Friday, 1 September 2017

Taking modern nihilism seriously

The pervasive nihilism of modernity serves to block any move away from the prevalent insanity and despair; because our problems are at the level of basic (metaphysical) assumptions, yet any attempt to discover, examine and revise these assumptions is shipwrecked instantly by nihilism.

Nihilism therefore functions as the conservatism of radical inversion - it serves to conserve the metaphysical assumptions that underpin secular leftism.

Nihilism, by this meaning, is disbelief in reality; it is the feeling (rather than the conviction) that nothing is really-real, that everything is uncertain - that anything may be wrong.

The modern world view is based on the objectivity of perceptions (eg. in science) - yet we also know that perceptions are often wrong (seeing is not believing). Modern morality is based on the primacy of feelings - modern ethics are all versions of utilitarianism, that is of good being happiness and evil being suffering - yet we know that feelings are temporary, reversible, influenced by psychology, illness, drugs and propaganda.

In sum, in a world built on perceptions and feelings - we know that neither are reliable, nor solid, nor even known for sure. Hence the nihilism.

Modern nihilism is indeed a feeling, rather than a thought - because (pretty obviously) one cannot have a conviction that 'nihilism is true', because that is self-refuting; rather the strength and intractability of nihilism comes from its being a feeling we can't shake-off, rather than a proposition that we are logically-compelled to acknowledge.

Consequently, modern people are stuck in a situation in which their nihilism ruins their lives, but in which they do not take their nihilism seriously - because if they did they would behave very differently. They would not argue-in-favour of nihilism, they would not use nihilism as any kind of argument - they would not even attempt to communicate, they would not plan, they would not do anything which interfered with their current selfish gratification... and so on.

What happens is that people have a feeling of nihilism, which is unpleasant and usually takes the form of fear. So they address the situation at the level of feelings by some combination of displacing nihilism with other feelings and obliterating the feeling of nihilism.

For example by distracting with the mass media, by distracting with the pursuit of sex or status; or obliteration by intoxication with drugs or sleep or immersive media - and all the other characteristically modern evasions.

That modern nihilism is a matter of feeling rather than thinking is in fact a potential solution to the problem. If we take nihilism seriously, and seriously think about it - and keep thinking about it, we will be forced to make a decision between:

1. Accepting the truth of nihilism, and behaving accordingly.

2. Discovering that nihilism is not the bottom line of our conviction.

Of course, this is a dangerous tactic, since accepting the truth of nihilism may lead to suicide or a short-fast-track to death by short-term-self-indulgence (including harming or killing others, when doing so happens to gratify an individual).

But - given the rarity of consistent nihilism, it is likely that most people would recognise that their deepest and most pervasive feeling is not nihilism, but something opposed to nihilism.

In sum, individuals may discover their own bedrock convictions - their personal certainties, stronger than nihilism, upon which they can begin to build meaning purpose and genuine relationships.

Dangerous though it is; taking nihilism seriously, and rigorously thinking-it-though for ourselves, is probably the only way out from its trap.

It was for me.


Jane Wrigg said...

"Dangerous though it is; taking nihilism seriously, and rigorously thinking-it-though for ourselves, is probably the only way out from its trap.

It was for me."

Yes, but you are an intelligent man. What if most people are too stupid to think at all, let alone rigourously? Unfortunately, that is what I believe, which is why I tend towards universalism - the masses need a loving saviour, who understands that human beings are mostly useless and lost.

If universalism is not true, then heaven will be almost empty, God will have failed, and the cross and the resurrection will prove to have been pointless. Truly, in such a case, nihilism would have won because it would be true.

Since I also believe that God doesn't fail, and he wants all to inherit the kingdom, and he understands our uselessness, I really don't think that he expects much in the way of theosis whilst incarnate by the majority.

I take seriously the view that the majority are here to experience failure, and learn from that failure post-mortem, because greater souls will teach and review, and the dead will also remember knowledge they were required to forget when they were incarnate. The awareness of their lives, the choices they made, plus the different awareness that I suspect exists in the discarnate state, will enable them to truly learn, and become more godlike.

I suspect God is determined and stubborn, and that he is heaven bent upon saving us all. Some will resist because they foolishly imagine that they don't want to be saved, and those types will make it impossible for God to achieve his aim. But with God, the impossible just takes a little longer. Eventually, all will safely be gathered in whether, currently, they like it or not.

(Whilst universalism is not avowed doctrine by most churches, even the princes of the RC church allow that it is acceptable to hope that it may be true. Universalists are no longer the pariahs they once were - hurrah).

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

If the fool would persist in his folly, he would become wise.

The problem is that "taking nihilism seriously" is a bit self-contradictory, nihilism being the attitude that nothing should be taken seriously.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JW. You are arguing from a classical theological metaphysics which I do not share. My Mormon metaphysics does not have this problem, and 'universalism' would be a negative thing, since it would be a denial of free agency (indeed, universal compulsory salvation was Lucifer's proposal in Mormon scripture).

@William - And that is why we are in such deep trouble, the worst in history - presumably the end times.

Jane Wrigg said...

On reflection, I can see I skimmed over the issue of those who don’t want to be saved. To be clearer, I think that postmortem, those who don’t want to be saved will have the free will to continue to reject salvation, and they will receive the justice of God in the form of purging.

I don’t know how the purging will be done, but its aim will not be to torture for eternity. No-one will be forced to change, but God will purge those who reject him, to refine and reform them to the point where they choose to be reconciled to him.

Purgation might bring extreme fear, perhaps suffering in a similar way to how one treated others in life. It will certainly look and feel like punishment from the point of view of the one who rejects salvation. Over time, purgation will lead to shame for past sins, and empathy for those sinned against, leading eventually, after “age-enduring” time to love for the victims of one’s sin.

Ultimately, for each unreconciled soul, I see a dawning, a realisation that love is central and everything. The perception of God as punisher will then be realised in a moment of glad glory to be, and to have always been, an aspect of his undying love and mercy for us all. The devils will melt away and be seen to have been angels of light all along, and the face of God will smile directly at the saved sinner, and the sins will be all forgotten.

In this, a high view is placed on the power of human free will to reject God’s love, but a higher view is placed on the power of God’s love. He will love as long as it takes until every person freely chooses to love him back. Eternity is a long time, and God has that long to offer his love. He will do so until the last sinner steps out of his own created hell, and it dissolves behind him because it no longer has a reason for being.

For me this is the promise of the cross.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Jane - It seems rather an over-complex and tortuous scheme. My understanding is that hell is self-chosen and self-imposed - and we can see many examples of people putting themselves into hell during mortal life, and refusing to leave despite every opportunity and encouragement.

I see it as analogous to the way that so many modern people reject and exile themselves from a loving and happy family to pursue a delusional and despairing lifestyle of degradation; and over years dig themselves deeper and deeper into hope-less nihilism.

Gregory DeVore said...

Among the ancient Church Fathers the difference between those who believed in eternal punishment and those who believed in ultimate universal salvation hinged on rather the will becomes somehow fixed at death. Those who believe that the will is fixed, the majority, believed Hell was eternal. Those who believe that free will persists post mortem tended to be universalists. I am curious Bruce how final participation looks if most people are excluded from it? The whole Anthroposophy thing seems very optimistic shall we say? I wonder if they are universalists.

Crosbie said...

Is this the Everlasting No and the Everlasting Yea?

Bruce Charlton said...

@C - I don't know.

@ GDV - "I am curious Bruce how final participation looks if most people are excluded from it?"

'Excluded' is the wrong concept - at present almost nobody wants FP and even fewer are trying to achieve it. Final Participation is also quantitative - somebody might live in this state for varying amounts or proportions of their lives.

I think of FP as the adult-divine form of consciousness - those who accept and work on spiritual progression (in mortal and post-mortal life) will achieve it sooner or later.

At present, people (implicitly) feel compelled to choose between the Original Participation of childhood, or the alienated state of the Consciousness Soul which they suppose to be grown-up, but which is actually an adolescent transitional phase.

Stephens said...

I can imagine, in the not too distant future, people wont have to distract from their nihilistic feelings "with the pursuit of sex or status; or obliteration by intoxication with drugs or sleep or immersive media - and all the other characteristically modern evasions."

Leftist ideology will lead to some kind of mass "soma" treatment, as envisioned in Huxleys "Brave new world."

It sounds a ridiculous thing to say, but if you look at current science and its political direction you can see an omen of what is likely to come. "Oxytocin and social norms reduce xenophobia" at the University of Bonn is a good example :-

I fear a future where some will have trouble arguing against treatment whilst, as things worsen, the masses will take it willingly!

Man without God. The show must go on!

Jane Wrigg said...

I think that we all have our ideas, but when it comes to it, we cannot know exactly how it will work. I see our deepest and clearest thinking as only somewhat clear from the point of view of god-like beings. Yes, we have access to reality, but it is through a more or less mucky window depending how far forward we are in theosis. I see the books of the bible, and other sacred texts in a similar way. They are divinely inspired, but they are filtered through the perceptual apparatus of the flesh of the individuals who wrote them. We can try to move the flesh aside for direct access, but when the holy spark is trapped within the fleshly state, can we ever say with certainty that we have complete and unfettered access to reality? I do not know with certainty that my universalist view is correct, nor can I say with certainty that the annihilation, or the eternal punishment views are wrong. As Dr Charlton says, we all attempt to access reality through primary thinking, and it seems to us that we achieve some success. At the same time, we also know that there have been great Fathers of the Church in the past who have agreed with some of our views, disagreed with some of our views, and have agreed and disagreed with some of each other's views.

I think it is better to attempt to access reality, even if we get some of it wrong. I venture to say that the more one tries, the more one develops, and the more one is likely to get more right. I think that a way of testing oneself is to read scripture, for example, the gospel of John, and see how one understands it. If attempts at theosis are working, then I think that an anagogical understanding will come, and with no apparent effort. If it is forced, or seems hard, then I suspect it is not real.

Lucinda said...

Hi Bruce,

I wrote a post a couple years ago over at Millennial Star, an adaptation of a talk I gave at church. I thought of it when I caught on to your thoughts on the progression of consciousness. In short, my state of illusion lines up with your consciousness childhood, disillusionment with your consciousness adolescence, and revelation with your consciousness adulthood, but not Final Participation since my approach is more of a bit by bit idea.

I think you are right that taking on nihilism by its own rules is very helpful. In trying to share the knowledge with others, promoting self-reflection to see inconsistencies in their existing framework seems the only way forward, because they will not believe in the goods of Final Participation since they perceive it as a regression into illusion/childhood. That seems to me to be the main purpose of mortal life, to get us to reflect on how our choices/beliefs affect our experience, and gain an understanding of what choices/beliefs really lead to what we really want.

I agree that "excluded" is the wrong concept. There are those whose most cherished desires are an impossibility, but it doesn't follow that they will eventually cherish what is possible and easily available through Christ. I do think there is a non-Hell place for people who say, "Oh fine!" to reality, but I don't think it's what most people would call Heaven (though it's a perfectly nice place.)

Jane Wrigg said...

Blogger Bruce Charlton said...

"@JW. You are arguing from a classical theological metaphysics which I do not share. My Mormon metaphysics does not have this problem, and 'universalism' would be a negative thing, since it would be a denial of free agency (indeed, universal compulsory salvation was Lucifer's proposal in Mormon scripture)."

I wanted to understands what Mormons found objectionable in universalism, and so used the search term, 'Mormon Universalism' in Google. The first site that came up was not what I expected, which was an argument against universalism, instead, to my surprise, it was a site for and by mormon universalists. If you are interested, here is the link: