Making sense of the senseless, the absurdity of life

Erick Murrer is a columnist for the College Heights Herald.

Erick Murrer

As I toured the National September 11 Memorial & Museum over spring break, I shuttered at the sight of the twisted, mangled steel beams of the former towering behemoths which had once majestically occupied the New York skyline.

Walking around the newly hallowed ground was cathartic in processing an event that all Americans tragically remember––as more than two billion worldwide had also witnessed the senseless actions unfold on their television screens.

I began to weep as I saw the 2,753 beautiful, lively portraits of mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends and coworkers placed in a room which contained their names and electronic table-top applications that allowed one to read each of their stories.

I couldn’t help but ponder my own existence while pacing Ground Zero, trying to conceptualize how one can go from attending work like any other normal day to being suffocated by the noxious smoke of an explosion, crushed by collapsing floors to lie in a heap of rubble. But there was no rationalization of these deaths. It is completely nonsensical and brutish.

Much like the 60 million who died as victims of World War II, including six million Jews who were exterminated in concentration camps at the hands of the Nazi regime. Much like the 100,000 children under 15 who die from cancer each year. Much like the 21,000 people each day who die because of food insecurity and hunger-related issues. Much like the one million worldwide who die every year by suicide.

Human existence and suffering is an absurd display with no real backdrop to bring about understanding. While it is within our nature to contrive explanations for the suffering around us, we are still left to fend for ourselves in a cruel world that shows no mercy.

When I realized the personal, omnipotent, omniscient God of the Torah didn’t exist, I can honestly say I didn’t possess any greater sense of loss or hopelessness. After all, I was instructed in a tradition that saw man as incomplete and lowly. Man’s fallen state in the post-Adamic world was partially remedied by Christ’s ultimate sacrifice on the Cross.

However, when I stopped believing, the absurdity of life had initially overwhelmed me. There was nothing to hope for––not the second coming of Christ and the restoration of the world, not cosmic justice damning the adversaries of good and lastly not the gathering of the great cloud of witnesses.

Several atheist thinkers have commented on this loss of supposed grandeur in the world. Richard Dawkins said, “The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”

The vast emptiness of the universe reminds us of our insignificant place in it. It is only fitting we create whole philosophical and religious systems to make sense of disaster. Otherwise, we would have no way to rationalize and digest the occurrences of death, calamity, natural disaster, disease and man’s deplorable nature.

But I am okay with these harsh realities of life. Why? Not because I cling to beliefs in whimsical deities or elaborate stories, but because I’ve embraced this bewildering absurdity and indifference of the chaotic universe. I’m okay with not having an explanation that suits my finite mind. It doesn’t mean it’s any easier for me to accept that there are no answers––on the contrary, it’s hard to swallow.

But this is how I cope. This is how I can muster strength to get out of bed. Life is absurd, and I’m okay with that.