11 December 2011

Life is Meaningful Here and Now

Believers, especially those who make their faith the cornerstone of their lives, have a tendency to think that life without God is meaningless. They claim that, in an atheistic world, living would be absurd and that nothing would matter at all. They sometimes even view atheism as an irresistible cause for despair and a reason to commit suicide. The consequence of this opinion is that it can discourage those with serious doubts from pursuing them for fear of where they will lead. But I believe that it’s a terrible mistake to think that belief in God is necessary to find meaning in life, and I believe that theism no more helps answer existential questions than it helps answer scientific ones.

If God’s existence can have meaning without other beings, then so can our existence have meaning without other beings. But if other beings are indeed required for meaning, then we have other people and don’t necessarily need God for that purpose. Alternatively, if God assigns our otherwise meaningless lives meaning with his plans, then so can we can with our own plans. People find meaning in their familial roles, in their friendships, in their careers, in art, in science, in politics, in their hobbies, and in many other aspects of their lives, including in their religions. But not only does meaning need not be assigned from on high, it really cannot be, for one has to adopt God’s plans as one’s own for them to be meaningful. Meaning isn’t objective, existing in the abstract, independent of persons. Rather, in order for something to be meaningful, it has to mean something to someone. If my life has meaning, then it’s because it means something to me. The plans of another being, even my alleged creator, are irrelevant unless I make them my own. And whether the plans originate from one’s creator, another person, or from oneself is also irrelevant as long as they ultimately become my own. It is we who give our own lives meaning, though we rarely ever do so consciously. The non-existence of God negates only one potential source of meaning for us, leaving us a great number of other excellent candidates.

But believers often argue that, without God, our existence will eventually come to an end, and that at least from our perspective, it will be like we never even existed, so nothing we do in life matters. But if something cannot simply matter here and now for its own sake, then it cannot matter because of some future here and now or even an unlimited series of future heres and nows because they all in turn would depend on points even further in the future, ad infinitum. If nothing matters, then an eternity of nothing doesn’t help and so belief in God doesn’t help.

Theism doesn’t provide meaning to life. All it does is push the problem back, either to another being or to a future you, neither of whom are any more prepared to answer it than the present you. There is room for a lot of debate about whether life has meaning, but believers should understand that belief in God doesn’t make the difficult questions simply disappear. In fact, believers already address them implicitly, and if they were to discard their faith, they would probably feel the same about the meaningfulness of their lives as when the believed. Atheists aren’t miserable people constantly considering suicide, and for good reason: life is worth living for its own sake, here and now.

Image: Simon Howden | FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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9 comments:

Laurance said...

When I was young - late teens, twenties, I bought the myth that life has Meaning and Purpose, and that our quest is to discover the Meaning and Purpose of Life.

But I was seriously depressed. Everything was postponed for me. I went to kindergarten in order to get ready for grade school, to grade school in order to be ready for high school. High school was preparation for college, and college was preparation for adult life, and adult life was once again for some purpose in the future. Everything was somewhere else, sometime else. I had no life HERE and NOW. I felt badly alienated and dislocated.

By the time I was in my thirties I'd figured out that when something means something else, that something else is somewhere else. If there's a purpose, it's off in the future, it's not now.

I never believed in god to begin with, or thought that this illusory meaning and purpose had anything to do with a deity. I'm glad for that. For me it was a matter of thinking it through and seeing that there was no reason to believe in any sort of meaning or purpose.

Far from being impoverished, I find my life extraordinarily rich. Without any meaning somewhere else or any purpose in some distant future, I have this amazing Here and Now.

Lately I've been realizing how vanishingly improbable it is that I happen to be alive at all, and conscious. But I am, and I feel such awe and respect for that fact. As Mr. Natural said, long ago, "Don't mean sheeit...", and for me this meaningless, purposeless world is far lovelier than anything created by any god.

There's a video that brings tears to my eyes. It's appeared on several sites, and it warms my heart.

http://io9.com/5867092/david-attenboroughs-rendition-of-its-a-wonderful-world-is-a-decidedly-excellent-way-to-start-your-week

If this link doesn't work, google David Attenboro It's a Wonderful World for this youtube vid.

Don't need no meaning. Don't need no purpose. Here and now exisitance is glorious enough.

Gaius Sempronius Gracchus said...

No, it's not.

There is no larger purpose that the evil that befalls you, me, or us serves.

Or the good, for that matter.

It was not meant to be.

There is nothing higher that our lives are about, whether we think so or not.

As folks nowadays say so tautologically, "It is what it is," and that's all that it is.

And as for Laurance whose "here and now existence is glorious enough," we and he can hope his luck holds for a while.

It won't forever.

At best, there is the shipwreck of old age to look forward to.

Or, for those who prefer it, a quiet death before things get really bad, with or without dignity.

Secular Planet said...

GSM: There is no larger purpose…

I never said anything about a "larger" purpose. To say that life is not meaningful—referring to the title of your reply—is to think and speak like a theist. You're limiting yourself to a single notion of meaning, and a really terrible one at at that.

Anonymous said...

Life is without meaning, and I am sick of atheist apologists trying to square the theists' circle. No, you don't find 'other meaning' by replacing 'God's plan' with 'your plan'. You use that bit of casuistry to delude yourself into carrying on with your head high. Life consists of two choices, and you'll notice your faith is immaterial. You either a)delude and distract yourself b)check yourself out c)struggle to choose between a and b (but this is a derivative of a)
That's it. Period. Now get to it.

Secular Planet said...

Anon: Life is without meaning…

To say such a thing indicates that you don't even understand the concept of meaning in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Of course I do? In fact, 'concept' describes it perfectly. It's intangible and ephemeral. I would bet any sum that your definition of 'meaning' falls squarely under a) It's an integral piece of the delusional framework you have built for yourself.

Anonymous said...

Perfect summary:

http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2223#comic

Secular Planet said...

There is nothing at all delusional to say that I am happy here and now, or that the people in my life are important to me. That my life is astoundingly small and brief doesn't mean that it's without value. Of course my life don't mean anything to the universe, but it means literally everything to me.

It's you, not I, who are stuck in a theistic framework, thinking the non-permanence of life entails that it's meaningless and not worth living.

Tell me one thing in my post that isn't true or I will assume your claim that I'm deluded is completely baseless.

feasog said...

My current problem is not about no God but how do I conduct my (non-existent) conscious life aware that free will is impossible. I feel how a formere believer must.