Editor’s note: Christianity has been taking a beating for years now, with one tony atheist tome after another rolling off the presses — and still no end in sight.
Now, finally, comes more payback — with THE LOSER LETTERS, a Screwtape for our screwed-up time.
In the latest round over God, Mary Eberstadt turns her attention to the last emo scragglebeard left alive on Lost on National Review Online . . .
Dearest BFF Atheist Gang,
That’s how I’m starting to think about You! Are You all thinking about me that way, too? I sure hope so!! Because I’ve almost gotten to the part of my story where all You Brights get to find out what made this Former Christian into one of You!
Now before we start today’s Letter, which concerns some super important advice about the believers from one who knows exactly what You don’t about them, a little personal request from Your huge fan here. Do any of You Guys have any pull with the Director in this place? If You do, could Somebody put in a good word for me?
Number one, I’m trying to get on his good side for obvious reasons (as in, nobody else in here seems to know when they’re going to let me out!). Number two, this Director creeps me out. He’s not like any other detox head I’ve ever seen. I don’t mind the red cape so much. They’re always telling us to find other ways of “expressing ourselves” in these places. So I’m used to that kind of “expressive” thing. But this Director is also a midget. I have a thing about midgets, and not a good one. So if any of You could find out what his plans are and get me out of here sooner rather than later, that would be fantasterific. And in more ways then eins, as we say in Deutsch class here!
Moving right along Guys: Today’s Letter is about one other element of Our new atheism that has me really agitated, because I don’t think any of You understand what a liability it is for us Brights.
Perhaps because I am a Female member of our Species, as so few Brights are — why do You suppose that is, by the way? Is it an intelligence thing? I won’t take it personally if You think I’m inferior (that’s Minderwertigkeit in Deutsch!) I’m just curious to know what You think!
Anyway, as I was saying before that O.T. bell rang and distracted me again: probably because I am genetically Female, not Male like all of You and like almost all other Brights, I noticed early on one other reason why we atheists don’t get more converts. The problem is this: Most atheist writing exhibits little knowledge, and even less interest, in certain subsets of our Species that are arguably of Numerical and other significance. I’m talking specifically about Human children, Human women, and Human families. In fact, most atheist writing has little to say about family life or marriage or any of the other institutions historically tied up with Reproduction of our Species at all.
Oh, I know what some of You are thinking! Yes, here and there certain subjects that are related to families and women and children do come up among the Brights; there’s plenty of talk for example in the New Atheism (and the Old) about the constraints that religion places on “certain behaviors” (!); there’s plenty of mockery of Dulls who do think that children and family come first; and as I pointed out in the First Letter, there’s lots of atheist writing, especially in that latest round of Your books, about sex and sexuality and sexual repression and other sex stuff (!).
But the Fact remains that atheists today as yesterday have paid very, very little attention to the Human ties that most in our Species are born to and die in — I mean, those of the family. Nobody on our Side, and I’m not singling out just You Guys here but going back past and including Bertrand Russell and back through the whole history of the Enlightenment, really seems to get what it is that drives so many of the believers to the Loser — and to church and synagogue and the rest of the sketchy pack — in the first place.
What is that thing? It’s the Fact that most people live in families, and that most experience religion through and because of their family members — father, mother, sister, brother, and the rest of the sentimental bunch. That’s what atheist anthropology isn’t getting, don’t You see? Nobody really settles the big issues like You all imply they do — like they’re some Ayn Randian Übermenschen sitting by themselves in a garret, say; or the last emo scragglebeard left alive on Lost, stuck on some mountain someplace and trying to piece out the Loser’s existence on their lonesome own.
That’s why real religious belief becomes so hard to shake, don’t You see? It’s nothing like one’s “individual conscience” or “internal principles” that way. After all, most people can lose those pretty easily! Just ask anyone when they’re at a party after a few drinks and some Ecstasy and they’re watching a porn movie on the HDTV while everyone’s grinding to Usher, to take an obvious for-instance. At that point, You can pretty much kiss their individual “consciences” and “principles” adios.
No, what makes real religion so much harder to shake is that a Dull’s devotion to the Loser never really exists all on its own, apart from everything else where it might be easily plucked from him. Instead, it’s stuck waaaaay down inside, all wrapped up like some diabolical Double Helix with the other people in his life. That makes quitting an awfully hard thing to do. It’s like trying to stop four anti-depressants at once instead of just one, if You know what I mean: Don’t try it on Your own!
Some of the Dulls, for example, come to believe in the Loser for one kind of family reason — say, because they love their husbands or wives too much to believe that death really cuts the two apart forever. Even more people — way more, from what this Former Christian has seen — are drawn to belief because they feel that way about their brats. They think in the craziest way that there’s something infinite about their love for their children, something that transcends these finite shackles of our Cells — and they infer from that powerful feeling that love really is stronger than Death, as their stupid old book says somewhere.
Now You might not think that this gross sentimentality is much of a force in the great Natural scheme of things. But I’m here to tell You that it is. It’s familial love that first gives people the idea of infinite love. It’s that kind of love that puts them in touch with the Loser in the first place — meaning that nothing, really, is more of a problem for our Side than the existence of Human families.
And this former Christian should know! When I lived in a family myself, I was a textbook Dull. And when I went off on my own, especially after those four babe-licious years at the University (!), I started wavering. Oh, I’d go to church here and there, all right, especially if Mom called from home to ask if I was getting there. Then I’d slink off, and usually be late.
But when I really didn’t want to get out of bed, and there was really no one around who knew or cared whether I did, I got into exactly that habit that we Brights have raised to an art form. I’d tell myself that my avoidance of the Loser was all about one (high-minded!) thing, when it was really about something else and not remotely elevated. You know, like when we Brights say things like “The Thomistic doctrine of transubstantiation of essences is too contra-Newtonian to be countenanced by the twenty-first century” — when what we really mean is “what the hell, why should I waste an hour in church when all it’s going to do is remind me of rules I’d just as soon forget”?
You Guys know just what I mean here! To take another example, it’s like when people say, “There’s no logic to the efficacy of prayer and divine intervention in linear space and time” — when what they really mean is, “I don’t care if she’s young enough to be my daughter, I’m going to nail her in a heartbeat if I get the chance.” That kind of atheist self-deception thing! Yes, that’s what I learned to do too as soon as I didn’t have a family around to remind me of self-sacrifice and birth and death and other things tied up with religion that make no sense when You live by and for Yourself. That was the beginning of my road to You.
And later in life, ditto that. By the time I met Lobo in rehab and we started living together in New York following his record five days of staying clean (what a dork — I beat him by almost a week!), I had almost stopped thinking about church and the Loser entirely. I admit, thanks to Lobo I was also taking enough drugs after a while to make me forget my own Facebook password. But two, and more important, we were both nowhere near what You could call a family. Unless You count his hepcat divorced Dad who hit on me once, so I don’t. And Loser knows that neither of us had any intention of starting a family of our own, either. That’s what I’m trying to explain here. That’s the kind of situation that’s fertile grounds for atheism.
Now let me be very clear here in the most constructive way possible, like Simon on American Idol when he’s secretly rooting for one contestant but has to be critical-seeming at the same time to get across what the contestant will have to do to please buzzing gnatbrain Paula and talking Sequoia stump Randy to survive into the next round of the show. Just so You know, I, personally, couldn’t care less about the Dulls and their domestic so-called lives — especially their lame monogamous sex lives and their cheesy little kids. I’m so over that, as You’ll soon see.
Similarly, I personally, couldn’t agree with You more that the believers’ idea of what a “family” is — mother, father, and their litter — is fully as retarded as any of the MANY other things the Church has been wrong about, as well as causing more human misery than practically anything else humans have devised before or since. With the possible exception of course of something called Antabuse (little rehab joke!). And since I, personally, am also never going to Reproduce, there is not even a hint of sentimental slop clouding my judgment here. I say all that so You know that I’m as realistic about this business of human children and their crappy place in Nature’s pecking order as any other Bright.
But You see, in failing to deal with the reality that most people are going to have these putrid “families” of theirs, and what having those “families” does to the inner wiring of the average Dull, You Brights all are missing something important about how the religion racket gets transferred in the first place. This problem may account for more of the hemorrhage to Christianity, especially, than You may realize. I’m not saying the Dulls have Reason on their side, of course! Like so much else that motivates them, the elevation of their offspring to some kind of extra-Species status is preposterous. But it’s families that make people religious, not vice versa.
Let’s throw in a little contest here to illustrate my point. Which view of Human children resonates more with the average parent — Our side, or that of the Dulls?
For the Dull side, we’ll pick as a contestant that so-called Cold War intellectual Whittaker Chambers. He’s a total tool I know, as well as a majoroso Traitor to atheism; but he has his uses here. And for representing the atheist Side, we’ll pick the author of Christopher Hitchens is Great or whatever that book of his was called.
Here we go then! As Mr. Hitchens notes in his book, Chambers, a Dull convert, described in his memoir Witness one particular moment that helped turn him to Christianity: namely, studying the ear of his infant daughter. Said Chambers:
My daughter was in her high chair. I was watching her eat. She was the most miraculous thing that had ever happened in my life. I liked to watch her even when she smeared porridge on her face or dropped it meditatively on the floor. My eye came to rest on the delicate convolutions of her ear — those intricate, perfect ears.
The thought passed through my mind: ‘No, those ears were not created by any chance coming together of atoms in nature (the Communist view). They could only have been created by immense design.’
The thought was involuntary and unwanted. I crowded it out of my mind. But I never wholly forgot it or the occasion. I had to crowd it out of my mind. If I had completed it, I should have had to say: Design presupposes God. I did not then know that, at that moment, the finger of God was first laid upon my forehead.
I know, gag me with a spoon too; the passage reeks of mawkish poor reasoning like so much else in Dull literature. And yet I confess: upon reading that passage in Chambers for the first time, way before I ever Ascended to atheism, I too resonated to his point. It seemed just like the sort of thing I’d have said of my own hypothetical daughter if I’d stopped to think about it.
You see, it’s just very, very difficult for most mothers and fathers to look at their children and to understand as we Brights do that those creatures are randomly assembled confections of molecules and limbs that have been Adapting willy-nilly since the lungfish. That just isn’t how most people feel about their babies and children — ever. I know this from watching my friends who have kids. I even know it if I really zero in on my hypothetical daughter (let’s call her H.D. for short). And H.D. is just virtual, You know! But anyone who stops to think about it can see the problem for Us atheists here. Most parents love their children with a love they experience as infinite — and that glimpse of the infinite, exactly as in the case of aesthetics, sends them running toward the Loser.
Certainly Mr. Hitchens’s response to Chambers is unhelpful to Us! Here’s how he frames the atheist take: “I too,” he writes, “have marveled at the sweet little ears of my female offspring, but never without noticing that (a) they always need a bit of a clean-out, (b) that they look mass-produced even when set against the inferior ears of other people’s daughters, (c) that as people get older their ears look more and more absurd from behind, and (d) that much lower animals, such as cats and bats, have much more fascinating and lovely and more potent ears.”
Now there are two problems with this kind of atheist ridicule of Mr. Chamber’s point, it seems to me. One is that if we put it to the parents of the world that upon studying their daughter’s ear they are to choose whose response they like best, Mr. Hitchens is going to lose hands down. His alternative just comes off as cold-blooded (I mean that figuratively not literally, of course!) I’m not saying that’s what should happen. Just that most people who Reproduce, most of the time, think their own children are somehow precious, “created,” and they don’t think they are inferior in any way to bats and cats and other Mammals, let alone to creatures from elsewhere on the genus tree.
None of which means the little bastards are. Again, I have no brief for real children at all. Like any other thinking atheist, my desire to see my DNA continued is no match for my desire to avoid anyone younger and Fitter than I am!
Now in the total spirit of constructive criticism, I think I’ve figured out why we Brights have this weakness. It’s because a good many atheists, both historically and today, have been childless or otherwise living outside real families themselves. Look at Spinoza, sometimes called the first atheist philosopher. Look at big swinging Forebear Nietzsche. Or look at Our especially fabulous Enlightenment Ancestor, Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
Oops! I forgot, Rousseau did have kids. BUT He sent all five of them to an orphanage as soon as they were born so they wouldn’t interfere with His work (kind of like the sleepover version of what busy moms and dads do today!). According to historians, they almost certainly all died there at an early age. So under the circs I think we can safely loophole Rousseau in among the childless Brights, if that’s okay with You. (Kind of gives a new meaning to “man, born free, is everywhere in chains,” doesn’t it? No wonder He thought that one up. Talk about trying things at home!)
And just as we Brights are vulnerable to the charge of not knowing anything about children, so do we have a related problem: Human women. Now, I’ve read through each and every one of Your books; I’ve studied each and every YouTube clip I could find; I’ve even Google-alerted Everybody’s names so that nothing about this new atheism gets away from me. And what I can’t find, anywhere, is any mention of this Empirical Fact: across the world, in every religion and not just among the Dulls, women are far more likely than men to keep the Loser’s institutions going strong — more likely to attend church (or whatever), more likely to pray, more likely to indoctrinate their spawn into the same rituals, and so blubbery on.
Now don’t You all think that’s an important Fact? And even more important, why do You think it is a fact? Because it seems to me that there can only be one of two explanations for this gender bender: either Females really are intellectually Deficient compared to Males; or, something about the way they live gives them ideas that men don’t have.
Again, I blame the kids. Maybe something about taking care of smaller and weaker members of the Species makes it easier for Females to imagine that someone stands in that same sort of loving relationship to them. Or maybe the experience of loving something more than they ever thought possible makes them think that some extra-human love might be out there for them too. Who knows? I’m not explaining here, just saying that some explanation of the Female role in keeping religion going seems called for — and You Guys haven’t even touched it.
Either that, or we double-XXers really are all dumb as dirt! Do You Guys secretly suspect that might be true? If that’s what You think, why don’t You just come out and say so? I mean it’s not like Brights are squeamish about a lot of other things we believe — as You will see in my next two Letters, where I quote really interesting things from some of the classics of Our genre!
In sum, the incontrovertible Fact is that human families, and especially the ties between women and children, are the chief Enemies of atheism. I’m just saying this so You know I don’t claim to have all the solutions here! All I know as a former Dull is where the problems are. (Did You know by the way that the German word for “solution” is Loesung, which is really an awful lot like Loser — how ironic is that?!)
You’ve all been patient long enough, so very soon I’m going to stop with the criticism and all this talk of what we Brights have done wrong, and turn instead to what has been done soooooooooo right — i.e., the beginning of my Turn to You!
Proactively Yours! Es ist ein Kampf bis aus Messer! And if Anyone does talk to the Director, can You ask him what the heck kind of rehab uses German as Occupational Therapy in the first place? Thanks Guys!
A. F. Christian
Editor’s note: Check in Friday for another LOSER LETTER. Read all LOSER LETTERS here.