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 3

In the previous two articles I have explored why it is that some Christians insist that life has no meaning without God, and also touched on why I think their arguments do not stack up.

In this article I provide a more detailed rebuttal of the Christian claim that life without God has no "ultimate" meaning.

A final word on the Christian claim that life without God has no "ultimate" meaning

Firstly, the focus on "ultimate" meaning suggests to me that Christians who make this claim do not understand what life is like without a belief in God. It really seems like they are using their own worldview to argue that non-believers should not find their lives meaningful. It's an absurd argument.

But why do they have to use the word "ultimate"? What if that word was removed from the claim? Would Christians claim that life without God can have no meaning at all? Who gets to decide whether a life has meaning or not? If a non-believer finds their life meaningful (and millions of us do), then surely that debunks the claim once and for all.

Life without God, or without a belief in God, clearly can be meaningful to the individual who is living such a life. There is simply no way to argue against this, given that such meaning is subjective and it would be perverse to believe that every non-believer is lying about their lives having meaning.

So if life without God can definitely be meaningful to the individual, then perhaps it cannot be meaningful to others without God? But I think this too can be dismissed on similar grounds. For example, my life is very meaningful to my children, and yet I do not believe in God. Even this one case is sufficient to refute the argument that life without God cannot be meaningful to other people.

So that leaves us with just the idea of "ultimate" meaning. That is, if I understand correctly, meaning that extends beyond our life span, and perhaps for eternity. But to whom does it mean something?

If we don't exist after death, and if other people will eventually cease to exist too, then the only way ultimate meaning could even be a thing is for some being, let's call it God, to exist for eternity. So effectively what the Christians appear to be saying is that life without God has no ultimate God!

If X does not exist then Y cannot mean anything to X.

Congratulations, Christians! I hope you didn't spend too much time on that one. Or perhaps the softer version is also relevant. Life without belief in God has no ultimate meaning to God. But so what?!

If Y does not believe X exists, then Y is not concerned with what Y means to X, 
regardless of whether or not X actually exists.

It seems what they want to say is that if life can't have any meaning to a god for eternity, then it shouldn't have any meaning to you and me right now. I just can't find a way to make that logical link. It is a complete non-sequitur.

But there's another aspect to it. If you'll remember, in part 1 I mentioned that Christians base the claim on their assertion that meaning can only come from God. Or to be more specific, that the only meaning that should matter to us is what we mean to God. But this is more than an assertion. This is Christians telling you that the meaning you derive for yourself is not valid. It derives from the sick notion that you are merely a slave. You mean nothing until your owner (God) gives you meaning. And that is the only meaning you are allowed to have. So much for Christianity being good for humanity. Christianity of this form wants to enslave humanity. In fact it wants to take away our humanity and reduce us to simply God's slaves. It's sick. It's vile. It's anti-human.

Next time someone tells you your life cannot have (ultimate) meaning without God, remind yourself that this is the voice of learned helplessness. This is a voice that devalues humanity. An ideology that does not believe humanity has any intrinsic value. An ideology that wants to make you believe you are not good enough, and therefore you need an external superior figure from which to derive your meaning and your value. It teaches you, quite literally, that "without God, you are nothing".

The following words are attributed to Jesus. Still think he was the world's greatest moral teacher?
I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me—and I in him—bears much fruit, because apart from me you can accomplish nothing.
John 15:5 NET
Finally, here is the proof that life has meaning without respect to a god or gods:

X can derive meaning from Y, but only while X exists

That's it. Let's plug in some values. If X is me, and Y is life, or reality, or events in my life, or whatever, then this seems true enough. I know I find things meaningful now. And it is obviously true that I cannot find anything meaningful if I do not exist. It therefore logically follows that my life does have meaning, but only while I exist.

What the theist would need to do, in order to prove that life without God has no ultimate meaning TO ME, is to demonstrate a scenario or time where I cannot derive meaning from life, and yet still exist. Otherwise, there is no "me" for life to have no meaning to. They might as well claim that my life has no meaning to Santa!

But what about Christians? Do their lives have any ultimate meaning? If God does not exist, then they're in the same boat as us. Their lives would have no ultimate meaning, and yet it changes nothing. Perhaps ironically, there'd be no one to tell them that their lives ultimately mean nothing. And ultimately no one in existence for their lives to mean nothing to. Yet they'd still derive meaning right now from their belief in God, regardless of whether God actually exists. They'd still believe their meaning comes from God when in fact, it comes from themselves. I think this is exactly what is going on.

But it's time to move on

So far I've demonstrated (conclusively, I think) that life can have meaning without God. But there is a very real sense in which life can feel meaningless when leaving religion. This has more to do with the cycle of grief, as you come to terms with some real or perceived losses in your life. Since we've now established that life absolutely can have meaning without God, at least in every way that actually matters to you, we can start exploring how to make that happen.

And that is the topic of part 4...