Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Atheism and meaning (a thinking out loud post)


The argument that atheists cannot live a meaningful life has two premises: Flourishing requires objective meaning and God is necessary for objective meaning. Without a creator God, the universe and our lives lack any inherent purpose and meaning;  atheists must impose meaning upon the universe because objects and people lack inherent worth.  In Nietzsches’ terms, God is dead and we must replace him.  This imposition of meaning results in a lifetime of searching and ‘spiritual suffering’: dissatisfaction, angst, boredom etc. We will never know peace.

This argument is around objective vs subjective sources of meaning. The objective is an universe intentionally created by God as part of his divine plan. The subjective is a mind imposing meaning upon the world. The former is religious and the latter is romanticism. But I am convinced theists are in the same position of romantically imposing meaning rather than accepting Gods plan for their lives.

My theory is modern man, whether religious or not, is inherently romantic. We believe in self-creation and self-realization. Our culture is littered with evidence for this assertion:  the shop shelves packed with self-improvement manuals, our fitness industry, the myths of the self-made businessmen and our obsession with realizing our potential.  This romanticism is proliferated by capitalism and entered the workplace via the human resource movement .

When self-realization is the goal, the means chosen is irrelevant to the overall point. What is the difference between a theist praying for Gods grace and an atheist employing NLP? Or an athlete praying before a race and an athlete practicing positive psychology? God becomes the means to our own ends, a fickle servant to our whims.

If my theory is correct, the link between God and an external grounding for meaning in our lives is long shattered.  It was shattered by the scientific revolution, by philosophers like Kant, by the American Dream, by advertisements, by capitalism, by the hopes of millions of people searching for a better life.  

Atheists and theist both may feel wonder and awe as they gaze upon nature; but both seek to tame and use nature for their own ends. This is the legacy of the Enlightenment. Meaning is stripped from the cosmos whether viewed as creation or not. God as the source of meaning is truly dead even among the faithful and we have replaced him with our struggle to self-realize our egos. 

Meaning is imposed by our subjective minds, not found among the movement of planets or the purring the kittens or the cries of the suffering or mythological stories of creation. Theists are no different from atheists.

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