Category Archives: Nihilism

Faith, With & Without Mysteries vs. Nihilism

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.

Overview of Posts Confronting Nihilism

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.

I Rage, Therefore I Am

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.

Respect for Truth Undercuts Nihilism

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.

The Problem of Evil as a Cornerstone of a Nihilistic World View

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.”

Theism Is Compatible With Nihilism

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.