The Only Reason You Haven’t Gone Insane Or Killed Yourself

“The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it seems pointless.” – Steven Weinberg

“Brief and powerless is Man’s life; on him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark.” – Bertrand Russell

Life is a sickening, horrific, mind-crushing experience.

If you look at it objectively, that is.

We live short lives.  Lives that are so incomprehensibly insignificant compared to the vast expanse of time that the mind boggles simply to try and understand it.

And our insignificance within time is only matched by our insignificance in space: the trillions of galaxies, a universe beyond our grasp of understanding, dark matter…

In other words, we don’t matter.

If you look at it objectively, that is.

Add onto that the fact that we will all die.  Whatever we think of as “ourselves” will decay into the earth, and then, if you believe the scientists, that earth itself will one day get swallowed by our exploding sun.

That in one hundred or one thousand or one million years, everyone will forget about us.  And then the people who forgot us will be forgotten.

In other words, not only do we not matter, but nothing matters.  Nothing in our pathetically tiny world, at least.

If you look at it objectively, that is.

Objectiviity in this discussion means believing that all that exists is the physical.  It means that all we are looking at are the facts we can measure and see with our eyes or our instruments or our mathematics.

There are a lot of people that tell us to think objectively.  They want us to only look at the world from a materialist point of view, they want us to stop imagining things like spirituality, G-d, subjective truth… they want us to not believe but to measure.  To live only with what we know, what our senses can tell us.

But I submit that those people are dishonest.  And are not looking at the world objectively.

Why?

Because if they were really only looking at what could be measured, I think they would have died of either depression or suicide.

If all we looked at were the facts above, life would be an unbearable burden.  A time that does not have inherent worth, that anything worked for does not last, where things like kindness and goodness simply can’t be objectively proven, and even if they could, they wouldn’t matter because we will all be dead and our planet destroyed one day.

It must have been easier 500 years ago, 1000 years ago… when even the materialists could convince themselves they were the center of the universe.

But that’s no longer the case.  We know we don’t matter (if we look at life objectively).  We know that nothing we do counts (if we look at it objectively).  We know that we are impossibly small specks in both time and space.

These are measurable facts.

And if we were honest with ourselves, they would crush us.  Destroy us.  We wouldn’t have children, because we wouldn’t want them to be subject to this nauseating reality.  We wouldn’t try to build a better society.

If someone really meditated on the idea that they are going to die and that absolutely nothing will happen after that, that all that will happen will be emptiness, non-existence, for eternity… I think they would go mad.  They wouldn’t be depressed, they would be scared.  Scared beyond belief.  Scared beyond sanity.  There is simply no other normal human response to such a reality.

In other words, I think that anyone that claims to not have faith is a liar.  I think anyone that claims they don’t believe in a higher truth, that there is some meaning behind all this chaos, this vast near-infinity of physical reality, is in denial.

Because if they were honest, they would be either in an insane asylum or they’d be dead by their own hand.

I think that somewhere inside of all of us, we believe in the possibility of meaning to this world.  We inherently have faith.  We trust that there is a why behind the how.

And just because people claim otherwise does not mean they know what they are saying.

Faith is beyond conscious choice.  It is beyond the words you decide to spit out of your mouth or the thoughts you force your mind to have.  It is beyond a ruler, a clock, a computer, or whatever you are using to measure reality.

It is a part of you, and without it you are not human.

Or you are insane.  Or you are dead.

There are no other options.

“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” – Viktor Frankl


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16 responses to “The Only Reason You Haven’t Gone Insane Or Killed Yourself”

  1. Tuvia Avatar
    Tuvia

    I guess the question is: do people need more than a faith that something is right about living?

    I know that as a secular Jew growing up I was proud of my faith — and figured life had meaning.

    Seeing how the sausage got made in orthodox Judaism was probably the first or second most disappointing thing I have ever experienced.

    The intellectual level of orthodox Judaism is a terrible reminder of how lost we just might be.

    I was way better off not getting to know the amazing, sweet, rabbis and OJ people I got to know. Because while they know a lot about what a community can look like, they know virtually nothing else. Very much like each and every one of us. And they won’t admit it.

    There is a fake way – religion. But better keep your mouth shut on that one. Or get the boot.

    Courage to walk away. Courage to say your truth. Courage to hear others, but remind them they are bullies when they tell you they “know” the Torah must be True, and you are a heretic who should be afraid, per our lovely Torah, for your heresy.

    Remember: they are bad people. Anyone, atheist or strong believer, is carrying a loaded weapon, and pointing it at your head every time they try to convince you they KNOW something.

    Don’t believe them.

    Good post..!

  2. DWinter Avatar
    DWinter

    There are likely only two ways to avoid the existential abyss. One of them is adherence to the dominant contemporary materialist view, clinging to life preservers because they are familiar *things* in a sea of meaninglessness. Another is blind faith, closing one’s eyes shut tight and living in one’s head, ignoring the physical world and following the religious program of the straight and narrow. Both of these lack authenticity. Opening one’s eyes, seeing the abyss, confronting it and having faith that there still *must* be something greater, beyond davening by rote and beyond clinging to temporal material, that is true faith.

  3. Greg Lauren Avatar
    Greg Lauren

    so what happens when the idea of ‘Olam Haba’ comes into the picture and what we do here on a material level…ie being a CEO, making crazy money, creating gadgets/hi-tech for people to use, pushing the human experience forward etc etc…becomes totally meaningless and the ONLY things meaningful are our mitzvot and good deeds.

    UNLESS…all of those material things are made to somehow bring HaShem’s light into the world.

    example: Google Glass used by a Chabad shliach to get students on campus to put on tefillin.

    in and of itself, Google Glass is meaningless. (from an objective point of view)…but as it pertains to mitzvot, it’s HIGHLY meaningful.

  4. Rebecca K. Avatar
    Rebecca K.

    I think there is a third option to letting existential terror lead you to death or insanity…it’s not paying attention. I think a huge amount of our binge-eating, TV-watching, partying, and other pleasure-seeking behavior (I’m talking about myself, too, here) is an attempt to ignore the difficulties of living as a tiny person in a huge and scary world.

    Every day, I have to remind myself of what Greg Lauren mentions — that this world isn’t the only, or the last one, that we don’t see the real outcome of our mitzvos and so on until then — in order to fend off the drive to just cave into that terror.

    1. Tuvia Avatar
      Tuvia

      Wouldn’t it be funny if we get to the next world and G-d is like “what’s a mitzvah?”

      1. Greg Lauren Avatar
        Greg Lauren

        or not lol

        1. Tuvia Avatar
          Tuvia

          Christians have these too, no? Like where they see JC in near death experiences. I haven’t checked, but Islamic folks prob have these too. Maybe we’re all just kind of being weird humans, no?

  5. emma rubinstein Avatar
    emma rubinstein

    I can read your references to the book of my beloved rabbi Jonathan Sacks.
    He talks about faith which is different from religious faith. You can be religious and don’t have faith. His definition of faith (not religious) is about someone who is not scared of taking risks.
    Once, i met a Satmerer who had a deep religious faith, but he has no faith (in life). He didn’t have the courage to change things in his life. Hashem controls his life, period, that’s what he said. What is his meaning in this case?

  6. linmalki Avatar
    linmalki

    Your basic premise was the starting place for a book that came out in 1942 in France by Albert Camus, Le Mythe de Sisyphe (The Myth of Sisyphus). It was triggered by the philosophical, political and social upheavals and questions of leading up to, during and after World War II and the Cold War. His writings were very influential in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. His answer was that faced with the choice of suicide or faith, you can choose to accept that life is “absurd” and find your own meaning. I read it as a college student in the 1960’s; if anything, it confirmed my Christian faith.

  7. rebecca.odessa Avatar
    rebecca.odessa

    “If someone really meditated on the idea that they are going to die and that absolutely nothing will happen after that, that all that will happen will be emptiness, non-existence, for eternity… I think they would go mad.”
    I think Buddhists would disagree with this. They believe that Nirvana (i.e. emptiness) awaits them after death…that coconsciousness is extinguished…like the blowing out of a candle. To counteract the necessary difficulty the ego has with coming to terms with such a reality – and to avoid, as you suggest, going mad or becoming suicidal – Buddhism teaches non-attachment. I get the reasoning there – if you’re not attached to the idea of self…or the world etc…you wont be upset by the idea of their extinction. It is a remarkable system of belief and offers an interesting and penetrating alternative to what you suggest in the latter part of the post.

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  9. Eli Berger Avatar
    Eli Berger

    Thank you for expanding on that dense part of korbanos we should learn to experience more: לעולם

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