Jesus and Nihilism: An Unexplored Perspective

In the realm of philosophy, there are questions that spark intriguing debates, one of which is the query: “Was Jesus a Nihilist?”

While this question may seem startling at first glance due to the deep-rooted religious associations with Jesus and the often negative connotations surrounding nihilism, it is an exploration worth undertaking.

Nihilism, in its most basic form, refers to a belief that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value. So, juxtaposing this with the teachings and life of Jesus, as seen in the gospels, opens a fascinating conversation.

Could Jesus, hailed as the epitome of faith and hope for billions, be viewed through the lens of a moral nihilist? Let’s embark on this philosophical journey together.

What is a Nihilist?

Let’s start with history and then definition.

Frequently attributed to the profound German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, nihilism is a concept deeply embedded in historical philosophy. Nietzsche’s “Will to Power” holds a potent quote,

Nihilism is a philosophy that promotes the view that all values are meaningless and that nothing can be known or communicated. This worldview is characterized by intense pessimism and a profound skepticism regarding existence. Nihilism does not adhere to any entity or principle and holds no commitments to any belief system.

There are 5 theories relating to Nihilism, but only 2 are relevant when contemplating the life of Jesus.

  • Existential Nihilism
  • Ethical or moral nihilism

Borrowing our definitions from The Collector.com

Existential Nihilism: rejecting religion and other authoritarian forces that can dominate the way we live out our lives. But with the resulting loss of moral codes to hold us in place, human life was essentially meaningless and pointless.

Ethical Nihilism: Argue that there was no such thing as an objective right or wrong. There are three camps of ethical belief in Nihilism.

  • Amoralism – a complete rejection of moral principles
  • Egoism – a view that the individual should only be concerned for themselves and their own private interests
  • Moral Subjectivism – the idea that moral judgements are up to the individual to choose, rather than being dictated by an outside authoritarian force such as religion or government, even if they don’t make sense to anyone else.

Did Jesus Behave Like a Nihilist?

Now, let’s consider Jesus’ life and teaching in connection to both existential and ethical nihilism.

Jesus and Existential Nihilism

Jesus was often in conflict with members of religious groups.

A significant portion of those conflicts was in relation to external behaviour and appearance.

It appears as if Jesus rejected religion in his life. Which probably could not be farther from the truth.

What is your Why

Jesus cared deeply about spirituality and religion but often felt that the internal matters of the heart were being neglected for external appearances.

Jesus’ death may appear that he gave up on trying to find meaning in his life and sought death.

But his saying as he approached death revealed his thoughts. Rather than giving up on life he actually believed that his life had incredible value and could change the lives and those around him. And maybe even beyond, impacting those beyond those he knew and loved.

No Jesus believed there was a reason for his life and that his life had a point (Matt.20:28). He came to serve others and ultimately die to ransom them for life.

Jesus and Ethical Nihilism

As there are varying degrees of ethical nihilism. Making it possible that Jesus believed one, but not the others. Or practise them to a varying degree.

Listen to the Sermon on the Mound (Matt.5-7) or a similar sermon on the plain (Luke 6) and it becomes clear that Jesus did not believe in amoralism. With his main thrust being about moral principles to live by.

Ethics

Beyond these two famous sermons, most of Jesus’ teachings are about moral behaviour and practises.

Egoism, seeking only the good of the individual runs clear in contrast to Jesus’ statement of “loving your neighbour as yourself.”

How can one only seek one’s own good while putting others’ interests before one’s own? Or at least equal to yours.

It is next to impossible, but this is what Jesus did. He spent his life serving others and ultimately dying for others.

Hardly seeking only his own good.

Moral Subjectivism is a little more possible.

Jesus saying statements like.

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago… But I tell you” regularly throughout the sermon on the mount.

As if Jesus was pulling morals away from religion. Prescribing his own moral beliefs.

Ultimately adding meaning to his and our actions. Not that our deeds are pointless but that they have greater value than we think. Not only are actions but our thoughts too.

Conclusion Of Whether Jesus Was a Nihilist

Jesus’ teachings and actions, as depicted in the gospels, are fundamentally incompatible with nihilism. The core tenets of his philosophy – love, hope, faith, and inherent moral values – stand in stark contrast to the beliefs of a nihilist, who posits that life is devoid of objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value.

Ryan Nickel

Two loves of my life beyond my wife and 4 children are history and the person of Jesus. From childhood, I was captivated by history and still love reading and learning about the past. One life in particular that intrigues me in history is the person of Jesus. It's fascinating to think about how the course of human history was changed by a carpenter turned preacher. Both in our times and also in his. I attempt to process all I am learning about him through conversations, writing and shooting videos about the life and teachings of Jesus. With each word drawing me closer into his life. Ryan Nickel has been part of range of churches, including Baptist, Evangelical Free and Church of Christ. In 1999 I graduated from Peace River Bible Institute with a Bachelor of Religious Studies.

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