First Lines: Against Religion

On account of a broken rib—all’s very in that department now, thank you very much—my before bedtime reading was on hold for a couple of weeks. So I did most of my reading in the train to and from work. And sometimes, well, it’s hard to stay focused. Anyway, I finished my first book of the year.

Against Religion: The Atheist Writings of H.P. Lovecraft delivers, to use a cliche, just what it says on the cover. It is a collection of essays and extracts from letters on religion, materialism and spirituality. And while some of Lovecraft’s views and arguments appear quite antiquated and outdated, at times it seems as if he would have fitted quite well in today’s ‘New Atheism‘.

Well, not entirely. While Lovecraft is fairly unapologetic about his disbelief in gods, he does not advocate the forcible extirpation of religion, but he does think it is wise to transfer energies to something which has a foundation in reality. And this seems to me to be the point he comes back to over and over again: while religion might have some beneficiary effects, it just isn’t true. Religion has no real answers to give on the question of the is-or-isn’tness of things. Because If religion were true, its followers would not try to bludgeon their young into an artificial conformity; but would merely insist on their unbending quest for truth, irrespective of artificial backgrounds or practical consequences.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? While Richard Dawkins may insists that religion is a form of mental child abuse, Lovecraft came to a similar conclusion some decades earlier.

We know today, through psychology, that any belief or emotional bias, no matter how untrue or absurd, can be implanted in the brain and nervous system of a human being with tremendous force and firmness if the victim be inoculated with it in infancy. […] It is really a crime against a child to attempt to influence his intellectual belief in any way. […] So far as points of theory and belief are concerned, the only decent and honourable thing to do with a child is to teach him strict openmindedness and intellectual integrity—urging him to accept nothing through mere hearsay or blind tradition, but to judge everything honestly himself on the basis of existing evidence. If religion is true, he will sooner or later accept it.

(Later, Lovecraft would write that he believes that there should be a law prohibiting religious instruction of any sort for persons under 21.)

As you might have induced, Against Religion is very quotable. While I could go on, I’ll round up with a quote that made me giggle. In just a few words Lovecraft manages to expose a lot of spirituality for what it is—nothing but childish wordplay:

If it amuses any childish mind to juggle words and apply the name god of the gods to the automatic principle of regularity in the cosmos, no one need object. Words are pretty things to play with.

Book read
H.P. Lovecraft — Against Religion: The Atheist Writings of H.P. Lovecraft (Edited with an introduction by S.T. Joshi, with a foreword by Christopher Hitchens.)
First line
As a participant in The Liberal‘s Experience Meeting, wherein amateurs are invited to state their theories of the universe, I must preface all remarks by the qualifying admission that they do not necessarily constitute a permanent view. (from A Confession of Unfaith)