Most Australians find it hard to name what they believe about the biggest questions in life. Christians can find it hard to talk about Christianity – but at least we have a name to use. Australian culture, with its skepticism and anti-authoritarian bent, is much more comfortable talking about the things we don’t believe than naming the things we do.
The major religions all have a name, but the worldview that rejects all of them tends only to go by un-names. Atheism simply means not believing in any god. Secularism gets rolled out but really means that no religion should get to run the country.
This means that the 40% of Australians who don’t subscribe to a ‘branded’ religion are often perceived, and often perceive themselves, as being in some kind of neutral territory. Sounds like a safe spot, doesn’t it? Keeping your options open.
But the atheistic worldview is not neutral, it is just another worldview. It deserves to be named because it’s certainly an ordered, connected series of answers to the great mysterious questions of life (Where did we come from? What’s life all about? How should we treat one another and why? What happens when we die?). If this could be recognised as a worldview-like-all-the-others then one benefit would be a check on its domination of the public education and public media sectors. I’m certainly secularist in that regard.
But naming it also exposes its character. And the name we should use is Nihilism. The philosophy underpinning a culture of YOLO (You Only Live Once) claims that you came from nowhere, you’re destined for nothingness, so eat and drink now for tomorrow you die. It rejects any external authority or accountability or truth structure, leaving only a political struggle to dominate others before they get in and dominate you.
Need I spend a paragraph outlining the dangers of this ideology? Meaninglessness (nothing really matters), disorientation (no anchor to life), loneliness (no real belonging to anyone or anything) has disturbing and all-too-tangible effects on individual and collective mental health. People fall apart. It’s high time we stopped giving this empty, poisonous – and false – view of the world a free pass as some kind of neutral space.
So when you’re talking with friends, kids, and family members about life’s great questions, it’s worth asking ‘unbelievers’ how committed they really are in their belief in Nihilism – how it’s working out for them now, and how it might in the future. And naturally, compare it to the positive vision and historic credibility of Christ and the life-giving view of the world He gives us. Real conversations can only take place when we can call things by their proper name.