Posts Tagged ‘Nihilism’

My column in today’s Headline Bistro

Princeton University philosopher Peter Singer, who famously advocates the ethical right of parents to kill their newborn children for any reason, recently has written an article in The New York Times proposing a mass self-extinction of humanity through collective sterilization. (Read it here).

Citing the increasingly discredited global warming/climate change movement, Singer postulates an environmental future filled with senseless suffering for future generations. He then postulates that it is unethical to inflict such suffering on persons not yet born, with the only ethically acceptable solution being nonexistence.

That has been the end-point of the Culture of Death all along. This cultic competitor of Christianity distorts human freedom by enlarging it to the point where the order of creation, both physical and spiritual, is eclipsed. In other words, arrogating to the self the power and authority in determining life and death, while simultaneously rejecting faith in God and a created order beyond that which we can immediately see. Such radicalized autonomy clouds the very human reason necessary to discover that order of creation, creating the implosion that is narcissistic nihilism.

Pan-Gnosticism and animism are the grotesque spiritual distortions remaining, as evidenced by the comments after Singer’s article, affirming a healthy, healing benefit to the earth that would result from humanity’s extinction. It is the return to offering human sacrifice to the gods of nature.

Singer’s latest screed is the final surrender of an intellect bereft of hope or love. It is the logical end toward which the Culture of Death has been lurching ever since the early twentieth century’s eugenics movement and World War II. Singer’s full-throated nihilist roar that it is better to have never existed than to exist and suffer is reflective of a life that has never learned suffering’s role in teaching love.

The greatest of all paradoxes has been the ascendance of this loveless Culture of Death at precisely the moment in humanity when science and technology have been putting to flight humanity’s greatest scourges: famine and disease.

Beginning with the Germ Theory of Disease in the 1870s and the antiseptic/hygienic practices that have followed, the discovery of antibiotics beginning in the 1920s, the explosion of vaccine development since the 1950s, surgery and cancer therapies, we have far exceeded all of the prior hopes and dreams of humanity.

Smallpox, responsible for almost 500 million deaths in the twentieth century alone, has been eradicated from the earth. Not a single case for over thirty years. The same antibiotics in a matter of months cure tuberculosis and leprosy. Polio has been brought closer and closer to eradication by aggressive vaccination.

Advances in genetic engineering of crops and agricultural technology have boosted food production to unprecedented levels. So great has the technology been that our greatest problems are the health issues resulting from the consumption of an overabundance of inexpensive food.

If life is not worth living in this time for fear of suffering, when humans have never had it better, then logically Singer must admit that we never should have existed at all. This assiduous avoidance of suffering is the very heart of neurotic disorder.

Having turned the order of creation on its head through radicalized autonomy, hope also suffers mightily, along with love. There is blindness in Singer from staring into this eclipse, which cannot let him see the progress of the last one hundred years. Nor can he see how utterly impoverished he looks in the eyes of most in the scientific community. Indeed, we are very different people.

The process of becoming a scientist is one that selects for a high degree of optimism. In order to become a Ph.D. one must make a discovery that adds a substantial body of information to one’s chosen field. It is an arduous journey that is neither undertaken nor completed by the faint of heart. From the outset, and through the periodic data droughts, one is sustained by both the example of the mentor and the certain belief that for all our knowledge, we know very little of the world. An abundance of discovery awaits the patient, persistent, prepared mind.

There is simply no room in science for the defeatist, the nihilist. Such a one has no vision, no hope, no soul; the three indispensible qualities of the scientist.

The world has never been advanced so much as a millimeter by nihilists such as Singer. Civilization has been advanced by the theologians, the vitalist philosophers, the scientists, the industrialists, the artists, the poets, and the great mass of humanity who have simply, unremarkably embraced life and shaped it, each in their own small way.

In his monumental play Our Town, Thornton Wilder took a look at life and concluded differently than Singer. The main character Emily Webb dies in childbirth, and being a restless spirit newly arrived in the town cemetery is permitted to see her life objectively by returning to an ordinary day. The stage manager takes her back to her twelfth birthday. The fullness, the bustle and beauty of daily life, a beauty we fail to capture along the way, proves more than Emily can bear.

Emily: Oh, Mama, look at me one minute as though you really saw me. Mama! Fourteen years have gone by! I’m dead! You’re a grandmother, Mama… Wally’s dead, too, Mama! His appendix burst on a camping trip to Crawford Notch. We felt just terrible about it – don’t you remember? But, just for a moment now we’re all together- Mama, just for a moment let’s be happy- Let’s look at one another!

I can’t! I can’t go on! It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another. I didn’t realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed! Take me back – up the hill – to my grave. But first: Wait! One more look! Goodbye! Goodbye world! Goodbye, Grover’s Corners-Mama and Papa. Goodbye to clocks ticking-and my butternut tree!-and Mama’s sunflowers- and food and coffee- and new ironed dresses and hot baths-and sleeping and waking up! Oh, earth, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you! Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it – every, every minute?

Stage Manager: (Quietly) No – Saints and poets maybe –they do some.

Emily: I’m ready to go back.

Moving beyond Singer, even beyond Wilder, we know that this good earth, this good life with all of its joys, sorrows and suffering, have been given to us by God to teach us love and its demands. It has been given to us in order to ready us for “what eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him,”

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