I was chagrined, but not entirely surprised, when I read Woody Allen’s recent ruminations on ultimate things. To state it bluntly, Woody could not be any bleaker in regard to the issue of meaning in the universe. We live, he said, in a godless and purposeless world. The earth came into existence through mere chance and one day it, along with every work of art and cultural accomplishment, will be incinerated. The universe as a whole will expand and cool until there is nothing left but the void. Every hundred years or so, he continued, a coterie of human beings will be “flushed away” and another will replace it until it is similarly eliminated. So why does he bother making films—roughly one every year? Well, he explained, in order to distract us from the awful truth about the meaninglessness of everything, we need diversions, and this is the service that artists provide. In some ways, low level entertainers are probably more socially useful than high-brow artistes, since the former manage to distract more people than the latter. After delivering himself of this sunny appraisal, he quipped, “I hope everyone has a nice afternoon!”Fr. Barron then goes on to argue that the mere fact of Allen's aesthetic sense is a sign that he can't believe in his own nihilism, since beauty assumes the transcendent. The same goes, he says, for morality--morality too, positing, as it does, an ought--necessarily implies an order outside the physical. Barron could have added that truth itself implies a transcendent order, since truth is itself a metaphysical concept.
In fact, anyone who claims that nihilism is true is denying his own assertion, since any meaningful statement implies a metaphysical order. In George Steiner's words, any meaningful statement is a "wager on transcendence."
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