CategoryApologetics

The Meaning of Life: Consumption

 

A manufactured object obviously has a purpose that was built into it by its designers, but a lot of people do not believe this is true for human beings.

comment on TED in response to the question, “Does humanity have a purpose?” says, “Humanity has no unified purpose and I suggest that history shows us that giving humanity a single purpose can be disastrous (religion, eugenics…).”

It is true that giving humanity a single purpose can be disastrous, but perhaps this is only true when the single purpose is one for which we were not designed.  If I use a swivel office chair as a ladder, the results can be disastrous, but this doesn’t mean that the swivel chair has no purpose.

Giving humanity a single purpose can be disastrous, but perhaps this is only true when it's one for which we weren't designed. If I use a swivel office chair as a ladder--disastrous, but this doesn’t mean that the swivel chair has no purpose. Click To Tweet

There is a danger in living for the wrong purpose, but perhaps it is just as dangerous to avoid purpose if we were actually created for one.

Our Default Purpose–Consumption

In our culture, one of the purposes we have collectively chosen for ourselves (or perhaps it has been subtly imposed upon us) is that of consumer–we buy things, lots of things.  The things we buy are designed to wear out after a time, or they are improved upon, so we throw out the old thing and buy another thing.  We are manipulated to be ever discontent and then offered things that will make us content.  It doesn’t work, of course, but that’s OK because contentment would be bad for the economy.

Were we made to consume?  Is this the purpose for which we were designed?

Zombies and Consumption

This question is a weak spot in the fence of our cultural identity and the hands of the undead are pawing at it.

The zombie is the picture of humanity which lives only to consume.  It ever eats, but is never satisfied.  It takes and takes, but no matter how much it takes–brains, liver, thigh–it’s still empty.

Perhaps humans were not made for religion, but the zombie tells us that we weren’t made for consumption either.

If we were made for another purpose, the cure for the zombie is to orient its whole life toward that purpose.

The zombie is the picture of humanity which lives only to consume. It ever eats, but is never satisfied. It takes and takes, but no matter how much it takes–brains, liver, thigh–it’s still empty.Click To Tweet

Designed for Relationship

I suggest that humanity is designed for relationship.

Not just any relationship, but the kind that is more interested in the flourishing of the other than the flourishing of the self.  Most people have caught at least a glimpse of what this relationship can be like.  Some lovers are like this–they are so interested in the happiness of the other one that they forget themselves.  Parents constantly set the needs of their children higher than their own.

The paradox in these sorts of relationships is the more you give, the more you get back–and not usually from the kids or even your lover.  It comes from someplace else and it’s so fulfilling.  It’s like you are a swivel chair being used as a swivel chair.

Sadly, not everyone has experienced this sort of relationship.

Zombies haven’t.  They are too busy eating other people.

In a consumer culture, other people can easily be reduced to something we can to use–in essence, something to consume–it makes us zombies.  Some people treat their employees this way.  Some men treat women this way, and women men.  Some kings, their subjects and some mothers, their children.

The good news is that there is a cure for zombies.

Here’s more analysis of the meaning of zombies.

We Just Believe in One Fewer God than You

A common argument against belief in God–does it stand up?

Actually, that’s not all there is to it.

I mean, it’s not quite so simple.

Affirmed atheist, Ricky Gervais used this argument when he was a guest on Stephen Colbert.  The YouTube clip has received over 4 million views. 

In the interview he said that there are about 3000 deities that people have worshiped at one time or another and Christians don’t believe in 2,999 of them, the atheist simply goes one god further.  Gervais’ exact words are:

I don’t believe in just one more.

Colbert didn’t respond–perhaps he was just being polite, but what is the Christian response to Gervais’ argument?

Click To Tweet

“I don’t believe in just one more”

This argument needs to be unpacked a little.

Gervais is suggesting that there is a logical, and therefore necessary, step that Christians (and other monotheists) fail to make.  His use of the term “just” suggests that this step is insignificant.  This is far from the case–the step is neither a logically necessary nor is it insignificant.

His argument is that the rejection of the final god is the same as, and in line with, the rejection of all preceding gods.  But this is wrong.  It does not follow that if one rejects 1 god, one must reject the remaining 2999.  Nor does it follow that if you reject 2999, you must logically reject the last.

This step, the one that Gervaise takes, has only been taken by very few, and these only recently.  Of all the millions of people that ever lived in all of the remote corners of the world, all of them have come to the same conclusion.  They concluded that there is more.

Belief in any one of the 3000 gods is an acknowledgment of some form of transcendence–that there is something beyond or above the range of ordinary or merely physical human experience.  The belief in any deity is a claim that there is some external standard to which we must all align our lives.

The Atheists leap of faith

Rather than making a small step in line with the rejection of the first 2,999 gods, Gervais is making a giant leap in the opposite direction.  He doesn’t go one itty-bitty step beyond Christianity, as his “just” implies.  He, and those like him, are breaking with conclusions arrived at by the rest of humanity.  These conclusions have been arrived at independently, over thousands of years on human history.

That all of humanity has arrived at the same conclusion, isn’t irrefutable proof that their conclusion is true.  People who believe in God certainly take a leap of faith.

Gervais points this out as he explains atheism in a nutshell:

You say, “There is a God.”

I say, “Can you prove that.”

You say, “No.”

I say, “I don’t believe you then.”

Perhaps many in Colbert’s audience feel that Gervais has scored a point against believers, but he hasn’t.   A theist can illustrate the atheist leap of faith similarly:

You say, “There no spiritual reality beyond the material.”

I say, “Can you prove that.”

You say, “No.”

I say, “I don’t believe you then.”

I think Gervais would acknowledge his leap of faith.

The question is–Who takes the greater leap?  The person who says that everything that we see in the cosmos and through our experiences in life is the result of material processes or the person that says there is something more than matter and its movements and modifications.

Who takes the greater leap of faith, the theist or the atheist?Click To Tweet

The conversation can start here, not where Gervais thinks he ended it in the Stephen Colbert interview.

Are All Other Religions Wrong?

Christians are not as intolerant as you might think.

Are atheists more tolerant than religious people?  Are Christians intolerant of other faiths?

On a site called Hubpages, a person that calls themselves “kittythedreamer” asked the following question:

Why is it that Christians believe that Buddhists, Hindus, Pagans, Native Americans, etc. are all wrong in their beliefs?

It generated quite a bit of discussion.

This question makes a lot of sense in our culture.  We find Christians, indeed all those who take their faith seriously, as judgmental.  When we accept that there is no God, as many in our culture have; tend to also abandon the idea that there is a universal purpose and meaning–we are uncomfortable with, or reject, the idea of objective truth.  We’d rather create our own truth.

That’s why Christians baffle people like kittythedreamer (“kitty”).  Christians have this old fashioned idea that truth is objective, rather than subjective.  We believe that some things are true, or moral, or good, or just, whether we like it or not.  It follows then that some things are false, immoral, evil, unjust.

In our culture, saying someone’s views are wrong is the same as telling them that they have the wrong favourite ice cream.

“kitty” is right; Christians do say others are wrong. They do so because when they claim that some things are true, they can’t also accept the opposing idea as also true.   To do so requires a mental dexterity possessed only by those who don’t believe in objective truth–those who create their own meaning.

But “kitty” is wrong in another way.   Christians do not believe that other religions are wrong, at least not entirely so.  We believe other religions are right in some very important ways.  Here’s a list of some of the ways that other religions are right:

[tweetshare tweet=”Christians do not believe that other religions are wrong, They are are right in some very important ways. Here’s a list of some of the ways that other religions are right:” username=”Dryb0nz”]

  1. We’ve already covered the first one.  All, or very nearly all, of the world’s religions believe that truth resides outside of the individual.  They don’t entirely agree on what that truth is, but it’s external.  External often means universal–that means it’s true for everyone, everywhere, for all time.  One of the things that humans are supposed to do is conform themselves to that external truth.  So rather than thinking everybody is wrong, Christians believe that, in this respect, that these religions are right.
  2. Another thing that nearly all religions believe is that behind the natural world there is a mystical and/or spiritual reality.
  3. Most of the religions of the world, past and present, believe in transcendent gods or a God. Christians believe that, in this respect, all those religions are right.
  4. Most religions believe that God or the gods is/are occasionally active in the lives of humans. Christians believe that, in this respect, all those religions are right.
  5. Many religions believe that God is interested in human flourishing. Christians believe it and any other religion that believes it too are considered to be right.
  6. All religions believe that human beings must contend with evil in their lives. Christians believe this and they agree with any religion that believes it too.
  7.  Many religions believe that other religions possess truth.  Some are closer to “The Truth” than others.

Obviously, Christians don’t believe that other religions are wrong. There is tremendous agreement among religious adherents.  This is not to say that the differences aren’t significant, but the points at which all, or most, religions agree might give one pause.

So who is more open-minded?  Does the atheist say, “You are all correct”?

Atheists usually say of religious believers, “You are all wrong!”

I know it feels like there is a lot of conflict between Christians and others in our society.  Not all of it can be reduced to closed mindedness and bigotry–some of it has to do with the fact that people of faith look to a source of truth outside themselves.  Their claims might not be true, but it must be admitted that the idea that all meaning is necessarily internal also has some significant drawbacks that make it hard to believe.

This is where the dialogue should begin, not with kitty’s question.

Perhaps the Overwhelming Majority Is Right

In his article called “Only A Minority Is Right,” J. H. McKenna Ph.D. argues against religious truth.

His argument is based on the diversity of religious belief.  First there was polytheism, then their was monotheism along with “several sects and denominations of monotheism,” then there came “other new religions” and “several thousand denominations and new religions.”  This story tells, according to McKenna, that “there is no uniformity in religion and no majority religious opinion” (italics mine).   His point is that, “In religion, your view is inevitably a minority view.”

McKenna concludes: everybody, or almost everybody, is wrong. You can’t, therefore, look to religion for truth.

But what if there were uniformity in religion? Would that be a source of truth?  What if there is a majority religious opinion?

There is.

Billions and billions of people for millennia, regardless of other more particular religious claims, have held to a single belief.

That belief: There is something and/or someone beyond the physical world, something bigger than we are–the transcendent.

Until recently, all religions have held that, out there somewhere, there are gods or a spiritual force or God.

Now, in Western societies, we have floated the idea that we–that is, human beings–are god or that nothing is.

It is only recently that this alternative has been proposed, and it’s been catching on because the conditions are currently just right for us to believe such a thing.  Growth in the belief of human autonomy may or may not continue.  Right now, the number of atheists and agnostics numbers in the low, very low, hundreds of millions.  This up against the billions and billions of human beings in a wide variety of circumstances and conditions that have all  believed in a transcendent reality.

Perhaps this much agreement across so may centuries and cultures might be, at least considered, a source of truth.  I thought I picked up in the article, that McKenna suggests that this sort of unity in religious belief might carry some weight.

McKenna has missed this unity in human thought, present since humans started thinking, but he’s not wrong in his call for dialogue and respect between the more particular beliefs about the transcendent reality.  Not because most of us are wrong, but because we all look at reality through very particular cultural lenses.  It’s always a good thing to try to reduce the tint a little.  We have much to gain from meaningful dialogue with other places and with other times.

Is Atheism a Religion?

Free-Photos / Pixabay

I recently read an article in which the author insisted that public funds not go to support religious schools. The rhetoric in this article was very much in the “us” versus “them” vein. In essence, “their” views, those of the religious, are tainted with the irrational and divisive forces of faith or belief common to all religions, unlike “our” rational and unifying position which is free from dangerous subjectivity.

In the comment section someone agreed saying:

Religious indoctrination of children is nothing less than abuse, and ought not to be allowed let alone publicly funded.

No child is raised without “religious” indoctrination

What this commenter does not understand is that there is no way to raise a child without “religious” indoctrination.

Modern rationalism or postmodern relativism, which dominate much of western education are inherently “religious.” So to is atheism.  Consequently, public schools are, in essence, are engaged in religious education–religious indoctrination, if you will.

I said as much in my response to above comment. To which another commenter objected saying:

Atheism is not a religion for the same reason that bald is not a hair colour.

He is right, baldness is not a hair color, but it is a hair style.

Two Meanings of “Religious”

There are two ways in which one might use the term “religious.” In one sense, atheism is not a religion.  When we define religious in terms of rituals and believing in spiritual beings, then atheism is not a religion for the same reason baldness is not a hair colour.

But in another very important sense, atheism is religious. The term can also refer to the guiding principles that one accepts by faith, that shape ones reality, and around which one organizes ones life.

These guiding principles are revealed in how one might answer fundamental questions about reality. Not everyone is aware of their own answers to these questions, but their lives testify to having answered them one way or another.

  • Does life have meaning? If so, what is it?
  • Does human life have value? If so, why?
  • Do we have a purpose? If so why?
  • Does the universe have a purpose?
  • Is the universe friendly, hostile or indifferent?
  • What’s wrong with the world?
  • What is the solution to what is wrong with the world?
  • Is there a God or gods?

Every human being lives out their answer to these questions. Interestingly, many people proclaim an answer to a question, but live out another answer. The answers, stated or lived, are religious. They are religious in that they cannot be proven; they are accepted by faith.

The Faith of Atheist

The atheist believes that there is no God on the same grounds that a theists believes that there is.  Both do so by faith; neither can know it to be so.

One may chose not to use the term religious to describe this category, but it doesn’t get atheism out of the category, whatever you call it.

Baldness is not a hair colour, but it is a hair style. Atheism does not engage in religious activities that arise out of a belief in a God, but they do make unverifiable claims about reality based on faith.

There is no way we can have an a-religious education, so the government will always be funding religious education. The question now remains, which religions will they fund.

Moral Lessons from Traffic Lights

We had some pretty big winds in my corner of Canada this past weekend. It really messed up the traffic lights.

My daughter suggested that the various scenarios we experienced as we navigated the streets sans traffic signals were instructive.

Various Scenarios

I went through intersections where all the lights were black. People dealt with the absence of direction in two ways. The more thoughtful treated it as a 4-way stop, as they are supposed to do, but others blasted right through.  They were either oblivious to the situation, recklessly celebrating this unusual freedom, or laughing at all the fools who where stupid enough to take turns.  Whatever the reason, these people were a hazard.

In some places they had another problem: I heard that when power was restored to some intersections, all the lights showed green.  Apparently, with all sorts of assumption and no use of peripheral vision, there were numerous fender benders.

I went through an intersection where the lights in all directions were red, except a green left turn arrow. The 4-way stop procedure worked well until a guy in a Dodge pick-up drove down the left turn lane went with the arrow. This confused the working order of the whole intersection.

Everything seems to run a lot smoother when we all acknowledge and obey an external authority.  Be that a functioning traffic light or a 4-Way Stop procedure.

“If atheism is a religion then not collecting stamps is a hobby.”

Someone commented on a blog post, “If atheism is a religion then not collecting stamps is a hobby.”

To this another commenter replied,

That only applies if you don’t go to stamp collecting sites and explain why stamp collecting is stupid, produce podcasts about why stamp collecting is stupid, write books on why stamp collecting is stupid, sue because someone want to promote stamp collecting, or hold rallies to celebrate non-stamp collecting.

Is atheism a religion?

Not in the sense that it is a belief in a god or Gods.   In this sense, Penn’s quip is absolutely true.

But’s this is not all that is contained in the term religion.

We might also say that a religious claim is one which rests upon unprovable truth claims.

Religion generally arise out of the search for meaning and truth.  An agnostic avoids making a religious claim when she says that she doesn’t know if there is or is not a god.

The atheist, on the other hand, makes a fundamental and unprovable truth claim that there is no God. This, in the sense that it is a belief about truth and meaning around which one orients one’s life, is a religious claim.

So you can see, the original commenter is insisting on a narrow definition of the term “religion” so as to avoid the fact that his belief is not ultimately based on reason.

Atheism is a religion like not believing in stamps is a hobby.

A God Shaped Hole?

TeroVesalainen / Pixabay

Everybody asks big questions at some time or another.

Questions like “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “Why is there suffering and death?” “Why bother?”

Human beings ask a lot of questions and we are strongly compelled to answer them.   We cannot live without seeking answers. Seeking answers to questions asked of the material world is at the core of our sciences.   But we also ask questions beyond the material using human reason. Asking questions and compulsion to seek answers and meaning is foundational to being human.

Luigi Giussani says that if we have a hundred questions and answer ninety-nine of them, the one we can’t answer drives us crazy.  And the thing about the so-called “big questions,” they are not answerable.  Hamlet quite correctly says,

“There are more things, Horatio, than are dreamt of in our philosophies.”

As we seek answers to our questions, we come to the conclusion that we can’t answer all of our questions. This is a tough situation for us. On the one hand, we have an insatiable desire to understand and on the other hand, we are limited to what we can know. The tension created by the disparity between our ideals and our actualities suggests the existence of a source of ultimate fulfillment.

C. S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity

Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.

This from Blaise Pascal in Pensées VII

What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.

According to Lewis and Pascal, the big questions, which seem to be foundational to human consciousness, affirm the existence of an Ultimate.  We cannot answer the big questions, yet we crave and even expect an answer. This expectation suggests that there must be an Other from which we crave the affirmation of our existence that an answer would give.

Giussani says that our inability to answer these questions leaves us sad, but to deny the possibility of an answer is to disconnect man from himself because the desire for answers is structural–foundational to being human. To deny the possibility of an answer is to declare everything meaningless–this leads to the opposite of sadness–despair. As Macbeth says, it would be as if life is

“a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

There must be an answer, and a human being cannot live without seeking that answer. Giussani says that a human being can’t live five minutes without affirming “the existence of a ‘something’ which deep down makes living those five minutes worthwhile” (57).

The disparity between our questions and our inability to answer them leaves us sad. Denying the possibility of an answer leads us to despair.

 

“A personal relationship with reality”?

Billboard 1

This billboard communicates an important truth: it’s good to have a relationship, personal or otherwise, with reality.

It is, however, contestable that atheism brings us into this relationship.  It does so only if there isn’t a God.

If there is a God, then this is false advertising.

 

The Bible Supports Slavery?

Slavery and Christianity

I don’t care who does it; it makes me crazy.

The sacrifice of truth for the sake of argument.

This billboard is a case in point.

In an attempt to discredit the Bible, the makers of this billboard equate first-century slavery with American slavery that ended in the 18th century.

Further, this billboard illustrates the hermeneutical crime of “proof-texting,” and therefore missing the entire point of Colossians 3:22.

The device presented on the billboard was used in the Americas a few hundred years ago.  The hooks protruding from the collar “are placed to prevent an escapee when pursued in the woods and to hinder them from laying down the head to procure rest” (reference).  This is one of the ugliest faces of one of the ugliest periods of human history.

First-Century Slavery

Many centuries separate this slavery from  that of the first-century slavery:

 In the first century, slaves were not distinguishable from free persons by race, by speech or by clothing; they were sometimes more highly educated than their owners and held responsible professional positions; some persons sold themselves into slavery for economic or social advantage; they could reasonably hope to be emancipated after ten to twenty years of service or by their thirties at the latest; they were not denied the right of public assembly and were not socially segregated (at least in the cities); they could accumulate savings to buy their freedom; their natural inferiority was not assumed.          —Murray Harris, Slave of Christ: A New Testament Metaphor for Total Devotion to Christ, NSBT (IVP, 2001), 44.

I am not saying that slavery in the Roman world was equivalent to staying at an all-inclusive resort, but it is irresponsible to evoke all the repugnance of post-Enlightenment slavery when talking about the ancient practice of bond-servanthood.

Does St. Paul Advocate Slavery?

Although this comparison is unfair, it really isn’t the point, because Paul is not advocating slavery even of the Roman variety.

When I was in grade school and I felt that the teacher had treated me unfairly, my parents weren’t nearly as concerned with the unfairness of the teacher as with my response to it.  They made it clear to me that the general principles regarding my relationship with those in authority were still in play.  Like my parents, Paul has other priorities and they are not really all that obscure for those who wish to find them.

The billboard suggests that if Paul were against slavery, he would have preached against it.  Since he mentioned it, but didn’t oppose it, he must have been in favour of it.

Paul must have supported slavery because he mentioned it and didn't oppose it. Logically the Bible supports, then, supports slavery in all its forms.Click To Tweet

Paul’s Purpose in Colossians 3:22

But Paul’s purpose in Colossians is to explore the implications of a life in Christ, not to reform society.  Paul knew that once a person experiences the love and grace of God in Jesus, everything changes.  One is no longer a slave to sin but received as a child adopted into the family of the King.  We move from slaves to sons and daughters (even if we remain slaves in society).

This message was such a big deal to Paul that he endured treatment worse that most slave would have.  He was beaten and imprisoned and eventually executed.  Obviously, Paul had other priorities than simply being free.

The makers of the billboard are proof-texting: taking isolated passages of the Bible and use them to justify one’s own views.  In Christian circles, proof-texting is considered lazy and irresponsible.  When Christians use the Bible in this way they can come up with some of the worst forms of religious evil possible.  A case in point, the Christian slave owners in the American south (We’ve seen this recently in the film, 12 Years a Slavemy comments here).  Ironically, just like the slave owners, the makers of the billboard are proof-texting; they are taking a verse completely out of context to justify their views.

The “Christian” slave owners are an example of the great evil that can be done when the Bible is used irresponsibly.  This type of Biblical misreading results in reprehensible behavior that held justifiably condemned, but also results in charges leveled against Christianity by the critics of religion.

I don’t see how it helps the conversation when the American Atheists and the Pennsylvania Non-Believers engage in the same behavior as the worst of their religious opponents.

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