The Irrationality of Existence or, How to Find the Meaning of Life, much to Nietzsche’s Chagrin


DSC01524We’re too busy to ask the big questions anymore, but they linger over our heads like an ominous shadow lurking in our rooms while we sleep. We keep ourselves occupied with jobs, television, movies, video games, the internet, and a host of other things. Companies make billions of dollars a year off the fact that we will buy anything, any amount of money, and do anything we can in order to keep ourselves busy and thoughtless. The more thoughtless the entertainment, the less it demands of us, the more likely we are to consume it. Why is it that reality television shows have become so popular? Is it because we are that dumb, or are we that desperate to silence the big questions of life? At least the alcoholic is honest with himself and admits to drinking in order to avoid and suppress life’s difficulties; the TV junkie or video game addict hardly realizes he has a problem.

Yet, we must all face the big questions. At a funeral, they sneak up on us without our permission and infect our minds. What if I’m next? What has the purpose of my life been? What if this is all it’s worth? We hate funerals because it reminds us of our own inevitability; certainly we will miss the person who has died, but even for strange acquaintances whose funerals we attend out of social obligation we still feel our stomachs turn.  We realize that one day we will be the person in the casket and it is in that moment that life’s big questions engulf us, it is then we all become Jonahs in the belly of a great fish, trapped in a darkness we’ve fought so hard to avoid.

We quickly push such thoughts away by looking at our phones for the latest news, looking at what Jane is wearing, thinking about what the kids have to do tomorrow, putting together a grocery list, and the line of distractions grow. We distance ourselves from the big questions, yet they remain. When forced to confront our own mortality, we are faced with the meaninglessness of our existence. To the ancient Greeks, life wasn’t meaningless because one was supposed to pursue the good. Of course, they then spent countless hours defining and attempting to understand exactly what “the good” was. For Plato, the good was some abstract form, something to which we could only achieve within the form world. To Aristotle, the good was found mostly in this life, through living a virtuous life. Yet, both seem meaningless; if the good is abstracted and unobtainable in this life, then what is the purpose in trying to pursue it? If the good is found in a virtuous life, how much virtue and how long do I have to live before I obtain it? For the Romans, specifically Cicero, the good was best manifested in being a good citizen. But oh that Cicero could have seen his Republic fail (he did see its twilight), for then he would realize that being a good citizen cannot be our ultimate end since the State is mutable. Turn East and one could seek the Tao, but the Tao is immutable and therefore one cannot know if it is obtained or not. Or one could seek Nirvana, which is ultimately nothingness; if the purpose of life is to obtain nothingness, then there is no purpose.

Before we ridicule the ancients in the East and the West, we should better understand that us moderns are infantile in our quest compared to the ancients. At least they dared to stand their ground against the big questions of life. Rather than fleeing as we do, they turned and like a brave soldier fought against these questions. They did battle with the struggles of life and even if they did not emerge victoriously, at least they fought. We moderns are far too quick to run away. We tend to take the meaning of life for granted, hiding behind beautifully written platitudes that when exposed to scrutiny, dissolve like paper in acid. Think of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which while a great film, provides a cleverly written, but stupidly simple meaning of life: “To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.” Like modern music, such a saying might sound great to the masses, but there’s really nothing behind it. If the meaning of life is to see the world, then already those who are poor are now excluded from enjoying the meaning of life. Only those who can afford trips need apply to having meaning in life. To see dangerous things to come, to see behind walls (that is, to see the truth of the world), to draw closer and find each other, and to feel; none of these, however, indicate positive things. By all accounts, both Gandhi and Hitler obtained the meaning of life, both Mother Theresa and Josef Stalin stood on equal footing when it came to finding meaning in this life. All involved saw the world, they saw the dangerous things, they saw behind the lies of the world, they drew closer to some and even found love, and they did feel. Such a meaning of life is amoral, which means there is no meaning at all.  Continue reading

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Christian Porn is not Dead or, This Post Isn’t About Sex


School of Athens

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Pornography has a reputation for creating unrealistic expectations and having horrendous acting. A man comes over to fix the cable and a scantily-clad model answers the door and, well, you can imagine where it goes from there…he fixes the cable. (Sorry, I’ll try not to be so fatuous). Essentially, it creates some false reality where sexual fantasies can be lived out; porn creates a type of “strawman” concerning sex itself, putting in unrealistic expectations and scenarios. At its base, porn isn’t so much about sex as it is about false self-affirmation, about putting one’s self in a mental state of imagining the impossible and ridiculous. Overall, even the “secular” media realizes that porn is a bad thing that desensitizes people to actual sex. Or to put it in hipster terms, porn is a chemical additive to the natural and organic act of sex, thus ruining the act.

Of course, porn doesn’t have to be sexual. There is a popular term called “disaster porn,” wherein the media blasts images from a disaster into people’s heads 24/7 until the public is immune to that disaster (or to disaster itself). Often times, the real news of the event is lost in the narrative that the media wants to shape. There is violence porn where television shows engage in too much violence, which then desensitizes the audience to violence in general. There’s even a new Superhero porn, where the plots of every single superhero movie out since 2003 are exactly the same, but hey, explosions, so why not? Christian culture, or more appropriately American Christian culture, is not immune to a type of porn; Christian porn, or the Christian cultural attempt to fit in.

Christian porn is whenever Christian culture attempts to ape the world in music, products, television, style, or movies, but does so in a mediocre, “Not the cool kid but really want to be” way. Instead of Hootie and the Blowfish, in the 90s Christian porn produced Third Day. Instead of hip hop, Christian porn produced DC Talk. Somewhere around the early 2000s, MercyMe evolved the whole copying aspect of Christian music and said, “Hey, why not just create an entire genre?” Thus, since 2000 Christian porn has evolved its own genre of music, where lyrics and chords sound almost the same across “artists” and bands. Not to be outdone, Christian porn also gave us apocalyptic fiction via the Left Behind series, gave us Christian television in various, beautifully bad forms, and of course who can forget the Christian movies?

The latest product from Christian porn is God’s Not Dead, a movie that opened up to church groups movie theaters everywhere this past week. As someone who lives in the Bible Belt, I can say confidently that churches went full-force at this movie. The local movie theater didn’t have a single parking spot available on Sunday. Restaurants emptied earlier than normal on Sunday and weren’t busy that night as the theaters took all the business.

For those not in the know, you can watch the cringe-worthy trailer with the Newsboys (them?). Or, you can see that Rotten Tomatoes has it around 40%. To put that in perspective, Sharknado is around 82% and Noah is around 76% (but hey, at least it’s not Catwoman bad). The film deals with the typical Christian view of a philosophy professor; a man angry at God who doesn’t believe in God because of some personal tragedy and decides to indoctrinate all the students into believing that way. To further this trope, we’re led to believe that anyone not a freshman at this university no longer believes in God. I mean, the professor makes his students sign a pledge saying they don’t believe in God (academic freedom?), the professor gets angry when one, just one student, states a belief in God. Within the trailer we’re taken from some mysterious/probably unnecessary skeptic in Dean Cain (Superman is trying to eliminate the competition) while Hercules mocks God possibly for perceived daddy issues over abandonment (not realizing that Zeus and the Judeo-Christian God are different).

Of course, there are other subplots within the movie. A muslim girl converts to Christianity and is kicked out of her house by her father (just short of an honor killing I’m assuming), a vegan journalist discovers veganism causes cancer (or something like that), and somehow people end up at a Christian concert with the Newsboys (them?).

And the whole thing is really Christian porn. It presents an incredibly unrealistic scenario with bad acting where the plot doesn’t matter, but allows Christians to fulfill their fantasies and see those fantasies played out in “real life.” We always hear about the big, bad, dangerous atheist professors who are just waiting to destroy the faith of college students. Of course, most students lose their faith in college not because of what they learn in the classroom, but because of what they learn in the dorm room; their faith isn’t lost by reading Friedrich Nietzsche or David Hume, it’s lost when the Christian cultural bubble collapses and they’re exposed to a world unlike anything they’ve ever seen. If anything else, a more accurate description would be a hostile atheist student – whose sole education in the subject consists of a few YouTube videos and Reddit – yelling at a Christian or theistic philosophy professor. In fact, Quentin Smith laments the rise of theism within the field of philosophy a la Alvin Plantinga. Not to mention that Oxford University Press, Harvard Press, Philo, and other academic press agencies and journals regularly publish peer-reviewed pro-theistic/pro-Christian books/articles.

The movie God’s Not Dead simply serves to confirm biases and present a watered-down, emotional, and useless faith. Hercules’ Kevin Sorbos character asks about a God that would allow a 12 year old to have cancer, and we’re met with a song by the Newsboys (them?). We’re then confronted with the idea that the ONLY reason this professor could show such hostility to God is that he has personal issues. Of course, the idea of a 12 year old dying of cancer ought to cause us to question God; that’s not a lack of faith, that’s called being a decent human being. The Bible is full of its main characters questioning God in the face of evil, there’s even an entire book dedicated to such a thing (Job). Even Christ, God incarnate, while on the cross shouted out Eli, eli, lama sabachthani (“my God, my God, why have you forsaken me”). The point being, the movie allows for a very real question, but this provides a fluff answer.

Christianity has a very rich heritage of providing rational and solid responses to critical questions. The first philosophical defense of Christianity is found in the book of St. John, when the Apostle uses philosophical language to describe Christ, showing that Christ is an answer to the questions of Greek philosophy. In Christianity’s recorded history, however, St. Paul serves as the first philosophical defender. While the account of Mars Hill in Acts is a summary, St. Luke (being a genius), refers to Paul’s refutation of two competing philosophies (Epicureans and Stoics) and showing how Christianity served as a solution to their problems. Anyone versed in Greek philosophy who reads Acts 17 sees that Paul is refuting their claims while finding common ground; but most importantly he is giving substance and rational replies to their critiques.

Even outside of Biblical tradition there are great Christian thinkers who defended the faith while also raising questions. Justin Martyr gave a strong philosophical defense of Christianity with arguments so solid that they are used today. St. John of Damascus gave a summary of the faith, providing a defense for the existence of God (this after he wrote a work on logic and philosophy). After experiencing the Russian revolution, S.L. Frank wrote The Meaning of Life where he openly questions if life has any purpose and goes on seeking a purpose. Of course the other famous Russian writer, Fyodor Dostoevsky, gave the best argument against the existence of God via evil in The Brothers Karamazov, and he did this while being a devout Christian. Some of the greatest music, greatest ideas, greatest art masterpieces, greatest scientific discoveries, and so on for the past 2,000 years in Western history have been accomplished by Christians. How did we go from the Sistine Chapel to Thomas Kinkade?

The problem is that many Christians feel they have to be countercultural in their artistic endeavors while equally being overly spiritual. There can’t be a subtle message, there can’t be any mystery, rather it has to be an in-your-face, moment by moment display of the Christian message. Gone are the days where Lord of the Rings is appreciated as a great epic and in are the days where Jesus is seen as Gandalf and Kirk Cameron should star as Aragorn.  Gone are the days where a Christian can have great dialogue over the question, “If God is dead, then what?” and in are the days where when faced with the question of if God is dead, we answer with Hercules, Superman, and the Newsboys (them?).

Christians need to wise up and realize that they are deserving of better. Instead of supporting low-budget, low-quality productions, they ought to support good stories that are well-done. No one is saying the Christian message cannot be overt in a work of art done by a Christian. The Christian message is incredibly overt in Dostoevsky’s Brothers, but it’s also a beautiful work of art. Dante’s Inferno is blatantly Christian in its message, as is Milton’s Paradise Lost, but you can’t get through an English major without having to read both of them due to their artistic beauty. While subtlety is preferred in today’s market, it’s okay for Christian art to be overt in a Christian message, but it must be done well. Movies like God’s Not Dead are not only a disservice to living Christians, but also to those who helped develop the Western-style of art that is so abused and neglected by today’s Christian “artists.”

We live in a world where Michael Bay, J.J. Abrams, and others are considered innovative directors because of explosions and light glare on a lens. Our culture’s idea of music is Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, and Miley Cyrus. Art, true art, is more and more being confined to museums, the rich, and The New Yorker. As our culture degenerates more and more, as it succumbs to the entropic hole left by the collapse of postmodernism, it is in desperate need of an artistic voice in the wilderness. Before, during, and after Rome’s collapse, Christians stood tall as the saviors of civilization. Christian monks preserved the works of the pagan Greeks even though the pagan Vikings sought to destroy anything not of value to them. Christian iconography allowed for art to continue, even outside the church. The Renaissance was a Christian affair. Christians didn’t just have a voice in the formation of Western art; Christians formed Western art. It’s high time that Christians moved back to such a position, producing quality and supporting quality. After all, we’re made in the image of God, who is the Creator. This means that we ought to be creative. If God isn’t dead then neither should we let our creativity die, we should give up our taste for Christian porn. Christians don’t need to become countercultural and watered-down in their artistic endeavors; they need to lead the culture and become the pinnacle of artistic standards.

I Lost Faith in Myself . . . Now I Have Hope


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It occurred to me the other day that Nietzsche is right.  The only thing I could possibly have faith in, if God is dead, is me.  This thought, I must confess, is rather unsettling (namely, because I know myself far too well).  But, if there are no transcendent values, if there is no meaning, what else is there to put my faith in?

I suppose I could put my faith in “science” or in some abstract notion like “humanity” or “the universe”—but these things are only meaningful, in a world devoid of intrinsic value, if I consider them meaningful.  In such a world, I, the subjective knower, am the arbiter of truth, meaning, and value.  It is clear, therefore, that, in actuality, “I” (and not some objective reality outside of myself) am what I truly have faith in.  I have faith in my beliefs, my intentions, and my desires (e.g., my affection for science is the source of my trust in science; for science in and of itself has no objective meaning or value).

This, however, is truly a miserable, and hopeless, state of affairs.  I am finite; I am mortal; I can be (and will be) destroyed.  My existence is a temporary blip—a shifting shadow like the shadows on Plato’s cave wall.  I am merely the byproduct of cold, impersonal, meaningless, physical processes which blindly, and uncaringly, march on without direction until the final death and collapse of the universe.  In such a world, I am not a subject; but, merely, an object—a passive object.  All of my thoughts, longings, desires, and emotions, as well as my ability to reason, are merely physical happenings—unimportant, undirected, predetermined, events.  Thus we see the sickening irony of the situation: there is no “I”—at least, not in any traditional sense of the term.

To make matters worse, I am unreliable.   I fail to understand or to comprehend or to communicate effectively.  I am forgetful and can easily be deceived.  I fail to keep my promises.  I tell lies and cheat and steal and have pity parties.  I lack self confidence and lack the power to change anything about the laws of nature which completely hold sway over my fate.

As I ponder these things I realize that, in the absence of God, there is no hope; because I am my only hope . . . and I have no delusions of grandeur.

When we recognize that placing total faith in ourselves is utterly useless and ultimately futile, we are finally in a position to understand the paradox that Truth presents us with:  “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matt. 16:24-25).

“I” is an absurdity—a meaningless illusory object—operating under the delusion that the world has value.  Life is hopeless; the universe is impersonal; I will end; I can’t save myself.  This is because I live in a fallen world disconnected from Truth and estranged from the Giver of Life.  I remain in this despairing state so long as I worship “self”; so long as I pin my hopes on a temporal, finite, feeble, dying blip in the universe.  This is why Truth tells us to deny ourselves and to follow Him.  Only He can give us life; only He can restore meaning and value.  Apart from Him, we remain in the void, in the darkness, and held captive by death.

Previously posted on Truth is a Man.

Lost, Lonely, Confused, and Loving It: A Condemnation of Western Society’s Indifference


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We are, all of us, searching for water in a dry and desolate land; stumbling in the dark; groping for something stable to support us and give us direction . . . and that’s the way we like it.   Deep down, hidden beneath a host of questions and doubts, we realize we are lost and don’t want to be found.  We are hedonist at heart, and lazy ones to boot: we’d much rather watch pornography than discover Truth.  We are too selfish and controlling to even want Truth; because Truth is outside of our direct control.  Truth is not something we can create, or tame, or manipulate; it’s too restrictive and limiting and, thus, untenable.  It works against our inner narcissist.  Hence, we rest, quite contently – with only the slightest and most obligatory hint of angst – in the void of cynicism and doubt.

Sure, we pay lip service to the notion of Truth . . . but do we really desire it?  Years ago I met with a group of teenagers who fancied themselves Atheists and Agnostics.  I led discussions on a variety of philosophical and theological problems at a local coffee shop.  I remember asking one of the students, who attended regularly, what she thought the goal of our discussions was?  Her response was revealing:  “well . . . mainly to have fun, you know, talking about different ideas.”  Like so many in our culture, she wasn’t thirsty for knowledge; she was indifferent; she just wanted to have fun.  As many of religion’s “cultured despisers” did in the time of St. Gregory of Nazianzus:

“Who should listen to discussions of theology?  Those for whom it is a serious undertaking, not just another subject like any other for entertaining small-talk, after the races, the theater, songs, food, and sex:  for there are people who count chatter on theology and clever deployment of arguments as one of their amusements.”

The majority of young people I talk to have this attitude.  They are like the Athenians who, “spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing” (Acts 17: 21).  Discussions about God, morality, meaning, or value are just “small-talk” – an amusing pastime, like baseball.  There’s no substance to their questions and no deep desire to find answers.  More often than not, their “intellectual” struggles – which prevent them from accepting objective truth – are merely a facade maintained to justify elicit sex and drug use.  For others, the questions are asked in an effort to appear sophisticated or edgy.  Very few young people thirst for knowledge and actually want to find an answer to the question of value.

Put bluntly, our culture has lost its desire for meaning and replaced it with an insatiable lust for “reality” TV and Starbucks Frappuccino’s.  This is why the New Atheists will acknowledge the universe is utterly meaningless, that life has no intrinsic value, and that morality is rooted in the blind, ruthless, unintentional, irrational, laws of evolution (which is really just another way of saying, there is no morality) . . . and then shrug.  “Well, I like my life” they say; or, “life has meaning when we give it meaning.”  And what, precisely, is the meaning we ascribe to life?  Ultimately, in the West (and especially in the United States), life’s meaning can generally be classified in one of the the following three categories: (1) our elation over the new Star Wars film directed by J. J Abrams, (2) our intense love for shopping, and (3) our constant and unbridled desire for orgasm.  This is why we look at people in third world countries and wonder, “how can they stand to live that way?”  It is also the reason we can’t understand why the majority of people in third world countries have a deep faith in God and a firm belief in the supernatural.

It’s only in the face of tragedy that we Westerners are forced out of our drunken stupor . . . and, even then, only for a little while.  In the face of intense evil and hardship the reality of our fate often begins to sink in; the reality that we are weak, fragile, finite, temporary, shifting shadows.  In the midst of pain and suffering we are reminded of the absurdity and futility of our existence.  When we realize that our fate is no different than that of the irrational beast or the unconscious rock, we then start to consider the question of meaning more seriously.  When our dignity has been violated and we are standing on the edge of a cliff, we then find ourselves asking the same haunting question that William Shakespeare posed in one of his most famous monologues:

“To be, or not to be — that is the question:whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune / Or to take arms against a sea of troubles / And by opposing end them / To die, to sleep no more, and by a sleep to say we end the heartache, and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.”

To exist or not to exist?  Have you actually considered this question?  Have you ever taken time to meditate on how utterly futile human existence is?  Or is Albert Camus just cool, hip and trendy?  Is it just fun to quote Nietzsche, to feel intellectual, and have a good laugh–or have you actually absorbed the implications of Nietzsche’s thought?  Have you, not just thought it, but felt it in your heart and soul?  It’s easy to shrug off the purposelessness of reality when you’re busy trying to look and sound cool . . . and trying to get laid.  It’s not so easy when your dignity and value has been utterly trampled on and life seems hopeless and unbearable.

Everything you think gives your life meaning becomes mere dust blowing in the wind when you have been violated or when life hangs in the balance.  Your cars, your computers, your video games, your films, your music, your beer, your pornography, your books, your drugs, your sexuality, your pets, your wealth, your sports, your technology, your scientific advancements, your successes, all fade into nothing when you are the girl who has been raped or you are the child sold into sex slavery, or you are the one lying in the hospital bed dying of cancer, or starving to death while living in a trash heap.  Suddenly, words like meaning, purpose, value, and eternity take on new life.  Suddenly trite answers like, “you give your life meaning” feel stupid and hopeless.  Especially when you understand that, if the nihilists are correct, there is no meaning, purpose, value, or eternity for the individual.

You’ll only want Truth when you realize that all of the things you think give your life meaning have no meaning at all apart from Him.  When you internalize the fact that we are completely helpless – slaves – in a world that is, at rock bottom, irrational, uncaring, and unintentional, you’ll finally be in a position to hunger and thirst for the Truth.  In that moment you will understand why Truth says,“I am the bread of life.  He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).

Re-Blogged From: Truth is a Man

The Biggest Problem With Atheism


The “New Atheists” have made atheism in vogue among the popular masses. While agnosticism and atheism have been popular stances since the early days of the Enlightenment among the educated, until recently it wasn’t all that popular among the average citizen. In the past decade, however, that has begun to change. Chalk it up to the bravado of the New Atheists and their rhetoric, but don’t chalk it up to the content of atheism; that’s because atheism has no content, which is why no one should embrace it.

The biggest problem with atheism is that it tells us nothing about what is or what ought to be. If anything, in recent years, atheism has turned into nothing more than a giant rant against religion, specifically Christianity. Look at any of the popular books on atheism by atheists and it’s full of arguments against the existence of God. We’re told that God is evil, that God is impossible, that it’s irrational to believe in God, that we don’t need God in order to be good, and so on. In other words, all modern atheism does is show us what not to believe, but it puts nothing in the place of God.

We are told that we do not need God in order to be good; but sans God how do we define what “good” is and how do we create an ought to achieve that good? We’re told we don’t need God for the universe to exist; but sans God how do we explain the existence of immaterial laws in a universe that is supposedly solely material? Which came first, the matter/energy or the laws that govern the matter/energy? In other words, atheism tells us that God doesn’t exist, but if we grant this and go, “Okay, then what?” the atheist simply says, “Oh, I don’t have to answer that.”

Yet, and this is the problem with all skepticism, if no content can be provided as to what should be believed in the absence of what is rejected, then what value is the belief? Recognizing that atheism lacks answers to questions is a big reason for some people to turn away from atheism. After all, any child can mock something someone says, but it takes an adult to articulate why a belief is wrong and what should be believed in its stead. This is not to say that all atheists are children; there are some atheists who are making an attempt to explain why we should be ethical in the absence of God, why life has meaning, and so on. But these atheists are few and far between, and they’re getting fewer (either due to death or conversion to theism). The new atheists apparently want to say that life has meaning, life is unique and wonderful, and that universal ethics exist, but don’t want to supply any proper reasoning behind it. While “fanboys” of the new atheists laud their writings, other atheists (especially in academia) recognize that the new atheists have fallen short. In fact, my implication of there being two atheists is explicitly stated by other atheists (though I still think both types of atheism presented in the linked article are sub-standard as they provide no answers).

We look at the universe and through a process of deduction conclude that God is the most probable explanation. The atheist says no, but when we ask him to explain how something came from nothing, we get nothing (even Lawrence Krauss’ book completely falls short of its title). We’re told that we don’t need God in order to be good. When we ask why we ought to be good, we’re told it’s a matter of genetics and evolution. When we point out that we’re then determined and thus there’s no point to shame or praise, we’re told that we can still choose and that we ought to be ashamed for rejecting atheism. When we say that this is the language of free will (in fact, the mere act of attempting to persuade someone is acting on an implicit belief in free will), we’re told that everything is determined. Thus, atheism, in its attempt to prove God doesn’t exist discredits free will, but then seeks to persuade people to believe God doesn’t exist. This is simply one of many contradictions within atheism.

Having answers for the ought is important because the justification behind the ought is what changes society. Why ought I act a certain way? Why ought I pass certain laws? Why ought I care about suffering that is not my own? Why ought I show any concern for society? Ultimately, all atheism can say is, “Well evolution has caused this,” but that’s not an ought, it’s an explanation. Perhaps evolution has led the majority of humans to believe it’s wrong to murder for one’s own benefit, but where is the ought for humans who see no problem with that? And were we to provide an ought for why it’s wrong to murder, ultimately such a justification must be established in a strong metaphysic. But if our metaphysic is nothing beyond, “Something came from nothing as a huge accident” then our justification loses all meaning because it inherently lacks purpose.

Thus, the biggest problem with atheism is that it brings nothing to the table. It cannot create a metaphysic that holds any meaning because the metaphysic will ultimately lack purpose. Perhaps the new atheists can turn to existentialism, but once again we run into the problem; whereas existentialism taught that we provided meaning to our lives (which is something Kai Nielsen teaches), this belief doesn’t work because, yet again, it lacks the ought. Certainly the atheist can say that helping old ladies cross the street provides meaning to our lives, but we can counter that assuming the atheist metaphysic is true, pushing old ladies in front of cars equally provides meaning; neither action is good or bad, they’re simply actions (this is the conclusion Nietzsche came to). None of this is to say that atheists can’t be good – they are often better than many religious people – but it is to say that atheists lack justification for being good.

Of course, the problem of atheism isn’t limited to the realm of ethics, but that’s just the most obvious target. Atheism has no metaphysic, no justification behind its oughtness. Thus, while atheists may ask difficult questions or point to potential problems with theism, it ultimately lacks any substance or any reason for being good. Thus, even if the atheist points out that a reason for being good is false, it doesn’t mean we should disbelieve God, just that we should disbelieve the absoluteness of our reason; there’s still no reason to be an atheist because it simply has no answers. It might be able to question the explanations for “what is,” but it cannot provide its own explanation for “what is.” That is to say, atheism cannot tell us anything about the world around us, but can only question other theories that attempt to make and explanation, meaning atheism, ultimately, brings nothing to the table.

Are You a Free Spirit?


A question for you to dwell upon tonight: are you a free spirit? Nietzsche argued that the greatest human beings were free spirits—those rare individuals who transcend mankind, who break free from the shackles of value systems, who no longer follow the herd, who fully embrace what it is to be human (all too human), creating their own values and making their own meaning; rising above what their culture or religion has determined to be right and wrong or beautiful. Does this sound like the type of person you strive to be?

People often tell me that they desire freedom from the constraints of organized religion or from puritanical moral systems, which they believe bring about oppression and unnecessary limitations upon mankind. Some perceive that religion imposes overwhelming intellectual limitations—that is, they believe that religion stunts their intellectual growth or somehow disengages their rational faculties. They want the freedom to believe whatever they deem to be true. Others perceive that religion brings about suffocating ethical limitations—they want sexual liberation, they want to lie and cheat and steal from time to time without feeling guilty about it.

Perhaps the most common form of freedom that people speak about is the freedom to make meaning. Have you ever heard someone say, “life is what you make of it” or “my life has meaning because I make it meaningful”? Statements like these illustrate the type of freedom that I’m referring to. It’s the idea that we have the freedom to make meaning for our lives apart from any standard or universal meaning which applies to everyone. We see this in art as well. There’s no longer a standard for what qualifies as art—art is simply an expression of someone’s inner feelings or emotions. Thus, anything can be art. A jar of urine is art if you feel that it is and attribute to it some form of meaning. There is a real resistance among modern artists to placing any definition, label, or limitations on art. There is a desire for freedom—an unlimited freedom to express whatever one wants however one wants to express it (whether that be through urine in a jar or oil on canvas). There is also a tremendous resistance to the idea that beauty is objective—that something can truly be said to be beautiful. We want the freedom to make that determination for ourselves.

I wonder, however, if Nietzsche’s free spirit is truly free? I wonder if those of us who strive for this type of freedom are actually placing ourselves into bondage? What if, in our desire to be free spirits, we have actually enslaved ourselves to one of the most tyrannical and destructive dictators of all? The dictator to which I refer is of course self love. By self love I do not mean having a healthy self image (something we all should have); rather, I mean the placing of our pleasures and our needs as the very end of (i.e. the purpose of) our existence. When we direct our lives in accordance with our unbridled passions; when we make decisions solely based upon what is beneficial to our own wellbeing or to what brings us the most pleasure or satisfaction–this is self love. Self love is all about fulfilling any sexual urge or fantasy we might have, expressing ourselves in any way we want (without recourse to the good, the noble, or the beautiful), and about living life to feed the ego. The free spirit, in her desire to break free from values, from universals, from absolutes, ends up in bondage to her own arbitrary emotions; to her own ego. Rather than being a rational human being, the free spirit is more akin to a horse following a carrot on a stick—wherever the carrot goes the horse goes.

A free spirit, enslaved to self love, ultimately brings bondage and enslavement to others as well. In the eyes of the free spirit, people become simply a means to an end—objects to be used for personal gain. This happens whether the free spirit is aware of it or not. For example, you begin to think–perhaps only in your subconscious–of your girlfriend as a sex object; of course she is a person, but in practice she is nothing but a means to satiating whatever sexual desires you might have. She, in turn, is obligated to fulfill your sexual desires no matter how uncomfortable or dirty it might make her feel if she wants to keep you. You degrade her (maybe you don’t even think of it this way); you reduce her to a mere tool for masturbation and whether you realize it or not, she has become your slave. But, perhaps, she has enslaved you too. Perhaps she knows–even subconsciously–she can get something she wants out of you (money, power, respect, companionship . . .) if she gives you the sex that you want? In this case, you are ultimately her slave–not unlike the lab rat that won’t stop pressing the button which gives it sexual stimulation (to the exclusion of the button which dispenses food) and, in the end, dies of starvation.

St. Paul spoke of this type of self love in his second letter to Timothy:

“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self,       lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (II Timothy 3:1-4)

This type of self love, which is the root of all sin, leaves us in bondage. We become slaves to sin–slaves to our unbridled passions, slaves to our ego, and slaves to each other. The freedom that we so long for turns out to be nothing but an illusion.

Freedom, true freedom, can only come through Christ. Jesus not only brings us forgiveness for the pain and suffering and oppression we bring into the world, but offers us an escape from the tyranny of self love. Jesus gives us the freedom to love what is truly beautiful and truly good–the Creator and sustainer of life Himself; and to love others who have been made in His image. This, in fact, is the essence of Christianity: to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).

The follower of Christ, imaging God Himself, makes love the end or, the purpose, of his existence. By love I do not mean some fluffy sentimentality or warm sensation that one experiences in his stomach. I mean the act of sacrifice–of self giving. St. John said: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16). Later he states: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7-8). God is love, not in some abstract way, but his very nature is love. Within the blessed Trinity we see the existence of three persons, joined together by nature and eternally pouring out themselves, sharing themselves, submitting themselves to each other. We see true love. In the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ we see this love, this self-giving, spilling out into creation–we see the Divine Logos humbling Himself, giving of Himself, even unto death. We see true love.

The true free spirit is the one who embraces this love, who breaks free from the chains of self love and into the liberating arms of self-giving. So, the question remains: are you a free spirit?

Nihilism, Fr. Seraphim Rose, and Horse Feathers


Allow me to be a hipster for one second: My favorite band is probably a band you’ve never heard. They are Horse Feathers, a mix of Americana, Indie, and folk, so if you’re into that kind of thing they’re worth checking out. What I really appreciate about the band is the depth of their lyrics (and the banjo, I’m a sucker for a banjo).

Regardless, they released their new album “Cynic’s New Year” (which, in my opinion, is their best album to date). On the album they have a song called “Last Waltz” that musically is brilliant, but the lyrics just stand out to me. Now, I don’t know what Justin Ringle (or whoever wrote the song) meant by the lyrics, but they make a point that I really want to stress. Here are those lyrics:

I’ve seen the end
All I have loved had broke and won’t mend.
Call in the doctor the day may have died.
There’s a thimble of light for an acre of sky.

Darling we play the dunce,
There’s changes ahead,
coming at once.
I don’t like to lie,
There’s a divorcing sea.
Where will we go if there’s nowhere to be?

Call in the Doctor and break the news,
We’re sick in the head, our hearts’ got the blues.
Where in the world, oh where is the sun?
There’s a blackness that’s bit, it’s bitings not done.

Darling we play the dunce,
There’s changes ahead,
coming at once.
I don’t like to lie,
There’s a divorcing sea.
Where will we go if there’s nowhere to be?

Old friends withering away,
Just like the cliffs found down by the bay.
I don’t like to lie it’s a terrible thing.
Time’s got a way to take more than it brings.

Before hitting that point, I should point out that I also just finished reading Nihilism by Fr. Seraphim Rose. In the book he points out how Nihilism removes the meaning from life by removing God. Whereas atheism is simply the statement that God does not exist, Nihilism seeks to destroy the idea of God wherever it is found, it actively tries to “kill God.” In doing so, all meaning is lost.

Thus, it’s probably no surprise that when I read the lyrics of Horse Feathers, I see modern man plastered all over them. I think of Nietzsche’s monologue in The Gay Science, where taking on the role of the madman, he writes:  Continue reading