An often uttered line of reasoning from apologists and theological philosophers is that under atheism, there is no meaning, and nothing matters. Atheism leads to nihilism, and there is no meaning in life. While It is true that without a god, there lacks any meaning directed by the divine. Without a god, there is no ultimate underlying meaning to the universe, or to us. However, that does not mean we have no meaning, or that nothing matters. I want to introduce a new concept into the fold, and that is cosmic nihilism. Cosmic nihilism is what was already said. At the cosmic level, there is no ultimate meaning, there is no ultimate purpose. Cosmic nihilism applies at the cosmic level and universal scale. This post will explore why is foolishness to assume there is no meaning at all.
Meaning in the context of this post is about value assignments. The meaning of something is determined by how much value is placed on it, either by society or an individual. It is often said time is a valuable thing. This means it would have meaning, at least to us. How much our time, and the time of others is entirely dependent on the individual. Most of us trade 40 hours (about 1 and a half days) of our time each week for monetary gain. We then trade that money for things we place value in. Food, shelter, transportation, are the basic needs according to Maslow’s hierarchy. If there is any more of that currency left, we may trade it for other things we place value on like art, books, movies, games, and other things. There are different things we are willing to give our time traded money for. We then give even more of our time to consume those things, that is subjective to each of us.
Someone may object that you cannot qualify needs for survival as part of meaning, however you absolutely can. Most people want to continue living on, at minimum that means their own life has meaning to them, otherwise they would not place value on the basics of staying alive. There can be more nuance when it comes to this, and we could talk about things that have personal meaning to someone from an enjoyment perspective. Like my enjoyment of Video games, or the enjoyment I get out of sharing my thoughts in “Shadow of the Dead God” the book, or this blog. I enjoy being a certified sword fighting trainer because it is fun to me, that has value to me. While it probably does not mean much to anyone else. That’s where we can start making some situational comparisons.
My daughter, stepson and my wife mean everything to me. The oligarchs in China do not even know the three of us exist. My little girl’s life is irrelevant to the man dying frozen to a bus stop in Cincinnati, how could she matter to him, he has more immediate concerns. The boys mean nothing to those being tortured in Iranian prisons, how could they, those imprisoned have more immediate concerns. I care about my fellow humans, and my morality is predicated on the preservation and promotion of human well-being. However, my care for others’ well-being becomes secondary to the care about my daughter’s and wife’s well-being. I would do anything for them, including protecting them at all costs. I understand one day they will be dead, as will I. I understand that their lives do not mean anything to the universe. That impedes none on the meaning their lives have to me, right now. Yes, I freely admit that the life of my wife and children mean more to me than some random (to me, to the situation) person, and their life mean more to me than my own, or than the person who may try to harm them. Their lives and well-being mean so much to me that I would give my own to protect them. Their lives mean so much to me that I would take the life of someone else to protect them. However, not everyone feels that way about their spouse or children.
I never knew my own father. He had other children and family that never met or knew about me. My father is just one of millions of men that abandon their family and abdicate their parental obligations. I and millions of others have little meaning to the men who chose to walk away from their children. Mothers abandon their children as well, and grandparents become parents all over again. Both sets of parental problems are exasperated when outside conditions get introduced to the situation. How many folks have been disowned by their parents, for coming out as gay, or transgender? How many folks have been killed in Islamic theocracies because of those two things? Christian and Islamic parents that do so, are just following the words of their holy books, which means they place scriptures as having more meaning than their own children. When so many people discard, or kill their own children for being gay, or atheist, or transgender they place their children at a lower value than their own lives, and lower than the value they place on their religious scriptures. These examples make it obvious that caring about their children are not inherent to everyone, nor is it obligatory. We see similar issues with all types of relationships. This happens because each of us places different values of meaning on different things. Every human does this, in that every single one of us place value on things regardless of what our beliefs or world views are.
Apologists assert that the only reason there is not a pure nihilist universe, that leaves no hope for humankind, is because an eternal god is giving eternal meaning. I do not believe them. I doubt god would approve of my forays into video games, and he would disapprove of this blog. Yet, those things matter to me. According to most theologies I am supposed to find meaning in the bible, and the ultimate god giving meaning of serving him. I don’t, neither do I value the idea of eternal service to god. The Bible and Qur’an tells us that love and duty to god should take precedence over our families. I am not okay with that. My child will mean more to me than any god ever could. One could appear before me, point their finger in my face, and indisputably show they are god, and my children would still hold far more value to me.
Meaning, is much like our views on art, beauty, and music. Where what moves or inspires people is entirely dependent on the individual person. We may not value the same art, we may place different meanings or values on music and artists, and we all find beauty to be subjective. The axiomatic notion that the phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” will always ring true. Try to explain the beauty of the Milky-Way to a blind person, and they will not care at all for obvious reasons, but they might find far more beauty in music than you and I ever do. To me it is unquestionable that meaning is subjective. Even if there is no universal meaning, there is very real meaning that we give to things. Nothing has meaning unless an agent gives meaning to something. Some might say that this makes meaning illusory. I disagree. The meaning I place on my daughter has a very real impact on her, and others that may try to harm her. However, even if it was illusory, so what? It would be what is known as a functional illusion, one that serves a purpose. What do we need meaning for? What purpose beyond human comfort does meaning really serve? If there was a pure nihilistic universe, where meaning is non-existent, what would that look like, and what would the implications be? What does meaning mean? That hypothetical possible world cannot exit, because the moment we value something, anything, meaning enters the picture.
It is undeniable that to at least to some extent, meaning is subjective and comes from us humans. I am so confident in that idea, that I would be surprised if anyone argued against it. The issue of meaning lay in the uncomfortable implications of a nihilistic cosmos. The idea that we cease to exist, and nothing we do has any meaning to a universe as big as ours, makes people uneasy. I get it, no one wants to feel like they are unimportant, or that they will not always be around. No one wants to accept that eventually they will be forgotten. Nihilism is the single most uncomfortable idea in all of philosophy. The question I want to ask, is why? Why should it be uncomfortable? Why should I care if I live forever or not? I do not think I would want to exist forever anyway. Why should I care if I am forgotten in a century? The people that I love now, and that love me will not forget about me. I certainly hope my genes and family name lives on, but I am okay with the idea of not being around for an eternity. Death and non-existence do not worry me as I know that it may bother you. I understand that is why other’s need to cling to a god, but I would rather live with an uncomfortable truth than a comforting fiction.
How could I or anyone who understands and accepts (a form of) nihilism not be depressed, and uncaring? It is a trivial question. We are here now, what we do matters now. Our lives and actions have affects here and now. We only get a brief time here, and that makes me want to enjoy it as much as possible. It makes me want to leave the world a better place than I found it. I want to laugh, and love. I want to live and let live. I want to be a good person, a good parent and raise smart, happy, and healthy children. It gives me a sense of urgency to do what I want to do as well. I do not need a universal meaning to do any of that. I do not view this life as a pile of rags compared to the next, because I do not believe in a next life. This life means everything because this life is the only thing.
I will say that again for the people in the back.
This life means everything because this life is the only thing