Summary and Highlights:
One of the monumental works of modern atheist thought, Michel Onfray’s Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism and Islam is worth an in-depth look.
Michel Onfray: French, born 1959, author of over 50 books, all of them in French with rare translations into English, such as the Atheist Manifesto (2007).
The book begins with a rifle shot from the very first line after the title page, a quote from Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo: “The concept of ‘God’ invented as a counter-concept of life…” A “concept.” An idea. Something formed in the mind. Whose mind? God is man-made. God made in man’s image and not the other way around. And a “counter-concept of life”? Something opposed or contrary to or wrong. Man inventing his own destruction, but perhaps in order to avoid destruction or death. The opposite of human life is God, made divine, all-knowing and all-powerful–all the things that mankind isn’t, in order to flee from death with dreams of living forever, like God and under His protection. Man invented God, heaven, the soul, eternity–in order to escape the cycle of life and death. A flight from life: death-in-life.
“The concept of the…immortal soul, invented in order to despise the body, to make it sick.” Remember Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden–clothing themselves after they realized they were naked. The bite from the apple of the Tree of Knowledge. They chose, Eve chose, knowledge over immortal life (the fruit of the Tree of Life), the greatest symbolic decision in the history of mankind, even though just a fable. Knowledge is bad, the human body is bad–“Gosh, I could’ve had a bite from the Tree of Life!” Adam and Eve sinned, according to the rules set down for them, by choosing knowledge over immortality. Only the soul remained immortal, thus the body is to be despised, shamed, covered and punished. But where is the soul? The soul belongs to God (or Satan), so it doesn’t matter what happens to the body as long as the soul is prepared for God. Is there anything to compare in hopelessness to such a rendering of life as a meaningless exercise in futility as we wait to die and join God in heaven?
Onfray: “The invention of an afterlife would not matter so much were it not purchased at so high a price: disregard of the real, hence willful neglect of the only world there is.” “Atheism is in harmony with the earth.”
Mankind got rid of death by doing away with it–by wishing it away, with wishful thinking and daydreaming, God and the afterlife, the spirit and the soul, heaven and hell.
Atheism is life-affirming, body-affirming, knowledge-affirming, whereas religion is nothing more than a fantasy, some say a delusion (which is, by the way, a mental illness (“Atheism is not therapy but restored mental health.”)). Onfray’s main gripe is not so much with the individual believer–anyone is free to believe what they want, and if they want to fill their heads with fantasies, fables and delusions, they are welcome to it, although they are encouraged to think and work through it–but rather with those who turn those individual fantasies and fairy tales into something much more sinister and organized:
“My atheism leaps to life when private belief becomes a public matter, when in the name of a personal mental pathology we organize a world for others. For between personal existential anguish and management of the body and soul of our fellow human beings, there exists a whole world in which those who profit from human anguish lurk in concealment.”
Religious leaders and churches compound the harm that is done to the individual by spreading the pathology, “like manure,” all over the world. We are led by the nose by others whose agendas run far away from the me and him as they push their way into the world seeking to control and bodies and souls of others.
We have ample evidence of what that entails–the purges, the genocide, the inquisitions, the banishments, even to the point of collaborating with a genocidal government like Nazi Germany. To this day, the Catholic Church has failed to officially apologize for its role in the Holocaust, only recognizing the State of Israel in 1993.
And all the way down to the money-grubbing, grandma-robbing televangelists, who prey on the old, the sick and the infirm day in and day out until they get every last penny some people have; money given to reaffirm a dream, money taken to buy a new Caddy.
Onfray champions a new Enlightenment, a new Age of Reason: “Sound use of our understanding, rational ordering of our minds, implementation of a true critical will, general mobilization of our intelligence, the desire to evolve while standing on our own feet–all these are strategies for dispelling phantoms.”
In Texas, where I live, there is a yearly battle over school textbooks and what they will teach, specifically evolution versus or in addition to creative/intelligent design (just a fancy way of saying that God created the universe). No other country goes through these kinds of battles over the minds of our kids, because virtually the rest of the civilized world recognizes the correctness of the evolutionary model of being and creation. The U.S. is the only country where we are willfully trying to “dumb down” our own kids for the sake of a demented religio-political agenda; and our science and math test scores keep going down and down. Moms and dads are willing to sacrifice the futures of their own kids in order to prove a pseudo-scientific point that has virtually no scientific support, anywhere, in order to advance their twisted religious views of how the rest of society ought to raise its kids and live its lives.
Onfray uses the term “atheology” to describe his modus operandi, the philosophical deconstruction of religion right down to its roots, using psychology and psychoanalysis, metaphysics, archaeology, paleography, history, mythology, and so on.
Onfray believes we are in the midst of a “cult of nothingness,” an atmosphere of hopelessness and nihilism, of which the announcement (by the New York Times some 50 years ago) that “God is dead” is only a small component. After all, can a fiction die? Ask your religious friends how old God is. Is it possible he could die, or has? How do you know? Why is it important if God is invisible or unknowable anyway?
The author puts it this way: “God, manufactured by mortals in their own…image, exists only to make daily life bearable despite the path that every one of us treads towards extinction.” So far from killing God, the illusion (or delusion) that is God “puts to death everything that stands up to him, beginning with reason, intelligence, and the critical mind.” Remember our Tree of Knowledge–Eve sought knowledge, even at the price of mortality, and was punished for it. Ironically, a noble act of rebellion that reverberates to this day. Isn’t that what the whole abortion debate is over? A woman chooses to control her own body using her critical thinking about the choices she has, and, ever since Roe v.Wade, has been shunned, shamed, bullied and put down, especially by other women (who know their place, yes!). The battle over abortion has nothing to do with fetuses or babies; it’s entirely about misogyny and women’s rights, other people who think they know better how women should manage their bodies and what decisions they should make. It is a manufactured mob rule instigated by preachers and hard-liners; it’s refusal to accept a Supreme Court ruling is just one example of how the rule of law means nothing to many of our citizens when pitted against a misguided religious zeal based on delusions and fantasies.
One of Onfray’s major points in the book is the association between religion and death: “Creation of the divine coexists with terror of the void in a life that must end.” Religion is born of fear, not only of daily dangers and thoughts of future dangers, but from fear of our final end–death, termination, extinction. Denial turns death into a new beginning, and so is born God, heaven, the spirit and the afterlife. Onfray believes that belief and disbelief were simultaneously born: God and the devil, life or no life after death. Atheism rejects the fiction of God that man invented in order to flee a certain mortality.
From the beginning, the authorities used these fictions to consolidate their power over their subjects, a point brought home by Hobbes and Spinoza. If the leader says that God exists and He is on the side of the earthly throne, then all who disbelieve are anti-social rebels to be cast out or cast aside. As most of the words used to describe atheists are negative–impious, unbeliever, miscreant–the life-affirming and positive aspects of atheism are never given a chance to show forth. Belief in God soon becomes a government imperative in order to keep the sheep inside the pen. Onward Christian soldiers!
While ridiculing and ostracizing atheists, religionists have come up with some completely novel ways of worshipping their god or gods, and with impunity: Roman cults of filth, farts and sewers, cow dung and urine used by the Hindus in their ceremonies, even Ezekiel had a recipe (inspired by God, of course) for using human waste in cooking. Weird, huh? But at least they aren’t atheists!
The few times in the history of Christianity when unbelievers had the upper hand were short-lived, such as the French Revolution in the late 18th century, when churches were turned into hospitals and schools, and atheists were free to write as they pleased without fear of blowback. The term “atheist” throughout much of Western history was attached to anyone who resisted the norm, authority or the rules of society. As Onfray puts it, “The atheist was a man free in God’s eyes–and ultimately free to deny God’s existence.” What could be more liberating than to refuse to participate in the mass stupidity and infantilism that created the fictions of God, the angels, heaven and hell, everlasting life and answered prayers?? American cinema always seemed to make a hero out of the strong, silent, smart loner-types; and, although it cannot be said that any great films with a great hero were ever made on the subject of atheism, it can be asserted that you seldom saw such a man or woman praying or calling out to God when things went south or got rough. The “atheist” has been brought up to be an anti-social loner with a mean streak and libertine ways–it’s high time atheists formed a more cohesive unit, communicating and networking with one another in order to try to stave off the constant threat of theocracy in our schools, our courts, our Congress and our White House.
Onfray recommends to his readers several early works: Jean Meslier, whose book entitled Memoir: Clear and Evident Demonstrations of the Vanity and Falsity of All the Religions of the World, was published after his death, in 1729 (From Common Sense: “If they would but take the trouble to sound the principles upon which this pretended science (theology) rests itself, they would be compelled to admit that the principles which were considered incontestable, are but hazardous suppositions, conceived in ignorance, propagated by enthusiasm or bad intention, adopted by timid credulity, preserved by habit, which never reasons, and revered solely because it is not comprehended.” Baron d’Holbach, The System of Nature, 1770 (he also wrote Good Sense Without God, from which one can glean: “…religion is the art of turning the attention of mankind upon subjects they can never comprehend.” “When the brain is troubled, they believe everything, and examine nothing.”). Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, 1841, in which he asserts that men created God in their own, opposite or inverted, image. We are weak, God is all-powerful, etc. “Religion thus becomes the exploitation par excellence of man’s vulnerability to deception.”
And then comes Nietzsche: “For the first time, radical and well-thought-out post-Christian thinking appeared on the Western landscape.” Nietzsche went beyond a mere assertion of atheism: he claimed a new set of morals, a new value system was needed–God is no more, now what? In order to go beyond mere nihilism we need to follow the path of atheism where it leads. And where it leads is towards a life-affirming, fearless new chapter in philosophy: a new Enlightenment based on reason, critical thinking and a deconstruction of (especially) the new anti-philosophy that threatens to usher us right back into the Dark Ages.
Onfray believes we are in the beginning stages of a “post-Christian era,” as we now sit somewhere in the transitional phase from Christian to post-Christian. Whereas atheism and philosophy look to the future, religion still looks to the past, insisting on imposing its rigors, fables and fictions, social and cultural conservatism, on one and all, while remaining politically reactionary and personally nostalgic. It is no longer Jews and Christians against Islam, but rather all monotheisms against a new progressive atheism hell-bent on saving the world from being destroyed by religion!
Our current age Onfray characterizes as “nihilistic,” and perhaps mostly because we are nearing the end of the Christian era marked by violence, hatred, discrimination, brutality of the worst kind for the last thirty centuries. Everything is permitted because there is a God, in the name of God.
“God’s existence, it seems to me, has historically generated in his name more battles, massacres, conflicts and wars than peace, serenity, brotherly love, forgiveness of sins, and tolerance.”
He makes an interesting point: while the current age is decidedly not atheistic, the Judeo-Christian man or woman on the street has for a while been allowed to study and discuss many theological issues without priestly intercession; those who look forward to a post-Christian era should be wary that irrational beliefs and superstitions may become exaggerated by the so-called “mob” left to its own devices, as it were, possibly ushering in a new period of Inquisition and persecution of non-believers and “infidels”: “…their former subjects remain submissive, manufactured, formatted by two millennia of history and ideological domination.”
Our society, such as medical care and the courts, is still based largely on a Judeo-Christian ethic. Look at the recent Hobby Lobby decision by the Supreme Court, in which Justice Alito decided with four other male justices that the owners of Hobby Lobby did not have to pay for contraceptive care for female employees because the Green family, which owns the chain, held a “sincere religious belief” that life begins at conception (not even a religious belief, but a pseudo-scientific opinion)! Our courts are based on the notion described in the very first book of the Bible–men and women have free will, and if they choose to do evil instead of good, they will be punished for their crime if they are held responsible.
Religion is so deeply imbedded in our culture and in almost everyone’s psyche.
“Man is forbidden to seek awareness; he should be content to believe and obey. He must choose faith over knowledge, suppress all interest in science, and instead prize submission and obediance.”
Onfray recommends an “atheistic atheism,” that is, instead of a bellicose denial of God shouted at the top of our lungs, a going to work on “postconflict reconstruction.” “Negation of God is not an end in itself, but a means of working toward a post-Christian or frankly secular ethic,” one that builds new paradigms to work and live by. It’s one thing to say there is no God, it’s quite another to live it out ethically and morally.
“The next step is to formulate a new ethic and produce the conditions for a true post-Christian morality in the West–a morality in which the body is not a punishment; the earth ceases to be a vale of tears; this life is no longer a tragedy; pleasure stops being a sin; women, a curse; intelligence, a sign of arrogance, a passport to hell.”
When the gods of the three main monotheisms were created, they were done so in man’s own image, faults and all: “violent, jealous, vengeful, misogynistic, aggressive, tyrannical, intolerant…” Onfray returns to one of the main points of his book: God was invented so man could avoid death, so man could live after death, so man could defeat death. And the result is: “Their glorification of a (fictional) beyond prevents full enjoyment of the (real) here below. And what motivates them? The death instinct and unceasing variations on that theme.”
“Live for today” we used to say in the ’60’s. What I didn’t realize then was that this statement could not be more secular; for the Christian lives…for tomorrow! Disdaining the body and all its pleasures, waging war to provoke an end-time scenario, dreaming of an afterlife having sex with 72 virgins after blowing oneself up in a crowded Tel Aviv neighborhood, all this because life begins at death for the believer! What could be sadder and more pathetic? A wasted life in anticipation of a fiction based on a lie.
“Religion proceeds from the death wish.” And from the death wish comes all manner of self-destructive behavior, violence and murder; Onfray thinks this is a result of the self-hatred that religion generates: hatred of the body, of intelligence, and a love or liking of everything that “stands in the way of a gratified subjectivity.” “Life crucified and nothingness exalted.”
The story of Adam and Eve (in all three books of the monotheisms) was, and is, the most devastating and destructive fiction in the history of literature. Hatred of intelligence, hatred of women, hatred of a failure to submit and be obedient, hatred of the human body, guilt and punishment. Knowing good and evil, having wisdom (from eating an apple? Come on!), put Adam and Eve on a par with God, and for that, but mainly for their disobedience (if they were thinking clearly maybe they should have rushed over and eaten from the Tree of Life to achieve immortality before they were condemned!), they were banished forever from the Garden.
The reality Adam and Eve and their progeny faced was full of proscriptions and taboos and rules for living, many of them listed in the books but many more invented by the men who worked as middle men for God, the priests and church hierarchy. A race that messed up the very first chance they had to obey God was beset by guilt from the onset and had to be, from then on, guided through life.
And so came along the priests and holy men, every bit as devious, manipulating, mendacious, thieving and self-serving as the men who put the bibles together. Every aspect of life, from what eat to what to wear, even how to wash, had a rule, and mankind had to submit in order to prove his allegiance to God and to the one true religion. Man’s will was thus put in a prison of social, physical and cultural restraints; is it any wonder, then, the zeal men displayed when called upon to help “correct” the heretics, witches and unbelievers?
In addition to this, books Christianity did not like were burned, sometimes along with the intellectuals and philosophers who wrote them. Knowledge and learning was restricted to the main book, and those who sought knowledge for its own sake had to take cover. “Refusal of the Enlightenment characterizes the monotheist religions: they prefer mental night for the nurturing of their fables.” (As late as 1976 in Iran, church leaders put out a statement that the earth was flat and that anyone saying differently was a heretic!)
In about the 5th century A.D., Leucippus and Democritus led the way to the discovery of the atom and the theory that matter is made up of atoms, leading to, among other things, Epicurean physics and the materialist philosophy. Validated by modern science, this “philosophical atom” presented an early affront to the Christian notion of the immaterial soul; while science has moved on, the Church has not! Early Christians chose to attack Epicurus and his followers (the messengers) in order to discredit materialism; somebody’s filthy little mind transcribed the Epicurean creed of pleasure into sexual liaisons with….animals! The Church has maligned, tortured and assassinated materialists all through the ages, and Onfray suggests that the doctrine of transubstantiation may have something to do with it as well: the bread and the wine are not actually there, although the blood and body of Christ is! Matter that is there is not there, but we are tricked into thinking it is there by the characteristics of liquid and bread, and what is not there is there–real and substantial.
“Materialism is still on the prohibited list of the contemporary church.”! The monotheisms, and Christianity in particular, have been a heavy millstone around the neck of science and scientific inquiry for about 2000 years now. For the churches, there was but one science book required: The Bible, and anything that contradicted what the bibles contained was dealt with accordingly–just think Galileo, polygenesis, atomism, etc.
“The believers’ condemnation of scientific truths–the atomist theory, the materialist option, heliocentric astronomy, geological dating, transformation of species, evolution, psychoanalytic therapy, genetic revolution–all loudly proclaimed the triumph of Paul of Tarsus, who had called for knowledge to pass away.”
Two fantasies of particular interest are angels and heaven, or paradise, created as the perfect and spiritual opposites of life on earth. They are common to all three monotheisms, but Islam takes first prize for the splendor and extravagance of its paradise. It seems that all the rules Muslims follow on earth are forgotten about in paradise, where you can eat and drink whatever you want, where coolness is eternal and there’s a virgin in every bed. This is what the suicide bombers look forward to:”…falsehoods so improbable as to stagger even the meanest intelligence.”
Is it any surprise that all three monotheisms excel at misogyny? In early August of 2014, when this summary and review was written, a Somalian woman was killed by Muslim militants for refusing to wear a veil, as required by her religion. What is more important than a woman’s life? Answer (from the gunman): adhering to the law of the Koran, especially if you happen to be a woman, the source of all sin, all desire, all rebellion. It seems that Eve touched a nerve in a the male ego when she led the way to gaining knowledge of good and evil. It was Eve who negotiated with the serpent; it was Eve who decided to try the fruit and disobey God; it was Eve who tempted Adam to do the same and cause the Fall of Man; it was Eve who, against all prohibitions, chose reason and wisdom over eternal life and a slave-like obedience to God.
Men haven’t yet gotten over the shame of being second in line at the food court. The Koran, for example, doesn’t even mention the first woman’s name. Blamed for the Original Sin, woman has been punished, put down and subordinated ever since, good only for cooking and making babies. It is easy to see how Muslim women are treated today, as revealed above; and the Christian woman? The Church and other Fundamentalists are still trying to control women’s bodies (see the June 30, 2014 Hobby Lobby decision by the U.S. Supreme Court), still trying to make sure they have as many babies as possible, still treating them as second-class citizens in the work place. This also explains why the Church refuses to face facts about homosexuals, hating them as much as it hates abortion and birth control.
Freud, of course, had a field day with all this. The male fear of castration: if Eve could squeeze the balls of God and tell Him to shove off, how will she treat the man if she isn’t controlled by religion?
There is no historical proof that Jesus ever existed. The few Roman authors who mentioned him cannot be substantiated, as the name of Jesus came up in copies of their works several centuries after his alleged killing, just coincidentally during the ascent of Christianity in Rome. All during the first century there was tension between the Jews and the Roman oligarchy, culminating in the destruction of the Jewish Temple in 70. With no military or other brute power with which to fight the Romans, early Christians resorted to a time-honored tactic in wartime: propaganda. Thus was the myth of Jesus Christ born.
End of Part One (TO BE CONTINUED…)