THE NO-GOD DELUSION

Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the marketplace, and cried incessantly: “I seek God! I seek God!” — As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated? — Thus they yelled and laughed.  

The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you.  We have killed him  – you and I. All of us are his murderers.”

–Words of Friedrich Nietzsche, arguably the most influential atheist philosopher of all time, from his Parable of the Madman. Interestingly enough, Nietzsche spent the last 11 years of his life locked away in a mental institution.

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Robert M. Pirsig summarized how many atheists perceive theistic belief in his famous book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:

“When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called a religion.”

Somewhat embarrassingly, Pirsig here fails to notice that atheism and agnosticism fit many of the diverse definitions of “religion” present within religious scholarship. But we can put that aside for a moment, and for the purpose of discussion, just accept the definition of religion as “those belief systems which are theistic”…since this is the definition most prevalent in modern popular “secular” culture.

The question then becomes whether or not belief in God could be classified as a “delusion.” Andrew Sims is a former President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. In his book Is Faith a Delusion? Why Religion is Good For Your Health, he comments on the psychiatric definition of delusion:

“Although in the past, the word delusion could refer to being fooled or cheated, in modern speech it always implies the possibility of psychiatric illness. It has been appropriated by psychiatry and invariably implies at least the suspicion of a psychiatric diagnosis. If I am deluded, then I am necessarily mentally ill. In English law, delusion has been the cardinal feature of insanity for the last 200 years.”

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DYING GODS

“God is dead,” declares Nietzsche’s madman in his oft-quoted passage from 

The Gay Science

. Though not the first to make the declaration, Nietzsche’s philosophical candor and desperate rhetoric unquestionably attribute to its familiarity. In graphic brushstrokes, the parable describes a crime scene:

“The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. ‘Whither is God,’ he cried; ‘I will tell you. 

We have killed him

—you and I! All of us are his murderers…Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder?…Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.”(1)

Nietzsche’s atheism, unlike recent atheistic mantras, was not simply rhetoric and angry words. He recognized that the death of God, even if only the death of an idol, introduced a significant crisis. He understood the critical role of the Christian story to the very underpinnings of European philosophy, history, and culture, and so understood that God’s death meant that a total—and painful—transformation of reality must occur. If God has died, if God is dead in the sense that God is no longer of use to us, then ours is a world in peril, he reasoned, for everything must change. Our typical means of thought and life no longer make sense; the very structures for evaluating everything have become unhinged. For Nietzsche, a world that considers itself free from God is a world that must suffer the disruptive effects of that iconoclasm.

Herein, Nietzsche’s atheistic tale tells a story beneficial no matter the creed or conviction of those who hear it. 

Gods, too, decompose.

 Nietzsche’s bold atheism held the intellectual integrity that refused to make it sound easy to live with a dead God—a conclusion the self-deemed new atheists are determined to undermine. Moreover, his dogged exposure of idolatrous conceptions of God wherever they exist and honest articulation of the crises that comes in the crashing of such idols is universal in its bearing. Whether atheist or theist, Muslim or Christian, the death of the God we 

thought

 we knew is disruptive, excruciating, tragic—and quite often, as Nietzsche attests, necessary.

Yet for Nietzsche and the new atheists, the shattering of religious imagery and concepts is simply deconstruction for the sake of deconstruction. Their iconoclasm ultimately seeks to reveal towers of belief as houses of cards best left in piles at our feet. On the contrary, for the theist, iconoclasm remains the breaking of false and idolatrous conceptions of God, humanity, and the cosmos. But added to this is the exposing of counterfeit motivations for faith, when fear or self-interest lead a person deeper into religion as opposed to love or truth, or when the source of all knowledge becomes something finite rather than the eternal God. While this destruction certainly remains the painful event Nietzsche foretold, God’s death turns out to be one more sign of God’s presence. As C.S. Lewis observed through his own pain at the death of the God he knew:

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ARE NEW ATHEISTS NIETZSCHE’S ENGLISH FLAT HEADS?

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (IEP) described “New Atheists” as early twenty-first century atheist authors promoting atheism.

The “New Atheist” label for these critics [that include Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens] of religion and religious belief emerged out of journalistic commentary on the contents and impacts of their books. A standard observation is that New Atheist authors exhibit an unusually high level of confidence in their views. Reviewers have noted that these authors tend to be motivated by a sense of moral concern and even outrage about the effects of religious beliefs on the global scene. It is difficult to identify anything philosophically unprecedented in their positions and arguments, but the New Atheists have provoked considerable controversy with their body of work.( The New Atheists, pub. James E. Taylor, IEP)

Taylor explained that “New Atheist authors share the central belief that there is no supernatural or divine reality of any kind.[…] The moral component is the assumption that there is a universal and objective secular moral standard.”

To avoid painting all atheists with a single brush, I have used New Atheists in this article as described by Taylor.

Friedrich Nietzsche And English Flat Heads

As New Atheist, Mary Anne Evans, also known as G. Eliot, rejected the existence of God yet held to objective humanistic moral standard. Nietzsche notices that by getting rid of Christian God, a person cannot cling on Christian (Objective) moral standard. Nietzsche mounded ridicule upon G. Eliot and her fellow. Only “English Flat Heads” would not see the consequences of the death of God.

Nietzsche expounded the “English inconsistency” in rejection of supernatural reality and yet clinging to objective moral standard. He explained that “They [English Flat Heads] are rid of the Christian God and now believe all the more firmly that they must cling to Christian morality […] By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole: nothing necessary remains in one’s hands”(Nietzsche 1982: 69-70)

What Nietzsche was trying to show, is that if God does not exist, then “There are altogether no moral facts”(ibid, 55) Morality explained Nietzsche “has truth only if God is the truth – it stands or falls with faith in God”(1968: 70). Though I would substitute “faith in God” with “existence of God”, since its ontological base of morality, and not epistemological that is in question, I believe Nietzsche is correct. With the death of God comes the death of objective moral values and duties.

Jean-Paul Sartre resonates with Nietzsche in showing that by abandoning God namely God does not exist, “it is necessary to draw the consequences of his [God] absence right to the end.” Sartre also noticed the inconsistency of French professors’, towards 1880, secular morality. As New Atheists and Nietzsche’s G. Elliot “English Flat Heads”, these professors, according to Sartre, believed that “nothing will be changed if God does not exist; we shall rediscover the same norms of honesty, progress and humanity, and we shall have disposed of God as an out-of-date hypothesis which will die away quietly of itself.” He explained:

The existentialist, on the contrary, finds it extremely embarrassing that God does not exist, for there disappears with Him all possibility of finding values in an intelligible heaven. There can no longer be any good a priori, since there is no infinite and perfect consciousness to think it. It is nowhere written that ‘the good’ exists, that one must be honest or must not lie, since we are now upon the plane where there are only men. Dostoevsky once wrote: ‘If God did not exist, everything would be permitted’; and that, for existentialism, is the starting point. Everything is indeed permitted if God does not exist, and man is in consequence forlorn, for he cannot find anything to depend upon either within or outside himself.”(Sartre 2007: 28)

If there is no supernatural or divine reality then there is no objective ontological ground to base a universal and objective moral standard. Naturalism, assumed by New Atheists, cannot account for the objective moral values and duties, if indeed objective morality exists. Wilson and Ruse expounded that; “ethics as we understand it is an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes in order to get us to cooperate”(Ruse & Wilson 1989: 51). Ruse goes even further:

“The position of the modern evolutionist is that humans have an awareness of morality because such an awareness is of biological worth. Morality is a biological adaptation, no less than our hands and feet and teeth. Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate that when someone says, “love thy neighbor as thyself,” they think they are referring above and beyond themselves. Nevertheless such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction, and any deeper meaning is illusory.”(Ruse 1989: 268-9)

Ruse nailed it even further as he contended that “[t]he Darwinian argues that morality simply does not work (from a biological perspective), unless we believe that it is objective. Darwinian theory shows that, in fact, morality is a function of (subjective) feelings; but it shows also that we have (and must have) the illusion of objectivity.”(Ruse 1998: 253).

Holding a similar stance with Paul Kurtz and Julian Baggini, Richard Dawkins correctly reiterates, if God does not exist[no designer], then “at bottom,[there is] no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”(Dawkins 1995: 85) He explainedNature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent. This is one of the hardest lessons for humans to learn. We cannot admit that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous—indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose.”(Dawkins 1995: 112)

Are New Atheists Nietzsche’s “English Flat Heads”?

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