Bear Growls: God, Cthulhu and the New Atheists

Thursday, January 7, AD 2016

As faithful readers of this blog know, I am an admirer of the work of our bruin friend at Saint Corbinian’s Bear.  In 2014 he wrote an absolutely brilliant post bringing together God, Cthulhu and the New Atheists:


H.P. Lovecraft was a horror writer who invented a world much like ours, except undermined by unspeakable conspiracies aimed at the destruction of everything sane and good. Okay, exactly like ours. At the heart of his writings are ancient gods who shall soon return, bringing madness and mayhem for humanity.

The most well-known is Cthulhu, who lies in troubled sleep deep beneath the ocean. The interesting thing about Lovecraft’s gods is that they are not exactly evil as utterly alien. There are no points of reference to allow us to guess at their motives or judge their actions. At least one is literally insane.

We’re pretty sure the luckiest humans will be the ones who get eaten first.

Say what you want about Cthulhu, but Richard Dawkins would not pretend to know his designs and methods better than Cthulhu himself. (Dawkins would be existing as a brain floating in a Mi-go jar on Pluto in the Cthulhu mythos. Cthulhu does not suffer fools gladly.)

Dawkins advised God that if He really wanted people to believe in Him, He should appear at everyone’s bedside for a chat. Obviously, what Dawkins fails to consider is that perhaps God’s desire is not merely that people acknowledge Him as a fact. His methods may suggest other motives. Plenty of people seem to have no problem believing in and even having a relationship with God through faith.

How often it is the Herods and Dawkinses of the world who, sneering, demand a miracle.

Nobody wants to wake up to find Cthulhu squeezed into their bedroom, pulling down the bed sheets with his mouth-tentacles. (Nor Dawkins, for that matter.) Dawkins would not dare to play at knowing someone as utterly alien as Cthulhu. How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways.

Actually, that last sentence wasn’t about Cthulhu. (NABRE, Romans 11:33.) It takes a whole book of the Bible — Job — to say just one thing:  God doesn’t ask for our advice or approval, or tell us more than we need to know. He is Other.

It seems like 95% of the New Atheist arguments come down to some guy, perhaps with a string of failed marriages that testify to his own purely earthly incapacities, imaging himself as God, then snorting that he would do a better job. (The other arguments are the equally inept Orbiting Teapot, Flying Spaghetti Monster and Darwin. And believers are supposed to be the dumb ones?)

Sometimes the Bear wishes we all had a deeper appreciation for the mystery and otherness of God Almighty, and for our own limitations — especially those of the intellect and imagination. A little humility, if you will. When well-meaning clerics try to humanize God, to make him “safe,” they are robbing us of the reality they should be defending.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Psalm 111:10.

We do not have to imagine God as Cthulhu (in fact the Bear discourages that) but we should have a healthy fear of the Lord. For one thing, there is a judgment that each of us will face, and the possibility that it may not end well for us. But more to the point, we must have the humility not to make our own assumptions about the infinite, eternal, and all-powerful Holy Trinity. “Fear” is more like “awe,” or, more completely, according to Rudolph Otto, the experience of the numinous. Otto was a Lutheran theologian of the early 20th century who influenced, among others, C.S. Lewis in his The Problem of Pain. Otto wrote of the “non-rational factor” in religious experience. (This is not to say irrational.) He called the experience the mysterium tremendum. It is a holy dread, a desire to cover oneself, yet also a fascination.

The Bear knew a very small boy who found himself alone in his father’s still and dimly lit office with an American flag affixed to the wall. This profound experience bore all of Otto’s freight of fear and fascination, and of being in the presence of a mystery. This is of course a shadow of the encounter with the Living God! Here is what Isaiah, the greatest prophet of Israel, wrote:

1 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” 4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said:”Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. (Isaiah 6:1-5 RSV)

We also know that while God may be more alien than anything we can imagine, He is goodness itself. He wants us not only to believe in Him — even the demons do that, and tremble (James 2:9) — but to love Him. He sent his Son to a shameful death as a rescue and a ransom. How reckless and wonderful! The Book of Revelation depicts Jesus as hardly imaginable, even frightening. How often does our reception of Our Lord in the Eucharist do justice to the holy dread and fascination with which we should receive the very Son of God?
“Who Is This Who Darkens Counsel With Words of Ignorance?”
         For my thoughts are not your thoughts, 
         nor are your ways my ways—oracle of the LORD. 
         For as the heavens are higher than the earth, 
         so are my ways higher than your ways, 
         my thoughts higher than your thoughts. 
(Isaiah 55:8–9). 

“Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm and said: Who is this who darkens counsel with words of ignorance?” (Job 38:1–2). You can read the rest here, on the USCCB web site, or in your favorite Bible. It is a wonderful read, and speaks to the mystery that is God, a mystery that Catholics are privileged to participate in through His grace.

We began with H.P. Lovecraft, but, happily, will end with C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Mr. Beaver attempts to communicate something Rudolph Otto might recognize. “‘Safe?’ said Mr. Beaver; ‘Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you.'”

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7 Responses to Bear Growls: God, Cthulhu and the New Atheists

  • It’s probably not for no reason that God’s true name almost looks like a confusion of letters like the name, C’thulhu.

    And it’s not for no reason we are told to have the faith of a child. The child fears the approaching needles and cries at the pain in his arm, but the parent knows that medicine must be delivered into the child’s body to make him well. The child cannot know the realities of germ and health, but must have faith that his parents do understand such things and permit such suffering happen to him because it is far better for his health in the long run.

    It is also why the God we worship must be All-knowing. If we were to worship Ra, he might intend our good, but he knows not what the plans of Sobek or Anubis might be and therefore direct us to act in what may be a hopeless cause or surprising suffering because the other gods lay a trap for him. No, our God is one who sees all. He commands us and we can have that childlike faith that He is commanding what’s best because nothing is hidden from Him. He cannot be trapped, He cannot be tricked.

    It certainly won’t always be easy, or safe, but we know it will be good.

  • Why would God leave us to seek Him through faith rather than through certainty? Well, we know that faith is akin to hope and love, all of which require the soul’s effort. We know through both experience and sacramental theology that faith, hope, and love are connected. You might say that faith is crawling, hope is walking, and love is running. They all involve movement toward the object. Knowledge of God doesn’t help us to build our muscles. As creatures stuck in time and space (unlike the angels) we have to grow to become what God intends us to be. Faith is the beginning of the process.

  • My own take on why God would require faith rather than simply reveal Himself fully to all is (1) we are simply not ready for it in our mortal state (or at least only a very rare few would be), and (2) it is like a rich man seeking true love – if he dazzled her with all his wealth, would she really love him for him, or for his wealth? Of course, being omniscient, God would know the answer, but for our sake – to give us the chance to truly love God for Who He is, and thus in a much deeper way, rather than out of fear (in the sense of being scared of Him).

  • I don’t really see faith and certainty being in conflict. Nor faith and reason. There are simply some things about God that cannot be reached through reason (e.g., His trinitarian nature, Christ’s resurrection), although much about God can be known through reason. Faith bridges the gap between what can be known through reason, and a more complete understanding. Much like physics vs. metaphysics. Broadly speaking, physics is limited to the realm of the causal, you need metaphysics to get to things such as will and purpose.

    The Resurrection is a perfect example. You cannot “reason” your way to the Resurrection. You either believe it occurred as a historical fact, or you don’t. You accept by faith the testimony of Scripture and its witnesses, or you don’t (much liike a juror ultimately has to accept on faith the testimony of a witness). Once accepted, you can then apply reason to work out the implications of the Resurrection, but the brute fact of the Resurrection requires faith.

  • but the brute fact of the Resurrection requires faith.

    I disagree. Christianity (as pointed out by the video Don posted awhile back) exists and exists all over the world. But when you look into the time it was born & spread, as JP Holding pointed out so well, there is NO reason it should have spread or survived at all.

    Yet here we are. The faith exists. Brute fact & reason of the matter is that some miracle must have happened in the 1st century for this faith to have survived at all. That a slain God-Man came back to life is the least implausible miracle explaining the whole thing.

  • This is a good post. If we really believe that Jesus Christ is the Lord God of all Creation, and we really believe that we eat His Body and drink His Blood at the Holy Eucharist, then we should fall prostrate at Confession immediately prior to reception, saying what the Prophet Isaiah said before us, “Woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips among a people of unclean lips.” Frankly, we should be scared out of our wits to receive Jesus.
    One quote above brought back a memory: “Dawkins would be existing as a brain floating in a Mi-go jar on Pluto in the Cthulhu mythos.” In a way, perhaps this has already been depicted:
    The Gamesters of Triskelion – maybe Dawkins was one of the three disembodied brains.

  • “We judge the Creator of All by our standards, and we do not repent, as Job did, for our blasphemous folly:”

    We wish to create God in our own image. We wish to have God on a leash so to speak. We wish a “personal experience with God.” We want God under our control for our benefit, a servant deity so to speak. Why do we do this? Because we do not understand the meaning of ‘God is Love’. Love takes many forms. God wants us to be like Him. We are not like Him. We are selfish and monstrous like Cthulhu in many ways. To become as God wishes us to be is generally a very long and painful process. God puts us through this process because He loves us. For many this is difficult to accept as love. God says do it my way, not your way. We should all be thankful God cares enough to do this for us when we are so reluctant, bitter and not gratefull about it.

A Perfect Post

Wednesday, December 9, AD 2009

Occasionally one runs across a post that’s particularly nicely done. I think Matthew Boudway’s recent reflections on a column by Clifford Longley on the new atheists comes dangerously close to perfect. It’s brief, highlights an interesting article, and adds a thoughtful perspective that provides more depth to the article it cites. Here’s a snippet:

[In response to Richard Dawkins’s claim that it is wrong to “indoctrinate tiny children in the religion of their parents, and to slap religious labels on them,”]

“There is no such thing as value-free parenting,” Longley writes…Longley proposes this as an argument about parenting, but it is hard to see why it wouldn’t also apply to education. If the argument doesn’t apply to education, why doesn’t it? If it does — and if it is a good argument — then people of faith have a compelling reason not to send their children to schools where the subject of religion qua religion is carefully avoided. One could, I suppose, argue that the tacit message of such schools is that religion is too important to get mixed up with the tedious but necessary stuff of primary education, but of course public schools approach important matters all the time, and cannot avoid doing so.

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