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The Meaning of Life - A Dangerous Idea?

And the winner is... I just entered a contest at an article directory for the best article on the meaning of life. I am fairly certain that I won't be one of the winners. The judges are probably looking for some feel-good ideas about how we are meant to love one another or grow as humans. My slant is a bit different. Here it is.

The idea of "the meaning of life" implies a designer who had some purpose in mind when he, she or it made the world in general and life in particular. Such a "god," for lack of a better word, has never been proven to exist of course, but even if it did, why would we be so presumptuous as to think we know its purposes? But we are, and let's look at what happens when we are so presumptuous.

Let There Be War!

Many people may think that humans like violence, that they like to kill each other. But put a man on an island with another and he will generally have no reason nor desire to attack or kill him. It is easy to see the advantages of being at peace with each other. To feel the need to attack, he needs a motive, and to overcome his discomfort with killing, he needs a justification.

Accepting a meaning and purpose beyond ourselves gives us that motive and justification. Whether a "tribe" a "nation" or the "will of God," we look to purposes and authority beyond our individual minds, and these authorities tell us to kill. Consider most holy books. Without picking on any particular religion, it is safe to say that most of their books prescribe violence for many purposes - go read them if you think otherwise.

But even without the books, when we think we know what is supposed to happen in this life, we find justification for violence against those who find other meanings. It is one thing to disagree with a man on some point that matters little to you, but when he is going against (insert belief here), he is more than just a man with a different opinion - he is your enemy.

Consider how difficult it is for a young soldier to kill "a mother of three children who just bought a bicycle for her son and despite different beliefs is much like his own mother or sister." At least it is difficult if the woman is thought of that way. When she is "the enemy," and the young man is fighting for his "great nation," which has "God on its side," then it becomes easier to pull the trigger, doesn't it? A bit of meaning goes a long way towards making killing easier.

Of course you can have beliefs about the meaning of life which don't lead to violence. But probably some of you who have such beliefs are getting a bit angry with this article anyhow. Virtually any absolute belief can arouse anger, and possibly violence. Without those absolute beliefs, you would have no reaction to that which is contrary to them.

Other readers are perhaps getting very angry right now. Some of those will be satisfied by the "knowledge" that I'll be in hell someday, according to their "meaning of life." If I said anything more specific about the particular beliefs of some readers, they would feel justified in sending me there early. This shows the power of absolute beliefs to anger and incite us.

Let There Be Peace

If we no longer place meaning outside of our lives, we have reason for peace. If I believe in or choose a meaning only for my own individual life, I don't want to fight or kill. Violence gets in the way of private purposes. Consider that wars are won only by nations, but individuals pay the cost.

What am I suggesting? I am pointing out the dangers in the concept of the "meaning of life," but I am also suggesting that we each invent a meaning or purpose. Go ahead and have a meaning for your life, but one which doesn't need to be imposed on other people. Don't worry about other's purposes as long as they leave you alone. Let them believe what they want.

We certainly don't have to agree on the meanings we each choose in order to have common interests, like having the freedom and peace necessary to pursue our own interests. Ask a man "What does your life mean to you?" or "What are you going to do with your life?" and you are acknowledging that the choice is his to make. But when you think you know the meaning of existence, you are presuming to know what purpose others should have or serve. Isn't it better to stick to our own purposes and meanings?

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Meaning of Life