Nihilism and the Atheist

Posted Sweetmorn, Confusion 42 YOLD 3173

A common objection to atheism is that it leads to nihilism. The argument usually follows along the lines shown here, and covers the rough outline of Atheism -> naturalism/materialism (everything is just matter and physical processes) -> none of it means anything, really -> nihilism. Many non-nihilist atheists, and I imagine a number of nihilists would object to this, arguing, among other things, that there’s no reason we can’t find meaning within ourselves, each other, or the world around us.

I can certainly attest to the power of this style of thinking, having fallen to it twice, and being saved, both times, by something like religion. Unfortunately for the religious, I was not saved by religion in any conventional sense. The first time, I was a Chaote, and a bit of an angsty teen, so the nihilism fit well, and was actually a positive trait (in my mind). The second time, after I actually became a real atheist, (I was weird when I was on the path here, I’ll explain it some time) I was saved by Discordianism, and the idea that, yes, life is meaningless, but that doesn’t mean you should be mopey about it. This concept will be expounded upon in the PHI 215 series.

This post, however, is more about the pure atheist approach to this question. If all is material and matter, how are we to find meaning in anything? It’s all a random accident, so where’s the purpose?

For most atheists, particularly those who became atheists due to an inherently scientific mindset, the sheer grandeur of the universe, both in its greatest expanses, and its most minuscule details is more than enough. The universe is a remarkably beautiful place, and the grandeur, in a telescope, a microscope, and all views in between, is enough to bring the most jaded viewer to tears. This wonder is enough to drive the inquisitive, and is the main reason that the nonreligious are more highly represented amongst scientists than any other profession.

For others, humanity is an excellent cause. We’re all we have, and this life is our only chance to take advantage of that, so there’s no time to waste. When asked why they would bother, these secular humanists wonder why you would need to ask. There is suffering in the world, how can you not act against it? It’s not a matter of legacy, it’s not a matter of heaven. I’m a human, and you’re a human. We’re in this boat together, and I want to make it as good a ride for all of us as I can.

These two purposes drive the majority of atheists, and particularly the more vocal among us. Both of these, however, and almost all other purposes possible, can be encompassed by one more driving force. Love. We love learning, we love figuring out mysteries. We love our fellow humans, and we love those close to us. For most humans, this alone is plenty of meaning for life. As so many lyricists and poets have noted, the real purpose in life is to find the thing you love most, and grab hold of it. Whatever, or whoever really gets your fire going, you jump on it, and you never let go. This passion is what drives most of us, and it’s finding this focus that really saves us all from the dark pit at the bottom of our nightmares

I found joy. Humor, laughter, and, most importantly, smiles. That’s what fires me up. I love humanity, and want it as happy as my little pebble can make it. What fires you up?

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4 Responses to “Nihilism and the Atheist”

  1. johannesclimacus Says:

    It is wonderful that you love humanity, that you love laughter and humor, and so forth.

    But what about someone beyond yourself? How do you tell someone that they should feel these things if you are basing them only on your own feelings?

    We have no authority to judge the sociopath who commits multiple murders out of spite, because he or she and we are using the same source of authority: our personal feelings.

    Many act out of love (as you do), but many act out of selfishness and a hunger for power, I’m sure you would agree.

    Is one just as good as the other for an atheist?

    These are not new questions, I would love to hear your response. Thank you.

  2. Persistent Thursday Moral relativity, through my eyes. « Says:

    […] June 27th, 2007 at 22:23:10 The comment appears, in my opinion, to deal with the question of moral relativism, the idea that, […]

  3. The Humanist Symposium #6 « A Load of Bright Says:

    […] Many theists truly don’t see any options beyond a life devoted to God. It is important for us to demonstrate how a life free of superstition can be rich, varied and fulfilling. Evanescent outlines this point with his article My Atheism. Tristan at Imagine uses wonderful imagery and narrative to explain why Paradise is here on Earth. Chris Flynn-Jones introduces his series exploring The Meaning of Life. La Marguerite shows us how material possessions are inadequate to provide fulfilment in The Spirit. Everyday Atheism displays moving honesty in his Reflections on Death. The Ridger, writing at The Greenbelt cleverly exposes how faith is one of those things Causing Depression. And Prickleprickle at Persistent Thursday explodes a myth in Nihilism and the Atheist. […]

  4. Christopher Says:

    As a Nihilist, I found myself stunned at how little the person in the link you provided actually knew of our philosophy: while we do not believe in any intrinsic values or hold morality as anything but a social construct, this doesn’t mean that all is permitted and that we should live in excess because we’ll all die anyway.

    Instead, most of us find that we should give our own life value (in my case, I choose to find purpose in the media business and destroy the foundations of this sicked culture from within so that a new one can be born) and that any system of ethics is only as good as the environment it’s situated in (I use the highly-adaptable “cause-and-effect” system). This guy seriously needs some education in philosophy…


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