The Onus

Albert Camus said that the myth of Sisyphus was the greatest analogy for human life - a folly. But, man's greatest achievement would be to smile while in the place of Sisyphus.

o·nus [oh-nuh s]
noun, plural o·nus·es.
1. a difficult or disagreeable obligation, task, burden, etc.
2. burden of proof.
3. blame or responsibility.

This article is meant to answer what the onus is. It is meant to answer how an atheist lives a moral and fulfilling life. For further background, it is best to read the article “Why I am Atheist?” . This article is illustrating how someone, in the face of absolute existential depression, finds exuberant happiness. There are others out there who have no faith in a God, no beliefs in anything skeptical, but live with a dreadnought of infinite nothingness resting in their dreams. I know that feeling; you know there’s no afterlife, you can feel how powerless life really is. The depth of nothing is so daunting. What can we make of it? I know that many people want a quick and easy answer to life. However, I will take my time with this. This is what I live by. This is what I want to share.

Some think this is the easy slippery slope to violence as there are no believed consequences for your actions. However, someone in this position knows how important their actions are to how others view them. For, as Sartre says, once you die, who you are is dependent on what other people think of you and they will determine that on your behavioral conduct. You know that there is no ethereal entity that can pierce through your soul or anything clandestine  It is a mistake to believe that, with no consequences of an after-life, it warrants immediate violence to others. It was the Ring of Gyges that encapsulates this point. If there was a ring that could make you invisible, what would you do with this power? Many argue that anyone would, without a doubt, commit atrocious and manipulative acts. However, these people are wrong to believe that all people would do so. There are also a great many that would do good or nothing at all. These people exist and are easy to meet.


There are a few of us in the world that accept the following, for others, let this set the premise for the mindset of the onus:

There is no creator. There is no God.

Life is fragile and easily ends. There is no afterlife.

Anything considered a soul or spirit is just a matter of physical energy (ie. kinetic). Nothing supernatural.

We are nothing but memories.  Who we are is just a collection of thoughts.  And thoughts are produced by the brain.  Nothing more.

You have been forced into this world. You have been forced with the responsbility to live it.

You are forced with choices on how to conduct yourself everyday of your life.

For the very fact that you are conscious, you can never be free or ignorant from any of the above. You will never escape your burden of responsibility.

You have the burden of responsibility to make choices in life and decide how to conduct it.

Life is an onus.

Exisential Living

Sartre showed that there are two major ways of approaching life:

For-Others: Living with the constant policing of your thoughts by how others perceive you. Consistently worried what others think and how others feel about you. This is living vicariously through others, other constitutions, while justifying it as being empathetic.  Many of these people will consider themselves as “a people person” or “care too much for others”.  These self-descriptions are likely very true, as it is far too easy to neglect the development of your own self-identity by latching onto others.

Sartre noted that we can be consumed by the “look” that others give us. This is the idea that we are being viewed as an object and that our behavior is vulnerable to judgment while our intentions remain unexplained. In this way of living, we utilize society and people by working for it, by discovering what needs are necessary, what resources are asked for, etc. However, there is no room for individual providence because living this way is consumed by an all more important task; maintaing how you are viewed once you die. “Hell is other people” because we depend so deeply on how others judge us and our behavior is what is most salient to them.

In-Itself: Living by attributing your lifes meaning to other variables such as your job, companions, social groups, friends, community, furniture, your car, etc.

I used to contend that living in-itself offered no such means of individual providence, no means to live as an individual as you attribute your self to other things. However, I missed the point of living in-itself in that you are still a comparable variable to these things. “Bad faith” is an important thing to remember in this. When we live as a certain variable in a system, we are still an existant being in that system, regardless of how we look at it. However, if we are able to make the distinction and maintain awareness that we are an inconsequential variable, we can be authentic beings. We can maintain individual providence so long as we remember that our current role is transient. It is not a means of living or an identity, but a role played in order to support our individuality. This is why we cannot let our job identify us, but we also cannot be so easily swept away by the notion, “I am working Y until X happens”. We should not let Y identify us. We ought to maintain our X identity that we are ambitious for, for it is our individual providence.

At length, the onus of life is best fulfilled by living as an individual in-itself. You can live vicariously through others, but you are then no longer an individual. Your individuality is what defines you by others and yourself. You know when you are creating a facade and you know when you are sacrificing your individuality for the sake of pleasing others. However, if we are powerless beings, we must embrace the only thing that matters most; our individuality.

Empowerment Through Chaos

Most people have an intuitive understanding of chaos theory; one variable can have significant effects on other variables over time. One friend tells a friend who tells two friends, etc. These two together are powerful concepts to remember; the power of chaos and exponential growth.

The Lorenz system is a system of ordinary differential equations (the Lorenz equations) first studied by Edward Lorenz. It is notable for having chaotic solutions for certain parameter values and initial conditions. In particular, the Lorenz attractor is a set of chaotic solutions of the Lorenz system which, when plotted, resemble a butterfly or figure eight. ~ Wikipedia

I just want to clarify one thing about chaos that is usually misunderstood; chaos theory is not disorder or a mess. Chaos, in this case, is the focus on how one variable can have chaotic implications all over the world. It is chaotic because one variable acts analguously to a virus that affects proximal variables and then extensive variables beyond it’s original locality. In other words, “a butterfly flapping it’s wings can start a hurricane on the other side of the planet”. Now, this doesn’t mean immediately, of course. Chaos is not something that is universally defined or has a set of rules; it’s chaos afterall! This is why chaos theory is also usually associated with evolution. I won’t delve into that, but if you are already reading this, then it is likely that you see how chaos theory is an integral part of the gradual process of evolution. After all, it is not like evolution is something that happens in jumps of vulgar mutations, etc. It’s a gradual, progressive, but system. Chaos theory would say that, given all the information, you could easily observe how one variable affects all the others.

To come off the tangent, my point is just that, as a single individual person, you are a single variable in the world. Although you are only one singular variable, you are significantly important to the world and should never think otherwise. This is used to reinforce the importance of living in-itself as an individual.


A question often asked of atheists is, “Where do you get your morality?”. While this article is not explicitly about atheism, it is about the steps taken while becoming atheist. and afterwards. When it comes to morality, many will argue that you require moral policing, ie. God. This is basically the Santas Claus idea: kids will be good if they are rewarded for behaving good and punished for behaving badly. However, in this case, we do not accept any sort of policing phenomenological being over the universe, it’s just us fragile pathetic humans. Of course, many theologians will bump in with arguments reminiscient of the Ring of Gyges argument, “If there’s no consequences in the after life, then an atheist will commit atrocious evils!”. We can, of course, retaliate by pointing at the evils that theists do. Though, this doesn’t explain why atheists do not commit evils, or what reason they have not to.

As an individual with no belief in a moral God, you only have your own wits and society to help decide your morality. This is where I embrace Humanism. Make no mistake though, Humanism is not a religion. There is no dogma in Humanism. There is no faith required. The fundamentals of humanism rest in the idea that moral decisions ought to be central to human concern and humane interaction.

Let’s take a few specific points into consideration. Keep in mind, each of these can be an entire article on it’s own. However, my point is just to show the reasoning utilized by humanism:

+ If Human-kind takes the top priority in moral decisions, does this mean you ought to sacrifice yourself sometimes?
– Yes. Altruism is something that human-kind thrives on and honours. You can find countless sacrifices made by humans for human-kind and how well they are respected.

+ Hitler and his eugencis argued that we ought to utilize evolutionary concepts to better huamn-kind as a whole. Is this Humane?
– This is a more controversial question, but one I ought to address. Firstly, Hitler was definitively NOT an atheist. To anyone who would argue that Hitler was, I let them consider this video:

– To continue the question, hitler’s intentions were mixed. He may be considered a secular humanist as any religion can utilize humanist fundamentals but act more heavily on other morals. This is why Humanism alone is what is best because it is not then mixed with other religious or zealous beliefs.

+ What about abortion?
– As Humanism embraces humane decisions, it would contend that the most humane decision is dependant on the mother whom would also take care of the potential child. Someone may argue that it ought to be a humane decision for the child. When considering the most humane decision, it is arguable that it is more humane to be aborted. To touch on abortion debates, it is amazing how the debate of the child’s abortion is only when it is in fruition.. If you ought to bare the child when it has begun it’s potential growth in life, then you ought to never use condoms and do your best to become pregnant at any given time. Of course, this is held true by many religions, but it is not humane. Simply being born into life is not humane. The most humane thing, for all man-kind, is to raise a humane child. This means having the child in your most promising context. This is why many people will wait till they can properly provide for their child; because it’s humane. Most people will agree that if you are a teen, with no parents, no job, and no education, you cannot responsibly provide for a child. It would be inhumane.

+ What about capital punishment?
– When considering what is best for all human-kind, I would look at the evidence of capital punishment:

the proposed alternative of life sentences without parole and with restitution would ensure harsh punishment and protection of the public, while providing restitution and ensuring that innocent people are not executed. Figures, tables, chapter notes, index, and 209 references

– Personally, I am a proponent of positive psychology and would contend that rehabilitation and restitution is the most optimistic and humane solution. While it cannot always be utilized, this does not necessitate punishment of death. The most beneficial thing for all of human-kind is to protect society from those individuals that can inflict harm upon others. However, that does not necessitate death, especially if it has been shown that these people can be rehabilitated for the benefit of society.
At length, I think these examples show the ideal reasoning of humanism.

What is the purpose of life then?  What is the onus?

Life is easy to lose purpose in.  Humans crave patterns and context.  Our brains are virtually programmed to identify patterns in order to better understand and survive our environments.  When we cannot find a reason or purpose in our own lives, we naturally feel a sense of despair.  Why should I be alive if there is no reason to my existence?

In the face of absolutely pointlessness, nothingness, and no purpose is perfect living potential.  It’s a difficult bridge to gap and not one that you dogmatically accept by leaping into.  It will come naturally.  If you are reading this and feeling the existential depression of purposelessness, then hear me out:

Life has given you no purpose to living.  No reason to be here other than to reproduce.

However, you have the ability to question and reason this.  You have the ability to ask what your purpose is.  So many other living things will never and can not think this, let alone think at all.

You are alive.  Whatever you are, you are alive and able to experience.  You have to make constant choices on how to live your life.  Your purpose will inevitably be to experience and grow.  Learn new things.  Meet new people.  Listen to new music.  Smell new aroma’s.  Taste new food.  Feel the breeze of countrysides and the bustling of crowded cities.  Develop a repertoire of experience.

Andreas Vesalius was the first man to record and observe the bones within us.

We are here for a number of years, and then we are dust. Many will say that “life is short”. However, we are lucky to have had any time at all. If you are alive long enough to acknowledge your own existence, then you have experienced something that countless others that could have been in your place and the infinite amount of others who never will. Though, we should not treat death lightly. It can be very easy to end our lives. So we must treat it seriously and keep our wits about us. For me, the skull is the symbol of our mortality. It represents that which is a part of us we naturally want to ignore; what remains of us when our flesh is gone. It is scary to many because of its strong association to death. To me, death reminds me to live life to its fullest potential and enjoy every moment.

You are a cognizant human with the ability to record your experience and intelligently remember them.  Share this with others.  In your own time, you will find things you like and prefer to others.  You will meet people and know which ones you get along with and ones you do not.  Experiences will not always be pleasant.  You will hear awful things.  Taste and smell disgusting things.  But this comes as a consequence of also finding amazing things.  Delicious and enticing smells and foods.

You are here to experience.  What and how you experience life is up to you.  We are burdened with life and how to make our choices.  When we despair in light of a lacking sense of purpose, you must remember the ultimate reason for your existence: to experience.  The onus of life is to decide how we live our lives.  If you find that you do not know how to experience new things, open the doors to random chaotic experiences.  Order food you have never tried.  Listen to music you never heard of.  Say hi to strangers. Ask that girl out.  Buy that guy a drink.  Talk.  Join the discussion.

Enjoy life.