In a recent post,”On Christian Horror and Atheist Dread” author Mike Duran makes the rather broad and erroneous claim that Atheist horror centers around the fear of “The Great Void.”“A world without meaning and purpose is the ultimate horror. A universe that arose by chance, exists without meaning, where lives plummet toward annihilation is the worst kind of horror.”I would, in fact, assert that the fear he describes is at the heart of Christian Horror and in the entire Christian faith if not all faiths. It is what drives the religious screaming to their church pews and confessionals, clutching their bibles to their bosom. It is what makes them cling to faith and stubbornly resist reason. The atheist simply accepts the void as reality and moves on with his or her life.…There is nothing to fear from non-existence because you will never experience it. You cannot experience nothingness. You will never “feel” not being. So what’s to fear?
Or, to invoke one of my favorite ancient Greeks again:
Epicurus also believed (contra Aristotle) that death was not to be feared. When a man dies, he does not feel the pain of death because he no longer is and he therefore feels nothing. Therefore, as Epicurus famously said, “death is nothing to us.” When we exist death is not, and when death exists we are not. All sensation and consciousness ends with death and therefore in death there is neither pleasure nor pain. The fear of death arises from the false belief that in death there is awareness.
This is such a simple idea, but paradoxically so hard for people to adjust themselves to. I was raised, like most people, to accept the idea of a soul and an afterlife as perfectly obvious (my mom was a typical lapsed Catholic of her generation, who found the casual, hazy, nonjudgmental, nondenominational religious beliefs of the New Age movement to be much more to her liking). I remember how jarring it felt to me at first to be forced to consider a materialist point of view, and like a lot of people, I took my initial knee-jerk aversion to what I perceived as a “meaningless” worldview to be a worthy objection, as if any affront to my vanity was ipso facto invalid. You still hear this all the time from people who reject the idea of atheism or materialism, that it was too depressing for them to contemplate for very long. But I say as gently as I can to them: the universe does not need your personal permission to be what it is.
How many there are who still conclude: “life could not be endured if there were no God!” (Or, as it is put among the idealists: “life could not be endured if its foundation lacked an ethical significance!”) – therefore there must be a God (or existence must have an ethical significance)! The truth, however, is merely that he who is accustomed to these notions does not desire a life without them: that these notions may therefore be necessary to him and for his preservation – but what presumption it is to decree that whatever is necessary for my preservation must actually exist! As if my preservation were something necessary! How if others felt in the opposite way! If those two articles of faith were precisely the conditions under which they no longer found life worth living! And that is how things are now!– Nietzsche
The sticking point seems to be that we take for granted, probably as a lingering inheritance of our monotheistic history, that meaning is something that has to be given to us (by a god, obviously), that has to be bestowed upon the raw clay of matter; otherwise, matter just sits there, inert and lifeless. But meaning does exist. It exists as an ongoing project between us, a social reality. Isn’t this obvious? Think about the things that have made your life worth living. Why should they be any less enjoyable or meaningful just because they’re not absolutely guaranteed to exist forever in some form? Why should the fact that something ends cancel out the fact that it began and endured in the first place? Life itself has no inherent meaning, in the sense that life itself is not a symbol of something else. It isn’t a signpost pointing the way to someplace else. It just is. And yet, the basic material conditions of life, supposedly so desolate and hostile, have produced at least one type of creature with a certain type of brain capable of thinking conceptually and symbolically, capable of living lives devoted to concepts like art, beauty and love. We grew and developed out of those conditions, and we dissolve back into them. Fearing what it will be like after you’re dead is akin to fearing what it was like before you were born. It’s just a confused way of projecting yourself into situations where “you” can’t even exist.