Many of you know, I am a sucker for Radiolab. Listening to the podcast makes cleaning the kitchen a bit more enjoyable. This afternoon I listened to the episode, "In the Dust of This Planet" which became a collaborative story on nihilism with On the Media's Brooke Gladstone in an episode called "Staring into the Abyss."
You can find both stories here:
I was intrigued by the idea of "Pop Nihilism." The idea that nihilism is the basic credo of cool. Both episodes suggest that nihilism, the idea that there is no purpose to life, that nothing matters, is at the root of new cultural expression. Staring into the abyss becomes a cultural statement of, "look at me, look how brave I am. I am not afraid. I am badass." Jay-Z and other celebrities have been spotted wearing clothing that reads, "In the Dust of this Planet." Nihilism is trendy.
And yet, as both stories suggest, this is a posture. A posture to look cool and ultimately not feel the darkness and terror of nihilism.
As a pastor to adolescents, I am aware of trends, and the ways in which the teens around me are responding to them. I do not get the sense that the young people around me are attracted to pop nihilism as a way to ignore the realities of the world around them. I do not seem them posturing saying, "Yes, the world is awful, I am not afraid, bring it on."
Instead I hear them saying, "The world is awful, no one seems to care enough to do anything about it." When you see apathy running rampant in the lives of those in positions to bring about change, the outlook for your own future seems fairly dim.
In the Radiolab episode they talk about two professors teaching a class on mysticism. They mention how engaged and excited the students were when they talked about the dessert fathers and mothers leaving the corrupt cities to find a new way in the wilderness. The idea of going out, of creating a new reality, of pursuing God and love to the point of such radical reorganization of ones own life sparked something in the hearts and minds of those young students.
I was one of them. At Eastern University I was introduced to the idea of "new monasticism." The idea being that we could create another world, one that spoke out against injustice, environmental destruction, corruption, greed, and the McDonaldlization of the American Church. I was so intrigued by the idea that Beth and I pursued it to the point of moving to Denver, CO to live in intentional Christian community. To live in a way that spoke of a new order, or a new ethic. This was our response to nihilism, to staring into the abyss, to seeing only apathy and darkness.
Although that experiment failed for us, the sentiment is still there. In many ways I am finding a true expression of radical community in my work at West Hills Friends.
We have focused our attention and energy in the Church to saving souls. Our response has been, "This world is an awful place, right? Yes, you have a chance to leave it and live somewhere far better." I am convinced we have gone about it all the wrong way. In our attempts to get young people to heaven we have only convinced them that we are just as apathetic as everyone else. That we don't really care about them, or the world in which they live.
What if we could communicate the radical possibilities available to them now? What if we could light up the passion of the early mystics in their hearts? What if we showed them what devoting ourselves to love could look like here and now? What if we showed them the radical possibilities of counter cultural community to speak out against injustice, hate, oppression, greed, etc.? What if we told them that Jesus is in all of this? What if we told them that as a person of faith, your life and work can mean something to the world here and now?