A couple of articles I came across recently reminded me of a lot of the “life wisdom” ideas I came across when I was an atheist. I was always seeking to know more about our existence, I suppose you could call it a quest for the meaning of life, so I took a keen interest in finding out what the great minds of our time had to say about how we can find purpose and fulfillment in life (without getting into any of that religious nonsense of course).
Unfortunately, in pretty much every case I walked away feeling depressed about what I just heard. All of the secular advice was along the lines of “live for today” or “help others” or “don’t be afraid to live your dreams” or “be a good person”. It sounded great, but I couldn’t get around the fact that we’re all going to die. As I saw it, what does it really matter if I’m a good person or a bad person, if I am happy or sad, since the entity that I think of as “me” is going to cease to exist in a relatively short time? When discussing the matter with other atheist or agnostic friends, the conversation usually went something like this:
ME: What does it matter if I spend this weekend volunteering at the soup kitchen or burglarizing people’s houses? I mean, I am not going to exist for very much longer! Why should I care?
THEM: It’s about your legacy. Imagine how many people you could help at the soup kitchen, and how many people’s lives you’d negatively impact if you stole all their stuff.
ME: But they’re going to cease to exist too.
THEM: Well, your actions could have far-reaching effects into future generations.
ME: OK, let’s take the 5-billion-year view. Let’s fast-forward to when the sun is a red giant that’s either swallowed up planet earth or burnt it to a crisp. Then does it matter if I spent my weekend feeding the homeless or stealing stuff? Does anything I ever did matter?
For me, this is what it boiled down to: when the last life form is gone from the earth, did anything that ever happened here matter? My answer was: obviously not. To my way of thinking, “meaning” was confined to the human brain. It was something we people came up with. So when people were gone, so was any kind of significance to anything that ever happened or would happen. The Holocaust, the great wars, the hidden good and bad that played out in people’s private lives — I couldn’t figure out how to make a logical case that any of it mattered once earth is a smoldering rock. Once we all cease to exist, if there’s no force outside of the material world in which some part of us lives on, we might as well have never existed.
I firmly believed that all of that was true. But it sure didn’t feel right. In my heart it felt wrong — really, really wrong — to say that the events that took place on this earth would not matter one day. Though it would seem to defy logic (as I saw it), I knew the Holocaust mattered. I knew that every injustice, every good deed, every act of kindness ever committed somehow mattered. It mattered now, it would matter after we were all gone, it would matter five billion years from now. I just couldn’t figure out why.
This was one of the many things that fell into place for me when I considered the concept of God and the soul. Though I “saw” no evidence for these things at that point (because I was still thinking in terms of believing only in what could be proven by visual observation or measurement), it resonated on a deep level that something was going on outside of the material world: that “meaning” came from somewhere above humans; that the events that took place on this planet would still matter, even billions of years from now; that our souls would live on to remember what happened here, even after our bodies died.
The crashing sounds and maniacal laughing (or is that screaming?) I hear coming from upstairs mean that naptime, and therefore my blog posting time, must be over. I want to wrap up this post by noting that I offer these thoughts in the spirit of personal reflection. This is part of my story. The last time I wrote a post on a similar topic it seemed to offend non-believers who do find objective meaning in the world without religion. I hope that is not the case this time. These are only some memories that came to mind that I wanted to ramble about for a while, and not an attempt to criticize anyone who sees the world differently.
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