The Meaning Of Life
(Holy Crap! I'm An Atheist!)
A new question: Why do we need a "meaning of life".
To be honest I feel a bit awkward asking this question since I haven't quite memorized all of the lines in the Monty Python movie of the same name.
Admittedly, I am a new atheist, out of the closet for less than six months. Of course, as any atheist will tell you, it isn't often that one wakes up on the Monday morning after going to church and just says, "Holy Crap! I'm an atheist, what the hell have I been doing? Can I say, "what the hell" any more?"
When I was a Lutheran, I often took it for granted that the meaning of life, the whole big picture purpose for me being here was so that I could serve God after I died. I really didn't think about it all that much, mostly when I had to. Confirmation class and a death of a loved one were great times for thinking deep thoughts. Rites of passage and personal loss are very trying times on a young boy of eleven. At that age the mind of a boy is like a super-unsaturated sponge. Whatever information you do get is immediately assimilated and incorporated into the way you think about life. Of course the information you do get immediately spawns more and more questions. It's rather like being a three year old again, asking, "why?" all the time, just more like a sniper this time rather than a machine gun. So you're labeled as inquisitive rather than adorably curious (read, annoying).
The problem with having a sponge for a brain is that not exactly every major point of thought is properly filtered by your internal bull-o-meter. Oh sure, you quickly discover that doing what your aunt told you would turn your palms hairy isn't necessarily a written-in-stone scientific fact. It's those things like religion that tend to stick in your brain like a fly on your windshield. At age eleven, going through confirmation class, the bigwigs were letting us in on all the secrets. It was here where all my questions would be answered. I was pretty sure that there wasn't a secret handshake, but at least I'd get a decent explanation of what the Trinity was.
You see I didn't get a great answer to that question when I was in Sunday School. It was very difficult to get a straight answer out of the moms that were teaching the classes. Most of the times in classes were spent reading through the lessons and then identifying who did what or what's the moral lesson from all of this. To be honest most of those lessons were pretty innocuous, really just teaching children how to share or believe that what their parents said was right. Every teacher that I had, including my mother, would always ask if there were any questions at the end of the lesson before we got into the activities. Of course, I would often have a zinger or two, the answers to which I would take either at face value or have to be satisfied with "God works in mysterious ways."
Confirmation class however, was where I'd get to go up against the big dog, the pastor, the guy with the card saying he was one of God's Boys. Once a week, it was quite the challenge going to the class because there would always be lots of memorization and recitation of the books of the bible, various creeds, and the bible verse that I would have to recite in front of the congregation on my Confirmation Day. There was a workbook, and texts to read, so we had to review that work too. That left very little time to ask questions (all of you out there nodding your heads can stop: I know what that means in the grand scheme of things regarding religion). Hoo boy! Did I ask some tough questions there! You name it, I asked it. What about the dinosaurs and the fossil record? What is the Holy Spirit? Isn't the Holy Spirit just God trying to talk to man? Why is the Holy Spirit considered number three in the trinity? If Jesus knew that he was the son of god (therefore God) then why was it a sacrifice for him to die for our sins? If He died for our sins, why do we have to ask for forgiveness for the sins that we do commit? Didn't his death on the cross give us a cosmic get out of jail free card? Why are we still held accountable for Adam & Eve?
Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
You get the idea, but I did get one question answered with some satisfaction (for my eleven-year-old self). That was, what is the meaning of our existence? I never thought to follow up that question with others. Give me a break I was eleven! The answer was of course that we were here to serve god in the fight against evil. I'm speculating here through the dim memory of my early years (four years of cheep booze in college will do that) but I remember being fascinated by the Second World War at that age. The great evil that was Hitler, would be something that any eleven year old boy would fight against. Obviously, that was reason enough to believe that God was playing Burgess Meridith to my Sylvester Stalone. That was a good reason for me.
Fast forward ten years and a whole lot changed. My belief was really shaky due to courses in history, philosophy (symbolic logic), and hard core science (physics, organic chemistry, geology). I was full of piss and vinegar and I knew better than everyone else. The real world took a lot of the piss away but the vinegar remained. I did the church thing, with the sole intention of finding out why I was here. It didn't seem that I would be able to impact the level or quality of evil in the world. So God had to have it in for me to do something else to find some other purpose. I was a computer programmer that liked to date. A lot. It didn't seem like I was destined for anything in particular. So when I did go to church, I didn't pray, I just flat out demanded answers to my questions. It seemed strangely silent. It was as if I was in a pitch black room asking questions of someone that I was sure was there. After a couple of years of doing this, someone flipped the switch on in the room. No one was there.
It was a difficult time for me. Was God there? Did he care if he was? It was very easy for me at that time to get lost in other subjects. I read a lot of science, philosophy, philosophy of science, science fiction and cookbooks (I didn't want you to think that I was that focused). Actually it was the cookbooks that really started me on my road to self discovery. I pondered the question for a long time: Who thought to put together egg, flour, yeast and water? The answer didn't concern me as much as the question fascinated me. In this day and age when you have to come up with something like an MP3 player or a car that runs well, exclusively on hydrogen, to raise the eyebrows of the masses, the question of what would it have been like to have been among the first people to taste bread blew my mind.
Thinking like that eventually brings us to the present, where I still think about the meaning of life (and my palms are still hairless). My personal view is that it is essentially meaningless. I think that life is an accident. Some snide amino acids that just didn't want to dissipate. They wanted to party. Of course, the word got around, and look at where we are now. I think it is far more wondrous to think of the unlikelihood that we are even here than it is to think that someone came up with us for his own vanity.
To put it a bit less cynically, to me the meaning of life is recursive.
The meaning of life is to live.
With my meaning as simple as that, why do others feel the need for something greater than themselves
Mark A. Silgalis
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