Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. FFRF.org

Honorable mention — BIPOC essay contest: Cole Songster

Vol. 38 No. 09 November 2021
Cole Songster                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

The beauties of nihilism

By Cole Songster

Dear Grandpa,

I’ve never really believed in the concept of a god, though I’m sure you know that. It’s not that I could say that, without any doubt, one doesn’t exist — I have no way of knowing. But to believe confidently in a god requires me to think this world was crafted with intent and, at the end of the day, I don’t.

Rather, I believe we live in a world devoid of any sort of set meaning, purpose, or rigid outlined moral structure. I suppose you could call me a nihilist, though people tend to have a negative reaction to that. And I get it, the concept is scary to think of! Society can only function with a general trust in strangers — a belief that most everyone you meet is, deep down, good. Otherwise, we’d be too constantly suspicious of each other to do anything. The idea that this belief isn’t grounded in some universal guarantee — that nothing actually dictates the morality of others — provides us no safety and can be terrifying.

And that is only made more poignant by the fact we are painfully aware of our own mortality. Humans are born to uniquely comfortable lives. Many of our basic needs are met and therefore we are free to fear why we exist at all — the luxury of existential crisis. It makes us search for purpose, for meaning — and we get scared and confused when what we grasp at is never quite perfect. As a result, we are born into a world not knowing how we are meant to use our time, but knowing it will run out. And that knowledge, that haunting thought that all will one day end, well, it means everything has a tinge of sadness to it. Everything is bittersweet.

Which is why I think so often that feeling can be seen as among the best. In a way it pulls at this innate, deeply human experience. Of knowing there is cause to be sad in any given moment, and feeling that tinge of sadness, but deciding to appreciate the beauty in it anyway. All beauty is eventually linked to pain. Love to heartbreak, life to death, and good moments to the fact that one day they will simply be distant memories you can never return to. But we accept the pain for the beauty. We take the risks of vulnerability because we make the choice to believe that it is all worth it. That in the end the beauty of these moments and these people are what give our lives meaning.

And therein lies the joys of existential nihilism. The almost freeing knowledge that you have no purpose. No meaning. You are free to live your life however you choose and in whatever ways make you happy. Because ultimately the risks you take — the activities and people you deem worthy of your time — forge a meaning that is self-made. All of us finding meaning in our own lives in uniquely individual ways, each according to our own needs and loves. There’s something beautiful in that.

Ultimately, when it comes to belief to religion and philosophy, there will never be one path that is so clear and defined that it’s objectively true. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be called faith. But there is beauty in all the paths, so long as those with differing ideas are still able to discuss them. And I’m terribly glad we can.

With love,

Cole Songster

Cole, 19, is from Portland, Ore, and attends Knox College. “I’m part white, black and Japanese,” Cole writes. “I have a strong interest in history, politics and the performing arts, namely choir and theater. I also have an interest in community service, and was part of the student-run organization PSPR (Portland Student Pandemic Response).”