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"These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own." G.K.Chesterton

"You cannot grow a beard in a moment of passion." G.K.Chesterton

"As you perhaps know, I haven't always been a Christian. I didn't go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that."C. S. Lewis

"I blog, therefore I am." Anon

Friday, October 24, 2003

the atheist hell

where clubs are trumps

In societies steeped in Christian beliefs and values, or at least those which give lip service to them, the fear of hell - of judgment, damnation and punishment after death for one’s unrepented and unconfessed sins and wrongdoings in this life - was a powerful tool of social control. In Christendom the Church itself served as God’s police. The Gospel itself may be “good news” of peace, freedom, reconciliation, salvation and “eternal life” but in practice instutionalised belief inevitably devolves into the the triumph of law over grace. But then who today would give up the rule of law?...

Jesus himself is recorded as affirming the big stick of hell, declaring: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Thus in this milleau, a fearful expectation of divine wrath and punishment was often enough to keep the populace on its moral toes. The fear of men was overshadowed by the fear of God. After all, what could humans inflict upon one that wouldn’t pale into insignificance when compared with falling into the hands of a holy God. Any earthly suffering, torture, or pain were only temporary (“for a season”) and not to be compared with either eternal bliss - or eternal suffering?

As useful as this notion was as a means of social control, with the rise of the Enlightenment it was increasingly challenged. There was just no room in the global inn of the emerging modern world for such unenlightened nonsense. Especially for unenlightened nonsense that drew its notions of suffering and torture more from the imagery of Dante’s Inferno than from the clear teaching of the New Testament writings, but we shall let that pass...

Some lay this dethronement at the feet of Thomas Hobbes who first identified that the fear of death itself - rather than the fear of divine judgment after death - was the most basic of human emotions. Such an insight was to open the door for the systematic use of terror as a means of governance and social control. Its official debut was during the French revolution in which the “reign of terror” served as a seminal manifestation of the doctrine of “state terror” - the dark side of the Enlightenment, and a foretaste of the greater Unenlightenment to come in the 20th century. As Hobbes succinctly noted, if there is no agreement on trumps, clubs are trump.

With the rise of skepticism and the loss of the religious certainties upon which the whole moral and social order depended, something was needed to keep the people in line. Voltaire opined that while he should be free to embrace atheism, his servants must continue to believe in God, or heaven knows what horrors might descend upon the elites. Horrors which inevitably followed in the aforementioned French revolution. After all how can you keep them down on the farm when they've seen Paris?

But perhaps it was Ernest Renan (another popular “poster boy” on various Internet atheist and freethinker sites) who most clearly anticipated the philosophic underpinnings of the bloodbath that was the 20th century. Renan, the skeptic, recognised that, in an era of increasing atheism and declining religiosity, the state could no longer maintain power and control through holding the threat of hell over the heads of a rebellious populace. Having reduced hell to a mere myth the only logical alternative was to create a “real hell” here on earth, now… What was formerly achieved through myth, superstition and religion was now to be achieved in a thoroughly modern rational, scientific and materialistic manner.

Those old stand-bys, violence and terror - no strangers in the human story - were to be refined, streamlined, technologised, scientified and mass-produced as efficient machines of totalitarian state control, the means of breaking the will of any rebels and an object lesson to keep the rest of the population quiet and subservient.

With great prophetic insight Renan foresaw that an essential component of such a system was the creation of a special police force, formed of “amoral agents” dedicated to serving the existing order - “an obedient machine to commit any enormity”. Thus the real hell was not just a state of mind, a sense of foreboding, or an all-pervasive fear of future judgment. It may be all these things but it now had a space/time address, fully objectified and realized in that enduring icon of the modern totalitarian regime - the concentration camp. The concentration camp serves as both the "real hell" and as a microcosm of totalitarian society as a whole, in which the innocent are cast into outer darkness and the criminals and their collaborators are the righteous ones inheriting paradise on earth.

The man who made the theories of Hobbes, Voltaire, Renan, Marx, Darwin, Neitsche and all the other enlightened intellectual despisers of God into a concrete and practical reality was Lenin. He laid out the principles of totalitarianism quite succinctly:
1) whatever the state says is the truth and reality
2) anyone who refuses to submit to the state is the enemy of the state
3) Enemies of the state deserve only one fate - extermination .

“Our enemies must be exterminated without pity” he declared while Trotsky intoned: “by killing a handful of individuals, we will frighten thousands of others. It was total war, in which the “dictatorship of the proletariat” must be victorious in the” class struggle.” And waiting in the wings was Stalin. Meanwhile in Germany, a still virtually unknown Hitler also awaited his moment… for while Communism and Nazism may have different ideological underpinnings when the rubber meets the road, they are practically interchangeable; both are totalitarian regimes predicated on the use of terror as an instrument of control. The dirty little secret of the twentieth century was now revealed: under the guise of heaven on earth what had actually been unleashed was hell on earth.

Without enemies the totalitarian state has no reason to exist; if there are no actual enemies they must be constantly invented. They can be Jews, the bourgeoisie, Kulaks, Christians, freethinkers, race enemies or class enemies, whomever… In the totalitarian state anyone could be a victim and everyone could be a perpetrator, for collaboration with the regime through denunciations or turning a blind eye was the only path to “the good life”. As Tzvetan Todorov notes: “The great innovation of totalitarianism is that extreme evil is available to anyone”.

For the atheist, the rationalist, the scientific materialist, the skeptic, “pie in the sky when you die” for the righteous and eternal suffering in hell for wicked have been abolished and God officially declared dead. This belief has been replaced with the utopian dream of scientific and technological salvation in a secular "heaven on earth". The tragedy is, that wherever this ideology has been put into practice it has resulted in the dystopian nightmare of hell on earth. Proving once again, with its horrendous body count and the crushing of the human spirit, that the road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions.

What has always made the state a hell on earth has been precisely that man has tried to make it his heaven.
F. Hoelderlin

4:19:00 pm