Does Nothing Matter
Conservatism Without God
Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, Thomas Cole (1828)
What matters in life? What has meaning? And, if things did not matter and nothing meant anything, should our interactions in the world be postured accordingly? Would our nihilism warrant punching babies in the face or murdering even those we ‘loved?’ Even if nothing mattered and nothing meant anything, it would take someone seriously mentally ill to believe those two things were in any way justified—and they couldn’t be justified if nothing mattered, for justification only means something if there were a ‘Good’ propped against an evil. But good and evil could not exist if nothing mattered because as Camus wrote, meaninglessness cannot dictate meaning.
Good and evil are meaningful as they are the drivers of our conscience, influencing what we do and choose not to do, or at the minimum, what we know we should do versus what we should not. Perhaps the recognition of what is good and what is not is enough to prove that meaning does exist, and takes its part in everything we do, no matter how small. As rudimentary as this argument might be, I accept it: meaning exists because right and wrong exists.
So though I frequently jest that nothing matters, I live as though they did. Our actions reverberate across time and within many people. We will have touched millions of people by the end of our lives, as they go to pass on pieces of you that you knowingly or not gave to them.
But acting as though things mattered and believing that the universe thanks you as though they do, are very different.
When I say nothing matters, I mean the latter way, metaphysically detached from the human experience. We are blips in time floating through space. We matter, inasmuch as Earth matters, inasmuch as people are alive, and inasmuch as there might be a God judging us. But there may very well be no God. Our voices speak to only silence.
But when there's no God, there can be no meaning, because there will be no provenance for the ‘Good.’ To consider a godless universe would be accepting a universe that is unfeeling to our existence; but even if there were a God, the universe does not end if we were to die tomorrow: it does not thank us, it does not mourn us; the cosmos will still be intact and the chaos around it will only be just slightly mitigated without our survival because, after all, we make up fractions of the matter in the universe so that our disappearance will go largely unnoticed and without affect.
So in the midst of this uncertain existence we nevertheless strive to create meaning, and we should! There is no reason for existence to be more miserable than it needs to be; and it is alleviated with the dignity to act and live with purpose, or the search thereof.
Hell, that’s what Sex and Modernity is all about: Our inescapable existence and the agency that we do have to strive for love. and it's all for love, as love is that utmost thing humans crave and work toward. But, even if love conclusively endowed our lives with meaning and matter, dependent or independent of a God, I still can't ignore that persisting, incomprehensible nothingness that pervades my body and mind every day and every morning and night.
...I think conservatism, on a deep philosophical stratum, really recognizes this lonely truth of existence. It originates from a longing to permeate what it knows and see’s as good, and within that good what it see’s as a common thread throughout human history. For too long it has answered the questions above by hiding in the shroud of Christianity, but those who are unmoored from God through no volition of their own can’t accept a doctrine of faith apart from what reason allows. When we think about what 'conservatism' is without religion we encounter some philosophical issues that have not been solved even with it, such as its cultural relativism—(where conservatism risks undermining its politics of truth, while also bolstering anti-ideology). What we are, why we exist, and where meaning is, is the existentialist dilemma that we have been facing as humans since the dawn of time. And maybe, the meaning of our existence cannot be solved without situating God in the center of it.
That is a possibility as disappointing as it might be relieving. Some people are able to relish ‘God’s Glory,’ and ‘trust’ that He is guiding them on their life’s path, sure to give them meaning; and others feel that meaning exists merely in the relationship between God and person, and all else downstream from it.
Burke’s maxim still rings true: It's a mistake to do nothing just because we can only do a little. There is a lot of meaninglessness out there, a lot of powerful voices that say nothing and do nothing, but that's not a template for me. Live and write as though it mattered and die as though it didn't—which, ironically, means the same thing: live and die for something, whatever it is.
I like the hill I chose to die on. But it's not a right wing hill. It's not even political. It's my own hill of tragic nothingness that, for a little time, was everything.