Is nihilism a default state if religion isn’t in the picture?

Nyla Pirani
5 min readSep 26, 2020

What is my purpose in life? How do I find it?

A lot of people go through life trying to figure out the answers to these questions. Some people believe religion gives them purpose and value, but others believe there is no purpose in life.

In other words, some people believe in Nihilism. Nihilism is essentially the rejection of all religious and moral principles. It’s the belief that life is meaningless.

This philosophy is usually associated with a german philosopher named Friedrich Nietzsche.

the man himself 🤓

People who disagree with Nihilism are commonly people who are religious because their religion gives them purpose and meaning in life.

The question I had was if religion didn’t exist, would everyone / most people, be nihilists?

After understanding the concept, the opinion I hold is no. Here’s why….

🏫Education Systems

For the last few centuries, we have spent our time going through a system we call school.

I’ve always been a “why?” oriented person so I obviously asked all my teachers why we had to learn about every little thing that we did.

My math teacher always talked about how one day we’re going to build a fence and we need to understand math in order to do that. In history my teacher told me it was important to know where we come from. In english class, my teacher just went on about how essay writing was an important skill. But I had one incredible teacher and one day she told me that school was for exposure.

She explained to me that the reason we have school systems and are forced to take all these subjects growing up, was so that we got a good understanding of what was out there.

At the time, this didn’t make sense to me. I was in fourth grade, but I already believed I disliked english but loved working with numbers. This could get into an entirely new topic about how the school system needs to be saved and that the ways they expose you to certain things can be horrible, but we won’t get into that in this article.

I’m not going to sit here and say that the school system is perfect. In fact, I’m probably one of the last people in the world to go around saying things like that. But at the end of the day, I agree with that.

I agree that the purpose of school is exposure. I then believe that university and college are ways to go deeper into the things you loved being exposed too.

Through this, you find the things you love, and the things you’ll dread doing. You’ll realize what your good at and the things you have to try a lot harder in. You’ll understand different aspects of the world we created as humans. But my main point here is that you’ll find your purpose.

That’s the first reason I believe that even if religion didn’t exist, nihilism would still not be a default state.

🧠Idoo Landau

Idoo Landu is another philosopher and he changed my views on a few different things. But he also contributed to why I don’t believe Nihilism would be a default state if we didn’t have religion.

He talks a lot about how if you don’t feel as if you have a meaning in life, you misunderstand the concept of meaning or you don’t have enough data points. meaning is like an equation, if you add or subtract value variables you'll get more or less meaning.

That concept really made sense to me. If you subtract religion, it just alters the equation. Doesn’t mean you’ll get no purpose or meaning in life.

It’s possible that the purpose may be harder to find if you subtracted religion and didn’t add anything else but it still exists somewhere.

There are people in the world today who aren’t religious or simply don’t believe in the concept that someone created us and everything around us. Those people just have different data points to others. That doesn’t mean they don’t have a purpose and meaning to life.

“people are mistaken when they feel their lives are meaningless. The error is based on their failure to recognize what does matter, instead becoming overly focused on what they believe is missing from their existence" —Iddo Landau

Those are the two biggest points I have on why I would say that even without religion, nihilism isn’t a default state.

Here are a few smaller things I wanted to mention on the topic of Nihilism and life meaning to possibly get you (and me) thinking:

It’s possible to live a meaningful life, in an imperfect world.

To have meaning in our life means to have a life with a good amount of value added to yourself and/or others. Even if we have imperfect lives, there is still a sufficient amount of value to add. Meaning, for most of us, it is possible to live a meaningful life in an imperfect world.

Optimizing for happiness

We are essentially nothing in this world. We are so small compared to the potential of existence. One day we're here, we live a life, and then were gone. But right now that cycle doesn’t impact every living thing in the entire world. It impacts a very small percentage of things.

There are so many things we can do in that lifetime, but there is way more that the majority won’t do. I believe that people should optimize for happiness and that can equal out or help you find that purpose.

Different things make different people happy. So if travelling and solving big problems makes you happy, do that. If working at a small bakery makes you happy, do that.

This could lead to an entire discussion on selflessness and if that truly exists but again, that’s something else for another day.

Having life meaning improves mental and physical health

This study was done about the correlation between mental health, physical health and cognitive function and understanding your life's purpose/meaning.

“Presence and search for meaning in life are important for health and well-being, though the relationships differ in adults younger and older than 60 years. Better understanding of the longitudinal relationships of meaning of life with well-being is warranted to design interventions to increase meaning of life and improve health and functioning.” — Source

This made me realize that understanding life's purpose is more than just not being bored. It actually improves your health and function.

That’s all I have on Nihilism for now, I hope some of those things made you think about the concept and possibly devils advocated things your own opinions.

Over the next little while, I’ll be doing deeper into different philosophies and publishing new content on them every two weeks. If you want to stay up to date on those things every month, click here!