Nihilism and the God Debate
Posted: 30 August 2010 06:59 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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Michael Jon Palmquist

“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.” –Albert Camus

  The man who works a profitable but sedentary office job may decide one day to spend his evenings at a weight lifting gym, as many people in contemporary society are apt to do. And by doing so, this man admits through his actions that having a stronger body is at least in some way unnecessary with respect to his survival: if he required bulging musculature to survive in his workplace or in a cruel society, he would already have the physique of, say, a blacksmith without much unnecessary effort. So what then are his reasons? Health and longevity? A hobby? A way of releasing pent-up aggression? A recognition that he, and therefore society at large, cannot accept his current appearance? In any case, he requires of himself an enrichment (or in some cases, waste) of his life that life in turn did not apparently demand of him.
  This brief train of thought must be urgently applied to that age-old question of god’s existence, which has loudly resurfaced in European and American public debate in the wake of the 9/11 atrocities. For while this unanswerable question is certainly mentally stimulating in academic circles, we must ask ourselves whether its present public resurgence entails something more sinister than a simple and gratuitous appeal to the brain. For the following reason, if nothing else: anyone who needs to definitively answer this question in order to proceed with the task of living, hates life itself. Their hatred may be in fact born in light of true injustice to themselves or members of their society, or born of self-pity and self-victimization, but the simple fact remains.
  The existentialist who cries out that life has no objective meaning ends by enforcing a subjective meaning on his fellow humans in the form of dictatorial law, while the man who cries out that life has no meaning without god begins by lavishly condemning himself in order to justify condemning the human race to theocracy. They are in the end the same person, and in this moment of recognition they despise each other with a blind energy that few other creatures can muster. They are the Left and the Right, biding their time under the banners of moderate democratic parties, and waiting patiently for the proper level of civil unrest in order to unfurl again their scythes and the swastikas.
  Therefore that stereotypical brand of atheist who needs god to not exist in order for life to have meaning must be viewed with no less suspicion than the man who claims as certain fact that a given god is the originator of life’s meaning. Life is quite apparently a finite series of revolts attempting an exhaustive chain of revolt against death (whether a given life form is consciously aware of it or not), and in turn human life is quite obviously a revolt against human death and misery. Any other interpretation forced upon human existence in this period of history is at best gratuitous and artistic, and at worst (and more commonly) a monstrous form of nihilism and hatred of life.
  The human race at this moment cries out for a brand of citizen (I will call them atheists only for lack of the better term) who refuse to answer the question. Atheists who recognize the question of god’s existence as a distraction and stumbling block to life. Atheists who do not give our existence a meaning it need not wear. Atheists, who in refusing totalitarian thought, refusing death at every turn (except in the immediate defence of human life), restore to human life the meaning it always and objectively bore. Atheists who confound traditional party lines by decrying both the death penalty and abortion insofar as it is gratuitous. Atheists who actively engage in restoring to humanity the common bonds of community and dignity and solidarity which have been too quickly abandoned as parishioners continue to pour out from the crumbling churches and temples of the gods.
  The twenty-first century has too quickly forgotten the words of the twentieth century’s greatest humanitarian writer, the French-Algerian Albert Camus, in great part because he despised that word that every new generation embraces: Revolution.
  “Every revolution ends by becoming either an oppressor or a heretic”, he wrote. And again, in his seminal L’homme révolté: “The rebel undoubtedly demands a certain degree of freedom for himself; but in no case, if he is consistent, does he demand the right to destroy the existence and the freedom of others. He humiliates no one. The freedom he claims, he claims for all; the freedom he refuses, he forbids everyone to enjoy. He is not only the slave against the master, but also man against the world of master and slave. Therefore, thanks to rebellion, there is something more in history than the relation between mastery and servitude. Unlimited power is not the only law. It is in the name of another value that the rebel affirms the impossibility of total freedom while he claims for himself the relative freedom necessary to recognize this impossibility.”
  The atheist of today must carry those words ringing in his ears as he lives in constant revolt against all extremes, allowing over and over again the ancient ideals of Greek democracy and solidarity to conquer the nihilistic extremes that threaten to tear our civilization apart. The atheist of today must despise revolution, which always at heart bears a hatred of this life. That begins by refusing to answer the question. For this new atheist, the god debate is simply irrelevant.

Michael Jon Palmquist is an American writer & ex-patriate living in Germany after serving 3 years in the US Army and 16 months in Afghanistan.

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Posted: 24 September 2010 06:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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“The atheist of today must despise revolution, which always at heart bears a hatred of this life. That begins by refusing to answer the question. For this new atheist, the god debate is simply irrelevant.”

It is irrelevant, but your aiming your literary gun at the wrong target.  We can’t/won’t subjugate or kill believers, so we must convert.  When your sanctity is threatened, and your freedoms slowly leeched, there must be a moment before death, or theocracy, when you act.  To not do so is to be an utter pacifist, and to lose the most important fight in the progress of human thought; i.e. to continue thinking.

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Posted: 27 September 2010 06:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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a war veteran is usually not a pacifist. i’m not an exception. if u want a better idea of my position, here’s a draft of the first chapter of a book i’m writing…

Chapter 1: From Confusion to Revolt
One must love life before loving its meaning, says Dostoyevsky . . . yes, and when love of life disappears, no meaning can console us.
-Albert Camus, Notebooks 1935-1942


It is a fact that we are suffering from nihilism.
-Albert Camus
  It is a fact that we are dying of nihilism. Never mind, for the moment, whether this has always been case. Human society today is a madhouse of petty wordplay. As we speak, theocratic citizens of United States wave that great symbol of atheistic Greek democracy, the American flag. Anti-theists masquerading under the guise of humanism the world round support the active abortion of unwanted fetuses as rule of law. Fascists in the Middle East declare Allah’s wrath against society, and then, as ultimate proof of their own unbelief, take it upon themselves to enact the terror of a helpless god. Intellectuals defend these indiscriminate executioners as though terrorism stems from a legitimate cry of human despair. The list goes on, ad nauseum. We are victims of a general confusion that we are simultaneously defending. This is not an accusation but a statement of fact. The human race has become less important than its ideals. We have put the cart before horse, we are painting without a canvas. Again, it is nothing but a truth that we are dying of nihilism.
All life forms on this earth, from viruses to apes, declare life worth the effort by simply living. Conscious humans alone, it seems, are capable of sitting quietly by and simultaneously demanding a meaning for this life. Ironically, that intellectual demand is almost always preceded by either a hunger for power or a confused declaration of hatred for one’s own life. Perhaps both together. One may indeed kill himself without the need to pass judgment on all of human life. But today this is not enough. Personal nihilism has exalted itself as a revolution, and like all revolution, it is poised to swallow its own children. The intent of this work is to pursue a train of thought that will allow us to speak clearly in human discourse, and therefore to revolt against this hideous wave of revolution. Not in pursuit of some intellectually satisfying philosophy, but instead welling from a love of human life itself. For how could a mother bring an infant into this life and hate life without also hating her offspring?  There is no two ways around it. We are dying in a swamp of confusion that breeds countless strands of nihilism into our discourse and our lives. We must begin to think clearly.
  In order to revolt against nihilism, we must first recognize its form. This has been accomplished many times throughout the history of philosophy, for better or worse, but it cannot not hurt to begin again. I will start by illustrating a case of nihilism in action through the following thought experiment:
Imagine, for the moment, that earth time as we know it is an objective reality. By this, I am asking you simply to imagine that the Greenwich time standard was not proposed by imperial Britain, but is instead as real and non-synthetic as a wildflower. Or as real as the fundamentalist Christian, Jew or Muslim assumes his respective god to be. Therefore, while the time in Honolulu will always of course be different than the time in Toronto or Istanbul, all of these times will stand in relation to an objective and unalterable standard proposed by the Greenwich standard (or Zulu Time, or Coordinated Universal Time, or whatever you wish to call it).
Now imagine further, on this fictional world, a young man in Munich who has recently finished business college and secured his first office job. The job consists of writing email correspondence at his post from the hours of 0800 to 1600 (Munich time, of course), Monday through Friday. The job is not especially demanding, except that the young man’s boss is adamant that all employees begin exactly at 0800 and work to exactly to 1600 before retiring for the evening. Our young man, undisciplined in matters of punctuality (in part because his college professors excused his chronic tardiness), fails to meet the morning deadline for the entire first week. He arrives at work consistently at 0815, and is subsequently handed a dire warning: “If you are late once more, ever again, you will be fired without hesitation.”
Our young employee has no other means of supporting himself than this job, and swiftly hatches a plan. He reverses his bedside alarm clock time one half hour from standard Munich time and, through this common act of self-deception, arrives to work on time. As the weeks and months progress, he is not only able to hold his job, but to move up in the ranks of his company and flourish. Alas, this is not enough for our young man. He is human, and feels the need to connect with all of humanity. “Everyone on earth can benefit from my philosophy of turning back the clock one half hour,” he reasons to himself. “The world is full of unrest, and is hungry for my wisdom. I will write a book and spread my belief to every continent, to every human ear.” In this imagined world, he is successful. A planet covered in social unrest is all too eager to listen. In fact every clock on the planet is reversed by one half hour. We can see the impending consequence from miles away.
He, on the other hand, has no such foresight. He is blinded by a belief that the whole world is populated by tardy people. The empathy he projects onto the human race is false, for it does not recognize a common objective standard outside himself. In fact, nothing on the planet is significantly altered except that the young man is promptly fired the following day for being late. He failed to switch his own clock back another half hour. The world has changed its objective time standard to his unalterable bedside alarm clock, and his own standard subsequently judges only him. He hates the Munich society that dumps him on the street, he hates his fellow men for listening to his message, he hates himself. Consequently, he hates every aspect of life. We will leave our young nihilist’s impending self-destruction to the imagination.
The ridiculousness of this thought experiment is only elevated by its accuracy in painting the modern world. We can perhaps imagine a historical moment when only madmen and philosophers proclaimed that human freedom and dignity is intrinsically worth killing for. But today, we all claim a stake in this distorted belief. In fact, the man who honestly claims himself worthy of human solidarity makes his declaration of independence and then proceeds to kill those who will in fact kill him.  It is not an abstract matter of morality, but of first necessity, of survival. He need not understand or respect his opposition’s reasoning process. His life his threatened, his family is threatened, his society is threatened, and that is enough. His standard is life, not freedom. A small and recognizable freedom will naturally blossom from this standard, but it is not the standard itself.
So what, then, is nihilism? It must be, in human context, the simple denial that the unalterable standard of human life is anything other than human life itself. We may all be relative nihilists on this account. I may only see my own life as having meaning within the context of my wife and offspring. The Christian or Muslim may only find a reason to live by positing a Yahweh or an Allah, and may in fact commit suicide upon losing that belief. The anti-theist may only get out of bed each day precisely because (for him) a god does not exist. But this relative nihilism, when projected upon the world through false empathy or self-hatred, denies every standard, even the one it pretends to set for itself. The active nihilist will in the end become the god he declares his belief in, only to destroy that god by destroying himself. It is self-evident that he believes in nothing. We are left in this world with only one obvious standard in human life, and that is human life itself. If the nihilist’s line of reasoning fails to alarm us all on a deeply human level, it should at least leave the intellect in a twisted knot.
I will pause here to establish definitions for two core phrases that will appear throughout this work: relative nihilism and active nihilism. Relative nihilism encompasses all actions and corresponding personal values that give an individual some purpose or direction in his life. I refrain here from borrowing Friedrich Nietzsche’s term, passive nihilism, on the grounds that would be in this context self-contradictory; no subjective value is without action, and no action is passive (I include human inaction as a form of action on the grounds that conscientious pacifism is a value and corresponding action). Active nihilism, in turn, is the sum of all actions and their corresponding personal values, stemming from an individual who deems his personal values more important than human life itself. I borrow this Nietzschean term, out of context, on purely aesthetic grounds: active nihilism is actively killing us. Of course, one may kill without being an active nihilist, insofar as they are not killing in the name of a value…elaborate?

…Let us stop playing with words when discussing human politics in public discourse. The ancient Greeks believed that many gods existed, and they believed that these gods did not care much about human life. The Greeks eventually rejected these gods without necessarily caring to declare these gods dead. Life is still worth living, they said. Let us live without acknowledging them. This line of reasoning produced true atheism and therefore the first known form of democracy. The gods are ignored, not replaced. Human life is the standard. The chain holding life, atheism and democracy together is inseparable. But today the religious theocrat may wave a flag of symbolic democracy and command the attention of a confused following. Or the anti-theist may call declare his humanism while blindly extinguishing life.
It is here that we begin to define another critical term for our discussion: atheism. The atheist denies the ultimate importance of the gods in human life, but does not reject their existence. There is no immediate need to negate the gods. For the atheist, human life is the standard from which all other considerations stem. The atheist respects any religion that declares all human life sacred, and only when that religion contradicts itself through action does the atheist depart from religious tolerance. We have begun already to see that beliefs are not immediately important to the atheist. He makes the necessary leap of deciding to live, and from that point on, he declares that actions alone are worthy of consideration. He is not intent on policing the human conscience, as the theist and anti-theist have been historically inclined to do. He calls for the separation of church and state, and allows all forms of relative nihilism to reign under their respective steeples, domes and minarets. The atheist recognizes the power of relative nihilism to combat human despair. He is only concerned at the moment with revolting against active nihilism.
Why then is the term atheism so widely despised in contemporary democracies like the United States of America? Let us not leap to judgment too quickly. It is at least a matter of ignorance. The American revolt against Soviet theocracy ...

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Posted: 27 September 2010 09:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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Anti-theists masquerading under the guise of humanism the world round support the active abortion of unwanted fetuses as rule of law.

Actually, anti-theists are as various in their views on abortion as any group of people.  They do not, as a group, strive for the death of fetuses as though this would entail some great moral achievement.  The argument in favor of abortion has a long list of underpinning arguments, all of which you have summarily discarded in a single sentence.  We may one day have sufficient birth prevention technology to render abortion a non-issue, but given the state of our world, it remains a necessary reality, however ugly.  There are good arguments against abortion, but you have not presented one of them.

The human race has become less important than its ideals.

Ideals have behavioral consequences.  Bad ideals are in the majority, and I think most atheists would agree that “We must begin to think clearly.”  However, we must also encourage clear thinking in our neighbors.

You seem to have this idea that we can just live our lives out and ignore bad ideas, like the greeks ignored the gods.  The problem, of course, is that while the greek gods do not exist, and consequently did not do much when ignored, the bad ideas surrounding us today are flying planes into buildings, killing people by the millions, and driving civilization towards an intellectual death in service of some deity.  Inaction, by not pursuing an evolution of thought, is tantamount to attempting to avoiding an avalanche by sitting down in it’s path.

I once again assert that you are “aiming your literary gun at the wrong target.”

I am also a veteran, and likewise not a pacifist.

Good luck with the book, though smile

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Posted: 09 October 2010 02:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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Reerr - 27 September 2010 01:58 PM

Anti-theists masquerading under the guise of humanism the world round support the active abortion of unwanted fetuses as rule of law.

Actually, anti-theists are as various in their views on abortion as any group of people.  They do not, as a group, strive for the death of fetuses as though this would entail some great moral achievement.  The argument in favor of abortion has a long list of underpinning arguments, all of which you have summarily discarded in a single sentence.  We may one day have sufficient birth prevention technology to render abortion a non-issue, but given the state of our world, it remains a necessary reality, however ugly.  There are good arguments against abortion, but you have not presented one of them.

The human race has become less important than its ideals.

Ideals have behavioral consequences.  Bad ideals are in the majority, and I think most atheists would agree that “We must begin to think clearly.”  However, we must also encourage clear thinking in our neighbors.

You seem to have this idea that we can just live our lives out and ignore bad ideas, like the greeks ignored the gods.  The problem, of course, is that while the greek gods do not exist, and consequently did not do much when ignored, the bad ideas surrounding us today are flying planes into buildings, killing people by the millions, and driving civilization towards an intellectual death in service of some deity.  Inaction, by not pursuing an evolution of thought, is tantamount to attempting to avoiding an avalanche by sitting down in it’s path.

I once again assert that you are “aiming your literary gun at the wrong target.”

I am also a veteran, and likewise not a pacifist.

Good luck with the book, though smile

thanks! i don’t come on here much. but again, you are preaching to the choir. i’m not writing a book to someone with your views, but to a rabidly christian America. and that was an early draft. i’ll send you a free copy next year:-) fyi, i use anti-theist in a different context than, say, Christopher Hitchens. you are not an anti-theist in this context. Stalin is:-)

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Posted: 09 October 2010 08:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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i’ll send you a free copy next year

I would be honored.  Happy writing!

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