We can put a positive spin on anything. Atheists embrace a flat and monotonous world –one devoid of moral values, meaning or purpose. However, this doesn’t stop them from celebrating it and thinking that they can fill the emptiness with self-created meaning. The Humanist Manifesto II claims that:
- Humanism can provide the purpose and inspiration that so many seek; it can give personal meaning and significance to human life.
After rejecting God and any intrinsic higher purpose and meaning of life, humanism boasts that it can provide the very things that it has eliminated, like filling an empty apartment with furniture, albeit make-believe furniture.
Meanwhile, some atheists have the courage to look at the emptiness endemic to atheism. The brilliant mathematician, Bertrand Russell claimed that the emptiness of an “accidental collocations of atoms… destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system” is the only “meaning” we can embrace:
- Only on the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built. (Why I am not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects, 107)
Surrendering hope of any meaning was Russell’s only “habitation… safely built.” Later in life, Russell realized that atheism was unable to offer anything that could possibly overcome the “accidental collocations of atoms” that inevitably would result in “unyielding despair.” Russell understood that creating meaning and purpose out of a purposeless world is like imagining having a wife and kids where there are none – a mere exercise in self-delusion and escapism.
However, for the younger atheist, the pursuit of pleasure and sensuality seems to be able to fill the void, at least temporarily. In The Pleasures of Cocaine, Adam Gottlieb writes:
- If there is any teleological purpose to man’s existence on earth and in his power to progress, it is that he should achieve a successful form of decadence and learn to live in harmony with it. The life-game then would be, at least in part, to sustain a decadent situation for as long as one might expect any civilization to last…
For Gottlieb, life is about decadence, and decadence is about immediate self-gratification. Evidently, he found little appeal in humanism’s promise to “give personal meaning and significance to human life.”
However, the pursuit of sensual pleasure has a short shelf-life, as King Solomon had concluded:
- Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them.” (Ecclesiastes 12:1)
Solomon advised that our investments had to be far-sighted, and this required an eye to the Creator.