As I have often written in these pages, happy-faced New Atheists are simpering cowards. They say you are a cosmic accident with no more intrinsic value than a grub worm. There is no meaning. There is no foundation for ethics. Everything you do is utterly determined by impersonal natural forces, so free will cannot exist. Indeed, even “you” cannot exist, because the most primordial of your experiences – your subjective self-awareness – is an illusion.
But, hey, be happy.
There is a glaring disconnect between their premises and the conclusions that must follow from those premises, and their unwarranted optimism. Cowards that they are – they steadfastly avert their gaze from their conclusions so they can retain their optimism.
I can respect (while disagreeing with) a sincere atheist. Faith – even a reasoned and reasonable faith like Christianity – can be hard. I am currently reading Job. That book is, above all, a study in the difficulty of believing in a loving God who, nevertheless, allows evil to exist. I can certainly understand – and continue to respect and even love – someone who wrestled with that difficulty and succumbed. My own grandfather lost his faith when one of his sons died. Yet he had a profound impact on my life, and I loved him dearly until the day he died.
My grandfather was not an optimist; he was deeply pessimistic and cynical, some of which I absorbed. For example, I learned at his knee that the government sometimes lies to us. One of my earliest memories – I was probably six or seven – was sitting in my grandfather’s living room watching a news anchor report the latest communist body count numbers from Vietnam. Papa yelled at the TV, “Shaw, shaw, shaw; they’ve killed everyone in North Vietnam three times.” Decades later we all learned he was right, that the government had grossly inflated those numbers to prop up support for the war.
The atheists who comment in these pages loudly insist that atheists can be good people. And I have never disagreed with them. I am not disgusted by atheists as such. I am disgusted by the cowardly atheists who whistle past the graveyard while refusing to gaze into Nietzsche’s abyss. A sincere and honest Christian must wrestle with the theodicy. A sincere and honest atheist must wrestle with despair.
Camus (Kam-oo) was a brave atheist. And, given his premises, there cannot be the slightest doubt that he was right when he said the only interesting question is whether to kill yourself in the face of the patent absurdity of life without meaning.
Camus would be just as disgusted with the smiley-faced New Atheists as I am.
UPDATE: Perhaps Camus had read Dostoyevsky. In The Possessed, the character Kirillov was an atheist and a nihilist. Shortly before taking his own life Kirillov, says, “I can’t understand how an atheist could know that there is no God and not kill himself on the spot.” HT: Dick
Here is the Stanford article on Camus for those interested in a more in-depth look at his views. An excerpt:
“There is only one really serious philosophical problem,” Camus says, “and that is suicide. Deciding whether or not life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question in philosophy. All other questions follow from that” (MS, 3). One might object that suicide is neither a “problem” nor a “question,” but an act. A proper, philosophical question might rather be: “Under what conditions is suicide warranted?” And a philosophical answer might explore the question, “What does it mean to ask whether life is worth living?” as William James did in The Will to Believe. For the Camus of The Myth of Sisyphus, however, “Should I kill myself?” is the essential philosophical question. For him, it seems clear that the primary result of philosophy is action, not comprehension. His concern about “the most urgent of questions” is less a theoretical one than it is the life-and-death problem of whether and how to live.
Camus sees this question of suicide as a natural response to an underlying premise, namely that life is absurd in a variety of ways. As we have seen, both the presence and absence of life (i.e., death) give rise to the condition: it is absurd to continually seek meaning in life when there is none, and it is absurd to hope for some form of continued existence after death given that the latter results in our extinction. But Camus also thinks it absurd to try to know, understand, or explain the world, for he sees the attempt to gain rational knowledge as futile.