Men and women can bear hardship, poverty, physical hunger and pain, but there is one thing which they cannot bear very long, and that is meaninglessness. If they are not provided with meaning in one connection, they will seek it in another. The parable [told by Jesus] of the impossibility of the permanently empty house is more applicable to our society today than it has ever been in our lives.
Old-school atheists like Friedrich Nietzsche
recognized that atheism utterly failed
to answer the most profound of human questions,
and thus atheism, he believed, led inexorably
Nowadays, most atheists are very uncomfortable with nihilism and want to distance themselves from their intellectual forefathers. Just because God doesn’t exist doesn’t mean that life can’t be vibrant and meaningful, right?
Well, it seems that not every atheist has abandoned Nietzsche’s insights. Atheist professor Alex Rosenberg provides the following summary of atheism’s answers to life’s most profound questions:
Is there a God? No.
What is the nature of reality? What physics says it is.
What is the purpose of the universe? There is none.
What is the meaning of life? Ditto.
Why am I here? Just dumb luck.
Is there a soul? Are you kidding?
Is there free will? Not a chance!
What is the difference between right/wrong, good/bad? There is no moral difference between them.
He concludes, “So much for the meaning of history, and everything else we care about.”
Rosenberg left out other depressing atheist answers like the following:
Will there be justice for all those who have been wronged? No way.
Is there life after death? Are you joking?
Where did mankind come from? A prebiotic slime.
Wow! What a positive outlook on life! No wonder more people don’t become atheists. It casts such a stunning vision for mankind, doesn’t it?
It is difficult to resist the conclusion that 20th century man has decided to abolish himself. Tired of the struggle to be himself, he has created boredom out of his own affluence, impotence out of his own erotomania, and vulnerability out of his own strength. He himself blows the trumpet, that brings the walls of his own cities crashing down. Until at last, having educated himself into imbecility, having drugged and polluted himself into stupefaction, he keels over a weary old brontosaurus and becomes extinct.
British journalist of the 20th century
I remember lecturing at Ohio State University, one of the largest universities in this country. I was minutes away from beginning my lecture, and my host was driving me past a new building called the Wexner Center for the Performing Arts.
He said, “This is America’s first postmodern building.”
I was startled for a moment and I said, “What is a postmodern building?”
He said, “Well, the architect said that he designed this building with no design in mind. When the architect was asked, ‘Why?’ he said, ‘If life itself is capricious, why should our buildings have any design and any meaning?’ So he has pillars that have no purpose. He has stairways that go nowhere. He has a senseless building built and somebody has paid for it.”
I said, “So his argument was that if life has no purpose and design, why should the building have any design?”
He said, “That is correct.”
I said, “Did he do the same with the foundation?”
All of a sudden there was silence.
You see, you and I can fool with the infrastructure as much as we would like, but we dare not fool with the foundation because it will call our bluff in a hurry.
The only cult that can truly thrive in the aftermath of Christianity is a narrow service of the self, of the impulses of the will, of the nothingness that is all that the withdrawal of Christianity leaves behind. The only futures open to post-Christian culture are conscious nihilism, with its inevitable devotion to death, or the narcotic banality of the Last Men, which is a kind of death in life.
― David Bentley Hart
In the Aftermath: Provocations and Laments