What Matters More Than Anything Else at All, Whatsoever?
I’m not asking what matters to you or to me personally, subjectively, in our own temporal lives? My question has to do with the overall scheme of things—reality itself. What matters more than anything else—period? That includes us, but is not limited to individuals or even groups of people. What I am asking is hard for some people to understand. I get that. But please try to understand what I am asking here. That will require you to rise above yourself in a kind of act of self-transcendence to “view” the whole of reality that includes everything that is.
What matters most? To all and everyone and everything? I think if you ponder this question you will have to agree that what matters most is that there is meaning and I will dare to say that merely subjective meaning or “meaning” created by creatures is not really meaning in the sense that it must be.
Put another way, if life itself, if the universe, if being has no objective meaning, then anything is permitted and the only consistent way to live is for pleasure (whatever that is for each person). If there is no objective, universal, objective meaning “out there” and “in here” (within each person’s life drawn from the “out there” meaning), then, whatever a person does is ultimately okay. Society may disagree, but society’s judgment about people’s behaviors are really meaningless. So long as a person can get away with whatever he or she decides to do and finds “meaning” in that, he or she is free to do it with impunity.
Society, culture, government may condemn his or her decisions and actions, but ultimately that is only a culturally conditioned judgment with no ultimate bearing.
Let me illustrate. Most of us now look back on actions of people in the past and condemn them—even when those actions (e.g., slavery) were perfectly acceptable socially and culturally and legal. We condemn them anyway. Why? Were they right then but wrong now? By “they” I mean those actions in the past. Where they right then, when they happened, when they were being done, but somehow made wrong (for those in the past) now? I’m not asking whether slavery is now recognized as wrong for now. I’m asking if we now think that it was wrong then—in the past—even though hardly anyone then thought so (except slavery’s victims)?
If they were wrong then, as our condemnations of slave owners of the past would indicate, what made them wrong when the social order judged them right? Read on past the italics, please….
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Now to my main point…. If there is no God or anything like God, an eternal being, creator of all except himself/itself/herself, who is a moral being, then “meaning” as I mean it (and as you should also mean it) is impossible. In that case, “meaning” truly becomes relative, subjective (even if in relation to a large group of people who simply happen to agree), and always changeable.
This is one point where philosopher Immanuel Kant and I agree entirely. We disagree about the details. I think Kant was probably a deist of some kind, but we agree that meaning and morality depend on the existence of God as understood through “ethical monotheism.”
Now I can already anticipate some objections because I’ve heard and read them before, but they are simply wrong. One objection is that we human beings can create meaning and we do that and it’s enough. My late friend Paul Kurtz, perhaps the leading secular humanist of the late 20th century, argued in In Defense of Secular Humanism. It isn’t enough and anyone should be able to see that if they rise above humanity as it is now and view the long history of humanity and consider right and wrong in the past. And they should be able to see its wrongness if they contemplate how shifting and changing humanity’s concepts of meaning and right and wrong are.
I once invited the president of a state Humanist Association to speak to my Christian Apologetics class. We read Kurtz’s book (mentioned above) first. Then we spent at least an hour in dialogue with the man. At the end of the conversation I asked him what he would say to someone who argued that “Do what you will shall be the whole of the law” (Aleister Crowley). His only response was that he would consider such a person a “moral imbecile.” I asked why and he had no response.
Now, I have a second answer that is really (for me) the “other side” of the first answer to what matters most. That God exists is the one side; the other side is that God is truly good in some meaningful way other than “Whatever God does is good just because God does it.”
Now, very few believers in God will come right out and say that, but it is what I detect must be going on in their minds when they defend as “good” God’s alleged decision to create people for eternal torment in hell (for his glory). One leading Calvinist theologian argued that God saves as many people as his nature allows. (If you question my references, read Against Calvinism where I name and document everything I say here about specific Calvinist theologians.) One can only exclaim What? Then God is not the omnipotent and free God Calvinism says in its doctrine of God’s sovereignty and providence. And yet, that Calvinist theologian’s explanation is the only possible one. But it is self-referentially absurd within the Calvinist system in which God is absolutely free and almighty.Within the Calvinist theological system (and here I speak only of so-called “consistent Calvinists” of the “TULIP” variety who are concerned to think and communicate coherently and consistently) “God is good” is uninformative. It does not inform us of anything about God because there is no meaning of “good” consistent with creating human beings only to torture them eternally. Within the Calvinist system, “God is good” is simply a tautology and like all tautologies it is not informative. The usual defense is something like “Whatever God does is good just because God does it” which is an expression of voluntarism which is an expression of nominalism. But that and these empty “good” of any real meaning—when applied to God. There is then no connection between “good” in God and “good” for us—even as God commands us to be good.
My conclusion is that both atheism and Calvinism rob reality of what is most important—that there is real meaning in the universe and that meaning is good news. See what I just did? I added something to what I said previously. It’s not enough that reality be meaningful; reality’s meaning must be good news—ultimately and in the overall scheme of things (eschatologically).
Calvinism pretends that it is good news, but it turns out that it is only good news for some and not for all. That is, unless a person is willing to bite the bullet and admit that even those predestined by God to eternal torment in hell “get to” contribute to the summum bonum, the glory of God, by suffering in the flames of hell for eternity. But even then, it’s not really good news because the God who is the ground of all real meaning is a moral monster—not that different from Satan or Stephen King’s ending to his novel Revival. (Read it to see what I mean—if you dare. It will keep you awake at night unless you really believe that God is good and will win over all evil in the end!)
Calvinists typically respond to all this by arguing that God is good because all people deserve hell but God mercifully and graciously chooses some to rescue from their deserved fate and brings them into eternal bliss. However, this doesn’t work because given the typical Calvinist doctrine of God’s power and providence (sovereignty) he could save everyone. Then, when that is pointed out to the Calvinist he (or she) typically responds that hell is necessary for the greater glory of God (which is the summum bonum) because God’s attribute of justice would not be revealed, manifested, without it. O really? What about the cross of Jesus Christ? Was that not, I ask, a sufficient manifestation of God’s justice—within a conservative evangelical Protestant system of theology? The typical Calvinist answer robs the cross of its glory as a full and complete, unlimited manifestation of God’s attribute of justice.
My conclusion (here but more fully expressed and explained in Against Calvinism) is that both atheism and Calvinism undermine and miss what is most important—that this universe, however it may “look” at any given time, is meaningful in an objective, absolute sense and in a good way.
In that sense, Calvinism and atheism are two sides of one coin. Both undermine basic trust in the meaningfulness and goodness of life and reality.
I rest my case for now. For more, read Against Calvinism. If you don’t, then all I really have to say to you is, again, read Against Calvinism. If you do and still prefer to believe in Calvinism, then I can only consider you not reasonable—at least about this subject.
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