Damon Linker wants atheists to struggle

January 28, 2014 • 8:13 am

For reasons known best to himself, author Damon Linker, whose website notes that he writes on “faith and politics,” has lately narrowed this topic down to criticizing New Atheism.  His criticisms, of course, aren’t new, and he seems to publish the same ones repeatedly. I’ve discussed his pieces at The Week twice (see here, and here); in the last one he notoriously endorsed David Bentley Hart’s Highly Sophisticated view of God. In Linker’s words:

. . . according to the classical metaphysical traditions of both the East and West, God is the unconditioned cause of reality — of absolutely everything that is — from the beginning to the end of time. Understood in this way, one can’t even say that God “exists” in the sense that my car or Mount Everest or electrons exist. God is what grounds the existence of every contingent thing, making it possible, sustaining it through time, unifying it, giving it actuality. God is the condition of the possibility of anything existing at all.

That is what passes, in Linker’s circle, as the best argument for God, but it’s only “best” because it’s so slippery as to be untestable, and, in truth, it really means almost nothing (check out the last sentence).

But now Linker has decided to reprise one of his earlier arguments in The Week—Where are the honest atheists?”—in a new piece at the same site, “How to be an honest atheist.” I’m so glad Linker is around to tell me how I should approach unbelief, and how to do it honestly. In fact, his new article is virtually identical to the older one, and I’m not sure why he gets paid to recycle the same arguments.

Well, how does one become an honest atheist? Linker’s argument is an old one: we have to suffer—and suffer a lot.  For, if you’re honest, denying God and all the perquisites He affords—most notably the afterlife—is painful, turning life into a tragedy. Somehow, the “honest atheist” has to come to terms with that, and although he or she may wind up with some equanimity, it’s achieved at the cost of considerable pain.

For Linker, the most honest atheists were the existentialists, who really, truly saw the truth about disbelief:

Existentialism differs from the greeting-card version of atheism so prevalent today, in taking its cue from the realization that life without God is hard.

It’s hard because human beings tend to be anxious animals, longing for someone or something to soothe us, to protect us from and relieve us of the worries wrapped up with our mortality. It’s hard because our lives and our loved ones matter to us more than we can possibly express — and the prospect of losing them for good in the annihilation of death is irrevocably terrifying. It’s hard because part of us wants to believe that we reside in a moral universe — that an immoral deed violates an intrinsic standard of right and wrong, even if the perpetrator eludes human punishment. And it’s hard, finally, because we crave good things for ourselves — many of which (fame, fortune, honor, glory) only the luckiest will ever acquire, and some of which (happiness unmixed with sorrow) no one will ever enjoy within the limits of our finite lives.

Rather than denying these core human truths in an effort to make godlessness seem more palatable, existentialists insist on living in their light, even when doing so cuts against the grain of the human heart and its deepest longings.

I’m not sure what Linker means by the dishonest, “greeting-card” version of atheism that he so decries, but presumably it’s an atheism that hasn’t come to terms with the finality and futility of life—a life that, says Linker, lacks reason and purpose. Linker’s hero in this respect is Camus:

Reading those lines, our shallower atheists are sure to respond: What do you mean “no good reason”? I have plenty of good reasons for what I do with my life!

To which an existentialist like Albert Camus would reply: Can you really give a spiritually satisfying answer to the question of why you do what you do — an answer that transcends arbitrariness and contingency?

Camus didn’t think it was possible, and he considered that a problem — one that an honest atheist needs to confront. That’s because what Camus called “the unreasonable silence of the world” in the face of the human quest for intrinsic meaning threatens to render absurd every form of human striving, from the ambition to accomplish great deeds to the far more mundane activities of pursuing a career, raising a family, and even getting out of bed in the morning. An existentialist understands that in the absence of a God who provides an ultimate answer to the question of “why,” the goodness of human life can appear to dissolve, requiring reconstruction from the ground up.

. . . Which is why it’s so important that atheists not deny the struggle in the first place.

I truly don’t get this kind of argument, which is quite common among believers and faitheists. Virtually every atheist, merely by professing disbelief, acknowledges that death is the end of our existence. Which atheist thinks otherwise? And one comes to terms with that the best way one can. Most of us do it by acknowledgment and then moving on—recognizing our mortality but then living knowing that our lives are finite. In the long view, of course, all striving is “meaningless”: a few generations after we’re gone our presence will have been effaced, our strivings amounting to nothing.

But that is true for the religious as well.  For believers have jobs, interest, hobbies, families, and loved ones, and those “strivings” are, in the end, just as meaningless as those of atheists. The only difference is that believers think that they get to start a new life in Heaven. For many of them that constitutes a “reason” or “purpose” to live, but in reality their daily activities are spent like the rest of us, with the real “purposes” of working, having fun, and interacting with loved ones and friends.  If that is meaningless to atheists, it’s also meaningless to believers. And is that really a “spiritually unsatisfying view of life”? How so? Why, exactly, must the way we find meaning in our lives transcend arbitrariness and contingency? How could it possibly do that, given that who we are is an accident of chance, and our lives turn largely on whatever environments we happen to encounter. If you don’t accept God, then of course we make our own meanings, and those will perforce be arbitrary and contingent.

In the face of the so-called “meaninglessness” of life, Camus said, in The Myth of Sisyphus, “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide.” But what would that solve? There is still pleasure and joy to be gotten from life, and is it shallow to say that the pursuit of that pleasure and happiness is what constitutes “meaning”? So what if all my work on fruit flies is superceded by others, or that the whole Earth will die a heat death in a few billion years? My science gives me pleasure, and fills my short life with a kind of joy. I drink nice wine, have good food, and, though reading, looking at art, and listening to music, am able to commune with the great minds of the past? Why is that inferior to the lives of squirrels, whose existence comprises only a search for sex, nests, and nuts? Why do we have to have more “meaning” in our lives than other sentient creatures? Why must our search for “meaning” transcend what gives us happiness and what Sam Harris calls “well being”?

I have had my own atheistic “struggle” (it lasted just a few minutes in 1967 and sometimes recurs in the middle of the night), and no, I don’t like the idea of dying. As Hitchens said, I don’t want to leave the party and have it continue without me. But we have no choice.  Would Linker counsel me to ruminate endlessly on my mortality and even, like Camus, contemplate suicide? Why does that make me a more “honest” atheist?

No thanks. I enjoy my life, and will be sad when it draws to an end, but what’s the advantage of endless brooding over mortality? What do we gain by endless philosophizing on the supposed meaninglessness of life? Nothing that I see! What do we gain from suicide, except permanent oblivion and the denial of any happiness to come? To be sure, what do we lose by pretending that we’re immortal (so long as we remember to make out our will)—which is pretty much how most people live their lives?

Life is a fatal disease, and you can deal with it either by letting it cast a pall over your life (as many terminal patients do) or you can approach it with dignity and whatever optimism you can muster. Linker, it seems, thinks that we’re only serious if we take the former route.

To be sure, he does admit that we can find some kind of equanimity if we’re “honest” atheists:

That is a monumental spiritual challenge — one that can only be undertaken on the basis of an admittedly absurd leap of faith that affirms the goodness of life despite its ultimate pointlessness. . . Existentialists do not counsel despair. They seek, rather, to provide us with clear-sighted and candid guidance as we make our way through a disenchanted world.

But in the end I get the feeling that Linker, like many who make this argument, really wants atheists to be brooding and unhappy creatures, for that’s what he sees as our just deserts for rejecting God. He may deny this, but I feel it nonetheless. It’s just not seemly to reject God without contemplating suicide.  The strange thing is, though, that whole nations like Denmark, Sweden, and France have largely done this, and remain happy and well-adjusted countries, though their mainly atheist population is, to Linker, clearly not “honest.”

But what is most bizarre about Linker’s argument is that the Sophisticated Notion of God he proposes above doesn’t include an afterlife—the key reason atheists are supposed to be dolorous. Nor is it clear how the idea of God as “the condition of the possibility of anything existing at all” is supposed to confer either meaning or morality to our existence. Where does the morality come from, for instance?

In the end, Linker thinks that the “honest and serious atheist” is one who has come to terms with the absence of a God who, according to Linker, doesn’t exist anyway.  So must the “honest believer” also come to terms with a God who is not personal, but a distant and apophatic Ground of Being? Linker can’t have it both ways.

171 thoughts on “Damon Linker wants atheists to struggle

  1. I`m 3rd generation irreligious,never had a religion, never felt the need for one,our mortality is just a fact of life,if you never believed in the first place then the only struggle is with thought of your loved ones grief,which is another fact of life we all must go through.

  2. While Thomas Nagel has been saying some profoundly silly things of late about evolution, he wrote an excellent article on this topic, The Absurd. His takeaway message:

    [Lack of meaning] need not be a matter for agony unless we make it so. Nor need it evoke a defiant contempt of fate that allows us to feel brave or proud. Such dramatics, even if carried on in private, betray a failure to appreciate the cosmic unimportance of the situation. If sub specie aeternitatis there is no reason to believe that anything matters, then that doesn’t matter either, and we can approach our absurd lives with irony instead of heroism or despair.

    If nothing matters, then that doesn’t matter either. I think that’s a very good insight, and keeps us from the silly despair and longing of the nihilists.

    Speaking of this topic, the most excellent TV series True Detective has been essaying the notion of meaningless through one of its characters. It’s most recent episode (the third) had a lengthy exchange between a nihilist detective (Matthew McConaughey) and his religious partner (Woody Harrelson). Surprisingly for American television, the anti-religious sentiment comes off well (or at least less deluded).

    1. Yes. This is right along the lines of what I was thinking reading this piece. Is Linker really trying to convince people who reject objectivity of meaning/values that viewing life as inherently tragic is objectively better? Has he lost his mind?

      And why is it honest to say, “No (absolute) meaning, therefore I’m sad,” but not, “No (absolute) meaning, therefore… who gives a shit”? Why is one emotional reation “better” (in any sense) or more “honest” than the other. It’s only dishonest if you are lying about how you feel. I can only conclude that Linker believes us to be sad existentialist types who are merely lying about it to put a better face on our “movement”. If so, I wish he’d just come out and say it.

    2. Yes, True Detective is fantastic so far. Yes, this kind of philosophical discourse is somewhat unusual for U.S. TV. It’s a very well-written show.

    3. But if nothing matters then why irony rather than despair? One chooses neither in the same way one chooses not one’s sexuality. One is one or the other or a bit of both or whatever. Obvious, I would have thought.

    4. If sub specie aeternitatis there is no reason to believe that anything matters, then that doesn’t matter either, and we can approach our absurd lives with irony instead of heroism or despair.

      As Stephen Jay Gould put it (quoting from memory): “The fact that in ten million years nothing we do today will matter, doesn’t matter.”

  3. Talking of dishonesty:

    Understood in this way…

    I see this a lot. The use of the word “understood” to describe the things the writer really just “believes” to be true. The word “understood” implies the thing is a fact, is actually true, and that the person has just been able to understand this fact (which is true whether you understand it or not). It’s manipulative wording. It allows the writer to take the superior position (ie he’s talking about facts) without having to demonstrate that they are actually facts. Relying on ambiguous meanings of a word is the equivocation fallacy, which is just a dishonest way to debate.

  4. Linker’s “argument” for the existence of God is not an argument for the existence of God at all; it’s an argument for the existence of a CONCEPT of “God”. How can one argue for the existence of something by saying that it doesn’t, in any “classical” sense, exist, and that one can’t even SAY that it exists?

    “Understood in this way, one can’t even say that God “exists” in the sense that my car or Mount Everest or electrons exist.”

    I like the opening line of Lao Tzu’s “Tao Te Ching”: “The Tao that can be spoken of is not the true Tao.”

    1. Right. The argument for the existence of a concept of God usually contains or leads to other arguments for God’s existence. Most of these rational arguments rely on various versions of the Naturalistic Fallacy, ESP, and the Argument from Pragmatism. If there is a concept of God then that concept must have come from “somewhere” and be there for a “reason.” The best explanation for the idea being there in the first place is that it is the result of the concept being true.

      High Theological Ground-of-Being versions of God are supposed to eliminate the possibility of reductionism and analysis due to their “transcendent” content. But, as you point out, there has to be a leap between the idea and the reality – and that part can be dismantled and examined.

      The ploy doesn’t work with us because it doesn’t work for them, either. They can’t and won’t stick with God as the unconditioned possibility of possibility. They condition it.

    2. I collect those too. Not sure if this is from the Tao, or I Ching, nor am I sure I am quoting it verbatim, but here goes:
      ‘Although formless, it is not the formless. Although shapeless, it is not the shapeless.’ To me, that refers to an early stage embryo. A simple ball of cells, packed with instructions to develop complexity.

    3. It’s our old friend the Ontological Argument in Emperor’s clothing. Even if you accept that argument it bears no relationship to the ‘Christian God’.

  5. Theologians should use more precise terminology. The anthropomorphic deity can stay “God.” The sophisticated-ground-of-being deity-thing should be “Gob.”

  6. The only thing I can say to people like Linker is, “PROEJCT MUCH?!”

    Sheesh, just because you (Linker) have to fret about the end of your existence doesn’t mean that others do. Seriously? Get another hobby!

  7. Damon Linker wants atheists to struggle

    Well, let him.

    He’s obviously no GNU Linker.
    The output belongs to the unexecutable abject file.

    In the meantime, let’s preprocess, compile and assemble.

  8. OK, Linker has finally defined god:

    ” God is what grounds the existence…”

    God is a lightening rod! Who knew?

    The rest of Linker’s spew is the “same old, same old” nonsense that has been refuted over and over ad nauseum.

    1. Poor GPS satellites. Their ground is very different than ours and changing all the time. Must be the God of the Sun and Shade. Wait, Linker is a pantheist but does not even know it…the God of Ignorance is responsible for that.

  9. Many Eastern metaphysical traditions (e.g. Buddhism, Jainism, Taoism) are explicitly or implicitly non-theistic, and don’t put much emphasis on god, or even deny his existence. The idea of god as the unconditioned cause of reality is mostly a western (judaism, christianity, islam) theological concept.

    1. Seconding this. Anyone who claims that “according to the classical metaphysical traditions of both the East and West, God is the unconditioned cause of reality” knows nothing of eastern metaphysical traditions. And perhaps not much of western metaphysical traditions either–I don’t think Plato’s the Good or even Aristotle’s Prime Mover can be as easily identified with God as the religious claim. And even many western philosophers, e.g. Spinoza, who use the term God have nothing similar to what most people think of as God in mind and it is dishonest to suggest otherwise.

    2. No, I don’t think I agree with this. It seems to me that the vague “unconditioned cause of reality” is much more mystical and thus like Eastern metaphysics than the traditional Western God of the Book, with its rules and more explicit anthropomorphisms.

      1. The conflation of vagueness with mystical is a dangerous thing to do when studying Eastern metaphysics, which is actually less vague than many people in the western world would tend to think. The connection between vagueness and mystical (eastern traditions) is mainly caused by popularized versions of Eastern schools of thought in the West, which are often based on incorrect interpretations.

        1. Possibly. My familiarity with Eastern religions is mostly due to proponents from the West — New Agers, Transcendentalists, and Spiritual-But-Not-Religious. I have read some Hindu, Buddhist, Confucius, and Taoist excerpts from texts and thought that the descriptions of Brahma, the Tao, etc. were often quite vague (to put it mildly) and ultimately mind-like, but no, I haven’t studied them in any real depth.

          I have however noted that at least some of the Sophisticated Theologians who speak in vague terms of Ground-of-Being nondualistic metaphysics get very upset over how Western the gnu atheists are being. Unlike us, THEIR understanding of God is much more ecumenical and influenced by what’s common in all cultures, including the East.

  10. For, if you’re honest, denying God and all the perquisites He affords—most notably the afterlife—is painful, turning life into a tragedy.

    There are people, like Jo Kitchen, who never believed in God. So they do not suffer at having a false hope taken away from them. The only ones who do suffer from this are those who were offered false hope. So let’s place the blame where it lies: not on atheism, but on those who promoted false hope by spreading unjustified theism.

        1. I think I’m correct in saying that the vast majority of atheists in Europe, certainly in Britain, come from families who lost the church-going habit two or three generations ago. I’ve never had any religious beliefs nor felt the slightest need for them.

    1. Good point. I imagine that people who once believed firmly in Alternative Medicine — with its grandiose claims about “healing energy” and mind/body connection and staying forever healthy as long as you eat the right “natural” things — are similarly let down if and when they figure out that no, magic doesn’t work and you can’t just get rid of cancer by thinking happy thoughts and taking Vitamin C. There’s no more hope. It would have been so much easier and better if alternative medicine actually worked!

      Mainstream medicine is only a “tragedy” if you contrast it with magic, instead of how far we have come. And the same goes for Linker’s point.

      The Perfect is the enemy of the Good.

      It’s just not wise to measure all worth against absolute perfection. And it’s certainly not the default.

  11. “What do we gain from suicide, except permanent oblivion and the denial of any happiness to come? ”

    I’m not here to defend Camus but this a very cheap appeal to emotion Jerry. First, while it is true that suicide prevents that you’ll experience happiness, it also prevents that you’ll experience suffering. And to only acknowledge one side of that coin is pure ideology. On top of that, you are not denying anything. If you are dead, you don’t miss out on things. You can only deny the living.

        1. I think there is a lot wrong with your comment but no, I just don’t feel like engaging with it anymore than I already have.

    1. The only gain from suicide is oblivion. That is a fact. There is nothing cheap about it.

      On a side note, I dislike how Christians, in particular, are so damn scared to reveal when a young person (ages 15 – 40) decides to commit suicide. As if this person had some kind of moral disease that was incurable. Disgusting.

      1. Oblivion can be just the ticket when in the right frame of mind. That is to say, when you are sick to death of suffering without any realistic hope of end other than death.

        1. Nothing is wrong with oblivion. Most atoms are pretty comfortable with the state and we all make that journey back to it, voluntarily or not.

  12. I’m a happy atheist. You mad bro?

    Saying you can’t be happy if you don’t live forever is like saying you should dump out your soda if you don’t get free refills.

    So, I’m sorry, does any of that make religion any more true?

  13. So we atheists should be sad that our lives have no “purpose”?

    In contrast to the happy Christian, whose “purpose” is to pass the qualifying exam for admission to a celestial version of North Korea, where eternity will be spent marching up and down in unison singing hymns of praise to the Great Leader.

    No thanks.

    1. I’m sure cows are grateful that a superior being gave their lives meaning as hamburger.

      Any “meaning” that someone else gives your life isn’t really yours, it’s theirs.

  14. I think the root inspiration of this argument is that it is important for the believer to feel superior to the unbeliever. It is, after all, about justifying their beliefs.

    What is so ironic to me is that the picture painted of the miserable, emotionally ill, bereft unbeliever is how they imagine they would be if their god were taken from them. Or in some cases, it appears, how they actually are with only their religious beliefs holding the back from the precipice.

    What is even more ironic is that what Linker calls “these core human truths” describe a rather pathetic, in serious need of counseling human being that does not accurately describe anybody I know. I concede their are very likely some people that fit that description. It appears to me, though, that more believers fit that description than unbelievers. It certainly doesn’t describe the unbeliever I know best, myself. That I don’t happen to be afflicted by the need to have a uber-daddy constantly telling me how special I am, provide me with a omni-special purpose, and provide relief for my existential angst doesn’t make me dishonest. It does make me very uninterested in buying into any religious crap.

    Basically Linker’s argument is an exercise in projection, and believer’s like him need to grow up and accept reality. No thumb sucking and no more binkies.

    1. Hear, hear. Exactly what you said.! Although I have given up on disabusing believers of their fantasies, because I don’t want to have to deal with the remaining psychosis. I’m content to keep them from being in control of the rest of us.

  15. You don’t have to search for the meaning of life and you don’t have to have it handed to you.
    You get to create it.

    Or you can play with your cat. That works too.

  16. Many god-believers think that the only meaning to be found in life is to “serve god”. That’s serving whether one gets a reward or not, an afterlife or not. They never go further and think about the meaning of “serving god”.

    While I gradually came to realize that there are no gods, I came to understand that “serving god” has no special meaning at all. It has as much or as little “meaning” as the person contemplating “meaning” wants to give it.

    It’s a hard thing for god-believers to give up on their childhood beliefs, and so they come up with all manner of meaningless rationalizations for why they should hold on to them.

  17. He’s been beating up this dead horse for years.

    This is from 2007: The most thoughtful atheists–let’s call them liberal atheists–have always understood that the impossibility of negative proof is a crack through which the gods, no matter how ruthlessly banished from the human world, forever threaten to return. These atheists–whose ranks include Socrates, Lucretius, Sextus Empiricus, Montaigne, Albert Camus, and Primo Levi–responded to their lack of certitude, to the invariably provisional character of the beliefs by which they oriented their lives, in a supremely philosophical way: with equanimity. Accordingly, they did not go out of their way to act as missionaries for unbelief.

    In short: Atheists have no right to be certain about their disbelief and never will be because you can’t prove a negative.
    Not only should this uncertainty permeate our philosophical thinking, it should also lead us to conclude ( if we were truly honest ) that we have no right to promote a godless worldview.

    Now he also wants us to struggle with existensialism and the prospect of life without religion/GOB, and if we don’t it’s because of dishonesty.

    I guess it never occured to Damon Linker that New Atheism simply is Old Atheism + evidence/observation/data.

    According to Nature there are no gods and new atheists are simply old atheists telling the world to move on.

    1. Accordingly, they did not go out of their way to act as missionaries for unbelief.

      Duh. If you don’t believe in god(s) then being a missionary for unbelief may not be your primary concern. You’ve got better things to do.

      Epicurus did not believe in interventionist gods (and may not have believed in gods at all) but he did propose a life of moderation and contentment. He advised not seeking fame or power too.

      1. “Accordingly, they did not go out of their way to act as missionaries for unbelief.”

        Really? So how do we know what they did or didn’t believe?
        Socrates was notorious for pestering honest citizens going about their business: Sextus Empiricus wrote at least three books outlining his beliefs (and probably more) and was known to have had public disagreements with other philosophers; Montaigne’s Essays was one of the most widely read and discussed books of his age, and he was in correspondence with thinkers all over Europe; both Primo Levi and Albert Camus were among the most famous public intellectuals of their time, constantly appearing in the press and speaking about their beliefs, or lack thereof.

        1. I was making the point that Epicurus promoted *other* beliefs of how to live rather than promoting disbelief about gods.

          Not everybody sees the world as a theism/atheism dichotomy, although I rather think that Linker does.

    2. “In short: Atheists have no right to be certain about their disbelief and never will be because you can’t prove a negative.”

      I wonder what Linker’s position is on tooth fairies.

      1. Tomorrow I am going to tell my boss there is no point to continue our experiment: the electrons and photons are likely not to move in the way that I thought was certain yesterday. I am certain, though, that would be my last experiment.

  18. In the Myth of Sisyphus where Camus asks that question about suicide, he writes towards the end that to live in the face of the absurdity of life requires rebel. He doesn’t ask us to commit suicide so Linker in a rush to claim we are not honest looks for a quote from Camus that comes close to supporting his views.

  19. OK,so God is “the condition of the possibility of anything existing at all.” (And no,I don’t know what that means.) Why does that mean that there’s an afterlife? How does it affect any existential (meaning, purpose) questions at all? Unless you’re also saying that this God is the God of some western religion, it’s a non-sequitur. And if you’re saying that, it’s more faith-based gibberish.

  20. I believe that we find meaning not only in experiences that we enjoy, but also in doing good that transcends our lives. And that’s a good thing, since many people live lives with much suffering and little joy. We can find that meaning in raising children, teaching, adding to human knowledge through science, restoring local habitats, protecting rare species, building businesses that employ people, being kind and helpful to our customers/clients/patients, treating others fairly, working for justice.

    In the bigger picture, of course, that is all meaningless. In a very few billion years the sun will destroy the inner planets and if humans and our descendents have survived that long (unlikely) they will all die, interstellar travel being so extremely improbable. However, we humans don’t live on that scale. We can do useful work on our own human scale. And find meaning and joy in it, even while acknowledging its eventual meaninglessness.

    1. The canker can seep deeper inside though. Through and through. We are not in charge of our mind. We are our mind.

      1. To be clear. The meaninglessness of our existence is nothing to do with the far distant future. When all life is long gone. Essentially it is here and now whilst we are alive. Doing good because you find meaning in doing so is fine. But doing good has no necessary meaning in itself. Nothing has necessary meaning. We either feel something has meaning or we do not. We can feel that something has meaning for us or we can feel that we have meaning for others. Or not. We have no control over it.

  21. Linker makes a grave logical error right at the beginning of his article & continues down that illogical road for the rest of it. The error occurs when he claims that new atheist authors claim:

    that godlessness is not only true but also unambiguously good for human beings.

    Linker then states that “It quite obviously is not” with “it” being good for human beings. He convolutes how individuals deal with the lack of an after life (that being only a part of realizing that religion is a myth) with how humankind in general deals with being unfettered from the confining myths of religion. Nietzsche contemplates this more, dare I say, honestly when he proclaims that “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?”.

    Sure, individuals can be miserable. No one wants to die and that includes most of the religious, otherwise we’d see them committing suicide in droves. No, this is a human condition, not just an atheist one. That’s what Satre & Camus knew! Satre was a genius at pointing out the truth of the human condition and how we make false identities for ourselves to cope, in particular, I’ll never forget the scene in No Exit where the dead and in some sort of after life woman is encouraged to put on lipstick to make it look better: “It is better; heavier, crueler. The mouth you wear for hell”, because she is a cruel person and she should appear as she is!

    I have to say, this mix up to me seems contrived. Linker is the dishonest one, not the New Atheists.

    1. Something that bothers me a great deal is the blurring of distinction between an individual and a collection of individuals. Religion is a collective exercise, so while it might talk about what is good for an individual the actual debate is about what is good for everyone – and if you disagree you are expected to go along with the group. Certain philosophers fail to distinguish between individuals and society too.

      Like you, I’ve noticed this in Linker’s posts. He blurs the boundary between ‘humanity’ and individuals so that individuals that fail to agree with his ideas are therefore an ‘out group’ from humanity. Yet ‘humanity’ is made up of lots of individuals, the majority of which believe in different gods, less meaningful gods, are uncertain about gods, or (famously) no gods at all – compared with Linker.

      Perhaps his primary intent is to bolster his own beliefs?

  22. That paragraph from Linker is somewhat reminiscent of Spinoza’s position:

    Ethics Def 6: “By God I understand an absolutely infinite entity, that is, substance…”

    Ethics Def 3: “By substance I understand that which is in itself and is conceived through itself.”

    What this actually amounts to is a statement that for anything to exist at all there must be something, some substance, that necessarily exists. That is perfectly reasonable, since if it wasn’t the case everything would have had to come from nothing. Whilst Lawrence Krauss might claim that the universe did indeed come from nothing, as has been pointed out by Albert amongst others Krauss doesn’t *really* mean nothing, since it makes no sense for nothing to generate anything. “Nothing comes from nothing”, as Julie Andrews accurately notes in “The Sound Of Music”.

    In any case, Spinoza’s contemporaries where not too impressed by the theistic credentials of his position and he was considered to be an “infamous atheist”, which resulted in his excommunication from the jewish community.

  23. I don’t get the “x is finite, therefore x is worthless argument.” My daughter’s current toddlerhood is finite, therefore it’s meaningless? Should I be brooding about it and playing Morrissey albums right now?

  24. My reaction to the article was: here we see an ironic form of symmetry. We have seen where Sophisticated Theologians place the devoutly religious into the category of The Little People [(c) Sastra] — people who cannot handle The Truth. Now we see that the New Atheists must also be considered T.L.P. because we can handle The Truth! We are not filled with angst and humility over our lack of belief so we must be doing it rong.

  25. (Atheism’s) hard because human beings tend to be anxious animals, longing for someone or something to soothe us, to protect us from and relieve us of the worries wrapped up with our mortality… Rather than denying these core human truths in an effort to make godlessness seem more palatable, existentialists insist on living in their light, even when doing so cuts against the grain of the human heart and its deepest longings.

    It’s not that atheism is so hard. The problem is that theism is so shallow.

    What Linker considers “the grain of the human heart and its deepest longings” is an early and easy surrender to the childish notion that the Universe is either all about us or it’s not about anything at all. The supposed View from Nowhere which demands that values and virtues and lives be “transcendent” is actually a View from the Self, an egocentric confusion of our inner world of thought and feeling with the outer world of object and event. Man is indeed the “measure of all things” in a very concrete, self-absorbed way. In order to think this is a mature view then “our deepest longings” must fail to include our finest desires.

    The Playpen Theory of Reality frames existence in terms of a Loving Parent (God/Spirit) and Babies (human beings) who learn, through interaction with all the “toys” placed in the playpen that there is a Parent, we are the babies, and the universe is a playpen which has been carefully crafted to be ultimately safe and nurturing.

    The difficulty of giving this idea up is going to be measured against how important you think you need to be. Not how important your personal life actually IS to you and the others around you, but how cosmic the story is and how much like a story the cosmos is. Linker’s cry that atheists who cope without existential angst just fine are not taking the problem of cosmic irrelevance seriously is like an astrologer complaining that astronomy makes the stars unimportant and takes the magic out of the world.

    That’s not deep, that’s shallow. It’s a surrender to a world view with virtually no human courage at all.

      1. Yes, thanks.

        One of the valuable things about considering supernaturalism as The Playpen Theory of Reality is that it helps explain why those who are using it consider atheists to be arrogant. Within this explanatory framework nonbelievers are like “babies” who are denying that they’re babies: either we must think WE’RE in charge (the Adult/Highest Authority) or we must think we’re adrift and parentless and what’s obviously a Playpen just “got there” for no reason.

        But from our perspective, theists considering themselves to be “like babies” isn’t automatically counted as commendable meekness and humility. The explanatory framework looks very different from the outside. Despite the fact that there is a Parent or Plan which is “higher” than us, humans are still the focus of attention. It’s all about us. The universe was created so that events unfold in order for us to learn things (the most important usually being that we are only the Baby and God/Spirit is in charge.)

        When contrasted with the view that human beings are the result of chance and necessity in an uncaring universe the Playpen Theory of Reality is arrogant. And so it is. But if you imagine yourself in the position of an infant learning and accepting its own smallness you’re not going to see that.

    1. So, I gather Brooks is some kind of “non-atheist.”

      Who is the non-atheist to whose level of obnoxiousness Brooks would aspire?

      Hitchens pointedly and repeated stated that he himself was an “anti-theist.” Surely that is more obnoxious to Brooks than a mere Dawkinsian atheist.

      1. If I remember correctly, Brooks was a pretty non- observant Jew whose non-Jewish wife converted to Judaism and then encouraged him to be more observant.

  26. Anyone who is convinced that the afterlife not only exists but is far more desirable than this life for everyone concerned should logically just end their mortal lives the moment they realize this. Why wouldn’t they?

    It’s a bit like insisting on staying outside in the cold when you can immediately go inside to the warm hearth that’s been prepared for you.

    Unless you think that your mortal life somehow irreversably determines the quality of your experience in the afterlife…but then would that be considered part of Sophisticated Theology?

  27. Didn’t Mark Twain say something to the effect that most folks is about as happy as they make up their minds to be?
    I can’t figure why I should be miserable to not believe all the crap that comes my way. Shit happens – get over it.

  28. Can you really give a spiritually satisfying answer to the question of why you do what you do — an answer that transcends arbitrariness and contingency?

    Yes. Meaning is anchored in the current facts of human existence.

    Demanding that it “transcend arbitrariness and contingency” is first of all a Fallacy of Division, that what is true of the whole must be true of the part, like can only come from like and therefore a human nature which was formed as the result of chance and contingency must not be real.

    Second, bringing in God doesn’t fix this invented “problem” because it only moves it back a step. Even if God exists by necessity its necessary existence is STILL arbitrary and contingent (since we can imagine its absence) and God can only have universal meaning if it is possible for all people to find God meaningful – which now makes its existence unnecessary.

    So yes, atheists can not only answer the question, we can answer it better.

    But what is most bizarre about Linker’s argument is that the Sophisticated Notion of God he proposes above doesn’t include an afterlife—the key reason atheists are supposed to be dolorous. Nor is it clear how the idea of God as “the condition of the possibility of anything existing at all” is supposed to confer either meaning or morality to our existence. Where does the morality come from, for instance?

    I think you’re making the mistake of accepting that the Sophisticated Notion of God is not in any way anthropomorphic. Theists can babble on and on about how the Unconditioned Ground of Being has no conditions but of course it does. It has to resemble the human mind and its products or it’s not going to be called “God” and now its brought in either Mind/Body Dualism or Idealistic Monism and both of them separate our essences (soul/mind/other) from any need to be inextricably linked to the physical, material world.

    An afterlife or some other form of transcendent existence is therefore smuggled in.

    As for “where does the morality come from?” you know they just move the question around to look like an answer. It didn’t “come from” anywhere: it just is. Like comes from like. We get morals from a moral source which is a moral force of moral essence of being which is morality as its essential nature all the way down and at all times. And how did humans become moral? It was “granted.” “Given.” As part of our “essence.”

    Substitute “morals” with “love,” “life,” “Goodnerss,” Consciousness,” or whatever else you want to plug in there, as long as it’s nice from our point of view. Spiritual “explanations” are always non-explanatory explanations which are “satisfying” only if you have the curiosity level of a dull 3-year-old who only asked because there might be cookies-and-milk afterwards.

    1. Good point about the GOB™.

      If theists – even sophisticated ones – want to claim god/b is capable of intent, which they pretty much have to, they then must concede that it has desires. And if you follow this rabbit far enough down the hole you wind up looking at something like the human mind.

  29. When I see things like:
    “God is the condition of the possibility of anything existing at all”
    “a God who provides an ultimate answer to the question of “why,””
    I am reminded of the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything (which, of course, is 42).
    I believe some people (like Mr. Linker and “sophisticated” theists) are much more troubled by the idea of abandoning teleology than most readers here.

  30. Once God was revealed to me as the “Ground of Bean”, I finally get it, it all makes sense; now I understand my daily obeisance to St. Joe.

    1. PS –

      The Argument for God/Religion is an argument from adverse consequence.

      If we pay employees a living wage, the economy, as we know it, will collapse.

      If evolution is true we are no better than amoebas.

      If God does not exist life has no meaning (which is true either way) and there is no basis for morality. Ignoring the history of the human race.

  31. 1) Linker’s always projecting his angst on others;

    2) It’s important to remember that Camus wrote before the introduction of Zoloft;

    3) Linker should step away from the existentialism, and instead pick up Epicurus —

    “Death is nothing to us; for that which has been dissolved into its elements experiences no sensations, and that which has no sensation is nothing to us;”

    “If we had never been troubled by celestial and atmospheric phenomena, nor by fears about death, nor by our ignorance of the limits of pains and desires, we should have had no need of natural science;”

    “It is impossible for someone to dispel his fears about the most important matters if he doesn’t know the nature of the universe but still gives some credence to myths. So without the study of nature there is no enjoyment of pure pleasure.”

  32. It is amusing that Linker hasn’t noticed that everything is temporary. All life with a brain has managed to experience the temporary joy of being full and the temporary sadness of being empty, whether that pertains to the belly or the euphoria of a new friendship. All that life, has in some way managed to accept the temporariness of it all. Well, except Linker, can’t handle it. Poor Linker! Better to reexamine his expectations by looking outside himself for a while than to continue with the rut he has burrowed into.

  33. ” … To which an existentialist like Albert Camus would reply …”

    No need to read any further. How on earth could he possibly know what a dead writer and philosoph would reply??? Camus was living, thinking and writing in HIS time. He doesn’t live now, and there is no way of knowing what his thoughts would be if he had the good fortune to be around today.

    Using a dead man’s name in this manner to try to give credence to one’s own point of view is foul.

    Reading Camus’s literature is to me an opportunity to think about life by comparing the ideas he proposes to the thoughts evoked. There is no need to agree with the author at all times. Artistic literature is not claiming to be right, unlike religion. When I feel I don’t know how to move on with life, I don’t think of Jesus. I think of Camus’s sisyphus, and it’s helped me more than once.

    I do think there is a difference between an artist and a preacher.

    It’s also not necessary to classify atheists as belonging to different “flavours”. That’s so passe. Just gives us a break and let us be.

    (sorry – rant over)

      1. As far as I recall, yes.

        But in any case, I find these “labels” are not very helpful. Naturally he changed his mind about different aspects of his understanding of the human condition during his life time. Who doesn’t? Well, maybe the religious… He had quite a turbulent life and his writings are what’s left of his dealing with reality as it hit him. Not believing in a deity and going through wars being rebellious – this was his product.

        I would like to call his writings artistic artefacts of the search to understand the human condition. If you remember The Mythos of Sisyphus, there you have a different voice speaking to you than in La Peste or Les Justes.

  34. I know a lot of people who think my life is a meaningless, shallow, unending journey of misery and pain that’s little more that a shadow of what human life is meant to be simply because I don’t like bacon too.

    1. Heh.

      Theists who complain that there can’t be any real point to life if there is no God always sound to me a bit like some self-focused Prom Queen gasping that not going to the Senior Dance would be the end of any purpose to High School and simply unbearable and not to be even thought of OMG. How can you stand not going? I’d just kill myself! And so on.

      It doesn’t make me think there is something important I’m just not getting here. And theists do it for all human experience throughout history — the natural world as it is … is just so inadequate to them.

      Drama queens.

      1. It’s not even some kind of metaphor. I know people who can’t imagine life without bacon.

        The annoying part is they often seem to assume my dislike of bacon is some kind of front. And so they test me by attempting to temp me with bacon. It’s kind of gross and annoying.

        1. Maybe they’re like Mrs Thayer in Ring Lardner’s short story “Liberty Hall.” The most annoying hostess in the world, she meets every one of her guest’s refusals with an argument that THIS particular unwanted-thing is NOTHING like the other unwanted-things you’ve had so you have to at least TRY it anyway, etc. etc.

          “Don’t like Bacon? Why, you must never have had hand-sliced thick-cut gourmet maple apple bacon from my aunt’s own lovely farm where she reads sonnets to the pigs — so I will just pile it up on your plate here and you eat it now and you’ll see that you DO like Bacon after all!”

          Come to think of it, Mrs. Thayer’s passive-aggressive technique sounds very similar to the tactics employed by the some of the critics of gnu atheism. “God doesn’t exist? Why, I bet you’ve never encountered a god like MY God which is nothing at all like the gods you don’t believe in none of your critiques apply at all you’ll see.”

          But it’s still just bacon.

          1. Sometimes people will give up about the bacon if I give them any that someone gave to me. It’s limited, you can run out of it, and a some people just have a bottomless craving for it. So telling them that their bacon is safe with me (since I’ll never take any from them if they step away for any reason) or that any that I don’t eat means more for them can calm the freak outs they get over my not liking bacon.

            Sadly god is not a limited commodity. There’s no way I can get away with telling them that it’s alright for them to have their god all to themselves. But it’s strange how things like bacon can get this kind of odd religious like attachment. I’ve never seen people fixated on coffee and chocolate in the same way.

            1. Most people have always enjoyed bacon … but I am getting old and thus I know that this exaggerated I LOVE BACON!!! thing is relatively new and clearly culturally induced. It’s a half-serious mark of in-group identity. You sometimes get the same thing in groups of women, with “chocolate” supposedly being some amazing meaning of life which you will kill for ha ha. It’s “religious” in the ritualistic sense — though if people have actually been denying that you don’t like it and have gotten disturbed over this, it sounds like it may be creeping into being ‘religious’ in other ways.

              It probably depends on your peers. For people into wholistic holistic natural food, liking bacon may elicit incredulous shudders of exaggerated disgust. I have friends who boast that not only don’t they like fried foods, but they simply can’t even imagine that anyone does. It’s showing-off.

              Theists who claim to find it impossible to conceive of the world without God are also, I suspect, showing off. It’s a form of bragging — or braggadocio.

              Not believing in God, not wanting children or not liking dogs can draw the same sort of social condemnation, as if you’re rejecting a whole series of values and now you’re The Other and how can you relate?

        2. I do the same to my wife. I don’t understand how it is possible not to like bacon. It must be included in that thick catalog of psychological conditions. My wife also claims to not like gravy but gobbles up poutine. Something seems seriously wrong with her brain.

            1. I’ve actually got my grandmother’s fainting couch. Back of hand to forehead….awwwwwww. The opening to Masterpiece Theatre does it best:-)

  35. Atheists struggle with truth every day. It is not easy to push oneself and make oneself better by learning and sometimes appreciating the universe for what it is. Religious people do not struggle with truth, they are estranged by their own beliefs and they gave up on curiosity long ago.

    If a person thinks that learning is not worth the time because it is hard and might make one struggle or be uncomfortable, then that would be a truly regrettable life.

  36. After I had shucked off the Christian fantasy my best friend at the time – himself a devout christian for over 55 years – admitted that if I were to convince him that this life is all there is, he would die in despair. Needless to say, I dropped the subject at that point. And he eventually dropped me as a friend subsequently.

    Shelly Kagan nicely demonstrates the shallowness behind “ultimate meaning” or “deeper meaning.”


    1. Ah.. Shelly Kagan. Surely one of the most marvelously likable philosophers around today. I think it’s partly that he always wears Converse tennis shoes….

      My other nominations:
      Daniel Dennett
      AC Grayling
      Stephen Law

      Kagans open Harvard University online Introductory Philosophy course -“Death” is in my opinion the very best introduction to the subject…. and still very worth taking for ANY philosophy buff

  37. What is the meaning and purpose of an eternal life? I can’t see any, no matter how much I “struggle”. If the meaning and purpose of this life is to reach an eternal life with no meaning and purpose, then what’s the point? Shouldn’t the folks who believe in eternal life struggle infinitely more than the folks who don’t?

    1. Don’t you want to walk on “streets of gold” for eternity? 😉

      It gets me – Heaven is described as having streets of gold? Where did that gold come from – supernovae? Is/Was that supposed to be literally true? Or, has it metamorphosed into metaphor or allusion?

      1. You better take your sneakers then. Streets of gold get very slippery, especially when wet. Take dark sunglasses too. Gold is glary.

      2. Last year was the first time I heard that from someone I know who stated his mother was dancing in streets of gold (she died of an illness). I thought it peculiar not only that he believed this but that he was so specific about how heaven looks.

      3. For all eternity? I’m afraid of doing anything for all eternity. I’ll be bored to death for sure, but alas, I cannot even die.

        1. I’d get up to mischief like the Q-Continuum on Star Trek, Loki of Norse mythology, Raven of the Pacific North West or Kokopelli of the south west US!

          Who’s with me?!

          1. My plan is to earn god’s trust and lull him into a false sense of security.

            This should allow me to secretly rule the heavens and earths untill I have enough followers to take over the whole shindig permanently.

  38. I liked your final paragraph best of all:

    “So must the “honest believer” also come to terms with a God who is not personal, but a distant and apophatic Ground of Being?”

    Really! This Sophisticated God is a comfort to believers?!

    1. Yeah, that’s what makes it even more confusing. What does “ground of being” give for comfort other than to try to co-opt what feelings there might be towards a personal God? Or perhaps there’s a bait-and-switch going on where “ground of being” is merely the defensible argument, but that as soon as the scepticism abates a personal God comes back.

      I just don’t understand. :/

      1. There’s a bait ‘n switch going on, but it needn’t be an obvious one. If you look at all the descriptions of the Ground of Being or Uncaused Cause god it’s always tinged with the underlying assumption that there’s something about this form which is — if not personal — then suspiciously not IMMpersonal either. It’s “Love” or “Consciousness” or “Intelligence” or “Goodness” or a principle of “Balance” or the need to be fair or a drive to create which is fundamental to reality. They can go on for quite a while without articulating it, but it’s implicit.

        A distant and apophatic Ground of Being that’s also indifferent and without mental or moral characteristics would not get the Theologians mad at the gnu atheists. They’d be chiding us to call what we believe in “God,” not telling us to shut up about what we have no knowledge of.

        1. They also play around with that word “being.” In philosophy, a being is just some thing. It can be anything whatsoever. But in common parlance, a being is a person with a mind that thinks. With a bit of rhetoric, it’s easy to shift from “the ground of being” to “the Being who grounds.”

          1. Right. And there’s also the third meaning snuck in there: Being-with-a-capital-B equating with “existence” or “reality” — that which is, was, and will be. As in “God isn’t a being, it is Being itself.”

            Triple deepity. Deny the reality of reality. Can’t do it? Then God exists.

          2. That notion of being tripped me up for many years in my attempts to understand what the ontological argument was all about. When I finally understood that distinction, it made it even more surprising that people use the ontological argument at all.

  39. So another example of Sophisticated Theology and facile biology. How can you possibly state what the psychological consequences of non-belief are (or anything for that matter), without any discussion of the evolutionary biology, psychology, neuroscience, et cetera? Do these people honestly think that the brain works along this line:
    “There is no God” — “Wo-Ho! Murder & torture!”
    –“But no ultimate meaning, d’oh!”.

    Maybe when they bring an understanding of the mind more profound than that contained in one of Homer Simpson’s inner monologues will I take their arguments seriously.

  40. believers think that they get to start a new life in Heaven. For many of them that constitutes a “reason” or “purpose” to live, but in reality their daily activities are spent like the rest of us, with the real “purposes” of working, having fun, and interacting with loved ones and friends.

    I think ‘getting into the afterlife gives me purpose’ is a pretty hypocritical argument coming from protestant christianity. In terms of giving one a reason to live life a certain way, its theology is about agnostic as atheism. While many other religions teach that living your life a certain way garners some reward or punishment, protestantism is characerized by sola fides. Sincere belief and asking forgiveness is the only entry criteria for heaven; everything else is optional. Even suicide doesn’t knock you out of contention. Frankly, Camus’ question is just as relevant (or irrelevant) to them as it is to atheists. If you believe and you’ve asked forgiveness…why are you still here and why do anything? The promise of an afterlife can’t motivate you to do X if doing X is not a requrement for getting in…and for protestantism, pretty much no X is a requirement.

  41. lol

    I guess to this dude, honest atheists are supposed to sit around, mope and bawl their eyes out because there’s no magic sky daddy up there to love them.

    I wonder what honest aUnicornists are suppose to be like.

  42. I do find it curious that theists tell atheists to be more depressed, rather than atheists saying that’s how they feel. It’s like an atheist telling a theist how horrible it must be to live under a totalitarian dictatorship. If that’s how atheists see theists (as the example goes), then it doesn’t necessarily follow that theists see it that way.

    What it says to me is that there’s a failure to see the view from another perspective; that introspection of seeing a God-shaped hole and wondering how empty life would be with that hole in place. Rather than seeing that life is pretty much as it is, theist or atheist, as most of what it means to live has to do with the concerns of living. At least for me, the biggest concern is wondering what I should do with myself on a day to day basis, as coming up with meaningful activities and goals is a challenge.

    1. If you honestly, sincerely and without doubt believe that people who die simply ‘pass over’ a sort of barrier and live on elsewhere, I can understand that it might be quite a jolt to realize that no, dead is dead. When a 12-year-old figures out that hey, sick old Rover has almost undoubtedly NOT been spending the last 5 years running around on a farm and feeling fine again, there could be frustration, tears, and some trauma … before you deal with it and grow a little.

      I guess I have trouble conceiving of religious believers who honestly, sincerely, and without doubt KNOW that there is a Heaven of some kind, so that becoming less certain will arrive like a totally unexpected and unthinkable bolt from the blue. I mean, come on. They have to know that dead is dead when it comes to bugs, squirrels, and even dogs. Does the suspicious inconsistency regarding human beings never pass through their minds at all?

      If so, then losing what was after all an admittedly pretty farfetched belief isn’t going to send someone into shock. And if not, then what creepy sort of insulated world must they have been living in, where reality is in fearful submission to their internal mind games and stories?

      Believing in belief might cause some sadness when one figures out that there is no Happy Farm for Rover or any of us. As Julia Sweeney pointed out, when you look back at your life every bit of emotional growth came when you accepted something you didn’t want to be true.

      But they should never go full faith, man. Everybody knows you should never go full faith.

      1. Well said. It is genuinely pleasing to think that there are more people on the earth today than ever before who know their death is the end for them…even quite a few religious people.

      2. Is the fear of death it, though? I can understand the preoccupation and fascination with death, the worry that this life is all there is, etc. But isn’t the death of God meant to be the death of meaning, the death of morality, and the death of Truth? The idea, or as I have been led to understand, is that it will absolutely shatter one’s conception of the world as without God nothing is meant to make sense.

        1. Linker read a laundry list of “things you’d lose if you became an atheist.” Belief in an afterlife was just one of them. Not an afterlife, mind you. Belief in one.

          I think that in order for someone to truly believe that “without God nothing is meant to make sense” in today’s world, then they will have to live a very isolated, insulated life. The fact that atheists who appear otherwise normal are not, despite Linker’s objections, walking around wringing their hands counters this idea. It’s also too hard to not notice that the people in the wrong religions with the wrong god seem to function pretty well nevertheless.

          The truth is that they would not shatter if they changed their minds (ie ‘lost their faith.’) It gets better. It would have to. Meaning, morality, truth, and love have an intrinsic worth to us, with or without God.

          Deny that and they’re embracing the very nihilism they were trying to avoid.

          1. “Deny that and they’re embracing the very nihilism they were trying to avoid.”
            I remember reading a book by a theologian where that was his argument – Christianity is the only belief system that avoids nihilism, so believe in Christianity. Though by quoting Douglas Adams to make the case for nihilism, he did make it very appealing proposition.

            “The fact that atheists who appear otherwise normal are not, despite Linker’s objections, walking around wringing their hands counters this idea.”
            Indeed. It makes me wonder if Linker really thinks that way about atheists, or if he’s simply trying to warn theists of the dangers of atheism in a very proactive manner.

  43. Late to the party. Apologies for not catching up on the comments…but I don’t think anybody has yet mentioned Richard’s wonderful, “We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones,” speech / essay / chapter.

    Fretting about death is like fretting about the tide or the weather. It’s gonna happen. No, you don’t and likely won’t want it to, but tough shit. There’re things you can do to put that day off, and other things you might want to do in preparation…but what’s the point of life if you waste it all on death?

    There’s a cost / benefit analysis to be done, and there’s really not much benefit to spending much of your very limited and very valuable time alive on death. Don’t worry, when your time comes, you’ll have plenty of time to devote to it then.

    But, in the mean time, live a little!



  44. I should be miserable? Hm, no, I’m not the one with a philosophy so brittle and fragile that the discovery of a fact that contradicts it might send me into existential despair.

    I’m not the one clinging to a definition of God which, in addition to being a 21st century add-on that most believers wouldn’t recognise, essentially renders God & his associated doctrines meaningless – a definition which seems to have been concocted by theologians for the sole purpose of putting God out of the reach of empiricism and critical inquiry.

    On balance, Linker’s life should probably be more meaningless and miserable than mine – his chosen god has been stripped of his personality and his very personhood, just so he can fit it on a shelf that he thinks atheists can’t reach (more likely that we wouldn’t bother).

    Mr Linker, it’s one thing for an apologist or theologian to argue for their god based on the only source that exists – scripture – but it’s another thing entirely to extra-Biblically redefine God so as to remove him from the conversation, then make a fiat declaration that anyone who doesn’t accept that God should be a miserable nihilist.

    To conclude: I AM an honest atheist. I freely concede that, however unlikely, I could be wrong in my conclusion that the claims made by theists (whether fundamentalists or theologians who presume to redefine God) aren’t supported by anything like credible evidence or even surface plausibility. I admit that my reasoning faculties might not be up to the task of adequately assessing the claims that immaterial, immortal beings (or “grounds of all being”) not only exist but care what I do in my short life and will punish or reward me according to how closely I hew to their behavioural pre- and proscriptions.

    And, to be honest, I wholeheartedly resent petulant demands to be a miserable bastard because I’m denying the unevidenced, implausible bespoke mythology of an overpaid, under-contemplative columnist.

  45. D. Linker thinks he has constructed an Anxiety Closet and placed it in the Faith Room of a TARDIS Presuppositional Belief structure. Which of course is not a real thing at all, only a delusion.

    Linker fills his imaginary Anxiety Closet with all kinds of imaginary things he believes are very real. He tells me there’s nothing for it but that I get in there and grapple with all this metaphysical shit he dreamed up.

    (For anyone tempted to take Linker up on his challenge, my expectation is that a list of ten anxieties, once successfully addressed, will suddenly expand to 20. And then 30. And then ~)…)

    Linker proposes three options.

    One. I may be allowed to exit the Anxiety Closet — if I follow his drift — when I have some clear-sighted, candid guidance to offer for how to live as an atheist. And I’m pretty sure I know who will be the judge of that.

    Two. I can always face up to the emptiness I choose to embrace, shunning a guarantee (just believe!) of Divine eternity, succumb to the inevitable despair inherent, and just commit suicide and get it over with already. Hello Lake’oFire.

    Three. Come to my senses (finally, for God’s sake) and become a True Believer, in full possession of the critical element of Faith, in an ineffable explanation for the How. And even more importantly, for the Why.

    I can think of a fourth option. Ignore Linker’s absurd delusional assertions and simply continue to experience reality, warts and all.

    Epicurus is one of several throughout history who explained how to do that. Of course, the 3 Levant Tragedies will have none of it and happily promote the distortion of his work the middle one invented.

    Here, in handy list form, is another example of how to recognize reality and attain contentment existing within it (subsequent delusional metaphysical additions neither included nor recommended):

  46. The “out” that some Christians have is that they think that God is a transcendent Ground of Being who nonetheless dons the mask of a personal Deity now and then, and can as such interact with the world in some mysterious way like Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover.

    Nonetheless the existentialism that Linker commends is the product of 20th century anxiety. Prior to that there were happy atheists such as the poet Percy Shelley and Baron d’Holbach, so it took a long time for this unhappiness that Linker finds necessary to develop.

  47. I am used to the misunderstanding that one puts to Existentialism in particular and some Existentialist’s claims on the other. Everyone seems to completely misunderstand the fundamental concepts of Existentialism. The words they use. like “Anxiety” and “Suicide” are not used in the typical way.

    Note first that these words are TRANSLATIONS of words in other languages, namely German and French. They are sometimes cognates but do not MEAN the same thing when said in French (more cognates like “anxiete” or “agniosse” and are crudely translated as such. So sounding off on works one has not read, much less understanding the differences in the language they are embedded in, is just intellectual laziness. Both on Linker’s part and other commenters, as well as Coyne. Coyne is right to react against what is a knee-jerk and naive view, but that is what Linker presents, so it is not totally his part.

    Second, it is very common in what is sometimes called “Continental Philosophy”, which includes existentialists, to reuse common words (or in the case of Heiddeger make up new ones as is the fashion in German) and to redefine them. So arguing against one owns notion of “anxiety” or the work Camus puts to “suicide” is building an fallacious straw man.

  48. Life is hard with or without a god. I was raised Catholic and until I lost my belief in my late teens/early 20s I was in constant fear of being condemned to eternal damnation, first for any number of “sins” and then when I realized I was gay. I don’t like the idea of being dead and I plan to live as long as I can but I’m much less anxious thinking about death as eternal unconsciousness or nonexistence than I am worrying about being judged in the hereafter. In the meantime, there’s my work that I love, there are friends and family, there’s sex, there’s travel, there are books and music and there are websites like Jerry’s to read.

  49. It certainly does have to be reconstructed from the ground up, but Linker would have us *not* do that, and instead live with a kind of absence, thinking the universe is robbed of real life, like some kind of existential Cotard’s Delusion.
    His definition of humanity is far too narrow if he thinks people need all those things he credits them with needing, or that truly restructuring their understanding of the universe won’t leave them so radically transformed that the world as it is DOES in fact meet all their emotional needs: It’s the nature of reality itself that’s under consideration, after all – IT should be what sets the standard, not be a disappointment because it’s not something else. Those supposedly unmet emotional needs are themselves one of its many phenomena – It’s only a failure of imagination that keeps people from seeing the bigger picture.

    If anything, he’s the one who isn’t taking death in atheism seriously enough – What’s the use of an afterlife if the “party” HAS no outside into which to exit? There is only the party, i.e. the universe. Hoping for *personal* continuity inside of that is just kind of egotistical.

    And what possible answer could there be for ultimate meaning, anyway? What’s the point of God, then?
    And how is a “ground of being” different from some “final theory” in physics, or some other completely naturalistic sine qua non that makes it all go?
    Discovering what that might be, and finding out how it all fits together is more than enough purpose.

  50. “God is the condition of the possibility of anything existing at all.” That has to be one of the most meaning free sentances I’ve ever read. Does anyone here know what that dude was trying to say?

    1. You obviously don’t have a good grasp of post-modernist jargon. All you need to do is deconstruct the social implications of the semantic content of this sentence in a post-Jungian sense, referencing the neo-feminist aspects in Derrida’s interpretations and the inner core of meaning will make itself completely opaque.

    2. “God is the condition of the possibility of anything existing at all” roughly translated into English is;

      The god I actually believe in is ridiculous, but since I don’t like being laughed at I’m going to pretend I don’t believe in the big bearded penis in the sky who justifies my sanctimonious attitude and instead claim that god is a nonsensical linguistic construction because that’s less obviously ridiculous.

    3. Blasphemy! God is obviously the possibility of the condition of existence, which T. Aquinas proved to the satisfaction of all (except the damned schismatics who thought he was the existence of the condition of possibility, but they’re crazy!) How else to explain the possibility of the existence of conditioner?

  51. Anyone who reads The Plague and walks away thinking that Camus wants us to give up on living is either delusional or a very poor reader. The question of suicide is a challenge to find meaning in a life that will end, not a nihilist paean.

  52. Linker’s laughable Sturm und Drang idea of atheism seems to picture him as being arrested at the level of the quintessential angsty fifteen year-old just getting into black metal, frankly.

  53. I suspect what Linker is doing here is preaching to the choir. He is warning believers that being an atheist is much harder than we say it is, and that if they give up their religion, they will have to do it properly, and then they will suffer.

  54. It’s not so much that these aren’t important questions. They are. I’m confident that many an atheist has given a great deal of thought to them. What I don’t understand is why he thinks his answer to them as a Christian is at all honest.

    Death is scary. Know that everyone I care for will die is not at all comforting. Yet, pretending there’s an all-caring, universal father figure changes nothing. It’s merely putting your head in the sand. And, it’s certainly not honest.

  55. It seems to me that Damon didn’t read past Chapter Two of The Myth of Sisyphus, if he thinks Camus was saying we should all be miserable over suicide. In fact, his whole philosophical view was centered around being happy DESPITE the inherent meaningless of existence.

  56. But what is most bizarre about Linker’s argument is that the Sophisticated Notion of God he proposes above doesn’t include an afterlife—the key reason atheists are supposed to be dolorous.

    Ha. Seems Linker needs to learn not to open mouth only to insert his poor sole in it, and what it means to be ‘honest’.

    Sophisticated Magicking™ is not easy to sell, and too easy to quell. Q.E.D.

  57. Since there is no evidential reason to believe in an afterlife and many to reject its existence, I am happy to embrace the intellectual and emotional honesty which accompanies lacking god belief. En bref, I am an atheist not because I am being dishonest, but because I adore honesty.

    It’s astounding how something so basic can elude Linker! I am not upset that I did not exist before my birth, and I do not understand why I should be wretched about not existing after my death. Just because there are many who apparently delight in fooling themselves, there are others who delight in not fooling themselves. I could not live with myself otherwise.

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