…between two polar opposites, blandness and nihilism?
Let me reveal my bias. My remedy for either blandness or nihilism is belief/faith/trust in God, by Whom I mean Jehovah-God, who expresses Godself in Father/Son/Holy Spirit. Faith in God does not preclude the possibility of catastrophe. Believers sicken, fail and die in exact proportion to the rest of the population, one to one. Since nothing in one’s faith inhibits catastrophe (despite what you may hear on television from one of the Self-Help preachers), for the faith to have real value, there must be something in it that helps you go through catastrophe. There is One who cares to intervene, who intervenes with care and who does each in both timeless and timely fashion.
My purpose in this piece is religious. I hope to show that human beings, entire cultures and individuals, can survive the most catastrophic events without falling into either of the polar states, nihilism or blandness. And, I believe, only real religion can take us through the catastrophic times with serenity and purpose.
I tend toward nihilism when catastrophic events occur because it is at least active. Blandness does not act, at least, so near as I can tell. Neither nihilism nor blandness is healthy. Neither can be thought valid in the long term.
And I use the word catastrophe purposefully, instead of tragedy because the historical etymology of the word tragedy implies inevitability, which is the nemesis of any free agency/will/choice, no matter how limited. The ancient tragedies drop a seed in their early acts, which grows to fruition in final disaster, determining only, but fully, how a character lives along the way to final dissolution.
The recent shootings in Colorado and Connecticut were casually mislabeled “tragic.” The result of the shootings was sadness, horror, grief, hopelessness, et al. The process was not tragic because neither of these disasters was inevitable. If they were inevitable then we have nothing to do but wallow in blandness. There cannot be any discussion about how to make our culture safer, more gentle or alter it in any good way, for the end is determined already. You do not believe this, when you are in a sane mental state and neither do I in my lucid moments. You and I think we can effect change for the better or we would never give to charity, elect a legislature or conceive a child.
For those still bothering to read, I propose nihilism is the life system of the avowed cynic. The avowed cynic is invariably discovered to be an idealist who has been injured in pursuit of his ideal. Blandness is the reaction/response of the overwhelmed idealist. Both, then, start from the ideal, for no science exists to suggest a person is born a cynic. If the cynical trait is not born, it must be learned.
The ancient Hebrew prophets bordered on nihilism. They cannot be said to be bland. The prophets proclaimed destruction on their entire culture with seeming joy. Perhaps, as some have said, the prophets exuded seremity in the face of catastophe because, in the destruction of their own culture, their forthtelling fulfilled itself, thus vindicating the prophet. This may be but I tend to think their happy doomsmanship was born of this one fact; God was their love, while culture was their audience. If God were to be vindicated the culture could not continue to live in self-satisfied sinfulness. Judgement must run down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream, or God did not much matter.
Rabbi Abraham Heschel wrote, “Moralists of all ages have been eloquent in singing the praises of virtue. The distinction of the prophets was in their remorseless unveiling of injustice and oppression.”
Warning: I hope to continue this line of reasoning here on Monday, so you will need to read the whole piece before condemning the half.