This article originally appeared in 'EGM Times May-June 2021'
You Only Live Once. Catchy. Yet the point sticks with you because it seems obvious. You live life as you are doing now and then you are gone, never to return. And so the advice is if there’s neither a return nor a second chance, live this life to the fullest. Be happy because you deserve to be happy. Discover the real you and be true to yourself. For some, this means exploring their sexuality and gender identity. To others, this means experiencing pleasures and adventures they have never experienced. But if YOLO is the philosophy of life then the afterlife is off the table and so is God who is inextricably intertwined with the concept of an afterlife. It then lays bare what philosopher Albert Camus so poignantly stated in The Myth of Sisyphus “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.”
YOLO and God
So what’s the connection between YOLO, God, and Camus? YOLO lays no ground rules. There are no demarcated lines of morality or even societal norms. The only thing that is to be concerned with is YOU- just what YOU feel/think YOU want to do. YOLO didn’t bring about this conclusion as a result of musing upon the ramifications highlighted by cultural apologetics. Au contraire, the hip YOLO philosophy of life ends up ignorantly dressing up what Francis Schaeffer, Dostoyevsky, and others addressed- the human predicament.
Cultural apologetics: An apologetics approach that explores the disastrous consequences for human existence, society, and culture if Christianity should be false.
The human predicament is simply this. Of what significance is human life if there is no God? This question has been rephrased by William Lane Craig as the absurdity of life without God. For if God (and by extension afterlife) doesn’t exist then there cannot exist meaning, value, and purpose. There is no significance to our lives, no right and wrong and no end goal to live towards. We exist now and later we cease to exist.
Awaiting Our Doom?
Let me unpack these three briefly. If we are doomed towards inexistence just like the animals and the universe what significance is there to us existing briefly now? Why does it matter if you decided to recklessly enjoy life as you seemed fit and then gulped down poison? You wouldn’t even be around to retrospect your suicidal act! This philosophical problem of suicide troubled Camus. One may object that we can have meaning through our acts of selflessness, love etc. Hence if I save a child from a fire that selfless act gives my life meaning. But if I decide to derive meaning for my fleeting-mortal life by merely saving another fleeting-mortal life from imminent death, but not from the existential annihilation that awaits all, what significance is there in merely delaying annihilation that awaits the child? The child too, like me, doesn’t have any intrinsic significance to her life. No act or contribution of mine can give my life meaning because nothing within the universe is here to stay and hence nothing has intrinsic significance that can be imparted to me! All meaning I seem to ascribe is my creation. Hence, the illusion of meaning begins and ends with me. Once we remove God from the picture any hope of having meaning in this mortal life is completely lost because now there is no eternal transcendent source from which we can derive meaning.
Once meaning is lost all is lost. If our lives have no significance and annihilation awaits us then why bother deciding what to do/not do? Both Hitler and Mandela end up the same. So why not act selfishly your entire life and pull the trigger like Hitler did, escaping all judgement? Since our acts have no meaning they can’t be good/bad. If God too doesn’t exist then who’s to say what is right and wrong? Eventually, we lose all values.
"If God is dead, then man is dead, too."
- Francis Schaeffer
The loss of purpose is now inevitable. Nothing to strive towards except inexistence and no one to guide our life apart from us. What are we living for then? We are but accidents of nature and this universe is an accident too! There’s no reason that we are here. So what’s the point after all? Upon closely examining YOLO we unravel the ugly face of despair masquerading under the façade of individual freedom of self-expression. Realising the weight of our predicament Schaeffer said “If God is dead, then man is dead, too.” Revealing his melancholy Jean-Paul Sartre said, “Well, let’s get on with it”. Camus thought he could escape the absurdity of life by weighing our actions and life on the scale of moral values. But alas!
Many think they can revolutionize life and usher in a new era of happiness by removing God and focusing on merely what the self wants. YOLO is one such outcry. But not all ponder upon what it means for us to kill God. Realising the ramification of a Godless life Nietzsche asks “Are we not plunging continually? …. How shall we, the murderers of all murderers, comfort ourselves?” If God doesn’t exist then life is hopeless and full of despair, no matter what we say otherwise. May the Holy Spirit guide you to share this beacon of hope: ‘God’s not dead. He’s alive and you’ll find lasting meaning, value, purpose, and happiness in Him.