Does Death Prove Nihilism?
The honest answer “Yes! If biological death is total annihilation.”
In my bookConfronting Sexual Nihilism, I made a case that if there are categorical moral laws for controlling our sexuality life is not meaningless. We have something to live for. Our lifelong duty is to make ourselves the kind of person who conforms to these laws. Even more generally, throughout our whole lives we have the duty of making ourselves the kind of person who performs our moral duties.
However, the nihilist within me retorts “What does it matter that you have done your duty?”
The Book of Wisdom is an excellent source for reminding 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. I quote extensively from the New American Bible because the Book of Wisdom expresses so elegantly the victory of nihilism if biological death is total annihilation.
I do not quote from Wisdom because it presents a philosophical antidote to nihilism. It does not. It expresses what I hope to justify philosophically. It expresses my religious dismissal of nihilism.
In Chapter Two, verses 1 – 9 the sage characterizes the nihilism of those believing death is total annihilation.
For, not thinking rightly, they said among themselves:
“Brief and troubled is our lifetime;
there is no remedy for our dying,
nor is anyone known to have come back from Hades.
For by mere chance were we born,
and hereafter we shall be as though we had not been;
Because the breath in our nostrils is smoke,
and reason a spark from the beating of our hearts,
And when this is quenched, our body will be ashes
and our spirit will be poured abroad like empty air.
Even our name will be forgotten in time,
and no one will recall our deeds.
So our life will pass away like the traces of a cloud,
and will be dispersed like a mist
Pursued by the sun’s rays and overpowered by its heat.
For our lifetime is the passing of a shadow;
and our dying cannot be deferred
because it is fixed with a seal; and no one returns.
Come, therefore, let us enjoy the good things that are here,
and make use of creation with youthful zest.
Let us have our fill of costly wine and perfumes,
and let no springtime blossom pass us by;
let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they wither.
Let no meadow be free from our wantonness;
everywhere let us leave tokens of our merriment,
for this is our portion, and this our lot.
A significant case against nihilism requires a case for unending survival after biological death.
If however, in an after life the fate of the just and unjust are the same, then it does not matter whether we were just or unjust. In effect, there is still the nihilism of everything being permitted. Wisdom points out elegantly the hope of hell – damnation as part of the anti nihilistic stance. I quote a few passagesfrom Ch. 3 frequently read at funerals..
1.The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.
2 They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
and their passing away was thought an affliction
3 and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.
7 In the time of their judgment* they shall shine
and dart about as sparks through stubble;
8 They shall judge nations and rule over peoples,
and the LORD shall be their King forever.
9 Those who trust in him shall understand truth,
and the faithful shall abide with him in love:
Because grace and mercy are with his holy ones,
and his care is with the elect.
10 But the wicked shall receive a punishment to match their thoughts,
since they neglected righteousness and forsook the LORD.
11 For those who despise wisdom and instruction are doomed.
Vain is their hope, fruitless their labors,
and worthless their works.
12Their wives are foolish and their children wicked,
accursed their brood.j
So a philosophical case against nihilism needs to include a case for hell.
I cannot have a reasonable hope that life has meaning and a purpose unless I have a reason supported fear that I can go to hell!