Three Deadly Ideas

We tend to ignore the “ivory tower” ideas that college professors debate, wrongly thinking they have no practical effect on day-to-day life

Philosophy? Not for me, many insist. In fact, all of us have philosophies, whether we realize it or not, and whether we can describe them or not.

Most have encountered the words Materialism, Nihilism, and Fatalism in their reading or television and film viewing. Our natural reaction is to ignore them as “ivory tower” ideas that college professors debate, but have no practical effect on day-to-day life.

Fact is, we are influenced by these ideas every day of our lives, and increasingly so, in the films and television shows we watch, in the music we listen to, in the books we read, and in the art we view. Not to mention the impact of these ideas on the moral state of our modern culture, so we ought to understand what these ideas, these belief systems, profess.

Materialism is more than just an obsession with money and possessions; it’s a belief about the world and the universe that gives matter—things—the primary position and gives the mind (or spirit) a secondary position, and often none at all.

Nihilism, almost always connected to atheism, is a disbelief in the possibility of any moral judgments and the corresponding belief that all moral judgments are arbitrary.

Fatalism is the belief that we are powerless to do anything other than what we actually do, that the physical universe, including our own DNA, drives us to do what we do. Thus, free will is an illusion.

See a pattern here?

No God, no fixed moral principles, no free will, no hope for anything beyond this life. Therefore, it’s up to man to set his own rules.

Suffice it to say, there are many capable and eloquent theologians, philosophers, and even scientists, who have refuted these ideas, but our culture has largely adopted these philosophies, perhaps because they claim to “liberate” man to be able to do what he wants to do, and perhaps because many who espouse these ideas are considered to be the best and brightest.

We should be aware that many films, books, television shows, and works of art and music are not merely entertainment, or art for its own sake, but reflections of the belief systems of their creators and producers. These ideas can have the insidious effect of molding the minds and beliefs of those who read, view, and listen.

Overreaction? How else did abortion go from being almost universally condemned to what is today a commonly accepted “procedure”? Look again at the definitions of Materialism, Nihilism, and Fatalism and you will see the justification for abortion, contraception, “gay marriage”, sex as mere recreation, and euthanasia woven into the fabric of these beliefs. How else did visual art go from being accessible to much of the population to being incomprehensible and—well—materialistic or fatalistic?

Wait a minute, many will say. Not all films, television shows, art, and music reflect these beliefs. Just so, but it’s also true that for art and scholarship to be considered “serious” by the aristocracy of our modern culture, it may not portray Truth, Beauty and the Good as qualities that are anything more than the opinions of individuals or societies.

As few want to be known as materialists, nihilists, or fatalists, the people that meet these definitions prefer the more trendy categories of atheist, agnostic, realist, rationalist, or empiricist. But if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck…well, you know.

It’s tempting to think that we can assign these beliefs to one social movement. In fact, there are Democrats, Republicans, communists, libertarians, socialists, capitalists, labor movements, and even some patriots who subscribe to these beliefs.

America’s Declaration of Independence proclaims “unalienable rights” that all human beings possess, rights that may not be abridged. Not so in a world where Materialism, Nihilism, and Fatalism reign. In such a world, there are no unalienable rights, only rights “bestowed” by states, commissions, or the will of the majority.

Because a fish spends its whole life in water, water is “invisible” to the fish. As our culture is increasingly steeped in Materialism, Nihilism, and Fatalism, we should not be unaware of the effects and influence of these beliefs on us, and on society, and we should engage and respond as our consciences—properly informed by reason and faith—and talents move us.

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About Thomas M. Doran 85 Articles
Thomas M. Doran is the author of the Tolkien-inspired Toward the Gleam (Ignatius Press, 2011), The Lucifer Ego, and Kataklusmos (2020). He has worked on hundreds of environmental and infrastructure projects, was president of Tetra Tech/MPS, was an adjunct professor of engineering at Lawrence Technological University, and is a member of the College of Fellows of The Engineering Society of Detroit.