Eternalism is the confused stance that everything has a definite meaning. The form of eternalism that is most obvious in the West is religion: supposedly, God makes everything meaningful. However, non-theistic eternalism may actually be more influential and more harmful.
Non-theistic eternalism has all the same defects as the religious varieties, but this is less well-known, and therefore harder to defend against. Freeing ourselves from theism is only a first step toward freeing ourselves from a host of ubiquitous, harmful, mistaken ideas about meaningness.
It is easy for atheists to feel smug and superior about our more accurate worldview. Yet we commonly slide into malign non-theistic eternalism, which is just as distorted, and causes just as much trouble, as religion.
It is always tempting to find some ultimate source of meaning. (Especially when it seems the only alternative would be nihilism.) That temptation leads directly to eternalism, with all the harm that entails.
Belief in the supernatural is harmful, but several modern eternalist systems are thoroughly naturalistic (or pretend to be, anyway). I believe it is not mainly supernaturalism that is harmful about religion, it is eternalism.
“Reason” was the first substitute proposed for God, back in the European Enlightenment, and it is still the most influential. Reason, after all, led us out of the nightmare of religion. What better to crown as the new ruler? It seems to make sense that the world would make sense—that there is a meaningful pattern to everything—and that, using rationality, we can discover it.
Clear thinking is always a good thing, but ideological concepts of rationality (or “Reason”) can distort it into an eternalism. Eternalist rationality has most of the same features as religion—the same attractions, harms, ploys, and antidotes. It cannot deliver on its shining promises, because the world doesn’t make complete sense. Reality is nebulous. Eternalist rationalism has to lie and cheat to hide that, and so commits violence against accurate perception.
Political ideologies can also substitute for religion. Meaning is mainly a social activity, and political theories claim to provide explanations for social interactions. Political ideologies say what the patterns of society are; what they mean; and what they should be. However, all social interaction is, in reality, nebulous. Therefore, political theories cannot deliver the utopias they promise. Reliably, instead, they deliver oppressive dystopias; sometimes, when taken sufficiently seriously, deliberate multi-megadeath catastrophes.
Among non-theistic eternalisms, I will analyze rationality and political ideology in some detail, running to several web pages each. However, I’ll also devote single pages to briefer coverage of eternalistic psychotherapeutic ideology, non-theistic Buddhist eternalism, and UFO cults.