Saturday, May 15, 2010

What is this meaning you speak of, and why does it matter?

PZ Myers posted an interesting video by a nutter priest. The underlying theme, that "new atheists" just aren't serious about atheism is rather ridiculous, but he also goes on at great length about meaning. This actually follows nicely with a discussion I had a while back, when I met with some of the local CFI members for Cafe Inquiry. (horribly, I was late and we ended up not really getting into the topic I had chosen for the evening - though that saves me thinking about another one)

I think there are some definite advantages to having become an atheist at this point in my life, in this time. A very big one is this whole notion of some metaphysical meaning to life. I was struck last night when we were momentarily on a discussion about philosophers. One of the gentlemen at the meeting looked over at me and said; "I am eighty three years old and I have been really wondering about [meaning] for most of my life." He has also been an atheist/agnostic for most of that time, as far as I could gather.

To my post Christian self, this seems rather simple. There is no great mysterious meaning to life. Quite simply, my life has the meaning that both I attach to it and the meaning those whose lives I touch attach to it. And having wasted all too much of my life wondering at what meaning some magical being attached to my life, I am extremely comforted by this. I don't have to wonder about it, because when I let go of the god paradigm, I let go of a lot of the baggage that went with it - though certainly not all.

This may well be the most important baggage that I have left behind. To be certain, this places a great deal more responsibility onto my shoulders. Now I not only have to decide what meaning I want my life to have, I have to live a life that will create that meaning. But this is also empowering to me. No more to wonder what some amorphous being put me here to be, put all of us here to be, my life belongs to me now. And while things are definitely not perfect, I have mentioned before about what a brilliant time it is to be human.

I think this concept of meaning and ownership of self is what really gets me excited about being human. It is also what gets me so excited about living in this backwater planet in a backwater galaxy. No imagined being owns me, controls me or forces me into a neat little box of meaning that I can't even know or understand. As intimidating as it seems sometimes, I have a great deal of control over what my life means. While I am not always the nicest of people, I have managed to do some pretty awesome things for people - though that is balanced some by having hurt people too. But as I grow, mature and move into a career of service both to my chosen profession and to people who are so very despised by so many other humans, I am becoming a person whose life's meaning is something I can be proud to call my own. And as I learn and grow as a parent, there is a great deal of meaning that is wrapped up in the skin of two wonderful boys.

It is exceedingly unlikely there is any extrasensory meaning to life. What we see, who we are is what we get. And no matter what Father Barron seems to think about it, this is a wonderful thing. It is a gift not given by some god or by the universe, it is a gift we can give ourselves when we let go of gods and magical thinking*. It is freedom from yet more chains created by enculturation in a default religious society. It is freedom from an abysmal distraction in our exploration of the rolling vistas of our minds, though it is no less a quest.

It is still a quest. But it is not a futile quest. It is not a quest in which we are powerless to influence the outcome and whose outcome we can actually understand. It is a quest made up of decisions instead of speculations and that is truly wondrous to behold - far greater than a chorus of heavenly angels could ever be. It is an ever continuing quest to be a better human being than we were mere moments before

* Assuming you were ever really there.

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