It seems like most of the fringe history purveyors have been laying low this month, the traditional time for a summer vacation. Or maybe the current flap over white supremacy has left purveyors of bad ideas about the past trying to stay below radar since so many of their ideas tend to have white supremacist undertones. Whatever the reason, it seems like there have been fewer high-profile fringe history claims this week than in most. So today I bring you an interesting meditation on H. P. Lovecraft instead. The piece in question comes from conservative Christian C. R. Wiley, who argues that Lovecraft’s weird fiction can actually help to bring Christians closer to God by giving them a “taste” of the “weirdness” of God. It’s an unusual argument, and perhaps one that Lovecraft would find amusing, if not offensive.
Wiley’s argument centers on the fact that many modern Christians don’t actually engage with the Bible in all its many facets but instead have created a sort of fantasy version of Christianity based on a simpler understanding of God as all-loving, a sort of cosmic grandfather. Wiley prefers to deal with God as depicted in the Old Testament, a being so far beyond the human that comprehension is impossible. It is this vision of God that Wiley says Lovecraft can help us understand by describing efforts to grapple with a transcendent reality that we can glimpse only dimly and incompletely.
But that can be seen in the Bible in those seldom preached upon passages in Ezekiel, or Job, or even the Psalms. In those places we see all sorts of weird, uncanny things. And the weirdest being of all is God. He is Wholly Other and utterly weird. This is the God of the whirlwind, who dwells in thick darkness, who is so radioactive you drop dead just by getting too close. He is so overwhelming he is as crushing as Niagara Falls, only more so–infinitely more.
Basically, the Old Testament God is Yog-Sothoth with a touch of Nyarlathotep’s impish caprice.
Wiley adds that he sees Lovecraft as essentially reproducing the mysterium tremendum of Christianity, but stripping it of hope. When Lovecraftian protagonists encounter the Old Ones, they are transformed and often destroyed because these creatures are essentially gods, but gods who lack compassion and care. Therefore, if Christians can experience a bit of the awe and power of being in the presence of a god through Lovecraft, they would be better prepared to experience the still more tremendous power of the Christian God, who is not indifferent but actually cares.
Wiley seems to feel that it is coincidental, or at least fortuitous, that Lovecraft’s prose evokes the terror of the divine, but this is entirely according to plan. Lovecraft was, as Wiley knows, an atheist, but he grew up in a time and place suffused with religion and in a family that was not entirely indifferent to faith. When Lovecraft created the Cthulhu Mythos, he purposely drew on the conventions of faith to lend a sense of ritual and power to the fake gods he intended to parody and counter Christianity. Thus, the passages from the Necronomicon that he quotes, along with Old Castro’s description of the Old Ones, purposely echo passages in the King James Bible. “The Dunwich Horror” uses Christian themes and imagery, and the final line of “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” echoes the doxology at the end of the Protestant version (and occasionally the Catholic version) of the Lord’s Prayer. It is no coincidence that the transcendent power of the Old Ones that Wiley feels echoes the power of God.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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