meanings, importance, or significance.

        Theism then is a far, far more dire and challenging thing than atheism to order your life around – or to fail thereat! If you end up with nothingness no matter what you do, there is no risk. If on the other hand you win either everlasting bliss or everlasting torment, depending on your choice, why then the risk you face is infinite.

        It’s much, much more terrifying to be theist than not.

    • A brief flurry of beauty and horror followed by eternal sleep or black oblivion does not seem so very bad to me. In fact it seems superior to any religion that promotes belief in an eternal hell. But I am something other than an atheist in a relatively unfriendly state for such as me.

  9. A private correspondent writes: “As to why the hecklers bother the Orthospherians, isn’t it obvious? You are drawn to the symbolic, thereby sub-creating beautiful things, while they are drawn to the diabolic. Their formation or religion, so to speak, encourages them to pull apart all beautiful constructions, including relationships. Perverse it is, and more children receive such a formation each day in The West. Suicide it is.” I very much like the “symbolic/diabolic” opposition. Some people construct; others deconstruct!

    • Indeed; most satisfying, etymologically. Symbols literally throw things together. Diabols literally throw things in two.

      In Perelandra, Ransom tracks down his diabolical adversary Weston by following a trail of froglike creatures it has torn apart for no reason.

  10. Well I am a Witch and a Daoist, but perhaps there is a Christian God. It is (probably) only one of one thousand faces, though. I can’t say I know a shitload of Atheists either, but being in Kentucky and surrounded by covert hostility to my beliefs and life experiences (perhaps?)… I also suspect many people I know harbor Christian tendencies they haven’t deigned to share, but so what? Live and let be. Psychedelics! Anarchy!

    • But if you wish to see a simulacrum of your fictitious Devil, you have only to look to this music video: … I suspect these monstrous things, if they exist, have not found our Earth yet, though they try mightily in the dream world. Bringing 200 million universes to effective slave revolt and ending their dominance will tend to piss off a fascist.


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