For a hot minute it was very cool to refer to yourself as a nihilist. I’ve done this. In fact I still do this (because I am very cool). At my core, I think that I am mostly a nihilist, and I don’t understand how anyone could look at the world today and feel differently.
I started reading a lot of Friedrich Nietzsche after a close friend of mine took his own life in 2017. I was a mess. Nothing made sense to me. Out of respect to my friend and all of those who consider him family, I do not ever really plan to write much about his passing. It was, however, a major life event for many who knew him and I can trace a lot of my current worldviews back to how I attempted to find peace in the wake of him leaving this world behind. It was the first time that I truly settled on the belief that nothing in this life really matters, and that’s why everything that you do matters a whole lot.
Growing up in Christian school means that the only thing I knew about Nietzsche was that he once said “God is dead” and that means that I am supposed to hate him. Context be damned, the church needs villains and he is an easy target. In an attempt to suppress curiosity about psychology or the human experience outside of a narrow interpretation of the Christian Bible, I was told that there was nothing more to see when it comes to someone who has declared the death of God- a God who is very much alive/risen/concerned with my every thought and action.
Imagine my surprise to learn that he said some stuff other than that one single line that has made Jesus so upset for the last 137 years. Deprogramming 18 years of “faith-based education” became a full time hobby of mine at a certain point, and I discovered that many of the things that I learned about the world as an adult were already pretty well known by my friends who were exposed to a wider array of worldviews in their youth than me.
When Nietzsche said the aforementioned line about the death of Europe’s most famous deity in his book The Gay Science, he was stating that it was no longer crucial for there to be a supreme being in order for Europeans to understand values, morality, or order in the universe. These are all things that had now become possible through science. Imagine how threatening such a statement must have seemed to the deity-based powers that be at the time. Imagine how threatening such a statement must still be to the deity-based powers that be. There was a time in history where you could just say “Hey man God/Allah/Ra/Shiva made you so you better not step out of line. God/Allah/Ra/Shiva also made these laws that benefit those of us at the top so don’t be a dick or you’ll go to hell.” In my head that’s how ancient religious people reprimanded each other.
But now we have science, we have at least a minute understanding of how the universe works and as such it is no longer vitally important to go to church and confess our sins or pray for good weather when we kind of understand that weather happens based on the laws of science, laws that weren’t understood by most ancient civilizations. This is all pretty earth-shattering information to anyone raised in an era where faith in heavenly provisions dictated their entire existence.
When I formally walked away from my faith a few years ago, the most notable change I experienced was a loss of hope. I had lived for decades with at least a small belief that things would always work out for me because God and I were tight. Take God out of the picture and you’re left with the bleak understanding that nobody is looking out for you and life just sort of happens how it happens. This is a very lonely feeling and one that I struggle with pretty frequently. Someone that I cared a lot about passed away and I couldn’t say “well everything happens for a reason“, it was just “well, what now?”
I think this blind hope and allegiance to deity is responsible for a lot of bad in our world. At a more local level, I think it’s incredibly bad for the country in which I live. We have a political party that is proposing common sense legislation to protect our planet based on science and another that is saying that God will handle it and we shouldn’t hurt the booming economy and fossil fuel companies’ profit margins. One party that enacted policies based on education and providing birth control to low income persons and saw record-low abortion rates, and an opposing party says that God is against abortion and also talking about sex and are hoping their newly-placed Supreme Court picks will overturn Roe V. Wade. They’re actually discussing it as I write this.
In fact, the most common reason that republicans seemed to be alright voting for our current president is because he convinced them that he was going to protect the unborn, and that singular issue trumped (sorry) all else when it came to their vote in the last election. Republicans are so much better at organizing to fight the culture war than Democrats, it really is a marvel. Some people are willing to vote against their own self interests for the sake of pushing for an issue that doesn’t actually affect them in any meaningful way.
I decided early on that I wouldn’t use this platform to give a play-by-play of current events, that’s what the news is for, but shit man take a look around and tell me that this is the kind of place that you want to raise your kids. Our Republican-led senate refuses to take up any of the house-passed bills on gun violence so every day I have to drop my kids off at school with the understanding that some asshole could go to my local gun shop, the one that regularly advertises that they sell fully-automatic weapons, drive the 2.3 miles from there to my kids’ school and erase dozens of children from this earth because they’re mad about something they read on 4chan.
But we, as a nation, chose this because… unborn babies, dude! Every child deserves to be born so we can refuse them free school lunch or send thoughts and prayers when they get blown away by some redneck in tactical gear at Walmart, right?!
As a person who has read a book, this makes me upset. As a parent responsible for the well-being of 3 children, it makes me ashamed to be raising them in this backwards-ass temple of God and gun-violence, where we allow the religious extremism of a handful of powerful men to dictate the health and well-being of our nation.
So how does this apply to Nietzsche? Well, Nietzsche’s entire beef with Christianity was with its use as a power structure. He believed that Jesus was the only one true Christian and that everyone after that has gotten it wrong, treated it as a means to garner power and influence. He wasn’t wrong 137 years ago and he’s peacefully decaying into worm dirt right now as someone who is still correct in this particular observation.
Am I actually a nihilist? I don’t know, probably not. I tend to believe that the way you act is actually more important because of the fact that nothing in this life actually matters. We’re not all working towards some end goal of heavenly reward- we just have what we have here, right now. And we’ve only got a handful of years to figure out how to make something of it.