The Cult of Irreligion

“Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” – Romans 1:20

The propagation of the species is the best thing that materialistic Darwinian atheism can offer as a purpose for human life and all life in general. “Purpose” isn’t even the right word. There is no intent, no design to living things. It’s all just a happy accident.

The scary thing is watching atheism admit this, even revel in it. To do so, the atheist must bury their head in the sand in so far as a desire for a higher purpose is concerned. Human beings innately desire purpose. It’s hard-wired into what we are. That’s what makes religion so popular and it’s what makes atheism so uncomfortable, by admission as we will see shortly.

Today, the internet was given a window into what may go on in the mind of the atheist as they grapple with this discomfort.

This is very disturbing. Not just the video itself but how well it has been received. As I watched this, a lot of questions came to mind. I wondered how many of the assertions in the video I would be able to confront and how many I’ll have to think about. I wondered how well members of my generation would be able to respond to this video, particularly my fellow Christians. I thought of various arguments for and against faith and higher purpose.

My conclusion was that this is very bad. I’ll aim to be concise but I hope I can still defend competently how this philosophy is garbage.

1. The Very Premise

My thoughts kept coming back to the contradiction of the title. “Optimistic Nihilism.” How is such a thing possible? What are you looking on the bright side of? Your life is without meaning, short, and you and all your works will be forgotten. Where is the room for optimism here?

What you have in this philosophy is a call for willful rejection of reality. Try not to think about the true nature of your life. Just focus on whatever makes you feel good.

This is not rational. This is not a pursuit of truth. What this is is the logical end of atheism.

“We don’t know any more about human existence than you do.”

Don’t think of this as any sort of a truth claim. We can’t know the truth and you can’t know the truth. Mutually assured epistemic destruction! We might as well just fabricate a worldview that solves some of the immanent problems we ourselves have just caused.

The very notion of an “Optimistic Nihilism” is incoherent and to maintain it requires a voluntary dismissal of the worldview it attempts to address. It’s functionally self-ignorant. However, this is consistent with atheistic worldview which, lacking any idea of divine revelation, doesn’t have a good reason to even speculate on the nature of the supernatural in the first place. You might as well keep your mouth and mind shut.

If you’re just an ape who evolved to find food and procreate, you might as well embrace the fact that nothing in nature compels you to do thoughtful philosophy.

2. Flagrant Dismissal of Religion

A previous Kurzgesagt video called for the replacement of the Gregorian calendar without any consideration to its history or origin. They rhetorically asked “What happened 2000 years ago that was so important anyway” without acknowledging even the claim of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. More willful ignorance.

In our video on Optimistic Nihilism we learn that religion’s main impetus is a desire to make life less “Scary and confusing.” This is disgusting. It is a reductionist misrepresentation, a deafness, and an insult to religious communities of the world and it makes no attempt to engage with what religious and spiritual people actually believe.

Lumping all the religions of the world into one category and trying to assign a common motive is lazy and thoughtless. Religious traditions vary greatly in their arguments from the accuracy of a historical claim, to the preservation of a certain text, or to personal spiritual experience. And they don’t all try to make life less “Scary and confusing.” Buddhism challenges the desire for comfort in the first place! The gods of the Abrahamic faiths are capable of passing some decidedly non-comforting judgements!

And what hypocrisy! What is this video trying to do other than comfort the poor souls who feel scared and confused in their atheism!

Now I do think the religions of the world do have one common impetus that this video lacks – a desire to take seriously the innately human desire for purpose rather than putting our fingers in our ears and humming loudly until we die.

To my fellow Christian readers, I would love to introduce the Argument from Desire which I learned from C. S. Lewis.

1. Humans beings have a desire for higher purpose in eternity (this is plainly evident in all human endeavor).
2. Natural desires are such that they can be satisfied (hunger by food, thirst by water, loneliness by companionship.)
3. Therefore, there must be some higher purpose in eternity (unless evolution just conveniently happened to misfire on this particular issue).

The very existence of religion and spiritual practice suggests that there is something that the happy nihilists would rather dismiss flippantly and without further discussion. That discussion must take place.

3. Where This Leads

Please reread this section from the video.

“You only get one shot at life which is scary but it also sets you free. If the universe ends in heat death, every humiliation you suffer in your life will be forgotten. Every mistake you made will not matter in the end. Every bad thing you did will be voided. If our life is all we get to experience, then it’s the only thing that matters. If the universe has no principles, the only principles relevant are the ones we decide on. If the universe has no purpose, then we get to dictate what it’s purpose is.”

Let’s think about this for a moment. “It also sets you free.” From what!? What on earth are we free from! Death? The only thing this sets you free from is moral obligation! Where does this lead us? The video suggests that we use our freedom in the universe to make people happy and contribute to the establishment of an interstellar human empire, but what an arbitrarily chosen goal that is!

“Do the things that make you feel good. You get to decide whatever this means for you.”

Rape and kill! What if that’s what my answer was? Or everyone’s collectively? After all, my purpose is to propagate my DNA, right? So I would achieve my highest purpose in life through the broadest propagation of my DNA and the elimination of my reproductive rivals. Any civil authority that tried to stop me would not be acting consistently with the philosophy of Optimistic Nihilism. Anyone raped should take solace in the fact that they are succeeding as a reproductive agent and anyone killed should take solace in the fact that the gene pool will be better for the elimination of a weaker element.

Does the picture painted in the preceding paragraph fill you with disgust? Good! Do you know why? It sure has nothing to do with Optimistic Nihilism, I’ll tell you that much!

Also, notice “If our life is all we get to experience, then it’s the only thing that matters.” The emphasis is all on the one experiencing. It’s your experience. As long as you don’t struggle with burdensome feelings of empathy or compassion, who cares what some other jerk experiences? It’s your life that matters. This isn’t eusociality, this is sociopathy.

You recognize that this picture of society is disgusting because you were made in God’s image and built to recognize objective right and wrong.

4. Sources and explanations (lack thereof)

Rejection of theism – undefended and indefensible.
Supposed origin of religion – undefended.
“This life might be it” – Might is not good enough, see Pascal’s Wager.
Constant undertone of agnosticism – undefended.
Purposelessness of universe – undefended and indefensible.
“Build some kind of utopia in the stars” – totally arbitrary

Assertion after assertion, no sources or explanations.

Optimistic Nihilism, everybody! An ideology that is incoherent in its very premise, demands that you ignore its foundational worldview, reduces and misrepresents its opponents, and wrapped up in some sentimentality not native to its worldview to distract you from its horrifying logically consistent end. Almost a million views, 140 thousand likes and counting. I weep for this generation.

Now there are a lot of things I’d like to say to wrap this up. I’d like to say that we desperately need to reintroduce sound philosophical training to our public schools, for example. But I’m gonna do something I haven’t done on this blog yet. I’m gonna end this post with an altar call.

Your life is not without purpose and your desire for purpose is not an accident. You were made in the image of God (that is in the likeness of his character and attributes: moral judgement, rationality, creativity, authority, and much more) to glorify God and enjoy him forever. He has set eternity in your heart so that, through faith in him, you can have eternal life.

Don’t drown out your God-given search for meaning in youtube videos. Go to the cross of Christ.

Life Lessons with Harold

I often find that the language I use to describe my world restricts the way I understand it. For example, “creative” and “academic” people are often dichotomized. I could never tell which one I was and I found this frustrating for quite some time before I realized that I was just both and there isn’t a word for that and that’s okay.

In this example and many others (especially in the realm of social-political controversy) we need to step back and think about the accuracy of the terms and models we use to interpret our world. I’m not trying to suggest that language is inadequate to convey meaning. That’s a slippery slope to start down. Rather, humans are fallible and we misuse perfectly apt things and sometimes need to rethink our actions.

So for many years now, I’ve used a certain analogy to describe how I live my life, particularly within the context of my Christian faith. I imagine life as like crossing a river on a foggy day. The river is wide and you can’t see more than a metre in front of you. Luckily, the river is shallow and there are rocks everywhere. So you jump forward and a new rock comes into your field of view.

You could try jumping further, into the fog, to speed up the process but you don’t know where those rocks are in the fog. There’s a very high chance you’d just get soaked. So you take small steps, one rock at a time, and gradually make your way across. The faith element being that this is how God leads people through life. He gives us just enough information to make our next move wisely and we don’t try to rush his plan.

The problem I encountered after graduating from university a year ago is that I couldn’t see the next rock. My thinking for the past year had been that God just wanted me to wait for a bit until the fog let up enough to reveal the next stone. Maybe there’s an alligator lurking around and he wants me to wait until it’s gone. Who knows.

And then as I began my second year after graduating I turned around and I couldn’t see the rock I had hopped from anymore! The fog hadn’t let up any. But clearly I was moving! I’d learned things, I’d done things – my life is clearly progressing but I’m not seeing any clear jumps forward just a gradual crawl-

Tortoise!

What do I mean by “tortoise”?

I mean my metaphor was all wrong. Or at least too narrow. The first part of my life may have been hopping from stone to stone but maybe there’s more to it than that. And, indeed, I look down to my feet and I see that the last stone I hopped to was no stone at all, but a surprisingly cooperative tortoise. My metaphor made me feel like my life wasn’t progressing this whole time but I’ve clearly accomplished things. Perhaps nothing dramatic but I know I’m not where I was a year ago. This turtle’s movin’. I’m going somewhere.

And if I transitioned from stones to tortoise, I very well my transition from tortoise to something else later on.

So now I’m at much greater peace than I was over the past year. Many of my peers transition from stones to fully-gassed pontoon boat right out of university but their mode of transportation may change later. For now, I will take the lesson on the limitations of how I interpret my life, and I will greatly appreciate the services of my proverbial tortoise friend. I think I’ll name him Harold. That sounds like a good name for a tortoise.

Patria

Canada Day has always filled me with conflicted feelings. I’ve never been much of a conformist and the popular trends and styles tend to elude me. While there are many things for which I’m grateful as a Canadian citizen, there are also many things I would desperately wish to change. Early on in my faith life, I was deeply affected by passages of scripture that say that our citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20) and that the kingdom of heaven is not of this world (John 18:36.)

Given my nonconformity, critique of Canada, and Christian citizenship I haven’t quite yet figured out how I should engage with Canada Day. Because of this I often feel a disconnection from the world and a yearning to find a sense of belonging I haven’t found yet.

It was with this yearning that I was introduced to Anglo-Saxon poetry in university, often characterized by a literary motif called “Ubi Sunt”, Latin for “Where are they?” or “Where are those who were before us?” In this motif, the speaker in a poem will lament the loss of their home, kinsmen, or king. Two characteristic passages:

“Where has the horse gone? Where is the rider? Where is the giver of gold?
Where are the seats of the feast? Where are the joys of the hall?
O the bright cup! O the brave warrior!
O the glory of princes! How the time passed away,
slipped into nightfall as if it had never been.”
– The Wanderer (if this sounds familiar, you’ve read Lord of the Rings for which Tolkien adapted this passage)

“The days are lost,
And all the pomp of this earthly kingdom;
There are now neither kings nor emperors
Nor gold-givers as there once were,
when they did the greatest glorious deeds
And lived in most lordly fame.”
– The Seafarer

So you see the clear themes of loss and memory and yearning. I couldn’t not immediately fall in love with this the first time I saw it. I can’t not think of the Christian belief in heaven and the fall when I read the Anglo-Saxon poetry on fatherland and lost days. And in hearing this sentiment expressed, I felt a connection to the writer. I thought, “Here’s someone I could sit down and drink mead with.”

What I found in the poetry was something I never found in Canada. Having a better sense of the feeling, I began to notice that I also felt it in other circumstances. On the rare occasions that I find someone with a similar taste in music, I find a sense of brotherhood. When someone has played the same games as me or watched the same shows as me, moreover has engaged with them and interpreted them in the same ways that I do, I find a sense of brotherhood. Today I played Terraria for the first time in a few months and hearing the music made me feel rather at home. I actually find that sense of fatherland and brotherhood in a fair bit, but not enough that it becomes the backdrop of my life and thus the individual instances stand out. Half of my vocabulary are words that I’m sure most people don’t know. It’s not bragging if it’s lonely.

My fundamental problem is that I chose to be my own person instead of assimilating into the crowd. People sometimes don’t understand why I don’t dream of travelling. I’m always travelling. This entire country, its customs, and its people are so incredibly odd to me that I don’t seek novelty, I seek familiarity (which would itself be something of a novelty.) The music is weird, the prevailing ideology is weird, and the social mores are weird, and I’m always on the lookout for people who are as lost as I am.

So while tonight everyone is out launching fireworks (those vile noisy things) I will be inside reading about theology and poetry. Early Christians were criticized by the Roman state for being antisocial. I am perfectly content to follow their example. But there are a few things that that should never mean.

– It does not mean that I’m ungrateful in enjoying the freedoms this nation grants me.
– It does not mean that I’m ungrateful for our peace and stability.
– It does not mean I disengage from my community and ignore my neighbours’ needs.
– It does not mean I cave into the red underline on my screen and spell “neighbours” in the (wrong) American way just to spite my country.
– It does not mean that I don’t find ways to serve my community and make it a better place.

What it means is that I don’t belong to my nation. I just happen to be in it. My real nation is comprised of members of every nation.

And it is the custom of our people to try to make our communities better places to live.