December is "Best of" Month - Introduction
The Irritating Grain of Sand Inside My Shell
In a recent comment, Mister Swill asserted the freedom he feels from being an atheist, and then asked:
"If, indeed, we came into being by chance, and we were not designed for any specific function, why is that depressing rather than liberating? In other words, why does our purpose have to come from the outside rather than being defined by ourselves? Bonus question: Even if we were created for a specific purpose, why can't we decide that we really want to do something else?"
Jean Paul Sartre wrote long ago:
"The existentialist...thinks it very distressing that God does not exist, because all possibility of finding values in a heaven of ideas disappears along with Him; there can no longer be a priori of God, since there is no infinite and perfect consciousness to think it. Nowhere is it written that the Good exists, that we must be honest, that we must not lie; because the fact is that we are on a plane where there are only men. Dostoyevsky said, 'If God didn't exist, everything would be possible.' That is the very starting point of existentialism. Indeed, everything is permissible if God does not exist, and as a result man is forlorn, because neither within him nor without does he find anything to cling to."
Others, however, do not find existentialism distressing. Like Nietzsche. In Thus Spake Zarathustra (1883-85; Eng. trans., 1954), his most celebrated book, he introduced the concepts of the death of God, the superman, and the will to power. Vigorously attacking Christianity and democracy as moralities for the "weak herd," he argued for the "natural aristocracy" of the superman who, driven by the "will to power," celebrates life on earth rather than sanctifying it for some heavenly reward. Such a heroic man of merit has the courage to "live dangerously" and thus rise above the masses, developing his natural capacity for the creative use of passion. Which is why it is easy to see him saying things like the following: "In the beautiful, man sets himself up as the standard of perfection; in select cases he worships himself in it. . . . Man believes that the world itself is filled with beauty- he forgets that it is he who has created it. He alone has bestowed beauty upon the world...."
Everybody, however, has their own reason for viewing existentialism darkly or lightly, and I can't speak for any of them. I will address, however, your assumption that for humans to have been created by a higher being means that any purpose which drives us must come from outside ourselves. This is not a given as I conceive of god. My assumption is that we are god. Under that paradigm, whether god made us or we made us becomes irrelevant. What is relevant is that we are all spirits having a human experience. Because we are spirits, living within these bodies is the spark of the divine – that’s what makes us god. Since this is what I believe, I can only answer your questions based on this assumption.
So, why are we here? There's probably something we need to learn. The purpose question, however, is a little more difficult. What do you mean by purpose? Do you mean what we do with our lives or what we learn? My purpose here is to learn how to speak the truth in a way that other people can hear it. I could be an actor and accomplish this. I could be a lawyer and accomplish this. I could be a writer and still accomplish this. So when you assert that not believing in God (Charleton Heston on the Mount as many christian faiths use the term) allows our purpose to come from inside ourselves rather than outside, I partly agree with you. Where we disagree is in our definition of “purpose.” I think you’re defining “purpose” as that which we do. I define "purpose" as that which we’re to learn. And I believe that neither is affected by a belief in God (or god either, for that matter). What I’ve come to learn is the same, whether I believe in God or not. And what I end up doing while I’m here is up to me, whether I believe in God or not. If, however, I believe in god - that spark of the divine within me - I will at least search to understand that which I’m supposed to learn. Because if I can learn consciously, then I can learn more, regardless of what I end up doing. The more I learn while I’m here, the less time I waste and the more meaning infuses my life. For me, meaning is everything. And if believing in god helps me with that, then it’s a good and useful belief. If you, however, find more meaning by not believing in God, then so be it.
Ultimately, you can do what you really want. You do define your purpose for yourself. And it is not necessarily depressing to think that God doesn't exist – I don’t know where you got that idea ‘cause I don’t believe I asserted it. By the way, just because you think God doesn't exist, doesn't mean he doesn't. (Say that five times fast.) Try this. Put aside your doubts for a moment and imagine that you are God. Are you imagining? Okay. Now imagine what it would feel like to not exist. I recommend trying to do this without the help of illegal substances.
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