Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The god of the Godless


"[O]utside the ordered universe [is] that amorphous blight of nethermost confusion which blasphemes and bubbles at the center of all infinity—the boundless daemon sultan Azathoth, whose name no lips dare speak aloud, and who gnaws hungrily in inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond time and space amidst the muffled, maddening beating of vile drums and the thin monotonous whine of accursed flutes." - H.P. Lovecraft
"the mindless entity Azathoth, which rules all time and space from a curiously environed black throne at the centre of Chaos". - H.P. Lovecraft
"the ancient legends of Ultimate Chaos, at whose center sprawls the blind idiot god Azathoth, Lord of All Things, encircled by his flopping horde of mindless and amorphous dancers, and lulled by the thin monotonous piping of a demonic flute held in nameless paws" - H.P. Lovecraft

I don't know for certain whether H.P. Lovecraft meant it this way but I'm persuaded by the brilliance of the metaphor and thereby convinced it was his intention, even if accidental: his "Azathoth" depicts the god of the Godless.

What other god is conceived of as having absolute power over time and space, yet is completely indifferent (i.e. blind and idiotic), and we are spared from his chaotic vileness only because of that "demonic flute held in nameless paws", i.e. only because out of sheer random luck we are the right distance from the sun and have the right amount of atmosphere.

I suspect that most of the "godless" people I know would object and say that they do not worship such a god at all, and that they effectively incline in their lives toward ideals of goodness similar to my own.  I could even grant that they have access to "logos spermatikos", that they have some kind of intuitive affinity for the genuinely good. The point is not at all to judge others.  My firsthand experience tells me I am the first among sinners, so I cannot say anything at all to impute lesser character to non-believers.  But their high level view of reality is wrong, and rather than enabling mental illness, which is so popular these days, I think it is better to speak up when someone is heading toward an "amorphous blight of nethermost confusion".

People without an active effort underway to grow closer to God are not being properly nourished.  They are missing out on crucial vitamins and will eventually experience this deficiency in some form of spiritual un-health.  And it is very dangerous not to have such a relationship in place.  Not long ago at all I was in their shoes, claiming I was good enough and that God could add nothing to me.  But then I realized I was extremely wrong, that my life was utterly broken through my allegiance to self will, and that I was heading directly toward perdition.  Of course I am an extreme case but I think the principle is the same, and even for others far less sinful than myself it is still appropriate to recommend a conscious participation in what is most Real, most True and most Good, over a subconscious or intuitive meandering toward these most important of possible life goals.

I'm convinced that if you dig into the deepest causes of our behavior you will eventually reach a sort of bedrock which is comprised of our most deeply held allegiances. If we follow a cultural norm it is because we are bonded with it through participation. If we believe at this level of our being that an action is wrong we will not be able to make ourselves do it, and if we believe at this level that something is good we will not be able to stop ourselves from drawing closer to it.

Some words that describe this bedrock are "value", "meaning" and "purpose.  What has real, ultimate value for us, what not just fills us with a "sense" of purpose (as if anything would do as long as it motivates us), but rather convinces us that it is the genuinely right thing to do, so strongly that we could clear-headedly sacrifice lesser things for such a cause?  At this depth of meaning we start to approach other words, like "truth" and "goodness".  We cannot be convinced of powerfully deep value unless we are first convinced that it is both true and good.  And we will not be convinced if said truth or goodness are merely relative, subjective and personal.  Such goodness or truth is brittle and will not take us very far.  Once we move away from the abyss of subjectivism we can start moving toward words like "realness", and in the direction of adjectives like "ultimate".

When viewed in the context of actually caring about finding meaning, purpose and truth, these poetic depictions of Azathoth comes into clearer focus.  This image, of ultimate power combined with ultimate uncaring, could perhaps be describing what happens when we lose hope of finding these things which are of such central importance to us.

If you follow the slippery rabbit hole of subjectivism (or nominalism, or realism, or naturalism) you lose hope of believing there could ever be any kind of central organizing principle, any shared ultimate truth, any 'best for all' solutions, or any natural inclination of 'all that is' toward the good.  If you go too far you can no longer believe in goodness at all.

There is a position in our minds and hearts for an ultimate governing principle, for that "law" which is most causally central and around which everything else turns.  Scientific materialism, and several other "godless" philosophical positions place randomness on this pedestal.  I think they would claim, perhaps boisterously, that they worship exactly nothing, that there is no pedestal, that they have a rather inverted view from what I am accusing them, and that they do not place a single causal principle at the center of reality.  Rather, they believe there is no such center, that we are all more or less freely floating in a sea of coincidence.  Randomness is a way of saying there is no central causal principle.  Of course an extension of this assertion is that there is no meaning which could be considered real, only a temporary and perhaps "useful" sort of meaning which is completely subject to individual discretion.  And there is no reality to individual discretion either, because our very awareness and will are mere epiphenomenon; illusions, really.  If you keep going with this, you also have to conclude that love is not real, relationships are not real, nothing we value has real value.  Goodness has no value, life has no value.  The universe, as it were, cares not at all whether we all live happily or suffer horribly and die miserable. Any sort of goodness is reduced to a convenience, for the benefit of the species, a quirk of evolution, which would as soon have us eat our young to free up valuable resources, but as accident would have it, it currently has us nourishing them.  Any ideal, principle or value, no matter how deeply held, has no reality to it, no validity.  The only ground on which to base "goodness" is a mere personal whim, or the abstraction of collective survival.

Either we do, or we do not respect that other people are worth treating as we would be treated.  And this respect is fragile and temporary as long as we do not have a genuine conviction that the people we are treating well are real.

If we approach goodness without solid grounding in what goodness is, or rather Who it is, we are entering a battle without armor.  Materialistic philosophy offers no solid or convincing basis for goodness, and no recourse for us to resolve any ambiguities we might encounter.  Without a proper reference point, one's notion of goodness tends to dissolve into relativism or an extreme laissez-faire approach which is powerless to protect people from themselves, and which tends to only be capable of helping people on a superficial, material, outward level.  Without a powerful connection to interiority, we can't help people in any meaningful way that actually matters.

When fairly accused, "You are a mere sinful mortal and who are you to point the way to others?" I am obliged to respond that all any of us can do is struggle toward the Light, but in so doing if we only help ourselves we haven't made any progress at all.  We must point as best we can toward the highest truth we have experienced, preferably with our whole lives and not just our finger.  Pointing a weak, relativistic finger is not going to help anyone, it only reveals and helps to spread our own confusion.  We must point boldly toward the Truth as best we can, as much as we've experienced it.  Certainly many of us, even most of us, will not point in quite the right direction.  But a world where no one even tries to grow closer to Truth (and consequently no one is pointing toward it) is exactly the sort of world one would expect when so many people are unconsciously worshipping the blind idiot god Azathoth.

Fortunately for us, the Truth has a Finger of His own.  We only need to take a few steps toward Reality as the prodigal, and He will come running toward us as the Father.  We are indeed not equipped on our own to access the absolute, to perceive that which transcends the intellect. But we have been given the capacity to draw close to God through the renewal of our nature in Christ, and through the symbiosis of our participation in His Body we may draw closer in Truth.

I pray that we all may glimpse the Light and realize that Hope is very much alive and well and is in every respect a more rational, wholesome choice than the alternatives.  That the darkness of that 'amorphous blight of nethermost confusion', of godlessness and its metaphysical cohort, can pass out of our lives like a bad dream.

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