Beatniks, hippies, punks, goths, potheads, and other overt rebels against society were never the truly subversive ones; no, those who should be arrested on sight for threatening our sanity and our confidence in our freedom to rationally and creatively transcend our animal nature are ironically those credited as being the most normal: the secularized Jews, Christians, and Muslims who attend their religious ceremonies, watch pandering or self-righteous televangelists, smugly close their eyes in prayer, and shake their heads and mutter “Tsk, Tsk” when thinking of the dire supernatural fate of nonbelievers; who send their children to Hebrew school to keep alive fantasies of how Jews lived in the ancient past, as though the Jewish scriptures weren’t garbled appropriations of Babylonian and Sumerian myths, and as if Hebrew or the noble lie that laws derive ultimately from God means anything to materialistic and pragmatic secular Western Jews; who lack the courage to admit that Islam’s emphasis on submission to God played into the last century’s abysmal history of the Muslim world in which the majorities were conned into submitting instead to brutal dictators that ran their countries into the ground; who indoctrinate their young with religious toys and cartoons about Noah and Jesus; who talk casually about how they speak to God, how they walk with the Lord Jesus as though God’s voice would be a comfort rather than a mind-shattering alien blast of transformative data from another realm and as if the Gnostic and Essene Jesus wouldn’t personally behead 85% of extant Christians for their effrontery in claiming to be his followers; who proclaim that the Bible is different from everything else in the universe because that library is God’s Word, as though God wouldn’t be indirectly responsible for absolutely everything in Creation and as though God would have a mouth to speak or hands to write; who talk nonchalantly about miracles, as if the suspension of natural law weren’t the most terrifying prospect imaginable, and who boast that Christian or Muslim dogmas are supremely rational, as though these ingrates don’t hypocritically enjoy the material benefits of secularism and naturalistic technoscience and as if their creeds differ significantly from the ten thousand others they themselves dismiss out of hand; who walk around pretending to be serious, civilized adults, sitting in their offices or strapping on their high-heels, using three-syllable words as though the centerpiece of their belief system weren’t equivalent to a kindergartener’s chaotic finger painting, and as if they don’t falsify every idealistic word of their scriptures when they copulate like animals, taking care to keep the lights off so they can pretend their unseen bodies aren’t getting the better of them; who in fact betray their religious principles at every turn, rationalizing their worldly ambitions and double-talking their way out of conceding that their religion’s foundational prophecies are manifestly false. Yes, these average Western citizens are the true hooligans, because their inanities are hardships on the nontheistic outsiders who must square off against hostile nature not only without the protection of fantastic delusions, but with the extra burden of being alienated from their species. In this respect, as in several others, Western cultures are flat-out Kafkaesque.
The Horror of Theistic Absurdity
Think of how you react when you’re truly surprised. If someone creeps up behind you and touches your shoulder, you leap and cry out. Those are evolutionary responses: you leap to evade a potential predator and you cry out in alarm to alert your kith and kin. Action and reaction, a natural process that doesn’t fool around, because many thousands of years ago when we evolved this defense mechanism, the danger of being eaten alive was real. Now suppose you’re not just surprised but disgusted. You’re brushing your teeth and out of the corner of your eye, just inches from your hand that rests by the sink, you see a dark blur, and it takes a second to register what exactly you’re seeing, because you didn’t expect to see that there, so close now it’s nearly upon you: a large, hairy spider! Think of the insanity of this encounter: there’s no reasoning with a spider. Likely, as soon as you jump back, the toothpaste sloshing out of your mouth and your toothbrush falling in the toilet, never to be used again, the spider will scurry off in the opposite direction. But suppose you didn’t see the spider in time and it mistook your hand for an extension of the trusty, nonliving surface, in which case the spider could have crawled up your arm. Were we to meet with an extraterrestrial intellect, the result would likely be just as comical and horrific as this case of mistaken identity, when the spider crawls up your arm and you quake in irrational fear, your heart beats fast, you ignore the loss of your toothbrush, and you make inarticulate cries not of alarm but of shock and horror, the babbling of someone reduced to fleeting madness.
What I’m telling you now is that each cultural vestige of Western monotheism is as terrifyingly unexpected and monstrous in its implications as the spider that scares the wits out of you. To say that exoteric religion is absurd doesn’t come close to doing justice to the awful reality. “Absurd” is just a word, an itsy bitsy label taped to the inhuman hide of Cthulhu. Western monotheism is a real monstrosity, a mind virus that lives for thousands of years, that enslaves and degrades the majority of us, forcing us to act as clownish puppets, and that withstands even the antidotes prepared during the Age of Reason by the freethinking humanists, proving that that monster is only one head of the cosmic hydra which likewise cares not at all for our comfort. Think of how the tide should have turned merely as a result of the inventions of the microscope and the telescope. How much humbler we should have been as we literally saw that the universe was much larger than most of us could have imagined; how peripheral our planet is in the intergalactic scheme, and thus how dubious are most of our ideals and conceits, including our religious anthropomorphisms! Throw in the printing press which broke up the Church’s monopoly on interpreting the Bible, and also the scientific standards of historical criticism which should likewise have made literalistic fundamentalism impossible. And the technoscientific and philosophical progress went on and on, to Darwin, Einstein, and genetics, to Kant, Freud and Nietzsche, to the postmodern surfeit of empirical knowledge, so that now we take that progress for granted. The internet makes Westerners functionally all-knowing, just as our other luxuries complete the quasi-deification of the richest among us.
If accursed reason had had its way, we would all be writhing now in the quicksand of nihilism, having been dehumanized by the tools of rationality we hold just as those tools dissect whatever they objectify. We should all be miserable, alienated wrecks, lacking faith in any way of life as we contemplate the ramifications of philosophical naturalism. This is where reason alone takes us and the Age of Reason is now behind us. But the beast has not been slain! The zombie has picked itself up so that it can shamble on, its revolting decayed flesh nevertheless baking in the light of reason. And there are armies of such zombies and they walk among us: their gangrenous shoulders brush up against us in the streets; their solemn gatherings are broadcast far and wide because the congregations are confident due to their ignorance, their incoherent moans echoing and their chutzpah a dagger through each existential hero’s heart. And they pity us, those deluded creatures! Their every puppet dance mocks our heroic potential, which was fulfilled by our ancient ancestors, for example, who conquered their fears, learned how to survive in the wilderness, and revolted against the hostile world; moreover, all the subhuman clowning amounts to considerable evidence that our life is some grotesque collective nightmare. Still, the bumbling abominations have the temerity to grunt condescendingly when in the presence of those who tragically sacrifice their happiness for rationality, to pretend that their every waking moment as fantasy-mongers is anything other than an atrocity committed against the human spirit. Seeing the full dimensions of the madhouse, glimpsing the limbs that flail outside the windows, standing aghast as the gibbering lunatics scurry down the walls and dash naked up the street or dress like adults with the aim of conducting business, as though every one of their successes weren’t nullified by the toxic absurdity they emit like foul body odour—such encounters threaten to infect the sober spectator with the theist’s madness.
I’m climbing up a wall of the abyss to share my dread speculation, which I hope will make sense of the nightmare. I ask, as one wailing in the wilderness, what is the meaning of this absurdity? The question is paradoxical, but those who wish to live now in dignity must try to answer it. What meaning can be salvaged from the ruins of modern mythology? For secular humanism is now as hopeless as the lone survivor of a zombie apocalypse. We atheists, naturalists, pragmatists, pantheists, and esoteric (enlightened) theists in the West are the precious few survivors who must live in the shadows or hide our contempt for the majority so as not to arouse the beasts that only pretend to be human in the modern, psychological sense of that word. Wherever we turn we confront foolishness and audacity, but can we make the best of our lot? Can we save ourselves by avoiding the colossal folly of exoteric theism as well as the dead ends of ultrarationalism, which are the curses of naïve scientism and depressing nihilism?
I heave my shredded legs over the edge of the abyss to whisper that salvation is possible and its name is comedy. We must interpret the palpable absurdity of monotheistic religions as the signature of the greatest prank ever inflicted and we must learn to laugh rather than cry in response. Let our laughter be the mantra that returns us from the brink of madness. Oh, the folly of theism has been lethal to hundreds of millions over the centuries and the idiotic behemoth of the material world that’s perpetrated this prank mustn’t be taken lightly. We must keep our wits about us, inwardly bemoaning our fate even as we vent our frustration with begrudging titters. But learn to laugh at monotheists we must, because the alternative is to let ourselves be benumbed as the magnitude of the world’s assault on our kind dawns on us. As hostile as theism is to reason, so too is nature in general alien to our noblest preferences; indeed, various cognitive and social mechanisms—gullibility, fear of death, anthropocentric metaphors, tribalism, and so on—bring us the plague of exoteric theism. The few tragic existential heroes drifting through the postmodern wilderness mustn’t succumb to fear or disgust even though they’re surrounded by ancient undead programs possessing the majority of human brains, because those survivors of the passing of the Age of Reason are the precious heirs to the human spirit.
I rise from my bruised knees to caution against an all-out assault on the irrational hordes. Just as the survivors of the fictional zombie apocalypse can’t defeat the enemies by shooting or hacking them all, so too the minority that sees the real world clearly for what it is shouldn’t waste their mental energy in a rational counterattack against theistic propositions, as if those propositions merit that caliber of refutation. You don’t consult abstract theories of art criticism to judge a child’s finger painting, since doing so would be as foolish as gleefully slapping paint on scrap paper with your bare hands. Likewise, the question of theism’s irrationality is so far from being the crucial point that even to speak obliquely of the matter, as I’m doing now, is to be pulled back to the edge of the abyss of madness. Of course literalistic theism is preposterous. So too is the world that comes from nowhere (as implied by quantum mechanics) and that degrades our intelligent species by causing us to tend to believe in supernatural beings. Refuting theism leaves you not with an entirely rational alternative worldview, but with a superficially rational one that ends in nihilism and despair. Arrayed against the Western monotheist, all the weapons of logic and science, and all the knowledge of fallacies, cognitive biases, and religious hypocrisies and historical atrocities are like canons pointed at an ant. The rational evisceration of theism is not the path to salvation from our existential plight.
Theism as Absurdist Comedy
No, humour is the way. But how to find humour in a nightmare? Through aesthetic interpretation. From the rational point of view, exoteric theisms look like acres of forestland to a pyromaniac holding a flamethrower. But it’s hard to see the comedic side of absurdity if you’re preoccupied with deconstructing arguments and falsifying pseudoscientific generalizations. Rational demolition is a coldhearted business. Now, some absurdities aren’t interesting enough to be comical, but as I said, Western monotheism is the greatest practical joke of all. This wasn’t always so, since although monotheism was always false it wasn’t always irrational or demonstrably preposterous. Before the modern age, there were still ancient Greek, Chinese, Indian, and other naturalistic or enlightened worldviews, but they were largely speculative or reliant on psychedelic firsthand experience. Only after the modern European rise of technoscience has literalistic theism become an obvious embarrassment, like a lingering fart in an elevator. Theism’s absurdity is terrifying, when we reflect on the implications: only an uncaring, undead world could afflict us with the cognitive weakness needed to enslave us for millennia to childish, anthropomorphic projections. But that same absurdity is comical when construed as an inadvertent work of art.
Specifically, the exoteric theist’s lifestyle is a piece of performance art. The script is written down, mass-produced, and abbreviated and improvised by editors (priests, pastors, televangelists, religious rock bands, etc) who coach the actors on how to tighten up their performance. These actors are disconnected from reality even when they feign sanity to fit into nominally-secular society. And these are method actors, because they must fool themselves to withstand the enormous pressure in their mind caused by their innate reason’s howl of laughter at their performance. What’s their performance? Their act consists of their living as though their theistic beliefs were plainly correct rather than egregiously, unforgivably out of order. Just as a circus clown publicly makes a mockery of himself, pretending that his behaviour isn’t foolish, the mainstream theist relies on the cover given by politically correct, liberal conventions of tolerance, like so much face paint to conceal her shame. These performance artists act the fool for so long that they train themselves to ignore the palpable absurdity, to succumb to their primitive fears and irresponsible wishes, to publicly act out their dream so that anyone can see them tossing and turning, kicking their legs, and uttering nonsense while they’re half-asleep. The theistic lifestyle is nothing but a collective daydream and while there’s horror in this, there’s plenty of humour in it too.
There’s the slapstick of the theist continually bumping up against the indifferent universe, which is really the base comedy of someone punching herself in the face, since natural forces possess the exoteric theist and so abuse their puppet, whereas rational (and differently cursed) individuals are more autonomous due to their greater self-control. There’s also the schadenfreude of being forced to look down on these theists because of their self-infantilization. After all, what would comedy be without a spectator? And since most people alive are exoteric theists of one silly kind or another, the aesthetic appreciation of their performance falls to the minority of sober judges who should wince as they descry the real actors behind the makeup: undead natural forces pull the puppet strings, forcing the naïve literalists to perform their asinine skits, to bow their heads and read their lines so the show can go on. We rational few, forlorn but unbowed in our existential struggle, are the only ones left to identify the spectacle as a monstrous work of art. The performance might as well have been intended for our entertainment. Of course, it’s unintended, because the actor is undead and the theists have at best minimal humanity. But every horrible implication of theistic absurdity can be converted into a comedic one as long as we sit on our rational obligations and enjoy the show.
Sure, if the actors lose themselves in their improvisations and become violent, as in the case of Islamist terrorism, we’re forced to leave the theater and send in the security guards. But while opening nights can go awry and actors now and again can lose their place due to stage fright, neither eventuality should sour us altogether on the theater. We tragically-sober few must relish the comedies that we’re lucky to find, because we’re surrounded for the most part by a nightmarish wasteland. We’re therefore obliged to redeem the horror show which is the postmodern continuation of mainstream Western theism. Instead of being dragged down into nihilism, due to an ultrarational declaration of war against religious foolishness, we should turn the dross of undead cognitive processes into comedic gold by the furnace of our good taste.
And now, having imparted my secret for remaining sane even after staring into the void of nature’s meaninglessness, I stagger into the urban jungle, searching for a clown to lighten my burden.