The Meaning of Life: Part II of II
The fallacy that we all abide by one paradigm (or at least that we should) has led many Christians, both those of the conservative typology as well of the “floundering liberal” (Falwell’s words, not mine), to believe that non-believers have no ultimate purpose or meaning in life. Yet they do not realize that this unfair accusation is no different than the atheist who would also unfairly place his or her paradigm on the Christian and proclaim that a worship of an imaginary being and the subsequent false hope for a life after this one is foolishly nihilistic and deters the “believer” from living a purposeful life.
In my previous post I expressed my wariness with the so-called meaningful Christian purpose. I stopped short, however, of offering my own “secular” meaning of life. The conservative pundit I quoted in the previous part recognized, more or less, that a non-believer is fully capable of living of meaningful life. This meaning, however, is limited to the ontological realm. The pundit could not see an ultimate, or teleological meaning for a secularist’s life. To many Christians, the atheist’s view is that we are born, we live for ourselves, we die by ourselves. Finito. Apparently, if their god is added to the equation, even if the only purpose is to bow before him, at least it is something. I believe that this has led Christians to adhere to a false dualism that is so present in gnostic paradigms: the material is empty, the spirit is where life is found. Yet everything in observable reality tells us otherwise. The lack of evidence for either a god or heaven leads one to wonder how it is that a theist can have such a pessimistic view of the material realm.
Let me offer a different perspective of the secularist’s lot in life. When you walk into the Guggenheim in New York or the Louvre in Paris, do you say that it has no purpose? From the outside, they are merely buildings – beautiful buildings in this case, but buildings nonetheless. While the architecture may well be a masterpiece itself, it is the art inside that gives purpose to the museum – without the art, it is no longer a museum, although it may still be a work of art itself. It may be that not everyone is a piece of art themselves, such as these grand museums, but the most beautiful pieces of art can still fill an average museum and, more importantly, give a humble museum a grand purpose.
The teleological and ontological purposes of humanity are one in the same: to live, and to create life. The contemporary Christian paradigm may have a hard time recognizing this due to its continual move away from life and focus on death, but even the Judaic tradition, complete with a view of worshiping a god, saw life as a teleological purpose. The Abrahamic covenant itself was not a promise of some vague heavenly locale, in fact, the view of heaven is so insignificant in the “Old” covenant that some sects of Judaism reject the notion altogether. They recognized that the artwork of life lives on through generations, or put more crudely, through the “Darwinian” perpetuation of the species. As Dawkins and numerous other atheists have pointed out, the stress on living only one life inadvertently places more emphasis on “life-making.” The addition of afterlife, put into perspective, only cheapens this life.
Part of our current generation’s issue with “life-making” in the secular sense is that we don’t really do too much of it anymore – or that when we do, it is overshadowed by our lust for things will very little substance. Jay R. Jones writes,
When I was younger I dreamed of adventure. I would watch Jacques Cousteau documentaries with my dad and we would stay up late into the night putting together scrapbooks of submarines, airplanes and ships – all the necessary tools of a good explorer. He would tell me that, one day, I too could travel like Cousteau, unlocking the world’s secrets.
Now, at age 28, I am trapped.
I pay for a car so that I can drive to work so that I can pay for my car.
I paid for education so that I can have a career that will pay for my education.
I paid for a house so that I have a place to live while I work to pay for the house.
I picked a good neighbourhood so that I could get to know my neighbours, but all my neighbours have fences.
I own clocks so that I can see how little time I have in a day.
I own a TV so that I can watch documentaries about people who are unlocking the world’s secrets – my secrets.
This life looks familiar to a lot of us. There is so little life. It feels dead. That’s probably because it is. There is very little “life-making” involved. At the end of one’s life, the cliche goes, no one says they wished they spent more time at the office. Since this is the way so many of us, including Christians, live, it is difficult for many religionists to see that life-making itself is a purpose. A positive life-maker brings meaningful joy to the human race and, by extension, to our natural surroundings (because, they are, after all, living as well). We love and make love. We laugh and make laughter. These are the artworks that fill the museum of the individual and humanity. And the propagation of our species is never a “just”, as in, “we are only put on this planet just to perpetuate our species?” The propagation of our species is one of the greatest life-making experiences this life has to offer: procreation, housing in the womb, pain of birth, and child-rearing are all incredible features of life. Quite honestly, I find more truth of a teleological purpose in my daughter than in a emotionally distant being that I could pretend is always around me.
Now, if it were the truth that this life is the cheaper one, as I mentioned earlier, then we would have a different story – but that isn’t what this is about, is it? Christians rarely use their ultimate purpose as an evangelical selling point, they only state that there is a purpose for your life and for some reason this is suppose to give credibility to their position. I have yet to see a tract with fine print stating that this purpose for life is to solely be the obedient slave of some cosmic being (who, if you are being good, is your “buddy” – just don’t peeve him off). The accusation that non-believers have no teleological purpose is an emotional argument, but one with very little substance.
Note: Is has been argued by essentialist religious theorists that the creation of sexual taboos encroaches on universality, and the majority of anthropologists recognize that this feature of religion almost always begins with limiting the sexuality of the female. The reproductive power of the feminine, one might argue, threatens men by uplifting the “life-making” role of the female, and men, as we all know, were the one’s who created the religions we have today. Hmmm…
-The Apostate…thinks that italics makes one seem pensive.