Dialogue with an Atheist I

ME: You should watch this [link to a Joseph Campbell lecture from the Mythos series]

HIM: Oh is this the video series based on Campbell’s books? Cool beans.

ME: Not based on his books – based on his life 😉

HIM: I’ve been reading his Masks of God series, but I haven’t gotten to these yet.

ME: Yeah I saw, and I find it strange that one (you) can have an aesthetic and intellectual taste for mythology and religion yet still delineate oneself an atheist

HIM: It is because of the work of people like Campbell that I can be an atheist. He points out the intellectual roots of mythology, which makes it clear that it is simply that.

ME: He points out that these deities reside, as Blake said, in the human breast, in our mind. Does that make them any less real? No, no I don’t think it does.

HIM: If they existed in reality, they would be beyond our breast and mind. So yes, it openly makes them less real. I exist outside your mind. I am both a thought that you have, a representation of a person, but I am also flesh and blood, and able to interact and accomplish.

ME: Do you exist outside of my mind? OH GOD DON’T DO THIS TO ME. (Kidding around.) But on a serious note, god exists, and god is the one archetype behind our consciousness; he is being itself

HIM: Don’t get existential about it, it doesn’t suit you.

ME: Once you get more into Campbell I hope you’ll move away from the theism/atheism polarization/dualism

HIM: I hope you get away from this odd apologetics. You are jumping through too many hoops to justify a god. You should ask yourself why the concept exists in the first place, and why you assume one should exist. I’ll put it simply, buddy: I know you want things for me, but you are not ahead of me in any area of philosophy. Don’t talk down to me on the subject. It is pretty annoying

ME: not sure why you think this is an ego thing. I just want to help.

HIM: You are not good at it then.

ME: you concern yourself with atheism a lot, and it’s not so much purely a philosophical subject as it is a psychological one (to me anyway).

HIM: I concern myself with it because it is important to me. And it is both [psychological and philosophical] to me.

ME: Arg, I totally wish this were easier to explain. I am “ahead” of you in the history of the consciousness of mankind as I’ve studied through language and cultural change (which shape his consciousness). I’m not trying to justify anything or prove anything. God was one thing in the past and now he’s seen as something else by what appears to be the majority of humanity (and I say “he” because that’s the traditional way of talking about “him,” though I wouldn’t call him that if I had been the first to talk about god). God was the unknown, the unconscious aspects of our mind. Read more Jung and Campbell. That’s all I’m saying.

HIM: It is hard to tell if you’re getting into pseudo-science or terrible metaphor. It is pretty sad either way.

ME: Insults aren’t needed here, and call it terrible if you want. It’s symbolism and it’s been used throughout most literature, but particularly mythology and religion.

HIM: So brass tacks, do you think there is a mystical being or not? Yes or no. You don’t have to explain its nature to me.

ME: Well, what do you mean by “mystical being”?

HIM: Something that is beyond current examined nature.

ME: Examined by whom?

HIM: So the answer is yes. If the answer was no, you wouldn’t be making it so troublesome.

ME: Yes, with the qualification that you’re attempting to vastly oversimplify theism and archetypal psychology completely.

HIM: Yes I am, because I’m trying to figure out if you’re attributing mythological concepts to psychological concepts.

ME: Yes. That’s exactly what I’m doing.

HIM: …or if you are actually believing mythological concepts

ME: I’m not “believing” anything.

HIM: Yes you are. If you are attributing a ‘god’ to the unknown sections of the mind, as you said, you are ‘believing.’ Because you have no proof of that beyond the history of storytelling, which is as much proof that we are scared of things, as it is proof of something existing beyond reality.

ME: But when you interact with mythology and literature on a deeper level you don’t need to “believe” anything; the aesthetic experience is enough.

HIM: yes you do, by the very nature of the words. So I am glad you know so much more on this than me, and that it isn’t an ego thing for you, but I don’t believe either of those statements.

ME: Well I did after all get my MA in English literature and wrote my thesis on Yeats’ use of alchemy and mythology and its parallels to Jungian depth psychology (and even touched on its relation to the aestheticization of the likes of Pound and Dickinson). But okay, not ahead of you at all, and I know nothing about mythology and psychology. And I love magic sky fairies

HIM: See this is the thing. If you want to come talk about this stuff with me, you have to remember that I am not your student. You are not my guru, my priest, my father. If you come in expecting to be above me in the conversation, don’t do it at all.

ME: I don’t want to be – I want to be a friend who points you to something profound

HIM: Then find some humility. OK, we can start it over; hit the reset button. But you need to put a cap on your ego.

ME: I might suggest you do the same with your down-talking to theists. You said some woman couldn’t critically think because she is a theist, if I recall correctly.

HIM: No, I said that her statements caused statements in the atheist community that English majors don’t need to critically think.

ME: Yeah, I’ve definitely never done that in my life. I felt (and maybe I was wrong) that you agree with the idea that she cannot or does not.

HIM: Whether I do or not, I didn’t make that statement. Because I try to avoid insulting people who aren’t openly offensive.

ME: Okay, well, sorry if I’ve been offensive then, because you’ve insulted me. (I sort of thought I was being defensive though.) Anyway, my point still stands about the Campbell lecture. It’s pretty incredible. And yes, most people who believe in god are absurd spiritual materialists, but there is some merit to the God/Zeus/Odin/Hermes nonsense. Myth is like a figurative model or map of the human psyche, sort of like that Adrienne Rich poem, “Diving into the Wreck”: “the words are purposes. / the words are maps.”

HIM: Let me help then, as a person with a longer history than yours saying things that others will find offensive. When people you know post something to their blog and such, they are talking to the crowd and aren’t looking to offend you personally. All personal level conversations on the other hand, are meant to be conversations of equals in so far as you consider that person a friend.

i.e. when I’m talking bad about Heffernan, I’m not trying to beat up on any of my many theistic friends. Because if they come talk to me, I’m going to treat them as logically and kind as they deserve as a person.

ME: Okay, brilliant. The reason I come to you with this is because i respect you and think of you as my equal, but at the same time my circumstances have been very different than yours and that has provided me a much different experience with religion than your own. I think I can provide you with a new perspective to mull over and attempt to reconcile with your atheistic perspective. I wouldn’t come to you and challenge you if I didn’t think you had it in you to sympathize with this perspective, having studied literature. I hope from your studies you’ve at least gleaned hints of it from the Romantics, from Yeats, perhaps from medieval literature.

HIM: All part of why I am where I am today.

ME: And I don’t mean to come to you as someone who’s above you. I don’t think I’m above you. I do think I see myth and psyche and religion far differently and (if you don’t mind me saying it) far more critically than you though.

HIM: I do mind the last part. You may have more years in the education system on the topic, but we have no way of knowing if you are indeed, more critical on the topic. Not to take away from your degree, congrats on that.

ME: Okay then I don’t. I did once consider myself an atheist though, and I was shaken out of it by the likes of Yeats. I suggest you look into Jung, Yeats, Campbell, and others who have done work on the psyche and mythos and evaluate them as critically as I hope you do Dawkins or Harris or any other similar reductionist or materialist. And I want to reemphasize also that I don’t see “god” as a matter of belief. I don’t “believe” in god, or Odin, or Hermes, or Aslan, or Ron, Hermione, or Harry Potter. They (can?) reside in our breasts, so I don’t need to “believe” in them.

HIM: statements like that are so… lol

ME: I could say that about your own

HIM: You may as well just call it a soul.

ME: I think I did earlier, but I may not have. I certainly meant to.

HIM: That is what I hear, because it is just as useless. I will continue to trust the likes of Hitchens, Harris, and also Campbell, because without some reason to attribute some non-physical existence to those gods, they are simply ink on paper, and viral ideas in the mind.

ME: viral to some, liberating to others

HIM: Yes, very liberating, to those specific people. Not often to those in proximity to them. The unfortunate crime of these gods isn’t the pressure they take off of people, but their demands. As time has gone on they’ve gone from asking for our labor, to our obedience, to our money, or blood. So any positive is quickly overwritten and then some. So yeah, materialist. lol

ME: I’m not sure how I (or anyone) can give a god in my psyche money. Where was the money actually going? To the god, or the humans of the church? The pope maybe?

HIM: If it remained in your psyche, that wouldn’t be a problem. But it would be disingenuous and pointless for us to pretend that is where gods stay.

ME: They manifest as idols and symbols, sure – but even then, I’ve never witnessed a statue of Pallas Athena asking for my first fruits.

HIM: That is because Athena is a fossil. If you lived in her time, you would have. Just as people claim to have heard Jesus ask them for things every day.

ME: My point is that they’re given to the priests as income to maintain the religious institution. We know they were, and we don’t have to act like they go to the gods or the idols of the gods. That was the point of what I said.

HIM: and the point of what I said.

ME: So because priests can misuse gods in this way we shouldn’t consider them representative of some aspect of our psyche?

HIM: You can consider them metaphors all you want.

ME: Indeed I will – salt, sulfur, mercury

HIM: But metaphors are not real, they are devices. So that isn’t the conversation we are having.

ME: Consider this: almost all language is metaphorical. Metaphors allow us to communicate as we do right now

HIM: Agreed.

ME: And metaphors (through religion) allow us to communicate with ourselves.

HIM: To summarize it, metaphors are part of what allows humans to use language to express concepts they have never directly perceived

ME: Right — even the word “express” there means “to squeeze out.” We can’t perceive the concept the word expression refers to, so we use a metaphor. Have you seen that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation entitled “Darmok”? [Spoiler Warning] The enterprise comes across an alien species who have a mythological language. They speak all in metaphor from their mythology to communicate sentiment, desire, thankfulness, etc.; all of their communication is in story and image — “Darmok and Jilad at Tinagra”

HIM: I don’t think I ever saw that one, but just read the wiki on it.

ME: Those figures from their mythology are very real to them, because they represent those very desires, emotions, sentiments, ideas.

HIM: They are very emotionally close to them, they play heavily on their psychology, but they are not real.

ME: Is an expression real? Is this, this idea I’m conveying to you right now, is it real?

HIM: You are really expressing them to me, yes.

ME: Really? Am I squeezing them out to you?

HIM: Ha, but you cannot equate an expression really being stated, and really having happened, to the concepts within the statement being a reality. You are abusing language.

ME: But wait – to express is a process. I’m talking about the expression, as in the process. Is the expression real? Not the statement, the expression. The word “express” is a metaphor, and the idea meant by the metaphor is (I would argue) as real as the essence of a god (the mercury). We embody the metaphor in a symbol (to squeeze something out). The symbol is the squeezing out of something – it is something sensible to manifest the ethereal concept meant by that word “express.”

HIM: Your use of ‘squeeze out’ is making this weird to understand. Are you implying some sort of Logos idea, like expressing a god through symbols and idols is trying to manifest some small part of them into the world? Or are you implying that their symbols manifest some small part of our inner thoughts?

They are similar ideas, but I don’t know which you are going for.

ME: I’m going for both I guess, but mostly the latter, if I had to pinpoint my idea to one of those two you’ve listed.

HIM: I could agree with that, but it has little meaning considering the many ways we can manifest aspects of our mind. The mind: real. Unexplored aspects of our psychology: real. Gods, simply stories created to help us cope with those aspects. Big rubber stamp: still not real.

ME: The argument isn’t whether they’re real. In fact I don’t think there’s an argument.

HIM: There definitely doesn’t seem to be one.

ME: I just meant to point out the absurdity of calling oneself an atheist given all this.

HIM: You haven’t done that either… and I wasn’t even aware that was your point.

ME: From earlier: “I find it strange that one (you) can have an aesthetic and intellectual taste for mythology and religion yet still delineate oneself an atheist.”

HIM: Well I could explain why, if that helps.

ME: That is, you can reorganize and even manifest parts of your psychology into idols, symbol, characters, words (grammar), whatever. So atheism and the “new atheism” movement especially are pretty …strange? I mean they’re not wrong: there’s no one in the literal sky shooting literal bolts of lightning at me. But there is an Immortal in the sky striking me with lightning – i.e. symbolic, like Blake’s or Yeats’ double vision.

HIM: But only if you choose to believe there is one. There is, without doubt, no consciousness in the sky trying to hit you with lightning. Period. Done. There is nothing up there doing that.

ME: Not the literal sky, nope

HIM: Whether we express a symbol of one doing it or not, that doesn’t change the reality.

ME: i’m not arguing about the literal reality of it

HIM: Giving or creating a symbol only creates a chance to create undue psychic stress on yourself worrying what that symbolic god wants, and why they are angry, which is why gods and religion are intrinsically linked.

ME: I’m gonna have to disagree with that. The gods aren’t some fear tactic when you take possession of your own mind

HIM: That is pseudobabble. Explain.

ME: “Pseudobabble”? That term doesn’t make much morphological sense.

HIM: I’ll say that whenever you sound like someone trying to get me to call a psychic. You can use better words is what I’m really saying.

ME: I mean – as an aside, having to put this into rational language for you right now is taking quite a toll on my brain – I mean  that when a priest, or ruler or your pastor or your father, describes to you the nature of god or gods (the unconscious influences of your mind), they use fear tactics to get you to think or do certain things for them (or for the temple) – or not do certain things – so you will stay servile. And maybe the priest or your father doesn’t meant to keep you unaware of and in fear of these influences, or perhaps he doesn’t know exactly what the rhetoric does and how it does it, but it happens.

But if you say “NO, SCREW YOU, GUY” to the priest or your father and discover the influences yourself, you don’t fear them. I mean…maybe you do at first or whatever, but the point is to, as Yeats says, “Overcome the gods of parnassus” – not to fear them, to run from them, but to bring them into consciousness – to understand the influences.

HIM: And I do say “SCREW YOU.” A sociologist I cannot remember the name of said, “To escape a system, you must be aware of it.” The influences are important, not to make it a deeper part of yourself, but to use those influences in a more positive aspect. For example, strife helps build Christianity, because the soothing messages of Yahweh and the religious institution give a feeling that thing will get better, if not in this life, in the next. I understand that influence, but it isn’t a reason for me to bring Yahweh into me, it means I should create more realistic expectations of this life so to make better use of my time and energy.

ME: Oh gods no. Contemporary religious institutions are garbage mostly. I mean there are some magical orders that are probably doing great things for people, but as for most Christian churches, gods no. They don’t understand the book they pretend to follow.

HIM: The historical ones don’t get much better, no matter how much we romanticize them.

ME: To be fair, I think some pagan cultures had some great institutions. I can’t prove it, but druidism and Celtic paganism seem pretty good from what I can gather historically.

And yes the eschatological mindset of most contemporary Christians is really depressing:

“I’m just gonna be a docile dipshit until the end of the world here. I’ll see you in heaven, good pal!”

“Take my money, pastor Joe! I’ll have all the riches in the afterlife right?”

Yeats thought (and I do too) that the apocalypse, the second coming, happens in your own mind

HIM: That sounds like a pointless philosophical line to draw. Why assume their language? Likely, because of audience?

ME: Yes, but also because mythology is useful — poets make myth; leaders abuse myth.

HIM: Mythology is useful, especially for leaders to abuse. It is only useful for the layman when they understand it as that, otherwise they are putting themselves in place to be abused.

ME: Agreed.

HIM: Which is, no surprise, exactly why I like mythology.

ME: Right, so I (or you) adopt their language because it’s the language of the poet, not of the average religious-materialist imbecile. (To add — the word sin, in my opinion, has been misapprehended, misappropriated, and misused and St. Paul I think is somewhat guilty of it as well, despite his (I think) inspiration and depth of understanding.)

Anyway, I’m not a theist and I’m not an atheist. I have no argument. I just want to show that mythos – not religious institutions – can be liberating if used correctly.

By the way, the trinity is the trivium:

  • father – holy ghost – son (trinity)
  • logic – rhetoric – grammar (trivium)
  • mercury – sulfur – salt (tria prima)

HIM: For the average atheist, not having a stance is really a cop out. As the XKCD comic put it, ‘at least you’ve found a way to feel superior to both’

ME: I… don’t feel superior. I feel fortunate, I guess, if anything.

HIM: It’s a webcomic; don’t put too much stock in it. The point is that having a long argument why you aren’t theist or atheist, and aren’t going to pick a side, means nothing to both groups. You are one, but no one wants to take the time to talk a person’s position out once they’ve taken that ‘no sides’ stance.

It doesn’t help anyone.