'Last Men' and Atheists
A few days back I did something that I generally loathe doing: entering into discussions with atheists on the existence of God via the Internet. They say that arguing on the internet is like participating in the Special Olympics: even if one were to somehow win, it would not mask the fact that the entire enterprise benefits, as one might say, only the "challenged." That being crudely said, in a medium like Facebook where few meditate over what others say and everyone is bound and determined to vomit up their misspelled viewpoints and hit "enter" as quickly as possible, I find that little gets accomplished in these firefights except for: gratuitous ad hominem assaults, the infusion of bad blood, and a burning desire to smash something in frustration -- especially if I have been trying to proceed with tact, logic, and good will. In this case with my unknown atheist friend, my original judgment was glowingly affirmed for the umpteenth time -- in spades.
While not universally true, I have found the defining spirit of the "New Atheism" to be one of imperious dogmatism and "in your face" stridency -- lacking the thoughtful quality of introspective analysis that one would normally reserve for such a monumental judgment. But the Spirit of the Age has had its way with a culture that has effectively divorced itself from the past and whose vulgar touch has tainted all that it surveys. That being said, the New Atheism no longer merely challenges and disputes: it must break down and humiliate in passion what it cannot do in reason. In believing that it has the formidable phalanx of Science guarding its flanks, this neo-atheism evangelizes itself to its masses as solid iron; but in reality betrays itself to be little more than a thin veneer of cocksure Post-Modernist pabulum that seeks to hack the world in twain. In their eyes, humanity consists of either those benighted masses chained to superstition or the heroic "Brights" whose noble Humanism would lead us out of darkness into our fullest ascendency as pure rationality unfettered from the servitude of an arcane consciousness. To emancipate man from this Cave of Lost Souls is their highest calling; and for them, the sooner this is accomplished, the better.
In understanding what would occur in a society that had pronounced and endured the Death of God, no man has analyzed this phenomenon of secularization more adroitly than Friedrich Nietzsche. Rather than holding that this existential view of life is an unvarnished human good, he laments within the context of his atheism the diminution of our human horizon as civilization casts off the once rich Christian ethos, without a competing zeitgeist to replace it. Indeed, all art, music, politics, morality and culture in the West are inextricably bound to the penumbra of the Nazarene and we can see everywhere around us the resulting coarseness and moral devolution that attends a humanity cast adrift from its moorings. In amplifying this spectacle of normlessness, I submit the famous "Madman" passage from his enigmatic Zarathustra:
The insane man jumped into their midst and transfixed them with his glances. 'Where is God gone?' he called out. 'I mean to tell you! We have killed him, you and I! We are all his murderers! But how have we done it? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the whole horizon? What did we do when we loosened this earth from its sun? Whither does it now move? Whither do we move? Away from all suns? Do we not dash on unceasingly? Backwards, sideways, forwards, in all directions? Is there still an above and below? Do we not stray, as through infinite nothingness? Does not empty space breathe upon us? Has it not become colder? Does not night come on continually, darker and darker? Shall we not have to light lanterns in the morning? Do we not hear the noise of the grave-diggers who are burying God? Do we not smell the divine putrefaction? --for even Gods putrefy! God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him!
Without a powerful humanist vision to replace the Archimedean notion of God, civilization lacks a new transvaluated lodestone to shepherd humanity to a new understanding of itself. Without this novel paradigm, we are all fated to become Nietzsche's "Last men:"
"...I show you the Last Man.
"What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?" -- so asks the Last Man, and blinks. The earth has become small, and on it hops the Last Man, who makes everything small. His species is ineradicable as the flea; the Last Man lives longest.
"We have discovered happiness" -- say the Last Men, and they blink.
They have left the regions where it is hard to live; for they need warmth. One still loves one's neighbor and rubs against him; for one needs warmth...
A little poison now and then: that makes for pleasant dreams. And much poison at the end for a pleasant death.
One still works, for work is a pastime. But one is careful lest the pastime should hurt one.
One no longer becomes poor or rich; both are too burdensome. Who still wants to rule? Who still wants to obey? Both are too burdensome.
No shepherd, and one herd! Everyone wants the same; everyone is the same: he who feels differently goes voluntarily to a madhouse...
It is possible to agree with Nietzsche's diagnosis of humanity's predicament and yet disregard his radical solution, now that it is becoming glaringly apparent that our civilization is rapidly becoming the habitation of Last Men. The New Atheism, however, utterly dismisses the warnings of Nietzsche and Dostoevsky and would have us proceed in all haste to surgically excise the last vestiges of God from our civilization. That such a project would leave us fundamentally impoverished as a race and open the door, as we see happening now, to a managed egalitarian tyranny is a burden lost on men who have grown intoxicated in the service of fashioning for themselves a new secular golden calf. In plumbing the spiritual ills of mankind, Nietzsche's Zarathustra diagnoses the malady awaiting all who would live in a horizon bereft of God. The sickness of the Last Man is nihilism -- and as cancer corrupts the body, nihilism exploits and terminates the spirit who laps up its pungent waters.
I have come the long way around my initial statement about arguing with atheists on Facebook. But the discouraging aspect of this one particular gentleman was his brutality of discourse -- that same shrill and dull coarseness of the Last Man. His droning chorus was, "Produce your God or shut the !@$# up!" To engage him, I tried to explain how improbable the galactic odds were that a DNA molecule with 3.5 billion informational sequences could self-assemble simultaneously along with an engine that would ensure its replication via the alchemy of blind benevolent mutation: an agency that is a veritable oxymoron. Nevertheless, his words kept pounding away in a repetitive loop and he would countenance nothing other than for me to conjure up the Creator to satisfy his skeptical hunger. One is reminded of Jesus' temptation in the desert where Satan asks: "If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread?" How is one to answer such a man?
I can imagine Paul of Tarsus hobbled in chains before the effeminate Caesar Nero and being subjected to the same question: "If He be real, Christian, then produce your God?" That both inquiries were never offered in earnest is perhaps beside the point. Even if we were to dispense with biblical revelation, one either sees God revealed everywhere in the Book of Nature or one takes refuge in temporal intellect, pleasure, or pride. Moreover, if I could produce God to him as one would present a Jinni, would it budge his will even a inch? The Israelites wandered forty years in the wilderness on a sojourn that should have taken eleven days because they could not fully comprehend the reality of a Creator who evidenced Himself as: a cloud by day, a pillar of fire at night, Manna in the morning, and water from a flinty rock. As to our atheist friend, I have little doubt that God will unmistakably produce himself one day to his own stunned satisfaction. The question remains: Will he welcome such an electrifying introduction?