The Meaning of Life: Part I of II
I’m going to be honest. I think that there is one thing that scares humans so much that we make fantasy worlds that flow with milk and honey, worlds that are controlled by perfected beings of enlightened wisdom and ultimate power: the meaninglessness of life. Amongst the fury of passionate arguments in the responses to one of The de-Convert’s posts, one commenter (#42) randomly proclaimed,
“You are confused yourself Mr. Ape…
Try to understand. Why do you exist? What is your purpose in life? Do you exist to eat, work and sleep? Think again Mr. Ape…”
I shrugged off the comment along with the brutally useless dialogue I had gotten myself into. Yet I have come to understand that this seems to be a core issue whenever religionists of any sort proselytize to secularists, so I bookmarked the comment in my mind and promised myself to get around to it. We all know that the question itself is quite poor from an apologetic standpoint. Christianity, on any level, does not really offer any more “meaning” than any other religious movement. It is, rather, a purely rhetorical device that plays on an individual’s insecurity with who or what they are in the universe. It is used by almost every major religion, almost universally as a evangelical tool, or, at best, an apologetic for belief itself.
Dennis Prager, of the uber-conservative Townhall.com site, writes,
“there are three values systems competing for world dominance: Islam, European style secularism/socialism and Judeo-Christian values… Perhaps the most significant difference between them, though one rarely acknowledged by secularists, is the presence or absence of ultimate meaning in life… If there is no God who designed the universe and who cares about His creations, life is ultimately purposeless.”
Prager later rightly recognizes that the usual secular defense of living a meaningful life is not the same as having some ultimate teleological purpose. Those words were written over two years ago, although I am sure he would still say the same thing today. I am not going to pick on Prager. I am merely pointing out that the respondent in The de-Convert’s aforementioned article is in good company with this psychological attack on the god-forsaken materialist heathens of the world. Yet, there appears to be an enthymeme involved in Pragar and Chito’s confrontation, which is that a belief in God gives meaning and purpose. This statement is assumed by both believers, and is probably a universal assumption among all believers. But is it true?
If we are to follow Prager’s line of thought, which dismisses the, at worst, day-to-day, or, at best, ontological meaning in our lives, we must seek this ultimate purpose that religionists assume is involved with a belief in God. I remember at the age of 11 or 12 wondering this same question. What is the meaning of life? It wasn’t that I doubted life had meaning – that would come during my brief nihilist stage while in Bible college – since I knew life had meaning, I just wasn’t sure what it was exactly. As a keen evangelical child, I went straight to my NIV Teen Study Bible and looked for God’s purpose, not just for my life, but for life itself.
The first thing I found out was that there isn’t much on the subject. I mean, there of talking around the subject, quotes that there is a purpose, but it definitely wasn’t an obvious one. It almost appeared as though it was simply good enough to know that there was a purpose rather than there actually being a purpose. But that couldn’t be it, could it. No good Christian could accept such an answer – I just wasn’t looking hard enough. So I looked harder. I can say that when I finally found the only solid answer in the whole Bible, I wasn’t exactly impressed. I justified it somehow, probably humbling my immature childish mind and promising myself to figure it out later in life – I wasn’t impressed, but there it was.
“The LORD has made all things for himself: even so, even the wicked for the day of evil.” (Proverbs 16:4)
“For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to who be glory for ever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36)
“…you are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for you have created all things, and for your pleasure they are and were created.” (Revelation 4:11)
Three different books, three different authors, one message. It was clear – God’s purpose for my life was to serve him. It was the common thread, so it seemed, for all three “religions of the book”. So what is the heathen to say to this? On the surface, if we are not living by this teleological purpose, it is implied, we must be merely living for ourselves. If we are living for ourselves, what is to stop us from succumbing to the worst of human nature? And so we come full circle. Meaninglessness of life is hence equated once again to fear. Not only then is it a fear of our own psychological insecurity, but also a fear of “the other” – the uncontrollable elements.
But what of this so-called “meaningful” life assumed by believers? The reason you were created was for one reason. It was so that God had someone (or someone else?) to worship him. A god without worshipers, it could be argued, is hardly a god at all, wouldn’t you say? Georg W.F. Hegel pointed out in his historical philosophy that there is a paradoxical relationship between master and slave: a master is not a master without any slaves, and slaves actually become masters due to their master’s dependence on them. If the believers are correct, are we not really any more than slaves? Is this really a purpose? Is that a meaningful life? Once again it appears that we are at the whim of the gods: they sit on their thrones on Mount Olympus – we are no more than their entertainment and occasional victims of their cruel wagers.