Reading the Age of Atheists. God died in the mid 19th century, western society is still trying to cope. Leaders of thought looked deeply into their souls and saw emptiness. They looked into society and saw the need for new organizing principles, new beliefs to shape the gelatinous masses. Variations on a theme, easy to summarize: human creative power is the highest reality we can ever know, we must forget about transcendent ends, humbly acknowledge our mortality, and work to improve the lives of those around us without any guarantee that our efforts will pay off or have any lasting significance. Truth is established by consensus. If we agree, it is true.
Except for God. We can’t agree on that. Too much violence and oppression. In a godless world humans will become docile, polite conversationalists, irreverent ironists experimenting with their sexuality. Or passionate humanitarians, devoted to improving the squalid lot of the misfortunate. Or self creating warrior artists forming semi spontaneous, loosely federated, egalitarian collectives. Improv dance cooperatives in the forests, Dionysian debauchery. The speculative, imaginative power of the mind redirected from the eternal to the flux of impressions. Record and then beautify the sensations of the passing present, find meaning in precarious relationships with other people, always teetering on the brink of senseless suffering and death. Annihilation.
Once your mother, father, brother, best friend, lover is dead they are gone forever. Preserved in distorted copy by an unreliable memory on its own downward trajectory towards oblivion. Phantasms of life fixed by photographs, fugitive souls held in cinematic captivity. Eventually no one is around to recognize the records. No one to judge the events and actions of the past. You did the best you could, but there was no real sense of best outside of your obscure intuitions and the prescriptions of your community.
Art doesn’t save us, but it can distract. Art can give us the momentary sense that our lives have meaning and that we aren’t anxious corpuscles on a dissolving universal body. Our power to grasp and represent our impotence is somehow life affirming. The priestly classes are now comical, obsolete figures. Society is impersonal, mechanical, automatic, systematic. Manipulative personalities take center stage in the spectacular dissolution of authority. Posturing revolutionaries call for the heads of the State, but we’ve been headless for a long time now.
Book after book about living the secular life. We need more educated moderns telling us that it’s okay to live without God and eternity. The assurance of smarmy professionals carries more weight than infinite goodness and immutable truth. Don’t you know that your joy, which deeply desires eternity, is superfluous? Your spiritual awareness is merely linguistic convention and confusion, and your beliefs about an omnipotent power are vestiges of your infancy. Read ten thousand books on the evolutionary reasons behind your religious longings, psychoanalyze your need for a perpetual father figure, and feel the freedom of being a deranged, denatured fungus ape on a crust ball suspended in nothing.