Our culture is often a reductionistic one. That is, our culture is what I like to call a “nothing-but” culture. Marriage is nothing-but a legal contract; gender is nothing-but a social construct; sexual behavior is nothing-but legal constraints and social taboos; beauty is nothing-but superficiality; life is nothing-but aimless wandering and contrived purpose, and on and on it goes ad nauseam.
What has been the result of this purpose? The principle that has taken over is that life is for whatever brings the most pleasure to us. For some, this means a fully hedonistic lifestyle. For others, this means attempting philanthropy to feel better. For others still, this involves paralysis and despair (e.g., the existentialists). Finally, for some, this means bringing much pain and suffering to others.
In all cases, the principle behind it is the same: life is purposeless, senseless, meaningless, vacuous, valueless, hopeless, and cold. Make of it what you can. My duty today is not to tell you that such a principle always works itself out pragmatically in the way of Hitler. In fact, I’ve taken pains above to show even some ways where the behavior at least seems to be quite positive.
My main point is two-fold: first, such selfish or hateful actions are allowed by such a principled worldview. Second, it is desirable that such a worldview be false. A worldview answers at least four major kinds of questions:
1. Metaphysics—What kinds of things exist?
2. Epistemology—What can we know?
3. Axiology/Aesthetics—What is the good, and the beautiful?
4. Teleology—What is the purpose or meaning of life?
The nothing-but worldview that allows for suffering and despair as completely normal very nearly strikes most of us as absurd. We instinctively recognize that such despair and dysfunction ought not to be. But if it ought not to be, then the nothing-but worldview is false. Perhaps we cannot show it is false (we certainly have not shown it, as of yet); but at the very least, we have suggested it is desirable that it is. And that, my friends, should make you pause.