July 23, 2014

"I firmly believe — and I don't say this as a criticism — that life is meaningless."

Said Woody Allen, in the context of promoting his newest movie "Magic in the Moonlight." It's not incongruous to mix comedy-movie promoting and a statement of the meaninglessness of life, of course. If there is no larger truth about life and you're on you own with the life that you have, you've got to find some things to do, and obviously, going to a comedy movie is one of those things. I remember the scene in the Woody Allen movie "Hannah and Her Sisters" where the Woody Allen character, confronted with the meaninglessness of life, sees the Marx Brothers movie "Duck Soup" and decides that life is nevertheless worth living.
The current quote continues:
"I'm not alone in thinking this... There have been many great minds far, far superior to mine that have come to that conclusion. Both early in life and after years of living and, unless somebody can come up with some proof or some example where it's not [meaningless,] I think it is. I think it is a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. That's just the way I feel about it. I'm not saying one should opt to kill oneself, but the truth of the matter is when you think of it, every 100 years... there is a big flush and everybody in the world is gone, then there is a new group of people, then that gets flushed, then there is a new group of people and this goes on interminably for no particular end -- I don't want to upset you -- there's no end and no rhyme or reason. And the universe -- as you know from the best physicists -- is coming apart and eventually there will be nothing. Absolutely nothing. All the great works of Shakespeare and Beethoven and Da Vinci. All that will be gone. Now, not for a long time, but gone...."
As in "Hannah and Her Sisters," Woody's solution is to pay attention to the particular details of life:
"What I would recommend is the solution I've come up with -- distraction. That's all you can do. You get up. You can be distracted by your love life, by the baseball game, by the movies, by the nonsense: 'Can I get my kid in this private school?' 'Will this girl go out with me Saturday night?' 'Can I think of an ending for the third act of my play?' 'Am I going to get the promotion in my office?'"
But shouldn't it still matter what your details happen to be? Is distractingness the only standard? Woody plays into the hands of those who believe him to be an amoral monster. And he's not helping the atheist crowd, who perpetually strain to convince us that people can be good — if not better — when they don't believe there's a God who's put us here for a reason. Well... not perpetually... perpetually is wrong. Shakespeare and Beethoven and Da Vinci are gone and so is Christopher Hitchens, the best of atheists devoted to convincing us that atheists are good people.

From "God Is Not Great":

We [the atheists] are not immune to the lure of wonder and mystery and awe: we have music and art and literature, and find that the serious ethical dilemmas are better handled by Shakespeare and Tolstoy and Schiller and Dostoyevsky and George Eliot than in the mythical morality tales of the holy books. Literature, not scripture, sustains the mind and—since there is no other metaphor—also the soul. We do not believe in heaven or hell, yet no statistic will ever find that without these blandishments and threats we commit more crimes of greed or violence than the faithful. (In fact, if a proper statistical inquiry could ever be made, I am sure the evidence would be the other way.) We are reconciled to living only once, except through our children, for whom we are perfectly happy to notice that we must make way, and room. 
Hitchens may have been "perfectly happy" to make room, but Woody saw "a big flush" that only makes room for the next set of people headed for the great flushing.
We speculate that it is at least possible that, once people accepted the fact of their short and struggling lives, they might behave better toward each other and not worse. We believe with certainty that an ethical life can be lived without religion. And we know for a fact that the corollary holds true—that religion has caused innumerable people not just to conduct themselves no better than others, but to award themselves permission to behave in ways that would make a brothel-keeper or an ethnic cleanser raise an eyebrow.  

108 comments:

Robert Cook said...

Live is innately without meaning, in that there is no purpose to it, no goal intended for living things to achieve, no externally placed plan.

However, we are free to see or impose such meaning on life--our own lives or life in general--as we please.

Original Mike said...

"I firmly believe — and I don't say this as a criticism — that life is meaningless."

I love the "and I don't say this as a criticism".

Life has no meaning. It just is. And like Allen, I don't mean that as a criticism. The Universe is an awe inspiring place.

jr565 said...

"What I would recommend is the solution I've come up with -- distraction. That's all you can do. You get up. You can be distracted by your love life, by the baseball game, by the movies, by the nonsense: 'Can I get my kid in this private school?' 'Will this girl go out with me Saturday night?' 'Can I think of an ending for the third act of my play?' 'Am I going to get the promotion in my office?'"


Can I molest my daughter? How am I going to get Mia out of the house so I can have some sex with her stepdaughter? stuff like that?
Its all distractions. And as he suggested in both Matchpoint and Crimes and Misdemeanors, there is no real problem with murdering people. Yet another distraction.
If thst is all there is, then what is the atheist position against murder? if you can get away with it then aren't you right?

Kevin said...

It greatly depresses me when great artists spend their entire lives plumbing the depths of one theme, like Allen, Bergman, and Fellini, and at the end of it they seem to know nothing more than when they started. And in fact, they seemed to have a better grasp on it at the beginning than at the end.

n.n said...

The paradox of life is that it is simultaneously meaningful and meaningless.

As for God, maybe. There are historical claims of God's existence. There is circumstantial material evidence to support them. There is no independent ability to verify them.

As for morality, it may be intrinsic or emergent.

I firmly believe that life is both objective and an article of faith. And God... Well, perhaps we will learn the nature, or another level, of existence, after we pass through the dark curtain.

tim maguire said...

Woody seems to define "meaning" as "permanence." But of course nothing last forever, no effect, not even the Holocaust, will go on forever. There will come a time when it does not matter whether or not there was a Hitler or a Galileo, a Washington or even a Mohammed.

But why does that have to be the definition of meaning? Why can't the meaning of our lives be that we have a certain amount of time and we can choose to use it to make the world just a little bit better or we can use it to make the world just a little bit worse?

The fact that most of us are happier when we make the world better suggests these things are not random, and therefore not meaningless.

Henry said...

The quite religious Anne Lamott phrases Woody Allen's big flush this way: "100 years. All new people."

Her point is to not get distracted by pointless things. Like arguments about faith and ethics.

Moose said...

Like - as God has conceived it, is meaningless to many people. Other people find reasons in what God and shown us and what we accept as a rationale for life.

If nothing else, God shows us the meaningless of our efforts to understand God's mind. Which is typically a failing of the overeducated...

sojerofgod said...

Woody Allen is a nihilist. He always has been. His focus on "Distraction" as a coping method with his own despair. It spilled over to his work and his personal life -marrying his daughter who, despite any and all protestations to the contrary, could never been anything but a victim of Stockholm Syndrome-like conditioning.
Christopher Hitchens was always passionate in his hatred of Christianity which to him was the chief Satan in the religious circle of hell. His comment "Religion has caused innumerable people... to award themselves permission to behave in ways that would make a brothel-keeper... raise an eyebrow." has it exactly backward.
More accurately, People who are disposed to behave in manners such as that are going to do so, and religion is one of many methods to gain acceptance and cover for the behaviors they are already going to do. Communism, Fascism, Socialism, Tao, any of the Social religions or belief in a pantheon of gods; It's all just a dodge for the black hearted desire of some human hearts.
The amateur serial killer has his dozens. The professional, his millions.

sojerofgod said...

The nature of Man is Vanity. It is his greatest sin, and drives his greatest accomplishments.
"All is Vanity!" Ecclesiastes 1:2

Ron said...

"Man is finished when he becomes altruistic. - Instead of saying naively, "I am no longer worth anything," says the moral lie in the mouth of the decadent, "Nothing is worth anything - life is worth nothing"..."

-- Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols

mccullough said...

That's the problem with a lot of Allen's movies. Characters just spout philosophical inquiries. It's distracting.

Anonymous said...

The Guy Who Poops in the Hall says:

The World is an endless spinning of Nothing. It is as if I am already dead and simply going through the motions of my meaningless time on Earth. I will die and no one will remember me. No one remembers me now. But they will remember that someone -- someone! -- pooped in the hall. THAT they shall remember, and that shall be my purpose. My inner self is in turmoil.

Tibore said...

On the universal scale life is meaningless. That doesn't mean that on the human scale people cannot impose some levels of meaning to their existence.

Just because the rocks on planets and suns of galaxies don't take notice of us humans doesn't mean humans are powerless to place some meaning on their lives. That's what life is: The conscious imposition of meaning on events experienced by the individual being. It may be erased one day in the near future, but that doesn't mean there's no effect on other beings in proximity to you.

Overgrandiosity of thinking leads some to think that just because they don't impact everything they can imagine that their impact is minute. It may be accidental arrogance, but it's arrogance nonetheless. Meaning in life is only relevant to its effect on other lives, not the turning of the galaxies and the burning of stellar objects. If he measures his life's meaning against that, then no wonder he comes up short. He's missed the point completely, and substituted an incredibly wrong measure in its place.

Story once told of the late John Paul II, perhaps apocryphal but nonetheless makes a point: An astronomer once said "Look at all the billions of galaxies out there, each containing trillions of stars and planets, stretching over light years of distance. Looking through a telescope, you realize that a human is a mere speck in this universe." The Pope reportedly responded "Yes, but you must remember: That mere speck is the one observing and comprehending what is being seen."

Bob Ellison said...

It's a classic Jewish comedic theme that Woody Allen has pounded to death. "What's the point?"

Sholem Aleichem knew better.

Anonymous said...

The Guy Who Poops in the Hall says:

I have even lost the ability to hate: it is not worth the effort. Whomever you hate will eventually die, and you may or may not be around to see it. Hate and Love and Honor are not worth my time because my time is nothing. Tonight I shall eat a TV Dinner and tomorrow I shall poop in the hall: that is as far as my dreams take me. My inner self is in turmoil.

Bob Ellison said...

He's an excellent clarinetist, though.

Anonymous said...

The Guy Who Poops in the Hall says:

I would not cross the street to save a person in distress. Some other misguided soul can waste their time in doing so, or not. I would only be prolonging their inevitable end: help is always a meaningless gesture. It is not even worth the time to stop and watch. I am on my lunch break, and when I return to work I will poop in the hall. My inner self is in turmoil.

Bob Ellison said...

I should note, as a musician not entirely without talent, that individuals who play within just a few certain styles tend to have that same problem. Pound the theme to death. I'm looking at you, B.B. King.

Anyway. I'll try to back off this tangent now. (Bad visuals on that metaphor there.)

Old Dad said...

Woody is a fundamentalist preacher with ultimate confidence in his creed--nihilism.

One wonders where such confidence originates, and what compass guides his choices of distractions.

For a smart guy, he seems not very curious.

Anonymous said...

The Guy Who Poops in the Hall says:

I waste each breath and take yet another. This will continue until it stops. Until then: I eat TV Dinners and I poop in the hall. My inner self is in turmoil.

Anonymous said...

The Guy Who Poops in the Hall says:

I no longer have sexual desire. I masturbate like some people do crossword puzzles; I briefly contemplate the casual waste of procreation in the kleenex and then flush it away. Some may see anguish in the poop in the hall, but that is only their delusion. I poop in the hall unhindered by meaning. My inner self is in turmoil.

Chuck said...

I still like the scene in Stardust Memories where Woody talks to the aliens (who speak in the modulated voice of Woody Allen). And the aliens say, "We like your movies, especially the early funny ones."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQ-I2qa0ZQY

Ann if you like Woody these days (and you do seem to be fascinated), that's maybe the all-time best two minutes of Woody Allen on film...

Anonymous said...

The Guy Who Poops in the Hall says:

I no longer watch television; I no longer read books. The need for entertainment is meaningless, a mere distraction from the void. I am in constant preparation to be be nothing. I eat, I sleep, I poop in the hall: it is enough. My inner self is in turmoil.

Original Mike said...

"If thst is all there is, then what is the atheist position against murder?"

I'm not aware that there is an atheist position on murder. This atheist, however, finds it abhorrent.

MnMark said...

The purpose of life is the creation and experience of beauty and excellence.

You can see this because every form of life on earth strives towards excellence in its own way. Learn to create more beauty and you are rewarded with positive outcomes and emotions. Don't try to create beauty, or worse, create ugliness, and the result is stress, fear, want, misery.

All of life is a giant school for rewarding progress towards excellence and punishing failure to make such progress.

Based on my personal "spiritual" experiences and readings, I believe that once we have learned all there is to learn in that respect in this realm, we move on to completely different sorts of realms with different versions of the same goal: beauty and excellence.

MarkW said...

"If thst is all there is, then what is the atheist position against murder?"

Seriously!? Murder isn't wrong because God, murder is wrong because others value their lives as you value your own.

And whenever a religion has imagined their God encouraging murder, that didn't make the resulting carnage moral, it made their conception of God evil.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

Distraction just means staying busy. Replace distractingness with business and you have the essence of capitalism.

David said...

Woody is right. A world that spawned the Marx Brothers must have some meaning.

Steve said...

Focusing on Christianity as mainly an encouragement to behave ethically is a modern misunderstanding of the faith. To illustrate, contrasting modern goals of Christians to those of the past is instructive.
G. K. Chesterton said that the Victorians were motivated to love their neighbors and so did positive good acts, founding hospitals, orphanages and sending out missionaries. Later Christians however are motivated to avoid doing wrong, to avoid sin or behave ethically. Behaving ethically, or not doing wrong, is nothing like the hard work of loving one's neighbor. Thus, atheists who believe Christianity is only behaving ethically miss the historically understood contrast between Christians and atheists----do atheists have any reason to love their neighbors? What sort of world do we have when those who are ethical say, "I have my self-justification in not doing wrong, you go get your own"? The Christian teaching once consistently was to help others, while the atheists generally retreat into their righteous shells.

Anonymous said...

Life is meaningless, why care about small things like screwing your daughter?

sojerofgod said...

Markw said, "Seriously!? Murder isn't wrong because God, murder is wrong because others value their lives as you value your own."
No, no, no, Mark! the fact that others value their lives is meaningless, because the universe has no meaning. Except ME!

rhhardin said...

Meaning is whatever soap opera women think it is.

TMink said...

For Christians, life, and suffering, and everything else has meaning. And I don't say this as a criticism.

Trey

Jim said...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5U1-OmAICpU

Alvy at 9:Well, the universe is everything, and if it's expanding, someday it will break apart and that would be the end of everything!

Fernandinande said...

Chuck said ...
...that's maybe the all-time best two minutes of Woody Allen on film...

No! It's Zelig waving to someone whilst sitting next to a speechifying Hitler.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

jr565 said...
"What I would recommend is the solution I've come up with -- distraction. That's all you can do. You get up. You can be distracted by your love life, by the baseball game, by the movies, by the nonsense: 'Can I get my kid in this private school?' 'Will this girl go out with me Saturday night?' 'Can I think of an ending for the third act of my play?' 'Am I going to get the promotion in my office?'"


Can I molest my daughter? How am I going to get Mia out of the house so I can have some sex with her stepdaughter? stuff like that?
Its all distractions. And as he suggested in both Matchpoint and Crimes and Misdemeanors, there is no real problem with murdering people. Yet another distraction.
If thst is all there is, then what is the atheist position against murder? if you can get away with it then aren't you right?


Well, I don't think one needs to see it quite that way.

Here is how I see the situation for us Homo Sapiens.

Since we come equipped, based on the particulars of our evolutionary path, with Reason, and dual conflicting group and individual preservation instincts, the first thing we would be wise to decide is: do we want to spend our days in a constant 'war of all against all' (necessitating even sleeping with one eye open), or do we rather desire and choose to use our Reason and agree to abide by a consensus 'Social Contract', whereby we suppress certain selfish actions in order, as ti were, to vouchsafe our "stuff", and to get a good nights sleep.

Then, and only then, within the bounds of this Social Contract (no murder, child incest, etc, obviously), Woody is perhaps right. All consenting adult distractions that don't seriously threaten the Social Contract, are permissible, if not desirable.

Because, it IS all meaningless, in the end. Might as well have a good time.

And damn I miss Hitchens.

William said...

In the final analysis, Allen makes an appeal to Scripture, except his holy writ is Sullivan's Travels.

The Crack Emcee said...

The most religious and/or "spiritual" person I've known killed three people.

That tells me everything I need to know on the subject,...

William said...

I was just reading a book about the rise of the Spanish Empire. The Dominicans under Bartolome Las Casas made an honest effort to spare the Indians from the predations of Spanish colonists. The Dominicans were not totally ineffectual in this endeavor, but they had far greater impact in their administration of the Inquisition.....So God moves men to act righteously except when He doesn't.......One of Napoleon's stated aims for the invasion of Spain was the eradication of the Inquisition. Over several centuries the Inquisition killed about five thousand people. Napoleon knocked off that many before lunch on a good day. In the modern era, it's the people without God who have the highest body count. (With the exception of Islam.)

Fandor said...

Woody is a 21st century P.T. Barnum. A smooth self promoter (nothing wrong with that because he has to sell his act, films, plays, books, to pay for his indulgences) and a unique talent in this time and place. The anti-god, self loathing is all a schrewd act to keep the dough rolling in and conversation going about HIM. As long as that keeps going on, he'll keep making films and philosophizing, entertaining some and irritating others. It's ok. 100 years from today...well, you know...gurgle, gurgle. "And away goes Woody down the drain". (Apologies to Rotorooter, but their theme song seemed apropos for this comment.)

madAsHell said...

Pound the theme to death. I'm looking at you, B.B. King.

Keith Richards has been selling variations of the same riff for years.

retired said...

Woody Allen's life is meaningless because he has made it so.

SMGalbraith said...

If we lived forever would that provide meaning in our lives? Hardly. It would deepen the meaningless.

The fact that we live short lives gives us, in part, meaning. And that meaning comes from what we leave behind, for others, for our families, our children, our friends.

Did Shakespeare live a meaningless life? Nobody thinks so. Did Churchill? Did Martin Luther King?

Sure, we all can't reach those heights but we can do things that approximate it.

gerry said...

Heh.

Opportunistic Woody Allen.

Revenant said...

Life is the medium, not the message.

Anonymous said...

I went to a Roger Penrose lecture here in Seattle, the popular British mathematical physicist and mathematician. A lot of it was over my head, but it was fascinating, especially the cosmic inflation stuff and extending Einstein's work to black holes that happened back with Hawking.

Lots of excited math and physics students in the audience.

During the Q and A, a grim young guy went to the microphone, a book in his hand, a beret on his head. Clothes ratty:

'What is meaning in a moribund universe?'

Penrose: 'Pardon?'

'What is meaning in a moribund universe?',

Penrose, a little confused, but accommodating and respectful (he is a philosopher of science), gave a series of answers on his metaphysical views on the limits of the mathematical sciences, then moved on.

The guy slowly, almost affectedly, walked away without saying anything.

Michael said...

Crack:
"The most religious and/or "spiritual" person I've known killed three people.

That tells me everything I need to know on the subject,…"

Just goes to show that you were both wrong.

Ann Althouse said...

@Chuck

I've seen nearly every Woody Allen movie, most soon after their release, including "Manhattan" the day it was released which was the day before a law school exam I needed and wanted to study hard for, and "Blue Jasmine," the only movie I saw in the theater last year, and I saw it twice.

So, of course, I saw "Stardust Memories," when it came out and at other times. But I'm not that interested in what's funniest. I guess the thing that made me laugh most was that gesturing with a record album in "Play It Again Sam."

LarsPorsena said...

"...
As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

jr565 said...

Original Mike wrote:
I'm not aware that there is an atheist position on murder. This atheist, however, finds it abhorrent.

that's the point isn't it? Other than your personal abhorrence to it is there any real argument against it? Like,if I'm less squeamish about it, what is your argument for me murdering people? So long as I don't murder you. Atheists can't really argue that morality is larger than themselves so only have value judgements about what is right or wrong.

jr565 said...

Someone has to say it:
Since we come equipped, based on the particulars of our evolutionary path, with Reason, and dual conflicting group and individual preservation instincts, the first thing we would be wise to decide is: do we want to spend our days in a constant 'war of all against all' (necessitating even sleeping with one eye open), or do we rather desire and choose to use our Reason and agree to abide by a consensus 'Social Contract', whereby we suppress certain selfish actions in order, as ti were, to vouchsafe our "stuff", and to get a good nights sleep.

Then, and only then, within the bounds of this Social Contract (no murder, child incest, etc, obviously), Woody is perhaps right. All consenting adult distractions that don't seriously threaten the Social Contract, are permissible, if not desirable.

Because, it IS all meaningless, in the end. Might as well have a good time.

But criminals, in the dark of night, and sometimes in the open, take actions that are more about personal satisfaction over the social contract all the time. If they get away with it, are they not right?
Then murder is not really wrong, it's only wrong if you get caught.

Was watching Good Fellas the other day. The character Tommy is actually based on a real guy named Thomas DeSimone. Who was a total psycho. And he, according to legend, would walk down the street, and test his new gun by firing at a random guy down the street. If no one said anything, did he do anything wrong? He didn't have a problem with it.
For people who don't particularly care about the social contract what is the argument against murder?

jr565 said...

Here's Ted Bundy on the ultimate morality of the atheist:
"Then I learned that all moral judgments are "value judgments," that all value judgments are subjective, and that none can be proved to be either "right" or "wrong." I even read somewhere that the Chief Justice of the United States had written that the American Constitution expressed nothing more than collective value judgments. Believe it or not, I figured out for myself - what apparently the Chief Justice couldn't figure out for himself"”that if the rationality of one value judgment was zero, multiplying it by millions would not make it one whit more rational. Nor is there any "reason" to obey the law for anyone, like myself, who has the boldness and daring "” the strength of character "” to throw off its shackles. ... I discovered that to become truly free, truly unfettered, I had to become truly uninhibited. And I quickly discovered that the greatest obstacle to my freedom, the greatest block and limitation to it, consists in the insupportable value judgment" that I was bound to respect the rights of others. I asked myself, who were these "others"? Other human beings, with human rights? Why is it more wrong to kill a human animal than any other animal, a pig or a sheep or a steer? Is your life more to you than a hog's life to a hog? Why should I be willing to sacrifice my pleasure more for the one than for the other? Surely, you would not, in this age of scientific enlightenment, declare that God or nature has marked some pleasures as "moral" or "good" and others as "immoral" or "bad"? In any case, let me assure you, my dear young lady, that there is absolutely no comparison between the pleasure I might take in eating ham and the pleasure I anticipate in raping and murdering you. That is the honest conclusion to which my education has led me"”after the most conscientious examination of my spontaneous and uninhibited self."
And this is also the morality of Woody Allen. Not saying he is going to be a serial killer.But if you are arguing nihilism you are ultimately arguing Ted Bundy's logic.

Krumhorn said...

What sojerofgod elegantly said at 8:55am.

Hitchens had an amazing intellect and a breath-taking skill with language that inevitably drew one in to hear/read more. However, I was never able to understand his almost visceral antagonism to Christianity and dogged view that atheists were more likely to have lived an ethical life than the faithful.

How could he ignore the hubris implicit in his views? Our ethical thinking today is the result of two thousand years of Christian influence in the canon of Western Civilization. He had to see that it was an unlikely proposition that atheists would have developed an ethical construct for society in the absence of that influence.

And how could he ignore the bald history of atheist societies both prior to the birth of Christ and after? When it comes to human misery on a mass scale, there are no horrors that can compare to those perpetrated by non-Christians and back-sliders.

In sharp contrast, there is no soothing societal salve that can compare to the billions of private healing touches applied throughout the last 20 centuries by one kind believer to another person. That is how we have grown.

(Note to atheists: Leave us refrain from the inevitable comeback regarding the "healing touches" of our local parish priest that helped us "grow".)

On an organized basis, what have atheists ever done that have had that kind of impact on improving quality of life of humans today over such a great span of time that cannot otherwise be attributed to the influence of Western Christian thought?

If one is looking for the meaning of life, all we have to do is look back and be grateful that those who went before us lived theirs so well in spite of the ravages of evil in human history. They have not been flushed. We are their product today.

-Krumhorn

Revenant said...

that's the point isn't it? Other than your personal abhorrence to it is there any real argument against it?

Christianity, Judaism, and Islam don't offer any arguments against it. Murder is bad when their god says it is bad, and good when he says it is good.

Given that their god doesn't actually exist, this still works out to "murder is bad when they think it is bad".

phx said...

Like,if I'm less squeamish about it, what is your argument for me murdering people?

Respectfully, what is the believer's argument against murder? 'God says don't do it or you will burn in Hell'?

That's not a very convincing morality, imo. A lot of the morality of believers (generalization here) seems to be little more than argumentum ad baculum.

Original Mike said...

@jr565: I think it's wrong out of empathy. You think it's wrong because God has instructed you to love you're neighbor. In other words, he has instructed you to be empathetic. I see little difference between the two. I just don't need the middle man.

Alex said...

"My Dinner With Andre" - the ultimate in navel gazing.

Mid-Life Lawyer said...

I love Woody Allen movies and walked out of Blue Jasmine saying Cate Blanchett had a lock on best actress. I saw it twice as well. I don't know if wrote that role with her in mind but she played it perfectly and it was written brilliantly. Husbands and Wives is a movie that doesn't get mentioned much but I thought it was fantastic. Great female roles in that movie as well.

Probably his movie I enjoyed the most was Hannah and Her Sisters but it's hard to say. Manhatten may have been more important to me when it came out.

Having said all that, I don't pay much attention to his godless existentialist bullshit and I don't hold it against him. If anything, I pity him.

jr565 said...

What is the point of the movie Matchpoint (or the point of the match) that Woody Allen is trying to convey? Are we supposed to view the main character positively or negatively? At the end, spoiler alert, he gets away with killing his girl friend and her neighbor.
He is faced with their ghosts who tell him he will suffer for his crimes. But he tells them their deaths were necessary and he is able to suppress his guilt.
And the cops drop the case because they find a dead guy with the jewelry from the crime on him, and think that he's the murderer instead. So, Tom gets away with it because he's lucky.

I don't really see why Allen made the movie though. What is the point, considering his world view.

Compare it to the Loneseome Death of Hattie Carrol. You who philosophize disgrace, bury the rags deep in your face for now is the time for your tears when Zanzinger gets away with a suspended sentence. Whatever the truth of the story is about Zanzinger, at least Dylan is making a value judgement about Zanzinger getting away with killing someone.
In Allen's world, if Tom gets away with murder, then meh. So what. He's lucky. What he did was "necessary" (in his own mind).
And that's all that really matters. Your own self justification about your actions and your ability to not get caught.

jr565 said...

Roger Ebert said of the movie Match Point that it asks the question ""To what degree are we prepared to set aside our moral qualms in order to indulge in greed and selfishness?"
For people who don't think life has any real inherent meaning, how is this not a meaningless question?

jr565 said...

Original Mike wrote:
@jr565: I think it's wrong out of empathy. You think it's wrong because God has instructed you to love you're neighbor. In other words, he has instructed you to be empathetic. I see little difference between the two. I just don't need the middle man.

But if you lack empathy then you won't think murder is wrong. How are you judging the murderer? Based on a value judgement higher than your own, or your own? Can't the murderer similarly decide that empathy is for losers and think your value judgements are stupid?

Anonymous said...

Krumhorn,

Whatever other reasons he may have had, Christopher Hitchens was trained to think like a socialist: The materialist account of history, the dialectic, the idea that he was in possession of the 'true account' of empirical reality.

Such a doctrine has much built-in that profoundly anti-religious, but which drags a lot of Christian metaphysics along.

Such rabid ahistoricity (ignoring the importance of Christianity via Western law, thought, philosophy, whatever your beliefs) was a point of doctrinal pride in many quarters.

All that religious, transcendental stuff is over now. It's time to progress to our destiny.

Anonymous said...

Considering that the recent "discovery" of "gravitational waves" that got so many people suddenly excited about inflation theory was refuted, I'd be a bit more careful about running around claiming what the "best physicists" think. It's not even clear what "inflationary universe" means when the available evidence indicates 95% of the universe isn't even detectable using current instruments.

jr565 said...

Revenant wrote:
Christianity, Judaism, and Islam don't offer any arguments against it. Murder is bad when their god says it is bad, and good when he says it is good.

Given that their god doesn't actually exist, this still works out to "murder is bad when they think it is bad".


If you think rape is good, is rape good because you think it's ok, even if I think rape is abhorrrent? Or is rape bad objectively even if you think it's good subjectively?
"To what degree are we prepared to set aside our moral qualms in order to indulge in greed and selfishness?"
If rape is only bad because I personally think it's bad, then if I put aside my moral inhibitions is rape now good?

Krumhorn said...

The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

Two Kipling references on Althouse in a couple of hours! Our hostess should be beaming.

Well.....make that one and a half.

-Krumhorn

jr565 said...

Original Mike wrote:
God has instructed you to love you're neighbor. In other words, he has instructed you to be empathetic.

Empathy would then be an absolute, not a subjective value.If you think thinks like murder is subjective, then I wouldn't want to be within 100 yards of you.

Krumhorn said...

The Guy Who Poops in the Hall says:

The World is an endless spinning of Nothing. It is as if I am already dead and simply going through the motions of my meaningless time on Earth. I will die and no one will remember me. No one remembers me now. But they will remember that someone -- someone! -- pooped in the hall. THAT they shall remember, and that shall be my purpose. My inner self is in turmoil.


Ok, I don't care who you are, THAT'S a timeless classic!

-Krumhorn

jr565 said...

Revenant wrote:
Given that their god doesn't actually exist, this still works out to "murder is bad when they think it is bad".

So, OTHER than your personal opinion that murder is bad, do you have an argument against it? Or is that even your personal opinion? I'm assuming that you are not a sociopath, and that we share the same values, roughly. But there are a lot of people out there who simply don't value life. Why are they wrong?

jr565 said...

phx wrote:
Respectfully, what is the believer's argument against murder? 'God says don't do it or you will burn in Hell'?

That is not why you shouldn't do it. That would be the outcome if you did.

What is your argument against murder? And why should society punish murderers?
Why are the Nazis wrong when they kill the jews? You're going to have to hit on some objective morality to make a case that they are in fact wrong. Secular humanism would simply be a value judgment. By why would it be right for anyone but secular humanists?

Anonymous said...

And yes, that last part is sarcasm, but whatever your religious beliefs (I'm rather an agnostic myself), a good chunk of non-radical secular liberal humanists envision a continuing progress towards more equality, more peace, less violence, more knowledge, more liberal democracy...

...some teleological end-point.

Original Mike said...

"How are you judging the murderer?"

I've got no problem judging the murderer. Don't confuse atheists with fuzzy-headed liberals.

jr565 said...

chrisnavim.com wrote:
Whatever other reasons he may have had, Christopher Hitchens was trained to think like a socialist: The materialist account of history, the dialectic, the idea that he was in possession of the 'true account' of empirical reality.

Such a doctrine has much built-in that profoundly anti-religious, but which drags a lot of Christian metaphysics along.

For all of Hitchens vitriol of religion he seemed awfully judgemental of people who don't adhere his morality. He was really big on how the world ought to work and the morality that people ought to follow. Who made Hitchens the arbiter of right?
Since he doesn't believe in absolute morality, he shouldn't expect it, or judge others as if there was.

jr565 said...

Atheists defend secular humanism. If you resort to any absolutes in your morality, you lose the argument.

Anonymous said...

Revenant wrote;

"Christianity, Judaism, and Islam don't offer any arguments against it. Murder is bad when their god says it is bad, and good when he says it is good.

Given that their god doesn't actually exist, this still works out to "murder is bad when they think it is bad"."

Because there is a God, we are free moral agents. Able to choose and even discern the differences between good and evil. We don't blame the lion for eating a human because we know that's what lions do. But if a human destroys another human, we blame them for making that choice.

If there were no God, there would only be the natural order. I know we like to think of things as natural and not natural (Example, a plant is natural while the fake plastic plant is not) but if there is no God, then everything, even humans, are a direct result of evolution and we have no choice in our actions. We are as natural as the plant and anything we create is just an illusion of having been designed and created. Just like lot's of things "in nature" have the appearance of design, but aren't really designed, from the Dawkins perspective.

But anything Dawkins creates or designs is exactly the same. He cannot escape his part in evolution, assuming no God. Which means murder is no longer a bad thing. Just like the lion killing can't be blamed on the lion, your murder can't be blamed on you. It's just how you evolved. Not your fault.

That's the difference.

Krumhorn said...

All that religious, transcendental stuff is over now. It's time to progress to our destiny.

The Jack Balkin paper on deconstruction linked from your website certainly explains how we have gotten to this point.

-Krumhorn

Anonymous said...

jr565:

I'm not a spokesman for Hitchens, just thought I'd point out why he's so rabidly anti-religious. It's not uncommon amongst socialists and ex-socialists.

It's not uncommon amongst the New Atheists either, which Hitchens attached himself to.

Original Mike said...

"Atheists defend secular humanism. If you resort to any absolutes in your morality, you lose the argument."

I don't understand. What do you think my argument is? That it's not possible for me to think murder is wrong?

jr565 said...

original Mike wrote:
I've got no problem judging the murderer. Don't confuse atheists with fuzzy-headed liberals.

BUt again, when you judge murder to be wrong, is it wrong simply because you think it's wrong? And therefore is the murderer wrong because he disagrees with your morality? Or do you think murder is wrong because, well, it's wrong? And even if you wanted to murder would murder still be wrong?
My guess is, you believe murder to be objectively wrong, not subjectively. But you can't get there if you are an atheist. All you can say is you think murder is wrong. And the murderer can say, I disagree.

Krumhorn said...

Respectfully, what is the believer's argument against murder?

Well, I suppose we could start with "thou shalt not kill". Lacking specifics, we have developed enabling regulations that permit exceptions. But the legislative intent still survives as a controlling law. Of course, the regulators have sometimes gotten it wrong. See e.g. Roe v. Wade.

-Krumhorn

jr565 said...

if you are an atheist then there is no objective morality. You may come to the same conclusion as theists on the big morality questions, but it's still just a subjective morality.
And it would only guide you since you are the maker of your morality. But why should the atheist judge the actions of another person since they too will come to their own subjective morality? There would be no wrong or right. Is greed good or bad? Well it depends on who is making the judgement.
And if it's a subjective judgment then its always right if you think it is.

Freeman Hunt said...

I think Allen's most important meditations on this subject are contained in Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Or, as my favorite writer wrote (roughly) in my favorite book: If God does not exist, everything is permitted.

Lydia said...

I've often thought that the one movie of Allen's that will endure is Broadway Danny Rose. Which is all about forgiveness, redemption, love, and even hope. Ironic, really, given his nihilistic pronouncements.

richard mcenroe said...

If life is meaningless then going to Woody Allen movies is a senseless act. (Crosses one more item off to-do list)

jr565 said...

Original Mike wrote:
I don't understand. What do you think my argument is? That it's not possible for me to think murder is wrong?

No, you can absolutely come to the conclusion that murder is wrong. But it would only be your subjective opinion, For someone who thinks he can murder, then murder is right.
So, when you judge a murderer, on what basis are you judging his/her actions? On what basis is murder wrong? Logically? are you using a utilitarian argument? an ethical standard of some kind?
Is it wrong just for you, or is it wrong for everybody? Why?

jr565 said...

" And he's not helping the atheist crowd, who perpetually strain to convince us that people can be good — if not better — when they don't believe there's a God who's put us here for a reason"
Based on what standard. Aren't you still falling back on an absolute moral standard when judging whether people are moral if they are atheists?

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n.n said...

jr565:

Consider that everyone, including atheists and agnostics, acknowledge at minimum two articles of faith: individual dignity and intrinsic value. While people will not uniformly respect those articles, they are always a consideration. Well, for most people, anyway. There are the occasional sociopaths and psychopaths who either reject or selectively apply one or both articles.

Also consider that morality is an intrinsic quality. That does not speak to its origin, but only that everyone possesses and selectively expresses it. And people will ascribe its origin as they see fit, which is typically an outcome of their personal reconciliation. Not articles of faith are associated with God or divine origins generally.

jr565 said...

What Allen said here is very close to what he said in Love & Death, which was a lot funnier:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IFjttC_AGsU

traditionalguy said...

The joy of the Lord is our strength.

phx said...

"Respectfully, what is the believer's argument against murder?"

Well, I suppose we could start with "thou shalt not kill".

That's not an argument, that's a command. It's compulsion.

Which has it's place in the scheme of things but it's not much in terms of reasoning.

The "morality" behind many of the scriptures in the great religions is not always very impressive.

Opfor311 said...

Life's meaning (or meaninglessness) is in the eye of the beholder. I see great meaning in many thins that may seem quite mundane to others. But, as for Woody Allen, I have little use for him. I have always found his fellow writers from the Sid Caesar show, Mel Brooks and Neil Simon, much more funny and meaningful.

Anonymous said...

Krumhorn,

I was exposed to deconstruction when Derrida showed up. Snow white hair. Nehru jacket. An hour of deconstruction and fawning students.

I was hoping the shrewdness of lawyers, the analytical skills and the hands-on nature of the profession would keep some of the worst nihilism and postmodern nonsense out.

Perhaps not.

Original Mike said...

"No, you can absolutely come to the conclusion that murder is wrong. But it would only be your subjective opinion, For someone who thinks he can murder, then murder is right."

I don't care what the murderer thinks. I only care that he is caught and punished.

tim in vermont said...

"However, we are free to see or impose such meaning on life--our own lives or life in general--as we please." - Robert Cook

Or in your case, on the lives of others.

tim in vermont said...

"I used to be a nihilist, but now I don't even believe in that anymore." - Tim in Vermont

I am sure somebody said it first though.

tim in vermont said...

"I used to be a nihilist, but now I don't even believe in that anymore." - Tim in Vermont

I am sure somebody said it first though.

John Lynch said...

At least Woody Allen isn't a pagan. Most supposed atheists are either anti-Christian bigots or embrace some form of pagan belief. They go on about "The Earth" or make idols out of human achievement. That's paganism, which has returned with a vengeance.

If all there is to the universe is what we can observe then none of this matters to anyone but ourselves. The Earth is just another rock in space, of which there are trillions upon trillions. Humans don't matter in a universe this vast. Anything we accomplish has been surpassed by some other species somewhere else. Big deal. There is nothing special about us in a cosmic sense.

Most people can't handle the real implications of atheism. I think Allen is being honest about it. Don't like nihilism? What's your alternative? If you accept a scientific worldview as exclusive, that's where you end up. If you don't it's because you believe in something that you can't see and can't measure.

Original Mike said...

"At least Woody Allen isn't a pagan. Most supposed atheists are either anti-Christian bigots or embrace some form of pagan belief."

Outed. Yes, I am a witch.

William said...

I read through the comments, hoping to find one that would elucidate the meaning of life. Maybe next thread......If the string theory physicists are correct in positing that this is just one of an infinite number of universes in an infinite number of dimensions, then it is possible that in one of those universes or dimensions a god exists. Perhaps we're all part of some computer game that an advanced species designed for their own amusement. They gave their icons a certain amount of free will because that makes the game more fun and unpredictable.

NotquiteunBuckley said...

"I masturbate like some people do crossword puzzles;" - Bmax

NotquiteunBuckley said...

When Hitchens is mentioned remember his brother was/is correct and that's what motivated Chris to be so wrong.

The name is Ironic.

I don't speak for God, unless it comes to judging souls, since I've had it determined for me by pop culture as a ginger I contain none hence--and this is my determination--I stand aside God in Judgment of those with, so I can't say for sure whether I would capitalize "Ironic" again.

Oh, and when I think of Christ. Hitchens I think of a British accent saying "Quite ExtraOOOOOrdinary."

It has been this way for quite some time.

The "o" in "ordinary" of "quite extraordinary" is prolonged to uncomfortable extents.

NotquiteunBuckley said...

Let's all watch Sarah Parker on Seinfeld's coffee show and be happy?

Then consider why we can be happy while others toil, not in the greatest of areas in most cases.

Starting with an "o" and ending in "scurity"

This is a link to really happy things built upon shoulders of giants and proudly symbolic of that like Romney and God Bless America

http://comediansincarsgettingcoffee.com/sarah-jessica-parker-a-little-hyper-aware

NotquiteunBuckley said...

This is quite extraordinarily painful considering anything but politics.


As opposed to comfort can we call it neverending aggravation of those with conscious, for some parts, mostly we hope, good?

This is a link to quite possibly untoward malevolence.

Anonymous said...

Cook;
"Live is innately without meaning, in that there is no purpose to it, no goal intended for living things to achieve, no externally placed plan.

However, we are free to see or impose such meaning on life--our own lives or life in general--as we please."

I knew Cook's faux outrage was just a hobby.

RazorSharpSundries said...

The thing that bugged me about that part of Hannah was why did it have to be a movie from the 30's? Why not a movie from the 80's? Why not Airplane or Mel Brooks? It was the first crack in my then adoration of Woody. Plus, I like the Marx Bros but have never thought them laugh out loud funny. Woody's early movies were way funnier. Woody was funnier. I like his serious stuff,somewhat, not slavishly, but his first 5 or 6 movies knock me out every time I see 'em. I used to agree with his view wholeheartedly and am somewhat in worse straits in life now but I can't bring myself to say that life is absolutely meaningless. It may have meaning. I think other people's lives have meaning. Mine doesn't.

RJ said...

I agree; Woody Allen's life has no meaning.