Sunday, February 9, 2014

What Catholics Can Learn From Cthulhu

"I'm back!"
H.P. Lovecraft was a horror writer who invented a world much like ours, except undermined by unspeakable conspiracies aimed at the destruction of everything sane and good. Okay, exactly like ours. At the heart of his writings are ancient gods who shall soon return, bringing madness and mayhem for humanity.

The most well-known is Cthulhu, who lies in troubled sleep deep beneath the ocean. The interesting thing about Lovecraft's gods is that they are not exactly evil as utterly alien. There are no points of reference to allow us to guess at their motives or judge their actions. At least one is literally insane.

We're pretty sure the luckiest humans will be the ones who get eaten first.

Say what you want about Cthulhu, but Richard Dawkins would not pretend to know his designs and methods better than Cthulhu himself. (Dawkins would be existing as a brain floating in a Mi-go jar on Pluto in the Cthulhu mythos. Cthulhu does not suffer fools gladly.)

Dawkins advised God that if He really wanted people to believe in Him, He should appear at everyone's bedside for a chat. Obviously, what Dawkins fails to consider is that perhaps God's desire is not merely that people acknowledge Him as a fact. His methods may suggest other motives. Plenty of people seem to have no problem believing in and even having a relationship with God through faith.

How often it is the Herods and Dawkinses of the world who, sneering, demand a miracle.

Nobody wants to wake up to find Cthulhu squeezed into their bedroom, pulling down the bed sheets with his mouth-tentacles. (Nor Dawkins, for that matter.) Dawkins would not dare to play at knowing someone as utterly alien as Cthulhu. How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways.

Actually, that last sentence wasn't about Cthulhu. (NABRE, Romans 11:33.) It takes a whole book of the Bible -- Job -- to say just one thing:  God doesn't ask for our advice or approval, or tell us more than we need to know. He is Other.

It seems like 95% of the New Atheist arguments come down to some guy, perhaps with a string of failed marriages that testify to his own purely earthly incapacities, imaging himself as God, then snorting that he would do a better job. (The other arguments are the equally inept Orbiting Teapot, Flying Spaghetti Monster and Darwin. And believers are supposed to be the dumb ones?)

Sometimes the Bear wishes we all had a deeper appreciation for the mystery and otherness of God Almighty, and for our own limitations -- especially those of the intellect and imagination. A little humility, if you will. When well-meaning clerics try to humanize God, to make him "safe," they are robbing us of the reality they should be defending.

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." Psalm 111:10.

We do not have to imagine God as Cthulhu (in fact the Bear discourages that) but we should have a healthy fear of the Lord. For one thing, there is a judgment that each of us will face, and the possibility that it may not end well for us. But more to the point, we must have the humility not to make our own assumptions about the infinite, eternal, and all-powerful Holy Trinity. "Fear" is more like "awe," or, more completely, according to Rudolph Otto, the experience of the numinous.

Otto was a Lutheran theologian of the early 20th century who influenced, among others, C.S. Lewis in his The Problem of Pain. Otto wrote of the "non-rational factor" in religious experience. (This is not to say irrational.) He called the experience the mysterium tremendum. It is a holy dread, a desire to cover oneself, yet also a fascination.

The Bear knew a very small boy who found himself alone in his father's still and dimly lit office with an American flag affixed to the wall. This profound experience bore all of Otto's freight of fear and fascination, and of being in the presence of a mystery. This is of course a shadow of the encounter with the Living God! Here is what Isaiah, the greatest prophet of Israel, wrote:
1 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory." 4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said:"Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. (Isaiah 6:1-5 RSV)
We also know that while God may be more alien than anything we can imagine, He is goodness itself. He wants us not only to believe in Him -- even the demons do that, and tremble (James 2:9) -- but to love Him. He sent his Son to a shameful death as a rescue and a ransom. How reckless and wonderful! The Book of Revelation depicts Jesus as hardly imaginable, even frightening. How often does our reception of Our Lord in the Eucharist do justice to the holy dread and fascination with which we should receive the very Son of God?

"Who Is This Who Darkens Counsel With Words of Ignorance?"

         For my thoughts are not your thoughts, 
         nor are your ways my ways—oracle of the LORD. 
         For as the heavens are higher than the earth, 
         so are my ways higher than your ways, 
         my thoughts higher than your thoughts. 

(Isaiah 55:8–9). 

"Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm and said: Who is this who darkens counsel with words of ignorance?" (Job 38:1–2). You can read the rest here, on the USCCB web site, or in your favorite Bible. It is a wonderful read, and speaks to the mystery that is God, a mystery that Catholics are privileged to participate in through His grace.

We began with H.P. Lovecraft, but, happily, will end with C.S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Mr. Beaver attempts to communicate something Rudolph Otto might recognize. "'Safe?' said Mr. Beaver; 'Don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the king, I tell you.'"


  1. Interesting blog article. Isn't it amazing how some want such an "alien" being to be in awe of, but not God? They would rather have a monster, or anything (or nothing), except the King of Kings. I just don't understand it.

  2. With regard to those apocalyptic South Americans, I found myself much comforted upon encountering the following, which provided what might be the closest thing I’ll experience, in this life, to that definitive “well, duh!”:

    “Here is another thing that used to puzzle me. Is it not frightfully unfair that this new life should be confined to people who have heard of Christ and been able to believe in Him? But the truth is God has not told us what His arrangements about the other people are. We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him.”

    --- C.S. Lewis, from “Mere Christianity”

    Being one of the many admirers of C. S. Lewis who cannot fathom why the man never embraced the True Church, I can only attribute this failure to some irrational and festering pocket of stubbornness in his character. In any case, might the above-quoted speculation possibly have been more like hope, and applicable not only to “the other people”? It is that for me.

    Btw, I wonder if anyone out there recalls a quirky group from the late ‘60s that named itself after H. P. Lovecraft and was briefly on the pop culture radar with a chilling, dirge-like number called “The White Ship” (easily found on youtube). Anyway, their debut album also had something on it called “Nunc Dimittis”. Eventually – in those times that long predated the Internet – I succeeded in finding out what that meant, and where it came from. Thanks, guys.

    Wherever you are.

    1. who cannot fathom why the man never embraced the True Church

      I wonder if it's because of his "marriage" to the American divorcee. If he came into the Church he'd have to wrestle with whether he was actually married. Might have been too much of a psychological barrier.

  3. As unfair as it seems, God apparently has plans for some to be given more advantages than other. A child born into a devout Catholic family is obviously better situated than a child born in North Korea, or Afghanistan. Yet we know that the beginning is not necessarily the end, as young people fall away from the Church to the heart-break of parents, and there are Christians in North Korea and Moslem countries. Even so, God does not seem to be into equal opportunity. Jacob he liked, Esau he didn't. Jews were ordered to exterminate life from Canaan, including kittens, if they had kittens. It is a foolish game to indict God. In the end, God knows what he is doing, even if it doesn't seen right from our human perspective.

    Of course Karl Rahner was influential at Vatican II. He had the idea of "The Anonymous Christian" that -- taken to its logical conclusion, would seem to lead to Universalism and Indifferentism. EENS has to mean something, unless the Church is not infallible at all. What it means I am not prepared to say, other than for people in Western countries, at least, remaining outside the Church seems to me a very dangerous choice. We cannot claim invincible ignorance. As for at least some Indians, I have added a link to an interesting case of bilocation that allowed a Spanish nun to perform missionary work in what is now Arizona!

  4. Anonymous, you are very much onto something, I think. On visits to an online atheist discussion forum years back, I found that many of the people who identified themselves as atheists seemed less like atheists than believers in a God who hates us. Sometimes, this seemed to reflect a resentment of Christians’ “Pollyanna”-ish insistence on a benevolent God despite the pain and suffering in the world. In other cases, I think they were looking for a way to avoid having to love Him back. But it was interesting how few “atheists” really seemed to disbelieve in God.

    1. You might check this out by a Nihilist physicist/educator:

      Our Greatest Delusion

      He expresses a fear that eternal life would mean living with shame and regrets forever. [Obviously a lesson on Purgatory would help him]. @6:25 "And this is why I find Nihilism liberating and emboldening. If you can really picture the nothingness that awaits you, then what is there to be afraid of? Errors and humiliations will be forgotten but great achievements may not." [note the hope for some permanence].

      In the comments, you can find quite a few presumed atheists/agnostics struggling with the "dread in the night". Perhaps they feel a little safer on that forum to "come out of the closet" with their fears.

  5. Jane, I read where Tolkien felt like "a shabby little Catholic" with Lewis. Even with Newman you get the impression that he felt like he was having to give up his first-class seat and move back to coach To become Catholic. Maybe it's an English thing. I don't know enough about Lewis to know if he ever seriously considered swimming the Tiber or not. I'm glad Lewis provided you some comfort on the difficulty. I enjoyed his space trilogy, and, of course, the Screwtape letters. His speculation on being saved vs. knowing you're being saved reminds me of salvation coming from the Church vs. Salvation by coming into the Church. My hackles raise when people depart from traditional formulations, but I'm glad it worked for you and, no doubt many other. As St. Thomas said, "Quidquid supernatat vestris navi."

    1. Thank you, Bear. (I feel that I may have narrowly escaped a two-handed Bible smiting :-D ) There’s a great deal to be said for traditional formulations. Floating one’s boat should never cause one to risk missing the boat. As a seafarer of disputed identity sagely observed, "Until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore, you will not know the terror of being forever lost at sea."

  6. I like "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" The Bear is all growl and no bite. I got in trouble tonight at RCIA for saying "Christian soldier" in connection with Confirmation. Too militaristic. I'll never learn; I'll always be a Bear.

  7. Wow. Lovecraft. Never, ever, did I imagine I'd discover an ephemerist bear who pointed out Ctulhu's mystery and compared and contrasted it to our Lord's. Well done. Sadly too many of my friends are atheist, some are even militant.

    1. This is the whole purpose of reading what a Bear writes. They go right to the heart. Usually through the ribcage.

  8. A devotee of Lovecraftian tomes? The horror!

    BTW, Francis reminds me of the "Strange case of Charles Dexter Ward." You think you're dealing with someone but you're actually dealing with someone else who has hidden intentions.

    1. Francis is a cultist preparing to hand over the Catholic Church to Shubb-Nigurrath. But no one must know I know, or I would be given a one-way ticket on the Byakhee Express.


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