…to the old theistic question, ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ we can… counterpose the findings of Professor Lawrence Krauss and others, about the forseeable heat death of the universe…. So, the question can and must be rephrased: “Why will our brief ‘something’ so soon be replaced with nothing?” It’s only once we shake our own innate belief in linear progression and consider the many recessions we have undergone and will undergo that we can grasp the gross stupidity of those who repose their faith in divine providence and godly design. (Christopher Hitchens as quoted by Skeptic Michael Shemer in Scientific American, Nov 2010. Emphasis mine.)
Let’s play a game of ‘just pretend.’ Just pretend that the world’s political leaders have just announced to the world that the greatest scientific minds have uncovered a horrifying truth: due to laws of physics not previously understood, our sun will burn out millions of years earlier than previously thought. Even now it is imperceptibly dimmed compared to historical measurements.
No one living today will be adversely affected by the dimming sun. We can go on living unaffected by it. Even two generations after we have all passed on, our children and descendants will still have enough energy from the sun to sustain life though by then it will be obvious that the sun is dimming.
Within three generations after that a global cooling cycle will have begun and the dreadful snowfall will signal a winter that will never end. People will be able to store up food, of course, but without any hope of new crops forming in the future no matter how many supplies are stored food will eventually start to run out.
Some of you may have heard me use the term “Lovecraftianism” at times. Though people usually understand what I mean by that without an explanation, I thought I’d give a short explanation anyhow.
Lovecraftianism is Cosmic Horror
A while back, I wrote a post about horror author H.P. Lovecraft and of his “cosmic horror” stories. Lovecraft created anti-mythical / maltheistic stories where human beings not only don’t have a special relationship with reality, but that reality is actually hostile to us.
In a typical Lovecraft story an investigator will discover some intriguing detail that seems out of place, perhaps a finely carved statue of ancient origins but advanced technology. The investigator looks into this anomaly and he discovers some awful truth about reality. This often takes the form of discovering that an ancient god is going to awaken and enslave us, devour us, or breed us.
Now that the investigator knows the truth he can never be as peace again. He might commit suicide, go insane, or just live out his days knowing too much and hoping the worst does not happen while he is still alive.
A couple of years ago decided I wanted to read the early Fantasy stories that created the modern genre. I started with the writings of H.P. Lovecraft and George MacDonald. Talk about a contrast. If C.S. Lewis and Tolkien are the fathers of modern fantasy then George MacDonald might be thought of as the Grand Father of modern fantasy. The influence on C.S. Lewis in particular is obvious. I found it interesting to realize that the modern fantasy genre was largely an expression of the Christian religious experience of these founding fathers.
But this isn’t the whole tale, of course. There was also an atheist informed strain of fantasy that co-existed side-by-side with the fantasy stories given birth out of the religious experience. I wrote an article on H.P. Lovecraft a while back talking about how he channeled his atheist worldview into his stories and the result was cosmic horror: the awful realization that the “God” of this universe is uncaring and malevolent. Ironically, this means the darker fantasy genre is also an expression of religious experience.
More recently I decided to read Robert E. Howard, particularly his Solomon Kane and Conan stories.
I am not a fan of Conan, I’m afraid. At least for the first several stories that Howard wrote, I felt like they were all derivatives of each other. Every story followed the same plotline:
I was listening to Mike Resnick’s excellent story called “Article of Faith.” It’s a story about a robot employee working for a minister in a church. The minister uses the robot to help improve his sermons and the robot comes to believe he has a soul and needs to worship God. But the minister can’t allow the robot to worship with his congregation for two reasons. First, no one believes robots have souls. Second, his congregation is prejudice against robots who keep stealing their jobs. We eventually learn that the second is the real reason.
The story is well done, if predictable. As the story on Escape Pod came to an end, the ‘host’ came on with some final thoughts. He says that he’s an atheist, but he’s certain that if there was a God that God would never be in favor of being in any way exclusive in their worship. (Hint hint) How could anyone believe that some old book written ages ago is completely accurate about what God is like? It’s like trying to stare at the Grand Canyon where you just can’t possibly take it all in with a photograph.
Howard Phillips Lovecraft, born August 20, 1890, was the great horror writer of his generation. Lovecraft created the so-called Cthulhu mythos, which is even today visited liberally by imaginative writers the world over. Even one of my favorite Babylon 5 episodes, Third Space, visited Lovecraft’s chilling universe.
Lovecraft seems to have lived a depressing and lonely life. As a young man, particularly from ages 18 to 23, he had “almost no contact with anyone but his mother.” (link) In 1924 he married, though he and his wife separated a few years afterward, never to live with each other again. The divorce was never finalized. Continue reading