The Meaningless Existence in The Secular City


I. Introduction to an urgent problem


A. Lawlessness will grow in the end times: 2 Thess 2.1-12; 2 Timothy 3.1-5; Matt. 24.12; 2 Peter 3.3-4; 1 Timothy 4.1-3; Revelation 13.1-18.


B. Nihilism is . . . a more urgent opponent to the Church than the New Age; the greatest enemy of the unity and peace of human community; much more pervasive and making many more converts than all cults; a more destructive demonic activity than Satanism.


II. Definition of an important concept


Nihilism is a term deriving from the Latin word nihil (“nothing”), indicating that there is a void of meaning at the center of all reality making human beliefs in absolute meanings and values absurd. This concept refers to a worldview in which all-absolute meanings and values are rejected as merely serving specific human interests of groups or individuals (“ideologies”). It is an anti-philosophy formally presented in the writings of Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Camus, and Kafka. Few people, however, hold nihilism as a conscious worldview, because if it is taken to its logical consequence it leads to suicide. On the other hand, very few people in the modern world can fully escape nihilism as a recurring feeling, a “bad” attitude, a persistent mood, and an underlying cynical, skeptical perspective. This outlook on life is a stench and a pollution that pervades almost all of American art, entertainment, humor, culture and the media. Especially the young and immature are likely to succumb to its anti-authority rebellion and apathy.


III. Pervasive Signs of Nihilism in the Culture (perpetuating adolescence)


A. Deeper Issues: abortion, pornography, abuse in the family, “wildness,” vandalism, drugs, Aids, homelessness, suicide, racial prejudices, etc.


B. Pervasive Influences: trivialization of meanings and values by commercials; erotic or sensationalized violence (world wrestling federation); cartoonization of (anti) heroes; obscenities in songs, films, art, soaps, talk shows, bumper stickers, T-shirts, graffiti; humor that is cynical (Alf, Garfield, Bart Simpson, Married with Children), scatological, perverse; burning flags; fashions of slovenly rebellion (knees, earrings, crosses, unshaven, shoes unlaced; surrealistic mixing reality and fantasy in violence, sec, humor.


IV. Spiritual Characteristics of Nihilism:


A. Lack of Love: for self, for others, for community, for causes, for truth. Replaced by obsessive need or materialistic consumer greed (with its planned discontent of the purchased product to make way for the newer). Without commitment love is either romanticized (emotions) or eroticized (body).


B. Lack of Joy: parties, fun, and entertainment become the only interests. Tragically in spite of more leisure and fun, life becomes blander and less exciting! Without joy all is b-o-r-I-n-g (“vanity” in Ecclesiastes), even the self (no self-esteem). Hunting for future fun, the present time is killed.


C. Lack of Peace: restlessness, unfocused anxiety, and quarrelsome contentiousness, compulsive and obsessive searching for something (what?). Inner peace and outer communal peace are lost, authorities immediately/relentlessly questioned, a sense of homelessness, alienation, and suicide.


D. Lack of Patience: low frustration tolerance level, quick to mock or reject others as nerds or wimps, need for instant gratification, reluctance to admit shortcomings making growth difficult.


E. Lack of Kindness: rude language and behavior is acceptable and modeled in (anti) heroes, little empathy or sympathy for others.


F. Lack of Goodness: values inverted--”god” (virgin) is bad and “bad” is good, candor valued more than repentance; things (designer fads) more important than people; goodness in study, virtue, devotion is ridiculed (“nerds”).


G. Lack of Faithfulness: self-interest overrules integrity and commitments (in marriage, in friendship, in business), increasing numbing of conscience.


H. Lack of Gentleness: Narcissism instead of servant attitude, an aura of invulnerability (“I couldn’t care less) rather than vulnerability (caring).


I. Lack of Self Control: macho language and actions express male self esteem, energies wasted in procrastination, utter dependence on others for setting restrictions, inability to “just say No” to oneself, “kick-butt” heroes.


V. How to Annihilate Nihilism: How the Cross and the Spirit combat Nihilism’s absurdity

(Galatians 5.22-23) Group discussion on how the Spirit’s fruit within our lives and churches can overcome these prevalent characteristics of nihilism in the minds, wills, hearts, and imaginations in our Sunday School classes and churches.


Background in Literature


Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Sons (1862); Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamozov (1820); Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis (1935); Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus (1942); The Plague (1948) and The Rebel (1951); .D. Salinger, The Catcher in The Rye (1945); Luigi Pirandello, Naked Masks (1952); Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot (1954); Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (1955); Archibald MacLeisch, JB (1956); Elie Wiesel, Night (1958); Martin Esslin, The Theatre of the Absurd (1961); Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962); most of J-P. Sartre; most of Kurt Vonnegut, especially--Cat’s Cradle (1963); Slaughter-House Five (1969); Richard Hooker, Mash (1968); Jerzy Kosinski, Being There (1970); Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar (1971); John Irving, The World According to Garp (1976); Paddy Chayefsky, Altered States, ‘78.



Nihilism Presented, Analyzed, or Repudiated


Schopenhauer; Nietzsche, The Will to Power (1901); Woody Allen movies, as well as many movies by Bergman, Antonioni, Fellini; Emile Durkheim, Suicide (1897); Helmut Thielicke, Nihilism (1951); Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not A Christian (1957); Johan Goudsblom, Nihilism and Culture (1960); Maurice Friedman, To Deny Our Nothingness (1967); A. Alvarez, The Savage God (1970); H.R. Rookmaker, Modern Art and The Death of A Culture (1970); J. Monod, Chance and Necessity (1970); B.F. Skinner, Beyond Freedom and Dignity (1971); Peter Berger,, The Homeless Mind (1973); Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death (1973); James Sire, The Universe Next Door (1976); Bruce Lockerbie, The Cosmic Center (1977); Robert Short, Something to Believe In (1978); Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism 1979); M. Scott Peck, People of The Lie (1983); Jacques Ellul, The Humiliation of The Word (1985); Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985); Robert Bellah,, Habits of The Heart (1985); Allan Bloom, The Closing of The American Mind (1987); Donald Crosby, The Specter of The Absurd (1988); most of T.S. Eliot.