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The Meaning of Meaninglessness

Nihilism is a dangerous belief. The inability to make sense of it all leads many to conclude that life is entirely pointless. This, in turn, can lead to the belief that there is little point in trying at anything.

Now, I’m not here to debate the existence of a grand creator. (Thank God, I hear you say.) I certainly don’t think there is anything wrong with believing in or not believing in a God or Gods. I can see many good reasons for. But I sympathise with those who find it hard to accept the idea. 

Truthfully, I would like to believe in God. I would like to take solace in the idea that I will go somewhere after death, along with all who I love. I appreciate and understand how this can provide psychological security. 

I have a theory that we are theists by nature. Becoming self-aware came at a massive price. I believe we were meant to place our faith in something bigger than ourselves – that this is the antidote to one’s fear of death that resides at the core. Still, I can’t help but struggle with the idea. 

But I also struggle with the idea of a meaningless existence. Why should anything exist if there is no God? Just because? That answer has never satisfied my soul. And for all of science’s ability to explain the how, it will never be capable of answering the why.

I’ve had these thoughts long enough to understand at least one thing that’s for sure. You can waste your life asking such questions. Asking what it all means. Why me? Why this kind of insanity? I’ve come to realise that this is definitely the wrong approach. 

Many people wish to live in a world free from suffering, of course – one that only has abundant love. But they fail to see that compassion cannot exist without suffering. In the same way, high cannot exist without low or light without darkness.

Even love without hate. 

What if that’s the point? What if the meaninglessness of existence is a blank canvas that you’re supposed to paint meaning onto? Does the backdrop of meaning not have to be meaninglessness?

I don’t know if that’s true. But I am sure, at least, when it comes to the meaning of life – our own unique, unrepeatable lives – that we aren’t meant to ask the question. We are meant to answer it in the only way we can.

Perhaps – just perhaps – this really was by design.


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12 thoughts on “The Meaning of Meaninglessness

  1. This column is evidence of a mind talking to itself. Its anti-nihilism is simple floundering – positing suffering as “necessary” just adds to the cruelness of human social reality.
    If this kind of evidence-free postulating helps the thinker in adjusting to the supreme injustices of this world, then fine for him, but it should do nothing for others contending with the very real collapse of human progress.
    The lack of free will in our world makes this kind of airy philosophizing moot. Unless photos of a little man or little woman (the proverbial “homunculus”) can be produced, we must conclude that we humans follow the dictates of our material reality, and invent various various forms of quasi-rationality or blatant irrationality (“god,” “faith,” astrology, etc) to arm ourselves with the comforts of meaning.

    1. It’s not that I believe suffering is necessary – just that giving it a reason helps one to cope with it. Victor Frankly firmly believed it was those that had meaning that survived the horrors of the concentration camp. But you’re right – this is simply my mind talking to itself. Just random thoughts for discussion. Nothing to be taken too seriously. Thank you for taking the time to read and share your thoughts 🙏

    2. Suffering is not just necessary, it is fundamental to our very existence. Buddhism calls it “Dukkha”. To live is to suffer. To be alive ensures that you endure hardship, until you are no longer alive.

      AP2, I understand exactly what you mean. In the same way that a black canvas would never show dark hues, life cannot be filled with bright joys without dark backdrops or vice versa.

      You can’t have half of a tao and expect to find harmony. That’s just common sense. Notabilia must be one of those who think utopia is possible. I think Russia proved that doesn’t work out well.

      1. So that’s what Russia is/was up to? Or did you mean the Soviet Union? Is this a room for children here? If so, apologies, kids, carry on.

  2. Good luck – we’re all in the same position in these matters , and I do give you a lot of credit for putting your views out there seriously.
    I guess I’m very defensive about nihilism, but your thoughts aren’t random, they are quite coherent, or else I wouldn’t have .spilled my beer all over the keyboard in harrumphing about. This was just for discussion purposes, to see what comes out of the underused mind. Thanks.

  3. Recently I’ve been coming across a lot of poetry and literature that use the word/idea of ‘God’ in a non-traditional sense. For instance, Rilke, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Paul Tillich use the term to identify something that is the ‘ground of being’ or source, an ideal to strive towards. Alternatively, it points towards the values of Truth, Goodness and Beauty.

    Again, they are not speaking of a person/thing or all controlling entity – rather something more subtle. My point is there are many different ways to interpret the idea of ‘God’ beyond what is usually taught to us in the formal Church/Sunday school.

    1. I find the concept of what God means fascinating. I was referring to it in a more traditional sense here – a kind of grand creator – but I appreciate many people have different ideas about it. I recall Anthony de Mello relating the idea of God to awareness itself. He said you have to go beyond the label – drop it altogether. It’s not something you can conceptualise. This idea always resonated with me. Thanks Andrew – I appreciate your thoughts. 🙏

  4. AP, this is a very thoughtful post. Simply following the rules of a religion may not be enough to give life meaning. We need to follow our consciences as well as rules. I think life is meaningful when it is based on integrity and empathy. Work that benefits humanity also adds meaning to life.

    1. Hi Cheryl! Giving meaning to life is a personal endeavour. One that must be continually sought after and replenished. A great way – perhaps the best way – to do that is to help others. Thank you for sharing your lovely thoughts. Wishing you well 🙏

  5. I used nihilism as many use religion. For me it was a means to an end. I think it was Alan Watts that likened religion to crossing a river. He said, “When you reach the other side, you don’t hoist the boat and carry it with you- you leave it in the water and continue your journey.”

    I feel similarly about nihilism. I mean .. it’s scientific fact that our sun will one day end. Unless we learn to live without UV, heat, and photosynthesis (assuming we don’t kill ourselves before then) we- and everything within our star’s reach- will be the fodder of time.

    I had to say “fodder of time” out loud just to verify that it sounded like a speech impediment. But anyway… Lol

    That’s the beauty of life, is that it IS pointless. That really takes the pressure off, you know? Some poor bastard is going to kill himself every minute or so as humanity continues. They’ll do so, because something in their life is being taken far too seriously. When all he needed was to hear that nothing really matters. -Freddy Mercury

    1. Indeed, I agree. I think nihilism can work both ways though. You can have a kind of positive nihilism that takes the pressure off – where we say – it doesn’t matter so fuck it – I might as well try my best. Or a negative kind that makes people feel they don’t suffer for any good reason – so they say fuck it – why bother with anything.

      My feeling is – the meaning we give our suffering is up to us. If we fail to see the point in it we will only suffer more. At any rate, we could all do with taking life less seriously. I like the Freddy mercury quote and your thoughts very much. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment – it means something to me at least. 🙂🙏

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