God Given Meaning?
Welcome to another installment in the Giving Credit to God hub-series where I discuss the strange things believers give credit to God for. In this hub we're going to deal with one of the foundational questions of all philosophy, one that theism and atheism often clash about – the meaning of life. Believers love to give God credit for giving their life purpose or meaning but in reality would the existence of their God add an objective meaning to life? I think the answer is a resounding and obvious no and I'll spend the rest of the hub explaining exactly why.
Believer or Not
One of the first evidences that meaning in life doesn't stem from God is that believers of different faiths and nonbelievers alike tend to find meaning in similar things. From the company of a loved one to the satisfaction of a hard days work to helping others. From the humor of a cherished inside joke to the bittersweet memory of a loved one who has died. Chances are we all find meaning in similar places and we all have some sense of purpose to our lives. For example many find purpose in providing for their families while others in a duty to serve their country in some way.
Aha! I hear the religious saying, “My purpose is to bring people to Christ”. Finding meaning in your religion does not make it objectively meaningful, it also doesn't mean there is a higher power from which that meaning stems. Remember that there are a great many different religions. A Muslim and Hindu might feel they are deriving just as much purpose studying their faiths as a Christian studying theirs.
Furthermore many religious folks I've talked to over the years have different answers for the meaning to life. Even within one church, within one denomination you're likely to get different answers. Some might say that loving your neighbor is the true meaning, others might point to John 3:16, still others might claim that a personal relationship with Christ is what does it, or simply getting to Heaven. If you expand this to include all religions you will get hugely differing answers. So what exactly does this mean about the meaning of life?
Well the answer seems clear to me, it means that the things we find meaningful, the things that give us purpose, are inherently subjective. In fact I would argue that they are NECESSARILY subjective.
A human being cannot be forced into finding meaning in something and a meaning imposed from outside can only be valued if it has subjective meaning to the person. Imagine for a moment that there is an evil God who declares the meaning of life to be slaughtering innocent children, we must now all find meaning in that. Chances are that we will all reject that as the meaning of life. Why? If God declares it than it must be the OBJECTIVE meaning to life... and yet we would reject it.
The idea of objective meaning from God fails for precisely the same reason that a God given morality fails.
Let's say we have a Christian who believes the meaning of life is for her to reach paradise and spend eternity with Jesus. Why does she think this way? Is it because Jesus has imposed this meaning? If so wouldn't all Christians know the meaning of life, supposing that God wanted them to know. Or does she believe it because it has it been explained during her religious indoctrination and turned out to be appealing to her?
If the all powerful and perfect being of the Universe has a purpose for your life why wouldn't he explain it AND if it turned out to be something you didn't like would you still obey? Of course I have heard stories of folks who felt “God's call” and guilt-tripped themselves into following a career path they didn't want. In fact that's pretty much the story of Matt Dillahunty, except that apparently God's call for him to join the ministry was apparently a call to atheism.
Together in Paradise
Of course at the center of many religious claims for objective purpose is the afterlife. How, theists argue, can life be meaningful if it really is ashes to ashes and dust to dust? How can atheists stand the nihilistic nature of their non-belief and the idea that we're just going to be DEAD when we're well, dead. The issue with this is that an eternal life is inherently (and yes I realize I overuse the word inherently) meaningless.
An eternal life also robs your mortal life of any real meaning outside of the “Will you get into heaven or not” question. Think about it for a moment. Does playing catch with your son, bonding with your loved ones or going to work to provide for your family even matter? If the only thing that matters is worshiping Jesus and attempting to obtains from sin than much of what human beings find meaningful becomes meaningless.
I've discussed the issues with an eternal paradise before but I'll do it here again just to better explain why such a thing is meaningless. What are you planning on doing with an eternity of happiness? There's nowhere to go from there, it is an end point, it leads nowhere. Surely after the ten quintillion-th year of sitting in your golden mansion in the Heavenly city you'll be bored. No time, no conflicts, no sadness, just endless happiness? Who could truly be happy in such a setting.
And as for those who do not get into Heaven, who end up in Hell (be that annihilation, eternal fire or mere separation from God) where is the meaning for their lives? Where did God's supposed eternal purpose for them get them?
Last But Not Least, God Himself
Finally, what does God hope to get out of the human race? A good laugh? Some drama? A fun show? Mere love and worship. I've heard literally dozens of answers for these questions and each one is as subjective and hypothetical as the next. God is perfect, so he can't be lacking anything, so he can't need anything from us.
What will God do with his followers that could possibly ever fill an eternity? The obvious answer, the only answer, is nothing, because you can't ever fill an eternity.
The idea of God given purpose is absurd and under the slightest critical scrutiny it crumbles to the ground. There are plenty of good religious people who find meaning in their faith and to them I say to each his/her own. You have your subjective meaning to this life and I have mine. Neither, as near as I can tell, has anything to do with deities. Thanks for reading.
Other Hubs in the Series
- Giving Credit to God
Objections are offered against the superstitious trend of giving credit to God for things he obviously didn't do. First installment in a series.
- God Given Gifts?
Dealing with the superstitious idea that your skills can come from God.
- God Given Rights?
This hub deals specifically with the idea of rights from God.
- God Given Morality?
A hub analyzing and debunking the bizarre claim that morality comes from God.
- God Given Victory?
In this installment I deal with the absurd idea that God is helping people win at everything from war to the lottery