A question of purpose
My response to comment #2 from a fundamentalist Christian.
On question 2 (If there is NO God, then there is NO meaning or purpose to Life. So without a God, does life have purpose or meaning? Without God, does the Atheist have purpose?)
Here’s my original response:
The first statement invalidates the need for the first question. You just told me that without god there is no purpose or meaning and then you asked me if life had purpose or meaning without god. Did you even think about these questions when you were writing them? The second question is pretty much the same as the first question so it is completely unnecessary. I was told there were ten questions but by my count, I’m already up to four. In this case, of course, they are the same question so I’ll say it is only one.
The only meaning or purpose to life is to live it. I can’t even guess at what meaning or purpose the writer assumes god provides. I don’t view worshipping Jesus blindly so he’ll let me live in heaven as a particularly noble purpose. There isn’t anything exciting about that equation. In fact, it suggests that my life can only have meaning if it is given to me by someone else. Why is that appealing?
I’m a comedian. I want to make people laugh. That is my purpose. That is my meaning. God did not provide that purpose to me. What gives my life purpose or meaning? I do.
Most of my response is ignored to focus only on this portion: I’m a comedian. I want to make people laugh. That is my purpose.
Here’s what he had to say:
And what happens when people stop laughing? Do you lose your purpose? Do you lose your meaning? What about someone who derives purpose from hurting others as opposed to making them laugh? I know you wouldn’t support that, but would you deny that person to seek their purpose?
I’m going to have to deal with the response in two sections as it is really two separate thoughts.
Let’s start here: And what happens when people stop laughing? Do you lose your purpose? Do you lose your meaning?
No. That’s ridiculous. I mentioned one thing that gives my life meaning but that is far from the only thing. I didn’t think I needed to go on as I’d hoped the idea there was more than one thing giving meaning was implied. Since it was not, I’ll expand the thought.
What else gives my life meaning? My kids, my wife, the science fiction conventions I helped start and still support, my love of movies, my love of the national park system…I could go on and on. I could write a blog that is thousands of words long on nothing but the things that give my life meaning.
Please note that my most important statement in response to the question was this: The only meaning or purpose to life is to live it.
When I talk about the specific things that give my life meaning and purpose, they are all part of that one grand reason. What gives my life meaning is the fact that I have it. I don’t need the promise of heaven to make that simple truth any more profound.
In fact, that promise devalues the life I have. If there is a promise of some eternal paradise or eternal torment, I will spend far too much of my life focused on that. I want to be present in my life because I believe it is all I have.
Honestly, I believe there is no greater purpose than that.
Then we have this thought: What about someone who derives purpose from hurting others as opposed to making them laugh? I know you wouldn’t support that, but would you deny that person to seek their purpose?
OK, we are working with a straw man now but I’ll work with the argument as presented.
Am I to assume that is the only purpose in that hypothetical person’s life? If they are not doing harm, their life has no meaning?
Am I to further assume that the only way to give that person a meaning or purpose beyond doing harm is to use god?
Would that person ever cease to desire to cause pain – even if god gave them another purpose? I doubt it. Just as those who are “cured” of homosexuality never cease to desire a companion of the same sex, you can’t use god to push the desire to do harm out of someone.
They will still have that desire to do harm. Perhaps the fear of hell will prevent them from acting on that desire. Perhaps not. Our prisons have plenty of Christians in them.
However, the fundamental answer I have is the same. Who gives this person’s life meaning? They give themselves meaning.
If that meaning is contrary to what society can support, they are going to have problems. They will end up in jail. Or in a CEO’s office. That doesn’t change what is driving their life. You may not like that fundamental fact about who we are but it is simply the way it is. That horrible person derives meaning from being a horrible person.
Even if god were real, we’d still be responsible for giving ourselves meaning every single day. God can’t give every moment of our lives meaning.
Even the most ardent Christian must find other things that give them purpose, right? Our desire to get a good job, see our kids be happy, watch our favorite football team win the super bowl or grill the perfect steak are not all goals provided to us by god, are they?
And if they are, when do I get to decide some of this stuff for myself? God, to me, is like the worst conceivable parent in that he will never actually set us free to make our own mistakes and to find our own path because if the path doesn’t lead to him, it is not valid.
I don’t want my kids to live their lives worried about what purpose I believe they should have. I want them to figure that out for themselves.
The god we are discussing is the opposite. He wants to maintain control over our purpose and wants to ensure that we all have the same one. I don’t view that as loving behavior.
We give our lives meaning. To suggest anything different is to abdicate responsibility for the time we have.
“What about someone who derives purpose from hurting others as opposed to making them laugh? I know you wouldn’t support that, but would you deny that person to seek their purpose?”
Who would do such a thing? Who would seek ONLY to harm people? I imagine someone who spends ALL their time torturing people. Who would spend ALL TIME torturing someone? That would be a terribly nasty person.
Well, if you believe in the Christian god, anyone who lives less than a perfectly obedient life, or fails to receive last rites, or is born in the Amazon jungle and never even HEARS about God… they go to Hell forever. There they are tortured over a span of geologic time that makes their brief life on Earth a mere instant.
In fact, if you think about it that’s what the Christian God does – he manufactures souls, and sends all but the tiniest proportion of them to eternal torture. Viewed over the span of all time, Yahweh is 99.99% “someone who derives purpose from hurting others.”
Two concepts about the Christian God that apply here (if you believe).
1) God helps those who help themselves. 2) Free Will.
BOTH pretty clearly say you’re responsible for your own decisions, actions, and life, so to me the idea of a God who wants to control your purpose, fate, etc is contradictory to some of the most basic concepts taught in Sunday School (at least in my long-ago Lutheran Sunday School classes).
It’s everyone’s responsibility to find their own purpose/meaning, and I don’t see why that can’t change over time as you grow via experience. If you’re told what your purpose is and don’t have to work it out for yourself, how is it truly meaningful to you?