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Austin Cline

Meaning of Life: Is there a Question to be Answered? (Book Notes: Losing Faith in Faith)

By April 4, 2006

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Religious theists like to ask about 'the meaning' of life, especially when they can insist that atheists are unable to provide any answer to this burning question. Then again, perhaps the question isn't really so burning after all. Maybe it's not a question that can be answered in the first place. Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist

In Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist, Dan Barker writes:

Who said life must have meaning? Why can’t life just be life? My family has three cats, We enjoy watching them play, eat, sleep, lie in the sun and chase bugs. Do they ask themselves what is the meaning of life? Is their life any less livable because they possess no coherent purpose for existence? Since we humans have larger brains with a greater rational capacity and self consciousness than other animals we somehow assume we must be worthy of a higher purpose. Isn’t that arrogance?

To ask the question about the meaning in life one must first assume the presence of someone to bestow bestow that meaning. This usually amounts to granting the existence of a transcendent reality, a supernatural realm to which we can somehow relate in a “meaningful manner.” If you can live without the need for meaning in life, then you will likewise not need the invented frame of reference, the plan and purpose of a divine will. To many people life is its own meaning, and the word “meaning” becomes meaningless.

There are a lot of assumptions lurking behind questions like “what is the meaning of life” or “what meaning can life have for an atheist.” These questions always assume the truth of a number of basic theistic and religious attitudes not normally shared by atheists, something which can make it difficult for atheists to address these questions if not prepared.

The first thing an atheist should probably ask is: why must there be a “the” meaning to life? Why can’t there be multiple meanings to life — meanings and different and varied as the people living life? The second thing an atheist should do is point out the flaw in assuming that we need some outside force or entity to impose meaning upon us. Meaning, if it is to “mean” anything, must be the product of how we live and what we value. No other person can give meaning to what I do and, for the same reason, no gods — if any exist — can automatically give meaning to my life.

 

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Comments
April 12, 2006 at 9:23 pm
(1) John says:

Eric Idle said it best,

“Life’s a piece of s***
When you look at it
Life’s a laugh and death’s a joke, it’s true.
You’ll see it’s all a show
Keep ‘em laughing as you go
Just remember that the last laugh is on you.

And always look on the bright side of life…”

September 21, 2006 at 7:15 am
(2) Marco Gonzalez says:

There is a meaning to life and the meaning is simple, it’s “To have a personal relationship with the Living God,” that is the God of the Bible. No other book in the World can claim ownership to the statement, “In the beginning” because only God was there ‘in the beginning’. Just like a man and woman become a father and mother for the purpose of having a relationship with their children, God too created us to have a relationship with Him, not to be separated from Him, like a wayward child is separated from his parents. What would you prefer, to be separated from people who love you, or connected to them? I encourage you to seek your Heavenly Father, for if you believe there is a colour black you should believe there is a colour white, and if you believe there is up then there is down. There are always opposites, in this subject there is God and Satan, and if it is true that God wants you to have a relationship with Him, who to you think it is who does not want you to have one with Him?

May 22, 2010 at 12:42 am
(3) Kathy says:

Whatever gives meaning to your life is your god.
Every human seeks “meaning.” It’s a basic human characteristic. Even the atheist looks for meaning or reason.
It’s built in. The thing that drives your life, has the highest priority, or you give the most time to is your god. The language we use betrays our need for something greater than us. Words like best, superior, highest, most perfect or beautiful, true, or good. Why compare if there is no meaning? Why is it smarter to be an atheist? What meaning does that have? To be intellectually superior may be your god. Every human worships something, or gives something the highest place in his/her life.

May 23, 2010 at 7:49 am
(4) Austin Cline says:

Whatever gives meaning to your life is your god.

Why? That certainly doesn’t fit the standard definitions of “god” you’ll find in dictionaries or actual religions. Seems to me that you’re just making up an idiosyncratic definition in order to arrive at some desired conclusion.

Every human seeks “meaning.”

Every human values some things over other thing. This automatically creates meaning.

It’s built in. The thing that drives your life, has the highest priority, or you give the most time to is your god.

Something that I find meaningful isn’t necessarily my highest priority. Regardless, you don’t establish that a “highest priority” has any “divine” qualities.

The language we use betrays our need for something greater than us. Words like best, superior, highest, most perfect or beautiful, true, or good.

Sorry, I don’t see how using phrases like “beautiful painting,” “superior typing skills,” “highest shelf,” or “true statement” suggest any “need or something greater than” myself.

Why compare if there is no meaning?

Because things in the world are different and, therefore, will be compared. For example, I compare you incorrect use of language with the correct usage and find your reasoning skills to be far from “superior.”

Why is it smarter to be an atheist?

No one said it was. It is, however, more appropriate given the evidence we have.

To be intellectually superior may be your god.

Only if you reach the same conclusion about people who also disbelieve in elves because they don’t see any evidence for it — or who disbelieve in anything they find lacking in evidence. Of course, everyone disbelieves in at least one thing for this reason, which means that your position entails that everyone has the “god” of being “intellectually superior.” That of course is nonsense, which is further evidence that your position is fundamentally flawed.

Every human worships something, or gives something the highest place in his/her life.

No. That’s just a prejudice of conservative, evangelical Christians because they lack the moral imagination necessary to see that not everyone is just like them. They lack the willingness or interest in learning that other people go about their lives in different ways and can’t be pigeonholed into the neat little compartments which evangelical apologists teach them must exist.

May 30, 2010 at 4:58 pm
(5) Mike G. says:

NOW, VOYAGER final line:

“Oh, Jerry, don’t let’s ask for the moon. We have the stars.”

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