Briefly said, nihilism is something that nihilizes. Popularly, it has taken on the meaning of breaking away from traditions, indeed traditions of morals in Nietzsche. ‘Nihilism’ is most properly used to refer to the type of process that imputes a meaninglessness onto a thing, which is quite precisely what, to a degree, Nietzsche did, although not entirely. Indeed Nietzsche said that mores (morals) had meaning chiefly in whether they strengthened or weakened the user of the mores—the nihilization for Nietzsche is only tactical, a part of a strategy, and not passive or permanent, but intended as a profitably limited tool, such as when removing parts of a weak foundation in the renovation of a house, to remake the foundation with more appropriate parts for its strength. This is possible because nihilism is a binary (or, more appropriately, a ‘dual’) concept—with active nihilism being one pole, and passive nihilism another. Nietzsche perhaps, and indeed quite apparently (since it has caused immense confusions and troubles in thought ever since) unprofitably valorised a concept he still chiefly used to refer to a dire thing. Nietzsche may have partially or at least most importantly somewhat argued for a trans-nihilism, a transcending of nihilism through an active nihilism. Indeed, Nietzsche refers to nihilism as something Europe must survive the onslaught of, and here he means wisthand the passivity it brings on, the hyper-devaluation, and that it can survive this by doing an active valuation to resist excessive devaluation . The concept originally is devised by one F.H. Jacobi to refer to a way of thought that imputed that no difference were to be found between revelation and poor thought—that those who had religious revelation were no different from a mad person with a flight of fanciful thought; the difference between revelation and thought was thus nullified, and the case of man came to be popularly regarded as one of a credulous or rational thinker. By saying there there is only either rational thought or irrational thought, and no supra-rational thought (i.e. thought inspired by revelation), the so-called Enlightenment thinkers have situationally nullified the tradition of the third variety in Europe, prompting Jacobi to coin the concept of ‘nihilism’ to refer to the type of thought with this tendency. N.b. that report of supra-rational thought has roots older than the appearance of Christianity, and is for example a feature of the reports of the initiates of Apollo, in Ancient Greece.
The idea that life is meaningless is hardly new. It is inherently included in the Judeo-Christian tradition, for example. “Let there be Light” — is God giving meaning to an otherwise meaningless chaos. Giving meaning is the primary process of grace, thus when Christians report their life having been given meaning through grace, they are describing a recapitulation of God’s creative act—which is the same as living a life with revelation, which is arguably a post-nihilistic state. The same idea is chief in the idea of baptism, with the idea of the baptism being of a protection against the nullification of the soul. The chief action of Christianity is exactly a recapitulation of God’s creative act, hence its centrality in many of the most noted concepts of Christianity, which are always to save man from being lost to the originary chaos and outer darkness. Tradition has always known a duality of loss and profit, of being lost to an abyss where-in one can lose one’s soul, our being saved from the adverse effects of said abyss, which is akin to finding and keeping one’s soul; remarkably similar to saving in a video game, which prevents the loss of progress. This is not limited to Christianity, but is known the world over. In Ancient Greece, souls are saved by initiation, which exactly is an initiation of a path over or through an abyss. The abyss has always had the danger of devaluation (a loss of sense, madness), and its crossing has always been a gain in a pathway of teleology, which before the Christians was the teleology onto the Heaven symbolised by the peak of Olympus. Christianity is thus a trans-nihilistic pathway, and has always been, since nihilism (the devaluation of life and loss of purpose) has always been a roaming danger; and remains whatever the state of nihilism’s prevalence, if not even more thankfully in those times where it has become not a mere near ubiquitous specter, but an openly admitted and professed ideology growing at great speed: “This collapse of meaning, relevance, and purpose will be the most destructive force in history, constituting a total assault on reality and nothing less than the greatest crisis of humanity”, says an author summarizing Nietzsche’s warning, before quoting the saintly man: “What I relate is the history of the next two centuries. I describe what is coming, what can no longer come differently: the advent of nihilism. . . . For some time now our whole European culture has been moving as toward a catastrophe, with a tortured tension that is growing from decade to decade: restlessly, violently, headlong, like a river that wants to reach the end. . . .” . These 200 years, needless to say, are still ongoing. We can only hope for grace. Indeed, hope is one of those concepts which specifically is against nihilism. Indeed, Wycliffe affirms it as trust in revelation, translating Romans iv.18: “Abraham agens hope bileuede that he schulde be maad fadir of manye folkis.” Indeed, King James’ 1611: “Who against hope, beleeued in hope, that hee might become the father of many nations: according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seede bee”—an affirmation of prophecy and teleology against its converse. (Coincidentally, see Jordan Peterson’s citation of the verse for that purpose in his discussion with Matthew Pirkowski, here.)