May 20, 2019

Against Immortality

“At a recent conference on belief and unbelief hosted by the journal Salmagundi, the novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson confessed to knowing some good people who are atheists, but lamented that she has yet to hear “the good Atheist position articulated.” She explained, “I cannot engage with an atheism that does not express itself.”

She who hath ears to hear, let her hear. One of the most beautifully succinct expressions of secular faith in our bounded life on earth was provided not long after Christ supposedly conquered death, by Pliny the Elder, who called down “a plague on this mad idea that life is renewed by death!” Pliny argued that belief in an afterlife removes “Nature’s particular boon,” the great blessing of death, and merely makes dying more anguished by adding anxiety about the future to the familiar grief of departure. How much easier, he continues, “for each person to trust in himself,” and for us to assume that death will offer exactly the same “freedom from care” that we experienced before we were born: oblivion.

No doubt much will depend on our definitions of “atheist” and “good.” But, if Pliny is too antique for Robinson, listen to Montaigne: the Montaigne who professed a nominal Christianity but proceeded as if his formal belief were essentially irrelevant to his daily existence, and perhaps even at odds with it; the Montaigne whose wanton pagan invocation of “fortune” in his essays provoked Vatican censors. Or attend to the work and life of Chekhov, the good nonbelieving doctor who asserted that his “holy of holies” was the human body, the writer whose adulterous characters in “The Lady with the Little Dog” stop to look at the sea near Yalta and are reminded that their small drama is nothing alongside the water’s timeless indifference…”

Read more

JJ Editor's Daily Picks

"My fellow progressives actually doubt if I'm still a Democrat just because I won't accept Nicolas Maduro's tyrannic regime in my home of Venezuela."

"One of the particular characteristics of the Trump presidency is the way Trump consistently creates drama – some by design, some not – that makes it hard to see the broader outline of events."

"Israel’s Eurovision entry barely made a dent on the scoreboard but there’s no doubt that the Jewish State was the real winner of the Eurovision Song Content 2019."

"The Saturday Night Live Finale Was a Mishmash of Everything It Needs to Fix: The send-off to Season 44 might end up functioning as a send-off to a particularly toothless era for the show."

"The biggest challenge in measuring real compensation and Americans’ well-being is the extraordinary growth in new products that have brought new benefits not captured in any government consumer price metric."

"...we’ve grown wary of the so-called attention economy, which, in the name of corporate profits, exploits our psychological vulnerabilities in ways that corrode social life, diminish privacy, weaken civic cohesion..."

"Regardless of how healthfully we live or how much medical care we receive, we will all die. Yet, understanding this intellectually is vastly different from truly feeling it; raw confrontation with our own mortality is frightening."

"Power, although hard to handle, is greatly desired. There is no person or group or sect or party or mob that doesn’t want power, convinced that it would know how to use it as no one ever has before."

"It turns out that feminism and faith both have high expectations of husbands and fathers, if for very different ideological reasons, and that both result in higher-quality marriages for women."

"We live in an age of radical diets: Paleo, vegan, low-glycemic, low-carb, low-fat, high fat (keto). Which one’s best for maintaining a healthy weight?"

"During a military mission, whether in peace or in war, if a pilot or soldier can’t identify an object, they have a serious problem: How should they react, without knowing if it is neutral, friendly or threatening? "

"The Germans, the Jews and the Poles Are on the Battlefield Again: The Poles see themselves as the ultimate victims, the Germans repent and pass anti-BDS resolutions, and Israel speaks in two voices..."