Myspace Repost: Meaning?

Hambydammit
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Myspace Repost: Meaning?

Reposted from my Myspace blog. Originally written November 4, 2007:

 

What is Meaning?

Time to vent a little. I'm officially tired of the question, "But, if there is no god, what meaning does your life have?"
First thing to notice is that this question, ironically, is meaningless. Why? In order to have meaning, all the words in the question must be sufficiently defined. In this question, "meaning" literally has no meaning. I'll explain.
Meaning must have a referrent. When we say a word means something, we are saying that it refers to an object, a concept or an action. Likewise, the word "meaning" must refer to something. So, when a theist asks, "Without god, what meaning does your life have?" we can ask the simple question, "meaning with regard to what?"
{edit: to be more precise, trying to define "meaning" as not being tied to a goal or purpose leaves us with a nonsense word. Even theists will have to admit this, as the so-called "higher meaning" has God's purpose, or spiritual purpose as its referent.}
Clearly, an atheist's life has no meaning with regard to god. It also has no meaning with regard to unicorns, celestial teapots, and dead people speaking through images of Elvis that magically appeared on a stale piece of toast. Even so, is it possible that theists do have meaning that we atheists don't? Let's examine this for a bit, shall we?
Suppose we're talking about how we interact with our fellow man. I've gone over this a number of times, but to summarize, there is not one moral action which cannot be justified through the use of naturalism and logic. Any act that is deemed moral is deemed moral for a natural reason. While there might be disagreement over whether or not an action actually is morally good, there can be no disagreement on the fact that people have a reason for believing something to be good or bad. Morality is based on empiricism. Furthermore, there's a good argument to be made that morality is a means, not an end, and does not give us meaning in and of itself.
What does that leave us? Most of us have something we want to accomplish, right? Maybe it's as simple as living to be seventy. Maybe it's being successful monetarily. Maybe it's finding love. If we get down to it, pretty much everybody can think of dozens, maybe hundreds of things that they want in the future. These are goals that give our lives purpose. We can nitpick about whether a person has good goals or not, but only if we think it meaningful.
Now, we get into the really tough question. Christians will say their purpose is to help other people get into heaven. While this would be admirable if there was a heaven, it leads us to a rather sticky question. Are all meanings equal? In other words, if you find meaning by believing that you can channel your chi through quartz crystals and make Keith Moon's ghost appear in your Christmas Snow Globe, who am I to poo-poo your meaning? After all, it makes you happy, right?
Well, on a certain level, I suppose that's true. It's not really my business to get in someone's way if they like knitting booties for fairies, but there's a larger question. It's just not as simple as all that. Think for a second about everyone you've ever known, and see if you can identify the following people:

1) You know, I ought to be happy. I have a good job, a good spouse, a nice house, and a good car. The thing is, I feel empty. There's something missing from my life.

2) Yeah, I had the life I was supposed to have. I was married, good job, all that jazz, but it just wasn't for me. Now that I'm (insert out of the ordinary activity here), I don't have two pennies to rub together, but I'm doing what I love, and I'm happy. It's not for everybody, but it's what I needed to do.

Most likely, you've known these people. Maybe it's the same person, separated by a few years. Here's where theism gets in the way. If a good Christian hears person number one (We'll call him Bob from now on) make that statement, he'll invite him to church. He'll say, "Bob, I know what you mean. What you're feeling is spiritual emptiness. You need God in your life. Come to church. Be a part of our group. Come to basketball practice. There's a church team. We have potluck on Tuesday. Do you like to sing? We have a glee club that meets on thursdays. What you need is God."
Notice anything about that? Suppose Bob goes to church and finds a bunch of people he likes, and starts spending most of his time there. Was it God that helped him find happiness? Not likely. In fact, what he found was friends, companionship, and goals.
Now, imagine something else. Suppose that Bob feels like he's not accomplishing anything productive. Suppose he wishes he could contribute something substantial to the world. It's possible that by being in church, he will feel somewhat satisfied. He'll give 10% of his income to the church, and he'll go to sleep at night feeling good that he's doing something worthwhile... and all he's really done is pay the pastor's salary and the light bill for the new ten thousand seat auditorium to help recruit more Christians.
Yeah, yeah. I know. Christians do charity. Think for a second about all the money the Catholic Church has. Ah, fuck that. It's too much to imagine. Think for a minute about the tithes from everybody who goes to church in Texas. I guarantee it's enough money to fix the whole school system, and probably enough left over to run every soup kitchen in Texas for a year. How much of it goes to charity? Maybe 1%? How much to self promotion? If you took all the man-hours that people spend in church and put it towards real charity, would there be any poverty left?
The point is, theism is a great way to do nothing and feel great about it. Is it meaning? Yeah, it is, but it's a false meaning. It's a self-replicating meme that claims to be doing good, but is just sucking up time and resources. The people who are avoiding the two hour prayer meetings and spending ten percent of their income on real projects are demonstrably doing more for the world. Can I say their meaning is better than theists? With regard to tangible results, yes. I can. This is why understanding the question is so vital. If we just allow the nebulous concept of meaning, it's pretty much impossible to weigh one against the other. It's just an individual thing. Once we recognize that meaning has to be weighed against something, it becomes more clear that all meanings are not equal.
The real crime, if you ask me, is that Christians will spend hours in prayer meetings, feeling smug about all they're doing, and will look down their noses at people who devote 40 hours a week to improving the world, and they'll smugly say, "Yeah, it's nice that you do all that, but you don't have real meaning."

Fuck that.

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

http://hambydammit.wordpress.com/
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HC Grindon
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Quote: Think for a minute

Quote:
Think for a minute about the tithes from everybody who goes to church in Texas. I guarantee it's enough money to fix the whole school system, and probably enough left over to run every soup kitchen in Texas for a year.

Throw in what these churches do NOT pay in the way of property taxes (and there are a helluva lot of churches here), and you could upgrade those soup kitchens to caviar kitchens.

 


Hambydammit
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Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

http://hambydammit.wordpress.com/
Books about atheism