Nihilism has a bad rep. For many the word signifies anarchy, destruction, meaninglessness, bombs thrown by black-garbed acolytes of Nothing. (I copied these images from nihilist web sites; it’s nice not to have to worry about copyright laws; nihilists don’t sue, I assume.)
I have a “nihilism” wrist band. I don’t wear it very often, but when I do it gives me a good feeling when I glance down at it. Free. Independent. Open-minded. That’s what nihilism means to me.
I like the definition offered by the Catholic Encyclopedia: “a Nihilist is one who bows to no authority and accepts no doctrine, however widespread, that is not supported by proof.”
Well, I do bow to authority—if it’s garbed in a judge’s robe, police uniform, IRS agent suit, or such. However, if we’re speaking of religious authority then I am becoming more of a nihilist all the time. Proudly.
This morning I was reading Don Cupitt’s intriguing book, “After God: The Future of Religion.” Cupitt has some good things to say about spiritual nihilism.
It is very postmodern suddenly to realize that we no longer actually need roots, identity, stability, or a provenance. We can do without all those things. Me, I don’t want them anymore. I prefer to be without identity. I’d like to belong to no ethnic group, and to have no Other. They call me a nihilist: but I’m beginning to feel at ease, at home in nihilism.
A friend recently spoke about her churchless evolution. She said that after she stopped going to gatherings of her faith, there was a period during which she felt a sense of loss. Old beliefs were fading away. Old friends also, at least those whose friendship was conditioned on her remaining part of the religious fold (which means they weren’t genuine friends to start with).
The church newsletter kept coming in the mail each month. She’d look at it and feel some pangs. This and that was happening, meetings and celebrations that she used to enjoy being part of, and now she wasn’t. Then…
One day the newsletter came and she started to smile. And laugh. Glory, glory, free at last! Those old connections didn’t matter anymore. The past was past. Now is now. Not having a firm religious belief became joyful rather than problematic.
“Now I’m free to explore whatever sort of spirituality I want to,” she said. “I pick and choose from the spiritual smorgasbord, enjoying what is tasty to me.” She isn’t dining any more on what someone else has ordered for her. She’s trusting her own taste buds.
Nihilism comes from the Latin nihil, meaning “nothing.” Yet to me and my friend, having nothing sure to believe in doesn’t feel like an absence. It’s a warm, energetic, exciting presence of limitless possibility, of explorable territory, of untapped potential.
Cupitt speaks about three tricks, heritages of the old religions, that are worthy of being kept. One trick is “The Blissful Void.”
The Blissful Void is the trick of relaxing completely, slowing oneself and one’s passions down until the self is, as it were, dispersed into the fleeting insubstantial emptiness of all existence. You must learn to experience nihilism as levity, lightness. The strange unexpected happiness this brings is a wonderful deliverance from the fear of death, loss, and suffering.
So, as I see it, nihilism is far removed from meaninglessness. As this definition points out, it’s a rejection of blind faith, not a rejection of reality. It’s a commitment to the “nothing” that remains when dogmatism, authoritarianism, intellectualization, imagination, and rationalization are swept away.
Buddhism and Taoism say that this suchness is what’s really real. I think they’re on to something.
Or rather, nothing.
Enjoyed your discussion on Nihilism. Is Nihilism the same as the Philosophy of Advaita? Is there something additional to learn or become aware of?
The joy from wearing the wrist band, is truthful. It's real. We can also recognize that a wrist band is a symbol.
I'm still working on the other Joy. The Joy that has more Substance and Meaning.
Posted by: Roger | September 22, 2006 at 05:54 AM
Posted by: Edward | September 22, 2006 at 09:11 AM
Edward, good question. Nowhere, I suppose. All spiritual paths, the mystical ones especially, seem to lead to Nothing.
What all of us do, me definitely included, is dance around the Nothing and call it different names. Nihilism, suchness, void, sunyata, mystery, emptiness, God.
There may come a time to stop dancing. I'm not there yet. When I take my last breath I will be. But I'd sort of like to get there in a bit more voluntary fashion first.
Posted by: Brian | September 22, 2006 at 09:58 AM
To Brian: Excellent and sensible article.
To Roger: Nihilism is not advaita. Advaita is simply non-duality. Nihilism is simply not to have any need for any belief or faith, or any ultimate purpose.
To Edward: Why does there have to be any "now what?"? Why is it that you think something is lacking, something is incomplete, or that there must be something more? This attitude or orientation of need for unfulfilled purpose is described as "teleology" in the definition of Nihilism.
Posted by: tao | September 22, 2006 at 08:48 PM
Entries like this one are why I read this blog so passionately! Yes, yes yes! I too feast at the spiritual buffet. I, too have been choosing to sample, spit out that which tastes off and savor that which delights and nourishes and satisfies.
I often taste a bit of something and say "hmm, odd" and move along. It does not resonate enough to want more but there's no danger in it that I can see. So I move along and delight in the idea of others' delighting. (Or to further the analogy, squid ink is not my favorite sauce, but I am sure it has many beneficial properties and many find it a rare and tasty delicacy.)
Without a fixed religion I find nourishment in so many places now! A day in the city fills me with so many faces of God - Sikh, Jewish, Hindi, Catholic, Episcopalian, Unitarian, Fundamentalist antiabortionist, Buddhist, Tibetan Buddhist, lol you name it... and that was over a six hour period! When I relinquished the need to belong to a building and began my own private pilgrimage, I experience Church everywhere and God is in all things... well nearly in all things, I am still learning non judgement. I guess my experince more closely dovetails with the Rune "WYRD" or the tarot archetype of the Fool.
For me that void you speak of is loving and intelligent and wise beyond all comprehension, my experience of that void is peace and care incomparable to any temporal love. You could point to my life as a child, but I find my early life more proof of a sentient consciousness directing events to lead me to Knowingness. I have lived in a world of nothingness where my life did not matter - and when I relinquished the fantasy that a church would step in that breach I was blessed with a Presence that is constant. Call it what you will but I see the handiwork of something Greater in almost all I see and do.
I cannot behold your curiosity and not behold God. I cannot listen to the infinite capacity to forgive, to move beyond, to seek, without Knowing. Knowing what? Brain, I came to this walk in my teens. I have not been at this long enough yet. I am still growing, I am still learning, I am still comprehending. I Know that I am Created and for something, maybe only to walk this path and experince what i do and people like you are truly my guides along the way.
I sincerely wish you many happy dances. Peace to you
Posted by: benandante | September 23, 2006 at 04:14 AM
If you continue to give such wonderful discussions, I will be forced to adopt you as my Spiritual Mommy.
May I ask, "Do you give dancing lessons?"
Posted by: Roger | September 23, 2006 at 07:25 AM
Nihilism almost killed me when I was around 16 or so, nothing did matter at all. I felt depressed! Now, after walking all kinds of pathways, from western philosophy to Sant Mat and so on; yes, nihilism is an affirmation of life, or of Being. Just to be or maybe not, and after al these years again; nothing matters. This is a good feeling, free from thoughts of others, from my own even. I cant hold this all the time. Actually, its 'time' that throws me out of this state of mind! Oh well, that dont matter either I guess...
Posted by: spooky | September 23, 2006 at 10:04 AM
I'm 15 and I ...you know think about nihilism as philosophy a lot... I'm feeling really depressed sometimes because I start to think like: I'll never get a girl that will love me because I act strange as people say...That makes me sad and I even think about cutting my veins sometimes, because I really feel dead after thinking about it all-Life has no general purposes after all...-That has bad and good sides...
Good: It's your life and it's like an empty page, YOU have all the power to decide..
Bad: It's one of the best philosophies I know and it's kind of sad to feel soooo un-important! When I try to talk to people about all this they usually say: "Damn! You're too young to be bothered by such stuff..." .....In my opinion it's never to soon to start thinking about life, but it all makes me so depressed and I'm also not concentrated on practical parts of life....
You guys are all like 20+ I guess?
Please tell me what's nice in nihilism too...
Posted by: Staš | September 24, 2006 at 01:54 PM
You sound like me when I was 16; yeah I am 20 + !
I am not sure if I can help you in some way. But I can say Nihilism is a philosophy, just that and nothing more. You can make it more for you, if you like. Nihilism is not perse that your life is an empty page , it is not that you hold all the power to decide at all times perse; its not a doctrine. If the philosophy of nihilism would dictate that it is the only logical or meaningfull way to live it would contradict itself. Nihilism is a way to make something important to you or to decide that it is not that important. It gives you that freedom, without making everything meaningless. It says in fact; dont worry so much! Just live in the sun and enjoy! Nihilism is anti-dogma. If you made a dogma out of your self then you have a problem; your are not finished, you can go and think, create, do, expirience all types of You. There is no-one (accept your parents maybe) that forbit you piant your hair purple and skateboard to school instead of the bus. Well, that used to be me...Now I am sort of different, my identity somewhat changed, so who am I? I dont know, but I dont care to; what I like is to be free from labels as much as I can, and maybe thats my 'identity'; always changing. A long the way I learned a lot, had pain and joy. But I am never really captured by dogmatic rules of society.
Posted by: spooky | September 25, 2006 at 09:02 AM
I liked your discussions. You are wise beyond your years. Likewise, your fredom from "Labels."
I am curious, regarding your pseudonym, "Spooky?"
Best wishes to you,
Posted by: Roger | September 25, 2006 at 09:42 AM
Hi Roger; I am just almost 33. And not wise, just trying! about my name? I dont know :) it just popped up when I started saying something here. I acctually never did that before; write on a site I mean. But its fun!
Posted by: spooky | September 25, 2006 at 10:47 AM
the illusions slip past...
Brian says we "dance around the Nothing and call it different names. Nihilism, suchness, void, sunyata, mystery, emptiness, God." But we know afterall there is no name.
I said "now what?" because being and non-being arise simultaneously. We get to nihilism for discussion purposes, and there are more posts afterward, more to come. My teleology? Or yours? Neither mine nor yours, but the eternally created, which pushes us further into time, and wants what's next.
Lots of fairy tales have namings as crucial turning points. Rumplestiltskin, Beetlejuice, Echo, all turn on the power of naming.
There is nothing lacking, wu is absolute and complete. Knowing that, and really knowing that, are you done?
Posted by: Edward | September 25, 2006 at 04:41 PM
Stas, yes I am definitely older than 20, but not anywhere near retired, and still consider myself to be a student. For myself, the positive impact the philosphy of nihlism has had on my own life is the ability to suspend judgement!
When I can suspend blame, right, wrong, should, ought, can't, never, always... I am liberated. Not in a 'free pass to lie cheat and steal' sense of liberation, but in a truer sense of the word. I feel a nihilist does not blindly submit to authority, nor adopt outer ideas and beliefs at the expense of inner revelations or knowledge.Being able to set aside the demands of a mindset that tells me what is acceptable and what is not allows me to plumb the depths of who I am. (For example, I found that I felt married to those I shared physical intimacy with. Out of that realization I could share that if we were to deepen our connection, I would "feel married" EVEN IF I attempted a more casual connection. To attempt a non married relationship with someone who wanted casual intimacy was a recipe for heartache. That did not make me good, nor bad, it simply is the person that I am. I do not view this response to intimacy as better or as worse than other people's responses - but self love promted me to seek out someone with a complementary interior life.)
My "proof" comes from my direct experiences. As a nihilist in the truest sense of the word, I accept your truth as well as Brian's truth, as well as Roger's truth, as well as Edward's truth, and so on. I cannot say what your truth is. What has sustained me would certainly drive Brian insane. To attempt to shift my own beliefs to reflect Brian's would also make me feel cut off and alone. I think that is the nature of consciousness, it is a solitary and unique thing. Nihilism at its core simply respects those truths as equal and perfect, and not invalid or meaningless.
But I also belive that we are here today, with the marvelous inventions in this time and this place, so that we can learn even more from one another. Communication has never been so effortless. I have at my fingertips information and access that previous generations could only dream of!
I initially was timid about responding to you... would I say the wrong thing? Would I offend? or worse, would my counsel not help or inform? I can't say how you or anyone else will take what I am offering. I can only hope that my attempt to share myself and my insights resonates with you. Despite my respect for personal truth I still want to belong!! I think this is why so many choose to trade self knowledge for a shared set of truths, and a safe way of thinking that requires no self awareness.
Keep marching to your own drummer. Along the way you'll meet others who hear the same music, who you can harmonize with.
Posted by: benandante | September 26, 2006 at 05:05 PM
Wow! I totally agree. What you sayd about suspeding is great; first, this way one doesnt opionionate at face value + one thinks, feels, drums for oneself. Oneself, you, stas, i , whoever, we can share the drums within. and when disharmonie kicks in we can, by suspending immidiate defence, ask questions, or leave the party. The freedom this way of viewing life gives might not always be present (well in my case its completely gone sometimes) but learning to suspend is something highly important. Its not taking life for granted; with or without meaning. Its living life's opportunaties to be who you are.
Posted by: spooky | September 27, 2006 at 11:32 AM
I remember Eckhart once describing God as a 'nameless nothingness.' However, Eckhart also said elsehwere God is a 'beingless being.'
It should be remembered if we talk about what is translated as 'sunyata' or the 'void', it is not simply an empty nothingness which buddhist philosophers had in mind. Buddhist philosophy is more concerned to avoid characterising the central reality is either perfect Being, a ground of Being (which Hindu theology posed as the Self and Brahman), or as a pure void. Rather sunyata is not a Being or Self in any way and it is empty of any self or being, but it is not simply nothing as we would conceive it in our minds as 'nothing.' Sunyata in Buddhist discourse also has a very positive dimension and import, in terms of bliss, safety and peace.
I feel in this sense it is better to see nothing not as an end point but rather we need to negate both our concepts of Being and non-Being in order to grasp the Absolute. The mystics of the world's religions are generally fairly clear in that the highest Reality is neither Being nor non-Being and especially in the case of Buddhism, it is meaningless to predicate concepts onto the Absolute as this is 'grasping' for a concept, when in the end it is better to try and grasp it through means of paradox and negation.
Posted by: Greg | October 04, 2006 at 08:22 AM
Thanks for your responses to my post.
I'm pretty much of a loser. I read stuff about nihilism since I was like 12, though I didn't really understand much at that age but...I always wander around everything :D
I never got a girlfriend or loads of friends. Though I have some mates, I only have 1 true friend who I can discuss such matters with freelly :/
Is there anybody on this forum that has MSN and would chat with me about life and such stuff sometimes? Well, my email is [email protected] and you can add me if you want + I promise I won't bother you .
write on ;)
Posted by: Staš | October 19, 2006 at 10:46 AM
I once heard that if you can count truly good friends on one hand at the time of your death, you are profoundly blessed. That seems about right. I have tons of acquaintances, and a few people whom I trust and a very few who I consider absolutely behind me, and I them, 100 percent. Looking back on my relationships in my twenties, I had many mentors and a few lovers as my innermost circle. So give it a few decades and just keep being you. Pragmatically speaking to try to be someone else is pointless, and the people who are drawn to you will be drawn to who you are and not who you pretend to be. Getting that really deep into my psyche was the work of most of my life and I can honestly say that when I began to live it my life changed drastically and for the better.
I'm sure when folks are online they'll chat with you, I added you to my MSN messenger. But be warned: no matter where I am, I talk about Jung and prayer and chocolate panna cotta and the anima/animus, same as I do here.
Do you draw or paint at all? The little voice that tells Edward to say "Gomez" has been telling me that you seem to have promise as an artist. Seriously, any truth to that?
Posted by: benandante | October 20, 2006 at 09:10 AM
I've got LOADS of promises inside me :) ...I'm into free-drawing and free-writing (stop thinking as you do it)
Posted by: Staš | November 07, 2006 at 01:53 PM
Thats cool, I do that to sometimes. Mostly I work slowly towards a form, an idea in form and end up with a sculpture or photo or whatever.
But to just go with a flow opens up great surprises. Could I see some some time?
Posted by: spooky | November 07, 2006 at 03:42 PM
Sure dude. I've got a book for writing and driwing everything down. I like stuff like nihilistic arts coz you don't really think much as you draw (the minds are meaningless there). +You got my msn right guys? ([email protected])
Posted by: Staš | November 11, 2006 at 09:00 PM
"Nihilism is often described as a belief in the nonexistence of truth. In its more extreme forms, such a belief is difficult to justify, because it contains a variation on the liar paradox: if it is true that truth does not exist, the statement "truth does not exist" is itself a truth, therefore showing itself to be inconsistent. A formally identical criticism has been leveled against relativism and the verifiability theory of meaning of logical positivism.
A more sophisticated interpretation of the claim might be that while truth may exist, it is inaccessible in practice, but this leaves open the problem of how the nihilist has accessed it. It may be a reasonable reply that the nihilist has not accessed truth directly, but has come to the conclusion, based on past experience, that truth is ultimately unattainable within the confines of human circumstance. Thus, since nihilists believe they have learned that truth cannot be attained in this life, they look upon the activities of those rigorously seeking truth as futile. However, this interpretation is open to the same criticism as above, since, barring mystical revelation, the only way the "truth" of nihilism can have been learned is from within the confines of human experience." - from Wikipedia
Note that nihilism is essentially the denial of meaning, which would then eliminate communication because all communication presupposes some meaning to be conveyed. At best it is nonsense, at worst it is the love of death, also known as nonbeing, inasmuch as it blindfolds itself to the differences between life and death, being and nonbeing. It is an uncreative, unproductive, unloving, irresponsible, degenerate (as opposed to regenerate) hopeless state of mind.
It's primary philosophers are Fredrich Nietzsche, who recommended suicide, and Martin Heidegger, who gave us Nazism and the death of millions of Jews and however many people died in WWII. Nihilists generally assert some or all of the following: there is no reasonable proof of the existence of a higher ruler or creator, a "true morality" is unknown, and secular ethics are impossible; therefore, life has no truth, and no action is known to be preferable to any other. Consequently, even the assertion that one is a nihilist is contradictory to nihilism. Nihilism is proof of the validity of Proverbs 8:36.
Posted by: Phillip Ross | November 12, 2006 at 04:08 PM
First you base your arguments on the Bible, which has been edited to fit the caprices of heads of state and religions.
Now you trot our Wikipedia?? I can see how they are relatively eqivalent in terms of reliability, but whaaa?
I heard an Amway pyramid-schemer once arrogantly state: "I'm a FROOT inspcter, I check the FROOT on the vine as Jeesus told us to." Appropos.
I hear Edward's elves laughing.
Posted by: benandante | November 13, 2006 at 07:10 AM
Everything's relative, and even that everything's relative is relative. =) got my point?
Posted by: Staš | November 17, 2006 at 03:49 PM
If it is true that everything is relative, then the rule that everything is relative makes the statement that everything is relative false because the rule is not relative. So, everything cannot be relative, logically, that is.
So, it's not that "everything's relative is relative," but that the statment "everything's relative" is false, not relative.
Posted by: Phillip Ross | November 17, 2006 at 04:13 PM
well... dunno. I'm very stonned atm so i'll answer to this tomorrow.
Posted by: Staš | January 14, 2007 at 06:48 AM
Relativity is an absoluut....When all is relative then it is 'absolutely relative'.
Posted by: spooky | January 14, 2007 at 09:11 AM
Stas, Did you see the film 'What the bleep?", it, to me, was great, also on the question of relative/absoluteness.
Posted by: spooky | January 14, 2007 at 09:13 AM