Internet Goosing the Antithesis

Monday, July 16, 2007

Is Atheism Nihilism?

No, Donny, these men aren't nihilists, there's nothing to be afraid of.

All too frequently, Christians feel compelled to wax eloquent about the supposed moral decline of a society that ignores the obvious superiority of the Christian ethic. Nearly as frequently, they ignore the fact that theirs is a complaint that transcends both history and theology, as well as the equally obvious rejoinder that if Christianity was a truly superior product, it would sell itself. To wit, I care not for the theological particulars of J.R.R. Tolkien- knowing that the man was a staunch Catholic neither enhances nor detracts from my enthusiasm for his work.

However, given their apparent inability to conceive of theirs not being an optimal system, any perceived social ill has to be accounted for by choosing a scapegoat- and as atheists are currently enjoying a portion of the mainstream spotlight that has been rarely afforded them in the past, they make an attractive target. This is the case particularly because it is so common for Christians to assume atheism to be synonymous with nihilism. The latter is interpreted to be, not just the position that objective value is a meaningless concept, but more specifically, the position that any ethical behavior is to be avoided, and acts such as murder, rape, and torture are to be engaged in with as much relish as one might bite into a peanut butter sandwich.

This is not to say that atheists can be neither nihilists nor murderers, but the idea is generally advanced as a general statement about those who commit such ethically negative acts (i.e., that they are either acting under the motivation of atheism/nihilism, or that they have been "influenced" by an atheistic/nihilistic culture). The obvious problem with this idea is that, on closer examination, the individuals who commit such acts are very rarely atheists or nihilists, and in fact, tend to be influenced more commonly by religious institutions and concepts. The kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart in Salt Lake City, for example, was not perpetuated by an atheist or a nihilist, but a lunatic who had been strongly influenced by Fundamentalist Mormonism. And in a larger sense, I would wager that the larger part of "nihilistic immorality" that is engaged in on Saturday night is the province of men and women who trudge into church on Sunday morning. I don't think you'd find many nihilists or atheists in a "Girls Gone Wild" or "Guys Gone Wild" video- you're much more likely to find purported Christians, or at least people who know much more about Jesus Christ than they do about Sam Harris.

I'd be more inclined to write this off as a mild psychological paranoia, which it certainly is to some extent, but I think that attention needs to be drawn to this problem as just another example of how strongly the moral and ethical fiber of secular individuals needs to be emphasized. This criticism, as far as I can tell, is one of the strongest in the collective Christian psyche, and we need to waste no time working to contradict it.

Post a Comment


At 7/17/2007 4:29 AM, Blogger lizfan declaimed...

I don't deny that every religion has it's lunatic fringe. However atheism isn't innocent-12 million people were murdered under Hitler's reign of terror and untold millions were murdered in Stalin's purges. I don't believe that atheists are all bad people. But you can't blame religion for all of society's problems. As for the Elizabeth Smart case, her kidnapper was a sex offender long before he began using God and/or religion as excuses for being a sex offender. He sexually abused his second wife's children in the 80's and made sexual advances toward his third wife's daughter in the nineties, and he didn't use God or religion to justify those actions. So why should everyone assume it's the fault of religion that he kidnapped and raped Elizabeth Smart? There are 500,000 registered sex offenders in the US. How many of them use God or religion as an excuse for being a monster? Just because people use God and religion as excuses for committing evil does not mean that God and/or religion are the reasons.

At 7/17/2007 7:41 AM, Blogger Kevin H declaimed...

I think the high moral character and positive humanism of many atheists should be applauded. Nihilism is indeed not synonymous with atheism.

Nihilism, however, can cripple our society to the extent that we could not judge religious-oriented crimes or criminals; nor anti-religious criminals.

I suggest we avoid any view which leads to nihilistic thinking and destruction of meaning. That means we all need to check our own views.

My fellow Christians engage in a "Christian nihilism" quite often which says the world is going to hell in a handbasket anyway before Christ returns. It leads to personal paralysis - and is not as much fun as pagan nihilism would be!

At 7/17/2007 7:50 AM, Blogger olly declaimed...

@lizfan: you make the same mistake that many people do by trying to use Stalin as an example of the 'bad atheist' -- you fail to recognize the fact that while atrocities are commited in the NAME OF religion all the time, very few (if any) have been done in the name of atheism. In other words, the spanish inquisition was done in the name of (in other words because of) Christianity... stalin did what he did in the service of Communism, not because he was an atheist.

I would very much argue that the worst offenders of all when it comes to nihilism are in fact Christians. When you boil it down, nihilism is a denial of all meaning in life... Most atheists feel that they have an obligation to FIND meaning in this life, since there is no afterlife... Whereas Christianity is by definition a denial of all meaning in this life (since in the end this is just prep work for the afterlife). Christianity is a death-cult, plain and simple, and about as supremely nihilistic as you get.


At 7/17/2007 8:16 AM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...


I'm not suggesting that we blame religion for all of society's problems. (And I don't think that even Chris Hitchens would go quite so far)

Rather, I was just citing the Elizabeth Smart case as an counterexample of the claim that society's ills can be blamed on "nihilism." Say what you will about the guy, but he was clearly no nihilist, nor influenced by nihilism.

At 7/17/2007 8:20 AM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...


I would agree, and it's because of this that I want atheists to start talking about morality and ethics; it doesn't matter to me if a detailed consensus is reached, quite frankly (even Christians disagree on many ethical issues such as abortion, the death penalty, and euthanasia), but we need to do so for nothing else than to get rid of this myth that atheists don't have values.

At 7/17/2007 10:20 AM, Blogger breakerslion declaimed...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 7/17/2007 10:22 AM, Blogger breakerslion declaimed...

"I don't deny that every religion has it's lunatic fringe. However atheism isn't innocent-12 million people were murdered under Hitler's reign of terror and untold millions were murdered in Stalin's purges."

Could somebody please get this tired record off the Victrola? How many times are religious leaders going to trot this crap out and feed it to their captive audiences? For the 90-gazillionth time, Hitler was not an atheist. He used the same trappings of pagentry as the church does to push emotional buttons. He was attempting to make Statism a religion. Find me one instance where the prick said unequivocally that God does not exist.

Stalin was a dictator. He was also a paranoid megalomaniac. His purges had nothing to do with religion, or lack thereof, and everything to do with creating himself as the ultimately powerful cult leader. These are the same old hambone tricks used by religious leaders the world over. Where do you think the formula comes from? It matters not one whit whether or not the leader is setting himself up as the proxy mouthpiece of the Invisible Sky Fairy or the godhead itself. It is unethical.

At 7/17/2007 10:28 AM, Blogger breakerslion declaimed...

BTW lizfan, nice typically subtle plug for the fallacy that a-theism is a religion. It's not. Get off it. You should reject that piece of programming as well.

At 7/17/2007 10:31 AM, Blogger Alison declaimed...

"Atheism isn't innocent" means absolutely shit-0 lizfan. Hitler? HITLER?! Are you fucking serious? Have you been under the rock called "religious information?"

Anyway, the meaning of nihilism fits in with the actual PHILOSOPHY and WORLDVIEW of Christianity, rather than the reaction against religion called ATHEISM.

Christianity: God (Jesus) decides, so there's shit you can do. You might as well simply believe, get through this craphole called "The World," and then go wherever "God" deems that you "go." Can you decide what God decides? Hell, no! Might as well use God as an excuse.

And here's your claim, Lizfan. Bad people do bad things, and then they can use religion and God as the reason. That's right. When good people do bad things, they need religion to TELL THEM to do it. Religion of the personality, or religion of the state. Christianity, patriotism, nationalism, whichever religion you want. Or are you claiming that worldviews have nothing to do with someone's behavior?

So, Lizfan, your worldview, or your religion--does it have anything to do with the way you behave, or your values? Because that's what it's there for.

Boy, am I sure gload you don't believe all atheists are bad people! Without your glowing endorsement, I might have spiraled into nihilism--the fucking point of this goddamned post!

At 7/17/2007 12:27 PM, Blogger lizfan declaimed...

All I'm saying is that you can't blame religion for all of the world's problems or people's behavior ok? There's no need to have a freakin cow over it. And Cristianity is NOT a death cult. Christians respect life.

At 7/17/2007 1:46 PM, Blogger Vic declaimed...

lizfan, I defy you to point out where Zach 'blamed religion for all the world's problems'.

All he pointed out is that, despite religionists' claims, believing in religion is not a bolster against immoral behavior.

At 7/17/2007 7:27 PM, Blogger Alison declaimed...

Sure, sure, lizfan, you font of information, you. "Christians respect life." Because of Adam and Eve and the apple, and that whole "fallen" thing, the dogma that we're all evil, and that life is donkey dung compared to sitting in heaven staring at God all day.

No need to have a cow, lizfan, of course. Not because I'm fucking sick and tired of pulling the lame Hitler garbage out of your ass every time you don't have anything constructive to say about the issue at hand. I shouldn't get mad, but simply bored when people Shit Hitler, the man whose troops raided atheist meetings and arrested everyone. No need to "have a cow." After all, what should I expect but more idiocy?

Godwin's law, of course, means you LOST in your second sentence, Fan of Liz. Look it up.

At 7/17/2007 7:36 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

The issue is one of worldview, not of atheism or theism. Atheism and theism are irrelevant issues. What is important is the more concrete worldview adopted by the individual, which guides his every day actions.

I am a Market Anarchist, an individualist, and a materialist, which makes me rather different from Hitler, who was a fascist (and believed that the individual should mindlessly serve his country, as an arm serves a body) and a Christian.

Trying to blame the worldview of some random atheists for Hitler's reign of terror is very silly at best, and shows a lack of capacity to analyze a situation.

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