A nihilist

I want to start with three quotes all from the same person. I will say who it is after the quotes. As you read them, ask yourself what kind of person this is:

Human existence is a brutal experience to me…it’s a brutal, meaningless experience—an agonizing, meaningless experience with some oases, delight, some charm and peace, but these are just small oases. Overall, it is a brutal, brutal, terrible experience, and so it’s what can you do to alleviate the agony of the human condition, the human predicament? That is what interests me the most.
Everybody knows how awful the world is and what a terrible situation it is and each person distorts it in a certain way that enables him to get through. Some people distort it with religious things. Some people distort it with sports, with money, with love, with art, and they all have their own nonsense about what makes it meaningful, and all but nothing makes it meaningful. These things definitely serve a certain function, but in the end they all fail to give life meaning and everyone goes to his grave in a meaningless way.
I was with Billy Graham once, and he said that even if it turned out in the end that there is no God and the universe is empty, he would still have had a better life than me. I understand that. If you can delude yourself by believing that there is some kind of Santa Claus out there who is going to bail you out in the end, then it will help you get through. Even if you are proven wrong in the end, you would have had a better life.

There is something heroic in not allowing oneself to be deluded by fantasy in the face of meaninglessness, to stand before the great emptiness and accept it for what it is, to not live a lie. Unless, of course, one is merely self-delusional about the so-called meaninglessness in the face of overwhelming evidence that there is, in fact, meaning.

Arguably there is no more untenable position than nihilism, for it is the greatest lie. Nihilism is the claim that existence has no meaning. It is the claim that anyone who claims meaning is deluded. In his heart, the nihilist like a fool, says there is no God. It’s not really a philosophy as much as a stance, a cry, a shrug, a prejudice. In other words, the nihilist hero is really a fool, an unhappy fool surrounded by a world overflowing with meaning. And some of those fools are great artists.

If you have not guessed already, these quotes are all by Woody Allen, from an interview he gave in 2010 for Commonweal magazine. Allen has been in the news a lot the past few years regarding accusations of child molestation. It’s a lot of he said, she said, and most have already made up their minds about it. This post is not really about all that, at least not directly.

Woody Allen was one of my favorite filmmakers once I discovered his films in college. Although his life and career has been tarnished by those accusations, as an artist he is (or was) brilliant, witty, serious, and often very funny. Many of my Christian friends have loved his films as well. And as Christians we have all been of two minds about his films.

But I can’t help but look back on those films that I loved, some I still do I suppose, and not see them as ultimately empty. I also can’t help but think if one truly believes the world has no ultimate meaning and human existence is pointless, how can one live except by the mindless inertia of seeking the next “oases, delight, some charm and peace?” And finally, in the end, nothing.

I pray Allen turns to God who is love and who seeks him.

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