Sixteen Steps Short of a Coma

Published by realitybites in the blog realitybites's blog. Views: 2186

*Update January 12, 2012 ~ The author of the blog Camels With Hammers conducted a 24 hour blogathon yesterday. During this time he responded to questions from readers. I asked him what his thoughts on existentialism are? He provided a very detailed analysis of the faults he finds with adopting the existentialist label. Though he has a PhD in philosophy and I am just the holder of a bachelor's of sociology degree, I am not convinced to accept his position. I think he is correct on many levels. But I don't think his solutions account for the never-been churched atheists out there, such as myself, who aren't attempting to deprogram themselves from one of the monotheistic religions that dominate American culture. What if one never belonged to a community of believers nor practiced religious rituals? What if one was never directly indoctrinated to accept a moral code derived from the Abrahamic religious texts? What if being existentialist doesn't necessitate one to be a nihilist? One can still believe life can have meaning and value and that some actions can be judged to be better than others. God isn't necessary in order for a reasonable moral code to exist. Humans can and do create good values and ethics using common sense such as applying the Golden Rule. We don't need some supernaturally imposed morality; we can derive it from within ourselves as living social beings driven by our genetic makeup to act cooperatively and civil with one another because we need each other in order to survive both as individuals and as a society? I think Dan agrees with this point but can't separate nihilism from existentialism, for some reason. Maybe I can because I was never taught to put the two together in the first place. My ignorance may be my blessing. And so, I still argue this metaphysical paradigm works for some of us. E is for existentialism; it's good enough for me.

Scroll down to bottom to read my post asking about existentialism. Then follow the link to read Dan's reply.)*

Just stumbled upon an extremely well-written, original, persuasive, and thought-provoking essay by an atheist philosophy professor named Daniel Fincke, who writes a blog titled Camels With Hammers. Read entire essay "My Goals As An Atheist Writer" HERE, first. Then see my commentary below.

Though I agree with much of what Daniel writes, I take issue with these statements:


"The alternative to developing robust atheistic religions is to leave the alternative to be the benefits of integrating life the way religions can vs. the threat of a fractured, disoriented life as an atheist. Some current atheists get this and want robust replacements for religion. A significant portion of us are so burned on the abusive forms of religion wed to all the awfulness I’ve listed above that they have an understandably knee jerk reflex against anything that even smells like a religion. Other atheists I think are partially atheists because it was their anti-communal and/or hyper-intellectual temperaments that made it relatively easy for them to break with religion and its emphases on group-based development of values and practices.

If atheists are to really broaden our ranks beyond the base of those who are smart enough to be unable to believe and those who are individualistic enough to have no use for group-developed values, we really need to offer the average person—i.e., that person of average intellect and average sociability, who for very good, highly evolutionarily selected reasons, wants to turn to institutions and authorities for guidance in values and practice and philosophy—something more robust than "“think for yourself, learn science, visit atheist blogs, and stop believing all bullshit even when it’s bound up with practices and beliefs that give your life a powerful sense of orientation!”"​


I am this type of atheist: "...anti-communal and/or hyper-intellectual temperament that made it relatively easy for me to break with religion (or never join one) and its emphases on group-based development of values and practices." And so, I don't have a need for the rituals and community found through religious affiliation. However, the author argues that religion is needed by the masses, and therefore, atheists must replace traditional religions with atheistic ones or our ranks will be limited to loners and highly-intelligent people such as ourselves. Isn't this a wee bit condescending? Not to me of course; I'm not one of average intelligence nor sociability who is programmed through evolution to need religion. Nature skipped me when handing out the hard-wiring. I'm special. I'm a part of the 1%. Kidding. Sort of.

Seriously though, this sounds like the opiate for the masses maxim e.g. the people need their religion to give them guidance, purpose, and morality. Without it they are lost and find life void of meaning. This may be true. Perhaps the simpletons out there need religion. And us uber-sharp folks don't. Does this mean I should advocate the creation of an atheistic religion to fill the void that will be left once deity-dependent, supernaturally-infused, patriarchal, authoritarian, racist, homophobic, tribalistic, nationalistic religions are obliterated? Why can't existentialism fill the void? Too depressing? No rituals? No community? No ethics? Perhaps some people can't be the conductors of their own lives and do need leaders to follow, rules to adhere to, and rituals to practice. It is a lot of mental work to be a freethinker. It's much easier to simply follow the herd.

~ From update January, 12, 2012
The Question

I’d be interested in your thoughts on existentialism. It seems it gets a bad wrap by both the philosophical community and the public at large.

I understand that you are a Nietzschean scholar. Apparently he never called himself an existentialist. I am not versed enough on Nietzsche to know whether or not I would regard him to be one or not. I only mention this to inform you that my interest in existentialism isn’t tied to his writings.

Existentialism is my metaphysical paradigm. I think that we are born, live as physical beings on earth, and then die. That’s it. There is no god, karma, nor fate that has predestined our life’s purpose. We are free to choose our life’s course. Of course the environment and genetics will limit our agency.

Therefore, we must give our lives meaning. Perhaps we can find it through the connections we have with our fellow beings or through creating art, music, or literature.

This philosophy is enough for me. It can be bleak but it is the only one I’ve come across that makes sense to me. All others encompass leaps of faith and wishful thinking.

Why don’t more atheists adopt the existentialist label? After all, atheism isn’t a philosophy, creed, nor belief system. You advocate an atheistic religion. Why not advocate atheistic existentialism? We don’t all need rituals, community, and moral codes to be connected to our metaphysical belief system. At least I don’t.

Is it possible that most self-described atheists don’t even realize that existentialism is an option?


The Reply

Against Atheist Existentialism
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