New Atheists

Bear Growls: God, Cthulhu and the New Atheists

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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A Perfect Post

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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