The Tentative Apologist
5/12/09 at 09:16 AM 1 Comments

Atheism: A Cost/Benefit Analysis

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Let's just admit it: atheism boasts some significant advantages. For one thing, the atheist does not have to get up early on Sunday mornings and corral the kids in a frantic effort to make the service on time. Rather, he is free to loll around the house, reading the Sunday paper over a cup of smoky French Roast while getting all the latest political gossip on "Meet the Press" and "Face the Nation".

And there is no requirement to give to the poor. If the Christian kept the hundreds (or thousands) of dollars that she spends every month in tithes, in no time she too could have a new Samsung LED TV sparkling in her living room.Now that's the good life!

And while the Christian groans under the weight of the cross she has been directed to take up and carry every day, the atheist is free to go play tennis, ride a bike, or do simply whatever his little heart desires. Not bad at all!

But like the "Don't pay for sixty days" ads for that new Samsung TV, atheism also has a cost that eventually comes due. And you start paying it once you begin to realize that, according to atheism, we came from nothing, by nothing, and for nothing. For the shallow atheist, that "for nothing" promises to liberate (no obligations!). But the thoughtful atheist understands that "for nothing" means that there is no meaning or purpose to life. And the repercussions of that are staggering indeed.

So staggering is the cost that many atheists cannot admit that there is no meaning to life, and so they engage in the futile and self-deceptive attempt to project meaning onto the universe. Consider the case of Timothy Treadwell. A classic eccentric, for a number of years he spent his summers living among the Kodiak bears of Alaska. During his time with the bears Treadwell and his girlfriend Amie filmed hundreds of hours of footage, some of which was incorporated by award-winning German filmmaker Werner Herzog into his fascinating documentary Grizzly Man.

As we watch Treadwell's erratic and obsessive behavior in the film, one is led to wonder what drove him to spend his summers risking his life living with wild bears. I believe that Herzog's analysis is correct: Treadwell could find no objective meaning in his empty southern California life of beaches and parties. Desperate for spiritual purpose, he journeyed to a romanticized "secret world of the bears" in an attempt to find meaning by relating to nature.

But Herzog is a thoughtful atheist, and thus he points out that Treadwell's efforts are futile attempts to project meaning onto the blind indifference of nature. At one point in the film Treadwell is filming a bear about twenty feet away. While the bear stares lazily back at the camera, Herzog comments in a jarring voice-over narration:

"what haunts me is that in all the faces of all the bears that Treadwell ever filmed I discover no kinship, no understanding, no mercy. I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature. To me there is no such thing as the secret world of the bears and this blank stare speaks only of a half-bored interest in food. But for Timothy Treadwell this bear was a friend, a savior."

Herzog's analysis is unforgiving: there is no meaning or purpose in nature to guide our lives, and certainly no kinship. And to delude ourselves otherwise can only lead to further misery. His analysis is borne out as well. The result of Treadwell's self-delusion comes hours after that footage when the very bear that was filmed kills and eats both Treadwell and Amie.

And so in Herzog's view the universe is one big blank stare. All that Treadwell had to look forward to was being food for bears. All we have to look foward to is being food for worms. Nothing we do has any objective value or meaning.

Enjoy your Sunday morning...

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