Top ten under-reported religious stories of 2011

I tend to avoid end of the year lists but I thought this one was interesting, since it included many items that had slipped by me.


  1. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    #9 is the one that struck me the hardest.

    Of course, we don’t expect mainstream religion writers to know much about philosophy or history, so I suppose we mustn’t be too harsh. It still strikes me as odd that no one has taken to calling either Wall Street ethics or far-Right economic beliefs by their right name, which is nihilism. There’s been some prattle in the press about Ayn Rand’s influence, but religiously the problem is so much bigger and deeper than the renewed attention paid to this minor figure. What gives the New Nihilism a certain degree of invisibility is that some of the fiercest functional nihilists claim to be staunch supporters of traditional beliefs and traditional hierarchies. Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor are no more likely to say they don’t really believe in anything than are Brian Moynihan and Lloyd Blankfein. These dudes believe in markets, of course, but they don’t choose to see that the way in which financial markets actually function today—with huge mechanical trades done at lightning speed and at great profit but without any regard to recognizable human values—perfectly expresses a high-order moral nihilism, if not a metaphysical nihilism. I can’t bring back Nietzsche or Heidegger to validate me on this. You just have to take my word for it: nihilism.

    I’ve noticed the nihilism inherent in the financial markets but I’ve never said much if anything about it. I need to think hard about this. Perhaps I’ll be writing on this subject later.

  2. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    ni*hi*lism a: a viewpoint that traditional beliefs and values are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless. -Merriam-Webster Online

    The spread of nihilism is one way of understanding what’s currently happening where reductionist ideas, single-issue politics, and fixed ideologies make politics, public discourse, and public institutions increasingly empty of substance and lacking in meaning.

    It is not just that the “do nothing” Congress appears to be a replica of the old “know nothing party,” but that it also represents an underlying negation of life, an unconscious nihilistic movement that threatens to drain meaning and justice from collective life. It is not simply that the debates between “those who would be king” lack genuine substance, but that the candidates aspire to so little and reject so much.

    It is not just that those who desire to lead seem so ready to reduce elected office to simplistic tax pledges and the dull repetition of ideas that lack both substance and imagination. It is that they do it so willfully, so blindly, and with a bravado that surpasses egotism and seems intended to elevate narcissism to lofty heights. The bankrupting of the system allows those who are most empty of substance to rise to the top most readily. When winning is the only goal, everyone loses.

    When Donald Trump and Newt Gingrich both trumpet “big ideas” which are empty of true meaning, lacking in genuine intention, and devoid of actual substance, something is being said about the emptiness of both business and politics. Something is being said about the loss of statesmanship and absence of genuine ideas of governance, about the hopeless collapse of the complexities of life into the most common forms of commerce and self-aggrandizement. It may seem strange for an economist to say this, but economics alone can never solve economical problems.

    The desire to punish the poor, blame the disadvantaged, and force children into hard labor arises from willful ignorance as well as blind arrogance. Notions of putting poor kids to work because they lack inner values is not just regressive and possibly racist; it is not simply ignorant and unfeeling; it is also one of the doctrines of negation that attack the meaning of individual lives. Such hollow ideas may serve the narcissistic needs and short-term interests of a few, but what begins as simple negation can end in nihilistic disaster as those with hollow ideas and hardened avoid the real work of reviving the heart of culture and tending to the social well being of the country.

    Nihilism also raises its reckless head in the coarse and dehumanizing idea that a corporation can be a person. No matter how many people “sell their souls to the corporation,” the corporation can never become a person. The idea of elevating a common business form to human status not only distorts reality, it also diminishes humanity. Like any abstract entity, a corporation can readily dehumanize people because it has no real interest in individual life.

    Such doctrines of negation are not “big ideas” as much as clever manipulations that occur when real ideas are absent. The issue is not just financial corruption on a wide scale, but also that people have bought a bill of goods that have no long-term backing and have forgotten the common good. The great crises and great movements of the world do not take place outside the human mind, but within the minds of those moved by the forces of change.

  3. F says

    That is one of the very few lists which have interested me, ever. Most of the topics were unknown to me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *