Worldviews Summer: God is Dead – Nihilism

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on June 30, 2004

Ecclesiastes 1:2

Wednesday Evening
June 30, 2004

Ecclesiastes 1:2
The Way We Were
God is Dead – Nihilism

J. Ligon Duncan

If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to
Ecclesiastes. Tonight our subject is the philosophy, or the non-philosophy, or
the anti-philosophy of Nihilism. And many of you know that we’ve already dealt
with this here at First Presbyterian Church. We dealt with it last summer when
we were working through the Summer of Solomon and were looking at the Book of
Ecclesiastes.1 And the opening cry of that book you see in
Ecclesiastes 1:2 — “Vanity of vanities”, says the Preacher, “Vanity of
vanities! All is vanity.” And we explored in some detail the cry of Solomon
about the meaninglessness of life apart from God. And so there is a real sense
in which Solomon has already dealt with everything which has been raised by the
Nihilism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

But we’ve also said in the course of our study
together that there has been a logical progression of these dominant worldviews
in the Western world; there’s been a reason why one has succeeded another; and
yet, no dominant philosophy has been able to transcend Nihilism since it came
onto the scene, apart from the truth of the Scripture and of the living God.

Let me just rehearse why. We said that at the time
of the Reformation, in the Western world the dominant philosophy was Theism.
That is, the dominant outlook on life, the dominant worldview was theistic. We
believed in a transcendent, personal Creator God, who had made humanity in His
own image, had endowed humanity with dignity and purpose, had given meaning to
life; and yet, for at least a couple of factors that Theism was eclipsed,
beginning in the early Renaissance. Perhaps part of that eclipse was because of
the tremendous scientific and knowledge advances of the time. People began to
understand the material, the natural world better than they had ever understood
it before, and they began to think that perhaps the clue to meaning in life more
resided in the material, natural order than had been understood before. And
hence, there was a greater confidence in our understanding of the mechanism of
this world.

There was also a tremendous amount of religious life
during this period of Western history, and perhaps there was a simultaneous
recognition that, on the one hand, we know so much more about how the world
works now, and religion has brought us so much division and strife in our
culture, perhaps we can have the best of both worlds. We can acknowledge that
there is a transcendent God, but we can get Him out of the picture quickly, and
we can embrace what we have learned from the world around us. And thus we got
deism.

We’ve already talked about Deism. It posits God as
the clock-maker, who makes this universe, winds it up, and lets it go. And it
operates along the course of the laws which He has set in place, but He has very
little interaction with this world. And deism was very compelling to many for a
number of years.

But then, over time–and Brad Mercer talked to us
about this as we looked at the philosophy of Naturalism–people began to think
long and hard about deism and say “Wait a minute. We now know so much more
about the natural order than we did even in the opening days of Deism, why do we
need to posit a God who started all of this? Why do we need to posit a first
cause? Doesn’t nature explain itself?” And so the naturalists said everything
in this world can be explained by nature; and the only thing that there is in
this world is the material order of nature.

And so, there was a progression from Theism, Deism,
to Naturalism. But there’s a tremendous problem with Naturalism, and that is
Naturalism cannot sustain itself. It cannot sustain ethics; it cannot sustain
meaning; it cannot sustain society; it cannot answer its own internal
contradictions. And so, in the wake of Naturalism there came a philosophy
called Nihilism.6Now, that just comes from a little Latin word,
nihil. You remember the little dictum that you perhaps learned in high
school or college, “that nothing comes from nothing.” And that ex nihil,
that ex nihilo that we hear when we speak about God creating the world
out of nothing, is that little Latin word, nihil, or nothing. And so
Nihilism is, as it were, a worldview, an anti-philosophy, that says there is no
meaning, there is no purpose, there is no rhyme or reason
. It looks at
Naturalism and says ‘you haven’t taken your own thinking to its logical extent.’

Let me give you a little
taste of how Nihilism rejects Naturalism. Many of you in college or elsewhere
have perhaps read some of the stories of Kurt Vonnegut. And here he is
parroting Genesis, chapter one. Now you might think upon first listen that he’s
attacking Christians; but actually, he’s attacking naturalists for not being
consistent with their own thinking. Here’s what he says:

“In the beginning God created the earth, and He looked upon it in His cosmic
loneliness. And God said, ‘Let us make creatures out of mud, so mud can see
what we have done.’ And God created every living creature that now moveth, and
one was Man. Mud, as Man, alone could speak. God leaned close as Mud as Man
sat up, looked around and spoke. Man blinked. ‘What is the purpose of all
this?’ he asked politely. ‘Everything must have a purpose?’ said God.
‘Certainly,’ said Man. ‘Then I leave it to you to think of one for all of
this.’ And God went away.”2

Now, that may first appear to be a satire of
Christianity, but in fact it is something quite to the contrary. It is a satire
of the naturalist worldview, because it shows you the dilemma of Naturalism.
Naturalism says that there is no need to posit a God, a first cause, a
transcendent personal being. But the minute a self-conscious, self-determining
being comes along, man, and asks the question “Why? What’s the meaning of all of
this?” he has to ask that to a universe that can’t answer him. Because that
universe, he says by his own philosophy, is impersonal. It doesn’t even know
that he’s there. You remember we quoted that Stephen Crane quote–it’s a bleak
quote. At the very beginning of this worldview series, where Stephen Crane is
in his story, The Black Riders, where he says, “The man said to the
universe, ‘Sir, I exist.’ And the universe responded, ‘That has not created in
me a sense of obligation to you.’”

See, the universe, if it’s impersonal, has no
capacity to answer man, to give him that answer to the ultimate question of why,
and what are we here for. Now Nihilists are able to make a great deal of fun
out of this very truth, as bleak as it is. Some of you have read Douglas Adams’
books: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and the various sequels and
follow-ups. Well, he addresses this very question in the first and second of
these series of novels. You will perhaps remember, if you’ve read it, that
during the course of history as these hitchhikers make their way back and forth
through space and time, he tells of a race of hyper-intelligent beings, who were
in fact mice, who had created a supercomputer that was as large as a city, and
they had named it ‘Deep Thought.’ And they had asked that supercomputer the
question, “What is the meaning of life?” And it had been computing for seven
and a half million years to give the answer to the question of what is the
meaning of life. And here’s how he tells it:

“For seven and a half million years, Deep Thought computed and calculated, and
in the end announced that the answer was in fact ‘42.’ And so, these
hyper-intelligent beings then had to build an even bigger computer to find out
what the question was, that the answer was forty-two. And as this computer,
which was called “Earth”, was so large that it was frequently mistaken for a
planet, especially by the strange ape-like beings who roamed on its surface
totally unaware that they were simply part of a gigantic computer program, and
this is very odd, because without that fairly simple and obvious piece of
knowledge, nothing that ever happened on the planet Earth could possibly make
the slightest bit of sense. Sadly, however, just before the critical moment of
read-out, the Earth was unexpectedly demolished by the Vogons, to make way, so
they claimed, for a new hyper-space by-pass.”3

And so all hope of discovering the meaning of life
was lost forever, or so it would seem; but, by the end of the second novel
Adams has the time travelers discover that the question itself, the ultimate
question of life, the universe and everything, is…..”What is six times
nine?” Now remember what the answer was? Mathematicians? Forty-two? Six
times nine…..OK….you see, the point he’s making is neither the question nor
the answer makes sense. And that is a fundamental premise of Nihilism. Neither
the question nor the answer makes sense. “Matter exists, God doesn’t,” says the
Nihilist. The universe is a uniform closed system. Humans are complex
machines. At death, personality and individuality ceases. The idea of true
knowledge is meaningless. Ethics are utterly elusive. There is no meaning.

Now, Nihilism first arose, especially in Russia, in
the second half of the nineteenth century, and you can see how convenient it
would have been for an anarchist philosophy that wanted to bring down the czar-dom
of Russia. This philosophy actually said “it’s better to pull something down
that’s bad, even if you don’t have something to replace it, than to endure that
which is bad.” And so philosophers like

Mikhail Bakunin

and others in Russia fostered this philosophy of Nihilism. It was a group of
revolutionary nihilists who actually killed Czar Alexander the Second. Bakunin,
in fact, was a good friend of a composer named Richard Wagner. Great influence
on him. You’ll have to ask Professor Thomas about that sometime, and see the
nihilistic roots of Wagnerian philosophy.

But you know, there are nihilists still today. I
was just on a nihilist website this afternoon, looking for quotes. Here’s one I
found. Here’s The Nihilist Creed:

“I fear no man, I fear no god, I seek no heaven, I
fear no hell. I have no heroes. I have no faith. I bow before no one. I am a
nihilist.”

It goes on to say:

“Death to philosophy. Death to God. Death to government. Death to ideology.
Death to money. Death to love. Death to morality. Beyond right and left,
beyond right and wrong: nihilism.”

Do you see? That kind of thinking is just the logical consequence of
naturalism. C. S. Lewis, someone we’ve already studied in this series, puts it
this way:

“If all that exists is nature, the great mindless interlocking event; if our own
deepest convictions are merely the by-products of an irrational process; then,
clearly there is not the slightest ground for supposing that our sense of
fitness or our consequent faith in uniformity tells us anything about a reality
external to ourselves. Our convictions are simply a fact of us, like the color
of our hair. If naturalism is true, then we have no reason to trust our
conviction that nature is uniform.”4

You know, it’s interesting that Charles Darwin
himself saw this problem. He said, “You know, if it’s true that we’ve evolved
from a primitive protein by an inexorable sequence of cause and effect through
natural selection, then how can we know that anything in our brains is not just
something that is part of a natural process and has no validity in terms of its
description of external reality? What if even our understanding of the
inexorable sequence of evolutionary process is just a figment of our
imagination?” Darwin himself saw this problem! You see, the nihilist takes
that and throws it in the naturalist’s face.

Have you noticed a pattern here? An idolatry is set
up; another idolatry comes along and sees the holes in the first idolatry;
another idolatry comes along and sees the holes in the new idolatry…and so we
go on. But Nihilism is real. And those of you who have college students, they
will face some Nihilism somewhere in the course of their training, whether from
their co-students or from their professors. Nihilism has had a pervasive
effect. It was a favorite philosophy of the 60a and 70s. And those of you who
are educated in 60s and 70s probably ran into some of the new nihilists. And
they are now very high-ranking in the educational system–in the universities and
in the various aspects of educational administration in society today.

One former nihilist, J. Budziszewski5,
has written about his Nihilism and his transformation from it, and I think it’s
very instructive. I think this may help you as you talk to your young people
who face this kind of thing in the classroom. He explores the question “What
were my motives for being a nihilist?” By the way, he tells about standing
before the University of Texas Government and Philosophy Department sixteen
years ago to give his paper before the department when he was being considered
to be hired by that department. It’s called a “Why you should hire me” lecture,
and every professor has one of these. You’re really going to impress these
folks, and they’re going to be so impressed by what you say, they’ve just got to
hire you. And here were his two fundamental points in his lecture: First, that
we human beings just make up the difference between good and evil. There is no
difference between good and evil, we just make it up. That was his first big
point. His second big point was that we are not responsible for what we do,
anyway. And in his lecture he laid out a ten-year plan for rebuilding all of
ethical and political theory around those two propositions. Now my friends, the
scary thing is, they hired him. And he had tenure before he was converted.

Now, don’t think that this isn’t happening at your
favorite state university. It is. It’s everywhere. And these are the kind of
nitwits that you’re paying thousands of bucks to educate your children. So it’s
good that you’re here tonight, and I hope that you get something out of it!

Now, here’s what he says about this particular
process: “What were my motives for holding this kind of a view? Well, there
were quite a few.” And he gives these very interesting ones. “One was that
having been caught up in the radical politics of the late 60s and early 70s, I
had my own ideas about redeeming the world–ideas that were opposed to the
Christian faith of my childhood. And as I got further and further from God, I
also got further and further from common sense about a lot of other things,
including moral law and personal responsibility.” And so his Nihilism was an
excuse for his rejection of God and of the norms that he had learned about
morality and personal responsibility.

Now he says, secondly, that first reason led
him to a second reason for his Nihilism. And that was he had committed certain
sins of which he did not want to repent. In fact, he makes a very telling
comment. He says, “You know, I didn’t study a list of propositions and then
become a nihilist. I was a nihilist looking for an excuse to be a nihilist.”
He was already a nihilist, and he was just looking for somebody to give him a
propositional list of excuses to be one. Listen to what he says: “Because the
presence of God made me more and more uncomfortable, I began looking for reasons
to believe that He didn’t exist. It’s a funny thing about human beings: not
many of us doubt God’s existence and then start sinning. Most of us sin and
then start doubting God’s existence.” It’s one of the reasons why I was in
college ministry. Whenever I would have a guy come into my office and tell me
that he wasn’t sure that there was a God, I would ask him this question: ‘”Are
you sleeping with your girlfriend?” Now there is a connection, you understand.
Moral depravity leads to intellectual corruption and spiritual vacuity. And so
when someone is having a moral crisis, it is often expressed in intellectual
terms. Paul Johnson’s book on modern philosophers, E. Michael Jones’ book
called, Degenerate Moderns–it simply says this: “all of modern
philosophy is an attempt to justify personal moral depravity.” And there’s
something to that particular assertion.

Thirdly, he says, “A third reason for my
being a nihilist was that Nihilism was taught to me. I was raised by Christian
parents, but I’d heard it all through school, that even the most basic ideas
about good and evil are different in every society.” Now, he goes on to say
that’s empirically false. C. S. Lewis once remarked, “Cultures may disagree
about whether a man may have one wife or four, but they all agree on marriage.
They may disagree about which actions are most courageous, but none of them rank
cowardice as a virtue.” But he was taught the false anthropology of the times,
that there are no norms as you look across cultures.

Fourthly, he says, “I was taught to be a
nihilist by the language that was used with me by my English teachers and my
social science teachers.” Listen to what he says: “My English teachers were
determined to teach me the difference between what they called facts and
opinions.” And he said, “I began to notice that every moral proposition
was an opinion. And then my college social science teachers were equally
determined to teach me the difference between what they called facts and
values. The atomic weight of sodium was a fact; the wrong of murder was
not. It was a value. I thought that to speak in that fashion was logical. Of
course, it had nothing to do with logic. It was merely Nihilism in disguise.”

Fifth. “My fifth reason for nihilism was
that disbelieving in God was a good way to get back at Him for the various
things which went predictably wrong in my life after I had lost hold of Him.”
Isn’t that interesting? That’s one of the very, very peculiar and sad things
about nihilism. James Sire records this little story that comes from Catch
Twenty-Two
, which I’m actually going to tone down a little bit because
….some of you have read it, you know what I’m talking about. This is where
Capt. Yossarian is having a knockdown, drag-out theological argument with the
lieutenant’s wife. And Yossarian is mocking God, and he’s saying, “God is not
working at all. He’s playing, or else He’s forgotten all about us. That is the
kind of God you people talk about: a bumpkin, a clumsy, bumbling, brainless,
conceited, uncouth hayseed. How much reverence can you have for a supreme being
like this?” And the lieutenant’s wife, who was an atheist, gets very angry at
this kind of language, and she begins shouting, “Stop it! Stop it!” and hitting
him on the chest. And he says, “What are you so upset about? You don’t believe
in God.” And she says, “I don’t!” –and she bursts into tears, and she says,
“The God I don’t believe in is a good God, a just God, a merciful God. He’s not
the mean and stupid God that you make Him out to be!”

You know, this is why Kafka, maybe the most
articulate of the nihilists in the twentieth century, this is why Kafka could
say that “everything that he had done was to proclaim that ‘God is dead! God is
dead!’” And then he says, “…Isn’t He? Isn’t it true that God is dead? I
wish he weren’t, I wish he weren’t, I wish he weren’t.” And Budziszewski
experienced the same thing.

“And sixth,” he said, “I had fallen under the
spell of the nineteenth century German writer, Frederich Nietzsche. I was, if
anything, more Nietzcheian than Nietzsche. Whereas he thought that given the
meaninglessness of things, nothing was left but to laugh or to be silent, I
recognized that not even laughter or silence were left. One had no reason to do
or not do anything at all. This is a terrible thing to believe, but, like
Nietzsche, I imagined myself one of the few who could believe such things, who
could walk the rocky heights where air is thin and cold. This is where
Nietzsche’s concept of the ‘superman’ comes in. To survive this kind of a
world, you’ve got to be the ultimate man. You’ve got to overcome the
meaninglessness.” “But,” he says, “you know, the real reason why I was a
nihilist was sheer, mulish pride. I didn’t want God to be God. I wanted J.
Budziszewski to be God.”

There is Nihilism. And it’s out there. A lot of
intelligent, very attractive people have embraced it as a counter-philosophy to
break down whatever it is that they’re rejecting; as a self-justification for
their own immorality; as a cry for the bleakness of this world which they have
created in their own minds. And no modern philosophy in the Western world has
given an answer to nihilism, and it will not, because there is only one answer
to the assertion of meaninglessness. And that answer cannot be supplied apart
from the transcendent Creator God, revealed in Scripture, who answered Solomon’s
cry and said, “Remember the Creator in the days of your youth.”

May God bless us. Let’s pray.

Our Lord and our God, many of
us have never felt this kind of bleakness, and yet it so much characterizes the
outlook of twentieth and twenty-first century life. We pray that You would give
us some sense of sympathy for fellow travelers in this world who are this
hopeless. We pray, O God, that they would see our evident love and concern for
them. But at the same time, O God, we’re thankful that in Your mercy You have
filled us up all our days with a sense that we know what we’re here for, and
that there is a meaning in this world, and there is a purpose in this life, and
that questions matter and they make sense, and the answers matter and they make
sense. What a full life You’ve given us! Help us to speak intelligently but
reverently, and even prophetically, to a world which revels in its own banality
and nonsense. Help us to speak the truth into this vacuum of truth, for their
sakes, for Your glory. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

*********************************

1.



Ecclesiastes
1:1
Ligon Duncan
2.


Cat’s Cradle
Kurt Vonnegut
3.


The Restaurant at the End of the World

Douglas Adams
4. Miracles, C.S. Lewis
5.
J.
Budziszewski,
Professor of Philosophy and Government, UT, Austin
6. Nihilism. The belief that all
values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated
. It is
often associated with extreme pessimism and a radical skepticism that condemns
existence. A true nihilist would believe in nothing, have no loyalties, and no
purpose other than, perhaps, an impulse to destroy. While few philosophers would
claim to be nihilists, nihilism is most often associated with Friedrich
Nietzsche who argued that its corrosive effects would eventually destroy all
moral, religious, and metaphysical convictions and precipitate the greatest
crisis in human history. In the 20th century, nihilistic themes–epistemological
failure, value destruction, and cosmic purposelessness–have preoccupied
artists, social critics, and philosophers. Mid-century, for example, the
existentialists helped popularize tenets of nihilism in their attempts to blunt
its destructive potential. By the end of the century, existential despair as a
response to nihilism gave way to an attitude of indifference, often associated
with antifoundationalism.

Origins
“Nihilism” comes from the Latin
nihil
, or nothing, which means not anything, that which does not exist. It
appears in the verb “annihilate,” meaning to bring to nothing, to destroy
completely. Early in the nineteenth century, Friedrich Jacobi used the word to
negatively characterize transcendental idealism. It only became popularized,
however, after its appearance in Ivan Turgenev’s novel Fathers and Sons
(1862) where he used “nihilism” to describe the crude scientism espoused by his
character Bazarov who preaches a creed of total negation.

In Russia, nihilism became
identified with a loosely organized revolutionary movement (C.1860-1917) that
rejected the authority of the state, church, and family. In his early writing,
anarchist leader Mikhael Bakunin (1814-1876) composed the notorious entreaty
still identified with nihilism: “Let us put our trust in the eternal spirit
which destroys and annihilates only because it is the unsearchable and eternally
creative source of all life–the passion for destruction is also a creative
passion!” (Reaction in Germany, 1842). The movement advocated a social
arrangement based on rationalism and materialism as the sole source of knowledge
and individual freedom as the highest goal. By rejecting man’s spiritual essence
in favor of a solely materialistic one, nihilists denounced God and religious
authority as antithetical to freedom. The movement eventually deteriorated into
an ethos of subversion, destruction, and anarchy, and by the late 1870s, a
nihilist was anyone associated with clandestine political groups advocating
terrorism and assassination.

The earliest philosophical
positions associated with what could be characterized as a nihilistic outlook
are those of the Skeptics. Because they denied the possibility of certainty,
Skeptics could denounce traditional truths as unjustifiable opinions. When
Demosthenes (c.371-322 BC), for example, observes that “What he wished to
believe, that is what each man believes” (Olynthiac), he posits the
relational nature of knowledge. Extreme skepticism, then, is linked to
epistemological nihilism
which denies the possibility of knowledge and
truth; this form of nihilism is currently identified with postmodern
antifoundationalism. Nihilism, in fact, can be understood in several different
ways. Political Nihilism, as noted, is associated with the belief that
the destruction of all existing political, social, and religious order is a
prerequisite for any future improvement. Ethical nihilism or moral
nihilism rejects the possibility of absolute moral or ethical values. Instead,
good and evil are nebulous, and values addressing such are the product of
nothing more than social and emotive pressures. Existential nihilism is
the notion that life has no intrinsic meaning or value, and it is, no doubt, the
most commonly used and understood sense of the word today.

Max Stirner’s (1806-1856) attacks
on systematic philosophy, his denial of absolutes, and his rejection of abstract
concepts of any kind often places him among the first philosophical nihilists.
For Stirner, achieving individual freedom is the only law; and the state, which
necessarily imperils freedom, must be destroyed. Even beyond the oppression of
the state, though, are the constraints imposed by others because their very
existence is an obstacle compromising individual freedom. Thus Stirner argues
that existence is an endless “war of each against all” (The Ego and its Own,
trans. 1907).

Friedrich Nietzsche and
Nihilism

Among philosophers, Friedrich
Nietzsche is most often associated with nihilism. For Nietzsche, there is no
objective order or structure in the world except what we give it. Penetrating
the faзades buttressing convictions, the nihilist discovers that all values are
baseless and that reason is impotent. “Every belief, every considering
something-true,” Nietzsche writes, “is necessarily false because there is simply
no true world” (Will to Power [notes from 1883-1888]). For him,
nihilism requires a radical repudiation of all imposed values and meaning:
“Nihilism is . . . not only the belief that everything deserves to perish; but
one actually puts one’s shoulder to the plough; one destroys” (Will to
Power
).

The caustic
strength of nihilism is absolute, Nietzsche argues, and under its withering
scrutiny “the highest values devalue themselves. The aim is lacking, and
‘Why’ finds no answer” (Will to Power). Inevitably, nihilism will expose
all cherished beliefs and sacrosanct truths as symptoms of a defective Western
mythos. This collapse of meaning, relevance, and purpose will be the most
destructive force in history, constituting a total assault on reality and
nothing less than the greatest crisis of humanity:

What I relate is the history of the next two centuries. I describe what is
coming, what can no longer come differently: the advent of nihilism. . .
. For some time now our whole European culture has been moving as toward a
catastrophe, with a tortured tension that is growing from decade to decade:
restlessly, violently, headlong, like a river that wants to reach the end. . . .
(Will to Power)

Since
Nietzsche’s compelling critique, nihilistic themes–epistemological failure,
value destruction, and cosmic purposelessness–have preoccupied artists, social
critics, and philosophers. Convinced that Nietzsche’s analysis was accurate, for
example, Oswald Spengler in The Decline of the West (1926) studied
several cultures to confirm that patterns of nihilism were indeed a conspicuous
feature of collapsing civilizations. In each of the failed cultures he examines,
Spengler noticed that centuries-old religious, artistic, and political
traditions were weakened and finally toppled by the insidious workings of
several distinct nihilistic postures: the Faustian nihilist “shatters the
ideals”; the Apollinian nihilist “watches them crumble before his eyes”; and the
Indian nihilist “withdraws from their presence into himself.” Withdrawal, for
instance, often identified with the negation of reality and resignation
advocated by Eastern religions, is in the West associated with various versions
of epicureanism and stoicism. In his study, Spengler concludes that Western
civilization is already in the advanced stages of decay with all three forms of
nihilism working to undermine epistemological authority and ontological
grounding.

In 1927, Martin Heidegger, to cite
another example, observed that nihilism in various and hidden forms was already
“the normal state of man” (The Question of Being). Other philosophers’
predictions about nihilism’s impact have been dire. Outlining the symptoms of
nihilism in the 20th century, Helmut Thielicke wrote that “Nihilism literally
has only one truth to declare, namely, that ultimately Nothingness prevails and
the world is meaningless” (Nihilism: Its Origin and Nature, with a Christian
Answer,
1969). From the nihilist’s perspective, one can conclude that life
is completely amoral, a conclusion, Thielicke believes, that motivates such
monstrosities as the Nazi reign of terror. Gloomy predictions of nihilism’s
impact are also charted in Eugene Rose’s Nihilism: The Root of the Revolution
of the Modern Age
(1994). If nihilism proves victorious–and it’s well on
its way, he argues–our world will become “a cold, inhuman world” where
“nothingness, incoherence, and absurdity” will triumph.

Nihilism is a view composed of
skepticism coupled with reduction. ‘Political’ Nihilism is active, not passive,
and dictionary-defined as the realization “that conditions in the social
organization are so bad as to make destruction desirable for its own sake
independent of any constructive program or possibility.” In his 1861 novel,
Fathers And Sons
, author Ivan Turgenev accurately defined this worldview,
“A nihilist is a person who does not bow down to any authority, who does not
accept any principle on faith, however much that principle may be revered.”

1. A common
(but misleading) description of nihilism is a ‘belief in nothing’. Instead, a
far more useful one would substitute ‘faith’ for ‘belief’ where faith is defined
as the “firm belief in something for which there is no proof.” A universal
definition of nihilism could then well be the rejection of that which requires
faith for salvation or actualization and would span to include anything from
theology to secular ideology.
Within nihilism faith and similar values are
discarded because they’ve no absolute, objective substance, they are invalid
serving only as yet another exploitable lie never producing any strategically
beneficial outcome. Faith is an imperative hazard to group and individual
because it compels suspension of reason, critical analysis and common sense.
Nietzsche once said that faith means not wanting to know. Faith is “don’t let
those pesky facts get in the way of our political plan or our mystically
ordained path to heaven”; faith is “do what I tell you because I said so.” All
things that can’t be disproved need faith, utopia needs faith, idealism needs
faith, spiritual salvation needs faith; reject faith.

2. The second element nihilism rejects is
the belief in final purpose, that the universe is built upon non-random events
and that everything is structured towards an eventual conclusive revelation.
This is called teleology and it’s the fatal flaw plaguing the whole rainbow of
false solutions from Marxism to Buddhism and everything in between. Teleology
compels obedience towards the fulfillment of “destiny” or “progress” or similar
such grandiose goals. Teleology is used by despots and utopian dreamers alike as
a coercive motivation leading only to yet another apocryphal apocalypse; the
real way to lead humanity by the nose – tell them it’s all part of the big plan
so play along or else! It may even seem reasonable but there is not now and
never has been any evidence the universe operates in a teleological way – there
is no final purpose. This is the simple beauty nihilism has that no other
idea-set does. By breaking free from the tethers of teleology one is empowered
in outlook and outcome because for the first time it’s possible to find answers
without proceeding from pre-existing perceptions. We’re finally free to find out
what’s really out there and not just the partial evidence to support original
pretext and faulty notions only making a hell on earth in the process; reject
teleology.

I fear no man,
I fear no God,
I seek no heaven,
I fear no hell,
I have no heroes,
I have no faith,
I bow before no one.
I am a Nihilist.

Death to Philosophy
Death to God
Death to Government
Death to Ideology
Death to Money
Death to Love
Death to Morality

Beyond right and left,
beyond right and wrong…

© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.

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