Thursday 19 July 2018

Why is Nihilism so prevalent? - by Chiu ChunLing (from the comments...)

'CCL' is a frequent and thoughtful commenter at this blog, often providing analysis and clarification. This comment deserves special attention:

Nihilism is so prevalent because the universe itself is nihilistic.

This is the primitive Judeo-Christian doctrine found in Genesis and reiterated throughout the Old Testament, which forms the context on which the New Testament has real significance.

Simply put, it is not easy for God to create meaning and hope in a universe that is fundamentally inhospitable to such things. Platonic Idealism and Post-Christian thought cling to the assumption that there must be meaning and hope in life, but Christianity itself only makes sense when you accept that there is nothing logically necessary about your life meaning anything in the end.

That's the initial attraction to believing in God at all, let alone Christ, so that there will be someone who cares about your otherwise pointless existence (who will not simply die out meaninglessly in turn). Nihilism doesn't come from false metaphysics so much as from a lack of metaphysics.

But when you have incomplete metaphysics, in which the positive metaphysical assumptions do not include all that is logically entailed, then the remaining metaphysics are false. When someone assumes that their own life has meaning and purpose, but does not accept the metaphysical assumption that makes that possible, then the (otherwise true) assumption that it there is meaning and purpose (or even coherence) in life is rendered false.

For someone in this position, it is useful to be confronted with the real alternatives, if they do not believe in God they cannot really believe in anything at all. They can merely willfully entertain a delusion of unsupported meaning.

Some may at that point decide to go ahead with believing nothing at all. But most won't.


Kirk Forlatt said...

Yes, this was an interesting comment. Unfortunately, it was derailed in the second sentence with CCL's use of the popular term "Judeo-Christian." This is a loaded and misleading term that, if ignored," undercuts the strength of any argument in which it is used. I apologize for hijacking this comment to point to another blog, but Vox Day has recently shined the light on what a cardboard term "Judeo-Christian" really is. His remarks can be found at

Bruce Charlton said...

@KF - I agree that the J-C term is not valid in this context (although it probably is in science - because - from the mid 19th century - Western science was mostly a creation of European Christians and Ashkenazi (Germanic) Jews; who shared relatively high intelligence, high creativity/ 'Psychoticism', a metaphysical coherence and a truth-seeking ethic); but I don't agree that the term derails or undercuts the substantive point that CCL is making.

J-C has become a 'weasel word' - used for subversion and inversion - but that is a relatively recent phenomenon; and it is only quite recently that Vox Day has put forward arguments that (and I agree with you) discredit the term-as-currently-deployed.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Vox Day's "as Judeo-Christ himself taught..." is the perfect comeback!

But I do think CCL's use of the term is legit. He's talking about a "doctrine found in Genesis and reiterated throughout the Old Testament" -- a text from before the time Judaism and Christianity went their separate ways. In this kind of historical context, "Judeo-Christian" is just as reasonable a term as, say, "Indo-European."

Chiu ChunLing said...

It's a bit embarrassing to have such a grim comment highlighted, though in truth being grim is one of my particular strengths.

Genesis (even more so than the rest of the Old Testament) firmly deserving of the term "Judeo-Christian". I am aware that the term itself can grate, people mouth it too often as a call for ecumenicism between outright rejection of the divinity of Christ and acceptance of a secular version of selected Christian teachings. But in this context, referring particularly to the starting point which exists before either Christ or Israel, it is necessary to acknowledge that common origin.

I hope it should always be understood that whenever I say "Judeo-Christian", I am referring to the books and underlying assumptions and values of the Old Testament, never to anything that has only been introduced by Christ's teachings, actions, or ordinances.

I am not disposed to refer to these as merely Jewish, a term which I feel properly describes only the subsequent development of the religious tradition which rejected Christ. Nor am I inclined to call them entirely Christian, not least because to a very great extent they represent the problems that Christ came to solve, rather than Christ or His doctrine.

But of course the really essential problem I'm pointing out isn't even Judeo-Christian, the doctrine of Genesis is the Judeo-Christian description of the existential problem, which nobody of any religious tradition can avoid.

Does life mean anything at all, given that it inevitably ends in death? Or going even further, if you were alive and unable to die, wouldn't that be the same as being dead, if not worse?

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - Well argued.

"Does life mean anything at all, given that it inevitably ends in death? Or going even further, if you were alive and unable to die, wouldn't that be the same as being dead, if not worse?"

Well said.