H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) is generally considered as being the most influential modern writer of horror fiction.
Those who pursued this genre after him, such as Stephen King, admit to being indebted to his books.
Lovecraft’s influence also actually extends beyond just this genre alone. Michel Houellebecq (contemporary France’s most read novelist), despite having authored zero horror novels himself, still considers himself to be a student of Lovecraft. He even went as far as penning an entire essay about him in 1991.
In fact, Lovecraft is a salient figure in the industry due to having crafted his own “Lovecraftian universe,” which is generally described as “cosmic horror.” This is in reference to the fact that within his writings, humans lose their place as the center of the universe and are even accused of stealing space from otherworldly creatures.
This “metaphysical” horror is precisely what stands out with Lovecraft, distinguishing him from his later disciples who succeeded him such as the aforementioned Stephen King, whose works revolve around more “earthly” issues (the typical anxious and schizoid existence of atomized individuals living in American suburbs, often teenagers).
But what is of specific relevance to us is that Lovecraft’s metaphysical (or ontological) relegating of humanity, i.e., his “anti-humanism,” stems from his dogma as a radical atheist.
Atheism as Anti-Humanism
Indian-American literary critic, S.T. Joshi, is considered to be the global authority on Lovecraft. In 2010 he edited a collection of Lovecraft’s essays and letters under the title Against Religion: The Atheist Writings of H.P. Lovecraft.
Considering the title, it is unsurprising to discover that the foreword was penned by none other than Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011), the late British-American journalist who was known as the most vocal of the “New Atheists.” And of course these “New Atheists” are a group of particularly virulent and militant atheists, post-9/11.
Hitchens writes the following, on pp. vii-viii:
It is a pleasure to read – and to recommend – the work of H.P. Lovecraft […] This unusual author decided to face squarely the problems that confront all reflective people. How likely is that human life is the outcome of a design? […] It is fairly safe to say that he first discovered his objection to theism when he contemplated his favorite subject, which was the cosmic. It takes a certain arrogance for man, once he has discovered the real place of our global speck in this galaxy, let alone the pace of this galaxy in the universe, to assume that all is intended with himself as the finished object.
An atheist criticizing the argument from design is nothing surprising. Atheists weaponize Darwinian evolution, and Darwin first caused controversy when he refuted Christian philosopher William Paley’s famed watchmaker analogy (imagine you’re walking and you notice a watch in the sand; certainly such complex machinery couldn’t have just popped into existence by itself; you’d ultimately assume that there was a watchmaker; and thus, in the same way, we understand that creation also has an intelligent creator).
Darwin, who read Paley as a theology student, rejected the idea of intelligent design via his mechanism of natural selection.
It must be noted that contemporary scientists are moving back to the argument for intelligent design. Brazilian chemist Marcos Nogueira Eberlin in his book Foresight (an easy read that I recommend) for example. However, natural selection isn’t the subject of the article at hand.
What is perplexing is the way Lovecraft and Hitchens both go above and beyond the usual censors of the intelligent design argument. After all, if there’s no design to nature why would there be any design to humanity?
Isn’t humanity also “imperfect” and thus “upgradeable”? Perhaps through transhumanism?
And thus the anti-humanism of these radical atheists becomes evident. In a materialist and evolutionary worldview, humanity is something that must be modified, either through social engineering and mass atheistic propaganda (Hitchens) or scientific-technological modifications (transhumanists).
Besides Hitchens’ foreword in the above-mentioned book, we of course also have the writings of Lovecraft himself.
A particularly terrifying piece is the chapter entitled The Insignificance of Man, originally a letter (dated to 1916).
We read on pp. 11-12:
But after all, what is life and its purpose? What right has man arbitrarily to assume his own importance in creation? […] Therefore we are able to understand that the human race is but a thing of the moment […] Our human race is only a trivial incidence in the history of creation […] Who can say that men have souls while rocks have none? Perhaps the best thing a man might do is to annihilate himself! […] It is our right and our duty to mould the minor manifestations of human character in such a way that the entire race may derive the least amount of pain and misery from the pitiful satire known as “life” […]
The rest of the book is of the same tone. He bashes religion while lauding atheism and materialism. What a wretched and miserable view of existence. He basically sees humanity as a cosmic accident without any hope towards a genuinely purposeful life—and actually even undeserving of life. (According to Lovecraft, the real owners of the world are monstrous cosmic entities such as Cthulhu).
But Lovecraft is merely being coherent. After all, such is life from a purely atheistic and materialistic perspective.
It is fascinating how Muslims use the very same observations yet their conclusion is the exact opposite. For us there’s this immense and expansive universe which, rather than oppressing us, only draws us towards worshiping our Creator.
For example, we read in the Qur’an, 41:53:
We will show them Our signs in the universe and within themselves until it becomes clear to them that this ˹Quran˺ is the truth. Is it not enough that your Lord is a Witness over all things?
Whether it’s the vast and expansive galaxies or the restricted and limited life of our souls, everything is a sign for us. They make us stronger. Whereas, on the other hand they make the atheist, with his materialism, weaker.
The reality is that Lovecraft is the most representative modern horror author because modernity itself is nothing but a horror show.