Friday, February 1, 2008

Contented Nihilism?

So, we live in a Post-Modern, Post-Christian age. The Church has tried to respond to this reality in many and various ways. Some have tried to embrace it, maintaining that "Post-Moderns" are at least open to spirituality, if not tradition. Others have determined to "ride it out", planting their feet firmly in tradition and reassuring themselves by the timeless promises of Christ to those who persevere. While others, still, try to ignore or deny our Post-Modern culture.

While I was never in favor of embracing the Post-Modern philosophy and/or worldview, I once thought that the Church could take advantage of the seeming openness of Post-Moderns to spirituality. I don't think that any longer. While we cannot ignore or deny the Post-Modern worldview, we can neither embrace it. It's like the cliche that I'm now infamous for saying in my congregation: "If you dance with the devil, pretty soon he's going to take the lead."

What I observe today is a sort of contented nihilism. People, young people especially, seem to not really believe in any sort of existence after death -- and they're content, happy, with that. There's no concern, no despair, just..... nothing. It seems to me that eastern philosophy has finally impregnated western culture and given birth. This is Star Wars Buddhism at its worst. The following are lyrics from a song I actually enjoy very much which capture this contented nihilism of which I'm writing:

Death Cab for Cutie
"I Will Follow You Into the Dark"

Love of mine some day you will die
But I'll be close behind
I'll follow you into the dark

No blinding light or tunnels to gates of white
Just our hands clasped so tight
Waiting for the hint of a spark
If heaven and hell decide
That they both are satisfied
Illuminate the no's on their vacancy signs

If there's no one beside you
When your soul embarks
Then I'll follow you into the dark

This sweet sounding little song expresses a sentiment of jaded hopelessness -- at the best, purgatory; at the worst, kind of a melancholy death wish akin to many Romantic Period British poets. It seems that non-existence is preferable, for many Post-Moderns, to any kind of religious, spiritual belief in an after-life. Perhaps non-existence is preferable to existence, now!

The same band, on the same album, expresses this sentiment: "Love is watching someone die." Now, to be fair, that lyric is from a song called "What Sarah said", and it's really quite a nice, meaningful song about a man who is dying and appreciates the love that his wife shows him by waiting, watching, and ministering to him as he dies. At the end of the song he laments "Who's going to watch you die?", because he will be gone. But even with that poignant sentiment, there's no sense of a life after death of any kind, not the least a Christian understanding of eternal life.

I'm not optimistic about the potential to reach Post-Modern youth. To use Marx's phrase today, Post-Modernism is the "opiate of the masses". Our youth are on philosophical drugs. They are so thoroughly saturated by and under the influence of this Neo-Relativism that, not only are they incapable of seeing the truth, they don't care to see it or even believe that there is such a thing. God help them. Only He can.


Fr. J. Sollberger said...

I sincerely wonder, in my current sultural setting (which is quite different from yours, Fr. Ellingworth), about whether this nihlism exists is the youth here. Sadly, we have that old-timey religion thing going here - in every public forum, it seems. It's in the pop-country, which is about all you can get on a radio around here, and the youth (like their parents) seem to believe in the tired, old standard line "everyone's going to heaven, 'cause I refuse to believe in a God who whould send anyone to hell." God and heaven are both assumed - they're given realities, taken as fact, period. Still, these youth are so dubious about everything, that maybe, given just a hint of the philosophical drug, they would so easily slip into that contented nihlism.

Very thought-provoking. As for me, I'm still tempted to think that a certain "soft" postmodernism may work in catholicity's favor. After living for yerars in a horrid blending of rigid, works-righteous modernism and then an outright rejection of the mysteries of God, I've found anyone who is willing to be taught anything is a more accessible catechumen.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

I love your "cliche" (which, however, I'd never heard before, about if you dance with the devil, sooner or later he will take the lead.

My husband has a similar saying, less suitable for church: "He who sleeps with crooks gets screwed."

Fr. J. Sollberger said...

"Contented Nihilism" sounds like a good name for a band...