There’s an enemy anyone given to prolonged thought has to face.
Sooner or later the question of purpose and meaning looms like a wall.
If all is wiped away when we die, what is the point? Is life worth it, or just a cruel joke?
Time and again I’ve heard smart Christians present an unmoved mover, a first cause outside of time, as “proof” of a specifically Christian God.
All this really tells us is this universe had to be started from a cause outside the rules that govern our universe. If that means God, at best we can assume a Spinozan God that’s more of a force of nature than a human personality directly involved in our lives. And an afterlife or reincarnation? I can think of no reason to assume such a thing is true.
It makes the most sense to assume this is our one chance since we do not know otherwise.
It’s easy to fall into the trap that atheism is the “rational” approach while anyone religious is simply deluding themselves. It seems at first to make sense.
But then you have to live your life by the values you have chosen…
Atheist “humanists” like to point out that lack of religion doesn’t cause them to go out and start randomly being evil. They often live by a moral code.
The trouble is that strong atheism must reduce to nihilism. One cannot hold moral values if one explicitly believes in a universe without purpose or meaning. Nothing can be good or bad in such a universe. Strangling puppies is no better or worse than winning the lottery. Life is no better than death.
Here, the supreme irony of moral atheists becomes clear. Despite professing atheism they mostly continue to stick to Judeo-Christian moral laws. They don’t practice what they preach…because if they did, it would destroy them.
The interesting thing is one cannot be an atheist…at least not for real. I was inspired to make this post when a reader named luciferslibrarian asked me this:
So I am curious – you mention that you have used philosophy to arrive at meaning. I am an introvert whose biggest problem has always been that I don’t see meaning in anything. The older I get, the worse it gets. When I was younger, I was far more motivated and creative; driven even. Now I find getting started on the smallest tasks almost insurmountable, because I don’t see the point. Most people I know take solace and find meaning in friends and family, but as an introvert with a less than stellar relationship with my family, the social path is not really for me. I also know that toiling in obscurity for some higher purpose is kind of a pipe dream. Can you shed any light?
Yes! The biggest problem we have to face is the challenge presented by the yawning nothing of nihilism.
I approach it something like this:
The adoption of nihilism is pretty much guaranteed to destroy civilizations and hamper the progress of individuals, to trick them into living a directionless cursed half life until they finally die.
Nihilism seems to make sense based on what we know, but if we implement it, it’s unquestionably destructive.
As I see it, living by nihilism is against the observable laws of our universe. It doesn’t work. In this sense it is objectively false.
Also, even nihilists don’t really truly act on nihilism. The logical thing to do if you’re a nihilist is to be unaware of the problem of nihilism. That knowledge only causes pain and dissonance and even if it’s the truth, who cares if it has no meaning anyway. Better to be like an insect in the field playing out its role as a biomachine, never doubting.
You can’t even be a conscious nihilist or atheist and really be consistent!
If nothing has meaning, we might as well kill ourselves, start a party binge to drown out the knowledge of our fundamental irrelevance, or have some of our brain removed to remove the pain inflicted by ennui.
Yet no one does the logical thing…
A self professed strong atheist or nihilist is a liar. They clearly continue to believe in some kind of meaning or higher purpose. They can say what they want, but what they do says it all.
Since meaning is a law of existence for a sentient being, we might as well either completely accept that or self destruct.
Faced with a choice…I chose meaning.
At least I chose to follow meaning. It’s a battle that never ends for a person of awareness. That creeping feeling of pointlessness and despair is an adversary that’s always there, waiting for an opening. It’s the price we must pay to be aware.
It’s a fearful thing to face and those who can avoid it through distractions usually do.
I’ve spent some time just thinking about this post, because I know from experience, there’s few greater threats to an introvert’s life than the triumph of meaninglessness within.
Often isolated, without any sources of fulfillment in the material world, many of us don’t make it. I am convinced that confronting the problem of nihilism is something that can save lives. Asking those questions without a doubt played a huge role in saving my life.
Far from a dramatic conversion to orthodox religion, I’ve come to see things in a way that diverges from both atheists and theists.
Consulting both reason and my intuition, I’ve long since come to conceive of “God” as something closer to that Spinozan force of nature. It doesn’t have a mind or personality exactly nor is it remotely human.
Logically, the best way to understand its nature is to observe nature’s workings.
For the most part, it seems to be an impartial thing, but it does establish certain laws that govern our universe…
For years after having rejected strong atheism I was vexed.
Many having gone through the same process as I did become religious.
But all my life I had marveled how absolute morality legislated by a deity tends to lead to hypocrisy and ambiguity in interpretation.
What’s more, “absolute” morals often backfire when “good” people restrain themselves and others happily take advantage of them.
If religious moral law isn’t consistent with observable reality, then atheists with their satirical Flying Spaghetti Monster make an excellent point. If God’s law turns out to be arbitrary in implementation, the 11th commandment might as well be Thou Shalt Not Tie Thy Shoes.
We’re left with an absurd nothing that reduces to Nihilism! Orthodox religions need an afterlife to “solve” this problem!
So a key requirement of a life-preserving belief system for a thoughtful person is that it must make sense within observable reality…
At this point, Taoism with its ‘Way’ provided some key inspiration.
There are observable laws of the universe that move us along effortlessly when we follow them and crush us when we fight them.
We see this everywhere in the natural world and in our lives as human beings.
From this perspective, lack of meaning simply violates a timeless law.
If we must either hold to purpose or perish, it is clear what we must do…
Meaning becomes effectively self-evident because we cannot exist without it!
Since finding a way to help nullify the threat of nihilism I’ve since used this basic premise to create the values I live by. It has served as a genuine map telling me what I ought to do next rather than being a burdensome absolute law that spites the nature of reality in hopes of a better hereafter.