By now a lot of people know that comedian Louis C.K., doesn’t like smartphones; I became an instant fan. His little comedic diatribe against the devices on Late Night with Conan O’Brien recently has over five million views on Youtube. I first realized how much I disliked this smartphone phenomenon back in the summer of 2009 in a trip to New York City. Watching the multitudes traverse the streets of the city with their eyes glued to their mobile devices was unnerving. Now as I travel through airports it is surprising to see people whose heads are not down immersed in some device. And don’t get me started with teenagers and their inability to focus on something other than their phone. My daughter can’t watch a TV show without the ubiquitous phone.
His insight about the practical consequences on teen development is no doubt true:
I think these things are toxic, especially for kids…they don’t look at people when they talk to them and they don’t build empathy. You know, kids are mean, and it’s ’cause they’re trying it out. They look at a kid and they go, ‘you’re fat,’ and then they see the kid’s face scrunch up and they go, ‘oh, that doesn’t feel good to make a person do that.’ But they got to start with doing the mean thing. But when they write ‘you’re fat,’ then they just go, ‘mmm, that was fun, I like that.’
But it wasn’t so much Louis’ anti-phone rant and their harmful consequences that endeared me to him, but his metaphysical musings about the sadness of life. His profoundly accurate observation goes thus:
You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That’s what the phones are taking away, is the ability to just sit there. That’s being a person. Because underneath everything in your life there is that thing, that empty—forever empty. That knowledge that it’s all for nothing and that you’re alone. It’s down there.
And sometimes when things clear away, you’re not watching anything, you’re in your car, and you start going, ‘oh no, here it comes. That I’m alone.’ It’s starts to visit on you. Just this sadness. Life is tremendously sad, just by being in it…
That’s why we text and drive. I look around, pretty much 100 percent of the people driving are texting. And they’re killing, everybody’s murdering each other with their cars. But people are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own because they don’t want to be alone for a second because it’s so hard.
And as he says later, if you can’t let yourself feel sad you’ll never feel happy. Louis obviously comes to the same conclusion, though, as Woody Allen, our reigning pop culture philosopher king, that life is basically meaningless, just accept it, do the best you can, then you die. In Western culture this is the fruit of 19th Century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and his view of life that came to be called Nihilism.
Although I am not a nihilist in the least, I respect those whose views are consistent with their basic presuppositions. If the universe and everything in it, including us, is a product of random chance, and outside of a supreme being you have no other option, then life is fundamentally meaningless. And anticipating my atheist friends’ objections, I am speaking of metaphysical meaninglessness. Of course people find meaning in their work, their families, their hobbies, etc., but as Lewis C.K. and Woody Allen understand no one can find ultimate meaning, happiness or fulfillment in any of it.
What many people, likely most, never seem to ask is the noon-day-sun-on-a-cloudless-day obvious question: Why? Why do we have this hole in our heart that can never seem to be filled no matter how much money, fame, wealth, sex, family, possessions, religion, you name it, we have? Doesn’t this basic alienation from life we all feel, every single one of us, make you in the least bit curious? Nihilists probably, likely, ask this question; the obviousness of our predicament is impossible for them to ignore, and why I respect them so much; they refuse to take the illogical leap that most do: even if we live in a random chance universe with no ultimate meaning, I’m going to just pretend there is and ignore the gnawing ache in me that says it’s all ultimately worthless.
I happen to think that a random chance universe is not a plausible explanation for this hole, this lack we feel. Why would we seek fulfillment at all? Why do we yearn for what is not? Why do we suspect something should be different? How could we believe the line is crooked when we don’t even believe there is such a thing as any ultimately straight line? No, the only plausible explanation to me is found in Genesis 3 (that’s in the Bible). Deep down we all suspect something is wrong, in fact we all know something is terribly wrong (see 9/11, the Holocaust, divorce, murder, rape, all the misery and suffering the world over), but here’s the rub: we all suspect again deep down that it shouldn’t be this way.
As fifth century Christian theologian Augustine said evil is good perverted; it doesn’t exist in itself. So at some point there must have been just the good, and at some point the good was corrupted. I’ve yet to hear or read any argument an atheist makes to plausibly account for the “facts on the ground.” They simply don’t fit with their unprovable assumption that the universe is a random chance event. Too bad Louis C.K. buys into this assumption, but I’m grateful he doesn’t take the easy way out.