Friday, March 6, 2009

Life's Purpose - The Irony of Avoiding Angst

Some people like to promote the idea that meaning and purpose come from a source other than oneself.

"If there is no God and no afterlife, what possible meaning could there be in living?" they ask. And at the same time they assume none could be possible. It is strange, while on the one hand they are able to imagine a heavenly father who loves and cares for them from above on the other hand, when it comes to thinking of a purpose for living, their lack of imagination is amazingly absent. The idea that people are free to choose whatever meaning they might want doesn't seem to occur to them.

I am reminded of "Born to Die" tattoos, you know, the ones with a snake crawling through the eye sockets. And I have seen some of these with a Christian motif picturing Jesus on the cross.

Jesus was himself "born to die" just so that some Christians might be born again. Christian leaders employ the "rule of reciprocity" to leverage and evoke obedience to authority.

God's only son had to die for your sins, the least a person could do is to reciprocate by believing in him. Once a person buys into the need to reciprocate then greater and greater levels of commitment may be demanded or expected. Usually, at a minimum, to be a Christian, means making a public professing of a belief in God and submitting oneself to church authority. Whether a person’s profession of faith is genuine or not is indeterminable. Even believers are unclear sometimes what their profession of faith really means. What people actually believe the privacy of their own mind is not available to external observation. As a casual observer, I would say that believers seldom, if ever, behave in a manner consistent with the beliefs that they profess to hold. It's a bit like liars poker. How many are bluffing for the sake of their social standing?

Whether it is for the social benefits, the fear of death or the fear of the meaninglessness of life is not really clear to me. Perhaps it's a mixture of all of these along with other cultural appeals. What is clear is that the religious minded are engaged in a psychological battle against angst. They attempt to vanquish feelings of isolation, the fear of death and meaninglessness of life. They do so by adopting the narrative of the scriptures, which places them in a relationship with an almighty father. They transfer and transform their natural longings and fears. The fear of loneliness, death and despair is transformed into a fear of God or eternal damnation. Longings are transformed to the promise of salvation, belonging to a community of saints and promise of an everlasting life. In the process they also elevate themselves from mere animal to the status of being one of the chosen children of God. They project and extend their perceived destiny into a grand drama that totally eclipses the merely mundane material existence. All in all, religion is a pretty nifty psychological device don't you think.

So there is a built-in elevation of one's status when one adopts the biblical narrative. Attempting to use reason and logic to supplant the emotionally satisfying narrative of biblical reality that places a person in the midst of a grand drama is to cast oneself in the role of the Grinch. When people carry their childish yearnings into adulthood and invest so heavily in the concept of their idealized self it is no longer child’s play. It gets very serious. Then for some who have irrational, primeval fears of evil and imagine Satan in their midst, the atheistic naysayers had better be on guard of potential deadly retaliation.

But is the price paid to be a "believer" worth it? Doesn't it appear to be more than just a bit ironic that their yearning for meaning leads them to reject real world meaning for the make-believe meaning of the biblical narrative?

Is it really that much more difficult to consider the fact that death just might, indeed, be final. Wouldn't it be healthier for people to engage themselves in the many real world problems that need dedicated, purpose driven people to commit to?

On the topic of death, I would like to paraphrase what Mark Twain said.
I have to paraphrase because I don't remember the exact quote. "Why should I fear being dead, I was dead for millions of years before I was born."

No comments: