There seem to be some atheists such a R Joseph Hoffmann and Hermann Hesse (I think he was an atheist but I'm not certain) who are capable of enjoying theology, reading it for pleasure despite disagreeing with its authors on small points like God and Heaven and Hell and sin and orthodoxy and heresy and so forth, and then there are atheists such as Goethe and myself, who are not. I get the impression that Schopenhauer was not, and studied it, as I do, out of a self-sacrificing, Stoic sense of duty that them bastids must not be allowed to get away with it. (Goethe studied viewpoints with which he did not agree, including every single theistic thought, in order to understand. Schopenhauer studied viewpoints with which he disagreed in order to attack. Studied them like an epidemiologist studies disease, in order to attack and annihilate. I honor both approaches, Goethe's and Schopenhauer's too.)
Who's right, Hoffman and Hesse or Goethe and I? Or is that an irreducibly subjective question like, "Do green peas taste good?"? (They do NOT.)
As Schopenhauer said, "Das Grundgeheimniß und die Urlist aller Pfaffen, auf der ganzen Erde und zu allen Zeiten, mögen sie brahmanische oder mohammedanische, buddhaistische, oder christliche seyn, ist Folgendes. Sie haben die große Stärke und Unvertilgbarkeit des metaphysischen Bedürfnisses des Menschen richtig erkannt und wohl gefaßt: nun geben sie vor, die Befriedigung desselben zu besitzen, indem das Wort des großen Räthsels ihnen, auf außerordentlichem Wege, direkt zugekommen wäre. Dies nun den Menschen Ein Mal eingeredet, können sie solche leiten und beherrschen, nach Herzenslust." ("The essential secret and basic trick of all preachers all over the world in all eras, be they Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist or Christian, is the following: they have recognized and understood the great strength and indestructibility of mankind's metaphysical longings: and now they claim to possess the means of satisfying these longings because the answer to the great riddle has come directly to them in an extraordinary way. Once they've convinced people of this they can control and dominate them just as they wish.")
There is, of course, no Ultimate answer, no Timeless Truth Which Will Save Us, and because people and the conditions under which they live are constantly changing, so too the bullshit which can be successfully presented to some people as Eternal Truth must constantly change.
And so we look in the Sunday paper or channel-surf on TV and encounter the brand-new Version 34,763,299, 473.267334 of this or that timeless truth contained in this or that Holy Scripture.
I might be missing something, but to know better, like Hoffmann or Hesse, and still to be okay with or to somehow admire people being used and led around by the nose like this because their deepest longings and fears have been exposed and are being used against their good sense, being okay with it just for the sake of enjoying the great Glass Bead Game, just strikes me as being impossibly cold.
PS, 21. August 2014: Although he doesn't believe that any deities exist, Hoffmann does not want to be called an atheist. So I take back my description of him as an atheist... No, you know what, I don't take it back. "Unbelievers But Not Atheists" is every bit as absurd as "Spiritual But Not Religious." There is more than enough absurdity in the world, including more than enough perpetrated unintentionally by me, I won't go along with it when I know better. You're an atheist, Dr Hoffmann. Get over it.