I ran across a story about Nietzsche in John Caputo’s Philosophy and Theology this morning that made me think a little bit. I’m not even sure whether the story is directly related to what this blog post will (eventually) be about. Either way, here it is:
Once upon a time, on a little star in a distant corner of the universe, clever little animals invented for themselves proud words, like truth and goodness. But soon enough the little star cooled, and the little animals had to die and with them their proud words. But the universe, never missing a step, drew another breath and moved on, dancing its cosmic dance across endless skies.
It seems to me that Nietzsche was one of the most honest philosophers regarding his atheism. He seemed to make no attempt to attach meaning to a world that was God-less. All ethical or moral statements were simply value statements based on culture or experience. They meant absolutely nothing. Granted, I must admit I have read very little of Nietzsche’s work. This simply seems to be the case based on what I’ve read. Contrast this with the New Atheist movement, who seem no better than Christian Fundamentalists in their quest to (dis)prove God’s existence, and yet still find meaning or beauty in the world (yes, I recognize I’m making generalizations). Taken to its logical conclusion, atheism holds nothing but emptiness and and desperation.
This, to me, is why all philosophy and theology hinges on the question of God. The question itself is the beginning and the end. With God, we basically have something to work with. Human existence has meaning and can move forward, onto other questions.. Without God, existence is stripped of its meaning. Sure, we can discuss whether there are “higher moral standards,” or a “universal law.” We can discuss evolution, look back on the history of the world or the universe, and hope to make sense of the situation we find ourselves in. Eventually, however, the pursuit of these things is utterly futile. A God-less universe means humans are thrown into existence by some random (non)force, live for a few decades, and die. There is nothing other than that. Not only that, but our lives in comparison to the age of the world or universe are nothing but a vapor. Less than a vapor. They are nothing. Why even bother discussing philosophy? It makes absolutely no difference, except to give us something to do until we die. I don’t mean to be depressing here, but that’s the reality of accepting a truly atheistic worldview.
The question I ask myself, though, is this: Am I choosing to believe in God so that I have an ultimate Reality to lean on when faced with the question of meaning? Human beings are so desperate for a sense of purpose and meaning – somehow feeling like our lives are significant. But is that really a good motivator for choosing God? I can’t deny that, many times, that’s my reasoning. I choose God to give myself purpose. I’m not saying otherwise I should disbelieve in God. I’m just asking whether this is a good reason to believe. Is it even possible to separate belief in God from a desire for meaning?
To my religious friends/readers: When you truly think about it, why have you chosen God? Why do you continue to choose God?
To my atheist friends/readers:How do you deal with your acceptance of a God-less universe? Do you still find some way to attach meaning to existence, despite the absence of an ultimate Reality?
***As a footnote, I should say I could be completely wrong here. I’m just putting out my own thoughts and feelings towards these questions. My goal is not to offend anyone, but to truly understand why people have chosen what to believe, and how they (we) find meaning within that framework.