By James Haught
James Haught is editor of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette, and a senior editor of Free Inquiry. He is 87-years-old and would like to help secular causes more. This series is a way of giving back.
(Jan. 27, 2020 – Daylight Atheism)
Existentialists see that life is profoundly absurd. Here’s why: People search for a meaning to it all, but the universe has no discernible purpose, no moral code, no cosmic guidelines. Honest thinkers feel adrift, floundering on their own, lacking sure rules. Biology and evolution put us here, but that’s all we can know.
We are doomed to spend our whole lives without knowing why we exist, or why the colossal universe exists. Nature doesn’t care whether humans live or die. All lives eventually fizzle in death, rendering the struggle mostly a trip to nowhere.
Craving purpose, some simple souls invent gods, heavens, hells, etc. But honest existentialists perceive that it’s just a fantasy. The holies are imaginary.
The best anyone can do is recognize the engulfing absurdity and resist it by creating personal meaning for oneself, adopting values that help humanity. For example, strive to raise good children, work hard at a worthwhile job, support people-helping political goals, etc. However, the absurdity nonetheless remains ever-present.
In addition to the ultimate riddle of a pointless universe, I see glaring daily absurdities around us:
The Trump administration is a ludicrous example. How can the world’s richest, most powerful, most technically advanced nation be led by a crude, shallow, narcissistic kook who has uttered more than 8,000 countable lies? Every day, Washington is a carnival of absurdity.
Gun massacres are another horrible freakshow of American life. The killers get no benefit from mowing down defenseless companions or strangers. Yet it happens with sickening frequency. And conservative politicians constantly praise the sacred “right to bear arms.” How absurd is that?
Muslim suicide bombings likewise are a hideous absurdity. The murderers think they’re serving a god (who doesn’t exist) and will be rewarded with virgin nymphs (who don’t exist) in a paradise (that doesn’t exist). It doesn’t get much more absurd than this.
Twisters, floods, wildfires, hurricanes, droughts and other climate catastrophes inflict hundreds of billions in damage. Yet President Trump says global warming is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. More absurdity.
America had 70,000 drug overdose deaths in 2017, and more than 400,000 died in agony from cigarette diseases. It’s dismally absurd that so many kill themselves needlessly.
Personally, here’s my supreme example:
America has 250 million adults, and 17 percent of them attend church on a typical Sunday. Thus more than 40 million people pray each Sabbath to imaginary spirits that don’t actually exist, and sing hymns to them. What a farce.
Most absurd of all, one-fourth of the world’s two billion Christians now are Pentecostals who “speak in tongues.” Goofy, goofy.
From this perspective, the world is mostly a big loony bin.
Some existentialists feel despair over the dearth of meaning, but I have a different reaction. I think life is fun, even without transcendental purpose. Every day is a fascinating circus, another adventure in human complexity. The zoo of humanity is delightful, as well as dismal.
We make our own purpose by finding our own values, creating rewarding lives with affectionate mates and children, pursuing solid careers, enjoying all the joys we can reap.
A Unitarian seminar was titled “Dancing over the dark abyss.” That’s a formula for coping with the absurdity that engulfs us.
(Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail. This essay originally appeared in Free Inquiry, December 2019.)
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
*Associates and resources listing last updated May 31, 2020.*
Canadian Atheist Associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, Centre for Inquiry Canada, Kelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.
Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du Québec, Atheist Freethinkers, Central Ontario Humanist Association, Comox Valley Humanists, Grey Bruce Humanists, Halton-Peel Humanist Community, Hamilton Humanists, Humanist Association of London, Humanist Association of Ottawa, Humanist Association of Toronto, Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics of Manitoba, Ontario Humanist Society, Secular Connextions Seculaire, Secular Humanists in Calgary, Society of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph), Thunder Bay Humanists, Toronto Oasis, Victoria Secular Humanist Association.
Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an Agnostiker, American Atheists, American Humanist Association, Associação Brasileira de Ateus e AgnósticoséééBrazilian Association of Atheists and Agnostics, Atheist Alliance International, Atheist Alliance of America, Atheist Centre, Atheist Foundation of Australia, The Brights Movement, Center for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist Ireland, Camp Quest, Inc., Council for Secular Humanism, De Vrije Gedachte, European Humanist Federation, Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations, Foundation Beyond Belief, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist International, Humanist Association of Germany, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist Society of Scotland, Humanists UK, Humanisterna/Humanists Sweden, Internet Infidels, International League of Non-Religious and Atheists, James Randi Educational Foundation, League of Militant Atheists, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, National Secular Society, Rationalist International, Recovering From Religion, Religion News Service, Secular Coalition for America, Secular Student Alliance, The Clergy Project, The Rational Response Squad, The Satanic Temple, The Sunday Assembly, United Coalition of Reason, Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.
About Canadian Atheist
Canadian Atheist is an independent blog with multiple contributors providing articles of interest to Canadian atheists, secularists, humanists, and freethinkers.
Canadian Atheist is not an organization – there is no membership and nothing to join – and we offer no professional services or products. It is a privately-owned publishing platform shared with our contributors, with a focus on topics relevant to Canadian atheists.
Canadian Atheist is not affiliated with any other organization or group. While our contributors may be individually be members of other organizations or groups, and may even speak in an official capacity for them, CA itself is independent.
For more information about Canadian Atheist, or to contact us for any other reason, see our contact page.
About Canadian Atheist Contributors
Canadian Atheist contributors are volunteers who provide content for CA. They receive no payment for their contributions from CA, though they may be sponsored by other means.
Our contributors are people who have both a passion for issues of interest to Canadian atheists, secularists, humanists, and freethinkers, and a demonstrated ability to communicate content and ideas of interest on those topics to our readers. Some are members of Canadian secularist, humanist, atheist, or freethought organizations, either at the national, provincial, regional, or local level. They come from all walks of life, and offer a diversity of perspectives and presentation styles.
CA merely provides our contributors with a platform with almost complete editorial freedom. Their opinions are their own, expressed as they see fit; they do not speak for Canadian Atheist, and Canadian Atheist does not speak for them.
For more information about Canadian Atheist’s contribors, or to get in contact with any of them, or if you are interested in becoming a contributor, see our contact page.
Image Credit: James Haught.