Why I was Depressed as an Atheist

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe… [laughs] Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion, I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain… Time… to die.”

-Blade Runner (1982)

I was challenged by an atheist on Facebook to defend my statement in another post (“How Apologetics Saved My Faith“) as to why I was depressed as a skeptic.  He stated he has had nothing but a wonderful life as a nonbeliever.

I was going to answer but it was clear from his tone with other people on the thread that he really wasn’t interested in a true conversation.  I have made it a spiritual discipline to ignore those on social media who clearly just want to fight instead of dialogue. But it is still a fair question and here is the answer:

When I was an atheist, I was smart enough to know that if I was right, life had no meaning whatsoever. I remember watching the sci-fi classic Blade Runner on video as a teenager and near the end the dying character played by Rutger Hauer said, “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe… All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain… Time… to die.”  I knew that if there is no afterlife that Hauer’s character was right.

I ran away to Hollywood as a teenager with the hopes of making great art while also earning fame and fortune.  But what I learned coming from a small town to the movie capital of the world is that I could have made the next Citizen Kane and within a generation only a handful of people would have known about it.  Eventually, of course, few if anyone would have known about it and then, of course, at some point, the sun goes red giant and BAM.  Gone.  Everything I had ever done would disappear like tears in the rain.

Now don’t get me wrong, I was often having a good time.  Frankly, I had a lot of casual sex, access to elite circles, a top tier education, and the opportunity to direct a music video.   Later, after I left L.A. and entered politics, I went to Capitol Hill where I drafted and whipped legislation and much more but I still felt empty.  Why? Because I needed a constant supply of accolades, opportunities and affirmations to ward off the shadow of ultimate meaninglessness.

I saw this in Hollywood where a person did everything they could (including starving themselves) to look good and then subjecting themselves to a ridiculous degree of plastic surgery to stay young.  But, of course, one can only hold back the flood waters of age for so long and then I would see the artists openly resent the younger and prettier artists who came along after them.  So, even with success, fame and fortune, any happiness was fleeting.  I saw a very similar scene on Capitol Hill as well.

If you think this is just a societal problem that can be fixed then please let me direct you to world history for this has been the way of things for thousands of years.  It is a problem that, apart from God, simply cannot be fixed. Any opinion to the contrary is a statement of blind faith in the human potential to create utopia in the faith of a mountain of evidence to the contrary.

But what if I had all those things? What if it was possible to engineer a society where pills brought happiness,  a person’s job was secure and sex was always available until you died?

I read Aldous Huxley’s brilliant A Brave New World as a teen and it confirmed what Hollywood had taught me–getting everything we say we want makes us shallow. I rubbed elbows with rich, good looking kids at private schools (that’s plural…I kept getting kicked out!) and so many were self-centered, superficial beings.

In the end, if there is nothing beyond this life then there is no real meaning and it is all about numbing ourselves in the moment to convince ourselves death isn’t casting a shadow upon us.  If we didn’t live this way without a god then we’d all be neurotic Woody Allen’s (with the same morals or worse!). Jean-Paul Sartre was right that if you are an atheist that life is simply meaningless.

In fact, I won’t even speak about what morality (or the lack thereof) is like without god.  But please allow me to address the criticism that I should live in “awe of nature.”  My answer is, “why should I?”  Nature is as cruel as it is big and complex. Go watch a lion devour a baby gazelle on NatGeo or watch meteors pound Jupiter on the Science channel or see the people of Pompeii frozen in lava on the History Channel and tell me how “in awe of nature” I should be. In fact, I have lived through earthquakes and watched a tornado in the distance and I wasn’t in awe at all–I was horrified!

Now, I know my atheist critics well enough to know they will attack this post as not addressing the substantive issues such as the problem of natural evil, the arguments for God’s existence, etc.  I have actually done that elsewhere but the point of this post is to answer the question, “Why I was depressed as an atheist?” and these are the reasons–life without God is nothing more than the production of moments that like tears are lost in the rain.  There is no way around it.

But with God, there is peace now and a great physical life to come in the new heavens and the new earth.  It is a peace that “surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7) even in the face of death.

I heard Tim Kller tell the story of Alan Gardner.  In the 19th century, Gardner felt called to missions.  He took the leap but his ship was lost.  Gardner was found lying on a beach having starved to death.  Yet, the last entry in his journal was, “I am overwhelmed by the goodness of God.”

Gardner lost all companionship and every comfort of life, even food but he trusted God and found His holy presence there and that was enough. That is the peace that surpasses all understanding and that is something that only belief in God and His Gospel can grant.  I am blessed beyond measure to have received it and I pray that you will as well.

Part two tomorrow. Until then, grace and peace.