Sunday, October 02, 2011

On Ultimate "Meaning"

<-- I'm reading a fascinating book about agnosticism.
The author hosts the most listened-to locally produced radio talk show in America, Forum with Michael Krasny.
He is incredibly intelligent, a Ph.D in twentieth-century literature, and the book is about his journey as an agnostic, toward a desired attitude of faith, or… believerism.
What I find particularly interesting is how Krasny repeatedly expresses his "envy" of people who have faith, those who live their life according to a sure confidence in God. His perspective is extremely interesting to me, especially since I myself was once the very type of person that he currently "envies".
As a former believer myself, I don't knock people that can be this way, I guess -- but I find that I am set up differently nowadays. I simply cannot
envy anyone who continues to willingly believe in something that is ultimately unverifiable.
Today as I was reading, for a while I stopped as a thought really accosted me. I had to pause and give it its fair moment through my mind.
And it was this, basically --> I think that people in general want to attach too much meaning to existence, and this is what leads to so many deceptions about reality.
That was the thought, and I really mused on it. That whole "all things happen for a reason" idea and all that follows in its wake -- I totally do not buy that.
I dislike that cliche.
I literally believe [this is where my musings trailed off to, I'm afraid] that a huge asteroid the size of the moon could strike the earth at any time and literally wipe all life from the planet, and indeed, shove the earth right out of its orbit to go trailing off into some other galaxy where it no longer has any atmosphere on it and has a core temperature of Absolute Zero -- and yet, no force or influence would prevent such a thing from happening. So, as I contemplate such things -- an entire sort of PERSPECTIVE, or grouping of corollary musings sort of overshadows all of that and helps me to understand that while life [our individual life and also our corporate life as a species].... while all of it is incredibly significant -- the very transient nature of it [in reality] -- if nothing else the impermanence of it [both individually and corporately] actually HELPS me to make sense of what is, currently, our predicament. Much less an asteroid destroying all of us in an instant, but in my own life, I could find out tomorrow that I have a terminal illness that will have me dead before Halloween rolls around. I hope that such a thing does not happen, but if it does, if it did, does this mean my life was meaningless? Most would answer, "No, your life was very meaningful. You were a blogger," etc.
But I would answer.... "Well, it may have been meaningful, but it was certainly less meaningful than you or I or anyone else thought it was, if for no other reason than the fact that if I lived longer, it would have been potentially MORE meaningful."
So....... how MUCH meaning are we supposed to attach to a "life"? Is it judged by "time spent doing it" or "achievements" or "benefit to others"? I mean, what is the CRITERIA?
We love to attribute meaning everywhere when it [in reality] is really not "in" those places. A person could say their life had meaning because they raised one extremely successful child, etc. But what if it could have had more meaning if they had raised two such children? Secondarily, what of the person that raised none? <-- Is that life "meaningless" therefore? Of course not. Or rather, the meaning of their own life has to be located in other ways.
But that scenario in itself simply shows that there is no MEANING across the board..... the "meaning" is to be found in individual, very subjective criteria.
As I mused more and more upon it all I began to feel that this is very much another base-idea that has given rise to religion. Because what religion proposes [Christianity at least] is that it knocks every single person down to an essential level and alleges that whether you've raised one or two children or none at all, whether you've developed the cure for cancer or became the President of the U.S.A., whether you went door to door in a campaign to raise funds for homeless [and incidentally... doorless] people in your area, or whether your meaning in life was to ride your bicycle a real lot..... no matter what your own "meaning" is -- you are wrong about it, because your one true meaning is to find God, give your life to Jesus and stuff like that. In other words, this is why you are here and alive, to serve God from a faithful heart. Religion is able to sell this idea so successfully because people want an ultimate meaning. Adherence to a religious code can assuage or even displace that inner desire for meaning.
I maintain though, [and this book so far has helped me to solidify it, although I am not sure this is the author's intention] that there is far less meaning to our lives than we tend to think there is. Admittedly, the meaning for it is what we ourselves give to it. Hence, there are many meanings, but not A [any one] "meaning".
In my opinion, this is where religion can inadvertently do us a disservice, because it tries to tell us there is but one ultimate meaning.
Listen to the author speak about this book by clicking on the book cover, above.


Isabella K said...

Wow that's a lot to think about. (I can't listen to the clip now, but will do so later.) Let me start by admitting that I have been envious of people's believing in a god. Myself, I realized I did not believe at the age of 4, after interrogating my mother about the events in that day's episode of Little House on the Prairie. But I am astounded by how much comfort the delusion brings to people, particularly in the face of death.

Anyway, I tend to agree with you. There is no meaning. I think most people use the word to mean "brings happiness to themselves" or "does good unto others" — but you run into a similar problem when you try to define happiness and good.

I don't think meaninglessness is a bad thing. Believe me, I've looked for Meaning, but I'm much happier now that I've accepted there isn't any. And I try to create my own meaning when I feel like it, for instance right now, I am enjoying my cup of soup to the fullest.

Stefanie said...

Interesing thoughts. As one of the godless myself, I must say I too have wished at times I could believe because it would make likf so much simpler and easier, ya know? But alas, cannot do it. As for meaning, the meaning life has is what we give to it. I wonder if most use meaning in place of prupose? Sometimes you veered that way. As in, what is the purpose of my life? Purpose and meaning are two different things but they certainly can and do overlap.