1973 - when I started asking questions, like, "Why are we all dressed so funny?"

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Glenn Beck, Nihilist

If you're like me, when you hear "nihilist" you think of someone like Friedrich Nietzsche (as a dapper young man, below), not a radio personality such as Glenn Beck.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/be/1864c.jpg/175px-1864c.jpgBut today I thought of Mr. Beck as deeply nihilistic when I listened to his radio show. I confess to a certain fascination in listening to his show. He puts me in a bit of trance actually, and on some commutes, that's nice.

What's not nice is nihilism.  Without being overly pedantic, nihilism is the philosophical (and religious) conclusion that everything is, in the final analysis, meaningless. Meaningless because there is no substance to reality; only transitory impressions and bodies that carry them, and then they all fade to black.

Atheism isn't really the main point (though it certainly implies atheism and an atheist would need to struggle mightyly not to view reality nihilistically.

Perhaps a film clip would help. Lacking that, there is a bit of brilliant dialogue: In Signs, Mel Gibson's Father Hess (how's that for a pair of opposites!) has concluded that "There is no one watching out for us; we are all on our own."

Life, death, love, beauty, justice, goodness and desire all absurd and destined to die with our deaths. Cheers!

Mr. Beck's Nihilism.

Now I don't know exactly Glenn Beck's religion or particular denominational flavor, but functional nihilism is certainly compatible with a belief in God. Functional nihilism is similar to Pelagianism in the moral life: Jesus is an example for us, but we must struggle mightily (and alone!) to perfect ourselves. Beck seems to takes this view and transpose it to the social and political order.

The nothingness in Mr. Beck's world is indicated by the word "we."
  • We must do this.
  • We must join him now to do that.
  • If we don't do something now, what-have-you will happen.
I get exhausted just listening to him. I'm gratified that Mr. Beck's perspective is not, "It's all about me," but all this talk about we and us is a little ridiculous. Our President habitually slips into the egotistical "I" more often than commentators can count, but the less-than-royal We of Mr. Beck contains the same kind of presumption and encourages a kind of group think that is very unattractive.

Being, not being busy.

Albert Borgmann in Holding on to Reality notes that hyperactivity and sullenness go hand-in-hand. Just watch a teenager after playing 12 hours of Halo or somesuch. Busyness is not just for teens and the emptiness that drives busyness is pandemic in our culture today.

At the heart of emptiness lies nihilism: the conclusion that the alternatives are perpetual stimulation or despair from the yawing abyss inside.  The wonder of nihilism is that one can be infected and not even realize it.

Fortunately or not, the truth is that we (there I go!) can't save ourselves, and we can't give ourselves life. Sorry, Mr. Beck, something deeper is at the heart of reality. When we pay attention to that we become fruitful.

3 comments:

James Jordan said...

"Now I don't know exactly Glenn Beck's religion or particular denominational flavor, but functional nihilism is certainly compatible with a belief in God. Functional nihilism is similar to Pelagianism in the moral life: Jesus is an example for us, but we must struggle mightily (and alone!) to perfect ourselves. "

Do you even know what nihilism is? I don't think you do. Nihilism is the belief that nothing matters. Now obviously those who teach what you said right there believe that stuff matters, how you live matters, what you do matters. The faith alonists are the ones closer to nihilism: nothing you do matters. To the faith alonist nothing in this timeline matters: all that matters is what happened 2000 years ago; that's clearly nihilism. If I believe my life means nothing and all that matters is that 2000 years ago my God died on a cross, that's nihilism, because it makes my life meaningless and pointless since my works are of no consequence and nothing I do has any relevance, only the sacrifice of Christ does, hence nihilism. But if my works matters, if I am expecting to do something, to cooperate with God in my timeline, then at is certainly not nihilism because now my life actually matters.

If you had even bothered to so much as read Wikipedia's definition of nihilism (and weren't just another Calvinist Internet hack) you would have figured this out instantly.

Wikipedia: "Nihilism ... from the Latin nihil, nothing) is the philosophical doctrine suggesting the negation of one or more putatively meaningful aspects of life. Most commonly, nihilism is presented in the form of existential nihilism, which argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value." -- That's Calvinism right there: nothing I do matters; all that matters is predestination and Jesus' sacrifice, only the PAST matters, not the present nor the future.

James Jordan said...

"Now I don't know exactly Glenn Beck's religion or particular denominational flavor, but functional nihilism is certainly compatible with a belief in God. Functional nihilism is similar to Pelagianism in the moral life: Jesus is an example for us, but we must struggle mightily (and alone!) to perfect ourselves. "

Do you even know what nihilism is? I don't think you do. Nihilism is the belief that nothing matters. Now obviously those who teach what you said right there believe that stuff matters, how you live matters, what you do matters. The faith alonists are the ones closer to nihilism: nothing you do matters. To the faith alonist nothing in this timeline matters: all that matters is what happened 2000 years ago; that's clearly nihilism. If I believe my life means nothing and all that matters is that 2000 years ago my God died on a cross, that's nihilism, because it makes my life meaningless and pointless since my works are of no consequence and nothing I do has any relevance, only the sacrifice of Christ does, hence nihilism. But if my works matters, if I am expecting to do something, to cooperate with God in my timeline, then at is certainly not nihilism because now my life actually matters.

If you had even bothered to so much as read Wikipedia's definition of nihilism (and weren't just another Calvinist Internet hack) you would have figured this out instantly.

Wikipedia: "Nihilism ... from the Latin nihil, nothing) is the philosophical doctrine suggesting the negation of one or more putatively meaningful aspects of life. Most commonly, nihilism is presented in the form of existential nihilism, which argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value." -- That's Calvinism right there: nothing I do matters; all that matters is predestination and Jesus' sacrifice, only the PAST matters, not the present nor the future.

James Jordan said...

Glenn Beck's philosophy is really more alarmism. Its not that nothing matters; its "oh my God unless we do this thing right now the world will explode." Ironically, that's also the philosophy of Obama and the Democrats; its how they always get the debt ceiling raised: "unless we vote for this now, the world will explode" and how they got Obama care passed "we have not time to read the bill, we must pass it now or its the Apocalypse!" And as for "we" Obama uses the term a lot too: "yes we can" sound familiar?