Thursday, May 10, 2007

Ultimate Purpose

Many religious people say that a life without God is meaningless. They seem to think that life is pointless if we don’t have some higher purpose. Apparently the only way for us to have value is to serve God. Of course, a lot of their concern over this seems to be due to the impermanence of life. It dismays them to think that it all comes to an end. And they think that without the continuation of life that God promises, there is nothing worth living for.

This seems to me like a particularly morbid and depressing outlook. Even when I was a Christian, I never felt that life was meaningless without God. I have always thought that life is special in and of itself. For life to be meaningless without God there would have to be nothing but God in life. But there is so much more to life. The purpose of life is to live it and enjoy it. That would be true even if God did exist.

Life doesn't have to have some special ultimate purpose. Life is precious. It is full of emotions, challenges and experiences. Personally I love life. It’s certainly better than the alternative. My relationships with my family and friends are priceless. And learning new things is exhilarating. The joy of life is not in some ultimate goal but in the experience of it. To use a cliché, Life is a journey, not a destination. There are so many things to do and see. And we can build or create things that have the potential to go on after us. If we want immortality we should seek it by trying to make the world a better place and improve the human condition instead of tearing it apart with religious strife. I’m not anxious to die, but the fact that I will not exist after I die doesn’t bother me in the least. As Mark Twain said, “I was dead for millions of years before I was born and it never inconvenienced me a bit.”

If life is nothing more than serving God, it brings to mind the Euthypro Dilemma. What can we possibly do for a perfect being? If God lacks nothing and needs nothing he does not need us. To imply that our actions, no matter how pious or holy, can benefit God is nothing more than hubris. If God doesn’t need us and the only purpose in life is serving him - that would be a meaningless life. And in my opinion, a God that keeps people around solely for the purpose of praising him would be a petty being unworthy of that praise.

On the flip side theists say we need God to help us behave properly so we don’t run amok and allow the world to fall into chaos and sin. But is that really true? Why would we want to do that? What would it benefit us? Humans have the intelligence to see that working together cooperatively is better than the alternative. Why would we create a world of suffering for ourselves and our posterity? We have built societies where we can all live together in peace - but only when religion is taken out of the equation. One of the major impediments to world peace is religion. Religions can't cooperate because their dogma is unchangeable. Religion could easily be the downfall of the human race. For me, life seems to be more meaningful without God.


Rain-drop said...

You have some interesting points here. I partially agree with you that the dogmas of religion definitely cause a problem in society and in efforts for world peace. However, I believe that the solution to this is not to eliminate religion, but rather for religious people (especially religious leaders) to realize that there are common threads to all religions, and so all religions should either unite, or be able to accept each religion's differences. Then world peace could still be obtained.

Also, in the philosophy of the Vedas followed by the Hare Krishna movement, it is believed that there is a reason to serve God. Our original position is beside God as His friend, servant, worshipper. There are various relationships that we can develop with God, depending on how we serve him and what our personal goal is. Originally we were all beside God. The purpose of the human life is to re-obtain that position by God, and God DOES need us, because He needs our love. He loves us, and simply wants us to love Him back. This topic leads to the topic of reincarnation - as humans, we have the intelligence necessary to believe in God, serve Him, and are able to strive for our original position of loving God.

And yes, life is beautiful. There are many things precious in life. And as you point out at the beginning of your post, many religious people talk about impermanency, and that true happiness can only be achieved by some sort of God-consciousness.

My opinion on this goes with reincarnation, which I believe in. Once we have gotten the good karma to be born as a human, we as human can try to nurture our original relationship and purpose of loving God. Under the guidance of a bonafide and unselfish religious leader, guru of sorts, we can learn how to love God again. The reason to loving God gives us a happiness that is greater than the impermanent satisfactions of life is because the happiness of loving God, of having our original position re-established, is a transcendental happiness that is indescribably better than any happinesss we get from material life here on earth.

This is all Eastern philosophy stuff that you won't find in Christian philosophy as much, and gives much more explanation of details. Not to be preachy, but if you ever wanted to read Eastern religion stuff, I suggest the Srimad-Bhagavatam and the Bhagavad-Gita. :D

Interesting post!

Will Friday said...

Thanks for your comments rain-drop. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and the explanation of your beliefs. I’m afraid you are not going to like what I have to say so if your feelings are easily hurt, you might want to stop reading now.

I have read the Bhagavad-Gita. My copy was given to me by a member of the Hare Krishna movement you mentioned. He and his group were dancing around in an airport lobby making a hideous noise. He was shaved bald except for a little queue tuft at the back of his head and was wearing a cheap, baggy orange robe. I thought at the time that it was too stereotypical to be real. I was afraid I was on Candid Camera. But I was sincerely interested in knowing what other people believed so I ignored the ludicrous appearance of the messenger and read the message. I didn't find it useful or meaningful even though I learned a lot about the beliefs and I do find some aspects of the religion marginally preferable to that of Christianity.

Actually I have done quite a bit of reading about the Eastern religions from their own books and from religious scholars. So I am familiar with all that you mentioned. In my other posts I make quite clear how nonsensical the notions of God and soul are. Why would it suddenly make sense if the same thing is said by a different religion? There is absolutely no evidence of either and nothing in the Eastern religions lends credibility to those ideas. If you begin with the presumption that we have a soul and that God exists, you can create any number of different belief systems based on that. But one unfounded belief is no better than any other. Reincarnation is just as baseless and useless as any other mystical notion. It’s just another ancient story that people used to explain things they didn’t yet understand or to help them overcome the fear of death.

I remember Krishna telling Arjuna not to worry about killing people because their soul would go on. He made it sound like they were just taking off their coat or something. If you look in my list of issues with religion you’ll see that I mention this dangerous idea. It leads to the notion that it is sometimes even doing someone a favor to kill them. It has also led to such atrocities as that of Arnaud Amaury, Abbott of Citeaux in 1209, when asked by the Catholic Crusaders what to do with the citizens of Beziers France who were a mixture of Catholics and Cathars and he said “Kill them all: God will know his own.” So they killed everyone (about 20,000 people) and figured the “good ones” would go to heaven. Anyone who thinks our mortal life here doesn’t matter as much as some imagined afterlife is deluded and potentially dangerous. Mortal life is all we have. If you take a life, you have ended that person’s existence. There is no evidence whatsoever to the contrary.

The idea that one has to improve their karma in order to progress is fine if it makes people do the right things but not when it makes them waste their lives trying to serve a make-believe God. People should put effort into improving the human condition and making the world a better place instead of assuming there is something beyond this life. To accept anyone’s fanciful tale of supernatural beings and warm fuzzy happy places to come in another life is never going to help humanity.

You made it sound as though you think I'm advocating the banning of religion. That is not even close to the truth. And it wouldn’t work. Some dangerous groups may need to be contained or handled differently but for the most part I would simply like to see religion fade away as a human practice. Education is the key. I think that showing people the irrationality, danger and sheer stupidity of religion will help to bring this about. I want people to use their intellect to cut through the lies and superstitious nonsense. All religions are myths, legends and superstitions. They may have served a purpose at one time but they have outlived their usefulness. We are not ignorant savages anymore and we should stop acting like it. Religions are nothing but impediments to progress and real knowledge at best and ticking time bombs at worst. People need to use their own minds and learn about things in reality instead of following some religious leader who has no more knowledge about the truth than anyone else.

I think it is Pollyanna to believe that the religions of the world will ever be able to accept each other as equals and practice any sort of toleration. Religions allow large groups of people to think themselves better than others either because they are chosen or because they have the real truth. No matter what the leaders say, it is human nature to be arrogant when you think you are special. Worldwide religious cooperation is not going to happen as long as people believe in pure nonsense. When we accept all manner of nonsense as being reasonable, we are setting ourselves up for catastrophe. Repeatedly throughout history there have been religious wars and strife and atrocities. It happens today and it will happen as long as religion is the major force it is now. Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Your belief that we are trying to get back to our relationship with God brings to mind a question. If that is where we should be and where he wants us, why are we here? What is it about the spirit realm that keeps us from progressing there? Why does it take an earthly sojourn to learn enough or develop the right kind of karma? It is the kind of story one would have to create to justify this kind of belief but it sounds like a huge con job. I can’t believe that people actually fall for that sort of thing. What we know is that we are here. We know absolutely nothing about any other supposed realms or supernatural beings. It boggles the mind to think that people actually take this fantasy to be the truth based on an absolute lack of evidence. And I don’t see the attraction of a God who is so emotionally needy as the one you talk about.