Hello world, it bugs me when the religious claim that life is meaningless without a supreme being to govern us. But what annoys me further is when fellow atheists contend to their claims and say “Then so be it, the universe doesn’t owe you a sense of meaning does it?”.
To be fair, what they say isn’t entirely false. The universe doesn’t owe us shit and a meaning in life is just a filigree to living; it isn’t necessary or important. But what they don’t realize is that by contending to those words of the religious, they would, at the same time, be accepting that an objective meaning is superior to a subjective one. If not, why dismiss a subjective meaning as a legit meaning altogether? Are there any good reasons that makes an objective meaning more legit than a subjective one?
Before we get started, we must first reach a common understanding of the word “meaning”. “Meaning” is a word with vast implications. I could dissect the word in 10 different ways reaching 50 different conclusion but to keep things simple, let’s agree to define it as “a reason to live”. Without this reason, why do anything? Why not hang yourself with a noose or ingest a bottle of bleach? Why not be a couch potato for life and declare to only eat cheese nachos till your heart fails? Why not be a serial killer or the next Hitler?
My argument will be in two parts. I will first be explaining the common fallacies involved in belittling a subjective meaning of life. And secondly, why is an objective meaning more meaningless it may seem to be.
I. Albert Camus once said that the only way to live a meaningful life is to not just accept but embrace it’s meaningless-ness(what a graceless word to use, I know). If I remained to be the boy I was a year ago, without hesitation, all my limbs would be erected in agreement with the French philosopher. But thank God for time and experience, my opinion is now different. Life can be either deeply meaningful or entirely meaningless and it all depends on you. Now that’s unthinking truism and probably won’t do much for anyone, but the reason for why it doesn’t sound helpful isn’t that it’s something we already all know but because we are all irrationally adamant that an objective purpose is life is more valuable than a subjective one.
What is responsible for that is the sense of void we all have that’s created by our mental faculty. Our ability to perceive ourselves as conscious being comes with a concomitant cost of wariness about our existence in this world. To fill that void and not think of ourselves as a “freak accident”, we subscribe to a common purpose shared by hundreds of millions. Through these numbers, we find solidarity, and through solidarity, we find unquestioned objectivity. But even if were to give religion the benefit of doubt and accept their proposed meaning to living, why should it be any better than a subjective meaning?
The fault lies in our tendency in appealing to words like “purpose” and “meaning” as a mystical “thing” that cannot be explained through simple rationalization. And this tendency acts like a dead weight to the word making it feel heavy. The heavier it is, the more we feel helpless in deciding it as humans and seek help from a higher authority to decide it. In actual fact, how should we value our purpose in life should be no different from our preference of chocolates. On whether you prefer white chocolate or dark chocolate, peppermint chocolate or caramel chocolate, mustard apple chocolate or honey pumpkin chocolate, it’s a view that should exist subjectively. Thus, by giving a subjective purpose to your life such as wanting to consume as many mustard apple chocolates as possible does not make it senseless or worthless just because it’s subjective. It is subjective because that is what subjective means, not because it’s less worthy.
II. If the biblical God is true, the commandments are laws that his creations can derive a sense of purpose from. And if we were to see how much dough God gives himself in the commandments, the foremost purpose in life of a Christian(or the objective meaning of it) would probably be to worship God, have a relationship with him and eventually be invited to his perpetual house warming in heaven. The atheists can laugh and mock and even jeer at them saying it’s just an egocentric thing to do that does no good but fondle God’s balls. However, as silly as they think it is, from the words of a couple of Christian that I have spoke to, by doing so actually brings them an unparalleled sense of comfort. So if they are enjoying what they are doing, who are we to say it’s stupid and that kind of meaning in life isn’t legit. As a matter of fact, we can’t. But thank God for rhetorics, we can at least discuss if is it logically meaningful.
First of all, there’s the Euthyphro dilemma that we have to hurdle. Is worshipping God really meaningful or is it meaningful just because God commands upon it? Consequentially, is the act of serving God logically meaningful?
If we were to remove the transcendental notion that we so conveniently apply to God, we would soon realize that he is no more than Kim Jong Un, the communist leader of North Korea. And if a regular citizen of North Korea were to claim that his purpose in life is to serve his great leader simply because he is great and he commands upon it, we would, in a split second, identify that that sort of purpose isn’t logically meaningful because it’s commanded only to serve the interest of Kim Jong Un himself and doesn’t mean much to the practitioners of it however comforting it may be.
Acknowledging such logic, is there anything that sets the biblical commandments apart from what is sanctioned in North Korea? Absolutely nothing, I feel. It is meaningful only because he who commands is perceived to be “divine” and not because the purpose itself truly is. In fact, with that established, it actually makes the purpose arbitrary – which is subjective – because it’s just according to what God’s wishes and not objective in the capital O sense.
Secondly, to give the commandments some credit, let’s ignore the first four obscure and egoistical commandments and jump straight to the fifth one: Honor your father and your mother. On first impression, that does seem like a perfectly moral and worthwhile thing to do given that if it wasn’t for them, you wouldn’t be reading any of my garbled complains. But for a purpose to be truly meaningful, on top of considering the message of it, we must too consider what sort of logical premises does it stand on that makes it so.
Call me a new-age-left-wing libertarian, but a purpose in life that is servilely accepted rather than created automatically robs it of its meaning. That is not because I think human intelligence is noble and the purpose of life is through exercising the best of it but of the irreconcilable contrast between the words “meaningful” and “objective”. For something to be objective, what logically follows is that it is concrete and we have no influence upon it. But for a purpose to be “meaningful”, it might first be of an implied significance by an agent none other than yourself.
That is not to say that a meaningful purpose must be distinctively unique and be different from the other 7 billion of our species that share our air but it must be accepted through understanding than compliance. If the entire of humanity were to understand Aristotelian ethics and practice eudaemonia then so be it. Does it then make Aristotelian ethics an objective purpose in life? No. It still remains as a subjective and meaningful because it is practiced through understanding.
There is nothing embarrassing being a creator of your own purpose. It makes absolutely no sense to think that a purpose assigned by a higher order would be more precious and convincing that one you created through your own experience. It is only through experience that we can observe, learn and rationalize and something as personal as to what life “means”, can only be justified when it’s made through cognizance. The meaning of life shouldn’t be ideas that we simply absorb, but experience and decide for ourselves. And for it to be worthwhile, it can only be subjective. After all, there should be nothing more intimate in life than a reason to live for and a sophisticated compass, created none other by yourself, to live by.
To conclude, however counter intuitive it might be, an objective purpose to life and a meaningful one, are actually contradictory ideas. And thus, I implore you, that contrary to what your teachers say, the world DOES revolve around you. Not because you are a fraction as grand as the universe but after all, your experience in this world… is rightfully yours and the same should apply to your purpose here.