"The story is told (by Kierkegaard) of the absent-minded man so abstracted from his own life that he hardly knows he exists until, one fine morning, he wakes up to find himself dead... we could wake tomorrow morning without ever having touched the roots of our own existence."
-William Barrett, Irrational Man
We are living in the post-Nietzschean age. The howling cries of Friedrich Nietzsche's proclamations of the death of God have echoed down the years, but have now seemed to have ended in a shrug and a stare.
These last few days, I have been having conversations with a young man who refers to himself as a "spiritual atheist" - I am still trying to figure out what exactly this entails. Regardless of this, he seems to take great delight in questioning me on the existence of God.
In light of his admission that he had never really read any of the arguments for the existence of God, nor any theological writings really at all (nor any atheist ones either!), I sent him a few writings to look at. Today, he told me that he read half a paragraph of one, and gave up - he just wasn't interested. So I said to him, "Really then, what you're telling me is that you are indifferent to the existence of God."
His reply was mind-blowing - to sum it up, he said that the existence of God (whether He exists or not), the study of religion and the "big questions" made no difference to him. He didn't really want to put the effort into understanding something that made little difference at all in his daily life, and found the multitude of peoples and faiths proclaiming all manner of truths leading him to simply live out his truth. He even asked me how an atheist could be a philosopher - perhaps because, according to his reasoning, for the atheist there is nothing to philosophize about. It all sounded like absurdity to me.
"Everything, in short, has become questionable. The magnificent certainty we see in the Fathers and Saints of the Church, and in all true believers, that refers everything, whether in thought or life, back to God, seeing everything as beginning and ending in Hom, everything as His will - this certainty and faith that once held society and the world and man himself together, are now gone, and the questions for which men once had learned to find the answers in God, now have - for most men - no answers."1 (Fr. Seraphim Rose)
This is the leftover, tail-end of relativism, scientism, positivism, and Nietzschean skepticism. And frankly, it breaks my heart to hear the things that this young man said to me. This kind of worldview, a kind of devil-may-care whatever attitude about the questions that have perplexed man throughout his entire existence makes no sense to me. None of the atheist minds before this age of ours were indifferent to God and religion - quite the opposite. Jean-Paul Sartre built his entire philosophy around the premise that God does not exist, and aptly showed the ramifications of such a worldview. Albert Camus agonized over the existence of God, declaring suicide to be the only real philosophical problem of existence - "I share with you the same revulsion from evil. But I do not share your hope, and I continue to struggle against this universe in which children suffer and die."2 Nietzsche's Jacobean wrestling with God throughout his life bears testament to a hideous passion that sought to dethrone the divine itself. And this is only a few recent thinkers!
But we now live in an age where, by and large, it seems many do not even engage with such questions anymore - they simply "live in the now", entirely indifferent to the "big questions", comforting themselves with "nice" ambiguous afterlives devoid of responsibility or judgment. Yes, an increased hatred of religion can be seen nowadays - but also I see that it is a slightly bemused curiousity at how someone could still believe in God in the age of science (really, scientism) that is also largely present. In our time, a Nietzsche would never exist - such thought, and such rigorous passion, would take far too much effort. Our age is the one where "man has figured almost exclusively as an epistemological subject - as an intellect that registers sense-data, makes propositions, reasons, and seeks the certainty of intellectual knowledge, but not as the man underneath all this, who is born, suffers, and dies."3
Why should one spend so much effort in devoting themselves to understanding concepts about which they care so little about in the first place? This is the line of reasoning in the Post-Nietzschean era in which we find ourselves; in the end, I am only "a lump of flesh with teeth and a stomach."4 (Fyodor Dostoevsky) "One must scream, but the whole situation is a lostness and a damnation, including the scream."5 (Francis Schaeffer)
The world has taken Nietzsche's words and embedded them in its conscience - the strong over the weak, independence of self to the detriment of all others, the dull throb of an existence without meaning, the truth that there is no truth, all dwelling in heaps and piles in the halls of relativism which we walk down, and which seem to be endless. "The great masquerade of evil has thrown all ethical concepts into confusion."6 (Dietrich Bonhoeffer) But the post-Nietzschean world knows little, in general, of why it is the way it is. Many who say they do not believe in God have done no research to arrive at the conclusion - and in some ways, far too many who believe in God tragically often do so only in a manner akin to "going through the motions."
And so we have ended up in an era that cares little for its own existence - after the death of God was proclaimed, the era of distraction began. And what better way to soothe one's grief over loss than by distractions! It is not so much the atheist, who has researched his position and come to his conclusions through an earnest search for the truth, that I cannot take -no, it is the great sadness and perplexity I feel over those who are so indifferent to why they even exist at all: it is the widespread curse of the unexamined life.
1 - Nihilism, "The Philosophy of the Absurd", pg. 106
2 - "What Unbelievers Expect From Christians"
3 - William Barrett, Irrational Man, "The Place of the Furies", pg. 276
4 - The House of the Dead, I:V
5 - He is There and He is Not Silent, "Appendix I"
6 - "After Ten Years", qtd. in I Loved This People, pg. 18