This post was prompted by an essay on athiesm. Please read or listen to “There Is No God” by Penn Jillette, before continuing.
What I want to draw attention to is the joyful manner in which he describes the most spiritually empty and depressing belief. He argues that it is unnecessary for the athiest to disprove the existence of God, and his logic is sound, but once he grasps this belief in nothingness and hangs on to it, he then gives the impression that it is the most joyful and liberating philosophy of life. This simply is not true.
I can’t quote you the findings of research, but what I can do is speak from experience. My initial experience of athiesm (or to be fair, athiesm’s close cousin agnosticism, which, for all practical purposes is the same thing) was one of liberation. I was escaping the clutches of a form of Christianity that didn’t work for me, a legalistic way of living that twisted my mind and consumed me with guilt. Naturally, I felt liberated. But the feeling was shortlived. I had to face the reality that death was the end, that every experience I ever had was insignificant, every achievement meaningless, and that after my death it would be as if I had never been born. This, folks, is seriously depressing news.
I’ve heard athiests try to wrangle their way out of this reality; I’ve even tried to wrangle my way out of it myself. I defined the meaning in my life from the good I was able to do for others, my loving deeds touching lives in ways that would remain, even after my own death. This is a wonderful way to live, no doubt, but still reality comes crashing in, as you face the fact that even the lives you have touched are doomed to non-existence. Jump billions of years into the future and the human race is gone due to the death of our planet’s sun. The sum total of mankind’s knowledge, and our every achievement since the dawn of human history, is obliterated. It will be as if the human race never existed. Not even the memory of it will remain, because there isn’t a mind left to house it.
This is the athiest’s reality. Face it. But someone will say something like (and I’ve said it to myself), “It doesn’t matter. We humans have an inflated view of our own importance in the universe. Mortal is what we are, what we’re supposed to be, and all we’ll ever be. And mortality is enough.” But is it enough? Why then do I find my most pleasurable experiences tainted with sorrow. When I go out on my bicycle and enjoy the beauty of the Irish countryside, why is there always a feeling of emptiness nagging at me? It’s because I’ve faced reality. None of my experiences means a damn thing; all of life is just an expression of futility.
I’ve heard it argued that it’s our very mortality that gives meaning to our actions. I’ve tried to see some kind of sense in that idea, but I can’t. If someone can explain it to me, please do, because it just reads like a pretentious, vacuuous notion to me. What I know is that I possess a hunger for significance. It is not enough to die and cease to exist. There must be something more. This life has to matter, and to matter it has to go on. Athiesm does not lead to joy. It is the philosophy of no hope. It says that human life means nothing, degrading what it means to be human (ever wonder why the general consensus of athiests are for abortion while Christians are against?). It promotes feelings of worthlessness (because you are ultimately without value). Who knows how many people have spiralled down the road to suicide because they held this belief. Oh, I’m not talking about some intellectual athiest who’s got it all worked out. I’m talking about the average joe who has unwittingly imbibed the athiest way of thinking through culture and media and education. I would even dare to say that an athiest who commits suicide is making a perfectly reasonable choice, in light of his own view of his place in the universe.
Am I allowing my heart to rule my head here? Well, here’s some food for thought. Let’s assume that athiesm truly is the enlightened view. By implication, then, the enlightened man is the depressed man. Does it seem rational that man, in his most enlightened state, should be depressed by his own existence? Is it not more likely that these feelings of depression are pointing to the notion: “Hey, maybe we’re thinking about this all wrong!” In this vibrant world (and universe) teeming with life and vitality, were we really supposed to spend our days battling sorrow over our mortality? I think not.
I have great respect for science, but what I just can’t stand is the way we’ve all been conditioned to disbelieve in anything that cannot be measured and quantified, no matter what the cost to ourselves. Travel back in time and talk to a fifteenth century scientist about radio waves beaming messages across the planet, and he won’t believe you, nor can he create and measure such things with his primitive equipment. That doesn’t mean that radio waves don’t exist.
It alarms me the amount of my life I wasted with an agnostic mindset, never at peace with myself, and unable to see the preconceptions that held me to such an irrational and depressing belief. But that’s the conditioning of this messed up society at work. It can be very hard to see the claws that are embedded in your mind.
The particular claw I’m talking about here is the scientific idea that you must have proof before you allow yourself to believe a thing. How on earth did science ever lose its imagination in this way? And how did we end up giving it permission to define our entire sense of ourselves, without regard for what it may not be able to detect about reality?
Bottom line: Don’t confuse what doesn’t exist with what is merely undiscovered. I expect to discover plenty right after I die, and I’m living my life now with that anticipation.
(And the simple pleasure of riding my bike through the countryside is now a truly joyful experience.)