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Damon Linker on Atheism and Hopelessness

Damon Linker has apparently written some good books on the subject of religion and politics, though I’ve not read them. After reading this supremely ridiculous essay in The Week, I can’t say that I’m inclined to do so. It’s just a rehash of the tired old argument that atheism leads to nihilism and hopelessness, but with the added absurdity that all “honest atheists” must admit this.

That godlessness might be both true and terrible is something that the new atheists refuse to entertain…

It’s one thing to catalogue the manifest faults within this or that religious tradition, which the new atheists have ably done… over and over and over again. It’s quite another to claim, as these authors also invariably do, that godlessness is not only true but also unambiguously good for human beings. It quite obviously is not.

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.

Nowhere does he attempt to support this conclusionary statement, either with evidence or reasoning. He merely asserts it, as he does above, as “quite obviously” true. He does include a lot of half-quotes and word salad from various others asserting the same thing, or something vaguely like it:

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.”

The past century has given us many honest atheists, some well known, others less so: the playwrights Eugene O’Neill and Samuel Beckett, aphorist E.M. Cioran, filmmaker Woody Allen. But perhaps the most brutally honest of all was the poet Philip Larkin, whose poems movingly describe the immense psychological struggles that often accompany atheism — an outlook he considered to be both “true” and “terrible.” Religion — “That vast moth-eaten musical brocade / Created to pretend we never die” — used to dispel the terror of annihilation, or at least try to. But Larkin will have none of it. And that leaves him — and us — with no solace or reassurance, confronting the horrifying prospect of a lonely plunge into infinite nothingness: “This is what we fear: no sight, no sound, / No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with, / Nothing to love or link with, / The anesthetic from which none come round.”

As the common refrain goes, this isn’t even coherent enough to be wrong, it’s just gibberish. Again, he cites no evidence at all that atheism caused “immense psychological struggles” either more often or more severely than religion itself does. And there is growing evidence that what emotional and psychological difficulties there are for those who lose their faith has far more to do with the loss of a support structure and a community than with anything intrinsic to the ideas. My friend Luke Galen’s study of believers and non-believers, for instance, shows that non-believers who are active members of secular communities are as emotionally healthy in all the relevant ways as those who attend church.

I’m with him when he says that some of our atheist thinkers tend to oversimplify things. For example, I do not think, as Christopher Hitchens said, that “religion poisons everything.” In fact, I consider that statement to be so vague and generalized that it ought to be dismissed out of hand as hyperbole. But Linker is guilty of exactly the kind of overly trite and simplistic nonsnese here. And the notion that losing one’s faith must inevitably be some existential tragedy that haunts and torments us is simply inane, no matter how many quotes he offers from Nietzsche.

Comments

  1. says

    Shorter Damon Linker: Ignorance is bliss.

    (if he thinks atheists have no sense of wonder, he should visit me on a clear night under a starry sky, and stop projecting his own worries about a godless reality on everyone else).

  2. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    Ah, aaaah! But he evidently touched a nerve, didn’t he, as conclusively shown by the fact that atheists are disagreeing with him.

    /snark

  3. says

    “Nihilism?” As in, placing so little value on anything in life that you give up doing anything good for others, and would rather kill shitloads of people in a suicidal violent act that accomplishes nothing? That’s something we’ve seen from some devout Muslims — not from any atheists I know of.

    And who wrote that relentlessly depressing FM hit song “Dust in the Wind?” An atheist band?

    And who first wrote that “vanity of vanities, all is vanity” drivel? Dawkins? I don’t think so.

    Learning that we’re alone in the universe…

    What, atheists don’t believe in the possibility of meeting another sentient species?

  4. Reginald Selkirk says

    All “honest Christians” must admit that a child dying is a joyous cause for celebration, because now that child is with God.

  5. says

    Why must honest atheists “understand” the list of mostly falsehoods Linker erroneously assumes to be the conclusions of atheism?

    Learning that we’re alone in the universe

    Atheism does not entail this. It’s equally staggering, it has been said, to contemplate that there is nobody else out there as that there isn’t.

    that no one hears or answers our prayers

    Also not necessarily true, especially if you disobey Jesus’ dictate and insist on praying with an audience as so many do.

    that humanity is entirely the product of random events

    Manifestly false. “Unguided” ! = “random”

    that we have no more intrinsic dignity than non-human and even non-animate clumps of matter

    I define dignity as being in control of one’s own existence, and having that control acknowledged by others. By that standard, we have a great deal of dignity and Linker has simply cast it aside like a child who throws down a cookie and then complains that he has no cookie.

    that we face certain annihilation in death

    Almost certain, yes, but far from depressing if true. Most of us would certainly like to live longer, but living an eternity sounds like torture.

    that our sufferings are ultimately pointless

    How very Catholic of him. Our sufferings may not be ultimately pointless, but that’s all for the better in my view– it’s disturbing as hell to think of an ultimate being wanting us to suffer. And frequently, our sufferings have a proximate point, which is all we want for them anyway.

    that our lives and loves do not at all matter in a larger sense

    You can be large without being infinite. This sounds like throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

    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.

    Okay, yes, that is tragic. You know what’s infinitely–literally– more tragic, though? Hell.

    Yeah, I’ll take atheism.

  6. Reginald Selkirk says

    confronting the horrifying prospect of a lonely plunge into infinite nothingness: “This is what we fear: no sight, no sound, / No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with, / Nothing to love or link with, / The anesthetic from which none come round.”

    Fecking idiot. Nothingness means no conscious self to experience fear, or to be horrified by a lack of sight, sound, etc. No self to experience that love or lack of love. We’re talking about nonexistence, not isolation.

  7. Reginald Selkirk says

    Gretchen #5: I define dignity as being…

    Ah, but Gretchen, he is talking about intrinsic dignity. It is the same old absolutist argument theists frequently get stuck in. You must realize that life/meaning/morality must be eternal/objective/infinite/absolute, or it might as well be nothing. It is a stupid argument, easily refuted.

  8. hexidecima says

    I’m not terribly sure who Damon Linker is, but one thing I do know is that he lies to make himself feel better. Sorry, Mr. Linker, but this atheist is very honest and has never practiced your cheap nihilism. All I see in Mr. Linker is a useless liar.

    The only think I miss about religion is casseroles at church dinners.

  9. says

    What, you can’t get a religious friend or relative to invite you to a church dinner? Talk about a “lonely plunge into infinite nothingness!”

  10. Synfandel says

    And there is growing evidence that what emotional and psychological difficulties there are for those who lose their faith has far more to do with the loss of a support structure and a community than with anything intrinsic to the ideas.

    Yes, ‘loss’ is the point. As someone who has never been religious even for a minute, I can assure you that there is no emotional and psychological difficulty intrinsic to being an atheist. It’s becoming an atheist that people find painful. If you haven’t been on the drug of religion, there is no painful withdrawal.

  11. anubisprime says

    That is more a screed written to convince himself rather then whine about how desperate atheist’s are!

    It is a simple morale booster is all, mainly for himself and certainly serves the secondary function of smoothing ruffled feathers of the disconsolate and disconcerted!

    And there are more disconsolate and disconcerted then ever amongst the wavering faithful, atheism exists and they are noticing and are rather stunned that another way of life is possible and that has alarmed the hierarchy, they are fully aware that exposure to argument and rationality is not the ticket to heaven.

    So now comes the misinformation and misdirection, standard xtian tactic 101 when dealing with a sociological threat.
    Later comes the thin screech of in-credulousness of not drooling to a fairy story, then when all else fails personal attack and attempts to outlaw the premise!…all standard stuff so beloved of the brain dead!

    But this time they have a fight on to weave their vilification, and it does not appear to be working as they had hoped!
    But being bunnies of little integrity or aptitude they keep plodding the same groove cos they have nothing else, I do not think they realise that no one is really listening who matters!

  12. Stacy says

    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

    Huh. Guess I’m the only one who thinks he’s absolutely right here. (Though it’s fair to quibble with “random events,” it’s clear what he means.)

    Haven’t read the entire essay, so I don’t know whether he really goes on to suggest nihilism and permanent hopelessness are the only responses to atheism. They’re not. But facing the fact that the universe really doesn’t give a damn about any of us, that there’s no recompense for suffering, facing full-on the prospect of annihilation and the permanence of loss, can be fucking painful for those who’ve dealt with tragedy. Religion’s comforts are false, but they are comforts.

  13. iknklast says

    Honest theists would be forced to admit that there is something of despair and hopelessness in the knowledge that their life has meaning only insofar as a tyrannical overlord so chooses, and that there is something frightening about the fact that an unseen, unheard entity can suddenly choose to throw a lightning bolt at you for no reason.

    Realizing that I was not here for a reason, but just randomly deposited by forces outside my control that didn’t listen to my supplications actually helped a lot. I didn’t feel like a target. I realized that all the bad I’d experienced weren’t because I’d made some mighty ruler angry, or because he was “out to get me”. I also realized that some of the bad things could be changed, and I could change them. And that I was free to make my own meaning, without worrying if I was short circuiting the plans of some enormously powerful shop foreman who could send me to eternal torment without a trial or the chance to defend myself. That can be liberating.

    I have never regretted leaving religion behind. If people do, I have no problem with that, as they have their own experiences. I just think there are too many atheists out there who AREN’T honest, and try to claim that atheists sit around wishing they could believe. I read it more often than I would like. They might, but that doesn’t mean I do, and an honest atheist will acknowledge that they speak only for themselves. I recognize that some people fall into despair in the face of godlessness, and I don’t try to claim that they all feel the same liberation I feel. That’s honesty.

  14. Stacy says

    Eesh. I read the rest of the essay–it’s dreadful. Please don’t take my comment above as endorsing the rest of Linker’s nonsense.

    I do think atheism means facing some hard truths. They’re better faced, though, than evaded.

  15. doublereed says

    Actually, Hitchens defended the idea that “Religion Poisons Everything” and has said that he meant that without any hyperbole whatsoever.

    I don’t understand the theist position though. I don’t see how living for the express purpose of worshipping a God is somehow better than not having an explicit purpose at all.

    But of course, he’s not actually comparing beliefs. He’s putting down one belief while ignoring the problems with the other. I think this is what Daniel Dennett refers to as “Belief in belief.” He’s justifying his own ridiculous rationalizations for belief.

  16. says

    It’s one of the most tiresome tropes in the anti-atheist repertoire: the only good atheist is one who recognizes what a monumental tragedy the loss of religious faith is. In addition, becoming an atheist must be a well-nigh unbearable trauma.

    Speaking as someone for whom the loss of religious faith did involve some emotional turmoil, I have met unbeliever after unbeliever who had no such troubles at all. It’s just the reduction of a wonderfully varied bunch of people one obnoxious stereotype.

  17. dingojack says

    “… 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.'”

    Dover Beach

    The sea is calm to-night.
    The tide is full, the moon lies fair
    Upon the straits;–on the French coast the light
    Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
    Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
    Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
    Only, from the long line of spray
    Where the sea meets the moon-blanch’d land,
    Listen! you hear the grating roar
    Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
    At their return, up the high strand,
    Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
    With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
    The eternal note of sadness in.

    Sophocles long ago
    Heard it on the {AE}gean, and it brought
    Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
    Of human misery; we
    Find also in the sound a thought,
    Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

    The Sea of Faith
    Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
    Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl’d.
    But now I only hear
    Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
    Retreating, to the breath
    Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
    And naked shingles of the world.

    Ah, love, let us be true
    To one another! for the world, which seems
    To lie before us like a land of dreams,
    So various, so beautiful, so new,
    Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
    Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
    And we are here as on a darkling plain
    Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
    Where ignorant armies clash by night. – Matthew Arnold.

    Perhaps he kind of half read the Cliff-notes some years ago.
    Dingo

  18. Artor says

    I grew up as a believer and attended a few Xtian schools as well. Living in a demon-haunted world had me terrified most of the time, thinking that there was some malevolent force lurking in the shadows, bent on devouring my soul. As I began my enlightenment, I was more terrified when I realized that the Sky-Daddy was as bad, or worse than the lesser demons out to get me. Living at the mercy of an all-powerful, vain & sadistic despot is no comfort either. When I finally thought things through and realized that it simply was not possible for the world to be run by something so completely lacking in logic or consistency as the Xtian god, I was tremendously relieved. It was a huge burden lifted from my mind, and it really allowed me to grow as a person, knowing that I was not under the heel of someone who would toss me into eternal flames on a whim.
    Damon Linker is a fucking idiot and an Xtian apologist, but I repeat myself.

  19. oranje says

    His last point, and I use the term loosely, seems to imply that we would still exist to feel this sadness or dread or lack of sensory awareness or whatever. He quite literally doesn’t understand.

    It’s okay. Even false nostalgia goes away.

  20. raven says

    Damon LInker’s hate atheist rant is a target rich envirnoment.

    Just about every sentence is a lie, logical fallacy, or strawperson.

    1. One of his main point is the logical fallacy of argument from consequences. If atheism is true, there is no afterlife and no sky fairy. But so what? Truth claims are independent of people’s wishful thinking. Wanting something to be true…doesn’t make it true.

    2. He also dishonestly quote mines Nietschke and Camus to claim they found No Gods to be despressing and gloomy. Both of them thought no gods were liberating. No heaven, no hell, no Sky Monster. We live our lives in our own ways. Jesus the Sky Monster isn’t going to show up 2,000 years late and destroy the earth and kill 7 billion people.

  21. says

    His last point, and I use the term loosely, seems to imply that we would still exist to feel this sadness or dread or lack of sensory awareness or whatever. He quite literally doesn’t understand.

    That’s a startlingly common mistake to make. One theory about the human disposition to believe in an afterlife is that our literal inability to comprehend non-consciousness gives us little choice but to imagine people we know carrying on their existence somewhere even after they’ve become corpses and the corpses themselves have gone away. The most common objection by far that I’ve heard to this theory is “What do you mean? Of course we can comprehend non-consciousness! We dream, don’t we?”

    Yes, we dream. But dreaming is experience– non-consciousness it is not. It is impossible to experience non-experience, but that sure doesn’t seem to stop us trying.

  22. raven says

    All “honest Christians” must admit that a child dying is a joyous cause for celebration, because now that child is with God.

    Abortion is a supremely moral and benevolent action. And all honest xians should admit it.

    All fetuses go to heaven. After a child is born, their probability of going to hell and be tortured for eternity increases with time. The vast majority of the world’s population isn’t going to make it to heaven because, either they were born into the wrong religion, or guessed wrong and joined the wrong religion.

    And no one really knows which religion or which of the 42,000 sects of xianity is the One Right and True cult.

  23. raven says

    Living in a demon-haunted world had me terrified most of the time, thinking that there was some malevolent force lurking in the shadows, bent on devouring my soul.

    Here is the fundie xian view of the world.

    The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir. [Carl Sagan,

    They really do live in a demon haunted world of their own making. Demons are everywhere. Mars candy company employs witches to put demons in Halloween candy. They can possess you at any time and you have to pay some witch doctor to exorcize them. Satan is a powerful being ruling the earth and his creator, god, is seemingly unable to stop him. Science, the main driver of our modern civilization is evil and must be avoided by bringing up your children as ignorant as possible.

    At least my natal church wasn’t like that. They didn’t much care about hell or satan and demons were never mentioned. And some of the members were, in fact,…scientists.

  24. Reginald Selkirk says

    oranje #20: His last point, and I use the term loosely, seems to imply that we would still exist to feel this sadness …

    It is quote from a poem by someone else; so there are at least two people who come off looking really stupid: the poet, and the writer who thought the poet worth quoting.

  25. Akira MacKenzie says

    “Does life have purpose or “meaning?” No.

    Is humanity ultimately insignificant and no one will notice or care when our species eventually becomes extinct? Yes.

    Is there an afterlife lorded over by an immortal, omniscent, judge who will dispense ultimate justice? Don’t be stupid!

    Does my life, or anyone else’s, ultimately matter? Nope!

    Does my acceptance of these facts drive me to existential ennui? Not at all! My depression is driven by faulty brain chemistry, not atheism. I’ll take nihilism over Linker’s magical world of “wonder” and self-deception any day for one reason and one reason alone: It’s a reality, based upon testable, reproducible, facts, not supersticion and arrogance.

    On the contrary, Linker, and the millions of other intellectual weaklings out there like him, are the ones with the problem with “hopelessness.” They can’t conceive of a universe where they are not important. They can’t accept that the people they don’t like will not be punished forever while they are rewarded for being “good.” They are the ones who fear the final oblivion.

    Linker’s screed is really nothing more than an exercise in projection. That’s this honest and largely happy atheist’s observation.

  26. Chiroptera says

    If atheism is true, it is far from being good news.

    I dunno. I would have thought we’d all feel some relief that the majority of humanity that ever lived won’t be suffering unimaginable torments for all eternity.

  27. dingojack says

    Reginald Selkirk (#20) – The quotemine comes from Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold*. I quoted in full at #18. It doesn’t quite say what he think it does (assuming he read it all).
    Dingo
    ——–
    * Matthew Arnold was the son of the famous headmaster Dr Thomas Arnold. He was indoctrinated from a young age with a form of ‘muscular christianity’ (later he became a high Anglican).
    This poem was possibly written on his honeymoon (1851) and expresses his loss of faith and acceptance of a random world, yet it expresses the idea that love, companionship and connection to others can overcome the fear of not having daddy around to terrorise and disapprove of us anymore The younger Arnold never thought his father thought he was good enough (as it happens this wasn’t true), and yet, he was devastated by his father’s death in 1842.

  28. kermit. says

    Raised a fundamentalist, I remember deciding when I was thirteen that there was no god. I felt an overwhelming sense of relief.
    .
    I wonder if Linker will ever convince himself that he’s right? He certainly sounds like someone whistling in the dark.
    .
    I have a hard time imagining myself feeling bereft at a purposeless life, when the alternative is to grovel before (a mental image of) Yahweh, then spend all of eternity telling him how awesome he is. Reminds me of Ellison’s Have No Mouth and I Must Scream. It’s OK, though, in the Real World we get to make our own purpose. Parents, scientists, gardeners, journalists, musicians, and thousands of more kinds of people have a purpose (or two) in life, and find its pursuit fulfilling.
    .
    Sure, a longer life would be nice, but wishful thinking isn’t going to buy me one more second, and will in fact only spend precious time in undignified and fearful groveling before imaginary idols (unchanging and pitiless mental images). “The lyfe so short, the craft so long to lerne” – Chaucer
    .
    If I were being snarky I would say that an honest Christian would agree with me, but I know that we all have different experiences and abilities and foibles, and that there are likely a fair number of intelligent Christians who have come to different conclusions than I. Of course, I am not so insecure in my contingent* conclusions that I have to deny the existence of honest people who do not agree with me on all points.
    .
    *On continued evidential support,

  29. matty1 says

    our lives and loves do not at all matter in a larger sense

    This is where I part from theists and from at least some non-theistic philosophies like Marxism. To them our lives gain value by being means to some other end. To me my life has value as an end in itself.

    To say your life is only valuable because it fits in God’s plan or advances the workers paradise is to say it is not intrinsically valuable for its own sake only to the extent it advances that larger goal.

    Short version linking the value of your life and loves to something larger makes them less valuable not more.

  30. caseloweraz says

    Linker: “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.” (Emphasis added.)

    As Raven said, this essay is a target-rich environment. But let me home in on just one target. This assumption that humans are unable to create their own dignity and purpose is utterly baseless.

  31. sinned34 says

    If modern medicine is true, it is far from being good news. Learning that diseases are caused by genetic disorders, viruses and bacteria, rogue cells, and other completely natural causes, that there are no demons that can be banished by prayer and religious rite, that poultices made from tiger penis or heavily diluted nonmedicinal ingredients do not work, that intrusive surgery is required to solve a great many maladies, that people cannot be healed by mere faith in their deity, that despite huge investments of money and effort many diseases remain untreatable, that no amount of technology or piety can stave off death forever — all of this (and much more) is utterly tragic.
    Honest doctors understand this.

    We need to bring back reliance on humours, foul spirits, and vital essences, because modern medicine has robbed humanity of a huge source of awe and wonder: why do people die in such horrible manners? By telling superstitious people that smudging with sage and drinking foul concoctions made from poisonous or benign roots will not cure their AIDS, cancer or whooping cough, we’re stealing their sense of connection to the supernatural.

    We need more doctors who are willing to stand up and recognize that we should be willing to let these people die in their ignorance.

  32. says

    To be fair, he’s right. Things were better back when you Athiests were all miserable. For one thing, you were quiet, leaving the rest of us more time to bask in the glow of our own moral superiority, buttressed by the concrete foundation of philosophical monopoly.

  33. Michael Heath says

    Damon Linker is very much in need of Greta Christina’s, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless. Whether he has the character to read, consider, and then argue honestly after having read her book or something similar; well . . . I’m skeptical.

  34. DaveL says

    Ah, but Gretchen, he is talking about intrinsic dignity. It is the same old absolutist argument theists frequently get stuck in. You must realize that life/meaning/morality must be eternal/objective/infinite/absolute, or it might as well be nothing. It is a stupid argument, easily refuted.

    Yep, what I like to call theistic nihilism. Meaning isn’t true meaning if it isn’t imposed by some cosmic force. Value isn’t true value unless it’s reckoned by an omnipotent being. Morality isn’t true morality unless it’s dictate by a universal lawgiver.

    Basically what Linker does is the same thing most apologists do: he takes theistic nihilism as axiomatic, then throws a tantrum and stamps his feet, demanding that we do likewise.

  35. se habla espol says

    #33 caseloweraz on March 13, 2013 at 12:50 pm (UTC -4):

    As Raven said, this essay is a target-rich environment. But let me home in on just one target. This assumption that humans are unable to create their own dignity and purpose is utterly baseless.

    Poor YHWH. YHWH had no creator to give it purpose, so YHWH must be yet another of us miserable, hopeless, terrified, purposeless critters. Unless it’s turtles…

  36. whensmarvel9 says

    Meh, I’m an atheist but I agree with Linker. Everything’s going to die someday, so why even bother living? Nothing we do matters in the end. The worst part is every atheist I talk to always invalidates my feelings with platitudes such as the ones found in this very comment section (i.e. you won’t experience non-existence so death is totally not scary or depressing!). Wish I didn’t have to feel so hopeless and suicidal every day. I must be a defective atheist or something. :/

  37. jorge says

    I considered myself a “born again Christian”. I even pursued the Christian ministry and was an evangelical pastor for about 12 years straight. Toward the end of that period, I began to realize that I really disagreed with some things in the Bible. That disqualifies me from being an evangelical pastor. I was also burnt out on people, people who just HAD to have an answer to it all. The more honest I became with myself and everyone else, the more I realized that I didn’t have the answers that they wanted. As I left the ministry, and even to this day, I am stunned at the coldness of the Christian community. I am not an atheist. But, I sure have been treated like one since I left the ministry. I should have realized that religious teachings do “comfort” the soul with the belief that there is a God and that all of this stuff in our universe makes sense. And, when you fly in the face of that with a question mark instead of a dogmatic affirmation of religious teachings, it makes religious people very uncomfortable.
    At this point, I consider myself an agnostic. I simply don’t know for sure. I think that all religious people, as well as some of the dogmatic atheists out there, should move closer to the agnostic position. Do you know for sure that there is a God? Do you know for sure that there is no God? If you answered yes to either of those questions, I would say that you are operating on faith in either. The honest answer is simply that we do not know.
    However, though I call myself an agnostic, I am still somewhat theistic these days. I still simply CANNOT believe that the universe and everything in it, including us, came into existence by random chance alone. I believe that in order for the world we live in to have come into existence, there had to be some kind of help along the way. But, I still struggle with what atheists struggle with. That is, if there is a God who is responsible for creating this world, how can He/She/It allow such horrific things to happen and allow the suffering that goes on. I can easily see why many atheists would call the Christian God a despotic maniac.
    So, I find that I’ve arrived at a belief that was popular several centuries ago- Deism. I believe there is a God. But, I believe that He created things the way they are in all randomness. In other words, God created the universe, and, over billions and billions of years, God brought things to where they are now. And, I have to concede that this “creation” we live in appears flawed and contradictory. The Christian explanation for all of this is the “fall of mankind” which is described in Genesis, chapter 3. I do not believe in that anymore but rather that we are growing, learning and evolving into more intelligent, moral and loving human beings. And, not having seen God yet, I still feel with the atheist, the shock, disparity and incongruence at a so called “created” world that is so violent and random. And, I find myself despising the adamantly religious who look down on the atheistic individual. I find that many, many atheists are not without morals or compassion. I find that many of them still find “the golden rule” as the best guide for their lives and others. As one atheistic commentator pointed out already that he or she can, has and will, gaze at the stars and universe above in awe and wonder.
    Thanks for letting me sound off. Peace to all.

  38. says

    @25:

    Linker’s quotation is from Philip Larkin’s AUBADE, and Larkin’s point isn’t stupid at all. Larkin is describing the anticipatory dread that we feel at the PROSPECT of ceasing to exist.

  39. dingojack says

    aaronbaker – see mine #18 for the Matthew Arnold reference.
    Larkin, in his arrogance, may have got the heebie-geebies about death (so much so he allowed his ‘soul of wit’ to get away from him), but it certainly doesn’t describe my feelings about death, or those of the atheists I know. It’s a small sample admittedly, but it is large enough to invalidate Linker’s certainty about that which atheists ‘often feel’.
    Dingo.

  40. says

    dingojack @42:

    I’m afraid I’m not really getting your point as to Larkin (you’re pretty clear about Linker): how was Larkin “arrogant” to describe dread at the thought of ceasing to exist? It needn’t be universal–it’s certainly common, enough so that I don’t see Larkin’s “we” as being presumptuous. Or am I completely missing your point?

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