Thank you for your kind words, but I do believe I cocked up the Joyce essay somewhere. A passion for something has a tendency to blind one to reality. Still, it’s nice to know someone’s reading.
As to your question I would be happy to clarify. The text that you stumbled upon was originally a pamphlet produced by Thomas Jefferson Hogg and Percy Byshee Shelley (and please do not ask me how you pronounce the man’s middle name, I have yet to figure it out myself). The Necessity of Atheism was published by these school chums while they were attending Oxford and in this work Shelley attempts to explain the farce that is religious authority, not to mention observe how that authority exists within the university system. In case you are unaware of this B——, the universities at this time were operated, partially funded, and taught by the clergy. As you can guess they were not pleased. In fact, Percy managed to send a copy to the archbishop who ran the university and so the two men were expelled. This little ditty is one of the numerous stories that surround the figure of Shelley, and I have to admit it, I find it pretty damn funny myself.
Shelley’s expulsion aside however this document actually affords me another opportunity to discuss a conflict. Despite the title, the ideology Shelley is prescribing to humanity is not true atheism.
In my past letter to you I, for lack of a better phrase, “cocked up” by employing a prefix I later discovered revealed a position I cannot condone. The prefix of any reveals a great deal about the intent and reality of that phrase. For example anti-social behavior cannot be understood as asocial behavior, the two are entirely different. The prefix “anti-“ implies that the figure adopting this position stands against in a forceful or even violent manner. An antisocial person is someone who brings a gun to a movie theater and shoots people up because he thinks he’s a penguin. The prefix “a-“ (and I know I sound like a fucking NPR special, but you’ll just have to go with me on this one) implies that the figure is without action. An “asocial individual” does not go out to seek company, now however do they violently reject society, they simply just like to be alone and unmolested by others.
I hope you see where I’m going with this.
I referred to myself in the previous letter as an “anti-theist” and by doing so I was a moron. I positioned myself into a militant personality when in fact that is anything from what I desire to be and am as an individual. While I do not like religion, there is nothing in my behavior to suggest that I am actively trying to eradicate it from the face of this earth. When I eat dinner with my parents I sit silently while they pray. When my friends discuss their faith I smile and listen patiently to their testimony. Recently I participated in National Coming Out Day and while one gentleman stood to the side preaching against our sin I went over, took one of his pamphlets, and wished him a lovely day. I do not burn down churches and piss on the ashes, I do not steal into the homes of Christians and sacrifice goats to Satan while participating in blood orgies, I do not…well, I guess you get the point.
I am an “atheist,” NOT an anti-theist, because the latter category is the very kind of asshole I despise. Often I see “fellow” atheists criticizing the church and promoting themselves to the level in which they themselves should feel mortified for doing so. Are you aware they make atheist pins now? As if we need a symbol to wear about our necks and alert the world to our beliefs? These public individuals, with the exception of my Mr. Hitchens, are idiots who are turning atheism into something which, by its very morphology, it isn’t. To be an atheist is not to try and eradicate others’ faith, being an atheist is simply about not believing in god, being without god. That’s it.
Asexuality is the absence of sexual feelings or drive. Asexual reproduction is procreation without a contribution from another partner. An a-melodic conversation is one done without the presence of harmony or music (see Family Guy for this reference). Atheism is living life the same as every other human being on this planet, but simply not believing in god or practicing a religion.
This of course leads me to my next point. This semester(a side effect of being a student is that you begin to perceive the sections of time not so much in months or years but in semesters) I am taking a graduate course over the English Romantic poets of the late 1700s-early 1800s. This period known as Romanticism stands entirely unique, for no other period of history has produced such a dynamic crowd of individual talents and abilities at one place and one time. Simply list off the names and surely one of them rings a bell: William Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Percy Shelley, George Gordon Lord Byron, John Keats, Jane Austen, Richard Price, Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, Felicia Dorothea Hemans, and Mary Shelley (wife of the aforementioned poet and daughter of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft). The other night my professor (who will remain nameless because I do not wish to embarrass her) was discussing the Ode on intimations of Immortality by Wordsworth and she brought up an interesting point that since class has been buzzing in my skull (pardon the trite metaphor). She mentioned to us that a majority of literary scholarship today was being performed either in the camps of Marxism or else by a collection of atheists, and that while there is nothing wrong with either of these camps, they really, in her mind, don’t get what the Romantics were trying to do; that largely their attempts are efforts to negate the spiritual messages inherit in the poetry of the time.
I have found B——, that I agree with her.
Intrigued by anyone who is willing to piss off high ranking Christians (ah Mr. Hitchens how I miss you terribly), and inspired as always by the Romantics in general, I went online, found a copy of The Necessity of Atheism, printed it out, read it, and found myself disappointed. Much like a ravenous, cretinous, banned book aficionado I prepared myself for a scathing attack upon the articles of Christianity complete with pop-up images and a downloadable audio file in which Jesus would fart while Satan tap danced on Jerry Fallwell’s grave…okay that’s an over dramatization, but you get the idea. Imagine then my surprise and intellectual intrigue when I read the very first line of the subsection entitled There is No God:
“This negation must be understood solely to affect a creative deity. The hypothesis of a pervading Spirit co-eternal with the universe remains unshaken.”
What Shelley just said B——, was that the “old bearded man in the sky” god does not exist, however the more natural philosophical notion of the divine—a nature spirit that exists within the forms of every living creatures in existence—remains secure and unshakeable in his mind. From this statement alone Shelley cannot be considered an atheist by any means. Shelley’s Pamphlet, as I continued to read it, became not a roast of the Christian faith, by a cold Restoration-era paper that happened to attack organized religion. This is evident in his use of logical proofs which, if you have ever had to take a sophomore level geometry class, you understand as cold hard logos operating towards a final conclusion. These proofs however, if you read enough of the literature concerning lack of faith, follow a general trend that would be repeated over and over again:
Hence it is evident that, having no proofs from either of the three sources of conviction, the mind cannot believe the existence of a creative God: it is also evident that, as belief is a passion of the mind, no degree of criminality is attachable to disbelief; and that they only are reprehensible who neglect to remove the false medium through which their mind views any subject of discussion. Every reflecting mind must acknowledge that there is no proof of the existence of a Deity.
God is an hypothesis, and, as such, stands in need of proof: the onus probandi rests on the theist.
As in any philosophical argument, or any argument period, if you are to make a statement concerning our reality, you then are held responsible to provide the evidence to support your claim. Too often in our contemporary society individuals are allowed to make grand statements secure in the knowledge that no one will challenge their claim lest they be thought a fool. This is a trend that needs to be wiped clean from our society’s discourse because it is a poison. If you do not bother to check what you are saying, then nothing you say is worthy of anyone’s time.
So I return to my original “fuck-up.” I was emotional and not thinking as clearly as I should have been. I allowed my passion to overstep most of my decision, however in my defense I also claim ignorance. I do not know everything, nor will I ever protest to know everything. When it comes to the origins of the universe and the formation of the laws that govern it, I have no fucking idea what is actually going on. As such I will call myself an atheist because would prefer to be without a god than simply worship one because I am afraid of possibilities that are beyond my powers of reason. Shelley’s pamphlet is not a fiery read B——, but it is certainly worth your time, because in it the man puts forth his opinions of an alternative spirituality.
If I may return to my Romanticism course for a moment, there was a night previous to the one described in which we read Hymn to Intellectual Beauty. This brief poem, which I’ll post in the space below, describes further Shelley’s notion of his perception of the divine being. During the conversation a woman had brought up whether Shelley was an atheist. I raised my hand and explained that Shelley was not one, but that he during his life believed in a level of spiritual awareness that transcended the mundane realm and allowed himself to touch, if just for a moment, the Sublime power of existence. While I feel that such notions are rooted in superstition, I can still appreciate the beauty of an idea.
I guess the moral B—– is don’t be in such a rush to push your agenda that you miss the opportunity to catch your mistakes and miss some of the aspects of life that can make it worth living.
Yours as always in the best of confidence and support
Joshua Jammer Smith
P.S. As I promised here’s a link to the poem below. I hope you enjoy it.
Hymn to Intellectual Beauty