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
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
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