Whatever motivates nihilism, that is, the feeling that life and the universe have no meaning or purpose, can also motivate depression and suicide. As a result of the focus in my work on nihilism, I have had many people reach out to me and express their suffering from it. More often than not it is expressed as being overcome with a feeling, rather than something explicitly thought out and reasoned. Therefore, in this series, I intend to make a few of the motivating factors of nihilism clear and lead the reader to practical solutions which will help keep nihilism at bay; or alternatively, point towards a path which will help those who already suffer from it, to overcome it. I will do this over two essays. The first essay will focus mainly on addressing nihilism as a sickness, with a short section on Islam as an antidote at the end. The second essay will focus more explicitly on Islam as a solution to nihilism.
In order to do this in my first essay, I will take a number of steps. First, I will be defining what nihilism is. I will then explain why the subject of nihilism is an important one that should be at the heart of our concerns, and why we should be giving this issue our careful attention. Upon establishing the importance of this, I will elaborate on its relation to the higher values held by a society. Through this, I hope to give the reader a clearer understanding to work with throughout the rest of the essay.
Furthermore, once I have shown that the possibility of nihilism opens up through the collapse of higher values, I will be able to transition into giving a particular example of nihilistic deterioration with regards to truth. I intend to outline how a particular kind of valuing truth can lead to undermining the value for truth itself, and therefore lead a society into what is referred to as a “post-truth era”. I wish to demonstrate how the transition from the former era to the latter allows for the conditions to arise which lead to a societal [mental] exhaustion, which in turn leads to an increase in forms of escapism in order to avoid having to face “the burden of consciousness”. That is, the burden of having to face up to the task of figuring out what it means to live, what is going on in the world, and where one fits into all of this exactly. I will explore how these forms of escapism are overabundant in our society, and how they overwhelm us, and as a consequence, we become mentally paralysed and incapable of making any genuine internal progress
Nihilism is a both an individual as well as a collective sickness that we are all having to face either directly or indirectly. These threats to meaning are present whether we like to think so or not. Turning a blind eye to the conditions that I will be outlining in sections to come does not make them go away. We must face it head on by first of all recognising its existence, only then we can attempt to overcome it. This sickness will be diagnosed.
The symptoms of this sickness will be assessed in this essay from this point onwards. Looking first at the effects of nihilism on ideas and thinking. Technology and scientific advancement are often praised as a way in which we will transcend many of these issues, however, I wish to show that counter to this opinion, technological advancements, rather than being something to praise, can be seen as facilitating this escapism through what is termed “Techno-Hypnosis”.
This essay will then look at the effects of nihilism on people and society. It will identify issues arising out of the lack of a collective aim, and the increase in societal fracturing we see throughout the world. All of this has necessary effects on how we think of morality, moral duty, and meaning, for which I intend to explore and highlight the major issues I see us facing as a result of what has been outlined.
I will then summarise the main points of the essay so far, with regards to establishing an understanding of nihilism. I will then introduce us to some thinking in preparation of my second essay. I will identify how many people try to flee the nihilism they are experiencing by picking and choosing elements from many different religions they find useful, while paradoxically rejecting religion as “backwards” or “dogmatic”. That is, I wish to show how the nihilist (whether they know themselves to be one or not), as much as they push away from religion, do not escape religiosity. They try to belittle such concepts as “faith”, yet are caught making numerous leaps of faith themselves.
I will conclude this first essay with a brief explanation as to why I see Islam as a valid solution to the many issues I will cover herein. This will not be a comprehensive explanation, as I will save this for the second essay. However, I did not want to leave the reader with nothing. And so, I hope, God willing, what I write here will be sufficient at temporarily quenching the thirst of those interested in what I begin to offer as a solution to the problems I shed light on in this essay. So, let us begin.
The human being is driven by many needs such as sustenance, shelter, community, but we are also heavily driven by purpose. Insofar as nihilism is the explicit denial that life has any purpose, it is necessarily so, that nihilism denies our humanity. This has the danger of expressing itself in a variety of ways, and so to avoid its consequences we need to work hard at understanding it intimately.
Nihilism can come in many forms, but generally speaking, it can be described as the rejection of all meaning, purpose, and the disintegration of traditional morality.1 David Matheson defines nihilism as maintaining that “no lives are, all things considered, worth living”;2 and Raif Donelson further describes a particular form of nihilism as holding that “life is somehow meaningless, hollow” and again, “not worth living”. As we can see from these descriptions, nihilism is not an optimistic worldview, but a pessimistic one.
Friedrich Nietzsche, who is considered the father of the philosophy of nihilism, adds to this concept by saying that “there is no goal, no answer to the question: why?”; and further builds on this by saying, “what is the significance of nihilism? – that the highest values devalue themselves.”3 The feature of “not having a goal”, and of the “highest values devalue[ing] themselves” will be the central focus of my essay.
Before I continue with this central focus, in the following section of this essay, it is important to understand why Nihilism should be of interest to us, as humans. I will now touch on this a little to help us to place ourselves in relation to this discussion on Nihilism.
It is crucial that we clarify exactly why it is we should care. Why should we spend our time looking into it at all? The reason I say that concern is necessary is that the feeling of nihilism will very possibly strike you at some point in life, if it has not already. However, if you are lucky enough to never be affected by it, the chances are that at the very least somebody you know and love will. Alternatively, you may not know that you have been affected by it because the word “nihilism” is a strange one that you are not familiar with; it is not often heard by the average person or brought up in day to day conversation. It may very well be the case that upon reading this essay you come to realise that you have in fact experienced what I am going to describe; you just did not know there was a philosophical term for it. In any case, I wish to convince you that it is important, and that it does require our attention. If we fail in this regard people’s lives are at stake, and potentially their afterlife.
The philosopher Albert Camus, in his book The Myth of Sisyphus, opens his book by saying “[t]here is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide.”4 The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, who was well known for his pessimism, made some anti-natalist5 remarks which follow this “anti-life” theme; the notion that life is just not worth beginning. Although this certainly is not to say that he is promoting suicide as an answer, he does state quite clearly that we should not even bother bringing life into being:
“If children were brought into the world by an act of pure reason alone, would the human race continue to exist? Would not a man rather have so much sympathy with the coming generation as to spare it the burden of existence? Or at any rate not take it upon himself to impose that burden upon it in cold blood.”6
Schopenhauer’s work was a massive influence on Nietzsche, and definitely a contributing factor to the work he produced on pessimism and nihilism. However we cannot lay the development of these ideas only at the feet of these two philosophers. One may be able to argue that it is the many philosophical ideas themselves that have been littering the field, which have slowly evolved into nihilism; ergo, giving rise to this anti-life sentiment that can be expressed in their nature as either anti-natalist, suicidal, or both. This theme has built momentum over the years, and you see its fruition in the sheer numbers of people that are ending their lives today. The World Health Organisation released an article stating that close to 800,000 people end their lives worldwide every year; and for every successful suicide there are many more failed attempts.7 To put this into perspective, this is like finding out that every year a city the size of Leeds, UK has committed suicide, and a number of other cities (2 to 4 of them) have attempted to do so but failed; suggesting severe unhappiness, and the general idea that life is not worth living for a very large number of people. On top of this you also have people who consider it, desire it, but do not attempt to end their lives; but in any case, they still consider life not worth living, to warrant taking such drastic action. Furthermore, data quality and collection methods are lacking in many countries around the world, so the figures might in fact be much worse than the data we have at present suggests. Thenumbers are very high, and this is concerning. Lastly, the connection between this problem and the issue of nihilism is the idea that life is meaningless, without purpose, and not worth living.
In Martin Heidegger’s book Being and Time, he outlines the idea that what makes Dasein [the human being], distinct from other beings is that its very existence is an issue for it.8 That is, unlike other beings, the human being must decide what kind of a being it is going to be. The human being must decide how to be. Will this person decide to work towards being an engineer, an artist, a lawyer, a doctor or a philosopher? It must project itself into the future, set goals, and work towards attaining these goals. The human being drags the ideal out from the realm of mind and into the world, into reality. Other beings do not have to concern themselves with such things. The lion, the bird, the fish and the insect do not need to figure out how to be, they just are what they are, and they just do what they do. There is very little room or reason for an existential crisis.9 The human being on the other hand could have everything one desires, they could have attained all earthly needs and wants in abundance, yet they can still become depressed and suicidal. The human being cannot help but ponder over the meaning of life. We strive for purpose not for the sake of it, but because it is an integral part of our very being! This is why the issue of nihilism is important, and why we should be concerned with it.
Let me begin by explaining what a value is, and then by giving an example that explains how the highest values undermine themselves, as this is often a source of confusion for those first hearing it. When talking about “value”, what is meant is something which is considered of relative worth, utility, or importance.10 We can talk of material things having value, but we can also talk of ideas or principles having it too. When talking about higher values, what I am making reference to here are the principles or standards which individuals or collectives hold as the most important, and feel they have a duty to maintain or nurture for themselves or their society. They are what a community considers as the most important things, and can be what unites them as a people, or what they collectively consider to be of great worth and utility. Religion is a great example of this; in the muslim world, Islam, that is, the worship of God, is the highest value.
One may find an example within the “Christian west”11 with Truth. Truth was made a higher value to the point that it began to undermine the very foundations that gave rise to it in the first place. But how did it become a higher value? Prior to Christianity, Europe was mostly polytheistic in its worship, dedicating themselves to multiple gods. Now although there certainly were instances of the gods acting truthfully, there were also examples of them acting in very questionable ways. The Greek god Zeus for example, is notorious for raping women. There are also numerous examples of lying by both the ancient gods and heroes of the past.12 There was such an emphasis on cheating, lying and deception in ancient polytheistic religions that Socrates himself, in Plato’s Republic, had to discuss censoring them for this very reason. In the preliminary writing to the chapter, the following was stated as a commentary by the editor on what was to follow in Plato’s dialogue:
“It must also be remembered that the Greeks had no Bible, and what the Bible has been to us as a source of theology and morals, poets were to the Greeks. And if Plato seems very preoccupied with the morals and theological aspect of the poets it is because it was from them the ordinary Greek was expected to acquire his moral and theological notions.”13
This issue was notably something the ancients had to deal with, as pantheons of gods in ancient religions always contained a plethora of different characters, many of whom were at odds with each other. Socrates despised these stories so much, due to their nature, and the problems that I have alluded to here, that he said:
“And they shall not be repeated in our state, Adeimantus, nor shall any young audience be told that anyone who commits horrible crimes, or punishes his father unmercifully, is doing nothing out of the ordinary but merely what the first and greatest of the gods have done before.”14
Socrates is one of the most well-known and well-respected western philosophers in history,15 and he was quick to point this problem out. Now with the rise of Christianity, a solution to this problem became present in the Bible. Lying became “an abomination to The Lord”; on the other hand “those who act faithfully are His delight”.16 In another part the believer is commanded to become “a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”17 Truth became a central emphasis of the doctrine, and the followers were warned of severe punishment for going astray. Unlike the previous religions, where the many gods acting in abhorrent ways opened up the potential for this to be justified, Christianity warned that “a false witness will not go unpunished, and he who breathes out lies will perish.”18 Truthfulness became present as an explicit command by the highest value – God. As a consequence of this, His commands were necessarily to be valued as well.
However, with what Nietzsche referred to as the “death of God” (the loss of faith) in the western world, motivation for this moral underpinning was lost, and with that, the foundation to their ability to claim something is good absolutely. Their valuing of truth became “free floating” as it were, and it was assumed to be “self-evident” by the average person, and many academics. However, philosophy is known for leaving nothing unquestioned; it explores everything and leaves no stone unturned. Eventually, the false assumption that truth is a necessary higher value in a secular world—independently from the command of God— began to crumble. This becomes especially evident when people became more focused on worldly things, and began to be more concerned with philosophical ideas like utilitarianism.19 When values are being rooted in sensations like pleasure and pain, this becomes a paradigm through which truth can be seen, in certain circumstances, as an evil, necessarily. If truth ever happens to get in the way of the greatest amount of pleasure for the greatest amount of people, what motivation remains to value truth? If it happens to be the case that a grand lie is best suited for providing such an end, truth will very quickly be abandoned for something more satisfying. However, this is not something that would just occur overnight. Christianity has been around for so long that its moral system has become somewhat ingrained into society, and many of its moral axioms are taken as a given.
It is this historical movement, especially from the beginning of the enlightenment period, through to the widespread loss of faith, that can be said to have led to what is now described as the “post-truth” era. Expressing concern, the Guardian newspaper writes: “In our new normal, experts are dismissed and alternative facts flagrantly offered. This suspicion of specialists is part of a bigger problem.”20 We have entered a strange period in time where the commitment to truth, inherited from Christian roots, has revealed a seemingly unavoidable scepticism which spawns out of the issues surrounding the nature of having to have trust in what we refer to as “the experts”. Trust is a central feature of any society, as the average citizen does not have the time or ability to understand the (often very esoteric) nature of the fields that experts study. They must therefore have faith in them in order for any relationship between the two parties to function productively. That is, of course, so long as these experts are in fact trustworthy. This relationship always leaves open the possibility of trust being abused via manipulation and corruption, as the laymen do not have the knowledge or the ability to recognise when this trust has been violated to then be able to call it out. This is an ever-present threat in all societies. The issues surrounding corruption and dishonesty have become more apparent because of direct access to sources like the internet. Organisations such as Wikileaks (and others) have released a plethora of information exposing the corruption that is commonplace within governments and corporations alike. Such revelations have had a huge impact on the overall trust in the US government, for example, with the percentage of people who trust them dropping from nearly 80% in the 60’s to less than 20% in the present day.21 If one scandal after another is constantly being uncovered and publicised all over the internet, it is understandable that this would have major effects on the levels of trust.
It is understandable that with the conditions that I have outlined thus far, that this could lead to the rise of what I will call a societal exhaustion. That is, the collective mental fatigue and confusion brought about by there being too many varying opinions on too many subjects all of which are expressed by too many different “experts”. This makes many people feel incapable of finding the truth, and so in large numbers give up on being able to attain it, or fall into some form of relativism.
Many of the ideas that the majority of people in a society have taken for granted for centuries have now been put into question. In academia, all of that which was previously taken for granted has been dissected, and the discussion for the justification or dismissal of such ideas has become increasingly complex and esoteric. Furthermore, when these discussions take place in the public sphere it often becomes heated and controversial. As if the mental energy required to cover such topics was not demanding enough, throwing anxiety into the mix does not help matters improve. This is especially the case for those who have jobs to hold, families to spend time with, and rest to have, etc, all while having very little time to cover these “hot topics” extensively enough to grasp them. These subjects can be difficult for dedicated academics. Let alone the general public, who are expected to absorb all of this during a fiery discussion on evening television after a long day at work. The issue here is further amplified when those on either side of the debate are trying to get the intended audience to incline towards the position they are propagating, and not for a position of admitting one’s inability to comprehend the problems at hand in the little time one has been given to explore it. Therefore, if the public does incline to one position or the other, they are not doing so out of knowledge, but rather out of being persuaded via the most appealing rhetoric. Truth under these conditions becomes democratic in a very problematic way, because the populous is being led to hold opinions, not knowledge.
All of this is coupled with the fact that we have all been overwhelmed by the mass of information available on the internet. This relatively new resource is so large that it is beyond the capacity of the collaborative efforts of everyone on the planet to be able to process comprehensively. This inability to process the information would necessarily make establishing what the truth is all the more difficult. Furthermore, we may know more now than we have ever known before about the natural world, but every answer has brought with it many more questions. Paradoxically, we now know that we do not know much more than we have ever previously been able to imagine. In the pursuit of truth, instead of making life and the world more intelligible or clear, there are very good grounds for the argument that this pursuit has only made it all the more confusing and murkier; intensifying its mystery, complexity, and leaving the average person less sure about themselves and their place in the universe. Hence why it can be said that the higher value (truth), has undermined itself.
I will also explore how this can motivate the onset of nihilism. In the 1970’s, author Alvin Toffler made mention of some of the predictions people had about the trajectory of the future. He points to the thought of a few individuals who saw the rise of a more standardised culture, and makes special mention of the thought of Jacques Ellul:
According to Ellul, man was far freer in the past when “Choice was a real possibility for him.” By contrast, today, “The human being is no longer in any sense the agent of choice.” And, as for tomorrow: “In the future, man will apparently be confined to the role of a recording device.” Robbed of choice, he will be acted upon, not active. He will live, Ellul warns, in a totalitarian state run by a velvet-gloved Gestapo.22
Now although I can be sure that many people would still think Ellul was onto something here, I think Toffler had a very good counter argument. Contrary to Ellul, Toffler thought the issue for the future had less to do with the absence of choices, but rather the overabundance of choices to the extent that it causes paralysis. He says that “[t]hey may turn out to be victims of that peculiarly super-industrial dilemma: overchoice.”23 Furthermore, he goes on to explain this concept by adding that it gives rise to “the point at which the advantages of diversity and individualization are cancelled by the complexity of the buyer’s decision-making process.”24 He happily admits that diversity and individualization may very well have its advantages, people may feel a sense of uniqueness about themselves which helps to make the choices feel special for example; however, if the complexity of the choice becomes too much, the amount of stress this causes might completely nullify any positive feelings that may have had the chance to arise. Now here he is talking about purchasing items, but this can just as easily be applied to ideas, or subject areas for research. In order to learn about something, you must first choose which path of learning you wish to take. However, in order to do that one must first sift through the available options, which are countless. We see this issue express itself very often within the atheistic/agnostic apologetics circles when they reject all religions on the basis of the sheer number of them. It is this which will help to highlight the absurdity behind the naive belief that more freedom, and the more choices to exercise that freedom with, is necessarily good. To the contrary, it can in fact cause paralysis and the inability to make a choice altogether, out of fear of picking the wrong one. Furthermore, it can also cause dissatisfaction and the inability to enjoy what was picked, simply because of the ever-present possibility of having not made the best choice.
I want to make something clear. It is very well the case that a limited choice can be better than no choice at all in a number of circumstances. I do not deny this. However, it certainly does not follow from this that endless choices are necessarily better than a limited amount of choice. The psychologist Barry Schwartz goes on to confirm Toffler’s predictions in his book The Paradox of Choice.25 In his TedTalks presentation, inspired by his book, he outlines the ‘official dogma’ as follows, and I paraphrase: “The aim is to maximise welfare, which means to maximise freedom and choice. More freedom means there will be more choices, and more choices means there will be greater welfare.”26 He claims this is false, listing a number of reasons why too much choice makes people miserable. Firstly, they can suffer from regret and/or anticipated regret; secondly due to the costs of opportunity on things, like time and resources; thirdly due to an inflation of expectations that is caused by the increase of choice; and last of all, self-blame. If it is you that has made the wrong choice, who else is there to blame but yourself?
Now as I’ve already briefly mentioned, if we take into consideration the huge number of religions there are, political decisions that need to be made, ethical theories one can subscribe to, or all the other things that the modern person is faced with choosing from, it is not difficult to see why picking the choice of not choosing might seem so attractive (even if somewhat paradoxical). Furthermore, linking this back to Nietzsche, we now have the foundation from which this pathological state of nihilism might arise from. This choice paralysis described by Toffler and Schwartz maps on very well to the characteristics of the psychological exhaustion the average person might experience in the face of this information overload. This in turn gives rise to the feeling of “The Absurd” that many of the existential philosophers were famous for discussing. For Albert Camus, this was the utter failure of the world to meet our expectations, or the result of the ideals that we have in our minds not successfully mapping onto reality. For Thomas Nagel it was better described as the conflict between the seriousness with which we took our lives, and the ever-present possibility of considering all of which we take seriously as “arbitrary or open for doubt.”27
So far I have I have discussed several important issues. First of all, I discussed what is meant by the term “nihilism”, and how higher values relate to this. I have also delved into concepts such as higher values, post-truth, and societal exhaustion. I now wish to transition into a discussion on how the nihilistic state of being should be understood, namely as a sickness; a sickness of meaninglessness and insignificance. Having understood some of the causes and developments of this sickness, and by explaining this diagnosis a little more in this section, I will explore further in the following sections the effects of this sickness. First by looking at the effects of this sickness on ideas and thinking, and then on people and society.
Nietzsche referred to nihilism as “an intermediary pathological state.”28 This portrays the condition more as a temporary mental disorder that one must overcome, rather than as a philosophical choice made after careful deliberation. It is not characterised by a fully informed rational exploration, but by an exhaustion and the “immense generalisation, the inference that life has no meaning whatsoever.”29 It is not necessarily the result of logical deduction.
Most people that experience life as meaningless have not gone through the process of writing it down analytically to work out its validity and soundness. It arises as an experience, as something felt. Many of these people have likely not been trained in the field of logic and reasoning, and so it would be unreasonable to have expected them to be so rigid with this type of approach in the first place. This is not to disparage the average person who goes through this experience, nor the way in which they approach it. I think it would be unfair (and also rather elitist) to expect everyone in the world to act like academic philosophers in every regard, and to do so intuitively and without the training. Life is hard and it can beat down the best of us at times, and no amount of rigorous training in university can always equip you to overcome these issues. Not only that, if the person in question here is not well inclined to such tasks, making them go through such a process might only worsen their condition rather than to alleviate it. If someone is struggling with a sense of meaninglessness and helplessness, throwing too much philosophical jargon around is not necessarily going to be the best course of action. We must endeavour to navigate this carefully, and be sure to carve out a clear path to higher ground where the some careful deliberation can take place.
The onset of nihilism is induced as Nietzsche describes: it is a pathological state caused by mental exhaustion, but it is something that can be overcome; not something we should aim to exasperate. Nietzsche himself saw nihilism as something to overcome, necessarily. As they say, nature abhors a vacuum. But all of this begs a question: What causes the feelings of the meaninglessness of life to arise in the first place?
The author Philip Phenix, in his book “Realms of Meaning”, points out a number of factors which are a threat to the experience of meaning and significance. He says the “perennial threat to meaning is intensified under the conditions of modern industrial civilisation”,30 and he lists four particular factors which lead to this intensification. That is:
According to Phenix, all of these factors contribute to an overall increased sense of meaninglessness, and the experience of a lack of significance. Unfortunately, all of this can also further contribute to rates of suicide, depression and substance abuse in a society,32 which likely only further adds to the sense of nihilism that prevails over all those who are affected by the increase of such things occurring around them. This is a nasty feedback loop to say the least. You might also notice that the four factors listed here are much more relevant today than they were in the 1960’s when Phenix published his book. Although they were still very relevant then, the conditions he has outlined have only intensified as time has progressed.
Let us now take a further look at the effects of Nihilism on ideas and thinking today. The specific intensification of the sickness of nihilism, taking hold, that this essay explores is as described in number 3 (above) by Phenix, i.e. the overabundance of both things and information, which overwhelms the modern citizen, leaving only the experience that all things are meaningless and insignificant.
It was naively thought that this pursuit for as much truth as possible would necessarily be a benefit for society. However, it seems mainly to have led to a thirst for advances in technology which make life more convenient, and also advances and increases in our leisure opportunities, without ever asking if this should necessarily be considered a benefit nor consider its potentially negative consequences. One such type of consequence is the techno-hypnosis offered through technological escapism as outlined in the work of the author Nolen Gertz in his book Nihilism & Technology.33 This is linked to what Nietzsche referred to as “self-hypnosis”, wherein the human being turns to technology in order to zone out. That is, to avoid life and to avoid being human. Many people appear to have developed a desire to avoid the burden of consciousness, to avoid thinking too deeply about the big questions in life and on existence. Instead, we turn to things like Netflix, YouTube, or social media to facilitate this self-inflicted hypnosis. The task of trying to figure out exactly what is going on is daunting and has no end in sight, so engaging in petty tasks which distract us from such burdens is a very effective way of avoiding giving focus to the burdens of consciousness altogether. One need only look at what pop culture is pouring out to meet the demands of the public desire to zone out: reality TV shows, prank YouTube channels, the gaming industry, etc. All of this [and more] offers a great deal of mind-numbing entertainment for the needs of the modern populous. We mined the world for information, and have amassed more than we ever thought possible, yet the average person is still more enamoured by illusion and fantasy. They appear to be more ready and eager to escape reality, not immerse themselves in it. We set out in search of truth and became overwhelmed and confused by it, so now the average person seeks comfort elsewhere by hiding from it.
The issue here is that this technological escapism hardly offers the individuals who engage in it the opportunity to feel any significance, or any genuine sense of meaning in their lives. As mentioned at the beginning of this essay, it is heart breaking that one of the leading causes of death today in young people is suicide. On average someone ends their life once every 40 seconds; and for every person that has successfully killed themselves, there are even more who have attempted suicide.34 Alongside this, rates of depression and anxiety are on the increase, and it is said that “[p]arallel lines of evidence indicate that modernization is generally associated with higher rates of depression.”35 So we have more truths than ever before, and we have now obtained truths about how the industrialised collection of these truths has led to conditions which increase the general standards of living, yet also paradoxically lead to increases in suicide and deteriorating mental health, and thus, a reliance on effective means of escaping having to face these problems by immersing ourselves in technological escapism. This gives rise to further questions: If we are so busy trying to escape the burden of consciousness via technology, does this have any effect on our sense of duty to the society we find ourselves in? Does this escapism from reality not also mean to escape from our community? Is society, and the people that make it up,not necessarily a part of the reality we are avoiding?
It follows that if we see the world as something that we need to escape, we are necessarily escaping the people that populate that world as the two are intimately connected. The German philosopher Martin Heidegger, in his work Being & Time, describes the human being36 as a being that is a “Being-in-the-world”. That is, we do not simply exist in the world like a thing or an object exists in it. The way you or I exist in the world is not equivalent to the way chocolates exist in a box, or water in a glass. To describe the human being in such a way completely misses something fundamental that makes the human distinct. Describing this issue, William Large says:
To think of our world in this way would be to confuse our way of Being with the Being of things, which is precisely what we should not do. I do not exist in the same way as the glass does. There is no doubt that I can be treated that way. In a certain way of looking at things, I too can appear as a thing. Seen in a photograph, I might seem to a casual observer to be merely in a room in the same way that water is in a glass. Even here, it is possible to look at the picture in a different way. The expression of my face might tell you how I felt at the time. Perhaps I look miserable or uncomfortable. Perhaps my world was not quite right with me. The expression ‘my world’, and the fact you understand it in a certain way, already tells you there is quite a difference between me and the water in the glass. In what sense can we say the water has its own world? Yet it is very easy for us to think about ourselves and others in this way. What else am I asking about when I meet you in the street and say “How are you?” Am I not asking about your world?37
We recognise this of ourselves, fundamentally, and of others. The very nature of our being demands we recognise this fact. We have our worlds, our perspectives, our unique subjectivities. A further thing that Heidegger recognises in his work is that attached to this notion of “Being-in-the-World” is also the idea that we are a “Being-with-Others”. That is, we have an inescapable relation to the way we are in the world with others, and “it is a part of what it means to be me”.38 I cannot escape the Other. Even when alone, we are only alone in so far as we recognise the Other is absent.
Now if the human being is trying to escape the burden of consciousness by escaping the world into artificial forms of entertainment, then they are necessarily escaping their relation to other human beings which are intimately tied to our experience of the world. One may argue in retort to this that there are still others present in this escape, be that the actors in films, or characters in games. However, the important difference here is any relation with such others is artificial and permanently one way. They may impact us and we may see them, hear them; but it does not happen the other way around.
In this escape from the world, and inevitably the escape from others, one is potentially removing the sense of duty towards the community as well. With the rise of convenience technology there is a rise in the physical isolation of others. Cars isolate us from each other on our journeys, and leave us stuck in our own little bubbles. Public transport is filled with people glued to their mobile devices with earphones in, occupying our sight and hearing and letting the Other fade away into the peripheral. There is a decrease in communal religious gatherings in the West,39 which are rapidly being replaced with weekend binges fuelled by alcohol and drugs. In the UK alone, there are over half a million dependent drinkers,40 and in a survey reported by the Independent, 68% of those questioned described their neighbours as “strangers” and 73% said they did not know their neighbour’s names.41 People don’t know the names of the people who live next door, but they know the names of the celebrities that populate their shows, and probably know more about their lives than people who live close enough to hear you scream for help were you ever in trouble. This is a huge problem, but a very telling one with regards to our relationship to technology, and our sense of duty to those around us.
Earlier on in this essay I made a particular focus on truth as a higher value to show that societies must orient themselves according to the things that they value the most. That may be truth, but it could also be the good of the community, or pleasure, freedom, reason, security, etc.42 Once the values have been established, the society must then move towards the goals that help them achieve the manifestation of those values. These concepts and ideas become the foundation for everything that begins to develop out of these communities. However, they are ultimately underpinned by the belief that such values are a moral duty upon the individuals that make up the community itself, and that which binds them together as a united people. In order for truth to be a higher value, it must be seen as good! That is, it must be something desired, and considered to be beneficial in one way or another. However, if at any point truth is shown to be detrimental, what motivation remains to hold truth with such high regard? What moral duty binds the people to truth when it ceases to benefit them?
From the perspective of a society that has lost faith in their foundational traditions, and who have removed God from their social sphere, the motivating factors that necessarily commit people to truth— such as fear of eternal punishment— are no longer present. The same can be said with regards to the fear of punishment for the sin of committing suicide. In a secular world, the loss of God in the hearts of people is accompanied by a rise in doubts and scepticism. This also opens the door to thoughts of what one is potentially missing out on. If there is no afterlife, no ultimate accountability, why should someone necessarily care about justice, truth or the community at large? Especially if these things require great sacrifice, get in the way of experiencing of intense pleasure, and doing what one really wants to do. Take the words of the popular YouTube channel Kurzgesagt for example, where in a video on the subject of “Optimistic Nihilism” they say:
“You only get one shot at life, which is scary, but it also sets you free. If the universe ends in heat death, every humiliation you suffer in your life will be forgotten. Every mistake you made will not matter in the end. Every bad thing you did will be voided. If our life is all we get to experience, then it’s the only thing that matters. If the universe has no principles, the only principles relevant are the ones we decide on.”43 [Emphasis mine]
The above quote was taken from a video that has so far received nearly 11 million views and over 644 thousand likes, along with tens of thousands of comments of praise; it can hardly be said to be an insignificant movement that is not worthy of attention. Nihilism has clearly taken a hold of popular consciousness, and videos such as the one I have referenced are attempts to combat this reality. However, I would like to draw attention to the fact that the quote itself expresses some troubling remarks. These remarks have inferences that help us to better understand the core of this philosophy. If every mistake you make will not matter, then why worry about making mistakes? If every bad thing you did will be voided, then why not do bad things? If our life is the only thing that matters, then why should one necessarily care about other people? Recently there was a video going viral on social media of a man who covered a kitten in fuel and set it on fire, only to watch (and record) it run around in the dark hopelessly until it burned to death. If the perpetrator of this heinous crime was to watch Kurzgesagt’s video, would it help convince him that he should feel guilt or remorse for what he did? Or rather, would it only increase his sense of security that in the end every bad thing he did “will be voided” and that he has nothing to worry about? After all, this optimistic nihilism has “set him free”. I do not think Kurzgesagt had such people in mind when making this video, but nonetheless, such viewers are certainly going to find them relieving, if not comforting.
Furthermore, commitment to truth for such individuals would not necessarily be beneficial at all. If truth is an obstacle for benefit or gain, then the attachment to truth would quickly be shown to be a pragmatic one. That is, it would be accepted on the basis that it works. It is important to note and emphasise here that I am in no way claiming that all people who become secular, and who embrace nihilism, would necessarily become psychopaths like the gentleman I have mentioned above. This is clearly an absurd conclusion. The point of mentioning this is simply to outline that the creators of this video have taken a very naive and idealistic approach to nihilism and towards their perception of their audience. They have clearly not considered the potential implications of this thought process and failed to justify why one should necessarily be empathetic towards others at all. What they have espoused is fertile grounds for a selfish philosophy, or other systems of thought centred around the will to power.
The emphasis on valuing freedom and individuality in the Western world has led to portions of the society moving in very different directions on a number of different subjects. As an example, a study by pew research has shown that from 1994 to 2014, the US has become more divided as time has moved forward.44 There is significantly less political overlap, or common agreement between different parties, now, than there was over 20 years ago. This appears to be expressing itself in a variety of different ways. The US at the moment is suffering from a myriad of different problems, and it is not the only place. A people can only move forward together, towards something collectively, if they can agree on what to aim at and how to achieve it. Historically, that collective aim would be encapsulated by the tradition. Now, however, with an emphasis on the rejection of tradition and a focus on more self-centred philosophies, how can there be any collective aim other than to collectively aim at not necessarily collectively aiming? A strange aim indeed. It is akin to having a car that has a steering wheel for each seat, each connected to its own wheel. This would not be that big of an issue if everyone was aiming at the same destination, synchronised their movements and agreed on which route to take to get there. However, if everyone is aiming at different things, has different ideas of how to attain them, and agreed before setting off on their journey that they will aim independently, then this car is going to have all of its wheels pointing in different directions. The result will be that no one is going to get to where they want to go, or they are going to end up crashing into a wall. I would argue this same principle applies to whole communities, to states, and to nations. If they cannot be united upon fundamental issues, where can they be expected to take themselves except towards disunity and upheaval? The only real question at this point is: “when?”
Now I have no knowledge of the future, so any timescale given would be guess work. The consequences of what I have spoke of in this essay may come to fruit in my lifetime, or it could come to its conclusion at some point beyond my death. Alternatively, the societies in question could, at some point, come to realise the error in their ways. We can take the example of the people of the prophet Yūnus (Jonah, AS) who were on the brink of destruction but they were able to change their ways just in time. This may very well occur to the modern societies that suffer from what I have outlined, and its consequences would be diverted; the people could begin to aim together and mend the fractures. However, this change may not occur at all. In which case, only God can really say when such fracturing will take its toll, and how that will play out exactly.
In Nietzsche’s book The Gay Science, in one of the most famous aphorisms he has written titled, “The Madman”, he touches on something quite descriptive of what I have outlined here. He describes a man who is known to the townspeople as crazy. He runs into the market square and interrupts the general populous going about their day and minding their own business. He demands to know where God is, and in response they ridicule him. Nietzsche is here trying to show how the modern person has lost their faith in God, and see it akin to children’s tales, something to laugh at and mock. However, the madman does not take kindly to their mocking him, smashes his lantern on the floor and rebukes them. He makes it very clear that something terrible has occurred and that they do not yet realise the gravity of the situation. At which point he says his infamous line:
“‘Where is God?’ He cried; ‘I’ll tell you! We have killed him – you and I! We are all his murderers. But how did we do this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Where is it moving to now? Where are we moving to? Away from all suns? Are we not continually falling? And backwards, sidewards, forwards, in all directions? Is there still an up and a down? Aren’t we straying as though through an infinite nothing? Isn’t empty space breathing at us? Hasn’t it got colder? Isn’t night and more night coming again and again? “
The killing of God in this paragraph is not meant in a literal sense, but rather it is symbolic of the loss of faith in the western world. He then talks about the idea of becoming unchained from the sun and drifting out into an infinite void with no sense of direction. The sun is that which everything centres on. So long as we were “chained” to it, we had something that united us, and which gave us direction and light to see. It was a focal reference point. However, upon this “unchaining” it has projected us out into the abyss. That is to say, in a Godless world there is nothing left to keep us centred, give us direction, or light our way. This being ‘thrown out into the darkness’ does not necessitate that we float off together either. Each member of the modern society can be left to float in different directions away from one another. It is this that I say is expressive of the modern, secular and liberal society. An emphasis on freedom and individual unique expression for their own sake, in conjunction with overabundance of choice, information, and the loss of faith in God, is enough to not only unchain us from the sun, but from each other. Ergo, we have the motivating forces in play for the fracturing of society. Everyone is aiming at different ends. What the modern western society considers its highest values necessarily lead to its people drifting apart from one another, and becoming alienated.
Now let us consider morality and meaning. What role do they play in the modern society which has made a lot of effort to remove God from the social sphere and how does this effect the mental state and morality of its citizens? Questions on such things as abortion, suicide, sexual identity, race relations, cultural expression, acceptable social behaviours, the role of government or authority and so on, have a variety of opinions associated with them within the secular western world. If a people cannot be united upon simple things, one cannot expect them to be united on larger issues; especially without a guiding principle. If a tradition which binds the people in a society together has been abandoned and replaced with a focus on vague ideas of freedom and personal expression, coupled with such notions as moral relativism or subjectivism, it is no wonder that we see increases in polarisation. If the community at large has valued things which lead that community in countless different directions, can you really expect anything other than increasing political polarisation? As time passes and the differences towards these ideas develop, evolve and expand while increasing in complexity, it appears inevitable that the modern secular societies have gotten themselves into the position they have. It appears perfectly reasonable for the average person to look at this quagmire and feel completely overwhelmed and out of their depth. Is it any wonder that such an environment might be the perfect breeding grounds for a societal nihilism? That is, the conditions of which the feeling of meaninglessness can become more wide spread.
This now takes us on to a very interesting observation by Nietzsche on the issues with morality following from the death of God, where the people affected by it have yet to recognise the gravity of the situation. On this he says the following:
“They are rid of the Christian God and now believe all the more firmly that they must cling to Christian morality. […] In England one must rehabilitate oneself after every little emancipation from theology by showing in a veritably awe-inspiring manner what a moral fanatic one is. That is the penance they pay there.
We others hold otherwise. When one gives up on the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality from under one’s feet. This morality is by no means self-evident: this point has to be exhibited again and again, despite these English flatheads. Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole: nothing necessary remains in one’s hands. Christianity presupposes that man does not know, cannot know, what is good for him, what evil: he believes in God, who alone knows it. Christianity is a command; its origin is transcendent; it is beyond all criticism, all right to criticism; it has truth if God is the truth – it stands and falls with faith in God.
When the English actually believe that they know “intuitively” what is good and evil, when they therefore suppose that they no longer require Christianity as a guarantee of morality, we merely witness the effects of the dominion of the Christian value-judgement and an expression of the strength and depth of this dominion: such that the origin of English morality has been forgotten, such that the very conditional character of its right to existence is no longer felt. For the English, morality is not yet a problem.”46
Commitment to higher values are themselves necessarily moral commitments. The commitment is made because a people believe it is the right thing to do; a duty because it is good, followed by those in society who are good. However, as Nietzsche shows very astutely here, when the morality which has its foundations in the Abrahamic tradition is separated from a belief in God, this also separates it from the necessary moral commitments associated with it. These moral conclusions are by no means necessarily “intuitive”.
The modern secular world has yet to ask why it sees truth as a higher value, or why the society should see itself as having a duty to uphold truth as a necessary value at all. Seeing truth in such high regard is a consequence of the Christian roots of the West. But if Christianity has lost its grip, then the absolute commitment to truth must be justified. The same goes for morality, for reason itself, and to any of the values the society holds. But this raises countless other questions, to which there is an abundance of opinions, and even more information. To who’s authority do we abide by? How do we justify and establish this authority that once belonged only to God? As Nietzsche says, “[d]o we ourselves not have to become gods merely to appear worthy of it?” What do we do when it becomes apparent that such a thing is absurd to wish for? Furthermore, in a world no longer chained to a uniting principle, to what degree do we apply freedom practically in a society and to what degree do we give it up for the sake of security and comfort? All of this takes a lot of time, effort, resources and energy to explore; and many laymen just simply do not have any of this to spare in order to adequately cover these subjects enough to make a justified conclusion on the matters as a whole. What is left for the finite human individual other than to make leaps of faith with many, if not most subject matters, in this regard?
It is clear that leaps of faith are absolutely necessary, be that for the theist or the atheist. Time is constantly steaming ahead and there is nothing we can do to stop that. The necessity to make choices will constantly arise and you need to act when this occurs. Unfortunately, one is not always blessed with time to dwell on it philosophically with a team of trained experts. It may be somewhat afforded to the university student in a seminar, but this is not how life plays out for most people. Take the classical thought experiment that involves deciding whether or not to pull the lever to prevent the train from killing several people, but instead sacrificing only one. Discussions on this one example alone can fill volumes of books, which would take a lot of time to read and contemplate. However, if this very example were to occur, you would have to make a decision now! No thinking about it endlessly is permitted under such circumstances; the train is barrelling down the tracks and if you do not act now, it will be too late. Do you pull the lever? Do you even have time to ask that question, or do you act intuitively on an impulse? This is life. Sometimes you may fail to make a choice, but the outcomes in some circumstances are identical to one of the choices you could have made. Failing to decide actively whether or not to pull the lever has the same outcome as choosing not to pull it and letting the five tied to the track perish. Obviously, life is not always as extreme as this particular thought experiment, but the underlying theme of having to act now and without the liberty of much contemplation is a common occurrence in daily life.
Last of all, this is not to say everything is a leap of faith, nor is it an attempt to put all knowledge into question. It is simply an attempt to be honest with regards to the limits of the human being. We are not all knowing. We are however, riddled with blind spots and ignorance. Acknowledging this does not necessitate epistemological nihilism as it is itself a knowledge claim. If you admit this, you simultaneously admit you also know something with certainty, and therefore admit knowledge is possible. The point of this is just to acknowledge the necessary starting point for all human beings, in reflecting on how our finite nature effects our relationship with the world, our community and our place within them. In a faithless society which sees itself as free from God, and with a focus on vague conceptions of freedom, individualism, materialism, consumerism, and hedonism, there is nothing to bind us necessarily to each other. In the analogy Nietzsche gave, we not only drift away from the sun, but we drift away from almost everything and everyone.
Furthermore, separately from questions of meta-ethics and talks of what morality is ontologically speaking, the decision must first be made regarding the question of who we put in charge of seeking solutions to these moral problems in the first place. However, modern society finds itself in a strange predicament. We have very large populations living in condensed areas. The city of London has nearly 9 million people residing in it.47 These numbers are so large you can’t even fathom what this would look like as a crowd. To offer some perspective, Wembley Stadium, the largest stadium in London, can hold 90,000 people! You would need 100 of these stadiums to hold the population of the entire city. This is huge! How does this group of people decide who should run the city in a way that doesn’t require leaps of faith, or trust in large groups of people one does not know? It’s impossible. Faith and trust in strangers who have faith and trust in strangers is inevitable. A city of 9 million people cannot know each other intimately enough to say they know the people who run their city “well enough” so that it doesn’t constitute faith, if many of them don’t even know who their next door neighbours are (a growing problem in modern society).
The reality is that our condition is such that we have no choice but to initiate systems of faith that we believe best mediate these epistemological issues. This is not to say we should just throw them all out of the window and cease to use them because we found that “dirty word” to be one which is inescapable. Faith is an inescapable part of life. I accept and understand that. However, I see it is a growing issue that many fail to see the necessity of faith in everyday life on many occasions and naively neglect this fact. Ironically, some people have faith in the idea that they don’t have faith; or that faith is somehow synonymous with being naive and lacking critical thinking skills. This is far from the truth.
So far in this essay I have done a number of things. First of all, I explained what nihilism is exactly. I gave a number of definitions, and focused in on Nietzsche’s explanation of nihilism being motivated by higher values undermining themselves. I then explained why the subject of nihilism is an important one, and why it requires our attention. I made a connection between it and suicide, and did so with the intention of showing that if you want to solve the problem of suicide, you need to confront the issues surrounding life’s meaning, or the experience of its meaninglessness.
In order to illustrate this, I led you through the example of Truth as a higher value, and how a naive approach to it led to its own undermining and the rise of the “post-truth” era. I then made the connection between the rise of this era with the rise of the societal exhaustion caused by a lack of trust in the “experts” and people in authority as the commitment to truth slowly begins to reveal more and more corruption.
I then lead to the observation that in most cases being affected by nihilism is more akin to a sickness than a rational deduction. Although it does have those who defend it in terms of reasoned analysis, most who are stricken with nihilism do not take a logical route, but are rather led there via their circumstances. I finish by pointing out four major factors that facilitate the threat to meaning, and hone in on one in particular, the issue of overabundance. Although the focus of overabundance is usually spoken about in terms of a material approach, I took this idea and focused on the issues surrounding the overabundance of information. With reference to the work of the authors such as Toffler and Schwartz, I have shown how the concept of “overchoice” equally applies here and that it has a profound effect on the current zeitgeist.
After diagnosing this sickness as meaninglessness and insignificance, I look at the effects of this sickness, i.e., its symptoms. I do this first looking at the effects of nihilism on thinking and idea, and then on people and society. I show how this is motivated by what Nolen Gertz calls techno-hypnosis, which is the active attempt to escape the burden of consciousness and the dread caused by being overwhelmed by everything one is faced with. Despite our access to more things and information, suicide and depression are on the increase; specifically, as a direct result of the modern predicament. From here I move on to the issue of a society becoming fractured because of its commitment to ideas centred on individualism and freedom. The more a society obsesses over such ideas, the more it necessarily removes that which brings a people together, only further exasperating the conditions that facilitate nihilism. Nihilism is taking its hold, and this has led to it leaking into popular culture. I showed with reference to some viral videos how this is certainly the case, and how such thinking has led to such confusion that very peculiar views on morality have risen out of it.
I will now begin to develop our understanding towards a cure for this sickness. I will explore the cyclical condition of this sickness by which despite those effected by nihilism rejecting religion and traditional values, they end up looking to them for ideas and practices to make up for the void they have been left with. I call this the Nihilist yearning. I will conclude this essay by offering some understanding of Islam as an antidote to nihilism. I will make a brief overview of some of the active ingredients of the cure for this sickness.
I certainly think that a deeper exploration of this subject area is critical and that it will help us to understand how nihilism has managed to take as much of a hold on society as it has done, and, God willing, help us to understand how to overcome it. I hope to have contributed to this at least in some way, to the best of my ability, by the end of the second essay.
In an article written by Alain de Botton on the subject of why he believes that Science could “at last, properly replace Religion”, he writes how “we are – in a glorious and redemptive way – what we always feared: nothing.”48 Despite this being a clear oxymoron, individuals like this perpetuate the significance of the insignificance of the human being, and therefore perpetuate Nihilism even further. The author runs a popular YouTube channel called The School of Life which has nearly 6 million subscribers! He is also the author of a book called “Religion for Atheists: A non-believer’s guide to the uses of religion”, which admittedly takes a positive look at religion, but is still underpinned by atheism and the nihilistic tendency of reducing the human being to nothing, as insignificant, and then tries to lead the reader to a sense of self-determined purpose and significance. Which is effectively telling someone there is no water, and then leading them to a water hole with no water in it in order for them to get a drink.
Despite their commitment to nihilism and their inclination to atheism they are still seeing the benefit of religion. They pick and choose what suits them from it to make up for what they have come to lack in their rejection of it. We see similar trends in the New Atheism movement with characters like Sam Harris increasingly making attempts to take what he sees as beneficial from religion as can be found throughout his book entitled “Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion”; going as far as incorporating religious practices with a new atheist twist. Interestingly, in an article written by the guardian, Harris is quoted saying: “We need to live our lives with more than just understanding facts,” he says. “Not being wrong is not the ultimate state of being for people in this life.”49 And related to this same idea, in an interview with the online publication NewScientist, Alain de Botton was asked the following:
“Your opening gambit in your new book, Religion for Atheists, is to say, of course religions are not true, and you leave it at that. Does the question not interest you?”
To which de Botton answered:
No, because I think most of us don’t make up our minds in a rational way. You don’t say “I’m an atheist because I’ve looked at all the evidence and this is what I think.” Similarly you don’t say “I’m religious because I’ve surveyed all the evidence.”50
How interesting. We have here what can be described as an appeal to a leap of faith. That is, to commit to something without necessarily having all the available evidence. It seems to be conceded here that it’s a necessary move for those who choose to incline to the ideas stated, especially when they have goals that undermine themselves and no definite thing to aim at. The only other options are heedless hedonism to avoid confrontation with these issues, or suicide, which as we see from the statistics I have already shared in this essay is becoming increasingly more troubling.
As Nietzsche encapsulates perfectly in his aphorism of the madman that I quoted above in the section titled “A Fractured Society” (footnote 45), where he boldly claims that we are the murderers responsible for the “death of God”, this has resulted in our becoming a rootless people. He describes this act as analogous to, and I paraphrase, ‘drinking up the sea’ or ‘wiping away the horizon with a sponge’. That is, he is trying to get across the point that we have somehow achieved the impossible. He further expands on this point by saying that we have somehow ‘unchained the earth from its sun’, and now have to deal with floating through an abyss without a perspective; with no points by which to orient ourselves with.51
I find this to be a very poetic way of describing the loss of a foundation for a people when they have disconnected themselves to that which grounded them; like a tree that destroys its own roots with the hope of becoming a greater tree, only to collapse under its own weight and rot. Prior to “the death of God”, what offered the people meaning and direction was their tradition; their belief in a higher purpose and power. But upon losing that, what was left to ground them? Nothing. As is explained towards the end of the ‘madman’ quote, is there still an up or a down? How do you determine value anymore? With the loss of any religion or tradition, you necessarily lose the values which were underpinned by it. Some may bury their heads in the sand and try to ground it in other things while desperately attempting to keep a hold of those values, but up to now all we seem to have been able to do is create an increasingly polarised society. This polarisation appears to be fuelled by an emphasis on individuality and freedom of personal expression over communal values. Although paradoxically, this emphasis has itself become a communal value; it has become another higher value that undermines itself.
Furthermore, Nietzsche also alludes to something incredibly interesting. In analysing the seriousness of the situation with regards to the loss of faith in God, he says: “Do we not ourselves have to become gods to appear worthy of it?” This doesn’t need to be taken in the literal sense, in that we need to become like the mythological characters found in the Greek or Roman pantheons for example, but it can be again looked at in terms of higher values. Where God was once that which occupied the highest place in our hierarchy of values, upon the loss of faith in a people he is replaced with the people themselves. Either the community is made the highest value as you see expressed in extreme forms of nationalism, or the individual makes themselves a god insofar as they see themselves as their own highest value. In making themselves the highest value, so are the related values that stem from this such as their desires, their wants and their needs. Echoing once again the words I previously quoted from the YouTube channel Kurzgesagt, “If our life is all we get to experience, then it’s the only thing that matters. If the universe has no principles, the only principles relevant are the ones we decide on.” Instead of the laws being dictated upon us by a higher and wiser being, namely God, we have been left with nothing but ourselves; which as de Botton has already alluded to above, is to be left with nothing. Furthermore, with human beings seemingly eager to differ with one another on every issue, coupled with the above mentioned issues of the specific values held by the West, the fracturing of society seems inevitable.
If religion, defined vaguely, is the accepted rulings given by an ultimate authority, and in a nihilistic framework there is no ultimate authority above one’s own,52 then the nihilist hasn’t escaped religion at all. They become the authors of their own religion. They are left to decide for themselves whether they wish to obey the authority of others or not, whether they are willing to experience the difficulties that follow the rejection of the authority of others, and what rituals they wish to perform. One need to look no further than the popular atheists to see the attempts to build a replacement community. They have their replacements for the high priests who have fans and are looked up to as ambiguous guides. Richard Dawkins is one such figure. His best selling book The God Delusion has sold millions of copies and receives countless praises by fans which seem to be completely unaware of the devastating critiques offered of his work by the likes of the philosopher of science Michael Ruse who said: “unlike the new atheists, I take scholarship seriously. I have written that The God Delusion made me ashamed to be an atheist and I mean it.”53 As I stated at the beginning of this essay, the human being by its very nature is a purpose driven being.
The psychologist and philosopher Viktor Frankl says that “[m]an’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a “secondary rationalisation” of instinctual drives.”54 As I have stated, the nihilism I have been focused on and concerned with throughout this essay is not only the philosophical notion of nihilism that has been reasoned, but also, the psychological condition, the pathological state, and the mental exhaustion that expresses itself as a feeling of meaninglessness. If Frankl is correct in his evaluation of mankind it follows that just as the sick person seeks a cure for their disease and yearns for it with all their being, then so too does the one stricken by nihilism seek and yearn for meaning as their cure. With the decline of religious belief (specifically Christianity55) around the world and with an increase in atheism/agnosticism, it makes sense that you would see the manifestation of a type of religious behaviour manifest in these communities in their attempts to flee their nihilism and fill the voids that have been left in their rejection of their previous traditions.
Although the main focus of this essay has been to explain the issue and development of modern nihilism, I would like to conclude this with an invitation to look into Islam. The world can be a very overwhelming and confusing place. There is a lot going on and it can often be difficult to determine which direction you should begin your search. This will be by no means a comprehensive argument proving Islam to be true, but I do hope that it will at least be two things. First of all, a stepping stone towards motivating you to taking Islam seriously as a potential option for further enquiry; and second of all, a brief explanation as to why Islam can be an antidote to nihilism and help keep it at bay.
Let me begin by asking: why should one believe in the divine at all? Is it not more natural to take an atheistic position? The short answer is no, not at all. Belief in the supernatural comes very naturally to the human being. An article written by Paul Bloom (a “self-declared atheist”56) titled Religion is Natural, makes the case that “recent findings suggest that two foundational aspects of religious belief —belief in mind-body dualism [the existence of a soul], and belief in divine agents— come naturally to young children”,57 and this is the case even if the parents that raise them do not share this belief.58 God says in the Qur’an:
And ˹remember˺ when your Lord brought forth from the loins of the children of Adam their descendants and had them testify regarding themselves. ˹Allah asked,˺ “Am I not your Lord?” They replied, “Yes, You are! We testify.” ˹He cautioned,˺ “Now you have no right to say on the Day of Judgment, ‘We were not aware of this.’59
All of this adds credence to the Islamic idea of the fitrah, which is the notion that belief in God and the supernatural is innately ingrained into our very being.60 Richard Dawkins even concedes that historically there has never been an atheist civilisation. When asked on Joe Rogan’s podcast, “has there ever been a civilisation that existed without a belief in a higher power?”, his response was “I don’t think there has, no.”61 The divine has been a constant feature throughout human history. Furthermore, Jamie Turner has put forward a convincing case defending the proposition that “theistic belief can be properly basic”, that is, that belief in God can be rational apart from argumentation. In fact, he has also argued that this can even be applied to full-fledged Islamic belief as well.62
As God says in the Qur’an:
“So be steadfast in faith in all uprightness ˹O Prophet˺—the natural Way of Allah which He has instilled in ˹all˺ people. Let there be no change in this creation of Allah. That is the Straight Way, but most people do not know.”63
God has placed in each and every human being, the ability to recognise His existence. God is not an elitist, and has not made it necessary for every human being to have to jump through endless and complex philosophical hoops in order to come to the realisation of His existence. Recognition of this fact should be just as accessible to the farmer as it is to the academic. God has sent the prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him), “as a mercy for the whole world”, not just a few clever people with the time and ability to tackle a plethora of abstract ideas. To suggest otherwise is unreasonable.
Another common tactic is the demand for direct empirical evidence of God’s existence. I would like to give you a very simple example which should be sufficient to show the absurdity of such a request. Consider this: one day I make a computer game with self-aware artificial intelligence contained within it. They have an ingrained belief programmed into them which makes belief in a higher power beyond their world completely natural. However, one day, one of them begins to doubt and demands evidence for the creator. He insists that he limits what will be accepted as evidence to material things contained within the computer game. Is this not absurd? He is essentially demanding you show him the game developer inside the game. This is like demanding to see evidence of the painter of a painting, but limiting the evidence to the painting itself. Such unreasonable demands can never be fulfilled, and the inability to meet this demand is not sufficient for them to claim justification in their denial of that which comes innately to all of their societies, nor of that which is inferred by the existence of all things.
Next, one may ask if it is necessary to look into every religion that exists in order to determine which one is true. I will contend that it is not. Not only would this be impossible to do in the short time we have on earth, it would be completely pointless and unreasonable to demand this from anyone. You can overcome this quite simply by asking fundamental questions. If it turns out for example, that the monotheistic claim that an independent, necessary and eternal creator is more coherent than the polytheistic claim in multiple gods—all of whom have beginnings and are dependent upon something beyond them—then you can effectively dismiss all polytheistic religions. There would be no need to go through all of the different pantheons. Through this process of elimination, you can save yourself a lot of time and bat away these contentions that appeal to the large number of religions that are available as a reason to dismiss ALL religions.64 It just simply does not follow, and it only shows a lack of consideration to a more reasonable approach through elimination.
So how does Islam combat nihilism? It offers the necessary tools which instil our lives with meaning. Allah says in the Qur’an [51:56], “And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.” The Islamic conception of worship is so broad that every action, if done in the name of God, becomes a form of worship. Everything that is done with the correct intention, is something that carries with it an infinite significance. It therefore invigorates the entire life of the believer with an overarching purpose from beginning to end, even in parts of life that would seem otherwise insignificant. Our lives are far from meaningless from the standpoint of Islam, and as previously mentioned, it offers confirmation of that which was instilled within each of us; the fitrah.
Furthermore, Islam offers us guidance and a structure for our lives. It fills our days with prayer, which offer a method of continual remembrance and gratitude to The One who made us and constantly provides for us. There have been studies which have shown that “gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness.” And furthermore that “[g]ratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”65 All of this coupled with the greater sense of significance in all of ones life would certainly offer a great counterweight to the forces of nihilism at play in wider society.
On top of this, the Qur’an demands from us to do good. Obligating us to “[e]stablish prayer and give charity.” And then compliments this command by explaining that “[w]hatever good you send forth for yourselves, you will certainly find its reward with Allah. Surely Allah is All-Seeing of what you do.”66 That is, there is nothing you can do which will go unseen by your creator. Anything you do, whether privately or openly, will be accounted for.
Islam also applies certain restrictions which help to lead those who adhere to its rulings and fear God’s punishment down a very particular path. This prevents one from engaging in behaviours which facilitate things like depression and criminal behaviour, which likely motivate the pessimism which contributes to the mental exhaustion characteristic of nihilism. The prohibition of intoxicants like alcohol and drugs removes the possibility of addiction to these substances, offering a barrier between you and the potential negative consequences of such behaviours which have been widely documented. On this the Qu’ran says: “They ask you ˹O Prophet˺ about intoxicants and gambling. Say, “There is great evil in both, as well as some benefit for people—but the evil outweighs the benefit.”67 This highlights that there may very well be a little benefit in, and the author is fully aware of this, but that none of that is worth the risks that come along with it.
It is important to mention that these restrictions are also an effective measure against the issue of too much choice, which I outlined earlier in this essay. The restrictions help to narrow the path enough so that we are not necessarily struck by the paralysis brought on by overchoice, while simultaneously protecting us from harm. We only have a certain amount of time in each day, so many days in a week, and life is short. Many of these hours are filled with sleeping, eating, and getting rest. The few hours we have spare after this can quickly be taken away if they are being used to satisfy addictions and problematic patterns of behaviour. Having such things being restricted opens up many productive opportunities that offer much more benefit to one’s life. Take the game of chess as a brilliant example of strict restrictions giving order to a game, but not taking away from the countless possibilities still available. Each piece is limited to a very specific set of rules, and to go beyond that is impermissible. However, this does not prevent each game of chess being completely unique. Each game has the potential to develop in a variety of different ways, unlike any game before it. Thus is life. Having certain restrictions placed on it may seem like a lot to the one who happens to value the destructive practices that are being made impermissible. However, for the one who submits to them the benefits become very clear; especially to those who become Muslim after having come from outside of the faith, having had the opportunity to abundantly engage in such activities. God offers a perfect guidance to overcome these troublesome patterns of behaviour that keep people feeling like they are stuck in a never ending loop.
“There certainly has come to you from Allah a light and a clear Book through which Allah guides those who seek His pleasure to the ways of peace, brings them out of darkness and into light by His Will, and guides them to the Straight Path.”68
It also offers us a solution to the issues of moral nihilism also presented earlier in this essay:
“[…] the Quran was revealed as guidance for mankind, clear messages giving guidance and distinguishing between right and wrong.”69
Without a firm rope to grasp onto, mankind is left to float in the abyss without knowledge. We quickly and easily become lost, arguing amongst each other endlessly over mere speculations about what is right and what is wrong. We continually move the lines that distinguish one from the other, and continue to establish insufficient moral philosophies in an attempt to fill the void left by the loss of faith in our traditions. This continual bickering has led to the alienation and isolation of many members within modern society. It is also this, along with a heavy leaning towards the related philosophies that push naive and ideas of freedom and individuality, that contribute to the increased fracturing of our multicultural and increasingly diverse societies. However, with Islam, we are offered an opportunity to unite. As Allah says in the Quran:
And hold firmly to the rope of Allah and do not be divided. Remember Allah’s favour upon you when you were enemies, then He united your hearts, so you—by His grace—became brothers. And you were at the brink of a fiery pit and He saved you from it. This is how Allah makes His revelations clear to you, so that you may be ˹rightly˺ guided.70
Islam offers the guidance that people are yearning for because of the void left in the loss of religion and tradition in the modern world. It gives people something to orient themselves with and have direction; a centre point to circumnavigate with each other. Furthermore, in line with the above quote from the Qur’an, a common note that people make upon going on a pilgrimage to Mecca is how unified the people become upon the religion. It effectively offers a solution to the fracturing I have made mention to so far. Malcom X makes a beautiful description of his experience during hajj, and how he saw that it effectively eradicated things like racial and class tensions that he was all too familiar with in the United States, and is still present today in many parts of the world. On this subject, in The New York Times he says the following:
During the past seven days of this holy pilgrimage, while undergoing the rituals of the hajj [pilgrimage], I have eaten from the same plate, drank from the same glass, slept on the same bed or rug, while praying to the same God—not only with some of this earth’s most powerful kings, cabinet members, potentates and other forms of political and religious rulers —but also with fellow‐Muslims whose skin was the whitest of white, whose eyes were the bluest of blue, and whose hair was the blondest of blond—yet it was the first time in my life that I didn’t see them as ‘white’ men. I could look into their faces and see that these people didn’t regard themselves as ‘white.’ Their belief in the Oneness of God (Allah) had actually removed the ‘white’ from their minds, which automatically changed their attitude and behaviour toward people of other colours. Their belief in the Oneness of God has actually made them so different from American whites, their outer physical characteristics played no part at all in my mind during all my close associations with them.71
Islam is a solution to many of the current issues we face as a modern society and more specifically, to nihilism. We do not need to suffer the ailments we currently face under a world governed mostly by worldly pursuits that can never be fully satisfied, driven by unrestricted materialism and hedonistic desires. The doors to this solution remain firmly open. Just as Islam was able to completely change an apparently insignificant and troubled society that lived in the middle of nowhere, into a flourishing and successful people that have reached every corner of the globe, it can also transform us. All it takes is for you, the reader, to take the step of seeing Islam for what it is: as a serious alternative to the current destructive path we walk upon globally. Islam continues to grow to this day at the fastest rates of any other religion, and not just by birthrates, but also by conversion.72 Islam is going to play a key role in the future, and I truly believe it makes perfect sense to step on the path of seeking knowledge about one of the greatest ways of life the world has ever seen. I hope and pray that this essay has played a part in helping you see this, and at least opened your hearts to the possibility of investigating it further.
Peace and blessings upon you all. May you find truth and order in this increasingly false and chaotic world.
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1 Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. ‘Nihilism’. Encyclopedia Britannica, 13 Mar. 2020, <https://www.britannica.com/topic/nihilism>, accessed 5 February 2021.
2 Matheson D., ‘Incoherence of Soft Nihilism’, Think, 47/16, (2017) 127-135 (p.127)
3 Nietzsche F., The Will to Power, (London: Penguin Group, 2017) p. 15
4 Camus A., The Myth of Sisyphus, (London: Penguin Books, 2005), p 1.
5 The belief that life is not worth beginning and that having children is immoral.
6 Schopenhauer A., The Essays of Arthur Schopenhauer: Studies in Pessimism, Vol. 4, Trans. By T. Bailey Saunders, (Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University, 2005), p.7
7 World Health Organisation (WHO), ‘Suicide’, WHO, 2 Sept. 2019, <https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/suicide>, accessed 16 January 2021
8 Heidegger M., Being & Time, (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing LTD, 2016), page 68
9 Existential crisis being the felt experience of not understanding the purpose behind ones life, and yet having an overwhelming desire to have or obtain an understanding. It can also include the experience that such an understanding is beyond ones ability to grasp.
10 Merriam-Webster, ‘Value’, Merriam-Webster Dictionary, <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/value>, accessed 16 January 2021
11 By Christian West, I recognise that the West is not so much Christian anymore, but rather secular. The use of the term Christian in this regard, is to highlight the origins, history and foundation of the particular people we will be discussing here. I also recognise that “the west”, is not so much a description of a geographical direction, but rather of the remains of the empire that “the west” had created during its expansionist efforts in the early modern period. For example, Australia would be included with the term “west”, despite it being in the east.
12 Shilling A., ‘Famous Liars in Greek Mythology’, Classroom synonym, <https://classroom.synonym.com/famous-liars-greek-mythology-21981.html>, accessed 16 January 2021
13 Plato, The Republic, Trans. By D. Lee, (London: Penguin Books, 2007), p. 67
14 Ibid, p.70
15 For more on Socrates, read here:
Kraut, R. “Socrates”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 23 Dec. 2020, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Socrates. Accessed 5 February 2021.
16 The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Proverbs 12:22, <https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Proverbs%2012:21-23&version=ESV>, accessed 8 February 2021
17 Ibid, 2 Timothy 2:15
18 Ibid, Proverbs 19:9
19 In short, the idea that good can be reduced to that which causes the most pleasure for the greatest number of people, and minimises suffering.
20 Enfield N., “We’re in a post-truth world with eroding trust and accountability.” The Guardian Newspaper, 16 November 2017, <https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/17/were-in-a-post-truth-world-with-eroding-trust-and-accountability-it-cant-end-well>, accessed 16 January 2021
21 Pew Research Centre, “Public Trust in Government: 1958-2019”, Pew Research Centre, 11 April 2019, <https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2019/04/11/public-trust-in-government-1958-2019/>, accessed 19 July 2020
22 Toffler A., Future Shock (New York: Random House Inc., 1971) p. 263
25 Schwartz B., The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, (New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2016)
26 Schwartz B., “The Paradox of Choice | Barry Schwartz”, TED, 16 January 2007, <https://youtu.be/VO6XEQIsCoM?t=1010>, accessed 17 January 2021, [timestamp: 16:50]
27 Nagel T., ‘The Absurd’, The Journal of Philosophy, 68/20, (1971), 716-727, (p. 718)
28 Nietzsche F., The Will to Power, (UK: Penguin Books, 2017), p. 20
30 Phenix P. H., Realms of Meaning, (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1964), p.5
32 Heisel, M.J. & Flett, G.L., “Purpose in Life, Satisfaction with Life, and Suicide Ideation in a Clinical Sample”, Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioural Assessment, 26/127, (2004)
33 Gertz N., Nihilism and Technology, (London: Rowman & Littlefield International LTD, 2018), pp. 60-63
34 World Health Organisation, ‘Mental Health and Substance Use’, WHO, <https://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide/suicideprevent/en/>, accessed 16 January 2021
35 Hidaka B. H., ‘Depression as a Disease of Modernity: Explanations for Increasing Prevalence.’, Journal of Affective Disorders, 140/3 (2012), <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3330161/>, accessed 16 January 2021
36 Which he calls “Dasein” – A German word that translates to “there-being”, which Heidegger used to express the kind of being the human is. It is an ontological description that is meant to explain the way we are, rather than simply what we are. That is, the description is not meant to be an ontic one.
37 Large W., Heidegger’s Being and Time, (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008), p. 34
38 Ibid, p. 118.
39 Pew Research Center, ‘In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace’, Pew Research Center, 17 October 2019, <https://www.pewforum.org/2019/10/17/in-u-s-decline-of-christianity-continues-at-rapid-pace/>, accessed 17 January 2021
40 Alcohol Change UK, ‘Alcohol Statistics’, Alcohol Change UK, <https://alcoholchange.org.uk/alcohol-facts/fact-sheets/alcohol-statistics>, accessed 17 January 2021
41 Elsworthy E., ‘More than half of Britons describe their neighbours as ‘strangers’’, Independent, 29 May 2018, <https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/britons-neighbours-strangers-uk-community-a8373761.html>, accessed 17 January 2021
42 It should also be noted here that some of these values can come into conflict with one another. For example freedom and security.
43 Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell, “Optimistic Nihilism”, 26 July 2017, <https://youtu.be/MBRqu0YOH14?t=225>, accessed 18 July 2020, (timestamp: 3 minutes 45 seconds)
44 Pew Research Center, ‘Political Polarization in the American Public, Section 1: Growing Ideological Consistency’, Pew Research Centre, 12 June 2014, <https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2014/06/12/section-1-growing-ideological-consistency/>, accessed 17 January 2021
45 Nietzsche F., The Gay Science, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017) pp. 119-120, [Aphorism #125: The Mad Man]
46 Nietzsche F., Twilight of the Idols, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), p.45
47 Data Commons, ‘London Population’, <https://datacommons.org/tools/timeline#&place=nuts/UKI&statsVar=Count_Person>, accessed 17 January 2021
48 de Botton A., “How Science Could – at Last – Properly Replace Religion”, The School of Life, <https://www.theschooloflife.com/thebookoflife/how-science-could-at-last-properly-replace-religion/>, accessed 18 July 2020
49 Anthony A., ‘Sam Harris, the new atheist with a spiritual side’, The Guardian, 16 February 2019, <https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/feb/16/sam-harris-interview-new-atheism-four-horsemen-faith-science-religion-rationalism>, accessed 17 January 2021
50 Lawton G., “The God issue: Alain de Botton’s religion for atheists”, NewScientist, 14 March 2012, <https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21328562-400-the-god-issue-alain-de-bottons-religion-for-atheists/#ixzz6SpE9LnKB> accessed 21 July 2020
51 Nietzsche F., The Gay Science, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017) pp. 119-120, [Aphorism #125: The Mad Man]
52 Unless suppressed by some form of power imbalance by others.
53 Ruse M., ‘Dawkins et al bring us into disrepute’, The Guardian, 2 November 2009, <https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2009/nov/02/atheism-dawkins-ruse>, accessed 17 January 2021
54 Frankl V. E., Man’s Search For Meaning, (London: Rider, 2004), p.105
55 Pew Research Center, ‘The Changing Global Religious Landscape’, Pew Research Center, 5 April 2017, <https://assets.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/11/2017/04/07092755/FULL-REPORT-WITH-APPENDIXES-A-AND-B-APRIL-3.pdf> , accessed 17 January 2021, p.17
56 Rothenberg Gritz J., ‘Wired for Creationism’, The Atlantic, December 2005, <https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2005/12/wired-for-creationism/304440/>, accessed 12 January 2021,
57 Bloom P., ‘Religion is natural’, Developmental Science, 10/1, (2007), 147-151 (p.147)
58 Ibid, p.150.
59 The Clear Qur’an, Trans by Dr M. Khattab, <https://quran.com/7/172>, accessed 8 February 2021, [7:172]
60 Hamza Tzortzis also dedicated chapter 4 of his book, The Divine Reality, to bolster this point.
Tzortzis H. A., The Divine Reality: God, Islam & The Mirage of Atheism, (Lion Rock Publishing, 2019) pp. 67-79
61 Rogan J. & Dawkins R., ‘#1366 – Richard Dawkins’, The Joe Rogan Experience, 21 October 2019, timestamp: 38 mins
62 In short, this idea is grounded on the notion that we have, what has been coined, “basic beliefs”, i.e., beliefs that we don’t hold on the basis of any other beliefs. Given the fulfilment of certain epistemic conditions, these basic beliefs can be “properly basic.” That is, basic and rational. Turner has argued extensively for an application of these epistemic principles to theistic and Islamic belief in the following essay published by the Sapience Institute:
Turner J., ‘Who Shoulders the Burden of Proof? Reformed Epistemology & Properly Basic Islamic Belief’, Sapience Institute, 9 December 2020, <https://sapienceinstitute.org/who-shoulders-the-burden-of-proof-reformed-epistemology-and-properly-basic-islamic-belief/>, accessed 17 January 2021
63 The Clear Quran, 30:30
64 The Sapience Institute website should have a variety of different material that will assist with this process.
65 Harvard Health Publishing, ‘Giving thanks can make you happier’, Harvard Medical School, November 2011, <https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier>, accessed 17 January 2021
66 The Clear Quran, 2:110
67 Ibid, 2:219.
68 Ibid, 5:15-16.
69 Ibid, 2:185
70 Ibid, 3:103
71 Malcolm X, ‘Malcolm X Pleased By Whites’ Attitude On Trip to Mecca’, The New York Times, 8 May 1964, <https://www.nytimes.com/1964/05/08/archives/malcolm-x-pleased-by-whites-attitude-on-trip-to-mecca.html>, accessed 17 January 2021, p.1
72 Pew Research Center, ‘The Changing Global Religious Landscape’, Pew Research Center, 5 April 2017, <https://assets.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/11/2017/04/07092755/FULL-REPORT-WITH-APPENDIXES-A-AND-B-APRIL-3.pdf> , accessed 17 January 2021, p.17