Posted by: gcarkner | October 19, 2016

October Book Release: The Great Escape from Nihilism


Does Nihilism Have the Last Word?

Available at Regent College & Amazon

This book is about a journey: out of nihilism into the heart of meaning. It begins by raising the question whether nihilism should have the last word. The following discussion addresses a crisis of faith, a crisis of identity, and a sense of lostness in late modernity. Our companions on the journey are a fine, seasoned group of writers, poets, social reformers, scientists, scholars and public intellectuals. Among the notables are Alvin Plantinga, Miralslov Volf, Jürgen Habermas, David Bentley Hart, Michel Foucault, Calvin Schrag, Jim Wallis, Tom McLeish and Jens Zimmermann. Special mention goes to eminent Canadian philosopher of modernity Charles Taylor. They have made their mark, shaped the public mind and continue to impact Western culture. They are people who dig deep and bring substantial answers to the dilemma of our time.

The Great Escape from Nihilism is about a courageous and somewhat dangerous journey, but ultimately a path towards hopeful alternatives to the forces that weigh down our spirits, and the tensions that divide us. We must decide in our minds and our hearts whether the quest to escape outweighs the risks. The ten conversations in the book are modeled on real, ongoing discussions and debates over several years on university campuses across Canada, the United States and Europe. Through the span of ten conversations, the book aims to encourage the development of the art of effective dialogue. It also illustrates that, despite their importance, there is so much more to life than science, technology, business and algorithms. Our journey involves the quest for the Holy Grail of human flourishing, the deeper life, the thick self.

“Through the complex cultural lens of Charles Taylor and the writings of some of the most influential philosophers and theologians of our time, Dr. Carkner provides wise and persuasive suggestions of ways forward in navigating the landscape of late modernity. The transcendent turn to agape love is the most challenging concept he exposits. This project is a rare and provocative contribution of high integrity.”

 ~Olav Slaymaker, Professor Emeritus Geography, UBC

“As a graduate student from the Middle East, this book has helped me understand how unlike eastern culture where community is central in their worldview, in Western culture the human seems the centre of the universe. In a Christian worldview God is the centre of the universe. I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn more about the clash between Western and Christian worldview.”     ~Mary Kostandy, UBC Educational Studies PhD student (from Cairo, Egypt)

“The journey through graduate school is one of intellectual curiosity, but to what end? A university education opens up a world of new opportunities, but for what purpose? The Great Escape from Nihilism is essential reading for students seeking to add meaning to their academic pursuits, to become counter-cultural agents in an intimidating world, and to truly flourish along this challenging journey – and beyond. It really is a wonderful resource, a fantastic book, and has proven to be very useful and thought-provoking.” ~Jamie Pow, PhD Student in Political Science, Queens’ University, Belfast

Gordon E. Carkner Ph.D., works at the University of British Columbia as a meta-educator and networker, where he seeks to complement and engage the regular discourse among graduate students and faculty. Supporting and mentoring postgraduate students towards wholeheartedness in the UBC Graduate Christian Union, his work is sponsored through Outreach Canada. His work as a team leader in the notable UBC Graduate and Faculty Christian Forum lecture series brings together great minds and noble souls from around the globe for serious academic interchange, linking persons of common vision.


Keywords:  Nihilism, Secular Age, Search for Meaning, Apologetics, Scientism, Radical Individualism, Aestheticism, Recovery of the Good, Agape Love, Incarnational Humanism, Communal Responsibility, Late Modernity


Paperback   $14.99 USD on; $20 Cdn on      Kindle $9.99 Cdn; $7.61 USD


In this discussion, we want to engage the ideology of nihilism. It has taken many captive. Some are passive participants while others are self-consciously involved and have become active promoters. Nihilism is related to how we approach the world, how we choose and how we perceive reality. The interrogation of this outlook promotes dialogue about some crucial issues in late modernity, our current situation at this stage of Western Enlightenment. Working diligently together to decipher the code, we will expose the ideology to critical examination, and we anticipate some pertinent discoveries. We have chosen Charles Taylor as our principle investigative assistant. As one of the great thinkers of our time, he will be of great help to move our discussion onto significantly higher ground. He is one of the top twelve living philosophers, the preeminent Canadian philosopher in the political, cultural and moral realm, and the premiere philosopher of Western modernity. With his help, we hope that through discerning our location within Western culture, we can explore the claim that nihilism does not have the last word.

What follows is a deep structure protest that there are broader horizons and layers of meaning to be explored, researched and discovered.  The journey ahead entails an archival rediscovery of lost language, lost potential in relationships, lost perspective on our lives. The discussion proceeds as a committed liberation project, because many today long to escape the confines, addictions and seductions of nihilism. The project is both a cultural probe and a quest. In his landmark book A Secular Age (2007), Taylor offers a monumental analysis of our philosophical and cultural climate, explaining how we have gotten here and where we might be headed. The stakes are high. He traces how we moved from theism through deism to atheism over 500 years, during roughly 1500 to 2000 C.E. But in this substantial, prize-winning tome, he also explores how we can rethink and refresh the current debate about our identity and the nature of our ‘secularity’. Who indeed are we late moderns? What are the possibilities for dialogue between people of such divergent philosophical and ethical positions? How can we live and work together in a positive way? What are the interpretive keys for unlocking the mystery of our age, its spiritual and cultural imagination? Taylor claims:

Our language has lost, and needs to have restored, its constitutive power. This means that we can deal instrumentally with realities around us but their deeper meaning (the background in which they exist) the higher reality which finds expression in them, is ignored and often invisible to us. Our language has lost the power to Name things in their embedding, their deeper, richer and higher reality. The current incapacity of language is a crucial factor in our incapacity of seeing well and flourishing. Our language, our vision and our lives often remain flattened in late modernity. (C. Taylor, 2007, 761)

The discussion that follows is an attempt to recover the richness of language and also the larger horizon of its meaning. In both A Secular Age (2007) and his prior landmark discussion on philosophical anthropology, Sources of the Self (1989), Taylor documents a major change in the social imaginary. That entails its interpretive background, or way things seem to make sense to us. One might also refer to it as the conditions of plausibility. There has been a shift in ethos, one that includes people’s basic sensibilities, their intimate assumptions and perceptions about reality. He strongly encourages us to learn from our historical roots: “Our past is sedimented in our present and we are doomed to misidentify ourselves as long as we cannot do justice to where we came from.” (C. Taylor, 2007, 29). Our philosophical narrative is vital to our present self-understanding and problem-solving capacity.

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