Should Atheists be Anxious of Death (or Meaninglessness)?
Audio file (If you do not have the time to read)
THE ANXIETY OF DEATH
“I don’t know whether this world has a meaning that transcends it. But I know that I do not know that meaning and that it is impossible for me just now to know it. What can a meaning outside my condition mean to me? I can understand only in human terms. What I touch, what resists me — that is what I understand. And these two certainties — my appetite for the absolute and for unity and the impossibility of reducing this world to a rational and reasonable principle — I also know that I cannot reconcile them. What other truth can I admit without lying, without bringing in a hope I lack and which means nothing within the limits of my condition?” (51).
The book Myth of Sisyphus by the famous 20th century philosopher Albert Camus is very bleak and honest, it tries to describe and explain the reality of the human condition.. The book is like a conversation. It’s as when you are drinking with long forgotten friends, as if you are having a one on one conversation with Albert Camus himself. It is a hopeful reflection on what Camus would call an anxious existence.
And it is one of my favorite books. It hits home on so many issues. That’s why I re-read this work. And then I re-read it again. And I re-read the essays at the end. I can not stop appreciating Camus’ use of words. He elaborates on points that need elaborating on and he does it at a perfect time with perfect density, it all works together perfectly, as a complicated thriller story that ties all the knots together in the end.
“With no hope of immortality, man’s life leads only to the grave. His life is but a spark in the infinite blackness, a spark that appears, flickers, and dies forever.” — William Lane Craig
We have all heard it again and again, especially as an atheist. “Life must be so vacuous” they say. “There is no higher purpose, no reason to get up in the morning and go to work. Why not just sleep in all day and masturbate, kill and destroy everything and everyone?”
That’s the reason Camus wrote this book. He addresses this question. The question is, if life ends and there is nothing after life: Is it rational to kill yourself straight away and get it over with?
Heidegger and the Anxiety of Death
He starts with this one German philosopher: Heidegger. Heidegger (what a classically German name) was this gent that was incredibly perplexed by the meaninglessness of existence. Maybe as you are just now. According to Heidegger the only reality is anxiety. What he believes is that if that anxiety becomes conscious of itself, it becomes anguish, which climates into something else.
This anxiety for Heidegger is the most important part of our reality to the point where he mostly only writes about it. The anxiousness of being conscious of death. This consciousness is in other words paraphrased as the absurd in this work and the phrase “the absurd” is used repetitively. Camus speaks of Heidegger as a man that “stands in this absurd world and points out its ephemeral character. He seeks his way amid these ruins” (24).
This “absurd” is the ultimate question for the Atheist. He believes in nothing after death, nothing that is meta-physical, that is outside of the physical world, that which can be seen and understood. How can we live with the ever-pressing awareness that life will all come to an end? And does this burdensome question miss the Christian/ the religious? I would like to argue that it does not. All our endeavours will ultimately end, even for the Christian and the religious. The Christian, however, wishes for something more (Romans 8:28). Camus quotes from Jaspers:
“In this ravaged world in which the impossibility of knowledge is established, in which everlasting nothingness seems the only reality and irremediable despair seems the only attitude, he tries to recover the Ariadne’s thread that leads to divine secrets” (24–5).
In other words, all of this is an attitude for understanding, they do not wish to provide consolations (25).
Our subsequent thought would be that then maybe there could be no meaning in this life. And many have suggested and even acted on this we the act of suicide. “The mind, when it reaches its limits, must make a judgment and choose its conclusions. This is where suicide and the reply stand” (27). So does the Atheist suggest suicide in the end?
THE PENALTY OF DISCOVERING THE ABSURD
“At this point (talking about suicide) of his effort man stands face to face with the irrational. He feels within him his longing for happiness and for reason. The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world. This must not be forgotten” (28).
There are consequences for being rational in Camus’ mind. You can never realize something so real without having to pay fully for the belief. In his words: “There exists an obvious fact that seems utterly moral: namely, that a man is always a prey to his truths. Once he has admitted them, he cannot free himself from them. One has to pay something” (31).
“I am not interested in philosophical suicide, but rather in plain suicide. I merely wish to purge it of its emotional content and know its logic and its integrity” (50).
Is there any logic in suicide? Is that the ultimate freedom to the terror of our existence? Is our existence terror, even if it is anxious? These are all very complex questions and I do not wish to provide ultimate answers. I would merely like to suggest one.
Will Atheism Ever be Able to Fulfill the Inner Longings for Meaning?
Is that all there is?
Is that all there is?
If that’s all there is my friends,
Then let’s keep dancing.
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball,
If that’s all-
(recorded by Peggy Lee, 1969 song, written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller)
Conclusion — What I Find Meaningful, Worthwhile for Existing
When we understand reality, we understand the principles of happiness. Happiness is not attained by pillaging, perpetually indulging in sexual experiences, drinking heavily, eating as a glutton, playing video games uncontrollably, on and on I can go with examples of overtly hedonistic behavior that is not fulfilling. Hedonism does not provide happiness. Happiness is given with a balance and also an understanding of what we should focus on. What we should focus on is given to us by both an evolutionary understanding of our origins and what we require on a materialistic level and what society dictates for us to find fulfilling. Both of these are factors that we can not separate from.
The absurd is present. There is this ever-pressing question of whether things matter. We can’t get rid of it. You won’t achieve it with the help of Christianity, for example. Christianity, they say, provides meaning. But how can Jesus’ ‘Great Commission’ be ultimately fulfilling? I find it to be imprisoning to individuals and our culture. The greatest point of our existence is not finding a universal truth that is applicable to all, but a truth that is debated and discussed until it can be applicable to all. You can not force your beliefs on anyone — and multiple generations of Christian leaders showcase this perfectly.
On another note, existence can only be meaningful if you have a required positive mindset. The self does not exist, hence you construct feelings for yourself. The self has to be an illusion — this belief is freeing. In Christianity the self is the central message. Jesus came to redeem you of your sin. He comes into your body with the Holy Spirit and makes you a dwelling place for him. In this way, you represent him. You become his feet and hands in the world so that you can fulfill the Great Commission: the call for Christians to preach the gospel to the end of the earth.
My belief is that there is nothing to redeem you from. Mainly because you are a manufacturing of your experience. You have very little to do with who you are. That does not take away from your responsibility to be a controlled sociable human being. If anything, it humbles you and makes you want to shift away and disprove this truth. There are reasons that I am attracted to writing, music, coffee, and the social circles I am continuously with. These are separate from my own influence, unfortunately. Fortunately, I have been conditioned to be attracted to great people and great hobbies.
There is beauty in this. I am responsible for creating so much positive content that I can — actually — get rid of negativity FOREVER! If I condition everyone to be free-thinking and believing in acceptance and positivity, then I can forever create an atmosphere of constant appreciation and positive change. The world can get rid of this sickening belief that we are depraved and need that we need to be saved from our sinfulness, that we are born into.
This is meaning. This is meaningful. Our desire as Atheists is to educate each other, to be able to construct a world that never needs saving. That is the philosopher’s dreams. God couldn’t dream this far. Fortunately for us, God is now dead. This is our world. Our dreams.
I hope you liked this. If so, I’d appreciate a clap :)
Be sure to check some of my other stuff as well. I write on philosophy, love, work, psychology, artificial intelligence, English literature, etc. I hope you enjoy.