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  • npglazer

Fundamentalism, Politics, Scientism, and Nietzsche's nihilism

I personally go to an Episcopalian church here in Sacramento, and I was raised as a Lutheran in Northern California. So I am heavily influenced from my childhood and now in my adulthood in the mainline Protestant tradition of Christianity. There are many Christians who were raised as an evangelical though and some were raised as an fundamentalist even. In fact in the mainline Protestant tradition it seems to be dwindling and dying fast while evangelical Christianity hasn't dwindled in numbers nearly as much. Since Nietzsche, Freud, and Marx the death of God has come about in the modern world. We are a people adrift without a meta-narrative to guide us through the often very difficult world full of arbitrary suffering and senseless pain. A worldwide pandemic and political turmoil has enhanced our suffering to a greater degree than it already normally exists in the last 2 and 1/2 years.

When fear, death, mortality, and nihilism show their ugly faces to humanity we look for certainty wherever we can find it. Predictably and certainly historically too, religion has provided people with comfort when times are tough. Thinking the Bible is the inerrant word of an all powerful and all good God makes people feel safe in an uncertain and absurd world. It can give people meaning in their lives and a type of teleology.

Secondly, America has gotten very political partisan in the last decade. We are clinging dogmatically to our beliefs as if the politics of the left or the right have been handed down on high to us on the Mount Sinai, like we were Moses. In an uncertain world with the death of all meta-narratives politics can give us a false sense of certainty too.

Thirdly, science has weirdly also taken on this dimension for some people in our society. Looking for a capital T "Truth," in science easily drifts into scientism where people can believe that empirical truths are the only way towards valid knowledge. A man like Richard Dawkins while I am sure is a very fine scientist, has drifted into philosophy and latched onto a scientism that although provides comfort for people in an absurd world, comes across as philosophical naive at best.

Nietzsche knew that people needed meaning in their lives and if they couldn't find it in religion they would look towards politics and even science for "Truth," and meaning, to stab off the terror of nihilism. While I agree with Nietzsche that some type of transcendent metaphysical values that can be handed down to all human beings in a universal and perennial fashion is now dead, I do think that each of us can find meaning in our lives for ourselves without dogmatically clinging to an ideology that gives us a false sense of security. We can all find meaning for our own existential selves in life still. We do many hard things in life, like exercising, learning an academic discipline, having a job, raising a family, and learning how to play an instrument, despite it's difficulty often because it gives us meaning in life. Our postmodern task is to find meaning for ourselves without dogmatically forcing what we find meaningful onto others in an aggressive or bludgeoning manner. While this is not easy and requires a lot of discipline from ourselves, nothing Nietzsche said was easy. Our task might be hard, but that's alright, because as Nietzsche famously said "whatever doesn't kill you, only makes you stronger." Thank you.

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