The Atheist Version of Total Depravity

“Progressives will sometimes demand all manner of complex and weird acknowledgments themselves. They want to be a gender-queer bleh, bleh, bleh. Whatever. But what they can’t understand is other people asking for the same acknowledgement that life is messy and complicated, and that some things aren’t fully recognized or realized or put together in your own mind.” — Milo Yiannopoulos

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it? [Emphasis added] There has never been a greater deed; and whosoever shall be born after us – for the sake of this deed he shall be part of a higher history than all history hitherto.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

“You either have a God who sends child rapists to rape children or you have a God who simply watches it and says, ‘When you’re done, I’m going to punish you.’ If I could stop a person from raping a child, I would. That’s the difference between me and your God.” — Tracie Harris

“I don’t want to be indiscreet about specific people because I think it’s going to be dangerous. But I can tell you the truth without dropping anyone in it. I mean, some of the boys [at Hollywood parties I attended] were very young. Very young. There was a lot of drugs, and a lot of twinks taking drugs, and having unsafe sex with younger men, and some of these boys were very young.” — Milo Yiannopoulos

I’m an atheist, and I don’t believe in total depravity.

When I was a Christian, it was the hell/total depravity thing that bothered me most. People weren’t as ugly as the religions was saying they were. They were complex. They were beautiful. They deserved love. If anything, I became atheist because my hope and empathy with humankind required me to cast God aside. “Grace” became an abominable concept to me; treating people decently wasn’t undeserved favor. It was justice.

But I’ve talked a bit lately about how there’s a significant contingent of atheism that shares a kind of affinity with religious thought. For a long time, for example, I was confused as to why a significant number of atheists seemed to be such ardent Milo fans, when he is such a Catholic. These are the same atheists who are very cynical about humanity — especially marginalized groups. They have a tendency to call people “cucks” for being nice, “virtue signalers” for stating something decent, and “snowflakes” for insisting on other people’s rights. They frequently tell people like me that we are too optimistic about existence, and that we have to be willing to face grim realities.

Now, I don’t have much good to say about this side of atheism. Previously, I’ve made my position clear. But I think that if my position is a result of taking the command to “love your neighbor as yourself” beyond the bounds of Christendom, their position is a result of taking the doctrine of the total depravity of man in Christendom beyond the bounds of Christendom.

A common argument among atheists is that God is not good. I make that argument frequently, but when I do it I usually do in the context of the Bible. For me, the most offensive aspect of a “good” God is the way that he treats and supposedly condemns his own creation (which is his fault, so essentially, logically speaking, he’d be condemning himself).

Many atheists, however, argue that God is terrible for a different reason. It’s not that he’s too bad for his creation, but that he’s too good for it. They’ll say God is nonexistent not because of the deeds claimed in the Bible, but because we’re in such a bad position here on earth. There’s this idea that because there is so much death and destruction on earth, and people are so often fickle and evil, that God must not exist. My theory is that people who leave religion due primarily to this latter stance seems to scold Christianity — not for being unloving towards people, but for being naive in their love. Christians believe in depravity — as in a destructive, death-filled, evil world — too. This type of atheist just takes that doctrine of depravity one step forward by removing God from it and thus making it total and complete. There is no salvation, we’re alone in the universe, and utopias are naive.

Two different views, then, populate the same overall group of atheists. One group of atheists, who call themselves “humanists”,  is trying to exalt the “salvation” concept of human dignity and worth. They are tinkering towards Utopia, fighting for respect for the people in the shadows, and arguing stridently for a humanity that grants greater love and beauty to the most marginalized people in our world. We are willing to challenge the status quo as much as needed — in religion and elsewhere — in order for this vision of humanity to come closer to being a reality. We are our own salvation, and the concept that we are depraved, that we are hopeless, that a life is meaningless, becomes our enemy. We are less concerned about building security and opening up to compromise in a harsh world, and more focused on throwing open the floodgates of love and firmly insisting on the dignity and worth of every human being on earth.

The other side thinks this first side is naive. For them, the death of the God-concept meant there are no utopias.  They have given up on preserving human dignity and worth, largely. The focus is not on promoting love, care, and consideration for other individuals. For them, this is a hopeless pursuit in a world that is completely depraved, anyway. The encouragements to be considerate and promote a better world seem to them like polite, meaningless banter over fragile teacups and warm tea while Rome is burning. The thing to do is look out for yourself, relax about trying to save the world, and try to get by on the depraved, grim reality of the status quo. And to do this realizing that there is no consequence for your actions, no God judging you — you are in a depraved world that is free, if dangerous, and the world is your playground if you but accept it and look out for yourself and those closest to you.

It seems true, perhaps, that in a predominantly Christian society, both sides would find their Christian counterparts. Those of us who believe that humankind can create its own salvation are right there with the liberal Christians, at times — fighting against the conservative right for marginalized groups, fighting for better distribution of wealth with Obama-like Christians who believe in “hope” and “change”, and fighting for justice for the marginalized and those who are kept back from their full potential.

And on the other side…the part of atheism that agrees with the doctrine of Total Depravity is, it makes sense, more on the side of Christianity that insists such projects are hopeless in a condemned world, that picks away at and mocks all attempts to create a better, more humanistic world, that laughs and their naivety, and that even attempts, through the laughter, to reinforce the norms that perpetuate the injustices in the structural hierarchy. This side of atheism is analogous to the side of Christianity that condemns humanity as hopelessly depraved — except in this side of atheism, there is truly no hope in the depravity. There is no God or human being to save us. We are the way they are, and annoying descriptions of Utopia are punch lines to the joke of our lives.

For the marginalized in society, by and large, the loss of hope in a Utopia is an intolerable proposition. As civil rights leader James Baldwin once said when asked if he were a pessimist regarding the question of whether segregation would end: “I can’t be a pessimist…because I am alive. To be a pessimist means that you have agreed that human life is an academic matter, so I’m forced to be an optimist. I’m forced to believe that we can survive whatever we must survive.” And this is the situation that faces so many who cannot tolerate the status quo. We cannot afford to be pessimists. We cannot afford to give up hope. We cannot afford to give up our dreams of utopia, however naive they may be. And so we fight. Not only for ourselves, but for others who also understand, due to the experiences of their own lives, that the status quo is intolerable.

I have admitted, several times, that there may be a dose of naivety in this fight for Utopia. We may go through all our striving for a better world and in the end disappear in a nuclear holocaust. We may live on for thousands of years — as we already have — and see that the cold, hard truth is that this stubborn world cannot change. But one thing you cannot convince us of is that the change would be meaningless. That is why we fight. The change is needed. Desperately, by many of us. We believe we can grant our own salvation because we have to.

And we’ve made progress, as even the Totally Depraved side of atheism often admits. Nobody thinks slavery is cool anymore, people rarely defend segregation, and homosexuality isn’t an abomination, to cite a few examples of thousands.

So, the way I see it, there is a choice. You can join the people trying to change the world and make it a better one, or you can sit on the sidelines, point, and laugh.

Even if you join us, I cannot guarantee that everything will change. But one thing I can promise:

A trillion years from now, when we are all gone in what seems as if it will be a vast, silent universe, in which all of us are forgotten, nothing will change the fact that you and I — for a short blip on the face of eternity, but yet still there — decided to give a shit and be someone else’s salvation.

Seems worth a life.

Thanks for reading.

P.S. I have a Patreon, in case you want to support what I do here.

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