Freedom had been hunted round the globe; reason was considered as rebellion; and the slavery of fear had made men afraid to think. But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing.
~ Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, 1791 ~

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Can life have meaning without God? Part 2

In the previous article I discussed some reasons why some Christians claim that life has no meaning, and more specifically, no "ultimate" meaning, without God.

But what if their entire premise is wrong? What if meaning doesn't come from God?

In this article I will show why life can definitely have meaning without God and/or without a belief in God.

If you remember, I started the previous article by showing that Christians insist that the meaning of life is dictated by God, or is in some way determined by God. Perhaps you have heard Christians say that God gives their life purpose / meaning.

I think Christians' belief in God does give their lives meaning and purpose. I think this is true irrespective of whether that god really exists.

But what if you don't believe in God? Can your life still have meaning?

I think the answer is a clear and resounding YES! Let me explain why I think this.

First, let's answer the Christian claim. It may be true that our lives have no ultimate meaning, but to whom does that matter? It would only matter to those who will live for eternity. If the argument is simply that our lives will have no meaning long after we're dead, then yeah, I agree. But so what? I don't see the relevance.

I think the error the Christian is making is in attempting to view the universe from an outsider's perspective. That doesn't make any sense. When discussing the meaning of my life, the only perspectives I care about are firstly my own perspective, and also the perspectives of those I love. And as far as I am concerned, those perspectives only matter (to me) for as long as I'm alive.

My life will have meaning (to me) right up until the point where I'm not around to care.

Of course my life will have no ultimate meaning, because my life will have no ultimate anything! That is to say, it is finite! Or in other words, it is a limited resource.

But what do we know about limited resources? They are often extremely valuable. And I, for one, find my own life to be extremely valuable indeed! I wouldn't trade it for anything, except perhaps the lives of those I love most deeply.

On top of that, I think your life becomes more meaningful when you mean something to other people. Shared experience creates meaning. We build connections with other people, and those connections carry meaning as well. Everyone's life means something to them right now. Belief or lack of belief in God makes no difference.

But it's all just for nothing...

You've probably heard this claim. It can even sound plausible for a while. Christians often take it further, and imply that if nothing we do now has eternal consequences, then we might as well murder and steal to our heart's content! Such comments hint at the moral depravity of the Christian mind. It's more than a little disturbing.

There are two ways to answer this.

Firstly, why do Christians assume I would want to murder and steal? Those actions would lead to an unsafe society which would have a severe negative impact on my quality of life. Instead, by acting in a way that is consistent with the kind of society I want to live in, and encouraging other people to do the same, I can live a much happier, healthier life, than if I focussed on purely selfish desires. In any case, I have absolutely no desire to harm anyone, so even if I did act more selfishly, murder and theft still wouldn't come into it. I sometimes shudder to think how such Christians would behave if it weren't for their belief in God.

Secondly, how is the lack of eternal consequences relevant to my life now? There are consequences in the short term, and as we've already established, I'm very much invested in living the best life I can right now. It might not mean something in 1000 years, but it means a lot to me right now. Not only that, the consequences of my actions affect others, and could even potentially have implications long after my death. Since I am capable of empathy, I don't want to cause other people undue harm or stress.

It's almost as if they're saying that if you're not going to win the game, then there's no point in even playing. And the response is pretty simple. What if you just play to enjoy it? And so it is with life.

If it's not eternal then it must be meaningless...

The whole idea that if it doesn't matter tomorrow then it mustn't matter today is just absurd! It makes absolutely no sense. I remember using a similar argument as a kid when asked to tidy my room. Apparently the fact that the room would only end up messy again was not considered a valid reason not to tidy it right then and there.

I think perhaps the real reason why Christians cannot see how a life without God could be meaningful is simply because they do not accept the meaning you give your own life. The idea of your life having a meaning (or meanings) that was not pre-determined by some external source is foreign to them.

But herein lies the key difference between believers and non-believers, when it comes to meaning.

Believers search for meaning, non-believers create it.

This cannot be stressed enough, and is one of the biggest hurdles to get over when leaving religion, especially if you were taught religion as a child. The truth is that leaving religion can make your life feel empty and without purpose. It's not because purpose requires God. It's because what matters to you has changed, and you need to fill the void with new things that matter. Your old purpose and meaning were probably given to you by others. You were probably not even aware of it. Now it must come from you. That requires effort. Learning how to take initiative and create a fulfilling and purposeful life is a life skill that some of us need to catch up on. As with all skills worth mastering, it takes time. But master it you will.

A final word

In part 4 I will look at some ways to create meaning in your life, but first I want to take one final look at the claim that life without God has no ultimate meaning.

Click here to read part 3...