So Stephen Greenblatt has a mother tormented by fear of death as he grew up in a northeast corridor atheist household. He goes to college, reads the atheistic poetry of Lucretius and finds some measure of consolation there. Now here he is years later, an evangelical atheist out stumping for Lucretius and trying to attribute world-changing power to poetry which, while it may mean a lot to him personally, is not exactly well known to, like, 99.9% of the human race outside his rarified compound somewhere in darkest Academe.
Even Slate isn’t buying. Greenblatt’s stuff is Agitprop created to help foster Unit Cohesion among the small and tedious crowd of Evangelical Atheists who need a Creation Myth to help give their fad a bit of cachet. Lucretius is a good poet and all, but the notion that he “changed the world” or “created modernity” is a bit rich. Neither modernity nor post-modernity are especially atheistic. Gung ho, passionate, evangelical atheism is a religious dogma that only tends to attract fundamentalists and people way out on the end of the spectrum, often with real social and affective relational disorders. Moreover, even 20% of *atheists* say they believe in God. Most people (including many atheists and many self-identified Christians) are just confused pagans who don’t know what to think. Lucretius would be appalled at the muddled paganism of our culture that half believes in God, gods, powers, “energy”, forces, shakras, psychic entities, angels, and all the rest of the theological and sociological mish-mash of the landscape of post-modernity. It you told him *that* was what he gave birth to, he’d smack you in the kisser. Greenblatt is projecting his wishes on the screen of world history. It isn’t *just* the religious who have trouble distinguishing reality from placebos. Atheists can sometimes have a dogged and militant faith that deludes itself with its own sorts of miracle stories.