Semantic knowledge is to use a Kantian label, synthetic apriori knowledge. Mature users of a language know the meaning of terms in their own language and thereby what the terms mean in any language into which their language is translated. Humans have insight into universal semantics. This knowledge is synthetic because in fact terms need not have the meaning they actually have. The terms could in fact have no meaning whatsoever. The knowledge is apriori because people know, at least implicitly, what their terms mean prior to using them in any particular situation. Perhaps, it would be more accurate to claim that people’s knowledge of the meaning of their terms is mostly expressed as negative knowledge. People know how to reject proposed definition of terms when those definitions fail to express what they mean. Socrates’ accusation that people do not know what they mean with crucial terms when they discover, with Socrates’ aid, that proposed definitions are either too broad or too narrow is inaccurate. People’s knowledge of the meaning of terms is a presupposition for recognizing definitions as too broad or too narrow for expressing what they mean.
At the beginning of Pope Benedict XVI’s encylical Deus caritas est we are taught what it is to be a Christian. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.
This post is corrected in Christianity Requires People Bonding With Jesus Now! wherein I admit that a Christian religion becomes only an ideology unless a significant number of its members personally bond with Jesus as a real being.
My post on the incompatibility of aceptance of the Sexual Revolution with being a Christian suggests that holding some doctrine about Christ’s making atonement for our sins is a necessary condition for being a Christian. No one may claim that any condition, let alone holding a particular doctrine, is a necessary condition for encountering Christ. Christ can meet whoever He wills and as He wills. We can say that holding some doctrine about atonement or redemption is a necessary condition for an honest claim to be a Christian by a person who also maintains that Jesus was crucified, buried and rose from the dead thereby radically transforming the condition of humanity. Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, was such a Christian.
It is interesting to note that Ratzinger rather reluctantly acknowledged the need for a doctrine of atonement. In his Introduction to Christianity 2nd ed. On pp. 148ff. he contrasts incarnation Christology with Christology of the cross. Incarnation Christology focuses on the work of Christ as forward looking. Christ came to transform humanity so that we could progress to sharing divine nature. Cross Christology focuses on the work of Christ as reaching back to atone for past sins of humanity. He clearly prefers Incarnation Christology but admits Christian doctrine contains both.
Here, though, the question is whether Pope Benedict XVI taught that a personal encounter with Christ is a necessary and perhaps, sufficient condition for being a Christian. In light of his well known rejection of relativism, the answer should be “no.”* Christianity cannot be turned over to people’s personal experiences. But some, relatively few, direct personal encounters with Christ were necessary and have been sufficient for the authentic Christianity of billions of people through two millenia. These relatively few were Jesus’ apostles, disciples and many others who encountered Him before and after His resurrection. The truth of Christian doctrine and action guides for Christian living is based on the witness of those privileged few in apostolic times who saw, heard, touched and trusted Jesus as enabling them to find the way and for what to live. Without the experienced reality of Jesus’ public ministry, crucifixion and post resurrection appearances Christianity is, at best, reflection of ethical choices and lofty ideals.
Our current Christian faith is based on trust in the testimony of those who actually encountered Jesus.
Christianity has empirical falsification conditions as St. Paul clearly realized in Ch. 15 of 1st Corinithians. If Christ has not risen from the dead, then your faith is in vain.
I write of the direct witnesses of Christ as being a privileged few. And, so they were, to some extent. They experienced the reality which provides the truth conditions for Christian teaching. However, the experiences themselves did not provide the conceptual resources to articulate the doctrines. Articulation of the truths about this reality to which they were witnesess required a few centuries of testing lofty ideals about what was witnessed.
I stop here because writing about development of Christianity under the Church Fathers would be theology. I want to stay with philosophy. This post is philosophical because it makes no claim about the truth of Christian doctrine. Indeed, it concedes how they could be false. I make the philosophical point, maybe only a banal critical thinking, point that even if direct experiences of some are needed to support a doctrine not only those who have direct experiences are entitled to believe the doctrines.
*In paragraph 17 of Deus caritas est, he writes of encountering Christ by seeing Him in the others we serve through acts of charity. I do not think that Benedict XVI is writing only of the expression of a lofty ideal which some, including me, express when asked why we serve the poor and needy. For instance, when asked why I dealt politely with someone obnoxiously seeking assistance, I might reply “Oh, I still saw the face of Christ in him.” I frequently make such remarks although I am not sure exactly what I mean. On reflection, I realize that I am only saying that I do these charitable works because I have the “lofty ideals” of Christian teaching and I have made the “ethical choice” to put them into practice.” Benedict XVI teaches that more than the lofty ideals of Christian doctrine and the ethical choice to put them into practice is necessary for being a full-fleged Christian. But this something more than holding the doctrines and morals of Christianity is not the truth conditions for the doctrines. It is some condition, properly called an encounter, which converts the holder of Christian doctrine into a full Christian. See my post on bonding with Christ.
Some of us are distressed with so much talk of God’s love in religious and theological discussions.
Below is a paragraph I copied from a source I respect. It is a series of reflection from Paradisus Dei, which sponsors the That Man Is You program. The reflections are on the life of St. Joseph for each day in May 2023
“The secret passage to love, to paradise, is an open door to the Sacred Heart of Christ. His heart was wounded and opened by a sword, so that ours may be healed. An infinite love flows perpetually from his heart. Love is the strongest power in both the world and the heavens. Yes, love is more powerful than even the grips of death. It transcends this life and passes to everlasting life in heaven. Our actions, when done in and through love, transcend this life and have everlasting significance. This is precisely why we can and should find paradise at the School of Nazareth. Quite simply, the daily life of the Holy Family was an explosion of love. When we find pure love and the absence of evil, we find paradise…even on earth.”
Perhaps, I should speak only for myself when I write of being distressed with so much talk of God’s love.
So, I speak only for myself. But I speak for everyone when I argue that “love” does not mean “willing the good of the other.”
Note added later : I started to write on love because of my unease of so much talk of God’s love. However, I actually write only of personal love between human beings. I should also add that I strongly approve of stipulating that love is willing the good of the other when talking of what “love” means when talking of any love we are obliged to have.
How can I speak for everyone? For those who might be interest, I offer a statement of my methodological assumption. See Semantic Knowledge is Synthetic & Apriori.
As noted above, I would be happy to have most talk of love be reduced to talking of willing the good of others. I am glad that many Catholic preachers say that what they mean by love in their sermons is willing the good of others.
My semantic point about the meaning of “love” is quite simple.
If “love” meant “willing the good of the other,” then “love” does not designate something fundamental. It is the terms “will” and “good” which designate some fundamental realities. In principle, all uses of “love” could be replaced by talking of willing and what is good. Even my semantic intuitions conflict with such an reductive elimination of “love.” To be sure , in many contexts I can express almost, but not quite, what I mean by “love” using “will” and “good.” For instance, see my Love of God is Essentially Love of Neighbor wherein I argue that helping the distressed because of a sense of duty is almost the same as helping the distressed from a sense of love. I think that willing the good of the other is a necessary condition for calling any relationship “love.”
The linguistic uneliminability of “love” does not imply that “love” designates some unique basic highly valuable reality. The triviality on many yard signs “Love is love” is intended to tell the lie that the affection of a man for his wife is the same as the affection of one man for another because “love” is primarily a noun designating a basic feature. The need to modify “love” with various adjectives as “maternal,” “paternal,” “fraternal,” “romantic,” “erotic,” “homoerotic,” “platonic,” illicit, etc., bring out that the semantical fact that “love” is a relative term. To speak more precisely, we should use terms such as “the love of a mother for . . ,” “the love of sexual desire for. . ,” etc.,.
See Bonding Necessary for Love for my proposal that willing the good of the other plus the proper bonding to another provide necessary and sufficient conditions for personal love. Also the type of bonding indicates the type of loving.
Reason alone does not overcome nihilism. Indeed, not even if reason establishes divine command morality, is nihilism decisively overcome. See results of my: Overview of Posts Confronting Nihilism . There are two dimensions in overcoming nihilism: attitudinal and intellectual. A firm sense of purpose for living provides an attitudinal antidote to nihilism. A firm sense of purpose is faith. The stability of faith is based on a purpose which is a fixed point. Reason fixes the point by closing the question of for what purpose the purpose is pursued. For instance, a person can live a purpose driven life by striving in thought, word and deed to be on the right side of the history of human development. Such a person, consciously or unconsciously, resolves not to undercut the existential significance of the purpose by dwelling on questions about what exactly it is to be on the right side of history and why it matters. Another might live to do what is right because it is right. This stoic believer in morality brushes aside any question about the purpose of living for duties sake. A third might live to do what God commands because God commands it. In this case, questioning the purpose of obeying God is dismissed as blasphemous.
The proposed purposes are universal: for all human beings. We, individually, have these purposes because that purpose is the purpose of being human. Suppose the purpose for life is said to be only for me or only for a particular society. The questions: Why me? Why us? are obviously open questions.
Although it is odd to ask for what purpose the purposes are pursued sense can be made of asking for what purpose they are pursued. The reality which give rise to the problem of evil is available to undercut even the most firm faith. See The Problem of Evil as the Cornerstone of a Christian World View and The Problem of Evil as a Cornerstone of a Nihilistic World View. Sense can be made of asking for what purpose we pursue them because reason shows that they are unattainable. Reason shows us that we are subject to sin and death. We cannot live up to these ideals. We simply have not been and are not now in pursuit of these ideals. Individually and collectively we are hopeless failures. In any event, death eventually takes away every individual and civilization. Because of intellectual knowledge of death and sin, the attitudinal antidotes to nihilism are vulnerable.
I have come to the end of what philosophy, including natural theology and natural moral theology, can accomplish in regard to providing an antidote to nihilism. Philosophy, via the reality underlying the problem of evil undercuts any purpose for life proposed by philosophy as ideology.
What is to be done? One can accept nihilism. But intellectual honesty does not require accepting nihilism even if nihilism cannot be set aside by human intelligence alone. See Does Respect for Truth Require Nihilism? William James argued well for this point in his well known The will to believe. The other alternative is to “tough it out” by holding fast to faith in some proposed purpose for life. There are two ways of holding fast to a faith. One way is to stay within the limits of reason and shut down the critical reflection that serves only to undercut that in which you have faith. These are secular confrontations with nihilism . Note that any antidote to nihilism requires shutting down the suicidal critical reflection which serves only to undercut that in which you have faith. The other is to be open to revelation which provides insights which reason could never produce by itself but which we can try to understand with reason even if we can never completely understand them. This is religious confrontation with nihilism. These revealed insights are properly called mysteries.
We get revelations from historical religions. There is a need for subsequent posts to support the thesis that revelation comes only via historical or traditional religions. Acceptance of mysteries involves less intellectual suppression than secularism for we have mysteries to think about.
In Seriously Have we Been Captured by Satan?, I sketched out a conceptual model or philosophical theory on humanity being captured by Satan. What is the purpose of such a model? Most Catholics who hear about the temptations of Christ, demonic possessions or hell have no interest in such abstract discussions. (I write “most Catholics” because I believe that much of the time I think and act as a “typical Catholic in the pews.”)We read the words of scripture and hear homilies. We accept the words and, more or less, heed the instructions not to take any images as portraying spiritual realities. We need not rely only on own own imaginations for imagery to set aside. We enjoy an immense artistic tradition illustrating Satan and his “works and pomps.” For instance, see Temptation of Christ by Vasily Surikov (1872) and Michelangelo’s Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel . See also Temptation of Christ . What is the value of all of this imagery? Of course, much of it has artistic value although, for the most part, not by presenting what is beautiful.
It must be emphasized that the imagery of Satan et al. is to be ignored for purposes of representing what was the case in natural and supernatural reality. The religious value of the imagery is as a heuristic leading us to take the words of scripture seriously. By catching our imaginations, we pay attention to the words. To repeat: The imagery is not be ignored. In so far as, the imagery helps appreciate and follow the words of scripture and doctrines developed from scripture, the imagery is valuable.
What is the value of the scripture and doctrines?
The scripture and doctrines tell of our relation to God, the supernatural and how we are to live our natural lives so that we can be happy with God in heaven. The scripture, doctrines and heuristic imagery of Christianity form a vast conceptual scheme. It is a way of speaking and living. Here the attention is on the speaking. As a twentieth century philosopher who wrote his Ph. D. dissertation* on Wittgenstein, I class the Catholic way of speaking as at least a language game . There is no need to digress into the literature on language games. The important point is about what is the right thing to say. The word “game” suggestion that what is right or wrong in the game is contained in the game’s rule, explicit or implicit. The language game specifies what is correct to assert and correct to deny. Reality beyond the game need not be consulted on how to play the game, viz., say the right thing. Call the right thing to say “warranted assertions.”
I write mostly of Catholicism. But what I write can be applied to other religions.
Catholic faith is trust that the warranted assertions of the Catholic teaching and practice, the Catholic language game, tell us what is the case with the natural and supernatural and how to live properly in it. Simple faith is trust that the warranted assertions tell the truth without any consideration of what it would be like for them to have truth conditions in reality – to represent what is the case.
It might be proposed that Catholic faith is trust that the warranted assertions of Catholicism tell us what is true, and not merely warranted, because they come from a language game developed from the reality of Jesus’s teaching, crucifixion and resurrection. However, how do the first century reality of Jesus’ teaching, death and resurrection justify, outside our Catholic language game, assertions in the twenty first century? This is a problem which calls for a philosophical model.
Faith seeking understanding is hope that we can have some understanding of what it is like for there to be truth conditions for the warranted assertions. In particular, the value of conceptual models of Satan is to sketch out how there can be truth conditions for talk of Satan.
However, the conceptual models will be ignored by most, unverifiable by any empirical tests and controversial amongst the few who pay attention? (There is always quarrelling about any philosophy.) The fact that there are philosophically minded Catholics who are trying to understand how assertions about the transcendent and supernatural can be true becomes part of the language game of Catholicism. This contribution to the Catholic outlook, the Catholic language game, is an antidote to non-cognitivism about religious belief and, in particular, in Catholic religious belief.
Roughly, the non-cognitivist interpretation of religious assertions is that they do not tell us the truth about a reality independent of the religious beliefs. Truth and falsity are irrelevant. The function of religious assertions is to guide conduct and inculcate life-guiding attitudes and outlooks. For instance, they may lead us to having a purpose driven life, construct a sense of being a community, prescribe rituals for making daily life feel sacred, or protect ourselves from the uncanny. Reconsideration of the paragraph about he role of stories at the beginning of Seriously: Have We Been Rescued From Satan? leads to an insight into non-cognitivism.
“We passionately believe that the most urgent task is the compelling proclamation of the gospel, one that not only shares it in an attractive – and concentrated – way, but that also offers people a way of seeing reality, and of making sense of the world, history, and life that is vastly different from the story our modern culture tells.” N.T. Wright is quoted: “This is how stories work. They invite listeners into a new world, and encourage them to make it their own, to see their ordinary world from now on through this lens, within this grid.”
The non-cognitive interpretation of religions is that they are nothing more than these life guiding stories. They are only language games.
Call a religion which holds that its story is worth using because it tells some basic truths about what is and what ought to be “realist religions.” Christianity, and especially Catholicism, have been realistic religions.
A trend within a realistic religion to adopting non-cognitivism, explicitly or implicity, provides a basis for a temptation to think that the story is no longer worth telling. Secularism in the surrounding culture fosters such a trend. I do not want to talk with my fellow Catholics about this temptation because I fear that it may help it become vivid for them. That temptation certainly threatens me. So, I struggle to understand how the Catholic Christian story can tell the truth about what is and ought to be. Perhaps, making my thoughts public may help others with similar anxieties.
* An improved version of my dissertation examining Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Remarks on the Foundation of Mathematics is in my book: Strict Finitism, The Hague 1970
This is a review of posts directly confronting nihilism to assess what has been accomplished toward showing that an intelligent educated person need not and ought not fall into our cultural default outlook and attitude of nihilism. The review brings out that necessary conditions for intellectually setting nihilism aside are beliefs in theism and objective moral laws as divine commands. Two recent posts, referenced in items (14) and (15), point out how efforts presenting nihilism as true subtley presuppose that nihilism is not true.
Beliefs in theism and objective morality can be supported by philosophical theology. However, confronting nihilism requires continual attitudinal support as is indicated in The Problem of Evil as a Cornerstone of a Nihilistic World View . The attitudinal support is faith.
My assessment of confronting nihilism is that only Epicureanism provides the intellectual and attitudinal support for nihilism. The intellectual support is the metaphysical theory that basically there is nothing but atoms and the void. Only by chance do atoms form complexes which by chance come and go. The maxim “Eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die” offers a guideline for living. However, there is a caution attached to the maxim. Try not to think of the “tomorrow we die” part. If thoughts of death thrust themselves upon you, then think of the metaphysics to realize that there cannot be any punishment after death. For at death your atoms scatter into the void. Confronting nihilism requires continual philosophical critique of atomistic metaphysics, which in various forms, is presupposed in our current age. It also requires the work of public intellectuals to uncover the misery of in accordance with”Eat, drink and be merry.” For an example of a public intellectual’s critique of current hedonism see my review of Christine Emba’s Re-thinking Sex.
1 In My Book and Nihilism on October 13 2013, I expressed some initial reflections on nihilism.
Nihilism is a combination of thought and sentiment. There is a thought that nothing matters and a melancholy mood that life has no significance. Both the thought and the sentiment are required for nihilism. An atheist may think that nothing matters but is not a nihilistic because, being blessed with an upbeat temperament, loves being alife. A believer in God many think that people ought to live to please their creator but feel that life has no significance. Despite nihilistic feelings such a theistic is not a nihilist He can use his belief in God to struggle to overcome his nihilistic feelings. Nihilistic feelings are a “dark night of the soul” for mystics and contemplatives.
2. In Progressive Progress to Nihilism on August 11, 2020, we see how people can be taught scientism without ever teaching the inconsistency that we know only science gives knowledge. Teach the merits of science and the demerits of religion and ideologies. When students convert to scientism, justify the conversion by explaining it as the natural response of a mind aware of the merits of science and the demerits of religion. I note that the education to cause a belief in scientism is also effective for causing belief in nihilism. Nonetheless, the major point is that scientism and its associated nihilism cannot be blocked by simply charging it with logical inconsistency. Causal factors leading to scientism need to be confronted.
3.In Confronting Scientism, Secular Naturalism and Nihilism on August 31, 2020, I argue that intellectually nihilism needs to be confronted by developing a metaphysical scheme superior to metaphysical schemes supporting scientism or secular naturalism.
4,In Confronting the Nihilistic Ontology of Secular Naturalism on September 10, 2020, I observe there is no well developed metaphysical scheme, or ontology, to support scientism or secular naturalism with its elimination of final causes. If metaphysical thinking is legitimate, there is reason for thinking that nihilism can be confronted and defeated on the theoretical level.
5.In Nihilistic Soteriology and Eschatology on September 20, 2020 I diagnosed the despair underlying acceptance of physian assisted sucide. I concluded with the following observation. In theological language the line of thought is as follows. Permissibility of suicide presupposes an eschatology of death as non-being. This eschatology leads to a soteriology as salvation is non-being. No morality is required for this salvation since “All men are mortal” entails that all are saved.
6.In Moral Deism is not an Antidote to Nihilism on March 23, 2022, Moral Deism was characterized as merely classifying our morality as Divine Commands. Unfortunately, moral deism undercuts the rationale for understanding morality as based on divine commands. Man is still the measure of all things. Whatever man measures is interpreted as what God commands. God is not cited in moral reasoning.
7. Very recently in Theism Compatible with Nihilism on December 15, 2022, I noted the following. God did not have to give a meaning to human life as we understand having a meaning for life. If our lives have meaning, it is because of the goodness of God.
8. In Nihilism as an Antidote to Nihilism , on December 17, 2021, an antidote to nihilism is characterized as: A complex of thoughts and intertwined sentiments which removes or alleviates the anxiety provoked by thinking and feeling life has no meaning . In this sense, the “eat, drink and be merry” maxim of nihilism can, for the fortune few, be a recipe for setting aside anxiety about the meaning of life. Epicureanism helps the fortunate few avoid thinking about nihilism.
9. In Gibt est kein Gott, nur die Pflict Steht gegen das Nichts on July 5, 2020, I summarize the theme of my book on sexual morality. I argue that living to make ourselves people who obey invariant moral laws is something indestructible in ourselves for which to live – that is duty die Pflicht. I go on to argue that we must find such laws governing our sexuality. Stoics overcome nihilism in their hearts and minds. But doubts about the reality of moral laws threatens our composure.
10. In Hell Saves Us From Nihilism on December 11, 2021, I elaborate on the syllogism:
If there is no hell, everything is permitted.
If everything is permitted, then nihilism is correct
So, if there is no hell, nihilism is correct.
Hell is meaningless existence. An alternative to hell provides meaningful existence.
11.In Invoking God to Confront Nihilism on December 4, 2021, I answered my doubts, in (9) above about stoicism giving a satisfactory response to nihilism. I wrote ” Life in accord with eternal moral laws which we are commanded to follow needed to be characterized as more attractive than resolutely making ourselves into people who obey these laws despite any and all inclinations to do otherwise. I was led, then, to religious reflections on what it meant to obey the moral laws. So, through a long series of posts on obeying a moral authority, I realized that we had to interpret moral laws as commands of God. Hence,I confront nihilism by making a case for Divine Command Morality.” But later, as in (6) above a Divine Command morality must be more than Moral Deism. Recently, in Theism is compatible with nihilism on December 15, 2022 I realized that belief in theism needs to be accompanied by faith in the goodness of God to set aside nihilism.
11.In Does Death Prove Nihilism on December 8. 2021, I quote extensively from The Book of Wisdom to remind us what needs to be included in a strong philosophical antidote against nihilism. In addition to establishing the existence of a divine moral commander, there is a need to establish survival after biological death and the reality of postmortem reward and punishment. These thoughts led to those in (9) above about the reality of hell as part of a belief system overcoming nihilism.
12.In Jesus has saved us from nihilism being a correct account of the human condition on August 4,2017 I outline my unprofessional theological interpretation of the Paschal Mystery as Jesus carrying out accepting annihilation to save humans from having annihilation as our fate. The gist of my speculation is that human’s original sin is to set the moral obligation that humans’ fate is to be annihilated. We have chosen that human destiny ought to be no different than that of any other animal. But this obligation is incompatible with being like any other animal who have no obligations.
This incompatibility is resolved by the human nature of Jesus suffering annihilation and then being restored with a human nature that has fulfilled the obligation to be annihilated. Jesus suffered what we have required humanity to suffer. His death was not a sacrifice to God. His death was a fulfillment of the human moral demand for human annihilation so that human nature could be free from this moral imperative that nihilism be humans’ fate.
13.In The Transcendent vs Nothing on August 7, 2021, I model the creator as being in a struggle with non-being, the uncreated or nothing. Some creatures with free-will, choose not to be dependent beings. But for a creature not to be dependent is not to be. So, some creatures are choosing not to be or nothingness. The goodness of the creator thus faces oppostion to creation.
While writing this synopsis, I return to thoughts of There is a Satan in Oppostion to God. . The first creature of God, choose not to be dependent which is a choice for nothing – not to be. This first creature becomes Satan who wills that there be nothing at all if he cannot be the creator. Satan is evil for he chooses the absence of all good. Satan tries to carry out his choice for non-being by leading other creatures with free-will to choose not to be. Such creatures, viz., humans, choose not to be by not choosing their good. These theological speculations start to build a model on how God “solves” the problem of evil which philosophical thought showed at line 11 in The problem of evil is the corner stone of a Christian world view God would “solve.”
14. In Does Respect for Truth Require Nihilism On December 28, 2022, I dismiss a claim that we ought to be nihilists because respect for our rationality forbids believing any more than what natural science tells us. Authentic nihilists do not respect rationality as a source of moral obligations.
15. In I rage, therefore I am , on December 30, 2022, we see that raging against reality because it provides us only a nihilistic fate, presupposes that vainishing into atoms and the void is not our fate.
Is Proud Defiance Acceptance of Nihilism? No, it is a philosophical rejection of nihilism
The first two stanzas of Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into that good night” command defiance of not being – the dying of the light. For “wise men at their end know dark is right.”
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Explicitly professing nihilism to rage against it is not good psychological advice. Actually, as we shall see, it rejects nihilism by defying it. In my eighty eighth year, burning and raging about what I dread might be my fate seems foolish. Distracting oneself with pleasant memories is better advice.
I do not accept nihilism. I seek to understand and hold fast to Catholicism. In philosophical theology I find good reasons for Catholicism. However, the reasons are not totally conclusive “Because their words had forked no lightning.” Hence, I have a dread of total annihilation at death. Still, the Canticle of Simeon gives better psychological advice: “Now, Lord let your servant go in peace. For my eyes have seen the salvation . . .”
However, I do not interpret the poem as psychological advice on facing dying and death. Dylan Thomas offers inchoate philosophical instructions on how each and everyone of us can demonstrate that nihilism is not true. This raging against not being – against the dying of the light – is intense assertion of oneself as existing. At death, the raging self assertion enters eternity.
Right up to the instant at which for you there is no further coming into existence or passing out of existence – changelessness- your self is raging. Eternally, there is his raging self. That final instant raging self can no more come into existence or pass out of existence than the number 2.
This is not an effective demonstration that nihilism is wrong because we can make our self eternal. It depends upon an empirical assumption that people can be conscious up to the instant of brain death. Before brain death there is change in a person – coming into existence and passing out of existence. Furthermore, persisting as an abstract object such as the number 2 is a survival not worth wanting. The number 2 is for nothing; neither is an eternal raging self.
This raging is the desperate hope that if I cry loud enough to Being, She will pick me up.
The naturalistic evolutionary account of the development and origin of homo sapiens sapiens tells the truth. This true narrative tells of no more significance or purpose of homo sapiens sapiens than that of any other species. If that is the only true account of the origin and development of humanity, nihilism is correct.
Grant that the evidence for this evolutionary narrative is better than any supplementary account of the origin and development of humanity, an anthropology, which finds a special significance and purpose for human beings. This is not to grant that there is no evidence for the supplementary account.
Maintaining that one is not entitled to allow belief in any account with weaker evidence than that for evolution is incompatible with nihilism. It presupposes that there is a source of obligations on how to use our reason. It is presupposed that there is a way we ought to be with respect to our rationality. Accepting that there is a way we ought to be is to accept that there is a point to our living.
Holding fast to assertions of nihilism because that is what duty to truth requires is an instance of a stoic stance defying nihilism. If there is no God, still the truth and our duty to it stand against not being – nothingness.
Undercutting any solutions for the problem of evil is the cornerstone of nihilism.
Of course, this post connects with The Problem of Evil as a Cornerstone of a Christian World View. In that post, I developed a line of argument in philosophical theology adapting a line of argument reaching back at least to Epicurus’ classical formulation of the problem of evil, around 300 BC. It culminated with:
10. If God has delegated creation of reality as we experience it to subsidiary creators, He had a good reason for delegating creative activity and has a good reason for correcting the experienced reality produced by susidiary creators.
11. So, ultimately there will be a correction of reality as we experience it although we cannot imagine experiencing it!
These lines (10) and (11) provide an intellectual rationale for developing a world view of some type of salvation history. Salvation histories are histories of reality as we experience it using language of ordinary history plus reference to religious beings, processes and events. The world view of Christianity is a salvation history. My paradigm salvation history is given in the Catholic Bible plus interpretations of the Christian Church Fathers and expressed in the Nicene Creed. At the risk of being cryptic: Salvation histories are solutions to the problem of evil. Salvation histories make sense of life – tell of a point and purpose for living despite the sin and suffering all experience by living.
Most likely, the intellectual rationale behind a salvation history comes, in fact, after the salvation histories have been told for generations. However, being a subsequent rationale for narrations of the salvation history does not reduce the rationalization to unimportant additions to a salvation history. A dimension of our being rational animals is being theological animals. Experienced sin and suffering drives us to seek understanding of our believed salvation history.
Good reasons have been given for theological theories behind Judeo-Christian salvation history. Unfortunately, despite being good reasons, none of the rationalizations are compelling. The theories of philosophical theology simply do not have mathematical certainty. There are no intellectually compelling solutions for the problem of evil. Logic allows hardening the heart and saying: No!
Hence, the problem of evil provides a foundation for nihilism. Nihilists find loop-holes for setting aside the theological rationalizations and let the experience of sin and suffering lead people to despair of there being any point or purpose to living. All history, secular and salvation, tell only “sound and fury signifying nothing.”
When I think of loss of the naive faith of a child or even of an adult, I think of a nursery rhymme about an egg named Humpty Dumpty.
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All of the king’s and all of the king’s men.
Could not put Humpty together again.
Faith and rationalization are now needed to go on living with hope that the salvation history tells the truth about the point and purpose of living. Both faith and reason are needed in religion just as both are needed in science. This religious faith that sustains hope is not naïve fideism justifying believing because one wants to belief. Religious faith justifies nothing. It is a gift that comes and goes sustaining hope that ultimately “all manner of things will be well.”
A theistic metaphysics is compatible with nihilism. For it is possible for God to give no significance to human life. We readily think that God sets no enduring destiny for Woodticks. He could, then, allow humans to vanish into non-being which is the fate to which we consign ticks.
In attempts to understand Christianity, I occasionally speculate that God originally intended that humans never pass into non-being. Humans had a choice to share in God’s never ceasing to be. However, there was some original choice by humans not to share completely in God’s way of being by not always willing as God willed. So, humans chose to have their own way of being as do the other creatures of God. Other creatures have temporary being; they come into existence and pass away. For an elaboration of these speculations, see Jesus has saved us from nihilism being a correct account of the human condition.
However, God had set as the good for humans never ceasing to be. God loves his creatures which means God wills the good of his creatures. So, even after humans had chosen ceasing to be, God stilled willed that humans not cease to be. There is no necessity for God to will never ceasing to be for humans. For God did not need to create. God did not need to create beings with a good of everlasting being.
The point remains. God did not have to give a meaning to human life as we understand having a meaning for life.
If our lives have meaning, it is because of the goodness of God.