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No Wonder
 

Christmas is approaching. Most of us are excited about it. I know I am. I also know there are plenty of people who suffer from depression in connection with Christmas. I am so very sorry for them. But the most inexplicable holiday dysfunction I know of, and the most perverse, is the secularist, rationalist, left-brained inability to appreciate fantasy and wonder.

I have always been astonished to see how the extremes meet in the middle. Fundamentalists hate Harry Potter and Halloween and role-playing games, because they cannot tell the difference between fantasy and reality. They imagine that kids who cherish these “worlds of If” are actually getting catechized in the Black Arts. It is true that some of them also happen to like things like Wicca and White Magic, but to blame the games and the fiction for that is like thinking some kid watching a Dracula movie where the priest stakes the vampire and becoming inspired to join the Catholic clergy!

The shocker is that some Secular Humanists share the fundamentalist’s concern! They are afraid of the imagination flying, Icarus-like, too close to the sun and plummeting from reason’s exalted heights to the superstitious cliffs below. Fundamentalists and Humanists, then, are both in danger of discouraging imagination lest it lead to heresy. These Humanists, I assume, are the same folks that contend, like Terry Eagleton, that aesthetic beauty is an illusion, a function of Capitalist ideology; that the Self is a “rhetorical fold” a la Michel Foucault; even that consciousness is an illusion: you are no more transcendent than the stapler on your desk. How ironic, in the name of Humanism, to reduce the glory of Humanity to an inert machine!

H.P. Lovecraft (a naturalist, atheist, rationalist) saw the value of fantasy, the achievement of a momentary illusion of freedom from the ineluctable laws of space and time. Those who couldn’t manage this Lovecraft called “self-blinded earth-gazers.” That’s what I think about my Humanist team-mates who cannot brook even a momentary look upward from their copy of Richard Dawkins or Karl Marx or Noam Chomsky (talk about fantasy…!). Why stamp out the imagination? Why satisfy oneself with the relentlessly mundane? No wonder organized Humanism focuses on Pragmatist philosophy and ever and again comes back to politics. Granted, there is no unseen supernatural world with ontological reality (or at least I can’t see any reason for believing in it). Such a world is fantasy. And what is wrong with that? It is the larger cognitive and symbolic atmosphere which our big brains create in order to have sufficient breathing room.

In my experience, science fiction, horror, and fantasy fans are most often atheists and proud of it. What believers get from religion, fantasy fans are getting from fiction, only they know the difference. Their eyes are sweeping the skies. Just like in the great SF movie The Thing from another World. Having just taken part in repelling an alien invader, a reporter urges his radio audience, “Keep watching the skies!” The skies to watch are those inside your head.

So says Zarathustra.

Robert M. Price
December 2007

 

 

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