Saturday, October 2, 2010

Absurd faith?

We have gotten a couple of interesting comments recently, essentially questioning whether we are really simply extolling the virtues of the absurd, or instead proselytizing something akin to religious faith. In other words (as we see it), the objections are that while we say people should be free to live as they choose, our insistence on the absurd as the "best" mode of living belies this claim.

This is a worthwhile point to explore, as it gets to the heart of the argument for living the absurd life. As we have noted, our intention in writing this blog is not to get at some universal truth, but rather to figure out the best way to live in what we view as a meaningless, uncaring universe. However, in the course of developing such a worldview, we have discovered that the absurd answers many, many questions, while competing theories run into one dead-end after another.

The issue of "personal meaning," for example, has come up again and again, with several readers insisting that such meaning can peaceably coexist with universal irrelevance. As we have argued, however, this is nothing more than a comfortable delusion--the notion that meaning can exist for an individual is simply inconsistent with universal meaninglessness (to say nothing of the existence, or lack thereof, of the self).

Or consider this example, pulled from yesterday's Wall Street Journal, when a letter writer took exception to Stephen Hawking's claim, in his new book, that the universe does not require a creator (i.e., God): "Where did the apparently infinite energy and order we know as the universe and life come from? Over the eons when something couldn't be explained, God was invoked. I am willing to go with that."

This, as with all religious belief, is simply a cop-out, and difficult to take seriously. Does the writer realize he is endorsing the view that thunder and lightning are the work of Zeus, and ocean waves the province of Poseidon? Even worse, he identifies himself as a longtime electronics engineer--in other words, a man of science.

The importance of family and circumstance are other areas most people have extreme difficulty squaring with the theoretical appeal of the absurd; while they like the concept of meaninglessness, they simply cannot accept that, well, their family and friends are meaningless too!

To get back to the original question, it is certainly not our intent to sound like "someone saying how great it is to accept Jesus," as one commenter put it...but the reality is that the absurd is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. Either one believes the world is meaningless, and humanity a fluke (but nonetheless fascinating) accident, or one doesn't. The problem with the latter is that most people are not willing to accept what is required to rebut the absurd--namely, something beyond the physical. As we have written in the past, we have more respect for religious fundamentalists than we do for Sunday churchgoers; at least the fundamentalists have a consistent belief system.

In sum, we are certainly open to other worldviews that not only allow the freedom and contentment of the absurd, but are also remarkably consistent in their philosophy. We, however, have yet to come across one...

Finally, don't take our word for it, consider the following quote from David Foster Wallace. The quote is from Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, written by David Lipsky about a roadtrip he took with Wallace during the post-launch publicity tour for Infinite Jest. There are many compelling lines in the book, but the following may be our favorite:

“There’s a kind of queer dissatisfaction or emptiness at the core of the self that is unassuageable by outside stuff. And my guess is that that’s been what’s going on, ever since people were hitting each other over the head with clubs. Though describable in a number of different words and cultural argots. And that our particular challenge is that there’s never been more and better stuff coming from the outside, that seems temporarily to sort of fill the hole or drown out the hole.”

The absurd man not only recognizes the hole exists, not only sees it for the bottomless pit that it is...but smiles at the futility of trying to fill it. That, to us, is the wonder of the absurd.


  1. I think that Benjamin Franklin was an absurd man, but didn't fully realize it. He is alleged to have said, "Beer is proof that God loves us, and wants us to be happy."

    My view is that beer is a happy aspect of this meaningless, uncaring universe, and we might as well enjoy drinking it while we're still in one piece.

    I think he might well have agreed that is a useful and reasonable perspective.

  2. Having been an alcoholic for 18 years (sober now for 22) I've found beer more of a problem than a solution. In a meaningless and uncaring universe even our simplest solutions can turn out to be traps.

  3. Gets to the heart?
    Here's me wee video that REALLY gets to the
    H E A R T of it, faith-wise anywho.

    Stay on groovin' safari,

  4. If you escape into beer, you are just as bad as the person escaping into death.

    Both don't want to embrace the fact that life is inherently meaningless.

    Absurdists never attempt to distract themselves from this essential fact; they live in spite of it.

    That's not to say you can't enjoy alcohol. But when it comes to a point of distraction from the absurdity of life, then you must recognize it as that.