An Atheist’s Account of Existential Angst

There have been several times as an atheist in which I have experienced existential angst, and I’ve noticed that this angst seems to hover around two different extremes. Sometimes these extremes are the very components of atheism that make me happiest; but the tension between the two is very undesirable.

On one side is a determination to embrace the void. In the absence of God, the theory goes, our lives have no inherent meaning. This lack of inherent meaning is embodied in a laughter at the void, at the feelings of others, at propriety, at tears, at happiness, and so on. And yet, within this laughter, fueling this laughter, is a hypocrisy, because the same voice that proudly proclaims the void of emotion and feelings and propriety often enforces a pride-filled sense of propriety that privileges “strength” in the face of the void.

On the other side is a splintering of the world. There is no God to consolidate or displace our emotions as human beings, so the absence of God suddenly causes all of them to burst into disparate, contradictory elements that overwhelm us. We feel the laughter, we feel the pain, we feel the standards of propriety in overwhelming, often contradictory detail — we feel all these things, perhaps more intensely than a theist. And we accept them as real, because we experience their reality. The most bewildering task may be to navigate this overwhelmingly multifaceted reality. And yet, at the heart of THIS task is also a contradictory emotion — the frequent impulse that there IS a “right” direction among the many contradictory ones.

And then there is the tension between the two — the yawning void, existing at the same time as the screaming presence.

And there are times in my own life in which I feel the overwhelming void and the overwhelming presence of existence simultaneously.

Sometimes thinking about my atheism in this way gets me thinking…

I wonder if this is the Problem many religions seek to solve. Maybe Buddhism, with the tension inherent in reaching Nirvana. Christianity, with the death and resurrection of Christ that Christians simultaneously embody. Possibly several others…maybe, as human beings, we tend to share a lot of basic traits across ideologies.

Now, I know you’re probably thinking about solutions for this possible problem…

And perhaps the trick of existence is to not take this tension too seriously, to laugh at the dance, to enjoy our years….

But it is also a beautiful thing, in my mind, to take it seriously, to allow yourself to drown in the contradictory mystery….

The most difficult reality is that, when you see the void, it doesn’t matter what you choose.

And then, on the many sides of overwhelming “presence” — it makes all the difference in the world.

And in existential angst, it means both, intensely and paradoxically.

But you still have to make a choice.

Or do you?

Thanks for reading.

PS: I want to thank all 33 patrons who made this blog post possible.

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