Thursday, October 29, 2009

Life Without God...

There have been several posts by my friends over at Every Square Inch which have stated, both explicitly and implicitly, that without God (and I'm assuming that they mean also without Christ) life can have no meaning. I'm not entirely sure what they mean by this as there are several different possibilities for application of that statement, but in any case I strongly disagree. I've been debating with them on their blog, but I wanted to take some time to really explicate myself and state my case in hopes that 1) I'll create some good dialogue, and 2) they'll understand me a bit better than they do currently.


If you want to say that life has no meaning without God, I think there are two basic ways you can apply that statement. First, there is the ontological argument that without God, life as a phenomena cannot be meaningful (or, from a Christian perspective, that life cannot even exist). In this case, people who are living without God in their lives CAN have meaning, but they're in a sense "borrowing" it from God and not recognizing it. They're taking meaning from God's creation meant for them and not giving God the credit. I'm okay with this argument (I think it's the most tenable in an argument for sure), but I'm not entirely sure this is what most Christians mean when they say things like, "Without God, life can have no meaning."

The second way this phrase can be applied is on the personal, everyday level. Thus, when you're saying that without God life is meaningless, you're saying that without a personal relationship with God (and Christ implicitly) a person cannot be fulfilled. The argument here as I understand it is that we all have a "God shaped hole" and that we are not realizing ourselves as fully human unless we put God back in our lives where He belongs. I think this position is on some level convincing, but here's what you've got to do to hold it:

1) You have to show how people without God (and without Christ specifically) don't have meaning in their lives. More specifically, you have to find people without a relationship with God and Christ who are perfectly happy and successful in the "meaning making department," if you will, and convince them that they actually DON'T have meaning somehow. To me, this either makes the person who is trying to argue that life without God is meaning look either inhumane in some way (they're trying to make people feel guilty or unhappy without cause), silly (they're out of touch with reality), or you'll find yourself deflating the term "meaning" to something...well...meaningless that nobody really cares about or wants in their lives.

What's even more compelling for me in this case is that you've got to make this argument for not only extreme secularists (Dawkins et. al) but also for those who are active participants in other religions. Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, etc. cannot have meaning under this framework. I don't know about you, but I have a hard time looking at people like Gandhi and the Dalai Lama and telling them that their lives aren't meaningful. As humanitarian and compassionate as they are, I think again we run the risk of devaluing the term "meaningful" to be something no one really cares about or wants in their lives.

2) You have to argue against post-modern existentialist philosophy. Wow. That's tough, especially seeing as it's unnecessary. There are lots of fantastic Christian existential philosophers who have already done the leg-work that these guys are wanting to do (Kierkegaard and Tillich specifically come to mind) and they do it in a post-modern and therefore more currently understandable, accessible, and acceptable by the everyday thinking person. Anyway, what you've got to do, in my mind, is argue somehow that there is no relativity in human experience and the power of human agency to decide what is meaningful and what is not is a misguided notion. I'm not entirely sure how to do this without looking either archaic or fideistic.

So there are my thoughts, for what they're worth, and I'd LOVE to get some feedback. As it stands, I think the onus is on a believer in the statement "Life can have no meaning without God" and want to hold that position on an everyday level to explain how 1) people who seem to have meaning without God DON'T have it, and 2) rebut existentialism. I'd really like to see that argument.

As an addendum, I think that we're better off leaving accepting the fact that life can have meaning without God. I don't want to say that all meanings are the same and that having any meaning at all means that you're completely fulfilled and happy. I'd argue that a personal relationship with the Divine makes you more fully human, more realized, and more fulfilled than you could otherwise be (i.e. that having a relationship with the Divine is part of our nature and we should embrace it), but there are lots of negative things about rejecting meaning without God. It in some sense dehumanizes us and rejects the notions of free will that the Bible says we're created with, mainly, and I don't think I can accept that consequence. When we're totally free, when we can freely choose to accept God over and against the other things in the world, our choice is MORE meaningful than it would be without meaning in other departments. I think that saying life can have meaning without God actually makes the choice to worship God a more valuable and laudable choice than it would be otherwise. What do you all think?

1 comment:

Mozart said...

We could, I assume, replace God with god, or even Nature or the divine or the ether or the cosmos. I personally would abstract it even further and call it an ethical standard (not getting into the arguments for or against universal ethics here). At any rate, we're all looking toward some "higher power" that is beyond our comprehension and that totally transcends our everyday reality.

Now what is "meaning?" Don’t most religions and philosophical frameworks put all of their effort into finding the elusive Meaning of Life? Nihilism gives it up as a lost cause, but I think most others find something that they can brand as the MOL, thereby giving their followers standards and ways to live (think Plato’s good life, for example). Some include God, some include god, and others simply include humanity. So if we’re striving for the good life, we can leave the Divine with a capital D out of it if we so choose. Instead, the “divinity” is in the shared spark of life, or however you choose to look at it.

I think that’s how it shakes up for a lot of atheists and agnostics, anyway. While they may not believe in God or god, I think they, personally, have found a power and meaning by following ethical principles and living justly.

But the MOL, for me, truly is a personal decision. I don’t think religion or philosophy can dictate why we live. It’s not something you can prove, you know, not “We were created by ____ because of ____ and ____ is why we’re here.” Faith is what your blogger friends are talking about, but I think there’s more to it than that. It’s a personal decision—what do you choose to believe? What can you live with? Should you enjoy yourself? Accumulate as much wealth as you can? Help others? Make the world a better place?

You don’t need God for that.