On the Essential Ignorance of Atheism

God is dead. —Nietzsche
Nietzsche is dead. —God

     This particular contribution to this here blog is not especially politically incorrect (for which I apologize), as some PC progressives may not be atheists—they may even be religious—like Angela Merkel maybe, let alone all those kirtan-singing New Age people. Plus of course Islam, that sacred cow of the new left (mainly because its followers are non-white and thereby necessarily innocent victims), is emphatically theistic. On the other hand, neo-Marxism, a basic ingredient of recent progressivism, is of course based on Marxism 1.0 (“paleo-Marxism”), and that particular ideology is 100% atheistic materialism.

     Also (on the third hand?), there are plenty of atheists on the new right as well, anti-SJW types like Stefan Molyneux and Sargon of Akkad, for example. In fact atheism is to be found pretty much everywhere in modern western culture, though more so in Western Europe than in Eastern Europe (including formerly Marxist Russia) and the USA. Even so, atheism appears to be more prevalent in, even fundamental to, the political left—it’s more “progressive” or “liberal” than conservative to be an atheist.

     Some leftists are presumably attracted to atheism because the Communist prophet Karl Marx was a materialistic out-and-outer, and contemptuously excluded religion, “the opiate of the masses,” from his proletarian utopia. On the other hand (we’re up to four hands now), many people who are atheists first may be attracted to socialism second because instead of having faith in a big all-protecting God the Father, they prefer to have faith in a big all-protective Mommy State. In other words, since they have no faith in Providence to watch over their every action and make things right, they are drawn towards the consolation of having faith in Big Government to do it. (This obviously wouldn’t apply to radical libertarian atheists like Molyneux, who consider big government, or pretty much any government, to be practically diabolical. Government is people with guns who take your money away.)

     Putting it rather bluntly, atheism, intellectually, is an appeal to ignorance. Atheism is almost always based on ignorance, even arrogant ignorance (Richard Dawkins immediately comes to mind as an excellent example of smug, arrogant scientific materialism). The argument, usually not articulated, is essentially, “If I can’t understand how God (an absolute Being, a conscious level of Reality infinitely higher than this one) could possibly exist, then God can’t possibly exist.” Or, more scientifically: “If scientists can’t see it, weight it, or measure it, then it cannot possibly exist.” As though we humans were omniscient ourselves, and not a species of relatively clever blind worms.

     A common justification for atheism is to refute attempts to “prove” the existence of God intellectually, for example the appeal to design in the universe. Another is to concoct some lame version of God—an extreme example being an angry old man with a long white beard sitting on a throne up in the sky somewhere, a being more or less like Santa Claus except not nearly so jolly, wearing a white suit instead of a red one, and having angels for helpers instead of elves—or even a personal entity who has a more or less human personality, has personal favorites, hates certain behaviors and insists upon others, designs individual snowflakes as well as moral codes, and answers prayers—and then to reject the ridiculousness of the very idea of such a concoction. Such stereotypical materialists can’t come near a more advanced conception of God, like the Vedantist Brahman or even the God of the Catholic mystics; if they could, maybe they wouldn’t be atheists.


     A primary basis for experiential claims for the existence of God is mysticism: a state of consciousness which transcends symbolic perception—symbolic perception being a mental prison in which most people, including almost all intellectual scientific types, are trapped for life. The mystic experiences a more or less non-perceptual, more or less formless, heightened and refined state of consciousness which he or she chooses, if he or she is religious, to interpret as an awareness of the all-pervasive Spirit of God. Non-mystics may mock this interpretation; but they do so in supreme ignorance of the experience they are mocking. I am reminded of the “Enlightenment” historian Edward Gibbon, in an account of Byzantine Christianity, sneering at contemplative practices and experiences at Orthodox Christian monasteries, flatly declaring mysticism to be nothing more than delusion brought about by fasting, lack of sleep, giddiness, and religious hysteria. But of course the man had absolutely no personal experience of what he was sneering at. “Enlightenment” rationalism obviously has its very great strengths, but it also has fundamental weaknesses, such as being entirely enmeshed in symbolic perception, in symbols, which are not the reality they are supposed to represent.

     If atheism is not based upon ignorance, or “spiritual blindness,” then it is most likely based on the fact that a person’s spiritual intuitions and inklings, if not the full life-changing Beatific Vision, are interpreted along more philosophical lines, as is the case with many Buddhists. The modern western mind is inclined to be more prosaic than poetic—although this difference in perspective is more of a cultural difference than one really affecting Ultimate Reality.

     To prove that something does not exist is much more difficult than to prove that something does exist. To prove that, say, black swans exist, all that is required is to produce a black swan for inspection. But failure to find a black swan is certainly no proof that black swans do not exist—one may simply have failed to find them. You can’t prove that something, like a black swan, or a Sasquatch, or God, is impossible or nonexistent merely by failing to produce it (or It).

     If God can be said to “exist” at all, then IT (probably not He or She) may be completely Off the Scale, even completely beyond any duality of “is” and “isn’t,” paradoxical and illogical as that may be—whenever infinity is considered, paradox and nonsense are always lurking somewhere nearby. A perceiving mind, including an intellectual one, simply cannot grasp Infinity. God’s “existence,” then, may possibly be totally beyond and irrelevant to the details of our daily lives—“all is permitted”—with no need of including God in any equations or worldly schemes; but still, our blindness is no proof of the nonexistence of Divinity.

     Agnosticism, a humble admission of ignorance and fallibility, is really the only unimpeachable position, or else maybe the idea that God defined as ultimate reality, being completely Off the Scale, no attempt at describing Its “existence” could do It justice. This would be a realistic position of humility, assuming that there is no arrogance in believing that there is an ultimate reality beyond mere appearances. Maybe another acceptable position of humility would be the mystical experience of infinity or divinity without insisting that it is an awareness of God’s presence. But at best, atheism is merely a working hypothesis; once it becomes a firm belief it is no wiser than any firm belief in Jehovah Lord of Hosts, or in the severe non-jolly Santa Claus, or in this or that conspiracy theory involving space aliens or Russian prostitutes paid by Donald Trump to pee on Obama’s bed.

     An example of how God could exist, even at a higher level of reality than we do, with even the most clever of us being oblivious to a being so absolutely pervasive, could be as follows: God could be to us what the author of a novel is to the characters in the book. In such a case someone like Richard Dawkins would be akin to a smug character in a story smugly denying the existence of the story’s author. The situation is reminiscent of a line of poetry by Emerson, in which God says “I am the doubter and the doubt.” Very few characters in stories realize that they are merely fictional, Vonnegut’s Kilgore Trout being one of the rare exceptions.

     At a less transcendent level, our general ignorance of God could be compared with an ant obliviously crawling over a person’s foot. The ant of course has absolutely no idea that it is in contact with a being astronomically more advanced than it is, despite the fact that it is literally in contact with that being. Almost all of us humans, including most scientists, conveniently ignore the fact that we are animals relying on a mammalian nervous system to provide us with an understanding of reality, and that we are all, literally, infinitely ignorant. We can’t really know about God one way or the other, is or isn’t, unless maybe it’s through some mystical epiphany which nevertheless cannot be produced for inspection by others.

     It may seem perverse, or “pernicious wrong view,” for a Theravada Buddhist monk to criticize atheism, considering that Theravada Buddhism is sometimes called an atheistic system, or even an example of an atheistic religion. (This post may be politically incorrect among philosophical or neo-Marxist Buddhists if not with anyone else.) But although Theravada may be called atheistic it doesn’t necessarily assert the nonexistence of an infinite consciousness or ultimate reality that could plausibly be called “God.” Theravada can be explicitly atheistic, for example the “Nirvana/Nibbana is just cessation” school, or maybe a strict adherence to the dogma of Abhidhamma philosophy. Otherwise it could be called non-theistic—atheistic as opposed to antitheistic—in the sense that algebra or tennis is non-theistic; that is, it doesn’t involve the existence of anything identified as “God” in its system. It could be said to work regardless of whether atheism or theism happens to be true. Theravada can certainly be called atheistic in the sense that the highest principle of Nirvana/Nibbana is not described in theistic terms—even though it can be interpreted as not so different from the Brahman described in the Hindu Upanishadic philosophy, which is interpreted as an impersonal, transcendent, absolute God without any discernible qualities. In that case whether God exists is largely a matter of terminology, of definitions of words. A cruder conception of a kind of anthropomorphic God the Creator is certainly debunked in canonical Buddhist texts; but the question of a more advanced “God” could have an indeterminate answer, like the question of whether a Buddha continues to exist after death. If such a God was transcendent to the point of transcending dualism, then both assertion and denial would be invalid. This may be paradoxical and nonsensical, but nobody can prove that ultimate reality has to be comprehensible, or to make sense. Consequently, it may be best just to remain silent on the whole issue. Never mind.

Appendix: The Three Ants, by Kahlil Gibran 

Three ants met on the nose of a man who was asleep in the sun. And after they had saluted one another, each according to the custom of his tribe, they stood there conversing.

The first ant said, “These hills and plains are the most barren I have known. I have searched all day for a grain of some sort, and there is none to be found.”

Said the second ant, “I too have found nothing, though I have visited every nook and glade. This is, I believe, what my people call the soft, moving land where nothing grows.”

Then the third ant raised his head and said, “My friends, we are standing now on the nose of the Supreme Ant, the mighty and infinite Ant, whose body is so great that we cannot see it, whose shadow is so vast that we cannot trace it, whose voice is so loud that we cannot hear it; and He is omnipresent.”

When the third ant spoke thus the other ants looked at each other and laughed. At that moment the man moved and in his sleep raised his hand and scratched his nose, and the three ants were crushed.


(January 2nd) Judging from comments I have seen (not on this blog, but elsewhere), it's pretty obvious that I should have started with my working definition of "atheism," which is: a belief that God does not exist. Some self-proclaimed atheists insist that atheism means simply not believing that God does exist, which it seems to me includes agnosticism as well as atheism in the sense mentioned above. So my working definitions are: agnosticism is admitting that one doesn't know, theism is asserting the existence of God, and atheism is asserting the opposite. I might go so far as to allow that agnostics who are utterly indifferent to the question, who couldn't give the slightest damn whether God exists or not, could qualify as atheists too.


  1. Great Great blog post perhaps start with the ant story first but other than that brilliant. Also you definition in the postscript is perfect, remember a feature of the left is the desire to obfuscate language so ignore that form of argument adjustment.

  2. "Consequently, it may be best just to remain silent on the whole issue. Never mind."

    I humbly submit this quote by Ludwig Wittgenstein:

    "Was sich überhaupt sagen läßt, läßt sich klar sagen; und wovon man nicht reden kann, darüber muß man schweigen" (What can be said at all can be said clearly; and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence)


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