What if God is horrifying?

Yes, of course, this is a topic that I have broached many times before. But this recent — and fantastically brilliant — video from The Onion brought it roaring back to the forefront of my thoughts. (Hat tip to J. F. Martel for alerting me to it.)

And of course that reminded me of — and may well have been partly inspired by — this, which remains one of the quintessential moments in my religious education and one of the most astonishing moments of divine truth ever to erupt into cinema:

Then there’s the essay by Barbara Ehrenreich about this very thing that I just stumbled across today at The Baffler. Like so many other people, I was surprised and fascinated last year by the revelations about Ms. Ehrenreich’s spontaneous mystical experiences and the accompanying shift in her general worldview and philosophical thinking. Now I find that she is actually deeply read in the science fiction and horror literature devoted to speculating about the horror of a monstrous God or gods, as evidenced by an essay in which she takes Ridley Scott’s Prometheus as a springboard to talk about the works of Philip Pullman, H. P. Lovecraft, Olaf Stapledon, Arthur C. Clarke, and Philip K. Dick, along with the ideas of the New Atheists and various prominent works of sociology and religious history. Says Ms. Ehrenreich,

[What Prometheus presents] is not atheism. It is a strand of religious dissidence that usually flies well under the radar of both philosophers and cultural critics. . . . Barred from more respectable realms of speculation, the idea of an un-good God has been pretty much left to propagate in the fertile wetlands of science fiction. One of the early sci-fi classics of the twentieth century, H. P. Lovecraft’s 1931 At the Mountains of Madness, offers a plotline that eerily prefigures Prometheus. . . . The idea of an un-good God, whether indifferent or actively sadistic, flies in the face of at least two thousand years of pro-God PR, much of it irrational and coming from professed “people of faith.”

. . . If God is an alternative life-form or member of an alien species, then we have no reason to believe that It is (or They are), in any humanly recognizable sense of the word, “good.” Human conceptions of morality almost all derive from the intensely social nature of the human species: our young require years of caretaking, and we have, over the course of evolution, depended on each other’s cooperation for mutual defense. Thus we have lived, for most of our existence as a species, in highly interdependent bands that have had good reasons to emphasize the values of loyalty and heroism, even altruism and compassion. But these virtues, if not unique to us, are far from universal in the animal world (or, of course, the human one). Why should a Being whose purview supposedly includes the entire universe share the tribal values of a particular group of terrestrial primates?

. . . [Philip K.] Dick may have been optimistic in suggesting that what the deity hungers for is “interspecies symbiosis.” Symbiosis is not the only possible long-term relationship between different species. Parasitism, as hideously displayed in Ridley Scott’s Alien series, must also be considered, along with its quicker-acting version, predation. In fact, if anything undermines the notion of a benevolent deity, it has to be the ubiquity of predation in the human and non-human animal worlds. Who would a “good” God favor—the antelope or the lion with hungry cubs waiting in its den, the hunter or the fawn? For Charles Darwin, the deal-breaker was the Ichneumon wasp, which stings its prey in order to paralyze them so that they may be eaten alive by the wasp’s larvae. “I cannot persuade myself,” wrote Darwin, “that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.” Or, as we may ask more generally: What is kindness or love in a biological world shaped by interspecies predation? “Morality is of the highest importance,” Albert Einstein once said, “but for us, not for God.”

. . . [C]ontra so many of the critics, we have learned an important lesson from the magnificent muddle of Prometheus: if you see something that looks like a god — say, something descending from the sky in a flaming chariot, accompanied by celestial choir sounds and trailing great clouds of star dust — do not assume that it is either a friend or a savior. Keep a wary eye on the intruder. By all means, do not fall down on your knees.

MORE: “The Missionary Position” by Barbara Ehrenreich

With my personal religious/spiritual status as a kind of nondual Protestant Christian influenced by equal amounts of Zen, Vedanta, Jungian psychology, Fortean trickster ontology, Robert Anton Wilsonian reality tunnel skepticism, and a few additional factors, all of them infused with and underlaid by intimations of deepest gloom emanating from the likes of Poe, Lovecraft, and Ligotti, I can honestly say that my immediate and heartfelt response to Ehrenreich’s words can be summed up in a single word: amen.

About Matt Cardin


Posted on March 2, 2015, in Arts & Entertainment, Religion & Philosophy and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Belief in a tyrannical divinity which is predatory of human life affirms much of Biblical scripture that I appreciate as well as cemented my confidence in being able to recognize Japanese ideas of the numinous as well – both of those perspectives not being antithetical to each other but no longer capable of being separated… I grew up playing Japanese video games for hours on end, repeating, and finding Rudolf Otto’s perspective on the Bible has made me consider Christianity again with fresh eyes. I grew up in a Presbyterian family background, what is known as “low church”, and my Sunday school consisted in Jesus cartoons that I half remember.. I remember the drawings and stuff for kids barely.. I’d get home to stuff like Unsolved Mysteries, X Files, Ghostbusters, whatever on the TV, my eyes all amazed with that, doe-eyed, mesmerized destined to fall into the abyss.. when I started watching Japanese anime they collided a lot of Christian iconography into their conception of the numinous and people I’ve spoken to say they just do that because it is for show but I recognize a deep felt reasoning as to why they do that.. recently heard of a book from Clark Chilson called Covert Shin about underground cults doing crucifixions and all sorts of weirdness, have been dying to read it but have yet to get around to getting it.. also saw very similar ideas in a korean film called Save The Green Planet, believe I tried contacting the author to point it out but don’t think I got a response.. these crucifixion cults are supposedly “high class”, ironically. another esoteric Christian syncretic religion I’ve studied is Cao Daism which is appropriating of Christianity and freemasonry in reverse.. it’s Vietnamese sorcerers who use freemasonic pillars and such iconography much as they would use gates in Chinese religions , have also read of shrine robbing, in place of the Christian godhead is a complex lineage of immortals, generals, whatever… there is also known to be a link between Islam and freemasonry which strikes me as very ironic, and after studying this kind of thing and having it just be… Jacob’s Ladder again and again, I can’t get over how devastated I was to have been given a normal understanding of Christianity… what I’ve been writing about is normal. what people are taught to make them feel better has actually most likely damaged the christian community irreparably . My understanding of religion now is this realization that ritual death runs through every major world religion of the world, comes standard part of the deal we’re given as being human beings , you’re not supposed to want it, some do, and if you do.. that ego-death or nirvana is an ascetic , pious, priestly or monk’s life , in which the person is lowered to serve higher powers, in Korea these people are known as shamans, they initiate through the temporal distortion of what Otto called daemonic-dread as a means of releasing ki, they interpret ki to be the infilling of the holy spirit in their christianity, i found references of them believing this (I say daemonic-dread, they say “haunted feeling”) in their anthropology.. Haunting the Buddha by Robert DeCaroli and Sinister Yogis by David Gordon White are two good books on this aspect of far east and south-east or Indian religion-sphere … I keep seeing this in academic studies of religion.


    I think that in the past 5-10 years of academic studies of religion, people like you and others writing from the horror perspective have been vindicated, and I think we’re entering a “new aeon” of horrific understanding of religion in the mainstream . I think if religion was taught in this way that it’d save something about it that has always been there and that this shift is already happening now.

    I think the 90s in particular changed the understanding of religion all around the world. I don’t know why.

  2. the Shaman / Priest / Monk in Korean religion is the person closest to death and with intimate knowledge of suffering and pain , and lacks willpower of their own and so on.. it’s a life in which the shaman is devastated to follow it, they’re shunned socially..

    I really really highly recommend reading Dreamtime by Hans Peter Duerr it’s about this night-side, forsaken ascetic model or understanding of religion, the idea of the gothic or the other-side . to cross the threshold is to die, so there is a taboo about it.

    that taboo still exists in western society too, but it’s been marginalized

  3. I also recently read James De Mille’s A Strange Manuscript Found In A Copper Cylinder which is precisely about a Christian theology in which night-mare hags are venerated , intrinsically part of a soul destroying Mauss-ian economics , as the means to enlightenment and exalted as models of piety. The thing is -it’s all true. It’s not really a satire. The author really believed this.

    The Gift by Marcel Mauss

    Kut: Happiness Through Reciprocity by Hyun-key Kim Hogarth

    The Terror That Comes in the Night by David J Hufford

    those three books, Maussian reciprocity, applied to Korean religion with night-mares and shamanism. Canadian folklore about the old hag is the third one. this is what I’d recommend to study James De Mille’s novel.

    the high-class supposed, nature of occultism and religion, deeply bothers me, its not done for personal benefit so why is it marketed that way in the new age.

  4. My feelings on this are complex. Another book I recently read was Stranger In A Strange Land by Robert A Heinlein . I know Christianity is just as I want it to be in local communities, I’ve studied through Jarlath Killeen’s argument of cannibalism of the eucharist in Anglicanism. I “get” that there is this esoteric hiddenness about this that is wont to be taught properly. However, I also see this as a modern person within a marketplace or otherwise with competing cultures and competing options, and if they’re not taught properly it has and does damage solidarity. this really bothers me and i still don’t really understand what i should do with myself over it. i know that functionally it is like this, but outwardly and in its teaching or proselytizing is not, and if that doesn’t square up and the Christian community is becoming so irrelevant, why should I commit to failure?

  5. If a Japanese anime can outright show me what Christianity is like and should be like why the fuck can’t my local churches .

    the disconnect i see is the popular occult media drawing money and attention to the esoteric of the same christian churches that are shunning that same media for not being christian.

    why can’t christian leaders just say, no really this occult stuff popular with kids, we do that, and just stop lying to people?

    why shun people away with the stuff that should be drawing them to the churches that the stuff is inspired by?

  6. X is so Christian it hurts. Jarlath Killeen’s criticism on Johnathan Swift , cannibalism of the eucharist and anglicanism.. it’s like the X anime series, those concepts are inherently functionally esoteric in the church today, but that same church is saying its not, saying it is something else aesthetically brighter, losing my whole generation in the process, and this anime is maddeningly popular , not because it has fighting and martial arts or the spectacle but because of what it is about. and there is something true to what it is about, why can’t christian leaders assert that this aesthetic and outward form of christian art IS christian, and be active in community with my generation people a bit older and a bit younger than me, and welcome THIS? why lie to people in an international marketplace. thats my problem. i don’t get anything. i study academic stuff, they’re honest, why can’t christian leaders be so sophisticated.

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