In the musical Oklahoma! Ado Annie and Will Parker sing a song about love saying that it’s “All or Nuthin’.” What they didn’t realize is that they were also making a profound philosophical and theological statement. It is All or Nuthin’.
From the ridiculous to the sublime, Blessed Cardinal Newman writes in the Apologia, “I came to the conclusion that there was no medium in true philosophy between atheism and Catholicism, and that a perfectly consistent mind, under those circumstances in which it finds itself here below must embrace either the one or the other.”
When we say it’s All or Nuthin’ we are making a big assumption with Newman that the person in question has a “perfectly consistent mind.” Not many folks fall into that category, and this raises the question that a young guy who is about to go into the Dominican novitiate asked me the other day, “What do you say to a nihilist?”
My smart aleck answer was, “Nothing.”
The nihilist must be given the credit for having a “perfectly consistent mind” because he has considered his options and chosen to believe that there is nuthin’ rather than somthin’. My reply that the answer to the nihilist is to say nothing, has a deeper reasoning.
It is this: to say nothing is not only to affirm the nihilist’s own belief–which is a negation, but it is also to affirm (by silence) the value of language, and therefore of meaning. What I mean to say is that what I say has meaning. In other words, there are words, and because there are words there is the Other. I am talking in riddles, but that too is the point, because riddles are only riddles because they have answers. A meaningless riddle is no riddle at all.
To put it more simply, the nihilist has chosen nothing, so he must have nothing. He must have no meaning, but if there is no meaning, then his nihilism has no meaning. But this cannot be so because we understand what he means by saying that he is a nihilist.
Because we use language a human being cannot be a nihilist. A gorilla might be a nihilist, but he is not able to tell us so. If the existence of language therefore annihilates the nihilist, it does more. Not only is the Word in the beginning, but “the Word was with God.” Not only was the Word with God, but the Word was God. There is more: “Through the Word all things were made that were made.”
Of course, I didn’t make this up, and neither did the Apostle John. It was also there in the philosophy of the Greeks, who thought all these things through before some sophomoric ‘nihilist’ came along imagining that there was nothing. The upshot of all this is that language not only proves that there is meaning, but if there is meaning–any meaning at all, then there must be someone who means it. If there is meaning to the universe, then there is someone who had an idea, and that person articulated that idea into words.
From that word all things were created, and they were created out of the nuthin’ that the nihilist longs for. This belief we call creation ex nihilo.
Language therefore not only proves that there is somthin’ rather than nuthin’, but it proves that there is meaning, and if there is meaning then there is a God who creates all that is out of nuthin’ at all.
How that God goes on to communicate to Man is also given in that concise chapter of philosophy at the beginning of John’s gospel, for there we learn that this same Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.
Or you could say He who was All came to our Nuthin’ to give us All.
All or Nuthin’ indeed.