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Life intelligently lived: Getting past the “solutions” to enduring problems

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Peter Watson’s The Age of Atheists: How We Have Sought to Live Since the Death of God is apparently not a new atheist rant.

Washington Post reviewer Michael Dirda tells us,

Throughout “The Age of Atheists,” Watson registers the widespread suspicion that modern industrialism and capitalist materialism have leached meaning from our lives, which is why so many pop-psych movements and New Age cults have turned against the machine age. Following the bloodbath we call the Great War, its survivors, Watson concludes, were left to face a world without values. That depleted world would subsequently contain genocide, the possibility of nuclear annihilation, the ongoing threat of terrorist attack.

So how should one live without God? There is, obviously, no single or clear-cut answer. But I think Bertrand Russell was right to point out that “when striving ceases so does life.” To dream of comfort and ease is simply to yearn for death. We belong to the species homo faber, put on this earth to make things, to get on with our work. And, if I may quote nominalist theology in this irreligious context, to those who do what lies within them, God will not deny grace. In the end, though, even the most fortunate among us must deal with what Freud called “everyday unhappiness.” That, it would seem, is the default human condition. As Rilke wrote: “Wer spricht von Siegen? Überstehen ist alles” — Who speaks of victory? Endurance is everything.

Of course, endurance without hope is different from endurance with hope, but story for another day.

The reviewer, and perhaps also the author, sees that it is not in the nature of human beings to be content with what would make an animal happy. One outcome is that all happiness marketed to us is an illusion. We must seek contentment instead, and worse luck, it doesn’t come to us naturally. The beginning of contentment is recognition of the nature of the problem. In a takedown of scientism (the test tube messiah), John Gray writes,

Scientism has many sources, but central among them is a refusal to accept that intractable difficulty is normal in human affairs. Many human conflicts, even ones that are properly understood, do not fall into the category of soluble problems.

It’s a good thing that life is an experience to be lived, not a problem to be solved.

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Now that each new atheist has bought, read, and raved about each other new atheist’s book, what’s next? Another round? – O’Leary for News


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