The Problems of Meaning and Abstraction

Atheism is the lack of a belief in any deities whatsoever. It is a response to the question of god belief: “I am not convinced that any gods exist due to the lack of sufficient evidence.” It does not assert that no gods exist; rather, it is a withholding of belief–and that is it. There is nothing else that atheism entails. Atheism does not contain any worldviews. Atheism solely addresses the question of belief–it withholds belief in god claims. On the other hand, many atheists are skeptics, secularists, and humanists having left behind the fetters of religion.

There was a time when religion was a dominant force which structured entire cultures, values, and social practices, and was the ground for meaning and intelligibility in one’s life. By the time of the Enlightenment, everything became an object of inquiry, including religion and the ground for god. Humanity started, significantly for the first time, posing questions to pre-existing values and demanding evidence to warrant beliefs. Then, by the 19th Century, a pre-eminent figure in philosophy and psychology arose–Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche was a significant proponent of atheism and skepticism in his time, questioning the ground of Christianity, god, and Christian values in Europe. Heretofore, religion solely laid claim to meaning and intelligibility to the structure of one’s life–so much so that without the idea of a god to frame social practices through religion, the idea of a godless existence smacked of nihilism. Without a god, one seemingly lost everything that contained value and worth. And that is precisely what happened when Nietzsche famously said that god is dead–that the idea of god and pre-existing Christian values is dead. Of course, Nietzsche did not believe this palpable nihilism to be true after the death of god. His Übermensch would come forth and create his own values. However, with his proclamation that god is dead Nietzsche sent forth a great quake that resonated throughout the 19th and 20th Centuries. This is evident in the existentialist movement during that time through thinkers such as Sartre and Camus. We can still detect traces of the redshift of Nietzsche’s proclamation today in contemporary apologetics. The important (and passé) question that apologetics is concerned with nowadays concerns the ground of meaning and intelligibility, and how value is possible without a god. But what is clear and decisive is that theists are now having to think out these ideas without the safety net that a panacea such as the concept of a god provides, or are at least being posed such questions. But the point remains: the proclamation that god is dead was salient in its then historical context and relevance.

But where is culture now? What relevance do god and religion have in contemporary life? Apologists these days still like to grouse at great length about any life after god being absurd. But the fact of the matter is that this so-called problem is done and antiquated. What is more, the general character of religious thought is marked entirely by immaturity. Their perception of the world and subsequent cognitive abilities of forming models of it can be likened to that of an adolescent. They have no adequate understanding of the universe and the world we live in, tending to look for agency and giving objects they do not understand human traits. It is probable that they may have come to the same conclusion as us atheists–that the world does not necessarily possess intrinsic meaning–but instead of feeling a rush of creativity to form values, they feel their very being quake with superstitious groundlessness. The converse is true as well: a good deal of them cannot divorce themselves from the idea that the universe itself is necessarily imbued with external values by a deity, and any negation of that thought is unthinkable. In both cases, there is an inability to value creatively. But as has been said, to us atheists, the problem of meaning after withholding belief in a god is not a problem at all. Its historical significance and pertinence ended with Nietzsche. It has since then become a straw problem. The cultish nature of religion in general consists in an echo chamber. It is no surprise then that this and other obsolete “problems” addressed to atheists are still passed around in religious cults. But as for culture at large, although the process has been a steady but slow one, we are moving out of religious superstition and cultish observance and into a more secular and rational society that favors reason and evidence over religious woo.

But notice what is at play here. There lies concealed within this religiosity the presencing  of a symptom of a larger diagnosis. What has happened to identity? The symptom concealed within this religiosity points to a dissolution of oneself within the echo chamber of the group. There is a leveling down of oneself in preference to a particular abstraction taken up by the group. This particular abstraction has taken the shape of “religion”, the “religious”, “religiosity”. But this is not the only category wherein this leveling down has occurred–where one has lost one’s identity within an abstraction. Rather, this is but one place where the symptom of leveling down, or internalization, has come to presence. We see the symptom in other categories of abstractions as well: masculinity, manliness, feminism, femininity, gender roles, gender itself, conservatism, liberalism, politics itself, work, being a worker, production itself, etc. Max Stirner identified this behavior and first called these abstractions “spooks”. What has happened is that these people have become possessed by these concepts rather than being the possessors of them. So-called morality, the sacred, and divine truth have become an exalted dogma. What has been forgotten is that these things are artificial abstract creations which we have created. To submit to them full stop without question is folly. What if we find that the ground for past moral imperatives is groundless? What if we find no need for the sacred? What if we find that “divine” truth pertains to nothing but asceticism and self-denial and, moreover, is spurious? For Stirner, to assess this is to be free. To be free is to be both one’s creation and creator. For Stirner, freedom is self-creation.

Creation. Being one’s creator. We seem to have gotten back right where we started. Nietzsche comes to mind once more as we begin to think of valuation and self-creation. We were on the subject of the possibility of meaning without a god. We valuate  creatively as we create ourselves. We are the authors of meaning. For us, value creation comes as natural as the activity of aspiration. “God” has always been merely an idea. “God” has always been merely a cultural phenomenon put into place in the absence of our understanding of the universe, and a catchall for every insecurity and fear: from existence to coping with death. There never was a problem of meaning all along. We were deceived by the cult of amorphous abstractions and the subsequent arbitrary dogma. One only needs to fear “nihilism” after the death of god if, and only if, one is nihilistic oneself–so much so that one needs an external force to implement value in one’s life. And not even that value alone–that the value imposed by an external force may not be of one’s accord. What if that value is against one’s best interest? How should we know that external force has our best interest? The special pleading is glaring. In no other case would we be content with another imposing their valuations over us. Yet, why is this so in the case of a so-called god? Well, to Hell with that!, we creative atheists say. And the qualifier is necessary. There are a many people who are technically atheists on the ground of not having belief in god, but who are caught up nihilistic tendencies. These proclivities extend from epistemic nihilism to moral nihilism, and on to other such abstractions. Such cases exemplify the problem of abstraction. The concepts and ideas have become internalized, leveling down the a priori identity. The abstractions become dogma at worst, belief  at least, at any rate, dissolving identity, or the I, the ego, or the subjectum in favor of the overall abstraction. We creative atheists strive to always be on guard against such osmosis. We strive instead to always create our own values with an eye for rationality. We create ourselves in our possibilities–our ability-to-be. We drink deep from the wellspring of meaning. We are the authors of our own destiny. Truly, god is dead, and we are beyond him; and this now includes the cult of abstractions!


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