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Musings on Nihilism, Atheism, Existentialism, Terrorism, and Faith

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Though religious people often say that without their faith life would be meaningless, we know that for some it is faith itself that leads them to the same conclusion. The question arises: what is life compared to Heaven or the next life after this earthly one?

For many religious people life is merely a means to an end with no meaning in itself. Ought we be surprised that those who hold such a view seem not too concerned about the environment or social justice when polls indicate that nearly half of them expect the second coming of Jesus and the glorious end of the world within the next 50 years; when their main concern seems to be “salvation?” It’s as if the inhabitants of Pompeii knew exactly when Vesuvius would violently erupt in 71 AD. In that case we would have found precious few petrified bodies attending to their daily routines 20 centuries later. Life loses its routine daily meaning when a catastrophe ensues.

Since Nietzsche, nihilism is usually conceived as lack of meaning in life to be overcome by the individual’s “will to power” and building up of meaning; existence trumps essence. Yet, despite Nietzsche’s famous quip that “God is dead,” the first step toward nihilism is not disbelief in God. Rather, it is acceptance of the notion that for the existence of the world to be justified it must have some external purpose to guide it. It must be the shadow of some truer world than this one; one that has the power to grant meaning to this world in which we live and have our being, and if no such other world exists then this world ought not to exist because it is meaningless. This is quite similar to what William James describes as “the religious impulse.” It is this impulse rather than atheism itself that produces nihilism.

Nihilism is the outright rejection of at least some aspects of the value of life, and it is attached to the notion that meaning must come from somewhere outside one’s self and in fact outside the world of ordinary experience. It is indeed the religious impulse to seek justification “out there” rather than having doubts about religion that is the first step toward nihilism. One can take this step toward religion and find no convincing externally imposed meaning. On the other hand, if one never goes looking for meaning to come from somewhere “out there,” one never encounters nihilism. Nietzsche was aware of that, not those who consider faith and its practice passé. But some actually do find such an externally imposed meaning and are still nihilistic. In fact, the extreme case of religious nihilism is the suicide bomber who is nihilistic in rejecting the meaning that others find in the value of human life while having a deep conviction in the externally imposed meaning of his own death through martyrdom and divine reward in Heaven.

The suicide bomber is indeed nihilistic. He may be thought of as having placed some value on the lives he takes as fulfilling some religious purpose, but in doing so he is decidedly rejecting many other aspects of the value of individual human life. In Kantian ethical language, he is treating others solely as means to serve his purposes of glorifying God rather than as having worth as ends in themselves. That is a form of nihilism—a radically religious nihilism. One might argue that the suicide bomber is not nihilistic because his death and the deaths of those he murders had profound significance to him in glorifying God. But the question of nihilism is not whether death has meaning but whether living life has meaning. There is no stronger version of nihilism that valuing death above life.

It is not being claimed here that this sort of nihilism is a necessary consequence of all Christian belief, rather, that Christianity gets interpreted by some (such as the murderers of abortion doctors) in very nihilistic ways where aspects of the meaning of life are deemed entirely insignificant next to the enormity of Eternity. Nihilism is not then part of a problem with atheism as it is often claimed. Nihilism is in fact incompatible with a thorough-going atheism that has ceased to seek meaning “out there.” Nihilism is not the inevitable result of anti-religious skepticism but part of the religious impulse which includes the supposition that such an external order is necessary and foundational to all value, meaning, and purpose that the world of our everyday experience can ever have.

Atheists only become nihilists when they take their atheism with a small dose of religion. Atheists inclined toward pessimism sometimes take the fact that the world seems to exist without such external justification as evidence for the absurdity of existence. Some atheists respond to the human condition by saying that we must live life in such a way to make it a worthy protest to the injustice of death. Such a response is one of a very religious sort of atheist.

Miguel de Unamuno, who like almost all writers and philosophers who get labeled existentialists denied being one articulated this view when he said, “If it is nothingness that awaits us, let us make an injustice of it; let us fight against destiny, even though without hope of victory.” This is the sort of atheist existentialism that announces the death of God but seems to be angry and in great despair about that fact. The claim, “God is dead…the bastard!” is trying to have it both ways. Nihilism is a real possibility when one simultaneously rejects the existence of God but retains enough of a religious outlook to insist that something very much like God would be necessary to make life meaningful. In making one’s life a worthy protest one hopes to justify one’s own existence. This sort of nihilism is an unconscious sort of nihilism that Nietzsche himself called “religious nihilism.” In fact, there is no other kind. Nihilism depends on the affirmation of another world as the only possible legitimate source of all value and the denial of this world as able to sustain its own value. Nietzsche called the phenomenon “the trans-valuation of values.” All nihilism is religious in this sense.

In contrast to this pseudo-atheistic pessimistic nihilism, the nihilism of the religious is often not recognized as such because it is often an optimistic sort of nihilism. The promise of the next world is thought to be the assurance of everything that one could ever hope for. But then, we know how that sort of thinking in the suicide bomber works out for the rest of us, so even optimistic nihilism can be something to be concerned about. Religious people who think that believing in God makes them immune to nihilism and the nihilism is part of “the atheism problem” should turn to the Bible and reread Ecclesiastes which has Solomon, son of David renowned for his great wisdom, exclaim: “Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” Clearly even the Bible demonstrates that nihilism is not just a problem for skeptics.

Though the one who never look to other worlds to justify this world is less nihilistic than the one who takes this first step toward nihilism even if she does find meaning “out there,” avowed religious person who take the first step toward nihilism by seeking meaning in the great beyond are unlikely to consider themselves nihilist. The most prominent authority on meaning among Christians today is Rick Warren who sold 30 million copies of The Purpose Driven Life. In that book Rick Warren writes: “If there was no God, we would all be ‘accidents,’ the result of astronomical random chance in the universe. You could stop reading this book, because life would have no purpose or meaning or significance. There would be no right or wrong, and no hope beyond your brief years on earth.” This declaration is not merely one small step but a giant leap toward nihilism. Warren has hung all his hopes upon the need that a single fact turns out to be true.

A believer such as Warren is not likely to recognize the nihilism behind his statement and his belief that without some external source of worth our world would be worthless. Instead he is more likely to mistake those of us who accept this world as sufficient unto itself as nihilists. But doing so is indeed a mistake. The complete lack of nihilism is not to deny the “objective” meaning of life but to stop thinking of the question as one even worth asking—to stop looking for the justification the world to come from somewhere else. The complete opposite of nihilism is not to be able to affirm the objective meaning of life, but to never need to go looking for meaning because meaning abounds.

St. Francis of Assisi found meaning in the beauty of nature and its creatures and via that bridge he got to God. He got to the ultimate via the penultimate: the value of this world and this life in themselves. Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living, but asking bad “philosophical” questions like, ‘what gives one’s life objective meaning?’ if taken too seriously can also make life seem not worth living. We don’t need to be convinced by some philosophical or theological argument that life has meaning or feel at all like something is lacking in not being able to provide a Cartesian foundation that stands outside of time and space upon which meaning in life can rest. Meaning abounds for all those who love so long as they don’t get fooled into thinking that love needs a philosophical foundation—that “why love?” is a question that needs an answer. Only the psychopath needs a reason to love.

It takes a lot of intellectual wheel spinning to even get one’s self to the point in thinking that the love of family and friends and our efforts to make the world better than we found it are not meaningful. This whole question of meaning only becomes a question when one follows the religious impulse to search for meaning “out there.” It comes from the idea that meaning must come from outside one’s own life and even outside the world altogether. How about starting where St. Francis started, with the love of nature and its creatures?

It needs to be emphasized here that nihilism is not an atheistic phenomenon. Both atheists and theists are capable of denying aspects of the meaning of life. Nihilism—the belief that the world in itself is without value, meaning, and purpose as some existentialist philosophers claim—is not the inevitable result of atheism. Atheists only become nihilists when their lack of belief in God is taken together with a half-measure of religion, while the theistic nihilism of the suicide bomber is the result of taking a full measure of the wrong sort of religion.

Note: This article has already appeared in Ovi Magazine on November 16, 2015.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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Prevent gender-based violence in humanitarian emergencies

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Top UN officials met in the margins of the 76th General Assembly on Thursday,  with a strong call to action to stamp out gender-based violence (GBV), amid a rise in forced displacement and other humanitarian emergencies around the globe.

GBV includes acts that inflict physical, sexual or mental harm – or other forms of suffering, coercion and limits on personal freedoms – and has “long-term consequences on the sexual, physical and psychological health of survivors”, according to the UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency (UNFPA).

These are being driven increasingly by conflict, climate change, famine and insecurity, heightening vulnerabilities for girls and women.

‘Willingness to act’

UNFPA Executive Director Natalia Kanem told the meeting on Localizing GBV in humanitarian crises, that peace, justice and dignity are the “birthright of every woman and girl”.

She spoke of the agency’s “clear and ambitious” 2021-2025 Roadmap, which reflects a shared vision and underscored the need to create new pathways to ensure those rights.

Emphasizing the need for accountability “to ourselves and each other”, Ms. Kanem said that as the lead UN agency on the issue, “UNFPA is committed to standing strong”.

She said there was a strong will to act, “to do something about gender-based violence”, she added, stressing the importance of putting the voices of women “at the heart of what we do”

Ms. Kanem pledged to funnel 43 per cent of UNFPA’s humanitarian funding to national and local women’s organizations, saying “now more than ever, they need us”.

Afghanistan: ‘Important reminder’

Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths called the situation in Afghanistan “an important reminder of the primary vulnerability of women and girls in crises”.

He highlighted the vital role of women-led local communities, pointing out that they act as first responders to crisis.

Recalling a recent trip to Ethiopia, where he heard first-hand accounts of the traumas suffered by women in Tigray, he said that it was the local communities who first responded to the atrocities, which underscores the “absolute importance” of listening to women, protecting women and girls, and “protecting local communities to do what they naturally want to do”.

The protection of women is one of the least-funded parts of the humanitarian programme, Mr. Griffiths said.

Getting the word out

Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said to deliver on “the ambitious call to action”, it is important to “get the word out” to the girls and women on the ground about the services available.

“This has not been clear at all”, Ms. Fore stated.

She spoke of the UNICEF report We Must Do Better, which provides a global feminist assessment of the experiences of women and girls, and the organizations they lead, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report highlighted that the needs of women and girls are either ignored or treated as an afterthought; and that despite being on the front lines of humanitarian crises, women are not taken seriously enough.

And although the demand for GBV services has increased during COVID, the resources have not, said Ms. Fore, calling for greater support for local women’s groups, including financially.

Bureaucratizing assistance

Fighting GBV is an important priority for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), High Commissioner Filippo Grandi assured participants, especially in situations of forced displacements, which are “rife” with opportunities.

He acknowledged that during humanitarian crises as everyone is moving quickly, too often the critical role of local women’s organizations are overlooked.

The top UNHCR official said that providing “substantive, flexible, direct and rapid” resources to women-led, community-based organizations without undue red tape is “one of the most important” ways to empower them.

He conceded however, “this is a difficult call” as humanitarian funding is follow the trend of being “bureaucratized”.

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The Death News of Sidharth Shukla: In the remembrance of Sidnaaz

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For most individuals, the death news of Sidharth Shukla seems implausible. Sidharth Shukla, popular actor, and 13 winner Bigg Boss died on Thursday 2 September suffering a severe cardiac arrest at Cooper Hospital in Mumbai.  Actor Sidharth constantly challenged the odds in his profession. For many in the TV and movie sector, it is a last-ditch and sometimes fruitless effort to stop a slide into irrelevance in the popular reality program Bigg Boss. But Shukla was the household name that became a feather reality TV sensation for himself who won the 13th show edition in 2019. For the first time, Shukla entered the television limelight, working on BalikaVadhu (2012), in which he tried the part of District Collector Shivraj Shekhar. Shukla portrayed the character throughout the space of three years and won several accolades. A few whiles later, in Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania (2014), he was reputed to a costar, once again receiving acclaim. Born and reared up in Mumbai, Shukla began as a model by taking a position as a leader in the Manhunt and Mega model Gladrags contests and then starred in Bajaj and ICICI Banking television commercial campaigns. Shortly thereafter, he premiered on Babul Ka Aangann Chootey Na, followed by a range of dramatic TV shows such as CID and Aahat, which include criminal dramas. In 2016 Khatron Ke Khiladi won Fear Factor as well. Shukla has also been a popular television host with such series as Savdhaan India and the Got Talent 6 of India. His death caused a shock to the television and film industries.

Police authorities in Mumbai claimed that at around 9 a.m. before death, Shukla complained about cardiac pressure in his home in Oshivara, Mumbai.  At that time, his sister, his mother, and brother-in-law were in the house. A physician who came to the house found that he was pulseless. “The family went to Dr. RN Cooper hospital and requested an ambulance. They reached about 9.45 am and before admission he had been proclaimed dead.” The Forensic department leader, Dr. R Sukhdev, verified that on Thursday morning, Shukla was brought dead. The afternoon postmortem exam was performed. No external damage on his body was detected before the autopsy by physicians and police. The Dean of Dr. RN Cooper Hospital, Dr. Sailesh Mohite, refused to comment on the autopsy findings.

Many Celebertities Condolences

“Siddharth, gone too soon. You’ll be missed…” said Actor Salman Khan, who gave him the trophy of Bigg Boss. Kapil Sharma TV comedy host tweeted, “Oh god, it is truly shocking, my condolences to the family, and prayers for the the departed soul” Several TV and film fraternity members, like Rajkummar Rao, came to Mumbai to pay their final honors in Shukla Residence. On Friday his last rites will be conducted.

Shehnaaz Gill on Sidharth Shukla death

Sources close to the actor and individuals who went to his house and told Sidharth Shukla’s family that Shehnaaz is in a condition of shock and cannot cope with his loss today. Source further stated Shehnaaz was deeply impacted by the untimely death of the Balika Vadhu actor. Shehnaaz was very near to Sidharth, and she frequently publicly demonstrated her affection for him. Her compassion and caring for him never shied away. She said she was even in love with him openly. Fans liked their duo much after BB 13, and invented their moniker with affection, Sidnaaz. In two recent programs, Back-to-Back Bigg Boss OTT and Dances Deewane 3, the reported couple had featured.

Sidharth Shukla breathed his last in Shehnaaz Gill’s arms

Sidharth was still complaining of discomfort, and Shehnaaz and his mother begged him to relax. Sidharth was unable to sleep, on the other hand; thus Shehnaaz was requested to remain with him and pat on his back. Sidharth lay on the lap of Shehnhaaz at 1:00 a.m., and the latter walked away gently. She slept, too, and when she woke up at 7am, she found Sidharth sleeping in the same position without moving, and he didn’t stir when she tried to wake him up. From the 12th story to the fifth level, where his family resided, Shehnaaz was terrified and hurried. She notified Sidharth’s sister and phoned their doctor of the family, who told Sidharth that he hadn’t been there anymore.

Ye ‘Dil’ hai Muskil

Why are young people suffering from heart attacks? The death of Siddharth Shukla, 40 years old, has stunned everyone. Initial stories indicating that a heart attack is the reason for Thursday’s death were killed, along with the big boss winner Season-13. In recent times, heart disease has been a worry for health professionals among young Indian people. The question is why in very young age groups in India there has been an increase in cardiac attack.

Concluding Remarks

The greatest way I can escape the trap of thinking that you have anything to lose is to remember that you will die. No excuse to not follow your heart. Nobody wants to die. Nobody wants to die. Such people don’t even want to die to go to paradise to get there. And yet death is our common destination. Nobody has ever avoided it and this is why death is perhaps the finest invention of existence. Life is the agent of transformation. The old one is clearing way for the new one.

Death is, however tragic, probably God’s most beautiful creation. Death is merely another trip; birth and life will never take place without death. It’s unavoidable to lose somebody. Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin and Hobbes, illustrates this wonders: Death is transitory and the meaning of life and death. Death is temporary. Death is a normal part of life, we have to realize. Death gives life its full significance. Let life be like summer flowers, let life be lovely and death be like fall leaves. But would it not be much easier to face our own mortality, rather than being unhappy, knowing that our life has been fully and without regret? Even if we don’t want to go to die, it’s just as unavoidable for the sun at night. In conclusion, when your time comes, you don’t have to die happy but you need to die satisfied, since from start to finish you have lived your life.

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4.1 billion lack social safety net

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More than four billion people live without any welfare protection today to cushion them from crisis, the UN International Labour Organization (ILO) said on Wednesday, while highlighting how the COVID-19 crisis has pushed up government spending by some 30 per cent.

Leading the call for countries to extend social safety nets far more widely than they do now, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder insisted that such a move would help future-proof workers and businesses in the face of new challenges.

“This is a pivotal moment to harness the pandemic response to build a new generation of rights-based social protection systems,” said Mr. Ryder.

“These can cushion people from future crises and give workers and businesses the security to tackle the multiple transitions ahead with confidence and with hope. We must recognize that effective and comprehensive social protection is not just essential for social justice and decent work but for creating a sustainable and resilient future too.”

In a new report the UN body acknowledged that the COVID-19 crisis had led to greater social protections worldwide, albeit mainly in wealthy countries.

It noted that only 47 per cent of the global population are covered by at least one social protection benefit, while only one in four children has access to national welfare safety nets.

Newborns’ needs unmet

Further research indicated that only 45 per cent of women with newborns worldwide receive a cash benefit, while only one in three people with severe disabilities receive a disability benefit.

Coverage of unemployment benefits is even lower, ILO said, with only 18.6 per cent of jobless workers effectively covered globally.

On retirement welfare, the UN body found that although nearly eight in 10 people receive some form of pension, major disparities remain across regions, between rural and urban areas and women and men.

Regional imbalances

The ILO report underscores the significant regional inequalities in social protection.

Europe and Central Asia have the highest rates of coverage, with 84 per cent of people having access to at least one benefit.

Countries in the Americas are also above the global average (64.3 per cent), in stark contrast to welfare roll-out in Asia and the Pacific (44 per cent), the Arab States (40 per cent) and Africa (17.4 per cent).

Highlighting differences in government spending on social protection, ILO said that high-income countries spend 16.4 per cent of national turnover (above the 13 per cent global average, excluding health), while low-income countries budget just 1.1 per cent.

Billions more needed

The UN body noted that since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments have had to increase spending massively to ensure minimum social protection for all, by around 30 per cent.

And it maintained that to guarantee basic social protection coverage, low-income countries would need to invest an additional $77.9 billion per year, lower-middle-income countries an additional $362.9 billion and upper-middle-income countries a further $750.8 billion annually. That’s equivalent to 15.9 per cent, 5.1 per cent and 3.1 per cent of their GDP, respectively.

“There is an enormous push for countries to move to fiscal consolidation, after the massive public expenditure of their crisis response measures, but it would be seriously damaging to cut back on social protection; investment is required here and now,” said Shahra Razavi, Director, ILO Social Protection Department.

Underscoring the multiple benefits of social welfare protection, Ms. Razavi insisted that it could promoted “better health and education, greater equality, more sustainable economic systems, better managed migration and the observance of core rights…The benefits of success will reach beyond national borders to benefit us all”.

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