"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, June 25, 2018

Why Were We Put On This Earth? No Reason At All - The Pleasures Of A Purposeless Existence

A colleague explained that her engagement in good causes was because she felt that she had been put on earth for a purpose; and that purpose was to make the world a better place. 

The notion of purposeful creation is not new, although it is only implicit in the Christian texts.  The New Testament is focused less on why God created man and more on surviving that creation.   Secularists are perplexed at the entire Creation mythology.  Why would an all-powerful God choose to create a world of suffering, penury, and disillusion?  Why did Christ, tempted by the Devil in the desert, suggest that all that his Father had created was of little meaning, and that the only reality was his heavenly kingdom?  An omnipotent deity could have created a universal Elysium with no need for distinction – a heaven on earth enjoyed with God for all eternity is far more appealing than one of chance salvation. 


The Christian answers are familiar. The Garden of Eden was that Elysium, that perfect place of well-being and happiness; but his two first creations, Adam and Eve, endowed with free will committed the sin of pride and had to be expelled into a world of perennial misery.  The Garden no longer existed, but something of even greater importance and attraction resulted.  Through grace, good works, faith, and resolution, men could be with God, not just serve at his pleasure as Adam and Eve did in the garden. 

Secular critics find this myth even more perplexing and ironic than that of Creation.  Why would God change his mind from one of pure beneficence – heaven on earth – to one of punitive judgement and vain hope?  He, after all, created creatures that were weak, venal, self-interested, and narrow.  How could he set such high standards for admission to his reconfigured kingdom?  What was the point?  What was in it for him? Had he no compassion, no real forgiveness?

Once again, Christian theologians reject this theory of divine indifference.  Of course God could have created a more inclusive and more automatically forgiving divine society, but heaven would be no reward if it were for everyone.  Because of original sin, and the Fall of Adam and Eve, life became work, and salvation meant only for the very few.   In other words, heaven has more value if you have to work for it; or at least demonstrate your faith in the hopes of being elected.

Adam and Eve

For most people the story of Creation, salvation, redemption, and eternal life is no more than fanciful myth.  To believe  it requires either a leap of faith,  a deliberate suspension of disbelief; or a smorgasbord approach – one need not believe all the Church teaches, but only the most important principles, parables, and lessons.  Only the absolute faithful, those who believe every word of the Bible, the pronouncements of the Church, and the living presence of Jesus Christ, are spared the uncertainty of half-belief in divine myth.

Good causes are an important feature of the 21st century zeitgeist. They are the secular version of religious good works – the giving of alms, providing succor for the poor and suffering, turning the other cheek, and behaving with Christian rectitude and Christlike principle.  Turning back climate change, creating a more civil, tolerant, and inclusive society, and fighting for justice and community rights are stand-ins for the religiously uncertain who may not believe all that it written, who may not fully expect to be judged harshly or welcomed into heaven, but who cannot discount divine intervention.

What about those who have no such belief, whether fundamental or partial? Those who believe that life is an accident – a purposeless ride from a random birth to an unceremonious death?  Causes mean little since engagement makes no difference to a non-existent God and no spiritual or divine rewards can result from them.  How do they live in what believers would call an arid, hopeless, and despairing place?  Does the fact that we were not put on earth for a purpose deny any meaning of life?

Of course not, epicureans and nihilists are the chosen few who have never known the pieties of religion, who have never been harnessed to any idea of absolute truth or morality; who have been free to profit from and enjoy an unencumbered existence.  At the same time no one can survive without a social and community context – civil laws and secular responsibility have evolved to protect and promote individual enterprise and must be respected; but up to a point.  Transgression of civil laws and moral codes may bring justice or retribution (an angry wife will have her pound of flesh and jail very real) but never the special guilt associated with breaking God’s laws.  Ivan Karamazov in the Dostoevsky novel suggests that civil law should be subsumed within Church law because while men may be free to break temporal codes, they are less likely to go against God.  Those who do not believe in God, divine retribution, nor any divine purpose in Creation still must hew to community standards.  They simply don’t take them too seriously.

Image result for images epictetus

Nietzsche noted that the only validation of human life in a purposeful world is the expression of individual will – an act beyond good and evil and morality.  Only those few Supermen can realize this perfect state of nature, but they should be the ideal, not the condemned as members of ‘the herd’ would have them be.

Nihilism has been given a bad name but especially in this very purposeful century.  Progressives believe now more than ever that the world needs secular salvation.  Never more has corruption, political arrogance, raw individualism, greed, and unmitigated ambition so characterized an age.  We have been put on earth now, at this particular time and place to do something about it – to act, to defy the odds, and to be martyrs to a secular cause which has divine support.  Pope Francis has expanded on John Paul II’s notion of the sanctity of life, suggesting that once the life of an unborn child becomes expedient, than all life is demeaned.  The sanctity of God’s universal kingdom becomes equally negotiable. 

Image result for images pope francis celebrating mass

Progressives are at the frontline of secular change, but in their belief in purpose and meaning betray their very profound spiritual roots. Without such divine guidance or at least an acknowledgment of a divine plan, such secular activism could never be possible.

Conservatives have long understood that while there is a God and his laws are ineluctable, the purpose of life is spiritual not earthly renewal; that Utopia does not exist; that human nature is unchangeably programmed for self-preservation and survival; and that the trick is finding a way to salvation through it all.

Nihilists are cut from the same conservative cloth although stitched differently.  Yes, there is an ineluctable human nature programmed for survival of the fittest and the species; and yes history has corroborated the genetic evidence through wars, aggression, and ambition; but no, there is no special salvation available within the world that human beings have created.  We are products of a roll of the dice, the ricocheting of billiard balls, and the luck of the draw – no purpose, no hidden meaning, no divine sanction, nothing other than to play the hand you have been dealt and make the best of it.  in most cases with morality, responsibility, and guilt out of the way, the way is easy.  Not everyone plays with a flush, but even the two pair can get a picture card every so often.

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