Sunday, July 22, 2007

More on finding meaning in life

When people find out that I don’t believe in God, two questions often arise: (1) as an atheist, how can I be moral, and (2) as an atheist, how can I find meaning in life. I’m busy working on a number of posts to answer the first question, but I’ve already provided some thoughts regarding the second question here and here. If you read these posts on finding meaning in life, two important conclusions are made:
  1. Life can be meaningful, even if it is temporary. We can find meaning in the here and now.
  2. Life can be meaningful, even if it does not form part of some higher purpose or greater scheme.

Richard Carrier, in Sense and Goodness Without God, also discusses how an unbeliever can find meaning in life. He argues the above points on page 161, and then writes:

Nor do we need to be some superbeing’s creation for our lives to have value. After all, believers seem comfortable with the fact that God was not created, yet his life has value. Just as theists understand God’s love as giving God himself and the universe value, so naturalists understand our love as giving ourselves and the universe value. Even if I were the accidental by-product of a giant rubber tire machine, my life would not be meaningless. It would be meaningful to the precise extent that I endeavored to make it so, to imbue my own life with meaning and purpose, to make it valuable, to myself and to others. But if I did nothing to make my life meaningful, even being created in some god’s image would add no meaning to my life. I would be nothing but a pawn or lab rat, a mere homunculus cooked up in some divine kitchen, if I did nothing on my own to make myself into more than that.


Richard Carrier is adding the third point to the above list: atheists create their own meaning and purpose. Meaning and purpose are elements that can be formulated from within, not necessarily from something outside of one’s self.

What do you think?

27 comments:

Trevor said...

The first question, "How can an atheist be moral?" is easy to answer. "How can an atheist justify her version of morality?" is more difficult. I think that it is impossible.

CyberKitten said...

Strange how Carrier's comments seem obvious to me.. [grin].

trevor said: "How can an atheist justify her version of morality?" is more difficult. I think that it is impossible.

[rotflmao]. Maybe you should do a bit of research on Ethics?

How about Utilitarianism? The Greatest Good for the Greatest number - and that's without trying much. Impossible indeed!

Skywolf said...

Meaning and purpose are elements that can be formulated from within, not necessarily from something outside of one’s self.

Indeed. And I would, in fact, argue that formulating such elements from within, rather than borrowing someone else's take on meaning and purpose, is even more meaningful and poignant to the individual. If you only believe in the meaning of life as told to you from a book, or from someone else's idea of the concept, where is the deeper meaning to oneself? I think we all have to find such things within our own individual consciousness.

Trevor said...

@CyberKitten:

What about Utilitarianism? Well, what about Hitler? Who can say that he was wrong during the Holocaust? Do you? Why? What authority can you appeal to?

CyberKitten said...

trevor said: What about Utilitarianism?

You asked how an atheist could justify morality.

Easy answer - Utilitarianism.

Personally I don't need to 'appeal to authority'. I'll leave that to theists!

Lui said...

It seems to me that the "appeal to authority" adds nothing to the whole debate about ethics, and is inherently hollow. If theists themselves admit that they would not go out raping and killing if they didn't have faith in God (most theists I've talked to do not really seem to need God in order to be good), why the tiresome call-card of "we have to answer to a higher authority"? Why not an honest and open appraisal of the advantages of treating others as we would like to be treated, informed by our knowledge that we are all conscious agents with the capacity for fear and pain? Sucking up to God is not ethics, it is sycophancy. Just because someone has an "objective basis" for their morality in the form of belief in God does not mean that they have come to a more sensible view of morality. All too often, this appeal to an authority is merely boastful arrogance, as though there were something self-evidently superior about appealing to an authority. History shows us that appeals to authority (not just religious authority) are very often the worst corruptors of human beings. This phenomenon continues to this day, with the blind obedience typical of the herd mentality doing great harm to a vast multitude of human beings who could have lived better and more fulfilling lives if they have been taught how to think for themselves rather than merely believe what tradition had commanded them to.

What we need to understand is that evil people do not do evil for they see as nefarious and corrupt purposes. They do what they do because they believe it is good. Just ask a would-be suicide bomber. When they set of the explosive, it won't be because they are trying to do something they see as evil. Hitler happened to believe that it was morally right to exterminate Jews, communists, homosexuals and all other “sub humans". This was influenced by his need to fulfil what he saw as his obligations to a higher authority, and many Germans followed him into the abyss. In fact, there was nothing really radical about the Holocaust. Hitler simply did what others before him – often because of a religious hatred of Jews – would have done if they had access to the Nazi’s technology and organisation. Appealing to a higher authority is often what makes people blind to all appeals to pity and human decency. It is what gives them, in their minds, license to do anything in furtherance of the goals of that authority, because it represents the ultimate good. True morality begins and ends with humans coming together to decide how best to serve one another. Religion itself had the purpose of cementing what people ALREADY wanted – a stable society devoid of cheating and lies. Religion gave divine sanction to OUR morals, it didn’t invent them. In modern times, the need for mythology to enforce a social contract is much less in need.

Alistair said...

Christians do not have a monopoly on rectitude, nor morality. Christian morality seems very fluid and is silly puttied into the prevailing wants of Christians. Divorce and remarriage are condemned in the bible, but how many remarried church members are there, some even in leadership roles? And yet homosexuality also condemned in the bible is in a Christian moral standpoint absolutely unacceptable. Hypocritical, self-satisfied, bigots the lot of them.

“In Christianity neither morality nor religion come into contact with reality at any point”
Friedrich Nietzsche

Laughing Boy said...

(1) as an atheist, how can I be moral

That's a stupid question. The next time a Christian asks you that, tell him that your Christian friend Laughing Boy thinks he's an idiot. A better question might be, "What's the basis of your morality, and does it hold for everyone else?"

(2) as an atheist, how can I find meaning in life.

On the surface, Carrier seems to have a point. If he were a reject tire he could still have a meaningful existence, just not very meaningful. I'm not sure Carrier has thought atheism through as thoroughly as have other more prominent atheist thinkers like Freud, Camus, Sartre, and Nietzsche. Listen to what Aldous Huxley wrote in Ends and Means,

"For myself, as, no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom; we objected to the political and economic system because it seemed unjust. The supporters of these systems claimed that in some way they embodied the meaning (a Christian meaning, they insist) of the world. There was one admirably simple method of confuting these people and at the same time justifying ourselves in our political and erotical revolt: we could deny that the world had any meaning whatsoever."

Meaninglessness is a pillar of atheism. It seems to me that Carrier has seen what atheism has wrought in the 20th century and is seeking to reconstruct it, but the foundation is what it is.

Laughing Boy said...

The Greatest Good for the Greatest number...

But it's 'good' that you're be asked to define. It hardly makes any sense to anwser the question "What is good?" with the answer, "It's what's good for the majority."

CyberKitten said...

laughing boy said: Meaninglessness is a pillar of atheism.

What *absolute* nonsense!

laughing boy said: But it's 'good' that you're be asked to define.

Actually the answer Utilitarianism was in response to this comment from Trevor:

How can an atheist justify her version of morality?" is more difficult. I think that it is impossible.

He asked for a justification of Moralty - not a definition of what is good. Although I have serious reservations regarding Utilitarianism - it does provide a basis for non-theist morality.

Laughing Boy said...
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Laughing Boy said...
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Laughing Boy said...

Sorry for the deletions. Typos. Let's try again.
—————
cyberkitten said...What *absolute* nonsense!

Very well then. I have presented modest evidence for my claim of the centrality of meaningless to atheism.

You have replied with a pithy expression of your personal opinion.

I could reinforce my assertion by quoting ad nauseam from the men I've mentioned (and more) in a post so long it would make lui's anti-ID rants seem like a haiku.

Whatchu got?

Lui said...

"But it's 'good' that you're be asked to define. It hardly makes any sense to anwser the question "What is good?" with the answer, "It's what's good for the majority.""

Yet you can provide no better definition of good, because to you it's simply the whim of a deity, and it's left at that. Of course, it's not REALLY the whim of a deity. If you stopped believing in God, you wouldn't go around raping and killing. Morality PRECLUDES the desire to ordain it with divine sanction. The reason we want to make it "concrete" as something "objective" is largely because it is so hard to pin down. It's much simpler to say "it's the will of God", because that (supposedly) makes people adhere to it better. But it is still primary, for if you acknowledge that atheists, like Christians and other people of faith, want to be good, then you are acknowledging a commonality that is already present.

CyberKitten said...

laughing boy said: Very well then. I have presented modest evidence for my claim of the centrality of meaningless to atheism.

Modest evidence indeed.

laughing boy said: You have replied with a pithy expression of your personal opinion.

Pith is what I do....

laughing boy said: I could reinforce my assertion by quoting ad nauseam from the men I've mentioned (and more) in a post so long it would make lui's anti-ID rants seem like a haiku. Whatchu got?

I'm not a bit fan of quoting 'athorities' on a particular subject. It's not really how I work. After all even a genious can be wrong.

You appear to be basing your argument on the idea that meaning only exists because of our relationship with God. No realtionship equals no meaning. Am I right so far?

The immediate problem with that idea is the question "which God?" If I had a (theoretical) relationship with Odin or Zeus do I have a meaningful life?

Also can you honestly say that an atheist doctor who spends her professional career helping others and saving lives has a meaningless life? Likewise the scientist who expands our knowledge of the Universe around us or the artist who creates world class art. Do they honestly live meaningless lives? I don't think so.

What exactly do you mean by 'meaning' and how would you measure it? Presumably one person can have a more meaningful life than someone else. What yard stick do you use to measure it against? Personally I believe that a life of Hedonism - lived purely for fleeting pleasure - is a life without a great deal of meaning. However, it is quite possible that the Hedonist in question feels that his life is *full* of meaning. How can we settle this question?

As far as I am concerned the meaning of a persons life is defined by the individual herself. I might *consider* another persons life to be largely meaningless but I doubt if I can *prove* that to a third parties satisfaction - because I doubt that we would be able to agree on an independent measure of 'meaningfulness'.

In one sense your are right though. As an atheist - I can't speak for all atheists - the meanings (plural) that I have for my life are internal meanings and have not been either impossed or adopted from outside. Being a naturally curious creature one of the meanings I apply to my life is the search for knowledge. This I do on a daily basis.

I have no need of religion or ideology to give my life meaning. I bestow that on my own life.

Laughing Boy said...

lui...But it is still primary, for if you acknowledge that atheists, like Christians and other people of faith, want to be good, then you are acknowledging a commonality that is already present.

Right, that is exactly what I'm acknowledging. If moral values are 'primary' or have a universal 'commonality' what's the reason for that from the naturalist's perspective?

The question is not why do people, religious or otherwise, want to be good, but what makes good good? How is 'good' even a meaningful term? Don't tell me your opinion of the theistic perspective, tell me yours.

What is good and why?

Laughing Boy said...

cyberkitten, let me respond for now to just your last sentence.

I have no need of religion or ideology to give my life meaning. I bestow that on my own life.

How can one bestow something on oneself? Doesn't bestowing require a bestower and a bestowee? If not, then I bestow upon myself the title of King of Sweden—no, Monoco—no, both! Mon château est votre château, mon ami!

If we think of bestowing as receiving a gift, which is it's common usage, then the gift must first be posessed by a giver who then subsequently bestows it on the recipient. Without this giver-receiver dynamic—if the giver and receiver are one—then that one must, paradoxically, posess what he then gives himself.

This is a problem.

Laughing Boy said...

Modest evidence indeed.

A modest amount is infinitely more than none. As the saying goes, "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king."

Pith is what I do....

Standing up or sitting down? :-)

I'm not a big fan of quoting 'authorities' on a particular subject. It's not really how I work. After all even a genius can be wrong.

If you're not going to quote an authority then you'd better present an argument of your own, otherwise you're appealing to your own authority and, personal affinity aside, I'm not about to grant you that.

You appear to be basing your argument on the idea that meaning only exists because of our relationship with God. No realtionship equals no meaning. Am I right so far?

Unfortunately, no. If God exists there is meaning, relationship or no relationship. If a magnanimous Feudal lord allowed the serfs to live on his land, keep a generous amount of their own labors, provided them with free medical care and education, protected him with his own military forces, and always invited them to his merry feasts, those serfs would be beneficiaries of his goodness whether they liked him or not. "He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." (There I go quoting a genius again.) It's the Christian doctrine of 'common grace'.

God created the atheist doctor, scientist, and artist in His image, therefore they have innate value (meaning) regardless of their beliefs, regardless of their accomplishments, even regardless of their morality. If Joe Blow sits on the couch all day, every day, watching TV, eating Ho-Ho's and drinking Coke, never lifting a finger to help himself or anyone else, he's not having a very meaningful existence. The question for us in this post is not whether Joe is an atheist, but whether you, as an atheist, can attach any meaning to Joe's existence? The life-saving doctor has meaning, right? Have you saved any lives? Does that make you less meaningful? How about pathetic Joe? You ask me how I measure meaning, but you seem to be the one with the sliding scale of meaning; that question is really for you.

Then you say "the meaning of a person's life is defined by the individual." So who are we to judge Joe? By your lights, meaning is whatever anybody thinks it is and when they die they take their meaning to the grave where it rots along with them. Am I right so far?

I don't know, CK. I think the geniuses are right on this one.

CyberKitten said...

laughing boy said: How can one bestow something on oneself? Doesn't bestowing require a bestower and a bestowee? If not, then I bestow upon myself the title of King of Sweden—no, Monoco—no, both!

Clearly you do not have the authority to bestow on yourself the kingship of Norway or anywhere else. But I *do* have the authority to bestow meaning on my own life. For who else could bestow such meaning? Who knows more about my life, my desires, my plans and dreams, my beliefs and much else besides than me? There is no independent yardstick to measure meaning against or even an agreed upon definition of what meaning actually is... so how can anyone (or anything) else decide whether or nor my life is 'meaningful'? Therefore *I* define the meaning of my own life.

laughing boy said: one must, paradoxically, posess what he then gives himself. This is a problem.

It's neither a paradox nor a problem. Indeed it is only so if you see meaning as external to the person- which I don't believe it is. It's a bit like the concept of forgivness. I have the 'authority' to forgive myself for past mistakes. To use your words I, in effect, give myself the gift of forgivness. I am both the giver & receiver. There is no paradox in this situation.

laughing boy said: If you're not going to quote an authority then you'd better present an argument of your own, otherwise you're appealing to your own authority and, personal affinity aside, I'm not about to grant you that.

I think that I have presented an argument - modest though it is...

laughing boy said: If God exists there is meaning, relationship or no relationship.

...and if God does not exist? Are you honestly saying that meaning *only* exists because of God? Despite everything a person does or believes that it is *all* meaningless without God in the background? What a rather sad philosophy.

laughing boy said: The question for us in this post is not whether Joe is an atheist, but whether you, as an atheist, can attach any meaning to Joe's existence?

It is not for me (or anyone) to *assign* meaning to anyone elses life. I can give you my opinion on the meaning of their actions from my point of view - which reflect my personal values but that's as far as it goes. I can say that a Doctor saving someones life is more meaningful than catching up on the latest 'reality' TV show but I cannot say what meaning those people derive from their acts. That is for them to say.

laughing boy said: Then you say "the meaning of a person's life is defined by the individual." So who are we to judge Joe? By your lights, meaning is whatever anybody thinks it is and when they die they take their meaning to the grave where it rots along with them. Am I right so far?

Pretty much. Other people can have an opinion on the meaning of peoples lives but they cannot say with certainty whether one persons life is more 'meaningful' (whatever we each mean by that) than anothers. What I think of a meaningful life - having spent the majority of it in various educational institutions collecting numerous certificates and degrees - may very well be meaningless to others who have spent their lives with a beer in one hand and a woman in the other. From my PoV I view their lives as empty and meaningless whilst from their PoV *they* see my life as the same. You see the dilemma?

Laughing Boy said...

cyberkitten: It's a bit like the concept of forgiveness...

I don’t think it’s like forgiveness in several ways; one is that with such self-forgiveness there is no net value gain. You were ok with yourself, then you felt bad about yourself, then you went back to being ok with yourself. You are no better off than when you began.

cyberkitten: What a rather sad philosophy.

In my sad philosophy, life—not just mine but everybody's—has intrinsic value regardless of circumstances and regardless of feelings. In yours, meaning is whimsically ascribed and whimsically denied. On Monday you can say, “My life has meaning,” and on Tuesday, “My life has no meaning” and both would be equally true. If you truly give you truly take away. In your philosophy, to say life has value, really means life has value this instant, as long as you can maintain that affirmation; but the second you can’t, it’s gone. For you, meaning seems arbitrary and capricious. In other words, meaning is meaningless.

After considering your philosophy, which borders on incoherent, I’ll take my sad one, God or no God.

Laughing Boy said...

Carrier: I would be nothing but a pawn or lab rat, a mere homunculus cooked up in some divine kitchen, if I did nothing on my own to make myself into more than that.

How much 'doing' does it take to be more than a lab rat, Mr. Carrier? Who decides how much of effort I must put in, or the level of accomplishment I must attain to become, say, a lab monkey?

CyberKitten said...

You know what laughing boy... I really can't be arsed to 'debate' this with you any more. After all you *obviously* know me better than I do myself so why should I bother?

I can't decide whether our reasoning is based on vastly different foundations or if you are deliberately misunderstanding me. Well, I've been here before and I have far better things to do with my time than waste it with you.

Have a nice day.

Lui said...

“Right, that is exactly what I'm acknowledging. If moral values are 'primary' or have a universal 'commonality' what's the reason for that from the naturalist's perspective?”

If you mean where did the sense of morality come from, I would probably say that it has to do with the ability for one person to relate to the suffering of another; to appreciate the consequences of their actions, largely because they too will be affected by those actions (so reciprocal altruism can come into play), and respect and love for one’s society. And we all appreciate that to live in a society that functions smoothly and to the benefit of all, there is a practical necessity to catch cheats and encourage good behaviour. Evolutionary biologists have investigated the possible glimmerings of morality in species other than our own; a monkey, for example, will not take food if it results in painful electric shocks to another monkey. It is as though it was endowed with a sense of empathy, as though it had some conception of suffering other than its own. There are good evolutionary reasons for a sense of empathy (deficient in psychopaths, incidentally) to have been favoured, but even if it was just a side-consequence of other faculties, it is still present.

“The question is not why do people, religious or otherwise, want to be good, but what makes good good?”

That is indeed a difficult question, and one that I have often pondered with great frustration. I suppose it is something that we all WANT to be reducible to something simple in order to be able to hold it down and point to it in order that it can be “justified”. I fear that any answer I give will be perceived as merely a personal preference on my part; I suppose I would console myself in the view that there are commonalities between most people, some minimal set of values that might be justified differently but that nevertheless are all there. If you ask me specifically what makes the treating of others as one would like to be treated (to the best of one’s ability) good is that we are acting upon the realisation that other people are like ourselves, endowed with the ability for pain and emotion, and if we’re all human, none of us has the right to oppress anyone else (by simple virtue of us all being human, with all that entails). If I am to define “good”, that is how I would do so. It may seem arbitrary, but I don’t think it really is, because most of us subscribe to it in any case; some of us place a divine middle man into the picture to give it extra weight, but we appreciate why we want this to be done in the first place, even if we don’t explicitly articulate it. I have often heard religious people say, “If we didn’t have God, we would have chaos. Everyone would be out for his or her own benefit at the expense of everyone else”. This argument from consequence is one in which God is being sold as a MEANS to a human need. It is appealing to what we already view as “good”, and expressing fear that that very thing will be diminished if we reject divine authority. I don’t see how saying that what is good is God’s whim would make the question of good any less arbitrary if that is the complain being levelled against a naturalistic take on it (perhaps, in a sense, it must be arbitrary, but my point is that invoking divine whim adds little to the discussion).
Then there are complications; I would not regard the killing of someone in self-defence as immoral. The assailant has forfeited his right to be treated on equal terms with the rules that govern our behaviour for the benefit of all. When he places himself outside that loop of mutual accountability and respect – in other words, when he disregards the consequences for his action at, and at the expense of someone else - he loses his right to claim protection for his person. One can add infinite refinements to these sorts of dilemmas, and there are plenty of other examples of complications, like if it’s “bad” to kick a dead body (the dead person can’t feel anything, but we “feel” that it’s still disrespectful and that it violates the “dignity” of that person. Likewise we would be aghast at the idea of someone in a coma to be sexually molested, because we know that they wouldn’t want that to happen to them).
But anyway, I think it’s a difficult issue.

“How can one bestow something on oneself?”

Who says we can’t? Not necessarily anything at all; you use the example that we can’t bestow upon ourselves the title of the king of Sweden. No possibility of disagreement there, but Cyberkitten’s point was that life is meaningful because it is filled with things that we see as having meaning. For many, this includes religion. For most (whether religion or not) this includes friends, family, work, sex, and the pursuit of happiness. Why are these things not meaningful? Why can they only be made meaningful by invoking a God as the ordainer of them? Doesn’t that mean that the meaning in your life is just the meaning given to it by someone else (God)? It is difficult to believe that you actually take that view seriously; for unless you would see no point in living if you lost your faith, you already acknowledge that there is meaning outside religion.

“How much 'doing' does it take to be more than a lab rat, Mr. Carrier? Who decides how much of effort I must put in, or the level of accomplishment I must attain to become, say, a lab monkey?”

His point is that with an infinite being in the picture, our humanity is not affirmed, it is denigrated in a perpetual act of having to grovel to this entity.

Laughing Boy said...

cyberkitten,

I apologize for the way I worded my response and I'm sorry that it cut short our discussion of this important topic. I was responding to what I saw as a streak of relativism in your defense of god-free meaning. I was trying to point that out with force, but I would have rather failed to do that (which I may have anyway) and continued a productive and genial discussion than to have succeeded and raised a barrier between us.

"I don't know why I did it, and I don't know why I'll do it again."
-Bart Simpson

I apologize now for the current case and in advance for the inevitable future cases.

---

lui, I enjoyed reading your response. I hope I can get back to you on some points soon.

Laughing Boy said...

I.
Is there meaning in material or intellectual accomplishments or in physical pleasure? Solomon covered this exact question thoroughly in Ecclesiastes. As a man who had means, motive, and opportunity to explore each of these to the fullest extent, he concluded that they were meaningless. But we don't need to rely on the Bible to get that message; it's clearly evident today and throughout history that such things are, far from being a guarantee of happiness, more often than not an obstacle.

Related to this is the idea we can attribute a value to a thing which is far less than it's true value. For instance I can value my copy of Don Quixote because of it's historical literary worth as the first novel ever written and for it's insights into the human condition, or I can find it's value in the fact that, at 1072 pages, it's quite thick and heavy so it is a worthly doorstop and paperweight.

From the Christian perspective, the good things of this world function primarily as shadows of the things to come. To value them as ends in themselves is to grossly undervalue them and what they point towards.


II.
I'd like to respectfully disagree with cyberkitten's assertion that we know ourselves better than anyone else does. Of course , if God exists He knows us, not only better than we know ourselves, but perfectly. But even if we deny God's existence is it true that we know ourselves best? I don't think so. It's debatable that we know ouselves better than any other single person might. We of course had a front row seat at all our conscious experiences. But if we gather all our friends and family together, could they not give us insights into ourself that we had not known? If we know ourselves better than anyone, why are the therapist's calendars filled (at $100-an-hour)?

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us
An foolish notion:
What airs in dress an gait wad lea'es us,
An ev'n devotion!"

-Robert Burns, "To A Louse"


III.
Finally, I agree with cyberkitten and lui (and Carrier) on the authority argument. But who has the authority is the issue. If we believe God exists and that He has granted us life and forgiveness there is no way we can think we have the authority to confer ultimate meaning on any person, place, or thing, including ourselves. God, who has created the entire universe and gives it it's meaning has created us and given us our meaning. That meaning is not subjective. It is as firm as the laws of nature, perhaps firmer.

If we do not believe God exists it would be just as absurd for you to look to Him for meaning. In this case each of us are gods to ourselves, and the universes we control are exceedingly small and fragile.

CyberKitten said...

laughing boy - You caught me in a bad mood & I didn't appreciate what I perceived as your patronising and superior 'tone'. I'm sure that we can remain civilised about things... just don't expect me to agree with or understand you!

laughing boy asked: Is there meaning in material or intellectual accomplishments or in physical pleasure?

There *can* be yes - though pleasure is fleeting.... If a person derives meaning from these activities who are you (or Solomon) to tell them that they are without meaning?

laughing boy said: As a man who had means, motive, and opportunity to explore each of these to the fullest extent, he concluded that they were meaningless.

...and we're supposed to take his word for that? I think not.

laughing boy said: it's clearly evident today and throughout history that such things are, far from being a guarantee of happiness, more often than not an obstacle.

You seem to be using 'happiness' and 'meaning' as associated concepts. Is the meaning of life to be happy or at least take part in the pursuit of happiness? I actually think that happiness is a by-product of what you do and not a thing to be obtained. ATM I'm interested in what the Greeks had to say on the subject - particularly in the field of Virtue Ethics.

Oh, and I don't see why the attainment of knowledge (or wealth for that matter) should *necessarily* be an obstacle to happiness. It all depends why you obtained such things and what you do with them once obtained.

laughing boy said: From the Christian perspective, the good things of this world function primarily as shadows of the things to come.

Sounds very Platonic.... and what if you don't believe that there *is* anything 'to come'?

laughing boy said: But even if we deny God's existence is it true that we know ourselves best?

Some people hardly know anything about themselves and are constantly bemused by their own actions. Yet they have the *potential* to know themselves very well.

laughing boy said: But if we gather all our friends and family together, could they not give us insights into ourself that we had not known?

OK, I'll resist the temptation to split hairs by reminding you that 'all our friends and family' are not 'any other person'.. [grin]. But actually this is one way that we find out things about ourselves - by interacting with others.

laughing boy said: If we know ourselves better than anyone, why are the therapist's calendars filled (at $100-an-hour)?

Most therapists that I know of are basically sounding boards. If you sit in their office for 50 minutes without saying a word the only thing a therapist will say to you is "Time's up". When you *do* say something their usual response is "And how did that make you feel". They facilitate the finding out process. They don't (normally) tell you 'who you are'.

laughing boy said: If we do not believe God exists it would be just as absurd for you to look to Him for meaning.

Erm - why would you 'look to' a being that you didn't believe existed for anything let alone meaning? As a statement that makes no sense at all. It's like me saying that I look to the Easter Bunny for guidence.

laughing boy said: In this case each of us are gods to ourselves, and the universes we control are exceedingly small and fragile.

Very poetic. Meaningless but poetic. We are not 'gods' to ourselves. We are neither omnipitent nor any of the other omni's even in our own 'small' and 'fragile' universes.

mentalguru said...

Nice to hear of another ex-christian.

I still have to fully come out to my family- I struggled with my faith for several years and eventually broke free mentally last year.

I'll tell them some day, I just hope not to disappoint them. I know I CAN be happy with who I am now. Whether my parents and the rest of the family will agree will be another story entirely...