Screaming to ward off the emptiness

April 27, 2007 | Atheism | 9 comments

Lots of good food for thought in the latest post over at DarwinCatholic. Go read the whole post for his take on the Christopher Hitchens quote below:

Excursions to the bookshelf or the lunch or the gallery will obviously, if they are serious, bring us into contact with belief and believers, from the great devotional painters and composers to the works of Augustine, Aquinas, Maimonides, and Newman. These mighty scholars may have written many evil things or many foolish things, and been laughably ignorant of the germ theory of disease or the place of the terrestrial globe in the solar system, let alone the universe, and this is the plain reason why there are no more of them today, and why there will be no more of them tomorrow. Religion spoke its last intelligible or noble or inspiring words a long time ago…We shall have no more prophets or sages from the ancient quarter, which is why the devotions of today are only the echoing repetitions of yesterday, sometimes ratcheted up to screaming point so as to ward off the terrible emptiness.

I’m having kind of an exhausting day over here and first scanned the quote with only a half glance. I passed over the observation that some group’s dissemination of ideas was “ratcheted up to screaming point so as to ward off the terrible emptiness, ” and thought that it was refreshing to see Hitchens offering such a candid description of the new vocal atheist movement.

Then I realized he was talking about believers. That’s surprising. If anyone strikes me as needing to scream to drown out the emptiness, it’s the atheists. At least from my experience, when you believe that you and everyone you know have no more inherent value than fungi and will cease to exist in a short time, you need to keep yourself busy so you don’t think about it too much. I can hardly think of a better example of “screaming to ward off the emptiness” than putting great energy into churning out self-congratulatory books and articles that stridently announce that we have no soul and no afterlife to look forward to, and that people who would like to believe that are simple fools. Not much can really be gained from these sorts of writings, except perhaps the assuagement of the author’s ego. It strikes me as busywork.

9 Comments

  1. Sister Mary Martha

    Self congratulations and diatribes against Blessed Mother Teresa.

  2. lyrl

    Hitchens, writing from the atheist perspective, doesn’t see any inherent value in religious rituals (“Sacrifices and ceremonies are abhorrent to us…”) Because knowledge of the germ theory of disease and the factuality of heliocentrism makes atheism obviously true (!!), no one can really believe in the rituals anymore – so they only provide a superficial sense of substance.

    Aside from that odd leap of logic I marked with exclamation points (if I’m following his writing correctly), I find his dismissal of ritual odd. Archeological evidence of ritual is considered the first evidence of symbolic thought. Symbolic thought is an area where humans outstrip every other known form of life. Considering how integral this ability is to being human, and the close ritual-symbolic thought connection, ritual seems pretty integral to being human.

    So I find this quote from Hitchens representing an atheist viewpoint to be far from compelling.

  3. lyrl

    I also find fungi to be wondrous creatures. Consider, for example, that almost every known organism has two sexes. Exactly two. Schizophyllum commune, a pinkish, hairy mushroom that grows on tree trunks, has twenty thousand different sexes. (Any two can combine to reproduce.) Amazing. To me, fungi have considerable inherent value.

  4. Mike J

    Do you recall the ugliness of last year when you launched against atheists?
    Do you recall how, when you were an atheist, you just loved having some Christian launch on you?
    Didn’t it just fill your heart with the love of God and make you want to run into the arms of the church?
    Did you try reading the monstrous viturperations of Dinech D’Souza that I linked a little while ago?
    [Here’s the link. Give it a read. http://www.dailykos.com/story/2007/4/19/18451/0971%5D
    Do you really want to move into a camp with the likes of Dinesh?
    Does attacking and belittling atheists, or others who may not view the world with your grand visions and wisdom, assuage your ego?
    What have you gained?

  5. aimee

    I actually stopped reading your blog for awhile (this one caught my eye though)because you went to being just like all of the other religious fanatics way too fast. It took you no time at all to turn your back on what you claim to have once been. You were an Atheist yourself not that long ago. I don’t know about you, but the last thing I am is empty. Believing in God would do nothing to make me feel whole or be a better person, I already am whole. If anything, religious zealots come off as the most sarcastic, hateful, empty people I know. I am happy with my life the way it is. If religion is so good for someone, then why does my very religious mother in law keep having bouts of depression? I’ll tell you. It’s the pressure of always having to do for God and not for herself. Putting someone you can’t see, touch, feel, converse with, etc. first is sad to me (i.e. God). How can you be the partner, parent, that your family needs if you can’t ever give to yourself first?

  6. Jennifer F.

    Does attacking and belittling atheists, or others who may not view the world with your grand visions and wisdom, assuage your ego?

    Mike – I didn’t see this as an attack. Yes, I criticized a prominent atheist thinker. But was it really that bad?

    I don’t think it was out of line for me to say that it seems like he and his colleagues are the ones drying to ward off the emptiness. That’s fine if you think I’m wrong, but I just don’t think it was that crazy of a statement.

  7. Faith

    Ah, I sense a double standard here. Jennifer is quoting something Hitchens says about the religious, she counters with the same argument against atheists and the atheists cry dirty pool and try to lump her in with the likes of D’Souza.

    The only viterupations on this thread are coming from the ones who are criticizing viterupations.

    And for the record, D’Souza does not represent all believers. I can’t stand the guy myself and wish he would shut up. He gives us all a bad name. I can’t stand Pat Buchanan either. So there. I said it.

    How about this. Believers should not treat all atheists as monoliths and vice versa. But I do think it is entirely decent to reflect about a particular quote and analyze it in light of one’s own beliefs without being hysterically scolded. I mean if a person (like Jennifer) can’t respond to something she disagrees with on her own blog without people getting their undies in bunch, it really makes intelligent dialogue kind of hard and turns everything into a screaming competition.

  8. Darwin

    mike & aimee,

    One of the things I always admired about Stephen Jay Gould (one of my favorite science writers) was his endorsement of what he called the “cold bath” approach to religious questions. This essentially amounted to: “Sure, all of the things that religious believers claim to believe would be terribly comforting. However, I don’t think they are correct. I think the world has behind its apparent order a screaming emptiness. And only through accepting that emptiness and reconciling myself to it can I avoid the desperate search for order that consumes so many people.” (my words not his)

    This is similarly the thing I find somewhat admirable about Sartre’s writing. The ending of Huis Clos essentially amounts to: “Well, here it is. We are defined by how others see us, and the people around us aren’t very nice to start with. Might as well get on with it.”

    Now, these analyses do not fit with what I can see of reality. It appears to me that there is an underlying order to the universe in which things like “justice” and “goodness” and “beauty” do in fact exist in and of themselves. However, there is a certain stoic nobility to these views.

    Thus, it strikes me as a bit odd when some of the neo-atheist apologists (taking the definition of “neo-atheist” that’s been knocking around ScienceBlogs lately) go around announcing that being an atheist is more comforting, more rewarding and generally more fun than being a theist.

    So many atheists, after all, explain that the reason why they cannot believe in God is because the world is so terrible that it is impossible to believe that a good being created it.

    Is it, thus, totally out of line to wonder if there is a little bit of howling to fill the empiness in some of the recent recent neo-atheist apologetics? How is it an attack on atheists personally to bring up this question, when part of the point of atheism is supposed to be the acceptence of the world’s essential emptiness?

  9. aimee

    “Then I realized he was talking about believers. That’s surprising. If anyone strikes me as needing to scream to drown out the emptiness, it’s the atheists. At least from my experience, when you believe that you and everyone you know have no more inherent value than fungi and will cease to exist in a short time, you need to keep yourself busy so you don’t think about it too much”.

    This is the part that bothers me. By saying this, you are assuming that atheist think of nothing but death and that is all there is. I’m just having a hard time figuring out how you (Jen) can go from one extreme to the other? If you found religion and that is what suits you, more power to you. But don’t knock the people that don’t feel the need for God. Life is what you make of it, not everyone needs some supreme being telling them how it should be lived.

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