In the latest issue of the New York Review, Cathleen Schine reviews Levels of Life, a new book by Julian Barnes. It’s described as a three-part meditation on grief, following the death of Barnes’s wife Pat Kavanagh.
One of the things that is of no solace to Barnes (and there are many) is religion. He writes:
When we killed–or exiled–God, we also killed ourselves…. No God, no afterlife, no us. We were right to kill Him, of course, this long-standing imaginary friend of ours. And we weren’t going to get an afterlife anyway. But we sawed off the branch we were sitting on. And the view from there, from that height–even if it was only an illusion of a view–wasn’t so bad.
I can’t disagree. Atheists often proclaim the death of God in positively gleeful terms, but it’s important to recognize what was lost–a purpose in living, a natural place in the universe. The loss is not irretrievable; there is nothing that stops us from creating our own meaning even if there’s no supernatural overseer to hand one to us. But it’s a daunting task, one to which we haven’t really faced up.