Fun with Azathoth

Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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177 Responses

  1. Burt Likko says:

    Are you also a transhumanist, Jason? When (“if,” as I see it) immortality comes, it may involve the transformation of the conscious self into something that is no longer recongizably human, like uploading one’s mind, Neuromancer-style, into a durable, artificial, analogue of the brain.

    If that’s what immortality eventually is, I’m not sure if I would want to do that or not.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Burt Likko says:

      I don’t know if I would want that either.  Does it still beat the great nothing?  Possibly.

      I’d need a lot more specifics before I could figure out how I’d feel about it.Report

    • Dan Miller in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Really? This attitude is common, but I confess I find it totally inexplicable.  I don’t even know that it would be necessarily worse than living in a body, and it beats death any time.

      And Jason–I just wanted to say this is one hell of a post.  I don’t agree with it–if I were placing bets, I’d say that we run out of energy and/or climate-change ourselves out of a civilization well before we start generating any methuselahs–but thanks for addressing the topic.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Dan Miller says:

        It’s the idea of being literally reduced to a brain in a bottle that is so frightening. Not having a body with which to interact with and sense the universe would be a big, big issue for me. It doesn’t seem like it could possibly feel like life. I suppose that after a while it would seem normal, though, but before going through that process — a very unsettling notion.Report

  2. Chris says:

    I’m quite certain I wouldn’t want to be immortal. I mean, a healthy lifetime longer than the current human lifespan would probably be pretty nice, but to live indefinitely would suck. Plus, death is the mother of beauty, and all that.

    That said, none of this seems particularly kooky to me. Maybe because I’m an atheist, but it’s OK to be one these days and not be treated like a weirdo, except by Nazarenes.


    • Plinko in reply to Chris says:

      I’d say there’s a massive gap between being unaging and unable to die. The former merely gives one a lot more choice in the matter – though maybe we will get to the point where if you happen to die – you can be brought back against your will. I would not find the conquering of aging or disease to be an affront to humanity the way I might find being unable to ever take my leave of the world.

      I’ve always believed very sincerely that there might well be a god, but if there is, we don’t matter to him. I suppose that puts me very close to what Jason is saying. I don’t think I’ve contemplated it nearly to the extent he has here – honestly it is scary to contemplate.


    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Chris says:

      By American conventional wisdom, this is kooky.  Mormonism — of course — is not.

      I mean, we’ll have a Mormon president long before we have an extropian president, with or without Mitt Romney’s help.Report

  3. James K says:

    Well said Jason, I feel the same way.  This quote from Yudkowsky’s Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality seems apt:

    I comprehend your nature, you symbolize Death, through some law of magic you are a shadow that Death casts into the world.

    And Death is not something I will ever embrace.

    It is only a childish thing, that the human species has not yet outgrown.

    And someday…

    We’ll get over it…

    And people won’t have to say goodbye any more…


  4. Mopey Duns says:

    For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
    When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
    Must give us pause—there’s the respect
    That makes calamity of so long life.
    For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
    Th’oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
    The pangs of dispriz’d love, the law’s delay,
    The insolence of office, and the spurns
    That patient merit of th’unworthy takes,
    When he himself might his quietus make
    With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
    To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
    But that the dread of something after death,
    The undiscovere’d country, from whose bourn
    No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
    And makes us rather bear those ills we have
    Than fly to others that we know not of?Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Mopey Duns says:

      And that just worked out so well for him, too.Report

      • Mopey Duns in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Ooh. Another obvious entry just occurred to me:

        Do not go gentle into that good night,
        Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
        Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
        Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
        Because their words had forked no lightning they
        Do not go gentle into that good night.

        Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
        Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
        Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

        Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
        And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
        Do not go gentle into that good night.

        Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
        Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
        Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

        And you, my father, there on the sad height,
        Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
        Do not go gentle into that good night.
        Rage, rage against the dying of the light.Report

  5. Fnord says:

    Oh, it’s much worse than that. Maybe Azathoth is in charge now, but ultimately, in the long run, the god is Apep: darkness and entropy. You can beat biology, perhaps, but you can’t beat entropy. In the end, we’re STILL a flash in the dark.

    But ultimately it is the human mind that still gives it all meaning. Don’t search for fulfillment out in the universe, it will disappoint you and then devour you. Search for fulfillment inside yourself, and in your fellow travelers. If we’re going to be a flash in the dark, let’s be as awesome a flash as possible.

    If life extension helps with that (and it seems like it could), then it’s a good thing. But it’s still the means, not the end.Report

    • Russell Saunders in reply to Fnord says:

      Oh, it’s much worse than that. Maybe Azathoth is in charge now, but ultimately, in the long run, the god is Apep: darkness and entropy. You can beat biology, perhaps, but you can’t beat entropy. In the end, we’re STILL a flash in the dark.

      I’ve always found this story comforting in that regard.Report

      • Fnord in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        Talk about a deus ex machina. It’s an interesting story, but it’s no more comforting to me than any other myth.Report

      • Mopey Duns in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        The religious nature of the transhumanist impulse has always fascinated me.  When you get right down to it, there is no more reason to believe in the cyclical universe this story proffers, recycled endlessly by a computer God, than there is to embrace Nirvana, Valhalla, or Paradise.  Obviously it is a work of fiction, and not meant to be taken as a literal prediction of our future, but to a certain extent it acts the way religious texts do, in that it acts as a bulwark against the fear of the end of all things, through the promise of a technical solution to the human dilemma.

        It seems to me that there must be a quasi-religious aspect at work in people’s reaction to this story, especially to the extent of finding comfort.



      • North in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        Oh Russell, here I thought I couldn’t love you any more and you break out one of my favorite little Asimov shorts! *swoons*Report

  6. Robert Cheeks says:

    This piece is very well done on many levels and yet, fundamentally fails to provide the reader with a means to seek the necessary reconstituting reality that will allow us to ‘know’ what immortality is.

    Considering that Jason has, perhaps the finest mind on our site (at least one of the quickest wits), I did expect more. Jason discovered a significant clue in his analysis of H.P., who in his grotesque nihilism, and as a great gnostic author, spent his life trying to capture the symbol (immortality) accompanied by a horde of demons that always lurked nearby. Such were the inmates at Arkham House.

    I may be wrong but all this whining, mental masturbation and self-flagellation going on about NO GOD (or I hate God, or there’s no PROOF for God’s existence) that erupts from time-to-time here provides a rather depressing window into our various collegiate librul arts programs and why America is intellectually inept. It also tells us that almost all of our fellow interlocutors are rather ambivalent about life beyond the abyss.

    Where to begin?:

    The fundamental problem with any analysis of, or interpretation of the word (remember boys and girls, words mean things) “immortality” is that it is a concept that does not meaningfully exist in our time and space (modernity). Rather that word points to a ‘truth experienced’ in a non-existent reality.

    “Well, I don’t believe in this “non-existent reality” crap,” the LoOG shouted in unison.

    “That’s your problem,” Cheeks replied, “but, I’ll tell you this:

    … you have grounded your existence in your own, sophomoric, pride, and, accordingly, the rejection of “FAITH” (Heb.11:1, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things unseen.)”. Modernity’s collapse into secularism/progressivism (the rise of the ‘self’, radical individualism, and sundry ideological derailments) has played it’s part in the loss of the experience of the reality that engendered/brought forth the ancient symbol (immortality), and, acts to inhibit our efforts to capture or rather recapture that reality that “evokes” the meaning/understanding of the word.

    Voegelin writes, “The symbols exist in the world, but their truth belongs to the nonexistent experience which by their means articulates itself.” And, Jason, in his astute introspection, hints that it is impossible for him to ‘know’ the word as anything but the construct of gnostic horror writers, objectivists, and derailed moderns, which is to admit to an inability to know the truth, and, consequently, to continue to exist in disorder.

    However, the good news is that Jason (and others) are participating in the quest, asking questions, and seeking truth regarding our deficient existence. Unfortunately, they unnecessarily complicate this quest by requiring its participants to make the inquiry within the confines of a world-immanent consciousness and as a result define there predictable failure.

    T.S. Eliot understood the plight of the modern when he sagaciously wrote:

    “There is only the fight to recover what has been lost

    and found and lost again and again; and now under conditions

    that seem unpropitious”Report

    • Shorter Bob: Jason didn’t provide the answer to the ultimate question, therefore he has failed at blog posting. See Voegelin for an answer to said question that involves the use of the word “gnostic” to describe anything I don’t agree with.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

      Aha!  Now we come to ticks and tocks, sir…  Pace Chris, I think we’re really getting somewhere.

      You are quite wrong to conclude that my philosophy settles on despair.  It begins in despair, but that is all.  It ends in joy — much like Christianity, from beginning to end.

      I do however reject the idea of faith found in Hebrews.  It’s nonsensical.  The evidence of things unseen (unheard, unsmelled, etc, presumably) is not evidence at all.  It is evidence without evidence, and thus it is the purest self-contradiction.  I have no place for it.

      Our ideas of immortality are different, too.  The Christian idea of immortality exists outside of time, unchanging, and in a sense perpendicular to human history.

      My idea of immortality is a lot more like the image of Shiva, the dancing god of destruction, stamping out Apasmara, the demon of ignorance.  Will he have to do it again and again?  Yes, he will.  And with infinite pleasure. To the extent that I am invited to the dance, I am happy, even if my time there is brief.  It’s still eternity.

      And, Jason, in his astute introspection, hints that it is impossible for him to ‘know’ the word as anything but the construct of gnostic horror writers, objectivists, and derailed moderns,

      Including Tolstoy and the Bhagavad-Gita?  Cherry pick if you must, I suppose.Report

      • The image of Shiva Nataraja is among my favorite from all world religions.  (I look for them whenever I’m in a museum with a collection that includes Asian art.)  I love your description, Jason, which I think is remarkably beautiful.Report

      • Jason, I wish that’s where we were getting with Bob. Again, I (perhaps because I’m odd) don’t find your view that odd, though. Immortality as participation in the flow of becoming even seems to me fairly straightforward. That doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful. It is. It’s just, well, maybe you and I read some of the same things. Nietzsche once wrote:

        Ye tell me, “Life is hard to bear.” But for what purpose should ye have your pride in the morning and your resignation in the evening?

        Life is hard to bear: but do not affect to be so delicate! We are all of us fine sumpter asses and assesses.

        What have we in common with the rose-bud, which trembleth because a drop of dew hath formed upon it?

        It is true we love life; not because we are wont to live, but because we are wont to love.

        There is always some madness in love. But there is always, also, some method in madness.

        And to me also, who appreciate life, the butterflies, and soap-bubbles, and whatever is like them amongst us, seem most to enjoy happiness.

        To see these light, foolish, pretty, lively little sprites flit about—that moveth Zarathustra to tears and songs.

        I should only believe in a God that would know how to dance.

        And when I saw my devil, I found him serious, thorough, profound, solemn: he was the spirit of gravity—through him all things fall.

        Not by wrath, but by laughter, do we slay. Come, let us slay the spirit of gravity!

        I learned to walk; since then have I let myself run. I learned to fly; since then I do not need pushing in order to move from a spot.

        Now am I light, now do I fly; now do I see myself under myself. Now there danceth a God in me.—Report

    • James Hanley in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

      So Jason’s argument proves nothing, but this one particular religious text from a couple thousand years ago does?

      In Bob world, all that’s really needed to demonstrate your wisdom is a simple reliance on authority, just so long as it’s the correct one.

      The funny thing is, I tried that for several decades, because people kept telling me I had a god shaped hole that needed to be filled.  Then I finally came to grips with just how logically wrong such appeal to authority was, quit worrying about it, and realized the hole was not “god shaped” after all.

      The hole, such as it is, seems to me to be the difficulty of coming to grasp with our own mortality. When I contemplate dying in a car accident, leaving my wife with children to care for, I feel a great emptiness.  When I contemplate dying quietly at a well-advanced age, I do not feel it.  To the extent I have come to grips with my mortality, the hole is filled; to the extent I have not, the hole remains.

      This leads me to understand religion as an attempt to fill that hole, but one that ultimately misunderstands its shape. Nevertheless, the concept of life after death does help some people deal satisfactorily with their mortality, so for them the hole is filled.  It would work just as well with any other made up religion, though.  The authority of the Bible is just a tool, a mechanism, not an actual truth.Report

      • Chris in reply to James Hanley says:

        James, I’ve felt for a long time that the way to accept death, ultimately, is to realize that I’m never really going to accept death. By that I mean that death is always the unspoken context to life, the ground to our figure — it is with us always, because it can overtake us at any moment. This is impossible for me to accept, even as I’ve accepted that I am mortal. For me this lack of acceptance is not a burden, though, because I think accepting the closeness of death would be deeply unfortuante. It is the closeness of death that gives life its immediacy and its color: life is something wonderful now precisely because it may be nothing in the next moment.Report

        • James Hanley in reply to Chris says:


          I agree with your final sentence, but I don’t think the final clause in your penultimate one is a necessary corollary.  That’s not to say it’s necessarily contradictory, though, and I wouldn’t want to imply that there is but one way to deal with our mortality–I’m of the “what works for you is sufficient for you, even if not for me” school.

          But perhaps I accept the closeness of death rather more than you just because I’ve been so close to it several times, and in each case I felt bizarrely peaceful, only a little sad that it would end so soon, and sadness for those who would be hurt by my death.Report

          • Chris in reply to James Hanley says:

            I see the moment of death and the uncertainty of when that moment will appear as two separate things. I have only been knowingly near death once, in a white water accident. I truly thought I was going to die, and after a brief moment of panic, I too felt bizarrely peaceful and accepting. I remember thinking, “Well that’s it,” and then just relaxing, the irony being that it was the relaxing that probably saved me (I was completely submerged and pinned against a rock). But even after that, I can’t accept that I don’t know when it will come: it could come before I finish typing this sentence, it could come fifty years from now, or it could come at any moment in between. I can’t accept that, but again, it’s my lack of acceptance that makes me focus on the now.Report

  7. BlaiseP says:

    The sleep of reason has always bred monsters.

    The God-shaped hole is rather like every other appetite in a way.  We long for fulfillment, for the sustaining bread and wine which adorns our tables and fills our bellies.  The most fundamental appetite is Love:  denied Love, we might come to terms with that lack, that loss, but that denial is no rebuttal.   We are human.  We hunger and thirst, we desire and are desired, we hunger, are fed and are hungry again.  That we should wish for a world beyond this one, where we do not stagger from desire to desire seems entirely rational, the product of the Mind that Remembers and Wishes, the mind that sums the points along the waveforms of existence.

    You are yet a young man by my reckoning.  When I was still a young man, I thought as you did.  But life is very long and competent medicine is making it even longer.  If life is finite and its end miserable, we are not merely a flash of light followed by eternal night.  We exist in the framework of time, a rum thing, time, so the physicists tell us, an outworking of the expansion of the universe itself, a universe both finite and unbounded.

    Physics always treats infinities as errors: there are limits to nature, both low and high.  Even the massless particles have charge.  We are significant, each one of us:  the physicists also tell us our every action changes the universe in irrevocable ways.   We are not entirely annihilated by death:  the consequences of our actions live on after us, for good or ill.  If Eternity is an infinity, Consequences are not.

    It hardly matters what follows our lives.  To follow Jesus Christ is to live in the present.   The Buddhists and many who follow the arduous path to enlightenment, which always begins with the acceptance of the transitory nature of existence, know this, too.  If Man has created God in his own image, if your God is a blind idiot:  mine is not.  We are each deluded in our own way, according to the forms we envision.

    Poor Nietzche, that pathetically hilarious little coroner signing off on God’s death certificate, as if Nietzsche had peered around the blind corners of time and space to see God’s vast corpse stretched out on the beach like some dead whale.   He didn’t see anything beyond the product of his own fevered imagination.  His version of God had never lived.

    If God is created in our own image, the hope of immortality is the obscene fantasy of the narcissist.  We do not live to ourselves nor do we die to ourselves.   You will never find God or Enlightenment in someone else’s book, Jason.   Such things only emerge from our interaction with others.   The great virtues of Kindness and Mercy can only grow when we see ourselves in others.Report

    • Chris in reply to BlaiseP says:

      Poor Nietzche, that pathetically hilarious little coroner signing off on God’s death certificate, as if Nietzsche had peered around the blind corners of time and space to see God’s vast corpse stretched out on the beach like some dead whale.   He didn’t see anything beyond the product of his own fevered imagination.  His version of God had never lived.

      Nietzsche, the son of a preacher man (yes he was, he was, ooooooooh), certainly understood the Christian God, a God he spent most of his education learning about in great detail, and a God he respected in many ways. But Nietzsche wasn’t making a metaphysical statement when he said that God is dead: rather, he was making a cultural one. “God is dead! God remains dead! And We have killed him! How shall we console ourselves, the most murderous of all murderers?” Nietzsche didn’t need to see the corpose “around the blind corners of time and space.” He had only to look at European society. But for Nietzsche, God’s death is not something we are ready for, which is why he puts the news in the mouth of a madman who ran around like Diogenes with a lantern in the daylight, but looking for God instead of a human (and like Diogenes, he looks in the marketplace, not the cosmos). The death of God means that we have to reevaluate the values that we once got straight from him. . We’re not ready for this, so only a madman would go shouting it in public. But it doesn’t mean there is a corpse (though there is a shadow); it doesn’t even mean there was ever a body to turn to a corpse. In a way, what Nietzsche is saying is not that different from what Bob frequently says. The only difference is that, for Nietzsche, the death of God is ultimately a wonderful thing, because it offers us the ability to free our minds from the other worldly and to accept the beauty of this world.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Chris says:

        Nietzsche’s Europe was in a bit of a spiritual quandary.   The teachings of Jesus, whose kingdom was in the hearts of man, had become a terrestrial empire over time, led by venal popes and opposed by equally-venal princes.   The princes eventually won the day, as history shows, and the Pope cowered within the walls of the Vatican, hurling cardboard thunderbolts at the impious.

        The Church had served its purpose well enough with the fall of the Roman world.   It had been the plaster cast which held the broken arm of Western thought while it mended.   The Enlightenment had cut off that cast, bit by bit, exposing the nauseating stench to the light of day.   But thus it is with all such plaster casts, things get a bit nasty when you can’t take a bath.   Nietzsche, presumptuous little idiot, thought he had cut it off himself.    He might have given that arm some badly needed physical therapy and Europe howled when he did, but his influence was entirely overrated.   Over time, Nietzsche would contradict himself in every conceivable aspect.

        Nietzsche’s a cautionary tale of what happens when Man tries to become God in his own right.  It’s always a bit tragic but in his case, it was absurd.   Many religions have gods who die:  the Egyptian god of the sun died every night and traversed the underworld.   The Aztec sun god required human blood for nourishment to rise in the morning.    I repeat myself here:  there is a difference between Fiction and Myth.   Nietzsche merely substituted one mythology for another, a trivial and silly one which would in turn serve to justify many inhuman actions.

        “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman.  For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you shall become as gods, knowing good and evil”

        You shall become as gods.   Well, Nietzsche said we could try.   The good and evil bit, well, he didn’t have much of an answer for why we should be either good or evil.    There his silly little bandwagon peters out in the mud, his calliope wheezing in a decrescendo of syphilitic madness.    Sorry, folks, even if God is only a myth, I will continue along the path I have chosen, believing in a God of Goodness and Mercy.   It beats all the shabby, narcissistic alternatives hollow.Report

        • Chris in reply to BlaiseP says:

          Nietzsche merely substituted one mythology for another, a trivial and silly one which would in turn serve to justify many inhuman actions.

          It’s worse, from your perspective, because he substituted a bunch of myths. He was just trying them on for size. That’s sort of the point of the Gay Science, and is exemplified in the Ubermensch and the Eternal Return (which are mutually incompatible), just to take two examples. Then he became a bit of a naturalist (in the philosophical sense), after starting out as an aestheticist. He’s all about creating, because values, as soon as they become permanent, become ossified and devalue themselves. Unfortunately, as he puts it, to create one must also destroy.

          Now, I don’t think Nietzsche saw himself as a god, or wanted to be a god. The madman suggests that we (humans) might have to become Gods to be worthy of the act of killing God, but he moves on from that, too. To Nietzsche, life, this life, and this world, were all that were needed to build from. He didn’t need to be God, because God wasn’t needed at all.

          Also, it’s deeply unfair to suggest that his ideas actually “justify many inhuman actions.” It’s true that his ideas were used to do so, but only by people who failed to understand. You know, that’s the case with a lot of ideas, like the ones found in the Bible or the Quaran.Report

          • BlaiseP in reply to Chris says:

            Nietzsche was a Prophet Without a Clue.   Trying myths on for size is all very fine and good, I highly recommend mythology to any budding philosopher.   But let’s not pretend Nietzsche didn’t play little games with the notions of Good and Evil or that his works were not used to justify others playing those games.

            If the Bible has been used to justify many a loathsome little travesty of justice and racial superiority, and it has, let’s at least stick to the facts here:  the Blonde Beast was his own judge, jury and executioner, a thoroughgoing monster of his own invention who justified his own notions of Good and Evil on the basis of Power, dispensing with any notion of Altruism.   Nietzsche has substituted Almighty Man for Almighty God and let us not bandy little aphorisms about in some pathetic attempt at obfuscation or amelioration of that fact.

            Unfair?   Don’t be absurd.   Ideas are what we make of them.   Nietzsche contradicts himself often enough to provide grist for any man’s mill.Report

            • Chris in reply to BlaiseP says:

              Are you getting your Nietzsche through Bloom? Your Nietzsche is not the Nietzsche I read, which is unfortunate, I think, because the Nietzsche I read is pretty damn impressive. Also, the Nietzsche I read doesn’t mention the will to power all that often except in a book heavily edited by his nationalist, anti-semitic sister. I remember what Nietzsche said about anti-semites and German nationalists. Do you? It’s true, Nietzsche plays with the concepts of Good and Evil, and even Truth and Falsity, because it is necessary to do so in a world in which those things don’t come ordained from On High. Yet It seems odd to blame him for the fact that German nationliasts became fascinated with, for example, his concept of the Ubermensch, when that concept is only relevant within a highly figurative story, and when even within that story, the Ubermensch is abandoned for something distinctly different: The Eternal Return (which, if said German nationalists had bothered to read the book, they would know makes the Ubermensch’s coming impossible, because the Ubermensch has never been, and the Eternal Return says everything that will be has been).Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Chris says:

                Yes, yes.   And the Muslims will tell us the Gospels have all been transmogrified by evil men.  I don’t hold with Harold Bloom, that unctuous old weasel who has been re-encasing the Western Mind in the aforementioned plaster cast.   Nobody should pay any attention to that Miniver Cheevy.

                My friend, Friedrich Nietzsche was a philosophical mess, a shambolic prophet whose ravings can only impress the gullible and fanatical.   Heady stuff, to be sure, but entirely devoid of substance.   A Prometheus without fire.Report

              • Chris in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I meant the other Bloom, Allan, but OK. I think you’ve got Nietzsche dead wrong, but your view of him is extremely common, so I’m used to it.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Chris says:

                Sigh.   I outgrew Nietzsche.   You will, too.Report

              • Chris in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I hope I don’t. It would be a shame.Report

              • Plinko in reply to Chris says:

                I though I got my Nietzsche from Bloom County, turns out I meant The Family Circus.


        • Mopey Duns in reply to BlaiseP says:

          Your post is forcing me to contemplate the unfortunate lack of overlap between an excellence of rhetoric and correctness of reason. I find it difficult to disentangle my aesthetic response to your posts from my reasoned one.

          The surety of your condemnation of Nietzsche is somewhat off-putting as well.  Perhaps it is simply the outflow of a life long and richly lived, which has afforded you the time to arrive at very definite conclusions.  I hope that I am lucky enough to arrive at such a point myself, one day.

          Given that the LoOG puts a premium upon respect, it seems a pity that, given the subject matter of this particular post, we cannot extend similar grace to the dead.  After all, if Nietzsche was wrong in his claim, the miserable soul is writhing in perdition as we speak.


          • BlaiseP in reply to Mopey Duns says:

            I am sorry for putting you off as regards ol’ Friedrich.   The longer I live, the less-certain I am of anything.   A few subjects have clarified over time, though.   Among these is the Insignificance of the Individual.

            You see, there was a day when I thought FN was a great man, wrestling with great issues, making grand pronouncements.   Then, I thought there might be an aristocracy of thinkers, some Kallipolis where the philosopher kings would rule wisely and well.   Long have I lived and like Diogenes I have searched for wise men with my little lantern.   It will not surprise you to learn I did not find any.   They don’t exist.   At best, a man might arrive at a good idea but a good ruler is a servant of the people and not their master.

            Though his defenders have tried to put all his evil speaking into the mouth of his sister, FN did believe in a Master Race and the Herrenmoral.   That cannot be attributed to his sister.   FN took Plato to his logical and horrible conclusions. Do not presume to make excuses for Nietzsche: he could coin a phrase but he couldn’t think beyond the end of his own nose.

            People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come in to the mind of others. That’s Blaise Pascal. You’ll find out for yourself.Report

    • Fnord in reply to BlaiseP says:

      You know what the unnecessary hypothesis is in all this? God. You don’t need Jesus or Buddha to live in the present. When you hunger for love, look in the heart of your neighbor (and your own heart).Report

  8. Jason Kuznicki says:

    If Man has created God in his own image, if your God is a blind idiot:  mine is not. 

    Blaise, I always value your opinion, even here, but I hope you can see that this is extraordinarily tendentious.  Were I forced to pick a god to worship as you worship yours, it would not be Azathoth.  It would be Shiva.Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      Tendentious?   You prefaced your article by saying others wouldn’t share your opinion.  Thus, spare me your ridiculous umbrage when I do disagree: you have invoked the name of some fictional deity ginned up to give teenagers a frisson of delicious fear up and down their pimply spines.   Extraordinary?   I think not.   It’s a ridiculous, pedestrian little fantasy you never outgrew.

      Shiva is rather worthier of your worship, the great penis, creator, destroyer and revealer.Report

      • Jason Kuznicki in reply to BlaiseP says:

        The tendentiousness lies in the idea that I am using Azathoth in anything more than a metaphorical sense or that he is, as you put it, “my” God.


        • BlaiseP in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          I have never said otherwise.   I have only said, in perfect agreement with your supposition, that God is created in Man’s image.   That being the case, from whence arises your outrage with God or anyone else’s opinions on the subject?

          Which monstrous name shall you invoke next?   You’re on the right track, but your iconoclasm is untempered by either wit or humanity.    Any God who fits into a box is unworthy of worship, right from the start.  Such gods ought to be abolished.  Searching about for some Destroyer God, ignoring the joy which suffuses every moment of our lives, had you the wisdom to see it, this is willful blindness.

          Shiva’s wife is Parvati, the womanly force of life and birth, the Shakti, from whom all the goddesses arise.   Open your mind, if not your heart, to some abstraction which might encompass the goodness of the world, the tiny miracles going on all around you.   Myths might be fiction but fiction is not myth.  Myths have power and are not so idly discarded as you might suppose.

          There is more to life than what we perceive and science itself is grounded in doubt, its conclusions always subject to review in the light of new evidence.     So, too, with the heart of man, the heart knows things it cannot prove.   Dispense with God if you will, I have long since dispensed with any god who can be disproved by science.   If God is unreal, our own definitions of reality are still in their infancies:  we have not reconciled the World of the Large to the World of the Small just yet, nor have we reconciled the yearnings of the human heart to the seemingly contradictory notions of Justice and Mercy.   If we who live by Faith are seemingly deluded, you do not understand us or what we seek.   You will excuse us a little harmless laughter and scoffing at your expense, for you have done the same to us.Report

          • Chris in reply to BlaiseP says:

            I don’t see outrage in Jason’s post.Report

            • BlaiseP in reply to Chris says:

              Let’s try “extraordinarily tendentious” on for size and see if it fits the bill.Report

            • James K in reply to Chris says:

              Don’t you know all atheists are motivated by nothing but blind unreasoning fury, even when they’re stating their position calmly?  Certain theists know this in the same way they they know their god exists, i.e. it makes them feel better to believe it so.Report

              • Burt Likko in reply to James K says:

                Boy you got that right, James K. I’m a seething cauldron of rage over here. Better look out. Anger… taking over…Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to James K says:

                Heh.   Engels also said atheists were so many children trying to earnestly assure us there was no bogey man under the bed.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to BlaiseP says:

                In my experience it’s usually adults who make that particular assurance.  So… was there in fact a bogey man under the bed?Report

              • Chris in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Where did he say that?Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Chris says:

                Sorry, that was Marx, not Engels.

                I requested further that religion should be criticised in the framework of criticism of political conditions rather than that political conditions should be criticised in the framework of religion, since this is more in accord with the nature of a newspaper and the educational level of the reading public; for religion in itself is without content, it owes its being not to heaven but to the earth, and with the abolition of distorted reality, of which it is the theory, it will collapse of itself. Finally, I desired that, if there is to be talk about philosophy, there should be less trifling with the label “atheism” (which reminds one of children, assuring everyone who is ready to listen to them that they are not afraid of the bogy man), and that instead the content of philosophy should be brought to the people. Voilà tout.Report

              • Chris in reply to BlaiseP says:

                He wants to do away with the label, but he wants the thing to remain.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Well, there you are.   Haven’t I said the same?

                Faces along the bar
                Cling to their average day:
                The lights must never go out,
                The music must always play,
                All the conventions conspire
                To make this fort assume
                The furniture of home;
                Lest we should see where we are,
                Lost in a haunted wood,
                Children afraid of the night
                Who have never been happy or good.

                In time, the atheist will learn better manners.   It will take him a while, to be sure, but he’ll get there eventually.   Jefferson did.

                But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.Report

              • Jeff in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Blaise: In time, the atheist will learn better manners.   It will take him a while, to be sure, but he’ll get there eventually.   Jefferson did.

                Wow, a Christian talking about an atheist neading to learn manners… So much hypocrisy in so few words.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Hypocrisy is a word used by those with no intention of doing any good of those who are trying to do good.   I will gladly be called a hypocrite, and worse, in exchange for a few less pejorative adjectives like Ignoble and Consciously Deluded.

                I do not hector the atheist about his lack of religion:  quite the opposite, I have said he’s the only person with any credibility in the political realm, what with his demonstrated lack of favoritism.  If I can say such things, a few words about how the atheist has evolved beyond religion, absorbed its more useful bits and dispensed with the dogma might go down well.  But such is not the message of this silly mess.   It is a pastiche of the old Flying Spaghetti Monster combined with a pathetic wish to become immortal, as if the raising of children were not immortality enough.

                The atheist might think twice about how he is perceived:   the only difference I see between the hectoring atheist and the hectoring street preacher is the number of religions they condemn.   The street preacher condemns all religions but his own and the hectoring atheist only condemns one more religion.

                The modern atheist should abandon more than Religion.   He should also abandon the Pulpit.  As with the hectoring street preacher, the hectoring atheist is a ridiculous spectacle, entirely unappealing, a disgrace to his belief structure.

                Marx made it clear enough.    Atheism need to grow the hell up and quit yammering on about Bogy Men.Report

              • Jason Kuznicki in reply to BlaiseP says:

                As an atheist, I have been called far worse than “ignoble” and “consciously deluded.”  Far more often than once.  But who’s counting?

                Anyway, a close reading of the offending passage would indicate — to anyone who cared to perform it — that I wasn’t necessarily talking about you at all.

                I was really talking about me.

                For all I know, your religious beliefs may stem from a genuine experience of the divine. But if I were to try to acquire religious beliefs, the only way that I can see going about it would require an ignoble self-delusion.  At least for now.Report

              • Jeff in reply to BlaiseP says:

                The atheist might think twice about how he is perceived:   the only difference I see between the hectoring atheist and the hectoring street preacher is the number of religions they condemn.   The street preacher condemns all religions but his own and the hectoring atheist only condemns one more religion.

                The modern atheist should abandon more than Religion.   He should also abandon the Pulpit.  As with the hectoring street preacher, the hectoring atheist is a ridiculous spectacle, entirely unappealing, a disgrace to his belief structure.

                Note how I highlighted “hectoring”.  The hectoring anything is a pain in the ass (which is why I prefer Slacktivist to Balloon Juice to Shakesville).  The ass-clown who talks about the “Big Sky Daddy”, as if that’s what reasoning people of faith worship, is just as bad (and will be reviled as much on the better liberal blogs) as the Christian who thinks that one needs Christianity to be moral/ethical. So you still have not shown why atheists need to learn better manners.

                There are several atheist who comment on this blog (I’m agnostic tending toward atheist).  Whom among them needs lessons in manners?Report

              • Snarky McSnarksnark in reply to Chris says:

                I’m not sure I understand this stereotype of the hectoring atheist.   There really aren’t very many of them.    And the fact that there have been three best selling authors–Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Bill Maher (!)–making the case for their beliefs in the last 10 years or so, hardly makes the case for a wave of atheistic proselytizing.      In fact, I know many atheists (and am one myself), and you wouldn’t know it unless you asked them about their beliefs.

                There are good reasons for this.   We live in a gaudily religious culture, in which wishing someone “Happy Holidays” at Christmastime is seen as an assault on the religious.   We have a political culture that places religion in a protected sphere.   And, frankly, many of the religious are hostile towards atheism and athiests.  48% of Americans say they would not vote for an atheist for president.

                In the last year, I’ve had three Jehovah’s Witnesses, and a pair of Mormons, come witnessing to my door.   No atheists, though.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Snarky McSnarksnark says:

                I should think Dawkins and Hitchens are proof enough the atheists should refrain from resorting to the same tiresome techniques used by their hectoring forebears of the religious persuasion.   Bill Maher is comedy gold.   Maher’s great.  Nothing deflates the puffed-up dogmatist quite so effectively as mockery, which is rather different than hectoring.

                There’s nothing particularly anti-religious about atheism, as Marx said.   Where religion cuddles up to tyranny and injustice and misogynists and bigots of all sorts, attempting to legislate its own contemptible forms of morality, it ought to be attacked.

                But really, folks, atheism could be the grown-up in the room and ought to be.   It’s got the distinct advantage of being congruent with the entirely American Constitutional proposition of separating religion from politics.   Where the Religulous would argue otherwise, I will always take the side of the atheists.Report

              • Chris in reply to James K says:

                This was my first reaction as well. It’s almost an inevitability that a discussion about atheism with a Christian will result in the Christian asking why you are angry with God or why you hate God. My own theory is that this is so because they themselves become angry with God occasionally, and that’s when they see their faith as being at its most vulnerable. It also, I assume, comes from a desire to believe that atheists are actually believers, and it’s difficult to be angry with someone whom you do not believe exists.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Chris says:

                I have said no such thing.   I find “extraordinarily tendentious” to be a phrase well-larded with contempt if not outrage.   Seize on that and worry it a while, an it please thee to do so, I have no beef with the honest atheist nor he with me.   It’s just a bit precious to wax loquacious on the subject of Self Delusion and the fatuous wish for Immortality.

                The unpurged images of day recede;
                The Emperor’s drunken soldiery are abed;
                Night resonance recedes, night walkers’ song
                After great cathedral gong;
                A starlit or a moonlit dome disdains
                All that man is,
                All mere complexities,
                The fury and the mire of human veins.

                Before me floats an image, man or shade,
                Shade more than man, more image than a shade;
                For Hades’ bobbin bound in mummy-cloth
                May unwind the winding path;
                A mouth that has no moisture and no breath
                Breathless mouths may summon;
                I hail the superhuman;
                I call it death-in-life and life-in-death.
                Miracle, bird or golden handiwork,
                More miracle than bird or handiwork,
                Planted on the star-lit golden bough,
                Can like the cocks of Hades crow,
                Or, by the moon embittered, scorn aloud
                In glory of changeless metal
                Common bird or petal
                And all complexities of mire or blood.Report

              • Jason Kuznicki in reply to BlaiseP says:

                As I’d said in the original post, I don’t actually have much hope for personal immortality.

                Instead, I am motivated by the prospect of greatly improved human potential in the future, including among many other things indefinite life extension — but for now, the victory over death is a symbol to me and nothing more.  The most important sentence in the OP?  “Living and dying become worthwhile.”

                That’s what this is really about.  Not spitting on the Christian God, not praying to Azathoth.  Instead:  How even death acquires meaning for me.

                I recognize that you aren’t going to share my view here.  I would at least like it to be understood correctly before it is rejected.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Either we are the immortals, or we are their progenitors. We should live accordingly.

                Now, Jason, I’m a pastor’s son and therefore a connoisseur of sermons and that sounds an awful lot like one.   We must all live in accordance with the dictates of our consciences, but allow me to tell you a little joke of my father’s.

                A travelling preacher came to Louisville, Kentucky and stood in the pulpit of the church.    He launched into a fiery sermon on Sin, enumerating the various vices:  adultery, theft and the like.   Then he started in on the Sin of Gambling.   An elderly man rose from his pew and shook his cane at the preacher, yelling:   “Now you’ve left off preachin’ and gone to meddlin’!”  For Louisville is a great center of horse racing and gambling.

                You’re not spitting on the Christian God.   He was spit upon in his own time.   Just lay off preaching and admonishing folks about what you Don’t Believe.   It’s not at all clear you have done any preaching but to my mind, you have begun to meddle, using terms like Self-Delusion, telling us of your preference to look into the eyes of some fictional bogy man.    You do not understand people of faith or what we seek, else you would not use such terms to describe us.


  9. In due course, we will also conquer death itself.

    Having attained immortality, then what?  I perhaps am not understanding Jason’s point.  That’s not unusual for me:  he’s smarter than I am, and I’m convinced that when I read his writings, I see just the flickering shadows on the wall of a cave.

    But……I find the belief / hope / faith / expectation that “we will also conquer” death to be very similar to a religious belief.  Maybe it’s not belief in a god or God, or GODDESS, but it’s a belief in immortality:  maybe it’s a belief in reason, a sort of worship of reason?  I don’t know, but having attained immortality, then what?

    I disagree with the notion that people believe in God “only because the alternative…is extraordinarily depressing.”  I don’t think that’s the only reason people believe in God.  It’s not purely a quest to fulfill one’s wish to live forever.  Maybe it is for some people, but I believe people, even the most intolerant Bible thumping bigot or question-begging New Atheist, are more complicated than wish fulfillment.

    Having attained immortality, then what?  Are we going to think great thoughts, melt into atman, or make ourselves as gods unto ourselves.  If the latter, then I guess the god is ourselves and s/he does exist after all.  If the former (atman) maybe god doesn’t exist but we have the potentiality to be and yet be beyond being.  Maybe something else entirely.  What if we conquer all the mysteries of the universe:  will we then be satisfied and will it be enough, or will we throw the sand against the wind, only to have the wind blow it back again?

    Having attained immortality, then what?Report

    • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

      Having attained immortality, then what?

      What makes you think there’s going to be much of a difference from right now?Report

      • That’s, in  a sense, my point.  There will probably still be existential angst, or “god-shaped hole,” or whatever one wants to call it, regardless if immortality has been attained.

        By the way, even if I’m right in my prediction, I don’t think I have offered a proof for the existence of god.  Maybe I’m just engaging in a tu quoque on Jason.  But I hope it’s useful one.Report

        • BlaiseP in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

          We are the hollow men
          We are the stuffed men
          Leaning together
          Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
          Our dried voices, when
          We whisper together
          Are quiet and meaningless
          As wind in dry grass
          Or rats’ feet over broken glass
          In our dry cellar

          Shape without form, shade without colour,
          Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

          Those who have crossed
          With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
          Remember us-if at all-not as lost
          Violent souls, but only
          As the hollow men
          The stuffed menReport

    • Having attained immortality, then what?

      Then people won’t die any more and that will be pretty awesome.  Death is bad, and the prevention of death is thereby good.  Sometimes philosophy is complicated, I don’t think this is one of those times.

      But……I find the belief / hope / faith / expectation that “we will also conquer” death to be very similar to a religious belief.  Maybe it’s not belief in a god or God, or GODDESS, but it’s a belief in immortality:  maybe it’s a belief in reason, a sort of worship of reason?

      But it’s not faith, it’s an expectation based on an extrapolation of existing evidence.  To the extent it’s a belief in reason, it’s a belief that reason (and evidence, evidence is important) can solve our problems, which is hardly problematic since we have plenty of example of reason and evidence solving problems.

      As for what the “god-shaped hole” really is, I don’t know.  I lack it myself so I find it hard to understand what it could be.  Fear of death is probably a chunk of it, though in truth I suspect that for most people that hole is sustained nothing but peer pressure.  People believe because they’re told they’re supposed to when they are young, and the sense of community they get from their church keeps them believing.  Find a secular alternative to that church community and I submit religion would undergo a major collapse.Report

      • Mopey Duns in reply to James K says:

        As for what the “god-shaped hole” really is, I don’t know.  I lack it myself so I find it hard to understand what it could be.  Fear of death is probably a chunk of it, though in truth I suspect that for most people that hole is sustained nothing but peer pressure. 

        What an odd comment.  It reminds me of a conversation I once had with my father.  He mentioned somewhat in passing. that he had always had a sense of spiritual presence in his life; that his instinct, his starting position, was that there is a God.  One of his best friends, with whom he had shared many a fine debate, lacked that same sense just as completely as my father possessed it.

        I mention this because my own experiences would indicate that different people have different, deeply-rooted internal convictions in this matter.  Some have the God-shaped hole.  Others do not.  To chalk it up to peer pressure is to misunderstand the seriousness of this conviction.  Not all people are built the same psychologically.  It is not a small difference.

        Find a secular alternative to that church community and I submit religion would undergo a major collapse.

        Given the spiritual (or psychological) need that religion fills in most people’s lives, any secular alternative to a church community will be a religion, whatever it calls itself.Report

        • James K in reply to Mopey Duns says:

          It reminds me of a conversation I once had with my father.  He mentioned somewhat in passing. that he had always had a sense of spiritual presence in his life; that his instinct, his starting position, was that there is a God

          I’m sure some people really do have a god-shaped hole, but for most people I think it’s really a community-shaped hole.  We are, after all, a social species.  Mind you I’m talking about something I’ve never experienced so it’s entirely possible I’m utterly mistaken.


          • Tom Van Dyke in reply to James K says:

            I agree with your take completely, JamesK.  Man as a social animal learns to love an ever-expanding circle of human beings.

            And when those human beings let you down, as every one of them will and must for they are imperfect—a brother, a parent, a lover…what’s left to love?

            How to love them again after they betray you?  To forgive them in advance before they do?

            Harder, and worse, and most grave—how to love yourself after you have betrayed them?  Have you never betrayed someone who loved you?  This love thing isn’t as simple as it looks.

            I guess children want to hug Barney the Dinosaur.  If you wouldn’t rather hit him with a baseball bat, you have not lived.Report

          • Michael Drew in reply to James K says:

            I mean, it’s entirely possible we have a God-shaped hole and we just don’t know, can’t feel it, right?Report

            • You mean sort of like the first time I tried on a pair of glasses? I had no idea that I was nearsighted, or at least no idea that it was that bad, and that the world could look that clear. Literally a revelatory experience. Before that, I had just thought that’s what it was to see. Never really gave it any deep thought.

              Sure, it’s possible that there’s a God-shaped hole in my mind that I’m not aware of, just like I wasn’t aware that I was nearsighted. It’s possible that there really is a God who could fill that hole in my mind that I don’t know I have. I can’t know that one way or another, almost by definition. If you want to say that makes me an “agnostic” instead of an “atheist,” then I say, “whatever.” I’m not going to quibble about semantics.

              Because unlike when I was nearsighted as a kid but didn’t know it, I’ve had lots of people tell me I have this problem, and tell me their solution for it, and I’ve tried their solutions on for size and not only didn’t I experience the problem, not only didn’t I experience any resolution to any problem, I pretty much always found myself uncomfortable and feeling as though I were being dishonest about it all. I felt bad for wasting my faithful friends’ time, but didn’t want to hurt their feelings. Kind of like turning down a date from someone who really likes you but yout don’t like back: “Sorry, I know your faith is good for you, but I just don’t feel it myself.” I went looking, and found nothing. Realized that there was never anything to find, and that this was a perfectly satisfactory state of affairs.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Burt Likko says:

                I mean, to be perfectly truthful about it, when push comes to shove, I don’t think it’s possible I have a God-shaped hole in my heart.  But it’s conceivable that it’s there and I can’t perceive it in any way and never will. (I guess?  What is a God-shaped hole in a heart and what is its import if it is never perceived?  Clearly this is just a metaphor for the fact that not believing in God can mean that certain questions remain open that can be closed for some people who believe in God.  Or not?)Report

              •  What is a God-shaped hole in a heart and what is its import if it is never perceived?

                Never is a verrry long time, eh?  Even longer than forever…Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                If is a very powerful word, too.Report

            • MichaelD, you wrote yr good reply above as I was doing the same w/my poor one.  Perhaps the “God-shaped hole” is just our need to love, and when everything and everybody don’t seem to love us back, we need to keep on loving anyway.

              And this is why Augustine wroteYou have made us for yourself, o lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.

              Whether we’re disappointed with the love we get or whether we disappointed the ones we love, it’s our need to love that’s insatiable.

              Since love is perfect, but humans aren’t, there’s your God-shaped hole.

              Thx, man.  Upon further review, I think that’s what Augustine was on about.  Is your heart restless?  If it isn’t, well, you know what?  It is or you wouldn’t even be reading this.  That’s why this thread even exists, and continues.  Thx, Michael Drew, for keeping it open.  And restless.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                I hate to have to say this, I really do, but I was being somewhat facetious there.  I mean, in the sense that things exist, even inside us, that aren’t perceptible, I guess it’s possible (or conceivable).  But what the hell is a God-shaped hole in a heart?  I mean, it’s a metaphor, right?  We don’t need to be “open” to literal conceptions of quasi-metaphysical, quasi-evopsych, but still mostly metaphorical mumbo-jumbo when what we’re really doing is just positing a metaphor.  If we really want to deal with whether we have God-shaped holes in our hearts (including those of us who fill it with God), well, we could just set about fleshing out what it that metaphor is suggesting really might be the case – we’re evolutionarily primed to believe supernatural explanations for surprising things; mortality is a tough mother to confront; etc.  I mean these things are true or not true (generally or in individual cases).  God-shaped holes in our hearts?  I mean, to the extent we must think of it as more than a metaphor, we’re being asked to credit mumbo-jumbo.

                Again, I’m sorry.  Really.Report

              • Props, Michael Drew.  “Facetious” is our word of the week, if not our era:


                Treating serious issues with deliberately inappropriate humor; flippant.

                Which is cool.  I think it’s a great and necessary safety valve, really.  We get so puffed up.  Sometimes you gotta pop the balloon.

                But that’s not all there is to it.  We must speak of the serious things seriously, or all is lost, all is vulgar, for all ends up as shit and dirt.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                I think what I’ve been saying is that I actually don’t think the notion of a God-shaped hole in people’s hearts is serious.  If you want to seriously say what that is supposed to mean, I’ll be serious.  Or maybe not.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Tom, on a second reading of your comment, I can see I missed an earnest attempt by you to say what a God-shaped hole is in more general terms. My apologies. Allow me to address this seriously because I don’t want to make light of what you hold in earnest.  The God-shaped hole might be the problem of needing to love when all objects of love are imperfect, including ourselves.  For you, that leads to a need for a thing to bridge that gap, because love is perfect (this seems somewhat arbitrary to me, but I can go with it), but for me, it just leaves me with a path to an improved understanding of love itself (it is not perfect), and thus all the more able to love (imperfect) others, myself (imperfect, horrible in some ways), and even love itself.  Yes, this understanding of love as imperfect makes me able to love love itself even better – it makes me even more in love with love. I can use the understanding of love as imperfect to be able to love imperfect love better. If you’re imperfect, or even wicked, you are thereby eligible for my love.  If you’re perfect, you may face a few further questions.  I think there was guy who had this insight a couple thousand years ago, and others before and since, perhaps.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                …That leaves the problem of “when everything and everybody don’t seem to love us back.”  That’s of course a tough spot to be in.  It makes sense that we’ve come up with something to help with it.  But does that mean that hole is God-shaped, or that God is that-hole-shaped?  This is analogous to God as an explanation for any given thing we might seek to explain with Him.  Who can say what God is such that he’s not a sufficient explanation for that thing?And then that “explanatory” power is turned around and used as evidence that He’s there. God comes to be nothing but a formless, free floating explanation without an ontology of His own.   God is love.  Well, love is love.  Why does God get to be love?  Is he something else and love?  What else?  Same with God is the universe. And etc.

                I differ somewhat with Jason about there being any problem with betraying the courage to reason if a lessening of pain is available.  I don’t think that the flowering of the human mind actually does transcend the baser reality of meaninglessness punctuated by pain (though i do think that pleasure actually does exist).  The human process of interpreting perceptions of representational sensory experience with reason has led to enough successful negotiations with reality to suggest it isn’t a highly adaptive function, but at the same time, to me it remains a brute fact that we don’t have a mock-up of Reality in our brains, we just have electrochemical impulses happening at astronomical rates and numbers of combinations. It’s not Truth – it’s an evolved biochemical method for improving lived experience.  So i don’t think that everyone is betraying a value higher than pain mitigation by denying the dictates of reason if not doing so means less pain. (Though if you do perceive the values as ordered that way, obviously you’re not wrong to follow that ordering, though perhaps that’s only because you think more pain lies down the road of such betrayal).  In other words, I have no problem that some people call the idea they can use to help them fill a love deficit God.  But I just don’t want to hear about how there’s really this thing out there, God.  And it’s shaped like my need for love.  If you want to talk to me about lacking love, you need to talk to me about lacking love, not about God-shaped holes in my heart.  Insisting on having that conversation with me in terms of such a construct, and in particular, being interested having that conversation only so you can talk about that construct and what it says about my desperation at not having the hole-shaped thing to put in my God-shaped hole (and I’m not saying that’s your thing), seems like it would be really disrespectful, even a little inhuman.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

                …to suggest it is a highly adaptive functional function, I meant.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

                highly adaptive function, gah.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                …I mean, is it just a coincidence that the particular name so many people have sought others to give to these most intimate insecurities happens to be the name for the key concept at the center of a set of larger ideas that are the doctrine of a set of institutions that have at times been the seats of power in society, and still aspire to be part of the authority structure – that you yourself, Tom have described as still instrumental to maintaining social control (Christian behavior)?  A person who doesn’t already think his hole is God-shaped should not be suspicious of the motives of a person suggesting that he be open to the idea that he come to refer to own deepest insecurities by that particular name… why?Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                i realize this may all just sound typical bitterness from an atheist to those inclined to hear what atheists have to say about God as bitter.  I assure I don’t feel bitter when I say these things – it’s just how my thinking on them progresses. But I understand that it may sound a little bitter to some. C’est la vie.Report

              • Chris in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                It’s probably not a coincidence that Zarathustra put it like this (as I quoted above):

                It is true we love life; not because we are wont to live, but because we are wont to love. There is always some madness in love. But there is always, also, some method in madness.

                I’m quite sure love is not perfect, though. There is always some madness in love. Of course, that’s often what makes it so wonderful.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to James K says:

        Find a secular alternative to that church community and I submit religion would undergo a major collapse.

        Have we found one yet? If not, does that indicate anything?Report

        • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Jaybird says:

          Find a secular alternative to that church community and I submit religion would undergo a major collapse.

          I submit this is the Western modern secularist project and has been for three centuries.  If you could get people to act like Christians without all the Christ and God and Bible and religion stuff, the world would be pritnear perfect.

          Unfortunately, it’s yet to be proved that the great mass of people can or will act like Christians absent all the Christ and God and Bible and religion stuff.  This is not to say some people can’t.  Geo Washington, 2+ centuries ago:

          And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

          Washington does concede that certain minds, with proper education, can act quite decently without religion, thank you.  I consider every dissenter from religion that this thread has magnetically attracted—and @ LoOG generally—to be precisely the sort of educated mind GWash had in mind.

          Whether the modern project of The Church of Christ Without Christ can succeed, I do not know. I’m not all that lovable and neither are you.  Unless we love something more lovable than either you or me—Jesus, God, what have you—then “loving your neighbor as you love yourself” doesn’t really amount to all that much.





          • James K in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

             If you could get people to act like Christians without all the Christ and God and Bible and religion stuff, the world would be pritnear perfect.

            A cursory reading of the history of the last 200 years (I count secualriation starting from the Enlightenment, what’s your baseline?) suggests that whatever we’ve been doing, it’s working.Report

          • Jeff in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

             If you could get people to act like Christians without all the Christ and God and Bible and religion stuff, the world would be pritnear perfect.


            Washington does concede that certain minds, with proper education, can act quite decently without religion, thank you.  I consider every dissenter from religion that this thread has magnetically attracted—and @ LoOG generally—to be precisely the sort of educated mind GWash had in mind.

            seem to contradict each other.  Obviously you can get “people to act like Christians without all the Christ and God and Bible and religion stuff” — as the dissenters you mention seem to prove.  Are you saying that you can’t get everyone to act that way — if so, Christ and God and Bible and religion stuff hasn’t done that great a job either (see the Bishop who refused to bury a life-long Catholic because her DAUGHTER was gay).Report

          • James Vonder Haar in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

            Can you name a single atheist that acted immorally because of his lack or loss of religion? I just don’t think that there’s empirical evidence for your assertion. Perhaps conditions bow are such that the overwhelming majority of people who become atheist are those rare people of character, while all those who need to stay religious do so, but I don’t see much of a reason for this serendipity.Report

        • James K in reply to Jaybird says:

          It could indicate any number of things.  It could indicate that atheism was punishable by death pretty much everywhere up until 200 years ago, and as such we haven’t had time to build our institutions.  It could indicate that atheists are rare enough still that coordinating ourselves is still very difficult.  It could also indicate that the people willing to defy social conventions enough to be self-identified atheists (especially in religiously-dominated countries like the US) are naturally contrarian and individualists, making them less willing or able to build social institutions.  It could also indicate a difficult with forming groups out of people who agree on exactly 1 thing (and a thing that matters little in the grand scheme of things).

          Honestly, I’m not sure.Report

        • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

          I’ve occasionally wondered what would happen if, on Sunday morning in sudden miraculous concert, all the clerical corps of all the churches in the country, simply announced that the simlpe reality is that God doesn’t exist; Jesus was a great moral teacher but he wasn’t the son of God, etc. etc., but that, look, this thing we’ve got going here is an undeniable marvel of human organization – let’s keep it going, at least large parts of it.  The meetings, the public service, the commission of art and building of buildings (churches that get built these days are not that beautiful, but that’s okay), etc.  What would happen?  Would there be a revolt – would they sack the existing and elect new clergy (the extent to which laity elect clergy varies from denomination to denomination I think, but that could all change pretty fast)?  Would people who continue to believe just bolt and form new churches?  Would very many people stay on the new terms?  To what extent are the beliefs really what holds it all together, and to what extent are people in it for the community, the fellowship, the activities, the service?  I’ve always wondered this, since I was a kid who went to church with Mom.

          There are a non-trivial number of non-believing clergy, it should be noted.Report

      • Pierre Corneille in reply to James K says:

        You’re right, it is an expectation, and not faith.

        I do wonder if immortality would (will?) bring all, or even just “much,” that people hope for from it.  I’m not convinced that death is bad or that immortality is good.  In that sense, I suspect there is a question of “faith” involved, namely, a “faith” that immortality really is something we want.  I realize I’m moving the goal posts a bit….I really did refer to a “faith” that we would conquer death, but I do want to say that “conquering” death might not be all it’s cracked up to be.

        I suppose I have to take you at your word that you have no god-sized need, just like you have to take me at my word that I do.  I suppose those who do feel as I do are tempted to say those like you really do have such a need just as much as people like you might be tempted to say that need represents a false belief or search for security in some sky-god.  (I’m not accusing you of being dismissive of me;  I’m just saying that such dismissiveness would be a natural temptation for someone who doesn’t feel such a need in a similar way that someone who does so feel would be tempted to be dismissive of others.)Report

        • James Hanley in reply to Pierre Corneille says:


          Unless you know what god is like, how do you know the hole is god-shaped?Report

          • Pierre Corneille in reply to James Hanley says:

            I don’t.  I should say I intuit it.  But that’s all, and frankly, it comes and goes:  any “evidence” I have wouldn’t convince anyone who doesn’t already see it as I do.  My only retort is a weak one:  if one doesn’t know what god is like, how can one know there’s not a god-sized need?Report

          • Jason Kuznicki in reply to James Hanley says:

            Yes, there’s some question-begging hereabouts, if we’re strict about it.

            To be still more strict about it:  What I’m trying to provide is a theodicy.  Without a literal god.Report

            • I admit to begging questions.  My response to James Hanley and the last part of my response to James K was more or less a confession of circularity .

              I do think I am raising (not begging) another question, however, in that I’m not convinced that the quest for immortality is all that motivates people in matters religious and I’m not convinced that immortality is the end all and be all, or even on balance a good thing.

              As for your humanist theodicy, I think I understand better what you mean from your replies to BlaiseP above.  As I hinted at in my first comment on this thread, I suspected what you wrote was and is over my head.  Here is how I interpret your theodicy concept:

              One reason–perhaps the reason–why otherwise rational people are cruel to each other is scarcity, and the source of the scarcity–for humanist’s, our “original sin”–is mortality.  If we can conquer this “original scarcity,” maybe then we can set on the process of justifying man’s ways to man.  Assuming that immortality is coming very soon, we must then take time to reflect on how we, the mortals, will be remembered, and we must act accordingly in the shadow of this prospective memory.

              I apologize if I’m putting words into your mouth.  Also, I realize you might be indulging in an irony and dry humor–a sort of playful, cosmic joke–that I’m too obtuse to recognize; in other words, perhaps I’m taking myself too seriously.  But that is how I see so far what you’ve written.Report

        • Robert Cheeks in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

          Obviously Pierre wins the thread, based solely on his overwhelming honesty in the face of boisterous bumptiousness.Report

      • Alan Scott in reply to James K says:

        The god-shaped hole is what happens when people are shot with god-shaped bullets that pass through instead of lodging in.

        It’s a phrase I mostly hear from believers who are wrongly convinced that all believers must have one.  More occasionally, it’s a feeling described by those who were once devout believers who have fallen away from belief.  Those who, like me, never believed in the first place don’t seem to have such a thing.Report

        • Alan, I hear “God-shaped hole” most often from folks denying they have one.  To my mind, an inordinate amount of time denying it, at that.  But that’s just me, I admit.

          Hitchens held out to the very end, so it can be done, but I think it takes a lot of will and intellect to deny its existence, a lot of effort.  Hardly seems worth it.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

            For some reason, it’s categorized in my head under “C.S. Lewis (see Mere Christianity)”.

            Isn’t that where it’s originally from (or, at least, what popularized it for a mass audience)?Report

            • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Jaybird says:

              JB: John F. Haught, sez the internet, but it goes to Augustine.  Good interview here, more on theism [and process theology!] than if the only choices are Hitchens and Falwell.



              WIEYou said very poetically that we have “a God-shaped hole” in our heart. Do you feel that the shape of that hole is changing or evolving? In other words, do you feel that our sense of God is evolving?

              Haught: Oh yes. Just by virtue of the emergence of science, it gives us a different understanding of the universe and of ourselves. For example, Darwinian evolution gives us a deeper understanding of ourselves, which changes this sense of restlessness that I’ve been speaking about. The idea of a God-shaped hole is not my idea—it’s been talked about a lot. The restlessness itself is a constant. What changes are its symbolic expressions. Our theological and philosophical ideas, as well as scientific and cultural ideas, influence what fills that hole. Each generation looks at it differently.

              For example, the French priest and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin argues that there are three different ways of being religious today. One is what he calls communion with God, which is the traditional idea that our best way of living is to detach ourselves from this world and try to put ourselves in touch with another world beyond this one.

              The second understanding of religion is what he calls communion with the earth. He’s referring to scientific naturalism or to religious naturalism, which is the view that nature itself is enough to fill our hearts. Many people feel that the physical universe has been made so expansive and so interesting by developments in evolutionary biology and geology and cosmology and astrophysics that nature is enough to fill that hole. This is quite different content from that of traditional religion.

              Teilhard himself proposed a third way of being religious that he calls communion with God through the earth, meaning that we want to keep alive our sense of the infinite, our sense of the eternal, our sense of the divine, even as we remember that the way in which we come in contact with that divine reality is only by way of natural reality or by way of things immediate to our experience. We can’t have a naked experience of the divine; it’s always mediated or expressed through creation, through nature, culture, history, and so forth. The advantage of this approach is that it allows us to become involved in earthly matters but in such a way as to realize that there’s always something more—that no matter how much we love nature, how much nature fills us up, there’s a horizon of infinity beyond nature, deeper than nature, that gives us a future and, in a sense, gives us a guarantee that nature, too, has a meaningful outcome.

              In fact, the problem with pure naturalism, which is the second approach, is that it does not guarantee that there is any ultimate victory over meaninglessness. If nature is all there is, since we know scientifically that nature is going to someday reach an energetic death by entropy, then there’s no getting around the idea that ultimately everything goes down into a pit of nothingness. Teilhard’s third alternative is not that we try to escape from nature but that we actually travel with nature into the infinite. You might say that nature is a fellow traveler rather than the ultimate context of our existence. The root of our restlessness is the whole evolution of the cosmos itself. Thus when we think about ourselves and our destiny, we can’t dissociate them from the destiny of the whole universe. It’s a much wider and deeper approach for religiously sensitive people than either of the first two.

              WIEThis third perspective of Teilhard’s also suggests that evolution is ongoing as opposed to the idea that we have come to an endpoint in the evolution of human beings.

              Haught: Because there are fourteen billion years that preceded our emergence in this universe, we are too likely to say, “Okay, finally nature has reached its goal in producing us.” But there’s no reason for us to think that we’re anywhere near the end of the cosmic journey. I believe with Teilhard that the goal is not us—the goal is “more being.”


            • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

              No, Pascal (though similar themes show up much earlier). It’s actually a very common trope in Christian writings, and C.S. Lewis did discuss something similar.

              I find Tom’s reflections on atheism, from someone who hasn’t experienced it, amusing though.Report

          • James Hanley in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

            Alan, I hear “God-shaped hole” most often from folks denying they have one.

            Spend some more time at evangelical protestant churches; I guarantee you’ll hear it a lot more often.Report

            • I can see choosing Hitchens if the only alternative is Falwell.  But this tells us nothing of value.

              To live a properly agnostic life would be to live it the same if there should be a God or if there isn’t one and to find the way that is valid for both.  This would remove the objections against mindless fideism or soulless nihilism.Report

              • Chris in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                I count 2 false dichotomies in that comment.

                I think you should spend some more time talking to atheists, particularly atheists who are not of the New Atheist sort.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Is this actually a response to me, or did it slip into the wrong place?


              • A clarification.  And another:  I understand Nietzsche’s argument.  It’s OK.  Nietzsche is always right, which leads us…nowhere.  To end the inquiry there is unphilosophical—because it stops asking—even if one continues to return to Nietzsche, having found nothing better.

                However, de Chardin is more fun, CS Peirce, a whole lot of inquiries that have been inadequately explored by the mind of man.  When atheism closes the book on the asking, it’s no less boring than fideism.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                And again I have to ask, is this really a reply to me, or did it accidentally end up in the wrong place?

                In neither case do I get the connection to my previous comment. I don’t mean that snarkily–perhaps you’ve just gone far over my head.Report

  10. Kimmi says:

    I am perfectly capable of believing in G-d while remaining agnostic about the afterlife.Report

  11. Jaybird says:

    “What is the good? That which speeds the day. What is the evil? That which sets it back, and dooms so many more to the grave.”

    I know that *YOU* aren’t like this but if someone from “most other folks” had written it, I’d ask what responsibility we, as individuals, had to reduce (or even neuter) evil.Report

  12. Rufus F. says:

    More later, I hope, but two quick notes:

    1. I’m glad you’re back to posting this sort of thing here, Jason- it’s been missed.

    2. I’ve often felt deeply envious of my cat on this count. She might become aware of her death as it draws close, but right now she is sleeping contentedly with no apparent awareness of that totally illogical and inexplicable thing- that she will exist today and cease to exist someday. It’s really a genuinely unfathomable notion and yet the key fact of human existence.Report

  13. Alan Scott says:

    Your essay reminds me of none so much as Randolph Carter–arriving at Kadath in the Cold Wastes, with his retinue of ghouls and nightgaunts, having sailed the dream seas, braved the underworld and the dreaded Leng, and been hero and peacemaker in the war between Zoog and Cat.

    Randolph Carter who comes to Unknown Kadath seeking the dream-city that is his creation, and that is his due.  Who has proved that he is more and better than the other gods and their blind sultan Azathoth.

    It is in the throne room of Kadath, after his retinue has vanished, after he has been made humble by the messenger of Azathoth, that he hears these words:

    “Pray to all space that you may never meet me in my thousand other forms. Farewell, Randolph Carter, and beware; for I am Nyarlathotep, the Crawling Chaos!”

    You Jason, believe you can conquer Azathoth.  But beware the one who already has.Report

  14. North says:

    As an agnostic I found the whole post great fun to read Jason, kudos. I had, in the end, only one somewhat morbidly pragmatic thought: If we do at some point in the near future discover the secret of immortality we’re gonna need to conquor space right quick or else we’re going to run out of room to stand.Report

  15. Jeff says:

    I’m only halfway through the comments but I have to back to bed.  Just 2 short thoughts:

    “Nothingness” doesn’t bother me.  I’m actually looking forward to it.

    I don’t believe in God or religion.  I do believe in ethics (from within) as opposed to morality (from without).  I believe in something that I (among others) call “Spirit”: That which binds all humans together, that makes us sing and dance (regardless of talent) and to joke when we feel like crying.  Spirit exists — in all people.  This and the “long arc towards freedom” gives me hope.Report

  16. Christopher Carr says:

    It’s interesting that what goes into the religion-shaped box is quite religious. I have to agree with Russell that we are nowhere near immortality. Believing we are and that this future reality will be good and just seems an unjustified act of faith. It’s conceivable that someday we may conquer or severely slow-down the mechanisms that cause death-by-natural-causes, but what it will be like to live two-hundred and eighty years instead of eighty is as incomprehensible to us as living eighty years was to our short-lived neolithic ancestors. The children of such a future will inevitably fail to appreciate their blessings just as we cannot truly appreciate our own, and life will be much the same as it is now only with less pain and more anomie.

    The problem of dementia is itself a result of the shelf life of our bodies outpacing the shelf life of our minds. If more progress is made in keeping the body for longer, what then of the mind? If one believes the human mind is the spark that gives life meaning, then the brain-dead are dead. I reject a future where I lose my mind, and continue to hope, as always, that I die in a bear fight just before things start to go downhill.

    In the future as in the present as in the past, it is from living a virtuous life that we derive happiness. Send your vectors and signals out to the world and be no more. There is nothing sad or depressing about this, for this is all there is.Report

  17. Matt Huisman says:

    Evolved life is indifferently cruel and fecund, insane and purposeless.  Infinite and always dying.

    What’s interesting to me is that in the sentence above, you find the word dying to be the single most obscene thing of which I am aware.

    Victory over the grave has to mean more than the avoidance of annihilation.  In fact, you haven’t even done that – as you admit that entropy eventually wins the day.  Congrats, you’re back in the same boat, only moving in slo-mo.


  18. Matt Huisman says:

    Whoops.  A little more attitude in there than I intended.  Sorry about that.Report

  19. Quite literally, there’d be no life without death. Do you think we’d be committing a horrible obscenity upon Nature by extending our lives infinitely?Report

  20. A Phantom of Delight says:

    Oh ple.ase, anything but life-exten.sion. That’s enough to make me an atheist!

    Life-Extension will come the day after time travel becomes a reality. At what point would you freeze time? When you’re 20? 30? 5? 1? An embryo? Why in the world would the discovery of what causes aging translate into immortality? Aging doesn’t cause death. Diseases do. So do accidents, viruses, suicide, mental illness, bacteria, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, planes, trains, automobiles…, and by the way, what medical insurance company is going to insure the immortals? You think Obamacare is a mess, just wait until Immortality Care comes down the pike.

    Hey, when a murderer gets a sentence of 400 years in the pen, he really will be able to get out for good behavior after serving 375 years!

    You don’t really think Mother Nature is going to stand idly by and watch these wretched humans live to be a 1000 years old and in the process utterly destroy this third rock from the sun, do you?

    And to think atheists accuse theists of wishful, fanciful thinking. How and why and when did this non-space-time, non-entropic ball of energy of give birth to this entropic, space-time Universe? How did atoms evolve to become aware of themselves? Why can’t self-awareness be God?Report