The Grimness of Atheism: Theological Perspectives from a Young Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath doesn’t reflect much on God in her early journals, but when she goes to provide child care for a Christian Science family, we see a developing theology which, though unorthodox, she articulates well.  She finds some common ground with Christian Science, in the value placed on the importance of thought (Mind).  But she differs in her perspective on the basis of this Mind.

Now that I ponder over it, I do see a sudden neat edifice of logic, and I do agree with some of their generalizations in spite of the fact that I am philosophically at the other end of the pole, – a “matter worshipper”.

Yet, Plath is more complex than a simple “Material Girl”.

I believe that there is a realm (abstractly, hypothetically, of course) of absolute fact.  Something IS.  And that, in our poor human lingo, would be the “truth”.

No sooner does she assert some eternal verity (however hypothetical) than she retreats to relativism.

We all live in [our] own dream-world and make and re-make our own personal realities with tender and loving care.  And my dream world – how much more valid, how much nearer to the truth is it than that of these people?  Valid for me – perhaps – even though it is not metaphysical.

As much as she wants to will herself to validate her hosts’ “mind over matter” perspective, she can’t help but find it humorous.

I turn to hide irreverent laughter when Susan, constipated, gets a lesson instead of a laxative.

Later in the journals, Plath reflects in a letter on the accidental death of a friend (Sandy Lynn) and rejects the conventional theology of diving sovereignty.

… if it was god’s will it is a very stupid arbitrary blood thirsty god, and I do not like him or believe in him or respect him because he is more foolish and mean than we are and has no sense of proportion of what people are good for living and what people are unfit.

Free of the moral restraint gained through a theology of God’s sovereignty, Plath is able to construct her own morality.

The ways to hell on earth are easy, and one can always cross out hell and scribble in heaven.  So much sweeter that way.

Yet, this freedom provides her little satisfaction.  She continues to call on “God” (in words that sound more like a prayer than taking God’s name in vain).

You, God, whom I invoke without belief, only I can choose, and only I am responsible.  (Oh, the grimness of atheism!)

Quotes from The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath. 

For more reflections from Plath’s Journals, see –

Beauty Out of Sorrow

Being a Writer or Becoming a Wife

Ricocheting Madly In-Between

Luxuriating in the Feel of Words

(photo of Sylvia Plath from Carrie Paris in Clear Inquiry)

One thought on “The Grimness of Atheism: Theological Perspectives from a Young Sylvia Plath

  1. This is really interesting. I don’t remember Plath’s later poems or her autobiographical work having any obsession regarding deity. Atheism is an essential trait of modernism and any rebel, either metaphysical or political, always chooses the idea of God as the first institute to topple. From your article, I can see Plath was no different in that respect either.

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