The Question of God and Meaning

I ran across a story about Nietzsche in John Caputo’s Philosophy and Theology this morning that made me think a little bit. I’m not even sure whether the story is directly related to what this blog post will (eventually) be about. Either way, here it is:

Once upon a time, on a little star in a distant corner of the universe, clever little animals invented for themselves proud words, like truth and goodness. But soon enough the little star cooled, and the little animals had to die and with them their proud words. But the universe, never missing a step, drew another breath and moved on, dancing its cosmic dance across endless skies.

It seems to me that Nietzsche was one of the most honest philosophers regarding his atheism. He seemed to make no attempt to attach meaning to a world that was God-less. All ethical or moral statements were simply value statements based on culture or experience. They meant absolutely nothing. Granted, I must admit I have read very little of Nietzsche’s work. This simply seems to be the case based on what I’ve read. Contrast this with the New Atheist movement, who seem no better than Christian Fundamentalists in their quest to (dis)prove God’s existence, and yet still find meaning or beauty in the world (yes, I recognize I’m making generalizations). Taken to its logical conclusion, atheism holds nothing but emptiness and and desperation.

This, to me, is why all philosophy and theology hinges on the question of God. The question itself is the beginning and the end. With God, we basically have something to work with. Human existence has meaning and can move forward, onto other questions.. Without God, existence is stripped of its meaning. Sure, we can discuss whether there are “higher moral standards,” or a “universal law.” We can discuss evolution, look back on the history of the world or the universe, and hope to make sense of the situation we find ourselves in. Eventually, however, the pursuit of these things is utterly futile. A God-less  universe means humans  are thrown into existence by some random (non)force, live for a few decades, and die. There is nothing other than that. Not only that, but our lives in comparison to the age of the world or universe are nothing but a vapor. Less than a vapor. They are nothing. Why even bother discussing philosophy? It makes absolutely no difference, except to give us something to do until we die. I don’t mean to be depressing here, but that’s the reality of accepting a truly atheistic worldview.

The question I ask myself, though, is this: Am I choosing to believe in God so that I have an ultimate Reality to lean on when faced with the question of meaning? Human beings are so desperate for a sense of purpose and meaning – somehow feeling like our lives are significant. But is that really a good motivator for choosing God? I can’t deny that, many times, that’s my reasoning. I choose God to give myself purpose. I’m not saying otherwise I should disbelieve in God. I’m just asking whether this is a good reason to believe. Is it even possible to separate belief in God from a desire for meaning?

To my religious friends/readers: When you truly think about it, why have you chosen God? Why do you continue to choose God?

To my atheist friends/readers:How do you deal with your acceptance of a God-less universe? Do you still find some way to attach meaning to existence, despite the absence of an ultimate Reality?

***As a footnote, I should say I could be completely wrong here. I’m just putting out my own thoughts and feelings towards these questions. My goal is not to offend anyone, but to truly understand why people have chosen what to believe, and how they (we) find meaning within that framework.

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12 thoughts on “The Question of God and Meaning

  1. By The Hilt

    I’m a Christian, and having gone to university and gotten a BA in philosophy, I’ve scrutinized my beliefs very thoroughly, and I continue to believe in God. I could say I believe in Him because He is real and He is the truth, but no one ever seems terribly satisfied with that answer. 😉 The truth is, Christians and atheists alike will find evidence for their beliefs, and you must evaluate all the arguments for yourself. Listen to your head, but also listen to your heart, and you will find your way. I believe in God because the arguments and evidence supporting Him are sound. Atheism is inconsistent and in the end will leave you with nothing.
    Is choosing to believe in God so you have an Ultimate Reality to lean on wrong? I don’t think it’s right or wrong. I just think it’s a good place to start.

    Reply
      1. By The Hilt

        I got my BA at the University of British Columbia in Canada. I’ve only been out of school for two years now, and I haven’t decided what I want to do with it yet. I’ve just been working go-nowhere jobs while working on my writing the last couple of years.

  2. NotAScientist

    “All ethical or moral statements were simply value statements based on culture or experience. They meant absolutely nothing.”

    No. They clearly mean something to the people who form them.

    “Do you still find some way to attach meaning to existence, despite the absence of an ultimate Reality?”

    Sure. Existence matters to me. It matters to the people I care about. Why should I care beyond that?

    Reply
    1. Christopher Baca Post author

      I should clarify about the first statement. I don’t mean that those moral decisions are simply meaningless, even to the person deciding on them. Otherwise, the person wouldn’t make the decision for that particular moral. Rather, I mean that those moral or ethical decisions are rendered ultimately meaningless if there is no ultimate thing grounding Reality.

      Reply
      1. NotAScientist

        Ok.

        I repeat, why should I care? It matters to me. It matters to the people I care about. Why should anything beyond that make a difference to me?

    2. By The Hilt

      I have never understood people who ask “Why should I care?” I always want to ask “How can you not care?” It’s a matter of truth and of our very existence and nature of being. That seems extremely important to me.

      Reply
      1. NotAScientist

        My point is, why should I care about ‘ultimate meaning’?

        I have my own meaning. Why do I need more than that? I see no good reason ultimate meaning exists, and thus see no reason to worry about it at all.

      2. By The Hilt

        If you don’t believe in logic, or truth, or rationality, then I guess there is no problem. But if you do, then there’s a huge problem. I’m not sure what stance exactly you’re taking, but it seems very relativistic, and thus inherently self-contradictory. If you’re okay with that it’s great, but I have a big problem with self-contradiction..

  3. NotAScientist

    “If you don’t believe in logic, or truth, or rationality, then I guess there is no problem.”

    I do believe such things. I don’t believe, nor have I seen any evidence, that anything supernatural has something to do with them.

    There is no ultimate meaning in the universe. Logic and rationality are methods which humans use to examine the universe. Truth is a matter of fact or fiction. Ultimate meaning has nothing to do with logic, truth or rationality.

    Reply
  4. hastywords

    I believe because I am given the ability to believe! I did not grow up in church but I can’t ever remember not believing….it was always just a part of me. Since then though I have questioned the “why” of my beliefs and decided to read the bible. All I can say is that nature, people, the bible it just speaks to me, it makes sense like nothing else has in my search. I know this doesn’t help at all but you got my two cents anyway! 🙂

    Reply
  5. Allallt

    I take issue with other people finding the “logical conclusion” of my world view. Nietzsche reads like a satirist compared to the way I think and value the world.
    I thought you might enjoy reading the Allallt philosophy on religious people, taken to its logical conclusion:
    http://allalltor.wordpress.com/2012/04/21/getting-meaning-from-atheism/
    http://allalltor.wordpress.com/2012/04/28/getting-more-value-from-atheism/

    The basic question it raises is this: if it is only eternity that grants anything objective meaning, why would you care if I killed everyone you ever loved? They haven’t disappeared from their eternal existence, they have moved to the eternity, and received a goodness that repays their pains a hundredfold. Why does this life matter to a theist if it is only God and eternity that matters.

    In attempting to answer that (and after reading the posts I shared) I hope you will come to appreciate that value in life can be grounded without God (or that you should be a repenting hedonistic sociopath).

    Reply

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