“All We Will Ever Have”

In his new volume of prose reflections, The Labyrinth: God, Darwin, and the Meaning of Life, the poet and atheist Philip Appleman comes to terms with life’s meaning in a world where God is “an unnecessary hypothesis.” Daniel Thomas Moran praises Appleman’s book, summarizing its message as “we must care for one another, for this planet we exist on only briefly, and for all the living things that share it with us”:

We who call ourselves humanist or agnostic or atheist don’t have the available remedy of luxuriating in the pat explanations of ancient texts or the bumptious pronouncements of holy men. To a greater degree than those who get answers from priests, preachers, imams, or rabbis, we nonbelievers must invest more of ourselves in the great wrestling with our nature, and surely, our fate as mortal beings. How many times have all of us been asked by people of faith how it is that our lives can have meaning in the absence of a belief in a god and an afterlife? Unlike the blindly faithful, we refuse to find our meaning in the worship of death and in the chimera of an eternal life.

Appleman sums it up with grace and directness as only a poet can:

Once definitely done with our adolescent longing for the Absolute, we would find this world valuable after all, and poignantly valuable precisely because it is not eternal. Doomed to extinction, our loves, our work, our friendships, our tastes are all painfully precious. We look about us, on the streets and in the subways, and discover that we are beautiful because we are mortal, priceless because we are so rare in the universe and so fleeting. Whatever we are, whatever we make of ourselves: that is all we will ever have—and that, in its profound simplicity, is the meaning of life.

The Labyrinth is perhaps the book we have been waiting for, the one Philip Appleman has been waiting a lifetime to write. It is a comfort. Let it also be a companion.