I consider words like ‘sad’ and ‘happy’ to be sloppy language. If someone tells you that they’re sad, what leaps to mind? Tears, frown, depression, wretched, dejected?
The truth is that all of us experience sadness differently. That becomes obvious to me when my girlfriend and I watch a sad movie together. She will immediately begin to cry (or sob) and I might get a lump in my throat or feel empathy but not a whole lot of emotion. If someone were to ask me what sadness feels like to me, it would probably differ greatly from what it feels like to her. The word ‘sad’ is merely a blanket term without specifics of any kind.
Today, while I perused the news, I came across an article titled: Where are the honest atheists?
It was pretty interesting because the author admits that atheism is probably true due to lack of evidence, but then goes on to say that the atheistic worldview is ‘terrible’ and quotes Nietzsche as saying it was an ‘awe-inspiring catastrophe for humanity’.
Here’s a bit of that article:
If atheism is true, it is far from being good news. Learning that we’re alone in the universe, that no one hears or answers our prayers, that humanity is entirely the product of random events, that we have no more intrinsic dignity than non-human and even non-animate clumps of matter, that we face certain annihilation in death, that our sufferings are ultimately pointless, that our lives and loves do not at all matter in a larger sense, that those who commit horrific evils and elude human punishment get away with their crimes scot free — all of this (and much more) is utterly tragic.
“Honest atheists understand this. Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche proclaimed the death of God, but he called it an “awe-inspiring catastrophe” for humanity, which now faced the monumental task of avoiding a descent into nihilism. Essayist Albert Camus likewise recognized that when the longing for a satisfying answer to the question of “why?” confronts the “unreasonable silence of the world,” the goodness of human life appears to dissolve and must be reconstructed from the ground up.
“In our own time, physicist Steven Weinberg admits that he is “nostalgic for a world in which the heavens declared the glory of God” and associates himself with the 19th-century poet Matthew Arnold, who likened the retreat of religious faith in the face of scientific progress to the ebbing ocean tide and claimed to detect a “note of sadness” in its “melancholy, long, withdrawing roar.” Weinberg confesses to his own sorrow in doubting that scientists will find “in the laws of nature a plan prepared by a concerned creator in which human beings played some special role.”
I think where the author goes wrong is assuming that all people think or feel the same way. Maybe some atheists do feel that way. Maybe they wake up feeling bleak and alone. I find the idea comforting in many ways. To me, the idea that my life is planned out for me; that there is a deity in the sky listening to every thought; that this deity will not only punish me while alive, but will do so for eternity once dead is oppressive, frightening and evil.
Religious people often go on about being humble, but then many believe that there is a deity who values them so much that what they do (and their souls) will live on for eternity. I don’t find that to be a humble thought. I don’t think I’m all that special.
I find science beautiful. I have no need or want to live on forever. I try to make each day something to remember and a God doesn’t play any role in any of that. I agree with the author that some of the music and rituals religion offers are beautiful. In fact, I did a project recently on Catholicism and found myself spending a few hours listening to Catholic hymns because I found them hauntingly beautiful.
However, I feel that way listening to other music and I can get the same spiritual feeling some get through rituals by meditating or even working out hard at my local gym. God has no part of any of that. I’m comfortable waiting for evidence of the divine.
I also want to point out that many things are true and terrible. That doesn’t mean we should make things up so we don’t have to face it. From my perspective, religion doesn’t make anything easier to handle. For example, if I attend a funeral, I find the ‘they’re in a better place’ or ‘it was part of God’s plan’ sayings to be both ridiculous and condescending. It’s one of those ideas that make me shiver – the idea that the suffering of that person and the grieving being done by the family was somehow part of a divine plan is abhorrent to me. That’s the best plan a divine being could come up with, especially one with unlimited power?
No, I don’t find atheism terrible or catastrophic. I find it to be evidence based and it’s up to me to deal with the realities. I don’t wake up feeling empty inside, bleak or angry. I’m just thankful to have the opportunity to live for a short time and try to make a small difference in the world around me while I’m here.
I understand that some people may view it differently and feel they need a deity, but that’s not me. I don’t experience the world the same as the author of the article, and I’m cool with that.
No all-powerful deities required.