It's nobody's fault but mine
Nobody's fault but mine
If I don't read it, my soul will be lost
I have a Bible in my home
I have a Bible in my home
If I don't read it, my soul will be lost
- Blind Willie Johnson (Video)
Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.
Nihilism: The Root of the Revolution of the Modern Age, by Eugene (Fr. Seraphim) Rose
The present age is, in a profound sense, an age of absurdity.
This book offers an appendix, entitled “The Philosophy of the Absurd.” It was written by Fr. Rose during the time he was working on this chapter on Nihilism, but it is a separate essay. Nevertheless, it fits nicely with the theme of the chapter; you will find overlap in some of this work.
Fr. Rose offers as an example of striking absurdity Hitler, who could, at the same time, both appreciate and interpret Bach and murder millions. Hitler’s world may be of the past, but the age of absurdity certainly is not (and even more in 2022 than in the early 1960s). We have moved into a more advanced – though much quieter – stage of the same disease.
There is nothing so absurd that some philosopher has not already said it.
Philosophers and other supposedly responsible men in governmental, academic, and ecclesiastical circles…usually do no more than rationalize the incoherent state of contemporary man and his world….
“Temporarily quieter,” per Fr. Rose. And, with the benefit of hindsight, he was quite correct. Everything around us has become irreconcilable, and to an even greater extreme that anything contemplated sixty years ago. The totally absurd exists even in the same soul: the tired, but useful, example of men posing as women, and vice versa, should suffice.
The whole world, it almost seems, is divided into those who lead meaningless, futile lives without being aware of it, and those who, being aware of it, are driven to madness and suicide.
Why do men not break out of this trap? Why do they do nothing more than try to get by, day to day? Fr. Rose offers that it is because they do not think. One cannot blame them: the realities of the present day are better left in spaces unexamined.
What is this absurd philosophy? It is entirely negation – it exists only in opposition to something; its character is wholly determined by that which it desires to negate. it cannot exist except in opposition to something that is wholly not absurd.
Absurdism cannot be understood apart from its Christian origins.
For the genuine Christian, divine coherence is found in every aspect of life and thought. Not so for the absurdist, for whom everything falls apart. The philosophy is not merely an error and self-contradiction. Yes, it is these, but it is much more.
It is not a product of reason and the intellect – after all, to proclaim ultimate meaningless, one must believe this statement of meaning. It is, instead, a product of will. Fr. Rose sees the philosophy in Nietzsche; in Dostoevsky, he sees the sinister implications described.
Nietzsche offers the meaning of nihilism: “There is no goal. There is no answer to the question: Why?” Christianity offers an answer to this question, with Jesus boiling down Ten Commandments and hundreds of other commands dating from the time of Moses into one word: love.
There have been, of course, other forms of coherence than Christianity, and forms of incoherence other than modern nihilism and absurdity.
Yet these only offer a limited view of truth. In my view, there must be Christ: God who became man, thereby offering the sacrifice that no other sacrifice could top. Then rising from the dead, to demonstrate the victory to those who would overcome. It is Fr. Rose’s view as well:
…man has fallen away from a truth and a coherence that have been revealed in their fullness only in Christ. Only the Christian God is at the same time all power and all love….
Don’t believe a word of it as “true.” That’s fine. But the world has yet to come up with a better story, a better narrative through which we can find absolute truth.
This is a God and His promise so incredible to the ordinary human understanding that, once having believed it, men who reject it can never believe anything else to be of any great value.
“God is dead,” and “there is no truth.” Statements that are fully internalized by a people who, just a few generations before, could never have understood a world where either was true. These statements are actively embraced by many, passively accepted by countless more – who, at most, hold to a position of indifference on the truth or falsity of these.
With no answer as to “why,” everything becomes open to question. Where men once looked to God for such answers, they now seem content – some call it liberated – to have no answers. It is a world where everything is permitted, and when everything is permitted nothing has meaning.
Europe for five centuries and more has been deceiving itself, trying to establish a reign of humanism, liberalism, and supposedly Christian values on the basis of an increasingly sceptical attitude toward Christian truth. Absurdism is the end of that road…
Fr. Rose offers that humanism and absurdism are not so far apart: “absurdism, in the end, is simply disillusioned but unrepentant humanism.” There is, after all, a “good” pursued by even the most ardent nihilist, and it is the same good that is at the end of the road of humanism:
Kirillov, in Dostoevsky’s Possessed knows that, “If there is no God, then I am God.”
“I am God.” A most absurd statement. The dialectical procession of humanism away from Christian truth must end in absurdism. It does not end in a humanist utopia, but a sub-human nightmare. It is Adam and Eve in the Garden, tempted by Satan to ignore God, believing that reason without God can lead to liberty.
There is no more “thou shalt”; there is only “I will.” It is the religion of self-worship – I can be whatever I want to be.
Nietzsche’s Superman is absurdist, modern man with his sense of guilt obliterated in a frenzy of enthusiasm generated by a false mysticism, a worship of this world.
Where does this road lead? Man as an efficient machine with no purpose. Nine-tenths living as slaves so one-tenth may enjoy liberty (I would say the proportion has shifted even more to the “slave” side since the time Fr. Rose wrote these words).
But it cannot end there – the vacuum must be filled; the void of nothingness cannot stand. A new possibility must be opened to offer some new sense of coherence. Fr. Rose doesn’t label it as such, as the phrase was not yet coined in his time. Let’s call it the great reset.
Fr. Rose lays blame squarely on the Christians allowing this to happen:
…the Christian is yet more responsible for failing to give the example of a fully coherent life, a life in Christ. Christian compromise in thought and word and negligence in deed have opened the way to the triumph of the forces of the absurd, of Satan, of Antichrist. The present age of absurdity is the just reward of Christians who have failed to be Christians.
There is only one remedy for this. It isn’t a question of reforming society. For sure, it isn’t a question of politics and voting.
We must, in short, take a stand within a faith opposed to the absurdist faith and attack it in the name of a truth of which it denies the existence.
That would be Christian truth.
It may be that the final testimony Christians may be able to give in this age will be the ultimate testimony, the blood of their martyrdom.
One sees this road in modern science – the one discipline that most fundamentally requires an unwavering search for absolute truth (in the hard-science sense). There is no such thing as absolute truth, and we are therefore living in a world that has lost even the basic promises of the physical sciences. Perhaps not more than what Fr. Rose might have imagined, but far more so than what he witnessed in his life.