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The Nihilistic Worldview and Its Spiritual Consequences

August 17, 2012

If the contemporary era can be characterized by a particular worldview, that guiding template would have to be nihilism born out of centuries of arrogant philosophical and scientific thought laden with an excessive rationalistic empiricism that was supposed to find the cure to every ill and take the mystery out of every experience.  In chapter 2 of my book I describe the onset of this worldview in these terms, “If anything was “reborn” during the Renaissance, it was the pre-Christian philosophical position of humanism, namely, that ‘man is the measure of all things.’”

There are real epistemological, psychological, and spiritual dangers to such a turn.  “When reason is idolized, when observation is arbitrarily restricted, and when traditional sources of knowledge from revelation are devalued, narrow empiricism can result in a simplification and flattening of reality that makes life shallow, while unbridled rationalism can culminate in a disembodied estrangement from reality that replaces life itself with a hollow abstraction thereof.”  This ultimately leads to a nihilistic worldview where no meaning and value can be assigned to human action and experience.  The human person is reduced to a biological organism among other biological organisms with no ultimate meaning, with no deeper significance, and with no future beyond decomposition in the grave. Interestingly enough, nihilism thoroughly humiliates man without granting him humility.

Radical empiricism and its ultimate consequence, nihilism, offer nothing to contemporary man other than a dead end.  Essentially, they arrive at this dead end because both theories contend that the search for Truth as a “thing” to be grasped is fruitless.  The ancient fathers would agree in so far as this search is ill-conceived.  Truth is not a “thing” but a “Person”.   A nihilistic worldview can offer no real solution to the question of human existence, nor the concomitant issues of depression, anxiety, and fear. Nihilism proudly preaches a doctrine that there is no ultimate meaning or Truth so the acquisition of pleasure and the avoidance of pain is all there is, for wild beasts and human beings alike.

Yet, the ancient teaching of the Church offers a way out of this nihilistic dilemma.  At the conclusion of chapter 3 I offer a glimpse of this solution, “Psychologists accept the human need for pleasure as natural and relate it to being loved and accepted, whereas the fathers not only refuse to make sensual pleasure a basic value, but also consider it to be a consequence of the fall, a potential danger in a fallen world, and a slippery path leading to the forgetfulness of God.”

The humble remembrance of God, as a fundamental schema is essential to a contemporary response to the arrogant nihilism of the day.  It is only within this context that the struggle against the psychological and spiritual ills afflicting the human condition makes sense.  Man is not the measure of all things and especially man with a clenched fist arrogantly raised against the darkness surrounding him.  However, the human being created in the image and likeness of God and restored to that likeness by the salvific, redemptive work of Christ provides meaning, value, and hope to all creation, including, the crown of God’s creation, man. And the way to that meaning and that hope is humility and the remembrance of God in all things.

From → Despair, Prayer

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