“Last Men” and Atheists

nietzsche colorby Glenn Fairman   1/8/14
“Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.” — Nietzsche  •  “I can see the sun, but even if I cannot see the sun, I know that it exists. And to know that the sun is there – that is living.” — Dostoevsky

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.[pullquote]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.[/pullquote]

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.[pullquote]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.[/pullquote]

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?
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Glenn Fairman writes from Highland, Ca. He can be reached at arete5000@dslextreme.com. • (1349 views)

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11 Responses to “Last Men” and Atheists

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    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.

    This is ultimately what an uneducated democracy gets you. Glenn, you are talking about the rabble that we are becoming. And it’s not just yutes. I’ve noted this same thing with fifty-year-olds. They ooze little but dogmatic beliefs — a strange thing indeed from the side wherein everything is supposedly a gray area, where “diversity” and “compassion” are the watchwords.

    But slogans are not the same things as soul. What we see happening to our nation is people being radicalized in the same way (if on different points) as Nazis were radicalized or Muslims are radicalized.

    It’s too bad our would-be “centrists” are mostly wimpy men who either miss this radicalization of America or are simply “centrists” because of the desire of the ego to be thought of as Solomon-like. It’s too bad because there is a type of “moderation” that is indeed needed. Unfortunately, this wimpy “no labels” crowd misses the point and simply puts it all down to the “polarization” of politics, implicitly saying that both sides are equally to blame.

    Well, that is just not true. The Left is a radical, lunatic cause which forms people into little pin-headed ranting ideologues. That sometimes we have to shout back should in no way be seen by these conceited David Frum-ish “centrists” as just the opposite pole being polar.

    This ties in with one of Michael Savage’s greatest ideas, that liberalism is a mental disorder. And so I think it is. The human mind can be programmed for good or ill. We can be formed into noble and wise human beings or into mindless zealots. The Left’s goals (or consequence) is the latter.

    Another thing that must be said is that there is a clear difference between the Christian/conservative/traditional idea that life comes with a variety of obligations and hardships that can’t be avoided and the Utopia, feel-good presuppositions of the Left. Coming right out of the gates, what Thomas Sowell calls “the constrained view” of mankind humanizes a man, if only because he does not cast out the good because it is not perfect.

    Such a baseline of wisdom gives him a proper and balanced mind to accept the things he can’t change, change the things he can, and have the wisdom to know the difference. But the mind radicalized by the Left sees itself as a victim. His expectations of life are unrealistic, unleashing an untidy narcissism. Instead of dealing with life sanely and evenly, his bitterness is increased at every perceived sleight to his egoism.

    Another untidy reality is that we must somehow stay in the public square and not cede this space to the radicals just because they are such a pain in the ass to deal with. The radicals have to be faced down and beaten back. And it won’t be squishy RINO Republicanism that will do this. Nor will a faux “centrism.” It will take men and women who are planted in firm principles combined with a general reasonableness — but with the heart of a lion. We must wholly understand that when we cede an inch to these radicals, it doesn’t placate them. It just makes them meaner. Although I understand the impulse of the wobbly, good-time-rock-and-roll “tolerant” person who thinks he can appease these people by being “nice.” But it is not nice. It’s simply feeding the alligator in hopes that he will eat you last.

  2. steve lancaster says:

    Glenn,
    You are right on. I suggest that you go back to Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov. You do not need the entire book just one short section that you can find on the net. It is the section entitled “The Grand Inquisitor” every liberal argument in favor of atheistism is contained in about 10 pages of dialog and easily refuted.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      In high school, I took an advanced English course that included The Brothers Karamazov in the section on Russian literature (there were also sections on ancient Greek and Indian literature). In addition, my college English reader included “The Grand Inquisitor”. I don’t remember much about it, though, since that was over 40 years ago.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Here is chapter five online of The Brothers Karamozov, The Grand Inquisitor, thanks to Gutenberg.org.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Thank you. The main thing I remembered was the Inquisitor’s argument that he and his ilk were correcting Jesus’s peculiar notion that people should be allowed to make their own choices (and face the consequences for it).

  3. Timothy Lane says:

    Militant atheists today are generally leftists, and leftists are defined by their hatred of some other group(s) — especially those who get in their way. So militant atheists hate Christians (since that religion is their main opponent in Western civilization, or what’s left of it) just as militant homosexuals hate anyone who expresses moral disapproval of their behavior.

    Where Nietzsche’s peculiar philosophy can lead is exemplified by his most famous American adherents, Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold, Jr.

  4. faba calculo says:

    But given the fact that unbelief is growing, the question becomes what to do about it? I can personally attest that, having lost belief, attempting to will it back may not do much.

  5. Glenn Fairman says:

    I have been meaning to re-read the Brothers Karamazov for some time- the last trip being in my undergrad days. In addition, one might add Notes from the Underground which is another shrill cry in the night. Even a well grounded soul cannot drink up too much existential angst, lest he waver and despair in a state of spiritual nausea. We should be alert of what we take into our souls.

    As of now I am plodding through Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem” another heady tribute to human aspiration, and Milton’s “Paradise Lost:” by far the more magnificent of the two. However, having an education far deficient to Milton’s, it is necessary for me to first listen to the librovox audio recordings on mp3, comb through the Sparknotes synopsis, and then read over and over the prose that is perhaps only matched by the Bard himself. If I may border on the frontier of blasphemy, the words of Satan against God and man thunder in their rebelliousness and Milton’s imagery and power is matchless. Milton’s age understands us far better then we know ourselves, and our Post-Modern conceit is akin to a ghost looking for his image in a hall of mirrors—an echo into the abyss.

    Oh additionally, before one takes up Milton, I highly recommend C.S. Lewis’ Preface to Paradise Lost in order that you might soak up some of the weltanschauung of a culture that was intoxicated with God. For good or ill, the distinction between the high and the low was never more apparent.

    • steve lancaster says:

      Glenn,
      Another work dealing with God, man and redemption is the Star of Redemption by Franz Rosenzweig. Written in the 20’s as the beginnings of existential philosophy was first developing, Rosenzweig offers hope that all is not lost and that Torah still provides answers for a questioning humanity.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Notes From the Underground was another one we had in the Russian literature section of the advanced English in high school. Mr. Pike (who taught that section) was amazed that none of us cared for it at all, and finally conceded that we didn’t have to read the whole work. All I can remember is “I think my liver is diseased” (much as all I remember of Slaughterhouse Five is the grossly overused catchphrase “So it goes”).

  6. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Atheists tend to be the noxious ideologues as Glenn intimates. And yet let’s not be too hard on atheism, per se. A disbelief in god is understandable given all the horrors that occur daily. And some people have it bad. I don’t begrudge them sneering at the idea of a loving god.

    That said, I don’t think I’m just picking nits when I say that it’s not atheism, per se, that should be on trial. It’s the religion of Leftism. And this religion has sub-chapters (such as atheists). And one of those sub-chapters is the liberal Catholic.

    What reminded me of this (again) was I was just now following an SUV on the highway that had three or four Democrat-named candidates on it as bumper stickers. And all of these people (Kilmer, Cantwell, Obama, Biden) are extremely pro-abortion liberals.

    But above all these bumper stickers was one with bold white type on a blue field that said: “I am Catholic, and I vote.”

    And, of course, me being me, I thought “First off, you’re not Catholic. If you back these radical abortion candidates, you are in no meaningful way Catholic. And, hey, good for you that you vote. But I wasn’t aware that this was some brave Catholic position.”

    So I reserve my scorn for the overall religion of Leftism, which is surely what this “Catholic” practices.

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