Inquire, Inquire part 11 – 5779
“Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint.”
- Proverbs 29:18, JPS 1917 Tanach
A people without a vision is like a school of fish without a body of water, or a flock of birds without the sky. A vision, in other words, an all-encompassing purpose and goal in life, may lead to a lack of cohesion. The same is true for individuals, in terms of the pursuit of meaning. Without focus, and a goal-oriented life, a lack of self-restraint could compel a person towards nihilism. This is a spiritual worst-case-scenario, for nihilism carries no positive life-affirming qualities on its shoulders; rather, it bears the weight of the world’s ignorance and moral decay.
Are we nihilists at heart in this postmodern world? I would not have been inclined to think so, until my definition of nihilism was enhanced by a more accurate perspective. Now, I understand that on a subtle level, nihilism may be more pervasive than I first thought. Formerly, I had equated nihilism with the vanities of the world, as per King Solomon’s time honored words on the subject, Kohelet (Ecclesiastes). “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (1:2).
Nihilism is also found in the world of ideas, where relativism thrives to the exclusion of absolutes, where even truth becomes relative, and subjective reality is upheld as the standard. Without foundational truths, based upon an absolute, the norm becomes an acceptance of subjective truth, to the exclusion of any one truth being superior to another. In this kind of intelectual mileu, morals also become relative; consequently, indulgence in the vanities of the world may only be a symptom of the pervasive nihilism that undermines truth with a capital “T.”
Ultimately, this position is untenable, and may lead to to a rejection of knowing anything for certain, except for what seems true to any particular individual at any given point in time within that person’s life.
Yet, the only antidote to the rampant nihilism that prevails within the established norms of the zeitgeist (spirit of the age) may be the recognition of the wisdom derived from a transcendent, absolute source:
“For thus saith the High and Lofty One That inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, With him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, To revive the spirit of the humble, And to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Isaiah 57:15, JPS 1917 Tanach).
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9, JPS).