August 2, 2021

Religious egocentrism vs. the futility of atheism; a philosophical rant

If I were an atheist, I would most certainly also be a hedonist. It seems to be the only logical option. If you take the sum of all human activity; our greatest accomplishments, our innovations, our greatest foibles and blunders, all of our art, music, philosophy, literature and theater, our wars, our famine, our conquests and defeats, love and death - all of it is meaningless. We are infinitesimally small in the universe, which itself seems eventually destined for death. We cannot change either of those precepts of existence. Nothing we do matters; we are a pointless speck of no consequence. 

In that regard, everything we do, say or think has no real matter, no grand consequence or significance. In that light, why not toss aside virtue?  And value?  What point is there to doing anything other than pleasing oneself as much as possible as often as possible? Obey laws? Only insofar as they keep you out of prison.

Atheists can be virtuous people but those who are, are likely as rare as they are misguided in their atheism.  Once you have thought through the nature of existence you have three choices as an atheist: 

(i) nihilism (which taken to its logical conclusion does not end well) 

(ii) hedonism (which is pointless but at least potentially enjoyable) or

(iii) unavailingly continuing to strive to improve the world.

But to what purpose the latter option?  Atheists who want to do good for mankind, at the expense of their own hedonistic pleasure have likely not thought through the pointlessness of their own efforts. It will not make a difference.  And if they have thought this through and still are insistent upon efforts towards greater good it is because they have a belief at the root of it. That in itself is a form of religion. 

The other alternative for atheism was exactly as Nietzsche proclaimed it would be - nihilism; the belief that all values are without foundation and that nothing can be truly known or communicated. Nietzsche was not necessarily a proponent of nihilism.  In fact he warned us of its future. He argued that its toxic effects would eventually destroy all moral, religious, and metaphysical convictions in humanity. He also predicted it would lead to the greatest crisis in human history. 

With the creeping death of religion in the West, with the accompanying decay of morality and virtue nihilism has taken root and the crisis Nietzsche warned about is upon us. We have seen the decay of value, beauty, morality, virtue, and society writ large.  There is no coincidence that belief in institutions beyond just the church have coincided with this undercurrent of unspoken nihilism.  It is slowly pervading everything.  It will consume the entire world, not just Western society. 

That decay is what fascist and communist leaders wish for the west, not realizing it will consume them in turn. They may seek to have unfettered access to a forlorn, nihilistic and unmotivated populace who will easily be suborned to their dictates, but it is a self-defeating effort. Because of the inevitability of entropy, ants can only build an ant hill so high before it collapses upon itself. We in the West appear to be in this stage of collapse. Although it may be far more profound a thing at play than communism vs. capitalism. Sure, communism seeks the overthrow of capitalism but not for some grandiose purpose but rather, whether out of jealousy or true belief, the reality of godless communism is that those at its epicenter seek to rule over others in a society of pointlessness. And in the end the entropic nature of existence will crumble communism as quickly as capitalism if not more quickly. It's a weird perversion of Schopenhauer then which communists have created for themselves.  Existence is characterized by suffering that we cannot overcome, only mitigate in small amounts. So, they seek to replace God as the opiate of the masses with their own social religion.  To what end? Do they believe it themselves?  Probably not but no one can say for sure what another thinks or believes. But in my estimation, it is for their own hedonistic opportunity to minimize their own suffering while selling an impossible dream to the masses. Western traditional liberal thinkers have gotten it exactly right when it comes to assessing the 'virtue' of communism and socialism.  As Winston Churchill so eloquently summed it up "The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings. The inherent virtue of Socialism is the equal sharing of miseries." But that sharing is not meant to include the ruling elite. They will sell it to you as a Utopian possibility but the Utopia they hope to achieve is only for themselves, at your expense.

Putting that aside, the option of nihilism for atheists is clearly not a worthwhile endeavor.  As an individual it can only lead to a sense of no self worth and no purpose.  That can only lead down negative paths with death as the only destination. For society it means a fragmentation and eventual collapse.

That leaves hedonism, the endless seeking of pleasure and self-indulgence, as the only viable option as an atheist. Given the proclivities of the societal elites not just those of today, but throughout historical empires (from predating Nero to the clients of Jeffery Epstein) it would seem the ruling elite class have long since taken this philosophy as their own. In their self-indulgence they have no qualms about deceiving the rest of society to further their own ends.  They live to enrich themselves monetarily and experientially to their own whims.  But hedonism contains its own peril.  Religion may be the opiate of the masses according to Karl Marx, but there are actual physical opiates that have taken hold. From nicotine to alcohol to fentanyl, far too many people across the globe are addicts, slowly or quickly killing themselves, unaware of their own self worth. The wealthy who themselves are not addicts are still in a manner, doing the same thing: avoiding reality with their hedonistic self-indulgence. 

But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth. ~1 Timothy 5:6

Self awareness is a marvelous thing. If instead of a mindless pursuit of pleasure to avoid thinking about our place in the universe, and the meaning of life, you take some time to think about those things for yourself you will be better off; be it through religion or as an atheist.  Though the latter may lead you back to the same pointless place.

Spirituality is also a marvelous thing. It opens us up to the possibility of greater purpose. It opens you up to the possibility of development. While spirituality (opening oneself up to the questions of who you are, what is your purpose and what is the meaning of life) does not require religion, but it does open you up to the possibility of religion. Religion is the written and passed down knowledge of the spiritual realm that inevitably comes originally from God. It is the codification of spirituality in an attempt to connect us to God. That connection is spiritual. Spirituality gives suffering meaning.  It gives existence meaning.  That alone provides the pillars of structure religion and by extension for society.  But the precepts of religion go even further in prescribing a morality and virtue based on the notion of the greater good. Both spirituality and religion encourage you to be a better person, both within yourself and within society.  Not all religions are equal in this regard but that is a discussion for another day.

Atheists would argue that religion is an egocentric exercise, spirituality too. They put humanity on a level of importance incongruous with our miniscule place in the universe.  It is a pretentious exercise in self-importance which overstates our role in the universe. While that may be true, if religion is baseless, it still does not preclude the contribution of spirituality or religion to both societal structure and continuity and individual peace of mind.  These two things cannot be glossed over as they both are of utmost importance.

Given that they encourage you to be a better person, both within yourself and within society, religion and spirituality are not an egocentric exercise.  They are an attempt to create harmony; both between oneself and God as well as within society.  Unless you are a nihilist bent on societal destruction you cannot argue the benefit of those things given the stream of unrelenting entropy in which you swim.

Atheism does not preclude the questions and openness to ideas of spirituality, it merely comes to a different conclusion.  The endpoint for atheism is a dark foreboding place, where as spirituality, religion and the requisite faith offers hope and meaning. While that endpoint cannot be proven, the benefits of following the path of faith within this earthly existence can be. That is not the reason I choose a belief in God, nor is it a justification for it.  Those choices are deeply personal for everyone and do not require explanation or justification.  My personal belief in God comes from somewhere I cannot properly explain other than to say it is a spiritual place.

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