The meaning in life is a popular topic among many Christian apologists. They’re eager to push it because they think their product has a competitive benefit: they offer ultimate meaning. It’s not that ordinary meaning isn’t as nice as their deluxe version, it’s that they’ve made ordinary meaning obsolete. With Christianity, they don’t just have the superior product; they have the only product.
No one can actually live happily and consistently with the view that life is objectively meaningless, valueless, and purposeless. … So when [Ryan Bell] says that he has found that now, as an atheist, life is more meaningful to him and more precious and so forth, this only shows that he hasn’t understood that the claim is about objective meaning, value, and purpose.
No one can live without objective meaning? Reading Bell’s comments about his new post-Christian life, it sounds like he’s doing just fine.
I want to experience as much happiness and pleasure as I can while helping others to attain their happiness. I construct meaning in my life from many sources, including love, family, friendships, service, learning and so on. Popular Christian theology, on the other hand, renders this life less meaningful by anchoring all notions of value and purpose to a paradise somewhere in the future, in a place other than where we are right now. Ironically, my Christian upbringing taught me that ultimately this life doesn’t matter, which tends to make believers apathetic about suffering and think that things will only get worse before God suddenly solves everything on the last day. …
Without dependency on a cosmic savior who is coming to rescue us, we are free to recognize that we are the ones we’re waiting for. If we don’t make the world a fair and habitable place, no one else is going to do it for us. Our lives matter because our choices affect others and our children’s future.
That’s a tough act to follow. Anyone could be proud to live a life with that as its polestar. By contrast, WLC is stuck with the purpose for life given by the Westminster Confession: the chief end of man is “to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever,” and WLC is eager to be just one more sycophant for God.
Here’s a similar take from Aaron Brake at the Please Convince Me blog:
There is no difference between living the life of a saint or a sociopath, no difference between a Mother Theresa and an Adolf Hitler. Mention of morality is simply incoherent babbling….
If atheism is true, and if atheists honestly reflect on their own eventual non-existence as well as the fact that their actions in this life have no ultimate meaning, value, or purpose, it seems hard to avoid the overwhelming feelings of depression, despair, and dejection.
This is self-debasing crap. You can’t figure out a meaning for your life, so you must have it assigned to you? It’s ultimate meaning or nothing?
He quotes WLC:
If God does not exist, then you are just a miscarriage of nature, thrust into a purposeless universe to live a purposeless life … the end of everything is death… In short, life is utterly without reason… Unfortunately, most people don’t realize this fact. They continue on as though nothing has changed.
What’s hard to realize? You’re right, I don’t have ultimate meaning in my life. That’s a “problem” like not being as strong as Superman is a problem—it might be nice if that were true, but it ain’t gonna happen. Adults squarely face the difficult reality that we’re not Superman and soldier on with life.
I thought to write this post after realizing that one of my favorite Christmas movies shows the emptiness of these apologists’ bluster. In the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey sacrifices for others. Everyone else seems to have left town to achieve their dreams and get rich or famous, but he must stay in Bedford Falls to mind the bank, the town’s only alternative to the greedy Mr. Potter. Finally, a loss of money becomes one crisis too many. George is about to commit suicide so that his life insurance will resolve the problem but is stopped by Clarence, his guardian angel. Clarence shows him how the town would be like if he’d never been born. His bank failed, and the town is now Pottersville, full of sleazy bars. George sees all the important people in his life, all worse off for his not being there. Finally, he finds his wife, a lonely spinster.
His prayer to be returned to his life is granted. He returns home and finds that everyone has pitched in to solve the problem. After a lifetime of putting his own dreams last, he realizes that he’s become the richest man in town.
The movie topped the American Film Institute’s list of most inspirational movies, and I’ll admit that I always get choked up at the end.
Yes, Christianity is alluded to in the movie, but ultimate meaning isn’t the point. George Bailey realized the rich, full life he had made for himself. He didn’t need ultimate meaning; the ordinary kind as defined in the dictionary worked just fine. He had striven for the same goal as Ryan Bell outlined above, and his was indeed a wonderful life.
Think back on our apologists’ complaints about a life without ultimate meaning. A purposeless life? Life without reason? Depression, despair, and dejection? Not only can life be full, satisfying, and complete with ordinary meaning, these apologists’ “ultimate” meaning isn’t the brilliant jewel that they imagine. They’re just selling elbow deodorant, and they haven’t shown me that I need any.
Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread
winding its way through our political and cultural life,
nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that
“my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”
— Isaac Asimov
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