When, in the course of a regular man’s regular life, he peaks his head above water long enough to notice that he is, for the most part, in what is likely the middle of his life, he may begin to despair for more reasons than one. He is, as we’ve already said, a regular man; ergo, he likely didn’t amount to much. That’s more a statement of demographics than anything pertaining to his actual value. He may be an exceptional regular man (in his own way), but unless he’s occupying one end of the spectrum (horrifically, criminally bad on the left; angelically, altruistically good on the right), he’s probably like most of us: he has occasional bouts of both good and bad behavior, is capable of selfishness and generosity, and likely resides somewhere outside the realms of success and celebrity. It boils down, I suppose, to this truth: pull fifty people out of any crowd and most of them will be of the mediocre variety, neither amazing nor appalling, neither stupid nor genius. Most of us are just here and that’s all. We’re told we’re all special, but really only a handful of us ever do anything remarkable or extraordinary.
And so when this regular man, who likely didn’t amount to much, who may have had dreams of glory that never panned out, who may have been told when he was young that he was destined for great things, stands at the fulcrum of his life, with youth diminishing to his left and old age looming to his right, he may hang his head and think that being here wasn’t really worth it. It’s taken him half his life to figure things out (even though he hasn’t really done that; most of us never do), and the first half gave him a pretty good idea of what to expect from the second half. He wants to believe that the second half will be better, but the monotonous drudgery of life, with its many trials and few victories, eats away at this feeble optimism, for he’s lived long enough to know that existence is, for the most part, consistent. Which is to say that the basic equation of [being alive] = [shit happens] isn’t likely to undergo any serious alterations during his last remaining four or five decades.
So he stands here at the midway point, knowing now how time flies faster each year, knowing now that all the hopefulness of youth, misled though it was, has bled from him, knowing now that most of what he does, no matter how hard he tries to believe otherwise, doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme… and as he looks to his right, toward the looming grave, which may still be far off but is nevertheless beginning to slowly make itself known, he begins to wonder whether he wants the bother of it all. Perhaps he has contemplated suicide. Maybe “going out on his own terms” begins to sound less and less irrational. He knows of the somewhat admirable (though severely misguided) actions of figures such as George Sanders and Ernest Hemingway—people who opted out of life’s inevitable decline by taking matters into their own hands. And there are some appealing overtures in these thoughts which attract our regular man, for he is nothing if not a romantic. But beneath these temptations are the embers of his passion for life, embers which burned strong and bright at one time and which, despite having waned nearly to the point of winking out entirely, still smolder weakly, perhaps waiting for the right igniting agent by which to fan back into glorious, raging flames…
This igniting agent, whatever it might be, for which part of him longs, likely exists only in theory, in his imagination. Cerebrally, he suspects that no such igniting agent actually exists.
After all, he’s basically tried everything the world has to offer. He has traveled far and seen the beauty of the Earth. He has made love to beautiful women wherever he’s gone. He’s tasted the ripest fruit, supped on the fattest calves, and experienced all of the thrills one can hope for in this life. And here, at the fulcrum, he’s just so fucking bored with it all. There’s nothing new under the sun, no untapped, uncharted area left to explore. What then could possibly reignite those ever-weakening embers and bring his passion for life back into full force?
The truth, he believes, is that nothing can.
And so, he looks at the second half of his life, knowing that just beyond it is the finality of death, and suspects that these remaining decades are going to be characterized by the worst of all things: protracted tedium. The recipe for his future, therefore, is a long bout of boredom followed by black nonexistence. Why exactly should this man get up in the morning? Why should he smile?
Life, he has been repeatedly told, is precious and beautiful, a wonderful gift one should treasure with all gratitude and humility. To think otherwise is, apparently, to give “the middle finger” to God or fate or whatever. “Look for the silver lining,” our regular man is told. “Look on the bright side. Stay positive. Be glad. Be thankful.”
For what, exactly, should he be thankful? If to exist in human form is to know that all you are will ultimately be lost, wouldn’t it have been better to have never existed in the first place? If to be alive is to not only die (which is horrible enough on its own) but to also know you’re going to die and to get closer and closer to the end with each passing day, what could this be called if not the ultimate form of slow torture? How is life precious to the moth that is eaten by the bird? How is life precious to the snail that got run over by a car? How is life precious when it can be so arbitrarily lost so quickly? Perhaps by “precious” these optimistic people really mean “delicate,” which I get. But if by “precious” they mean “treasure,” well… there’s nothing all that treasurable about the oppressive weight of existence.
No, if to exist is to face entropy, then clearly it is better to have never existed. That’s not pessimistic thinking, that’s just Occam’s razor being employed correctly. The simpler option is always the correct one. And it is clearly simpler to have never existed than to exist and face all the woeful throes of depression that come with marching closer and closer to death each day. It is clearly simpler to have nothing than to have something and then lose it.
So our regular man, standing at this midway point of life, weighs all of this information and, despite knowing how utterly foolish it is, he does try to find the silver lining. But this misguided endeavor lasts only a few moments before he remembers that “optimism” is just a synonym for “stupidity” and “willful blindness.”
“There is no silver lining,” he cries out in despair. “There is only the protracted tedium and the looming death beyond.”
What appalls him the most is that he’s not even trekking through the protracted tedium; no, he’s floating. When you trek, when you walk, you have a say in where your feet take you. But when you’re floating, you’re at the mercy of the wind, the mercy of chance, and you have no control over where you’re going. To float is the worst sentence that can be bestowed upon you. Better to get nailed to cross and know your place than to float endlessly through the tedious void. Our man is floating, and he knows it. He is listless. Two shades south of stagnant water. Adrift in the wasteland of boredom and nothingness.
Where is his port? Where can he land? Where can he find a good path that promises adventure and meaning rather than the tiresome, maddening daily hum of “the same old fucking thing day after day… after day… after…”
Some voice, way down inside, whispers to him. It’s more of that optimistic bullshit, but our man is tempted to listen. The message sounds so good, after all. The voice says, “Maybe tomorrow something will happen to change the equation. Maybe tomorrow the dam will burst and something new will come pouring out of the ruins.”
And so, even though he knows he’s utterly stupid for doing so, even though he knows that he will hate himself tomorrow for having dared to hope tonight, he gets into bed a bored man lost in the protracted tedium of midlife… and thinks to himself as his head hits the pillow that maybe… just maybe… tomorrow will be better.
(And he falls asleep believing the lie.)
It has been almost four years now since I’ve become an atheist. I wrote a lot about my experiences and my intellectual stances during the first few years, but it occurred to me recently that I’ve not written any sort of atheistic essay since then. Thinking that perhaps it was about time to do so, I began to wonder what, if anything, I needed to add to my arsenal of acerbic ramblings on this topic. That led me to revisit some of the old theology that I used to subscribe to… back when I was still lost and tangled up in the hopeless religion that is Christianity. When you’ve been removed from that cesspool of absurdity for long enough, you begin to look at your prior beliefs with a different lens than you did when you first left the religion, assuming you came to atheism from Christianity, as many do. So it was with me. I spent a few days pondering the nature of the God I used to believe in, and some new insights occurred to me, insights I intend to share now.
Perhaps it was because I recently re-watched it, but there was a certain episode of South Park on my mind during this time. It was the episode where Stan Marsh encounters Jonathan Edward, the famous (and bogus) medium. After a heated exchange of differences, Stan calls Edward a “douche,” at which point the alleged psychic starts throwing a childlike tantrum, stomping his foot and whining in this ridiculous voice that he’s not a douche and that Stan better shut up if he knows what’s good for him. And that, if you ask me, is exactly what the Christian God is like. Just watch South Park’s portrayal of Jonathan Edward in that episode, and you’ve got the full measure of the biblical God.
Allow me to explain what I mean. Picture, if you will, some entity that is supposedly a “perfect deity.” Imagine that this being decides to create some toys to play with. But when he’s done making them, he observes in his lofty wisdom that they are not perfect like he is. They are less than him since, even though he made them, they themselves are not divine like he is. And so, immediately after having made them, he looks upon them with disdain and judges them for being what they are: 1) less than him, and 2) imperfect creations wrought from his hands. In his displeasure at these imperfect toys he’s created, he throws a tantrum, stomps his foot, crosses his arms, and, with some pouting, says to himself: “I’m too good for these imperfect things. I shall therefore destroy them.” So he picks the toys up and, in his tantrum, throws them against the wall, at which point they shatter and are thus no more.
What could be said about this so-called “perfect deity?” I know what I would say about him. I’d say he’s a spoiled brat with no comprehension of the consequences of his actions. I’d say he’s an uninspiring, run-of-the-mill specimen, no different than the billions of snotty kids that have come and gone on this planet.
Suppose he doesn’t destroy the toys right away. Instead, he decides to subject them to ongoing punishment for being less than he is. So he erects a “reality” around the toys, a rigorous, cruel one that is designed to test them, perfect them, and weed out the good from the bad. He makes this reality as difficult as possible, then hides himself from the toys while, at the same time, demanding that they love and worship him. He offers no reason for their love and worship other than that he’s perfect. “I’m perfect and you’re not,” he whispers from some unseen location, “so serve me and adore me and praise me and revere me.” And when the toys demonstrate their inability to do so (because, let’s face it, you can’t love someone who’s absent and nor revere someone who’s acting like a pissy little brat), he is further angered and decides to create a “place of eternal punishment.” Not just a regular place of punishment—no, an eternal place of punishment, where their violation, which is nothing more than the result of their natures (which he created), can be horrifically penalized unendingly in a manner that surpasses time.
What now could be said about this so-called “perfect deity?” Words like psychopath and sadist come to mind. I mean, what would be said about a human who behaved this way? If a mother has a child and then punishes it ceaselessly for being imperfect, or for one measly offense that in no way measures up to the corresponding wrath, we would call such a mother a “monster,” take the child away from her, and subject her to legal and psychological correction. But no one raises an eyebrow when the supposed God of the Universe is portrayed this way by the Christian religion?
Suppose these “toys” our little psychotic child has created aren’t just inanimate objects but living creatures with feelings and vulnerabilities and fears and reasonable proclivities for error given their imperfect nature (which they didn’t ask for) and the incongruities of reality (which they didn’t choose). What could we say about a God who judges them? I just see South Park’s Jonathan Edward stomping his foot and getting all pissy, ranting at us with that ridiculous voice, saying, “But I created you. You’re supposed to love me. It’s not fair. I’ll get even,” at which point he decides that nothing will satisfy his displeasure with his own creation except the shedding of blood. Someone has to die. Blood has to be spilled. Atonement must be paid in full. It’s not like he decides to just man up and accept that he created something faulty. No, he removes his own complicity in the matter and puts it all on the living toys. “Your nature displeases me,” he says, “even though I’m the one who made it. Therefore, I shall sacrifice something that is perfect, shed its blood, and use that blood to mollify my irritation. Yes. In fact, I think my own son would be a good candidate for that. Where is he? I’ll make him die. That’ll make up for the fact that I created something faulty.”
This is fucking insane.
And yet, when you really think about it objectively, this is, in essence, the basic assertion of the Christian religion. God is perfect, the Christians say, and he created us. But he can’t look upon us for being less than he is. So, even though it’s not our fault, we are subjected to eternal punishment unless we employ this thing called “faith” and decide to worship the God who wants to punish us if we don’t. Who can honestly look at the gospel of Christianity and describe it any other way but this? It’s as if this God is saying, “Believe in me and you shall be saved from what will happen if you don’t believe in me.”
And this, we are told, is love.
Oh, certainly. Yes, I know my wife would just love it if I held a knife to her throat and said, “Think worshipful things about me or you die.” What an inspiring act of love that would be. Or if I hid from her, never letting her see me, and demanded that, in order to escape certain death, she love me in spite of my conspicuous absence. I mean, you can’t even make this shit up without people wondering if you’ve got a few screws loose, and yet this is the pill Christianity wants you to swallow.
Now, I am not perfect. I’m not even that intelligent compared to some the other human specimens lurching about out there in the world, but I am smart enough to know that if I fold a piece of paper into an airplane and it doesn’t fly, the error was most definitely a result of my poor engineering. I wouldn’t get mad at the piece of paper. It’s not like it did anything or had any say in the matter. I wouldn’t zap it into oblivion with a death ray and think, “How dare it be less than me!” But then again, I’m not the insane, crybaby God of Christianity.
YMMV. Counting down from 100...