In Face of the Dark, There is Light
18 February 2017
abscence of evidence for god's existence, Atheism, atheism identity, Atheism is NOT a religion it's important to remember that, biological arguments, Book Review, Challenging Faith, Christopher Hitchens, Episcopal Church, Essay, foundation of reality, Gal Gadot, god is not Great, Individual Will, Joshua Jammer Smith, letter, Mrs. Jean Watts, nature, Objections to Religious Faith, Personal Development, Philosophy, Reality, reason, reflection, religion, religious corruption, Skepticism, The Matrix, Wonder Woman
Let me begin by apologizing. Before you protest that I’m always apologizing you’re right but this one does need some explanation. You see over the last few months I wasn’t in a good place. In fact I was in a rotten one, a fucking rotten one. Graduating college wasn’t the entrance into some new golden world as I had thought or dreamt it would be because I discovered the institution I had attended and hoped to teach at wouldn’t hire me. That resulted in a long period of joblessness which, while it saw a blossoming of writing, didn’t see anything in the realm of actual employment. Add to that my wife was bouncing between jobs and encouraging me to consider teaching high school. Now I hated high school and I hated being a teenager so imagine B spending the rest of my life in such an environment. It didn’t get better after that despite the fact I was offered a teaching job at a local college. I was lobbying to teach there but as always no positions were available until one of the professors had a family emergency and needed someone to cover her classes till the end of the semester. I hopped into the gig thinking that I would be teaching college students, when in fact, I wounded up teaching college students who were really just high school students. The students didn’t want to be there and after just a few weeks I realized I didn’t want to be there either. I realized day by day that I was miserable. And then the depression kicked in. Finding yourself huddled up in a ball and crying in a shower twice a week for eight weeks is a hell of a thing B—–, but it gives you some perspective. It was near the end of the that semester that several of my friends, unbeknownst to me, had begun to lobby for me at the Tyler Public Library. One of my friends is a full time employee there, and two others are part time, and because people tend to see something in me that I don’t they continued to lobby for me while I day-by-day began to realize that I actually wanted to work there. I was ready to leave college behind and start a new path. And when a temp job opened up I knew, for my own health that I had to take the library job.
This is a long fucking opening B—–, I know that, but I just wanted to offer explanation as to why I haven’t been writing back, and also why I decided to begin this enterprise that I’m starting with this letter.
You see you’d be surprised how many atheists and agonistics work at the library. One of them is one of the friends I spoke of, and one night while we were closing we were discussing being atheists, the end of our faith, secular humanist mommy groups (that’s a thing, they exist) and of course Christopher Hitchens. We briefly discussed the book god is not Great, because both of us had read the book and credited it as the document which helped us realize we were atheists. I say realize because I distrust people who say they “became” atheists, it reeks of false conviction. But as I was heading up the stairs towards the employee exit, I thought about our talk and I thought about our letters. The first letter I ever sent you B—–, included a quote from god is not Great, and I recommended that you read the book.
What I’m offering now B—–, is the chance to read the book and talk about it chapter by chapter. This could take a year, it could take only a few months, but I like the idea and I want to give it a shot. So this first letter will address the first chapter of Hitchens’s book.
Although before we begin I have to tell you that your current girlfriend looks remarkably similar to Gal Gadot. The Halloween party picture you sent where you were both Wonder Woman was just eerily similar and on an entirely unrelated note I cannot wait for the new Wonder Woman movie. Wonder Woman, World War I, AND Gal Gadot. Jammer be happy.
Picking up god is not Great has been a fascinating reminder of how much I have actually grown in my personal belief B—–, or lack of belief if you want to be specific. I noticed myself reading the opening chapter and feeling somewhat stalled. I feel lousy admitting that, especially about Old Hitch, but I think, to his credit, it’s because I’ve read so much about atheism because of him and so his initial arguments seem, to quote Aerosmith, like the Same Old Song and Dance.
Still if you’re reading this book for the first time, these ideas and declarations are bold and unsparing. The first chapter, if you’ve read it already, starts off with a declaration of his beliefs that he titles “Putting it Mildly.” What I love, from the start, is how Hitch recognizes that he’s going to be attacked the moment he hits the ground running. If you don’t believe me watch how he starts the book:
If the intended reader of this book should want to go beyond disagreement with its author and try to identify the sins and deformities that animated him to write it (and I have certainly noticed that those who publicly affirm charity and compassion and forgiveness are often inclined to take this course), then he or she will not just be quarreling with the unknowable and ineffable creator who—presumably—opted to make me this way. They will be defiling the memory of a good, sincere, simple woman, of stable and decent faith, named Mrs. Jean Watts. (1)
There’s a lot to get into in this first chapter B—–, and I can’t possibly cover all of it, but I wanted to start off with this quote because it provides insight to the reality facing out and about public atheists. I’ve been fortunate in my life that I’ve avoided such treatment by supposed “believers” but that’s usually because I only inform people about my lack of faith to people I know and trust. If a random Christian asks me about my faith I’ll usually just say something like “I was raised in the Episcopal church.” I’ve found though sometimes that when I out myself as an atheist those people who are bothered by it will usually just ignore me and quietly pray for my soul. But just because I’ve had it easy doesn’t mean that other people have. Atheists are some of the most distrusted people on this planet, and I suspect the only reason I don’t have people writing me angry letters telling me to suck dicks in hell is because I’m just some shit-for-shit nobody with a shit-for-shit blog.
How many shits was that by the way, I lost count. Must have been thinking about Gal Gadot again. There’s this one picture of her wearing glasses and this nice hat…
What I like about this opening however is that, while it does acknowledge the tendency of many people of faith to demonize atheists it also reinforces an observation I’ve had, which is that real atheists tend to be those who’ve experienced real religious instruction. Hitchens describes his early teacher Mrs. Jean Watts, as a sweet and kind woman who taught the children about nature and spirituality. Hitchens was raised in this environment and one moment was eventually attributed to his early skepticism:
However, there came a day when poor, dear Mrs. Watts overreached herself. Seeking ambitiously to fuse her two roles as nature instructor and Bible teacher, she said, “So you see, children, how powerful and generous God is. He has made all the trees and grass to be green, which is exactly the color that is most restful to our eyes. Imagine if instead, the vegetation was all purple, or orange, how awful that would be.” (2)
I suspect B—-, that every atheist has a moment like this. I sometimes refer to it as the “aha” moment, but really it’s probably more accurate to call it the “really, oh for fuck’s sake” moment, because honestly that what you feel when it happens. Or at least that’s what I felt when I experienced mine. Unlike some atheists that will profess having some kind of dramatic realization, real mature atheism occurs, much like religious instruction. It takes time, real study, introspection, and finally just one moment of initial skepticism. I’ll never forget mine.
A preacher from the local Baptist church in town came by to deliver the sermon, and given the fact that I attended an “Episcopal” school I failed to really observe the fascinating dynamic of a Protestant sermonizing at a Catholic-Light institution. He was a charming character and boomed rather than softly spoke, and the lingering sensation of him is the fact that I was wrapped up in his story. It was the Loaves and Fishes tale retold from the position of a boy who happened to be at the scene retelling the event to his mother. I was about twelve years old at the time, but I was transfixed by this man and his ability. I wondered where the story would go, or how it would end, and even after I realized this was the loaves and fishes story I’ll never forget the moment when the man raised a finger in the air and spoke:
“And do you know who that man was Momma? That man’s name? It was Jesus Mama. Jesus Christ.”
Something dropped into my stomach and I suspect it was the angels because that’s what it felt like. It felt like I had finally woken up and seen Christianity for what it was, or at least what it had always been: a cheap sell using a piss-poor story.
Faith and belief was shown for what it was B—-, a club ticket rather than a spiritual tool. It didn’t stop right there, and in fact it wouldn’t truly diminish until I read Hitchens’s god is not Great a year after graduating high school, but that moment of initial skepticism I believe is crucial and one of the reasons Hitchens makes it the start of his book.
Christianity is an institution, one that is wrapped up in almost every level of our culture. I won’t compare the skeptics and atheists and agnostics to Neo in The Matrix because that seems too dramatic a metaphor, but the first moment sometimes does resemble that scene when he wakes up in the gel and looks around the world. You begin to see how the power structure is embedded at every level. It’s important B—-, to have a social network so that one doesn’t feel alone in the world, and while there is Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, Blogs, T.V. shows, and the internet in general, books can go a long way in helping someone reassess their beliefs or even just feel validated.
Reading this first chapter again I always remember that preacher and so there is an identification. Christopher Hitchens and I went through the same experience and that makes me recognize that my skepticism isn’t something unnatural, it’s common. That banalization is important for arguments I’ll try to get into later.
But this opening chapter is the first in what can really and should be called a kind of Manifesto. The readers who pick up god is not Great are reading the work of a new generation of atheists who feel free enough to openly declare their sentiments, opinions, and belief without (much) fear of the societal rebuttal. And Hitch, being the man that he was, decides to not spare anything and simply declare his sentiments to his reader:
There still remain four irreducible objections to religious faith: that it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos, that because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism, that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression, and that it is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking. (4).
These four points perfectly sum up my own position for why I believe religion is a dangerous institution. You’ll note B—-, that I said religion and not god. I’ve told you before B—– that the reason I don’t believe in god is not because of religion but from my own observations of reality. Because there is no empirical evidence for the existence of a divine being I cannot in good conscience profess belief or even pretend to believe in one. Likewise talking about the possibilities of such a being, or philosophy about that being’s intentions, from my perspective, is absurd.
It doesn’t matter the extent of god’s power because until there’s evidence for god’s existence there’s no point asking such questions. To put it another way, it’s useless arguing how many angle could fit on the head of a pin, or what is the molecular make-up of a unicorn’s horn. Neither have any solid proof of their existence so there’s no point having the conversation.
I take that back. Unicorns exist. They’re called Rhinos and they’re awesome.
This quote is vital however because it lays the foundation for everything that’s going to follow in Hitchens’s book. He lays out his ideas in the form of a thesis and statement of belief so that the reader can determine what is his ultimate position. Religion, and by extension god, are pollutants because they distract human beings from reality. They make man the focal point, the prime locus of the entirety of creation, and that allows human beings the opportunity to perform vile actions because they are the chosen creation. And, of course, this spawns dickish behavior ranging from murder, torture, rape, pedophilia, genocide, and wearing sandals with socks. (#Never Forget #Never Forgive).
I know the objection B—–, and I’m getting rather tired of it to be honest, but I’ll indulge it in the spirit of fairness. The charge, by the casual believer, is that atheism is a religion too. That atheists turn their godlessness into a kind of faith and that this in turn makes them just as much of self-centered assholes as religious people.
And you know, my problem B—–, is that most public atheists don’t really help me much here. Bill Maher regularly turns his atheism into a merit badge, Richard Dawkins actually has little merit badge pins that are large red “A’s,” and David Silverman has tried to establish an atheist television channel, and Sam Harris is the textbook definition of a giant douche-bag. The real problem is that most of the men I’ve just cited aren’t in fact atheists, but really more of anti-theists. And even Old-Hitch himself fell into this category.
If I can save the man though, at least a little in your eyes, let me offer the second most important quote from this chapter:
And here is the point about myself and my co-thinkers. Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely solely upon science and reason, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, open-mindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake. We do not hold our convictions dogmatically: the disagreement between Professor Steen Jay Gould and Professor Richard Dawkins, concerning “punctuated evolution” and the unfilled gaps in the post-Darwinian theory, is quite wide as well as quite deep, but we shall resolve it by evidence and reasoning and not by mutual excommunication. (5).
In short B—– it goes back to a point I’ve made before in these letters. Atheism, by it’s very definition, cannot be a religion. It can most certainly be called an “ism,” and therefore should be looked on with skepticism. But anyone who would argue that a lifestyle and philosophy can emerge from this position is fooling themselves. Atheism is simply, or at least the way I’ve executed it in my lifetime, an absence of belief and faith in god. That’s it.
I place whatever “faith” I have in this life, not with a god, but with facts, knowledge, data, and information. I trust these because they are not determinant purely upon faith, but by real material reality. A fact is determined by the collection of humanity observing the same phenomena and recording it, doubting it, testing it, and finally resolving it into reality. That’s the way knowledge is produced, coallated, and recorded for posterity.
I live my life now in the absence of god and there’s a lovely freedom to it that I’ll explore in later letters. I just wanted to start here B—– with an understanding of what Hitchens believes atheism is and how he’ll go about arguing it, and whether or not I agree with his points. I agree that Hitch can be abrasive, and there are certain elements of the text that I disagree with, but the quotes I’ve provided here are used because they seem to perfectly reflect my position. They did when I was a nineteen year old kid who had known nothing but the church, and spent most of his time reading with a heavy lump in his chest and crying while turning the pages. It felt like I had finally found the voice I had been waiting for. The person who had made the exact arguments I had been making in my head for years.
Which leads me to the final argument in this letter. There’s a temptation to make the lack of belief and faith into some kind of dramatic affair. It shouldn’t be. And that’s the point. Belief in the foundation of reality is difficult B—–, obviously, and unfortunately the arguments surrounding it have become wrapped up in emotion, politics, and power structures, so much so that, when a man decides to write a book criticizing religion he has to start the book by predicting a pushback. I don’t ever want our letters to be as such, because I know you are a believer. And so let’s hope in this correspondence for further dialogue rather than mutual excommunication.
Besides, even if we disagree about god we can both agree Gal Gadot’s going to be the best part of the new Wonder Woman and Justice League movie. As if there was any doubt of that.
It may be a while till my next letter, but keep writing, I enjoy your responses.
Sincerely, yours in the best of confidence and support,
Joshua “Jammer” Smith
A while ago Cracked.com got into a bit of trouble because they posted an article about the way atheists communicate in public and why their methods were flawed. This, to no one’s real surprise, created a bit of a tizzy by atheists themselves who proceeded to shit all over Cracked. I haven’t gotten a chance to read it myself, but whenever people are offended or bothered by a piece of writing I immediately pick it up and read it because people always get upset for the wrong reasons. Plus, discourse is important. Enjoy:
I’ve also attached a link to a newspaper article from my alma matter UT Tyler. A friend of mine was writing a piece about religion and college students and he wanted to get some of my insight about being an atheist. It is, as far as I know, the only time my name has appeared in newsprint. The article ends on a positive note about faith, which is rather annoying, but it’s still a well written article. If you’re at all interested B—–, simply follow the link below.
I don’t really have anything to add here B—–, I just wanted to gush about the fact that Gal Gadot is playing Wonder Woman again. I’m not obsessed, I promise, there’s just something….something….
Well shit I can’t remember. What ridiculous fool I am. At least I’m cute.
"mountain of knowledge", Art, Atheism, books, Christopher Hitchens, coffee, Cookie Monster, glasses, god is not Great, Joshua Jammer Smith, Literature, Mark Twain, original photograph, Philosophy, Richard Dawkins, Science, still life, The Bible According to Mark Twain, The God Delusion
A Small Mountain of godlessness
19 February 2017
Abscence of god, Anti-theism, artistic integrity, Atheism, Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Black Humor, Black Sabbath, Blasphemy, Blasphemy for the Sake of Blasphemy, Book Review, Catch-22, Disasterpeice, Ego, Garth Ennis, graphic novel, Heavy Metal, Individual Will, John Wayne, Judith, Left Behind, letter, Lex Luthor, Margot Robbie, mortality, Narcissism, Negative Review, People = Shit, Philosophy, Preacher, Pulsifer, Punk Rock Jesus, religion, Shock Rock, Shock Value, Slipknot, Steve Dillon, Texas
You’re such an inspiration for the ways,
That I’ll never ever choose to be,
Oh so many ways for me to show you,
How the savior has abandoned you, Fuck your God!
Blasphemy is a bit of an acquired taste, and it’s a lot like salt: in small doses it can bring flavor, in large doses it just leaves you dry and wanting desperately for water as you gag on it. For the record that last bit is actually true. I once emptied half a salt shaker on an egg roll when I was around five and after biting into it I went into a shock before trying to rub the salt off my tongue on the sleeve of my mother’s dress. It’s not a terribly fond memory since we were in a group and most of the other people in attendance got a little chuckle at my expense, but the visual metaphor I think retains its poignancy as I decided I would write to you about the graphic novel Preacher by Garth Ennis.
Before I continue B—- I just wanted to make sure that you and Charlie are okay. In your previous letter you sounded like you and Charlie were having some problems. Now it is my first philosophy in life to stay out of other people’s relationships; people who offer advice freely about how to handle other people’s relationship problems are suspect to me and tend to be emotional leeches. If you ever want to talk about it know that I’m here and that I’m a listener first when it comes to people’s problems. Far too many people don’t realize that, when it comes to shit like that, all you really need to be is a listener.
Getting back to Preacher though, I recommended it to you because the last graphic novel we discussed was Punk Rock Jesus. To be honest with you I feel that that book succeeds far better than Preacher in terms of understanding and exploring the complexity of the theology and philosophy of Christianity in society. Whereas that book had a point to make about the mixing of capitalism and religion, Preacher seems, for the most part, to be blasphemy for the sake of blasphemy.
Since you told me you haven’t read it I’ll give you a brief synopsis of the plot. A minister by the name of Jesse Custer is giving a sermon in his church the day after a drunken outburst at the bar and in the middle of the service a being of color and light bursts through the window, occupies Jeese’s body, and creates an explosion that kills everyone in the church. The creature is called “Genesis” and it’s revealed later that it is the love child conceived when an angel from heaven and a demon from hell fell in love and made love. Genesis gives Jesse the “power of god,” allowing him to command people to perform actions against their own freewill. While he’s wandering he runs into a vampire named Cassidy and a woman named Tulip. The first volume follows Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy through the first part as they make their way to New York City to figure out what Genesis is, in the second half Jesse and Tulip are captured by Jesse’s grandmother and her servants. Jesse’s past is revealed as the reader observes that Jesse was raised in an emotionally, physically, and psychologically abusive household which is putting it mildly. Jesse watches his grandmother’s servants shoot his father in the head, shoot his best friend, drag his mother away, and he himself is placed in a coffin which is sunk into a river and left there for weeks at a time. All the while Jesse is searching for god because, as it’s revealed in the book, god has abandoned his position in heaven and Jesse wants to know why.
Just describing the plot, I recognize that it sounds outlandish or crazy, but so is the plot of Catch-22 and that book is not only required reading but also one of the most influential books in the American literary canon. Preacher is unlikely to ever attain such status for like I said above Blasphemy for the sake of blasphemy is like too much salt, and at times Preacher is like taking a deep swallow of it.
Now to be fair be I’m not immune to this impulse. While I detest anti-theism there is at times an impulse to roll my eyes and make easy pot-shots at religion when my Christian friends wax philosophical about their faith and their beliefs. There is the impulse when, after a friend has explained why they believe in god and the afterlife and heaven and why they’re happy with the life they’ve chosen I do wish sometimes that I could yell:
“It’s a bunch of self-absorbing bullshit. You believe in god because you still buy into the idea that the universe gives a shit about you, and the outdated geocentric, human centered reality that man is the center of ALL creation. If you weren’t such a narcissist you might be able to get your head out of your ass and realize that human life, when set against the enormity of creation, basically amounts to the dick lint of infinity and no amount of ancient texts are going to change that.”
I would like to say that sometimes, but what holds me back is the fact that responding like that only clouds up the discourse with nasty rhetoric and I would come across as self-righteous and, even worse, “the typical all-knowing egomaniacal atheist.” I distrust the impulse to say these words B——, because they feel too cathartic. There’s nothing wrong with releasing emotion from time to time, but in conversations, especially philosophical ones, emotions should be contained as much as possible lest you dissolve the conversation into pathos and ad hominem attacks. What matters most in discussing whether or not god exists is not the arguments themselves but the way people express the arguments.
Looking at Preacher then there is a real problem because Garth Ennis doesn’t try to make a fair conversation about theism, he’s just pushing religious buttons hoping somebody somewhere will crack and try to yell at him. It’s shock value, and the problem with shock value is, over time, people become inured to it, and when they become inured they become bored. The reason why Marilyn Manson isn’t shocking anymore, the reason while Alice Cooper is a cartoon character, the reason why Black Sabbath now has fans that span at least three generations is that people eventually stop being shocked. I would argue though that the difference between Marilyn Mansion, Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, and Garth Ennis is that the previous three actually make art that’s worth your time.
Also for the record B—— you should totally look up IOWA by Slipknot. It’s their Death Metal record so it’s going to be intense, but if you can survive through it you’ll love Slipknot till the day you die. People = Shit and Disasterpeice and Left Behind. Listen to those first.
Ennis’s book abounds with scene after scene of horrible people doing horrible things in the name of god or divine will and by the end if becomes difficult to find any sympathetic figure. By the end I did find myself liking the character of Jesse, but not because he was a good person, but because he was able to survive a living hell and find faith, not in god per say, but in himself. At this point though B—-, I imagine that I can predict your question.
The answer is yes Margot Robbie was a great Harley Quinn, and those lame critics on Rotten Tomatoes be damned, I fucking loved Suicide Squad. Definitely see it, if only to make fun of Charlie when Margot Robbie’s bodacious bootie wiggles around in those ridiculous hotpants. Seriously after leaving the film even my sister said they should have called the film “Margot Robbie’s Bodacious Ass Wiggles in Hot Pants…The Movie.”
The answer to your second question B——, is how exactly does one find any kind of redeemable reason to read a book like Preacher? This is a conflict because I don’t at first glance have an answer besides the fact that it is legitimately entertaining and does offer some opportunity for reflection about faith and blasphemy. For myself B——, the point of reading Preacher is about four pages in the book that allow the reader to be both shocked and reflective about the nature of faith.
Tulip is shot in the head in front of Jesse and is brought back to life by god who asks only that she have faith. She refuses, and reading this passage I think about my own position.
Here’s the point B—–. Even if god exists I would not have faith. Some people are able to balance the idea of a god with the “problem of evil,” but I cannot for that doesn’t absolve a creator. The reason I’m an atheist is because I do not recognize any empirical evidence for the existence of a divine being or creator, and even if there was, all that would change is my belief that god exists. My high school biology teacher, still one of the smartest men I’ve ever met, once held a religious conversation with some of his students. Dr. Bradford held a doctorate in biology but also had a Master’s in theology and so he asked them “What is faith?” a few of them began their arguments with “the belief in god,” but he would interrupt them with a solid “no” and finally they got frustrated and asked him what faith was. His response has never left me: “faith is trust. You trust in god. Even if you believe in god that doesn’t mean you trust him.” This to me is and always shall be everything. Even if god exists, and proof appears to validate this possible fact, I cannot in good conscience trust this god.
Some might say that this is unfair or me, or claim that I simply cannot see the bigger picture. This may be true, but neither do my contesters. Like me they are limited by their humanity, their faults and bias, and so when they come to me speaking about the infinite wisdom of the creator and his unfailing love for them all I can do is roll my eyes. It’s not out of condescension, it’s more out of the recognition of cognitive dissonance. Man wants his god to be above him, to possess more wisdom than himself, but the opposite is true. Men make god after their own image and I have to fall back upon Lex Luthor for this in Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice:
Lex Luthor: The problem of you on top of everything else. You above all. Ah. ‘Cause that’s what God is. Horus. Apollo. Jehovah. Kal-El. Clark Joseph Kent. See. What we call God depends upon our tribe, Clark Jo. Because God is tribal. God take sides. No man in the sky intervened when I was a boy to deliver me from Daddy’s fist and abominations. Mm mm. I’ve figured it out way back, if God is all powerful, he cannot be all good. And if he’s all good then he cannot be all powerful. And neither can you be. They need to see the fraud you are. With their eyes. The blood on your hands.
The moment I referred to earlier in Preacher when god himself has appeared bathed in divine light after bringing Tulip back to light and he begs her to beseech Jesse to give him his trust and Tulips response is incredible, for it’s the exact same response I’ve had to the notion of god in my own life:
Growing up in the environment I did I desperately wanted to say, actually scream out often to god to “cut the shit.” In fairness, due mostly to retrospect, my problem was not with god but with Christians themselves. It was always a sell, it was always a dogma, it was always the call to blindly follow and wholly trust, and the problem was often that thus trust involved some sacrifice of my principles because “trust” meant bashing gay people, voting republican, being prejudiced against Mexicans and blacks (though this was always hinted at or suggested without ever being outright spoken, you know “those people”), and burning copies of Harry Potter.
That last one’s important because you don’t fuck with Harry Potter. Period.
If Preacher achieves any kind of artistic statement, it’s in these two pages because it affords a new reality for readers and individual thinkers. I know this may sound like pathos B——, but reading does open up new worlds and often times I feel like I’m living in a different world now that I don’t believe or trust in god. This doesn’t always make life easy, in fact sometimes it makes it far more difficult. My life has become painfully shorter for the benefit of an afterlife is gone, but this only places me in a position in which I have to “cut the shit” and really recognize my problems because there isn’t someone looking out for me. What I do with my time isn’t just a sentence, it’s a real reality. Living without god, or faith in god, is stepping out of narcissism because it reduces the ego. Once mankind steps away from god they step out of the center of all creation, and while life in this new space isn’t always pleasant, as Preacher clearly demonstrates, it does make you see the world in a new way.
Reading Preacher is not easy if you are easily offended or unused to having your religious or moral convictions challenged. It’s important to remember that challenges are different than outright assault, and being fair to the book, Preacher is a book designed to push buttons far more than it is about challenging the reader. Ennis’s book is about showing all the negative sides to Christianity, while also squeezing in some blasphemy for fun, and the problem with this is that it doesn’t really encourage reflection or growth. Reading this book becomes an exercise in “allright what blasphemous shit is he gonna write next?” The three pages cited earlier though do redeem the book B——, at least so far as to ask yourself: if there was a god, would you trust him?
You know where I stand.
Blasphemy for the sake of blasphemy becomes tiresome and repugnant, because long after the shock of blasphemy is over there’s precious little, if any, art worth mentioning. The conflict then is that if an artist doesn’t have anything better to do than shock his reader, then he really hasn’t produced anything worth reading. But at least there’s the spirit of John Wayne reminding Jesse to be strong, so it ain’t all bad.
Sincerely, yours in the best of confidence and support,
Joshua “Jammer” Smith
You may have noted that I sound a little bitter. I can assure you that only appears when I listen to poor arguments, or spot a Joel Olsteen book in a pile of “Local Favorites” at Barnes & Noble. It’s not that I’m a bitter man, I just can’t stand Joel Olstean. And to be fair is there any thinking person who doesn’t?
Waited till the end for this. I loved Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn but I hated those hot pants and those heels. Harley Quinn is a gymnast and she’s expected to do all those crazy stunts in heels? Bullshit. I’ve tried running in boots with a one-inch heel and I damned near fell and busted my ass, and Harley Quinn is supposed to be able to flips and kicks in stiletto heels? I’m willing to suspend my disbelief in super hero films only so far.
Now as for the hot pants I have to say…say…
"God is Dead", Atheism, Basic Writings of Existentialism, Bob Dylan, Christianity, Communism, Essay, existentialism, Existentialism and Human Emotions, free will, Great Courses, Individual Will, Jean-Paul Sartre, Kapital, Karl Marx, letter, Literary and Philosophical Essays, Margot Robbie, Marxism, No Excuses: Existentialism and the Meaning of Life, Philosophy, religion, Robert C. Solomon, Totalitarianism, Wolf of WallStreet
I’m am greatly tempted to call myself an existentialist but I’ve never read Kapital by Karl Marx all the way through. I’ve never read Being and Nothingness either though so perhaps my desire for identity is just egomaniacal. This is all an overly distracting way of saying I’m thinking about adding another identity to myself alongside atheist, feminist, bisexual, and democrat, but the angry mob that chases me from place to place is already large enough and I don’t think adding angry philosophy professors and Marxists is really the best idea for this stage of life. Angry mobs are starting to unionize now and I can’t afford to pay for any more benefits, you understand of course.
I’m glad that you found the Nietzsche essay enjoyable, I’m positive that’s the first time that statement’s ever appeared in print, and I’m glad Charlie agrees with me that Margot Robbie is…is…
Ahem. I was uh…saying something.
I was happy to receive your letter, and in fact it was part of my motivation for beginning a new series of letters that we can share. If I understood, you correctly from a previous essay you have some questions about Existentialism. Let me be clear then. As with the atheist letters I am not placing myself as an authority of Existentialism as a movement for as of this writing I’m still learning the implications, ethos, methodology, and overall idea of the movement along with familiarizing myself with the writers who contributed the most to it. Like you, and I’m going off of your letter here, I was mostly taught that Existentialism was about meaninglessness of existence and how life was hollow and pointless and we were all going to die and there was no afterlife and so existence was pointless, the end.
Such is the cartoon character that is existentialism but not the reality. My little sister received the Great Courses audio lecture No Excuses: Existentialism and the Meaning of Life taught by Robert C. Solomon, and I’m positive that my regular readers are getting sick of hearing his name because I’ve mentioned it in like five to six essays in the last two months. I keep returning to these lectures however B—– because they’ve had a profound, and I don’t use that word lightly here, impact upon me. It’s been a lovely experience for me because despite the popular image of Existentialists flipping coins next to dead horses and screaming “why” to the heavens with a clenched fist, the philosophy I’ve been studying is actually positive and life affirming. The reason I’ve warmed up to Existentialism is because I finally understand what the Philosophy is about and I find a lot of the ideas since with my worldview already.
From this lecture, along with my other readings, I’ve come to the conclusion that Existentialism places responsibility above everything else, upon the individual and the choices they make.
Existentialism can be a bit brusque concerning institutions like Christianity, but the lecturer Robert C. Solomon does an excellent job demonstrating that many of the writings of these philosophers really pushes towards this idea that human life is its own and that people can and should embrace their choices for there is not only their mettle but also their character. This idea of choice is fascinating, and also validating since I have no choice but to believe in free will.
That’s a philosophy joke in case you missed it.
While the series covered Camus, Kierkegaurd, Nietzsche, and Heidegger, the last philosopher that Dr. Solomon discusses is Jean-Paul Sartre and, it should be noted, Solomon dedicates the last three tapes out of twelve to the man and his work. This is understandable seeing as how Sartre was essentially the champion of the Existentialist movement, giving it not only its name but also scores of writings and arguments to support it and, at times, apologize for it. Sartre as a man and writer is interesting, for not only was he awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature he refused the award becoming one of the first, and possibly only writer, to have done so. He spent most of his life writing, and it has been said that he supposedly wrote 20 pages of text a day, and when you remember that he wrote literature, philosophy, newspaper articles, magazine articles this becomes understandable but also incredibly incredible.
It also reminds that I really need to stop getting distracted while I write. I mean I start a review of a biography about Jim Henson or a sermon by Johnathan Edwards, and half an hour later I find myself drooling onto my keyboard while Google has pulled up somewhere around 100-200 pictures of Margot Robbie, and those are just the Harley Quinn Suicide Squad photos.
Solomon’s lecture wasn’t my first encounter with Sartre however. I stumbled across Sartre originally when my wife and I moved into her parents’ garage in a small apartment that had shower and A/C. Along with that was a filing cabinet filled with many of my mother-in-law’s books ranging from The Annals of Imperial Rome to Leaves of Grass to a small yellowed book titled Literary and Philosophical Essays. This was my first taste of Sartre, and while I recognized his talents I was pushed that summer towards Camus’s The Stranger instead and so Sartre went back on the bookshelf. It wasn’t until a few weeks back when my friend Christie mentioned that she and her girlfriend were moving and needed to get rid of some books…and honestly I can’t remember what happened next because I heard the word books and I began to growl and beat my chest making a “hungry” gesture. In the pile was a Modern Library copy titled Basic Writings of Existentialism, and opening the book I spotted the name Sartre again and turned to a passage simply titled Existentialism.
The essay was in fact an excerpt from one of Sartre’s longer works, Existentialism and Human Emotions, and was nothing but an apology, in the more historical sense, for the school of thought. From the beginning he makes his intention and concern clear:
First, it has been charged with inviting people to remain in a kind of desperate quietism because since no solutions are possible, we should have to consider action in this world as quite impossible. We should then end up in a philosophy of contemplation; and since contemplation is a luxury, we come in the end to a bourgeois philosophy. The communists in particular have made these charges. (341).
Sartre is working against a multi-fold front, and not just that dude in your history class who laughs when you tell him you’re majoring in philosophy. That ass-clown aside, Sartre is in a position where he has to defend his philosophical movement from those who either misunderstand his argument, or else his harshest critics which in this moment happen to be the Marxists. From afar it’s easy to understand why someone would look upon Existentialism with its calls to the freedom of the individual and the vital necessary role it places upon the idea of choice, as an elitist philosophy. If you’re working three jobs just to make ends meet, if you have four or five kids to take care of, if you tend to a sick parents or spouse your time is being constantly spent managing and satisfying the needs of others and so contemplation really isn’t a concrete reality. The people who have “time” tend to be rich people and so communists, who tend to despise rich people, would look upon a philosophy that seems to be nothing but air-headed contemplation with contempt.
Sartre however is calling bullshit on this and continuing. By addressing the criticism of his second set of critics, Christians. Once he has he makes the following claim:
In any case, what can be said from the very beginning is that by existentialism we mean a doctrine which makes human life possible and, in addition, declares that every truth and every action implies a human setting and a human subjectivity. (343).
On the next page follows this with:
Can it be that what really scares them in the doctrine I shall try to present here is that it leaves to man a possibility of choice? To answer this question, we must re-examine it on a strictly philosophical plane. What is meant by the term existentialism? (343).
Before I get to that I should probably answer the immediate question put forth by my seasoned contester B——-: who the hell cares? It’s philosophy. It’s a bunch of bullshit that doesn’t really matter except to a few hipsters who listen to Dylan on Vinyl, smoke a hookah, and complain that Camus is so yesterday man.
First of all, kudos to my contester for finally nailing hipsters who smoke hookahs. Seriously puffing one of those is apparently worse than smoking cigarettes yet for some reason people do it. Second, unfortunately you’re wrong, both about philosophy and Dylan on Vinyl. Dylan is sick on Vinyl, and philosophy has more relevance to human existence than most people really recognize. Existentialism is not about Metaphysics, the branch of philosophy that concerns itself with the nature of reality. Existentialism relies on the fact that there is a reality and that human beings occupy space within it. From there the life of man is about choices, but a second philosophic concern needs to be addressed.
Jean-Paul Sartre was an atheist, and apart from the Marxists who criticize the philosophy, Sartre spends a fair amount of the essay addressing the concerns of Christians who argue that Existentialism is inherently atheistic. Sartre doesn’t attempt to defend those existentialists who may be Christian, however it important to note B——– that Sartre does try to make sure that Existentialism is not declared nihilism.
In one passage he notes:
The existentialist is strongly opposed to a certain kind of secular ethics which would like to abolish God with the least possible expense. About 1880, some French teachers tried to set up a secular ethics which went something like this: God is useless and costly hypothesis; we are discarding it; but, meanwhile, in order for there to be an ethics, a society, a civilization, it is essential that certain values be taken seriously and that they be considered as having a priori existence.
The existentialist, on the contrary, think is it very distressing that God does not exist, because all possibility of finding values in a heaven of ideas disappears along with Him; there can be no longer be an a priori Good, since there is no infinite and perfect consciousness to think it. Nowhere is it written that good exists, that we must be honest, that we must not lie; because the fact is we are on a plane where there are only men. Dostoievsky[sic] said, “If God didn’t exist, everything would be possible.” That is the very starting point of existentialism. Indeed, everything is permissible if God does not exist, and as a result man is forlorn, because neither within him nor without does he find anything to cling to. He can’t start making excuses for himself. (349).
The first paragraph bothers me terribly and the second paragraph is painfully familiar. I’ll address the first part B—–. I distinctly remember one moment from my Intro to Philosophy class, and not just Dr. Krebs’s Hawaiin shirts and cowboy boots. We were discussing Ethics and at one point, after I had confessed to the class that I was an atheist, I argued that solipsism was a ridiculous position because it violated the basic principle that you should try to avoid being a dick to people. I argued that morality, or at least basic virtue towards other human beings was important. One of the students who I regularly talked to in class immediately asked, “Well what do you care, you’re an atheist.” This comment leads me to the second paragraph. When I was struggling with recognizing that I was an atheist my first thought was “if there’s no god then why should I be a good person?” This idea is not original for the very fact that Dostoyevsky wrote it and he lived at least a hundred years before I did.
Human beings look to god to find morality because god is beyond mortal understanding, as such he is ideal and beyond mortal constraints. The conflict however is that often the model of god that many Christians worship is not a philosophical god, but a purely benevolent creature that is static and does work well with moral grey area. As such whenever Christians hear phrases like “God is Dead,” or “You Don’t need god to be moral,” there is usually a violent reaction. I can attest to this for when I still had my faith I clung to the idea that it because of god that humans, and by extension myself, had to be moral or else all chaos would ensue. The conflict with this is that it is bullshit and reveals painful weakness.
If the reason human beings are moral is because they believe god exists it says a great deal about their so-called morality. I do believe however that Sartre makes a mistake arguing that the absence of god is the start of existentialism for there were some existentialists who believe in god. Despite naysayers Nietzsche believed in some kind of divinity, and Søren Kierkegaard wrote many essays and tracts on Christianity. Sartre pushes atheism because he himself is an atheist, and anyone who assumes that they cannot be an existentialist and someone who believes in god is simply trying to apply a particular brand of existentialism.
Sartre finishes his essay by addressing the absence of god by pointing out that it really doesn’t matter:
It isn’t trying to plunge man into despair at all. But if one calls every attitude of unbelief despair, like the Christians, then the word is not being used in its original sense. Existentialism isn’t so atheistic that it wears itself out showing that God doesn’t exist. Rather, it declares that even if God did exist, that would change nothing. There you’ve got our point of view. Not that we believe God exists, but we think that the problem of His existence is not the issue. (366-7).
Looking at this B—– I return to the image of the man lying in a ditch beside the dead horse and screaming “why” with clenched fist towards the heavens. While this letter has focused mostly on Sartre’s atheism in the essay Existentialism, I do want it to serve as a kind of starting point. Sartre points out that it doesn’t matter ultimately whether or not god exists because it isn’t god that will make an individual person’s life. Existentialism is first and foremost a philosophy that argues that choices are what makes human beings who they are, and in fact those choices create our reality. Living in the age that we do Existentialism seems all the more important to consider since our life is made up of choices:
It may seem trivial or cliché from afar B——, but these little choices assume meaning for who we are, and what we make our life. Sartre’s essay is largely a defense, but it’s also a reminder that free will, or more importantly what we do with free will, is what makes our species unique. By adopting philosophies like Marxism or Christianity, both institutions that tend to usurp individual will, humans are rejecting the most important facet of their reality.
This is just a start B—-, and I’ll continue to try to answer any and all questions you have, and I’ll continue recommending books and essays for you to read. Just remember that personal ideologies and philosophies are never static. They are constantly being updated and altered and changed, and so right now Existentialism is young and flexible. Just keep writing and we’ll keep talking it out.
As the last part of your letter all I can say is, I told you so. Girls like it when you do stuff for them and don’t expect anything in return. For the record it’s kind of sad when you’re the woman I have to be telling you this stuff, but that’s reinforcing bad stereotypes. As per your second question, yes Margot Robbie is in Wolf of Wallstreet so it’s more than likely your girlfriend wants to watch it so she can see her naked, or else lounging seductively in a couch wearing nothing but her underwear and….and…
Anyway, have fun. I’m told it’s a good movie, then again it’s Scorsese so how could it not be? Until next time.
Sincerely, yours in the best of confidence and support,
Joshua “Jammer” Smith
If you were at all interested B—-, I found a blogpost about Sartre refusing the Nobel Prize. If you’re interested follow the link below:
I know I’ve mentioned Margot Robbie a lot in this essay B—–, but here’s a bit of a secret, I actually think Kate Micucci is a lot cuter, but then again I’m a sucker for brunette’s with a sharp sense of humor.