However, pretending there is a good reason to live while denying the existence of anything eternal is just… unrealistic. Or blatantly dishonest.
Which is probably why I’ve always liked Woody Allen.
The Wall Street Journal’s recent interview with the director, Older, Mellower, But Still Woody, is a great example of Allen’s unflinching appraisal of his own atheistic assumptions. Here’s the portion of the interview where we get down and dirty:
WSJ: Some say your view is that life is pointless, and others say you’re a romantic realist who believes in being true to yourself. Which is it?
Allen: I think that’s the best you can do, but the true situation is a hopeless one because nothing does last. If we reduce it absurdly for a moment, you know the sun will burn out. You know the universe is falling apart at a fantastically accelerating rate and that at some point there won’t be anything at all. So whether you are Shakespeare or Beethoven or Michelangelo, your stuff’s not going to last. So, given that, even if you were immortal, that time is going to come. Of course, you have to deal with a much more critical problem, which is that you’re not going to last microscopically close to that. So, nothing does last. You do your things. One day some guy wakes up and gets the Times and says, “Hey, Woody Allen died. He keeled over in the shower singing. So, where do you want to have lunch today?”
WSJ: So, what do you do to distract yourself from these depressing thoughts? Knicks games? Or is that depressing, too?
Allen: The Knicks are one kind of distraction. For the two hours you’re at the Garden you’re only focused on that… I am a big sports fan, baseball and basketball, everything. People will say to me, “Does it really matter if the Knicks beat the Celtics?” And I think to myself, “Well, it’s just as important as human existence.”
Allen: Really. It may not seem so, but if you step back and look they are equivalent. (emphasis mine)
In the atheist’s worldview, the Knicks beating the Celtics is equivalent to… “human existence.” Translation: Nothing is better or worse, more significant or less significant, than anything else. Mein Kampf and the Bible share the same fate. The Holocaust, the Black Plague, and the Knicks 1969-70 World Championship (in which they beat the L.A. Lakers) are “equivalent.” Because “nothing does last” Allen rightly concludes “the true situation is a hopeless one.”
Thank you very much.
Which is probably why most attempts by atheists to frame their existence as something other than “a hopeless one” usually come up sounding… dishonest. At least silly. Like this one from About.com’s Agnosticism / Atheism site. Site moderator Austin Cline, in answering the “myth” that “Atheism leads to hopelessness and despair,” writes:
What do I have to look forward to? Life — an enjoyable life doing the things I love and being with the people I love. Why do I live? Because of the people I love and the things I love — basically, because I enjoy life. Does it matter that, eventually, I am going to die and the life I enjoy will end? I admit that that will be unfortunate, but it doesn’t mean that doing what I enjoy now is therefore worthless. After all, every individual action I am doing will end — every good meal end, every trip to an amusement park ends, every good book ends.
Mr. Cline, let me introduce you to Woody Allen, the honest atheist: “…the true situation is a hopeless one because nothing does last.”
“[U]nfortunate” is an understatement.
Of course, atheists can lead “an enjoyable life.” Atheists can be good, kind, and exceedingly happy. The problem is… they have no reason to be. Like the band playing on the sinking Titanic, what does it matter if they’re in key and enjoying it? The icy waters of Oblivion await.
Which could be why there’s so few “honest atheists.”
The honest atheist is one who admits the hopelessness demanded by their worldview. There is no way around it. To allege to live “an enjoyable life” under the shadow of some smoldering cosmic Vesuvius is rather laughable. To pretend that your life — much less your films or art or music — is something more than just a diversion, is simply… dishonest.
Which is why I applaud Woody Allen.