Many Christians feel that without the guarantee of living forever their lives would be meaningless. Some go so far as to say the lives of non-believers is already meaningless. Indeed some Muslims justify slaughtering non-Muslims because they feel non-believers are no better than ‘meaningless’ animals because of their damned state (see here).
This week I yet again shocked to hear another otherwise intelligent Evangelical question the meaning of life without the promise of heaven. He even questioned the value of saving anyone from temporary suffering if in the end, we all end up a puff of smoke:
“…assuming that I will one day not exist does to a very large degree negate everything i do now. What difference does it make if I alleviate one moment of suffering for something that is in any event destined to puff off into nothingness after the briefest of appearances on this planet.”
(Clapham 11:55 12/8/13)
Maybe it is me. Maybe lots of people think this way. But for me, such thinking is bizarre. In this post, my son was feeling a bit like an eternalist too. But I put off his fears as being due to being young and having an immature ego-centric lack of insight. So is “Without Eternity, I give up” thinking just the result of a moral mind getting stuck in adolescence? Or perhaps it is a temperament thing. I am not sure.
Here was my response to Clapham:
“Tell me, what difference does it make to give your kid a great birthday party if 5 years from now he may totally forget it? Do you so undervalue the moment? I think it is actually very bizarre to need a promise of living eternally to have any moment mean anything. Hard to even entertain your comment. You certainly don’t live the way you are hypothesizing.”
In Buddhism, needing some sort of afterlife to guarantee meaning is called “eternalism” and is considered a distorted view (see a great post by David Chapman here). Most theists are eternalists. And for eternalists, nihilism (“everything is meaningless”) is the only reasonable and dreadful alternative. I guess in this sense, I am very Buddhist which posits a middle position. But my middle-way ideas came to me without the help of Buddhism or any other religion – actually they came to me inspite of religion. I just grew up (or so it seems). Indeed, my concepts of meaning seem very much like adult common-sense.
For related posts concerning my view of meaning without the eternity security blanket, see:
- The Meaning of Life : “Meaning”, when applied to an abstract thing called “life”, seems odd.
- The Glory of Insignificance : I marvel in insignificance — ironically, it makes me feel real.
- Meaning without Memories : Memories don’t last, but love does. Talk to my son.
- Warts & the meaning of Life : Happiness is a kind of purpose. Talk with my daughter.
Question to readers: Is it our temperament, our moral maturity or our blind minds that make us view things so differently from each other. So how do you view meaning — as an eternalist, a nihilist or a middle-way type person?
HT pic: Illustration © istockphoto.com/dashk