Up@dawn 2.0

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Solo Report Part 1: The Inexhaustible Mystery of Existence

Russell makes a compelling and passionate point about the collective striving of humanity both within and against our shared suffering. As usual his words are powerful, almost magnetic: “Victory, in this struggle with the powers of darkness, is the true baptism into the glorious company of heroes, the true initiation into the overmastering beauty of human existence.” In the absence of God, he gives us ourselves as heroes. Our mere existence, he maintains, ought to quench our thirst for the transcendent. There is plenty to be in awe of in lieu of a distant, unknowable god. The inexhaustible mystery of existence is sacred in that it removes the necessity for which god was purportedly created for. As Voltaire said, “If God didn’t exist, it would be necessary to invent him”--God’s duty is to be the object of our reverence. But, in this pathos-driven argument, Russell contends that the “inmost shrine of the soul” is not built for god but for humanity.

Scheffler, I think, would agree. He renders immortality undesirable because it would cease to be “a human life.” It would be altogether Other, and--as he points out--we like living. We crave an afterlife because we want to keep being alive in the most human of senses. So when Russell says, “From that awful encounter of the soul with the outer world, renunciation, wisdom, and charity are born; and with their birth a new life begins,” I’m inclined to believe Scheffler would not only concur but incorporate this idea into his own. He would call the “awful encounter of the soul with the outer world” a whole human life. The “new life [that] begins” is the afterlife as he understands it in a godless context: the perseverance of humanity after an individual expires. This is his “inexhaustible mystery of existence”--that we, as a collective, strive on.

Likewise, De Botton’s argument is bolstered by Russell’s words. The concept of the soul, as with Russell, is used to convey a meaningful expression of human existence. It is not mere survival but a kind of thriving. Like Russell, De Botton encourages encounters with the transcendent that we have access to but in a more concrete way: “we should insist that a percentage of all prominently positioned television screens on public view be hooked up to live feeds from the transponders of our extraplanetary telescopes,” for “we live in a universe riddled with mysteries.”   

While I respect Baggini as a philosopher, I think he would be disinclined to take this view. If I knew more of his work, perhaps I would think differently. But the few, short poetic sentiments he indulges in in Atheism: A Very Short Introduction are far overshadowed by the necessity of evidence and combative arguments.. His take-no-prisoners style speaks of a hardcore devotion to materialistic atheism. When he wishes for the religious to outgrow their need for a god the way a child outgrows its need for its parents, for instance, he is not terribly sympathetic to the vast need many have and cultivate for the transcendent in some form, even the nonreligious. Thus, for me, as De Botton, Scheffler, and even unapologetic Russell acknowledge this all-too-human urge, they engender a redemptive quality to the unsentimental in their field. The facts have their place but so does “the overmastering beauty of human existence.”

1 comment:

  1. I think you're right, there's not a lot of poetry in Baggini's worldview - at least as presented in his very brief intro to Atheism. Despite their significant differences, our other authors all recognize our drive for beauty as well as truth.