Thoughts on nihilism: the absence of the ‘belief show’

Here’s a thought I had:

Recently, I was thinking about nihilism.  I began to mention some things about it that were interesting.

First of all, I said that nihilism is nothing but the fact that there is no ‘belief show’.  I first mentioned the ‘belief show’ in an article called “A time when shamanistic ‘journeying’ scared me . . . I thought I was going mad: questioning shamanism – the ‘belief show’“.  ‘Belief show’ refers to a need that, in order to establish a belief, we need to have the belief demonstrated in some way . . . we don’t just say “I believe” and that’s it.  Because of this, belief needs to have a performance, a ‘show’, to demonstrate it, and to manifest its fact.  This appears a number of ways:

  • Through a ‘rehearsing’, often of a legend or myth.
  • Through festivals celebrating aspects of belief (such as the birth of Christ).
  • Having belief demonstrated or seen around you (such as by people’s behavior, statutes, temples, etc.)
  • Seeing other people participate in various version of ‘belief show’.
  • As a way of life and world view.

Nowadays, there is really no performance of belief anymore . . . the ‘belief show’ has largely disappeared.  We live in an era where there is no demonstration of belief.  This causes a tendency to have no belief:  nihilism.

Normally, the loss of belief is looked in ways such as these:

  • That we have nothing to believe in.
  • That we have too much to believe in and, because of this, don’t know what to believe in.
  • Because we have been so disappointed by things we simply don’t know what to believe.

In fact, it appears, to me, that these are actually examples of the result of losing belief (the ‘belief show’) more than the cause of the loss of belief.  The root problem, it seems, is that we have no way to believe because there is no way for it to be demonstrated.  As a result, belief is as if ‘put on hold’ and stopped from developing which eventually creates a lack of belief or nihilism.  In other words, nihilism isn’t just “not believing in anything” but the result of an impairment in the ability to believe because one of the mechanisms of demonstrating belief (the ‘belief show’) is not there.  To put it another way, we don’t believe because we have nothing to believe in but because we have no way in which to believe.  As a result, the absence of the ‘belief show’ tends to cause a deterioration in belief. 

This shows a number of interesting points about belief:

  • That there is a close association between belief and the ‘belief show’.
  • That belief is a ‘language’ all its own.  The ‘belief show’ is a medium of that ‘language’.
  • That belief is a ‘medium of expression’ which is why it requires a ‘belief show’. 
  • That belief entails other aspects of our self other than our conscious and overt self.
  • That belief is not a matter of individualistic power, that it is not rooted in the fact that a person says “I believe” or “I agree with the belief”.
  • It shows that belief is not rooted in ‘logic’ and the need for things to make sense.

In this ‘era of individualism and logic’ people tend to emphasize only the logical or individual aspects of belief (that is, whether it ‘makes sense’ or the fact that one ‘accepts’ it).  This, in actuality, is getting belief all wrong . . . no wonder this modern point of view can’t find belief!   The ‘belief show’ reveals that belief needs many more things than individualism and logic can offer.


The ‘belief show’ manifests its power in many different ways.  This is because belief reaches to many aspects of our self.  Because of this, belief entails many manifestations to become real and to reach the many levels of our self.  In many ways, one of the weakness’s of belief is that it requires so many manifestations.  But the myriad conditions of life create a slew of situations and conditions that disrupt, alter, destroy, and undermine the manifestations of belief.  In this way, belief often is ‘hanging on a thread’.  Some of the things that cause this include:

  • The existence of different and competing belief systems.
  • A change in way of life (as belief is intimately rooted with way of life).
  • A change in population (which seems to cause changes in belief).
  • A change in society and social conditions.

Things like these create conditions that hinder the manifestation of belief and, therefore, alter the ‘belief show’, generally by undermining it.  As a result, it becomes apparent that belief is, in actuality, actually a fragile affair, very reactive to conditions, and easily undermined or destroyed.   This conflicts with the common held view that belief is ‘solid’ and the ‘base’ of life.  The evidence points that, if a person believes then it is ‘solid’ and the ‘base’ of life but belief, by itself, is very fragile.  This is another way of saying that it is the people who believe that truly make belief.  It is not a ‘force’ of itself.  It has power because people give it the power of belief.

Passive Manifestations

The ‘belief show’ entails many passive manifestations.  By ‘passive’ I mean that it takes no real effort on the part of the person.  A person basically ‘follows along’.  This is done a number of ways, such as:

  • The belief is something that is seen and observed.
  • It is not instigated by us.  Because it is ‘happening before us’ it tends to give it a ‘life of its own’.
  • It often is repetitive in life.

Some good examples of this are ceremonies, festivals, and rituals.

The effects of these is that they make things a ‘fact’, something that is there, but not something we actively participate in.  We primarily watch and observe and, in so doing, it instills its fact upon us.  This puts them in our ‘consciousness’ and makes us aware of them.  Passive manifestations, by themselves, create people who ‘play along’.  This creates a passive form of belief which tends to be weak and easily shaken despite the fact that the beliefs are viewed as ‘all-powerful’ and invincible.  In fact, its so weak that people who only emphasize this element, even though they are in an environment of great belief (such as a formal religion or primitive tribe), tend to easily lose belief (as I’ll discuss below).

The ‘playing along’ creates something like an illusion.  They appear to believe when in the environment of belief but are slow to lose it when they are away.  This shows that the passive manifestations, really, is a manifestation of environment, of its demonstration before them.  This is ‘environment-demonstrated belief’.  Basically, the demonstration of belief, in the environment, maintains the belief in people.

In actuality, the ‘environment-demonstrated belief’ seems to create a number of effects:

  • Its  keeps belief going.
  • It makes belief consistent within a body of people.
  • It keeps the belief ‘on the peoples mind’, so they can access it when they need it.

These are all elements that maintain belief in a society.  As a result, the passive manifestation is crucial in the social situation.

Active Manifestations

But it takes more than passive manifestations to create a ‘belief show’ and make belief.  Just ‘watching it’ is not enough.  There must be active elements to give it life in ones life.  These include things such as:

  • Participation.
  • Some form of association with an aspect of belief.
  • A tendency to ‘deliberate belief’ (that is, of maintaining and developing belief for ones own self).

Some good examples of this include prayer, participating in ritual, actively practicing aspects of belief (such as certain observances, rituals, and customs), etc.

The active manifestations tend to create people who are actively involved with their belief and creates an active belief style.  Because of its active nature it tends to hit deep within a person.  As a result, the active manifestation is crucial in personal growth and development.  In contrast to the environment based quality of the passive manifestation it requires a lot of the ‘inner person’ to maintain and keep it going.  As a result, one could describe it as an ‘interior-based belief’.  This makes it so that the active manifestation is crucial on a personal level.  In some ways, it makes it so that belief pierces a person like a spear.

‘Levels’ of belief

These two manifestations shows that there are ‘levels’ in the manner of belief in a population of people, for not everyone is the same.  In a ‘believing society’ (that is, where the bulk of the people believe in a specific belief system) there tends to be gradations going which range from passive manifestation to active manifestation, revealing different levels of belief in a society:

  • An attitude of blind obeyance – “just following along”.
  • A culture-bound belief – “being a part of society”.
  • A ‘personal’ belief system – actively practicing customs and traditions of belief.
  • A deep interior-based belief – becoming a priest, monk, etc.

This means that, in a society, there are all levels existingIndividual people, though, tend to focus on a specific level depending on their inclination, abilities, and conditions.  This is quite significant and shows that there are two elements in belief:

  1. The social element – this is primarily passive
  2. The individual element – this is primarily active

For some people, the active elements of the ‘belief show’ plays a bigger part in life than others.  In fact, the ‘belief show’ can become a way of life.  In this case, life, as a whole, becomes a show or demonstration of their beliefs.  There are many ways this appears:

  • As a cultural phenomena.  In many societies this point of view is part of the culture and way of life.  Because of this, it often entails a large part of the population, which is usually quite small.  This is particularly pronounced in many primitive tribes, for example.
  • As a social phenomena.   In many societies the society will give special place and functions for people to display the ‘belief show’ as a way of life.  Good examples are priests and monks.
  • As a personal phenomena.  Many people will develop a spirituality, on their own, in order to satisfy the need for a more active ‘belief show’.

In a ‘believing society’, the ‘belief show’ tends to play a big part in society and there are many people who live the ‘belief show’ as a way of life.  This further ingrains belief into the culture and minds of the people and tends to strengthen it.  The effect of this, oftentimes, is to create a greater bond between the people and create a stronger society.

The importance of an ‘Active Belief System’

In an article called “Thoughts on defining shamanism: an ‘active belief system’” I defined what I call an ‘active belief system’ and a ‘passive belief system’.  In the ‘active belief system’ people see their beliefs demonstrated as an active and living entity in their life.  They see the gods decisions in events that happens, for example.  In the ‘passive belief system’ this is seen very little or not at all.  Often, the belief system is based on imitating or learning already established beliefs, rituals, etc. which they replicate.  They also tend to rely on religious texts and legends as an example in life, which they often try to replicate or emulate.  The active element has disappeared.

History tends to show that there is a tendency for the ‘active belief system’ to degrade into the ‘passive belief system’ with changing conditions, such as overpopulation, for example.  When this happens there becomes a change in the ‘belief show’.  Basically, with the deterioration of the ‘active belief system’, and the coming of the ‘passive belief system’, the active manifestations of the ‘belief show deteriorated as well . . . passive manifestations tend to become more prevalent.  But, as I mentioned above, the active manifestations are what make belief hit deep within a person.  Its absence has, accordingly, destroyed the deep hitting aspect of belief.  Many people, nowadays, have no sense of an ‘active belief system’ and certainly demonstrate no active manifestation of belief.  Their passive outlook, created by the modern ‘passive belief system’, naturally makes them look at things from a ‘passive’ viewpoint, expecting things to automatically ‘make sense’ and be demonstrated before them.  I have often been stunned how many people expect religion, for example, to automatically answer everything and answer all their questions, while they sit passively to the side in their lounge chairs.

With the coming of the ‘passive belief system’ the belief becomes somewhat weak and frail, as described above.  As a result, belief tends to waver easily and fall easily leading to a lack of belief:  nihilism.   Because of this, one could very well say that nihilism, then, is rooted in the deterioration and absence of an ‘active belief system’.  Once the ‘active belief system’ fails, all that’s left is the passive manifestation.  Typically, this is not strong enough to maintain itself and, as a result, belief tends to falter.

What all this reveals is that the great strength of belief is in the active manifestation . . . the passive manifestation are really supportive.  As a result, a purely passive-based belief tends to lead to no belief at all . . . nihilism.  In other words, nihilism is a condition created by a ‘passive belief system’.  This seems to show a historic progression:

  1. An ‘active belief system’ with active and passive manifestations.
  2. A ‘passive belief system’ with passive manifestations and some remnants of active manifestations.
  3. A ‘passive belief system’ with passive manifestations.
  4. Nihilism.

Though these conditions are primarily social they tend to have great impact on the person.  They make it so that there is a continual ‘losing hold’ of belief by the individual person (that is, its losing an active role in their life).  This shows that the fall of belief is, in some sense, a result of the failure of the person.  This failure is primarily because the person cannot stand up against the social/historic conditions that they are in . . . instead, they respond to it.  In this way, the failure of belief ,or nihilism, is a testament to the weakness and powerlessness of the individual person to life’s conditions and realities.   This fact is further represented in the fact that a person cannot just say “I believe” and that’s it, as is often claimed (such as by Christianity and the individualists).  Belief requires much more.  A person needs a way to demonstrate belief, the ‘belief show’, for it to be manifested and to become a reality in their life.  But the ‘belief show’ is influenced by various conditions and realities of life.  When these disrupt the ‘belief show’ so does belief become disrupted which can, in some cases, utterly destroy belief . . . nihilism. 


Copyright by Mike Michelsen

This entry was posted in Culture, cultural loneliness, etc., Dehumanization and alienation, Modern life and society, Philosophy, Religion and religious stuff and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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