The Meaning of Life: Inspirational Self-Help

Love, in all its fragile forms, is the one powerful, enduring force that brings real meaning to our everyday lives… It’s the love of life itself. It’s the voice that says “Celebrate life, be creative!” It brings with it the passion and understanding that some things in life are worth dying for, but there is so much more worth living for. It encourages us to greet each moment the same way we greet an old friend at the airport, to embrace opportunities to express ourselves in a way that makes us feel glad we exist. This love of life leads us to help others simply because it feels great to contribute to those around us…
Bradley Trevor Greive, The Meaning of Life, 2002

Mr. Greive apparently makes a good living cranking out inspirational (but not religious) self-help books filled with rather corny visual humor. Not that I have anything against that; more power to him and anyone helped by his books. And even I found a bit of true inspiration in The Meaning of Life. As long as I didn’t think too deeply about what the author was saying, that is. In the above quote, the author suggests we love life and seize the day. Not new, but still valid.

But now we get a dose of cruel reality:

Place your hand over your chest and feel your heartbeat. That is actually your life clock ticking, counting down the moments you have left. One day it will stop. That is 100 percent guaranteed, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. So you can’t afford to throw away a single precious second. Go after your dreams with energy and passion, or you may as well stand back and watch them wash down the drain…
Bradley Trevor Greive, The Meaning of Life, 2002

I actually found this the most inspirational part of the book. Life is short, so don’t waste time. Pursue your dreams. Which brings us to the climactic reveal of The Meaning of Life:

It’s so important that you just do your own thing – whatever makes you truly happy – and do it as best you can… When you do what you love, you can pull back the bed sheets every morning feeling excited about beginning another day, and you’ll be filled with a heartfelt joy that is highly contagious.
Bradley Trevor Greive, The Meaning of Life, 2002

It turns out this was summarized succinctly in the book’s front flap blurb: “Figure out what you love to do and do it.” And no spoiler alert! Well now it seems obvious. Who knew that would be The Meaning of Life? Do what you love!

But what if I can’t do what I love, even if I figure out what that is? Is it good enough to try to love what I do? What about money? What about supporting the spouse and kids? Perhaps I should scale back the “do what I love” stuff so I can keep my day job. I know, nothing risked, nothing gained. However, blindly following this advice could easily leave a person in a pickle where surviving the day trumps seizing the day.

But still, it doesn’t hurt to try, as long as you approach it rationally. It’s just that I can’t help thinking that this advice is a bit on the trite side. And speaking of trite but true advice…

Well I don’t think we’re for anything. We’re just products of evolution. You can say “Gee, your life must be pretty bleak if you don’t think there’s a purpose.” But I’m anticipating having a good lunch.
James D. Watson (1928-), interview with Richard Dawkins, quoted in The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins, 2006

 

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The Meaning of Life: Apostate Interviews

If we simply look at the worldviews of the apostates … most of them see no ultimate, grand, or magically divine meaning of life, but they don’t despair. Rather, they believe that each person must find his or her own meaning – which, for apostates, seems to be easy enough.
Phil Zuckerman (1969-), Faith No More: Why People Reject Religion, 2012

Phil Zuckerman is the author of the excellent Society Without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us about Contentment, Atheism and Secularity. Now, in Faith No More: Why People Reject Religion, he lets apostates explain themselves. Oddly, these backsliding ingrates don’t sound evil at all. In fact, they all sound like reasonable, thoughtful, rather happy people. Not a hint of apathy or nihilism in the bunch.

Their journeys from religion to irreligion are varied in nature and process, but all their stories bear at least one similarity to each other and to my own story as well: they all involve a struggle to escape religious brainwashing using independent thought. It’s a journey from the false security provided by supernaturalism to facing up to the sometimes uncomfortable real world, but a world that is more authentic than a pre-afterlife and a life that is more satisfying than living a lie.

In a chapter called “The Apostate Worldview”, Zuckerman addresses the always popular subject of “The Meaning of Life” and its ever-present companion subject, “Death”. Let’s start with a former Catholic who is now an agnostic:

To me, what brings meaning to life is making the world as much of my own heaven as I can… We don’t have any proof of what happens after we die. Why wouldn’t we live this life to the most full and honest potential that we can?
Joanna, age 24 (ellipsis in original)

That makes sense – a heck of a lot more sense than the religion she rejected. We are only guaranteed to have this life, and for who knows how long. Living your life based on anticipated rewards and feared punishments in a mythical afterlife is a sham, and a huge waste of valuable time and effort.

From a former evangelical Protestant who describes herself as secular:

I think the meaning of life is just relationships with people. I don’t need to have God love me because I have friends and family that love me and I think it’s about being the best person I can be and the best friend that I can be and having relationships here with real people.
Daphne, age 29

Well that certainly beats the wormology taught by most evangelical denominations. People should matter more than religions, or any other kind of ideologies.

Here’s someone who was raised by conservative Lutherans, but is now an agnostic:

The meaning of life is to find your purpose… I think the purpose is sort of a hybrid of trying to advance you and your family and do something good, but more importantly, to leave something good behind for the rest of humankind.
Scott, age 36 (ellipsis in original)

Sounds like a noble and worthwhile aim to me.

And now an older gentleman, a former Protestant who became an atheist in his twenties:

I guess I’d have to say as far as the meaning of life, who knows? You know, generally compassion, fairness … those kinds of things. So if you ask me what’s the meaning of life, I have a hard time answering that because I don’t know if there is a meaning in life. I suppose the purpose of life … is to try to have as good a life as you can, be kind and good to other people, try to do something useful with your life… I don’t look for the meaning of life somewhere up there. Here we are on earth, let’s do the best we can to live in harmony, live a good life, try to be happy as you can.
Eugene, age 72 (ellipses in original)

This is pretty much antithetical to everything most religions stand for; but if everybody thought this way, the world would be a much better place.

And finally, meaning-of-life-wise, we hear from a former Catholic who became an atheist in his early twenties:

To me, life has meaning simply because we’re here, whether we like it or not. And there are many ways we can improve our situation and help others who are in need… In essence, I believe life is its own reward… After divesting myself of religion, life in general finally made sense. I found life MORE enjoyable… Not believing in some afterlife or “second coming” means I am more focused on the here and now, preserving life, preventing suffering, doing my part to be environmentally conscious. I no longer see this body and Earth as some lobby for an afterlife. This life is precious.
Henry, age 41 (ellipses in original)

This life is precious. This is not complex philosophy, nor does it need to be. If you’re religious, you would be wise to consider the possibility that there is no afterlife. How would that change your approach to your everyday life?

People don’t need religion to live a life with meaning. People don’t need religion to lead a moral life. Life without religion can be satisfying, meaningful, and fulfilling. You may think that religion provides you with all the answers, but wait, perhaps that self-satisfied smirk of yours is not justified at all. Perhaps it is religious faith that is in fact empty, meaningless, and purposeless. Perhaps religion is darkness in numinous clothing. Perhaps religion is a vacuous charade, a cheap trick that makes you seem an important part of a grand plan, even if you’re only a divine slave. Religion has certainly caused more than its share of suffering, hatred, rage, ruin, decadence, selfishness, immorality, depression, persecution, bigotry, intolerance, despair, violence, and murder in this world. Why should it have a share in these at all? Why should religion have a body count? What is religion good for?

Speaking of death, how do the irreligious deal with mortality? The rational person accepts death as a part of life. In fact, death is what makes life precious. Denying the natural process of death in favor of a imagined afterlife is unhealthy and detrimental to your one and only life being lived now.

From a former Pentecostal Christian:

We just die and we carry on through our progeny and through the good works that we’ve done and the bad works that we’ve done and so forth. I believe in karma – in the sense that it’s a force that carries on sort of like a ripple effect through the universe… I don’t believe in an afterlife existence…

I really think that mortality is the savior of humankind. For me, it’s a good thing because it means that what we do right now is super important because you only get one chance to do it and, you know, you never know when your time is going to be up.
Chuck, age 36

Anyone who thinks that eternal life is a good thing hasn’t really thought it through.

And finally, meaning-of-death-wise:

I don’t really think anything happens. I think we die and it’s over… I think it makes the life that we have more valuable and more important. It makes me want to have more of an influence on the world while I’m here because this is it. This is my only shot.
Penny, age 29

Zuckerman concludes:

This lack of belief in life after death, or a lack of surety that there is any more after this earthly existence, does not unhinge these apostates. It does not shatter their knees or destroy their wills. They carry on with their lives, finding fulfillment. Clearly, life can be enjoyed while maintaining the belief or suspicion that this is all there is. In fact, for some people, believing that “this is all there is” makes life better, richer, and more precious.
Phil Zuckerman

To sum up, our friendly apostates are telling us that the meaning of life is multifaceted:

  • Find your own meaning in life. Life is its own reward. Life is precious, valuable, and important. Enjoy life.
  • Make your own heaven on Earth. Do some good in your world. Leave a legacy that you would like to be remembered for.
  • Live life to the full. Do something useful. Strive to meet your potential. Be the best you can be.
  • Show compassion and fairness. Be kind. Help others. Prevent suffering. Preserve life and our planet. Live in harmony. Be happy.
  • Cherish relationships. Love and be loved. The welfare of your family, friends, community, and humanity are the most important things in life.
  • Focus on the here and now.

And whatever you do, forget about an afterlife and live this life, your real life, as if you had no second chance.

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Faith: An Aphoristic Rant

Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.
Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens, 1835-1910), Following the Equator, 1897

The way to see by Faith is to shut the Eye of Reason.
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), Poor Richard’s Almanack, 1758

Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable.
H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), Prejudices, Third Series, 1922

Faith is the equation of feeling with knowledge.
Nathaniel Branden (1930-), “Mental Health Versus Mysticism”, in Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism, 1964

We only speak of faith when we wish to substitute emotion for evidence.
Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), Human Society in Ethics and Politics, 1954

FAITH, n. Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.
Ambrose Bierce (1842-1913), The Devil’s Dictionary (originally The Cynic’s Word Book), 1906

A faith which cannot survive collision with the truth is not worth many regrets.
Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008), The Exploration of Space, 1951

Skepticism is the highest of duties; blind faith the one unpardonable sin.
Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895), “On the Advisableness of Improving Natural Knowledge”, 1866

Why the rant?

Most of the religious people I have personally known, and most of the faithful followers and fanatics that make the news, express their faith in destructive ways. Granted, most of the religious people I know are among the worst kind of Christians – evangelical fundamentalist Protestants. Yep, these are old-time, God-fearing, Bible-thumping, literal-reading, cherry-picking, church-going, hellfire-warning, dogma-spouting, Satan-fighting, sex-obsessing, binary-moralizing, gay-curing, evolution-scoffing, censorship-craving, atheist-hating, Heaven-bound, Jesus-saved, faith-blinded believers in The One True Trinity, The One True Religion, and The One and Only True Denomination within Christianity, which they just happen to be lucky enough to follow. Very lucky, since everyone else is going straight to Hell, which includes not just atheists, but also all those horribly misguided Christian denominations such as Catholics, Christian Orthodox (apparently not orthodox enough), Jehovah’s Witnesses, Quakers, Seventh-Day Adventists, Moonies, Mormons, Unitarians, Christian Scientists, Rastafari, and even Lutherans and Anglicans. And of course completely deluded heathens like Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Taoists, Confucians, Shintoists, Vodouists, Bahá’ís, Scientologists, and Freemasons don’t stand a chance in Hell.

Sorry, I seem to have started my rant prematurely…

Yes, I know that more bad news than good news is reported in the media, but nonetheless this has always been, and continues to be, my reality. A reality where people are so deluded as to believe that children’s fantasy books will actually turn kids into Satan-worshipping witches and warlocks. A reality where parents won’t let their children learn about other religions or atheism because that might introduce doubt or raise questions that might affect their religious brainwashing (apparently faith can be so exceedingly fragile that it crumbles under knowledge and thought). A reality where people are so selfish and unthinking as to believe their particular version of religion should form the basis of a theocracy, because that’s what the nation’s founding fathers actually wanted, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. A reality where believing nonsense is more important than being a good person and helping others – a surreal world where the unreal has become more important than the real. A reality where ideology trumps reason, logic, compassion, and duty to your community, country, and humanity. Sadly, bad faith also appears to be the dominant reality of the once-great American society, poisoning their political system very nearly to the point of destroying their society.

All of this makes me sad. Then it makes me angry. So don’t get me started.

Too late!

What is faith?

Faith is belief without reason, and often belief against reason. Faith is frozen thought, fossilized imagination, uncompromising self-delusion, emotion-driven ideology, and stubborn, willful ignorance. Faith is a willing suspension of disbelief, doubt, reason, logic, and rationality. Faith is unwarranted trust, unfounded hope, uncritical acceptance, unchecked gullibility, and unjustified certainty, all applied to groundless beliefs and god-awful ideologies.

Faith is unverifiable, unfalsifiable, and unjustifiable. Faith is inflexible, insidious, and intolerant. Faith is illusory, illogical, and illiberal. Faith is ill-founded, ill-informed, and ill-humored. Faith is ignorance incarnate. Faith believes the unbelievable and accepts the unacceptable. Faith is incredibly credulous. Faith is a logical fallacy adopted as a life philosophy.

Faith is demeaning

Faith does not provide life with meaning; it sucks all real, true, authentic meaning out of life. Genuine meaning in life comes from embracing reality, not denying it. Faith is counterfeit meaning. Faith is an empty philosophy of life, a discontinuity in logic, an intentional non sequitur, a proudly trumpeted gullibility, and an obstinate rejection of what it means to be truly human. Faith is an institutionalized human weakness. Keep the faith and lose your humanity.

Faith is demeaning of life. Faith replaces real hope with false hope based on fabricated promises of immortality and postmortem justice. Faith is an insult to human aspirations, hopes, and dreams. Faith is an assault on human dignity and worth. Faith is a disorientation of your mind, a disintegration of your personality, and a disengagement from your humanity. Faith is depraved because it does not value people – yet it is faith that is worthless, not people. Faith debases people.

Faith is pretentious, smug, supercilious, complacent, haughty, pompous, imperious, snobbish, and ultimately vacuous. Faith erases doubt with absolute arrogance and conceited confidence. Faith bombastically blusters on and on, century after century, generation after generation, to its captive audiences. Faith has no sense of humor. Faith is laughable, but it’s no laughing matter. Faith sucks the fun out of life.

Faith is unreasonable

Faith triumphs over the intellect. Faith abhors rational thought. Faith is the enemy of reason and all its fruits, such as science and knowledge. Faith contradicts reason and repels rationality. Faith fills the vacuum created when reason and logic are abandoned. Reasonable faith is an oxymoron. Faith empties the mind of precious reason in order to fill it with supernatural excrement. And people have the gall to say that faith “transcends reason”. Faith murders reason in cold blood without a second thought, or even a first thought, and then calmly steps over the body and continues blithely on without even a small twinge of guilt or regret. Faith overpromises and underachieves. Faith is a loss, not a gain. Faith fails. Everything transcends faith.

Faith and reason can only coexist by way of an arbitrary compartmentalization of the human mind, a truly incredible achievement when this condition causes no discomfort whatsoever in the believer. It is really quite depressing that any humans would have this destructive and dangerous ability. Yet another God-given talent! Stop believing what you patently do not believe. This ability is not a talent, it’s a crime. Faith is not a gift, it’s a prison. Faith is not a blessing, it’s a curse.

Faith is thoughtless

Intelligence impedes faith. The deeper the faith, the shallower the thinking. Presence of faith means absence of mind. Blind faith blinds the mind, shielding it against all rational argument. Faith sidesteps thought. Faith is all that remains after a catastrophic failure of rational thinking. A loss of faith is the beginning of wisdom. Wisdom begins with doubt. Wisdom ends with faith.

No person comes to faith by rationally, methodically, and logically weighing objective facts and probabilities for and against God’s existence. Attempting such calculations is pointless effort, pure delusion, and the height of folly.

Faith makes extraordinary claims without extraordinary evidence, or more often no evidence at all. Faith is belief without proof, logic, reason, evidence, and common sense. After all, who needs all that stuff anyway? It just gets in the way of pure faith. Even worse, faith is belief in the face of clear and compelling arguments to the contrary.

Faith is schizophrenic because it attempts to use intellect and reason to argue against intellect and reason. Faith is ironic because it holds belief in God above all, but denies the presumably God-given gifts of intellect, reason, logic, and freedom of thought.

Faith trusts feelings over intellect – the heart over the head. Faith is arbitrary conviction without rationalization. Faith is a flimsy excuse for irrationality. Faith is confident naivety. Faith is a destructive mix of suppressed curiosity and excess credulity. Faith spits in the face of reasonable, thoughtful, sane people.

Faith is giving up. Faith wins when you relinquish your self-respect and surrender yourself completely to the irrational and supernatural.

Faith is unbelievable

Faith is arbitrary. Faith makes no sense and it is not expected to make sense because it is indeed nonsense. Faith is belief for the sake of belief, and only belief. Faith is a perpetual belief machine, an endless cycle, a vicious circle: belief generates faith, and faith sustains belief.

Faith is parasitic belief. Faith is both hard to swallow and hard to take. Faith believes lies and doubts truths.

Faith is unreal

Faith is the opposite of knowledge – faith is unjustified belief due to a false understanding of fabricated information about nonexistent things. Truth, uncertainty, reality – these are the opposites of faith, along with doubt, skepticism, humility, and courage.

Faith is imaginary, insubstantial, and illusory. Faith is built on illusion. Faith is foundationless. Faith blindly accepts the invisible and believes in the nonexistent. Faith trumps facts. Faith negates reality. Faith is a denial of reality and a casual dismissal of facts. Faith trusts the unreal and mistrusts the real. Faith rejects reality and substitutes it with fantasy. Faith trades the natural for the supernatural. Faith is fantastic only in the sense of it being remote from reality. Faith is fabulous only in the sense of it having no basis in reality. In those senses, faith is fantastic fabulosity –strange and unreal. Faith is fantasy gone bad.

Faith is more concerned with imaginary afterlives than our real lives. Why be concerned about the sad state of our environment, our planet, and humanity when our lives are just a waiting room for eternal bliss? Faith is not action, and often supplants constructive action. Faith makes beliefs more important than actions.

Just having faith is not enough – it’s never enough. You gotta have sense, not faith. Having a sensible, sane, and realistic attitude is more important than having faith. Faith leads to no new knowledge, information, truths, facts, evidence, theories, proofs, practical solutions, wisdom, or insights into reality. Faith is bereft of practical content or explanatory usefulness. Faith is all chaff and no grain. Faith is packaging without content. Faith is a product with no substance. Faith is vaporware. Faith is hollow. Faith separates truth from lies and believes the lies. Faith explains nothing. Faith makes waste.

Faith impedes progress at every opportunity. Faith holds society back. Faith stands still as the world changes. Faith is such a pointless, futile, wasteful, ignoble goal in life! A life of faith is a life wasted. What’s faithworthy is worthless.

Faith deceives

Faith glorifies ignorance and exalts credulity. Faith is the height of self-delusion and the pinnacle of wishful thinking. Faith is just a euphemism for gullibility. Faith comforts for all the wrong reasons and confirms all the wrong things. Faith makes you feel good by making others feel bad. Tests of faith validate personal delusions. Acts of faith originate from pre-existing personal prejudices interpreted as divine instructions. Faith is just believing what you already accept as truth. A leap of faith is a leap of foolishness. An act of faith is an act of self-deception. Faith is a conscious decision to live a lie. Faith is the ultimate red herring.

Faith declares that there’s more to life than meets the eye, but what doesn’t meet the eye is just superstition, illusion, and supernatural fantasy. Faith is much less than meets the eye – faith is belief in the invisible, the imaginary, and the nonexistent. Faith is fictional, fanciful, and far-fetched. Faith is made-up, dreamed-up, and mixed-up. Faith is the ultimate cock-and-bull story. Faith results from a desperate need for a divine parent with pat answers. Faith is pretend for adults, analogous to the invisible friend of childhood. It’s time to grow up. Please!

Faith is for fools. Faith is always born yesterday. The faithful are always ready and willing to trust in deception and be fooled by hypocrites. Faith encourages and facilitates mental hallucinations. Faith sees divine intervention around every corner and in every gap, where instead there is just chance, coincidence, and natural processes.

Faith is the wrong answer to everything: When in doubt, you need more faith. When the going gets tough, you need more faith. If at first you don’t succeed, you need more faith. Sick? More faith. Misfortune? More faith. Uncertain? Faith, faith, faith, and more faith!

The highs of religious faith and experience can be simulated with mind-altering drugs, electrical stimulation of the brain, meditative states, and sexual orgasm. Faith is fake. Faith is a sham. Faith is a web made of strands of lies, self-deception, and wish-fulfilling fantasies. Faith doubts reality.

Faith evades

Faith is an easy way to dismiss those pesky nonbelievers and their annoyingly persuasive arguments. Faith is the last defense of believers in antiquated gods, religions, creeds, doctrines, and dogmas that are based on ancient fables, ridiculous legends, and derivative myths. Faith is the true believer’s shield from logic and reason.

Faith is the evasion of responsibility for your own intellectual integrity. Faith is enthusiastic intellectual dishonesty. Faith is fetishistic ignorance. Faith is the surest way to avoid curiosity, philosophical questions, and analytic thinking. These are all anathema to the faithful, but life’s most worthwhile pleasures to the rational. Faith is an effective method of fooling yourself. Faith is the fool in your heart.

Faith fears

Faith is fragile, which is why faith fears reason. How does faith attempt to protect itself? Fear protects faith. Questioning is a sin. Freethought is rejecting God. Satan is tempting us. Doubt angers God. Doubt destabilizes faith. Reason is the devil’s whore. Fear God. Fear Satan. Fear death. Fear damnation in hell, where apostates face the worst eternal tortures of all. Fear religious authorities. Fear your parents. Don’t rebel. Fear your community and culture. The engine of faith is fear. Fear fosters faith – fear of the unknown, fear of uncomfortable truths, fear of uncertainty, fear of reality, and a fear that just being human is not good enough. Faith is soaked with fear.

Faith abuses fear, as it blissfully ignores natural fear in favor of supernatural fear. Faith replaces the adaptive fear of death with the maladaptive fear of God. Fear of death is a useful and productive motivator, whereas fear of God is a hypocritical and often destructive motivator. Fear conceives all gods and faith nourishes them.

Faith sees what it wants to see and hears what it wants to hear. Faith is living in the constant fear that you might see or hear something you don’t want to know.

Faith imprisons

Faith does not liberate – faith entraps and imprisons, it deludes and limits, it constrains and oppresses. Faith comes at too high at cost – the loss of intellectual freedom. Faith is the antithesis of freedom. Faith precludes choice, and choice is freedom. Faith is enslavement to an imaginary ideology peddled by an imagined God. Faith is a quick and dirty method of mind control. Faith makes you a prisoner of your beliefs.

What causes a crisis in faith? When doubt and independent thought start shining through the cracks and illuminating the dark recesses and murky hidey-holes of faith. Rejecting faith is liberating. Freedom awaits those who are courageous enough to break the chains of faith.

Since faith is not founded on reason, it is extremely difficult to remove by reason. However, reason is always a critical motivation for a loss of faith. This is why faith constantly attempts to drive away reason, like a terrified exorcist driving away imagined demons. The power of faith compels you! The power of reason repels you!

Faith lost is freedom gained. We are all born atheists. So wake up to reality, be reborn again, and experience your own beautiful loss of faith story.

Faith hates

Faith loathes the worldly, the secular, the human. Faith abhors pleasure and sensuality.

Faith loves to judge and label: sinful, evil, wicked, damned, sacrilegious, irreverent, impious, faithless, godless, indecent, obscene, perverse, immoral, profane, carnal, unholy, unclean, impure, unorthodox. Faith loves to name-call: heretic, infidel, apostate, blasphemer, iconoclast, pagan, unbeliever, heathen. Such tactics tend to backfire as many people wear these names with pride, and other names too: freethinker, skeptic, agnostic, atheist, irreligionist, secularist, rebel, nonconformist, activist, liberal, progressivist, rationalist, philosopher, naturalist, conservationist, environmentalist, scientist, humanist.

Faith is malignant belief. Faith has no empathy. Instead of putting oneself in another’s shoes, the faithful want to convert, condemn, or silence others. Have faith! Or else…

Faith destroys

So why not allow the intransigent faithful to have their precious delusions? Who does it harm, really? Unfortunately, faith in God usually means a lack of faith in your fellow human beings, including those who also have faith, but in the wrong gods. Being faithful to other human beings should be what’s important, not being faithful to an imaginary, petulant, insecure, vengeful, conveniently anthropomorphic but invisible and hidden deity who may or may not hypothetically give a flying fig for anyone.

Faith passes the buck, terminating all discussion. A declaration of faith is the mother of all argument enders. Faith destroys any chance of useful and constructive discourse because faith is completely devoid of any real content. Faith is belief in one perceived truth over another in the absence of objective criteria that would allow a rational determination of which truth is valid. Therefore, no argument about faith can ever be settled. Arguing about which religion is true is a futile, wasteful, and ultimately destructive activity.

Faith is dysfunctional. This is one of the reasons why there must be a clear separation between church and state. Secular government and religious disestablishment promote pluralism, tolerance, and religious freedom – as well as freedom from religion. Whenever I hear the word ‘faith’ I reach for my wallet to make sure it hasn’t been emptied. Whenever I hear the phrase “faith-based initiative”, I wonder if my government has turned into a theocracy yet. Faith is voluntary insanity, and I want no part of it. Leave me be! Leave everyone be!

Faith is reliance on a fabrication that provides false security, more effective than a baby’s pacifier. If only religious faith guaranteed the faithful will be pacifists as well. But alas, no. There are countless warmongers full of faith. Religious faith all too often facilitates and exacerbates intolerance, oppression, violence, and war. Faith makes the world a more dangerous place. Skepticism makes the world safer.

People are all too willing to kill or die for their faith, although the murderers outnumber the martyrs by several orders of magnitude. Defending the faith is very bad for the rest of us. Faith makes you believe you can move mountains, or fly planes into buildings. Often it would be better for everyone if faith remained smaller than a mustard seed, because the road to Hell is paved with faith.

Faith is intolerant

Tolerance requires doubt. Faith is certainty with no foundation, and certainty breeds bigotry and intolerance. The prerequisite of intolerance is rock-solid, unwavering, unquestioning, overconfident faith. Faith almost never agrees to disagree. Faith only agrees with itself. There can be only One Truth to the faithful.

Faith is an admission that your own beliefs are indefensible and fragile, which leads inevitably to aggressive censorship, blasphemy punishments, persecution, inquisitions, crusades, and other horrific attempts to enforce The One True Belief. Faith is a motive to denigrate others without orthodox beliefs. Faith in The One True God or The One True Religion or The One True Morality inevitably leads to intolerance, and intolerance inevitably leads to discrimination, prejudice, bigotry, hatred, and finally violence. Faith unites cults but divides humanity.

Faith is respected unless it’s faith in the wrong god. Faith is praised until it results in intolerance, censorship, and violence. Faith is desirable unless it creates and sustains cults. Faith is lauded until it inspires terrorists. Faith is seen as a virtue until it inevitably becomes a vice.

Faith relies on agreement and conformity and therefore suppresses free discussion, independent thought, and meaningful questions. Faith is closed-minded and hostile to new ideas, originality, and creativity. Faith is absolute and suffers no dissenting opinions. Faith doesn’t listen. Faith is a closed system. Faith brooks no opposition, permits no criticism, countenances no disagreement, and tolerates no dissension. Faith compels consent, agreement, obedience, and conformance. Faith does not turn the other cheek or love its enemy. Instead, faith overreacts with an overabundance of aggression, hysteria, and retribution.

Faith is immoral

Faith in scripture leads to selective literalism. The faithful and the Bible both condemn homosexuality and free speech. However, the Bible condones what most modern faithful condemn: polygamy, slavery, abortion, genocide, infanticide, stoning, being forced to marry your rapist, and treating women and children as property. And of course, the faithful are not overly concerned with what the Bible clearly condemns: shaving, wealth, divorce, cooking meat in milk (especially a young goat in its mother’s milk), wearing wool and linen together, creating shrines, statues, paintings, photographs, or “any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth”, and hundreds of other irrelevant and roundly ignored biblical commandments. Even the fanatical faithful do not follow the over 700 rules in the Old and New Testaments, and if they tried, they would be thrown in jail or a psychiatric institution for life.

Faith often entrenches and justifies poverty and suffering more than it relieves it. Faith often prioritizes imaginary spiritual needs over real physical needs, based on anticipation of a fabricated afterlife, rather than dealing with the immediate problems of actual life. The illogic of faith taints the logic of helping others.

Faith demands moral absolutes and unanimous opinions with no questions allowed. Unwavering, unquestioning, unshakably certain, absolute blind faith is the Holy Grail of religion. How sad is that? Why would anyone think that “unquestioning faith” is a good thing? Why would anyone think that a lack of curiosity is a virtue and an inquisitive nature is a character flaw? What possible good can it do to replace thinking with belief? Why would anyone consider intelligence and freethought to be a sin?

Faith may be a theological virtue, but in reality faith is a vice. To use the language of religion, faith is a sin. Disbelief and doubt are virtues because they are forms of sincerity and honesty – sincere disbelief and honest doubt. Faith prefers the simple to the complex, the easy to the difficult, and the black and white to shades of gray. Faith distorts morality, disconnects self-responsibility, and disrupts common sense. All faith is bad faith.

Faith sickens

Faith is pathological belief. Faith is a sociological plague. Faith is an intoxicating and infectious infliction of ideological incoherency. Faith results in acute truth deficiency caused by an intellect infected with irrationality. Faith is a disease, reason is the cure.

Faith is based on primitive cultures and ancient beliefs, and has long been irrelevant and obsolete. Yet faith hangs on like a staggering, rotting zombie, inflicting every aspect of modern society with its stench of decay and festering infections.

Faith is a leech, sucking out the lifeblood of rationality. Faith is a cultural parasite that provides no benefit in return. Instead, faith provides a false sense of security and tranquility facilitated by ignorance. Faith continually tries to throttle the flow of all information that may in any way threaten its choke-hold on its hosts.

Faith is a passionately desired, divinely approved, church supported, cult administered, repulsively primitive, mentally crippling lobotomy, crudely carried out with the blunt instruments of dogma, doctrine, creed, and ideology. Instead, what this world needs is a faithectomy. Faith is self-inflicted blindness, a gouging of the eyes of reason. All faith is blind, but the loss of a vital source of perception should not be glorified – it should be mourned. Faith is a mental crutch to compensate for disabled reasoning, broken thinking, and amputated logic.

Faith is a poison, freethought is the antidote. Faith contaminates reality. Faith is a mind-altering drug. Faith is a credulity overdose. Faith is the heroin of religion, incredibly tempting to try, dangerous and addictive as hell, and an almost impossible hole to claw your way out of, back to the illumination of reason and rationality. Faith is your brain on drugs. Just don’t do it!

Faith desensitizes its host to reality. Faith inoculates against wisdom and provides immunity to autonomous thought. Faith is immune to facts. Reason and freethought provide natural resistance against faith.

Faith is simplistic and cheap self-help. Yet, faith heals nothing. Faith healers are charlatans because faith is a fraud. Faith is alternative medicine at its worst, snake oil promoted by religious quacks, charlatans, con men, and media-savvy hucksters. Trust medicine, not faith.

Our choice

Faith is a failure. Faith has no future. Religious faith is the bane of human existence. Have faith in life, not an afterlife.

Have no faith in faith and do not believe in belief. Doubt faith and have faith in doubt. Reject faith. Choose reason. Think for yourself. We’ll all be better off.

Remember: Rants are long. Life is short. Please rant responsibly.
W.G. Potter

Give me the storm and tempest of thought and action, rather than the dead calm of ignorance and faith!
Robert G. Ingersoll (1833-1899), The Gods, 1872

Posted in Belief, Doubt, Faith, Humanism, Reason | Leave a comment

The Meaning of Life: Five Great Religions

A number of different methods have been used to test the validity of a belief.

One method is to check a belief, and its implications, by its correspondence with objective facts. One might call it the test of actuality… There is much in the field of religion that does not seem to lend itself readily to this kind of check. The belief that God exists is hardly amenable to verification by observation…

A second method … is the test of logical coherence within the whole system to which it belongs, a method which is very natural to philosophy, and which plays a big part in the development of scientific theories. One might call it the test of truth… However … the most logically coherent system can be no truer than the premises on which it is based.

A third method … might be called a test of their reality… When one asks about the reality of religious beliefs, he is in effect asking: how well do these beliefs help one to face up honestly, courageously and creatively to the inescapable facts of life? … How well do religious beliefs help one to avoid comfortable fantasies in favour of a mature realism? … Religious beliefs which are unreal are beliefs which encourage misinterpretations of reality in accord with personal desires, building up a system that effectively insulates one from the impact of the unchangeable necessities of life…

Real religious thinking must be what the scientists call open-ended thinking, that is, thinking which always has arms open to welcome new truth even when it seems to undermine established truths… It does not often happen that a theologian leaps for joy when some other theologian upsets his theology.
W.S. Taylor, “Encounter”, The Meaning of Life in Five Great Religions, R.C. Chalmers, John A. Irving (editors), 1965

Let’s face it – religion utterly fails all three of these belief validity tests: actuality, truth, and reality. Probably because religions are unverifiable, illogical fantasies, which are often at odds with reality rather than helping improve reality. Also, open-ended religious thinking is very rare, in my experience. Probably because theists are far more interested in defending to death their One True Religion rather than finding out new truths, which may – gasp! – contradict some of their precious religious beliefs, clung to with the tenacity of Gollum. Despite many of his own arguments to the contrary, Taylor makes it plain that he thinks his version of Christianity passes these tests. Right, when pigs fly – or perhaps when theologians leap for joy. But I digress.

On to the meaning of life, as explained by Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Surely at least one of these popular religions must know the secret to the meaning of life!

HINDUISM

The meaning of life for man is to realize his full and immense potentialities and bring them out, in his moral and spiritual life…

The Spirit in man is not satisfied with physical fulfilment or intellectual excitement. The Spirit in man seeks to make life a perfect instrument and vehicle for the purpose of realizing the immense potentialities of man. The realization of the true nature of the self is the destiny of man, the aim of existence and the purpose of life…

The meaning of life … is the realization of the unity of existence and translation of it into one’s life.
P. Nagaraja Rao, “Hinduism (The Advaita View as Expounded by Sankara)”,  The Meaning of Life in Five Great Religions, R.C. Chalmers, John A. Irving (editors), 1965

Spoiler alert: Among the five religions here, this is the best attempt at defining a cogent and comprehensible meaning of life (ignoring the last sentence, which is vague and useless gobbledygook). I think this can be summed up as “Do the best you possibly can with what you have and the circumstances of your life”, and possibly “Know thyself.” Again, it’s not the meaning of life, but it’s a way to find meaning in life. And I think “physical fulfilment and intellectual excitement” can actually be quite satisfying at times!

BUDDHISM

The meaning of life is to realize that it is only possible for one to live in this present world through innumerable direct and indirect causes which came from all others. And the purpose of life is to live everyday, or even every moment, in the consciousness of how I am happy to be born a human being and that every deed will be the indirect cause for others in the future. That is to say, to live in the state of real happiness through the realization of the impermanence and non-substantiality of existences and phenomena  of this world, and to live in the hearty gratitude to all other existences is the purpose of life: and to live in this present society as a human being itself is the meaning of life…

There is no other way to live in this present world than to follow the way of life in which one tries to find real happiness in the midst of sorrow, suffering, pain, agony, and worldly pleasures and happiness…

There is no other meaning and purpose of life than to live as a human being seeing all existences and phenomena as they are.
Shoyu Hanayama, “Buddhism”,  The Meaning of Life in Five Great Religions, R.C. Chalmers, John A. Irving (editors), 1965

Life is short so: live it, face up to reality, be happy, be grateful, and be mindful of the potential effects of your actions on others and the future. Is that the core message buried in this needlessly verbose and jargony advice? It would seem so. That’s a lot of words to express something so simple and, dare I say it, trite.

The author also reiterates the standard Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Right Path of Buddhism as well, neither of which illuminate the meaning of life, but merely suggest ways of living life on your way to attaining ultimate enlightenment. Good luck!

JUDAISM

The core of the religious reality is a meeting between the Divine and the human; and religious meaning is found in and through this meeting and nowhere else

Primordial meaning, however, lies in the meeting itself. This meaning is of human life; for the Divine accepts and confirms the human in the moment of meeting. It cannot, however, lie in some finite human purpose, supposedly more ultimate than the meeting and merely established by it. For what could be more ultimate than the Presence of God? …

Revelation has initiated meaning in history: it points to a Redemption which will complete it

A primordial Divine commanding Love has endowed history with meaning, in that it calls for meaningful human action.
Emil L. Fackenheim (1916-2003), “Judaism”,  The Meaning of Life in Five Great Religions, R.C. Chalmers, John A. Irving (editors), 1965

What the Fackenheim? This essay is by far the worst in the book. It was mind-numbingly boring, frustratingly nonsensical, and largely pointless. An endless string of content-free pretentious theological bombast couched in sham academia.

Apparently the meaning of life lies somewhere in the meeting of God and human, infinite and finite, ultimate and not-so-ultimate, imaginary and real (OK, that last bit was just me heckling). If this is the most practical advice that Judaism can offer on the meaning of life, then this religion has completely lost contact with reality. There are much better writers on this subject – Harold S. Kushner comes to mind. Of course his is not the orthodox view, but at least he’s worth reading.

CHRISTIANITY

“What is the chief end of man?”

We believe as Christians that it is in the reply given to this question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism that we find the key to life’s meaning and purpose. That reply is: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” All that any Christian can say about life’s meaning and purpose will be by way of explication and elaboration of that famous answer…

The purpose of life, therefore, is something revealed to man, not something conceived by man’s intellect. Man is able to discover life’s purpose when he has the gift of faith. He can apprehend the meaning of his existence when he has first been laid hold of by God. He is given insight about the chief end of human living when God makes a divine disclosure about his own nature and purpose. In other words, man’s purpose for living can only be know when it is seen to be part of God’s purpose for the world. Man of himself, separated from his Creator, lives in the darkness of meaninglessness…

Man will find life’s meaning and purpose, therefore, by identifying himself with this divine purpose and by realizing that he is a part of this universal plan…

From the Christian standpoint it is utter nonsense to think that a secularist or an agnostic can come to know what the meaning and purpose of life is according to Christianity. Spiritual things are spiritually discerned. It is only by faith in him who gives light on life’s meaning that we can understand the majestic will of God for man. In his light we shall see light…

According to Christianity, the meaning of life is love. To live is to love…

The Christian maintains that it is love that gives life its true purpose and worth…

In Jesus the full meaning of the life of man, and of the purpose of God for the universe, has been made known.
R.C. Chalmers, “Christianity”, The Meaning of Life in Five Great Religions, R.C. Chalmers, John A. Irving (editors), 1965

Whew! Well, I agree with the love part, but that’s about it. This is an exercise of beating around the burning bush, in an attempt to avoid the embarrassing fact that Christians don’t have a clue what the meaning of life is, and instead sidestep the entire issue by assuming that at least God knows what the hell is going on and will eventually, somehow, in his own good time let them know. Don’t hold your breath.

Chalmers actually proposes a whole litany of meanings of life for good Christians: natural order or design, beauty, moral law, love, faith, redemption, repentance, salvation, glorifying/adoring/worshipping/praising/obeying God, and hanging out with other like-minded sheep in churches. Yep, that love part is good advice. Otherwise, if all that other extraneous stuff turns your crank meaning-of-life-wise, you’re welcome to it. However, it seems a colossal waste of time and effort, since it doesn’t get you any closer to any kind of real meaning in life, unless you’re into that whole S&M scene – servitude and masochism, that is.

ISLAM

The meaning of life for Islam is not to be interpreted simply and solely in terms of otherworldiness, or with reference only to a long past and gone set of historical and geographical circumstances. It is a philosophy which forms an integral part of the great universal scheme of Divine revelation; thus it finds the true meaning of human life only in relation to the God who created that life, and who sends down his commands for it…

This is man’s function as a deputy of God upon earth. It is so to order his acts and his life as to realize in his human community the ideals which God has made known in his revelation. It is the practice of the principle laid down in the Qur’an for the good government of the ideal Islamic society…

The meaning of life can be understood only in the context of the Giver of life and his purposes for his creation. Islam is a religion, and consequently its interpretation of life is basically theological… A society, which is still limited by the reluctance of others to yield to its authority, but which consists in moderation, regard for the rights of others, in the unity and the equality of all men before their Creator, and which is inspired by the ultimate hope that eventually its virtues and values may become universal – this is the society of Islam.
M. Rasjidi (1915-2001), assisted by J.B. Hardie, “Islam”, The Meaning of Life in Five Great Religions, R.C. Chalmers, John A. Irving (editors), 1965

Why is it that every time I read about Islamic ideals they always sound vaguely (and sometimes explicitly) threatening? Mohammad Rasjidi likes to use phrases like “Good government of the ideal Islamic society”, “limited by the reluctance of others to yield to its authority”, and elsewhere in the chapter: “subordinates his own will to the Divine Will”, “authority belongs to  the members of the religious community”, “Church and State … are one and the same”, and “It is not really possible to separate the thought of society in Islam from the thought of the state or the faith … all are based on the one source, the Qur’an.” Am I the only one distressed and, yes, frightened by these kind of statements? Are these the edicts of a moderate Muslim? Yikes! I have no desire to live in a theocracy, and doing so would pretty much quash any possible meaning of life for me. In that scenario, my primary purpose in life would be to escape to freedom.

Unity is a big theme for Rasjidi, but the choice offered is clearly unity or hell. After all, this is from the guy who said: “We do not hate the Shi’is but we do not accept their doctrine that is contrary to the pure Islamic doctrine, the Sunni doctrine.” (Apu Ita Syi’ah, 1984) Nice. Cheery. Inspirational. Once again, religion divides and separates. Some guy’s religion has always got to be purer than the other guy’s religion. In the concluding chapter of the book, this sad truth is pointed out rather pointedly:

Community is only envisaged in terms of the unity of the Islamic faith, and if the children of God are equal, it seems that Muslims are more equal than others.
C. Douglas Jay (1925-), “From Encounter to Community”,  The Meaning of Life in Five Great Religions, R.C. Chalmers, John A. Irving (editors), 1965

Could Jay be comparing religion to George Orwell’s Animal Farm? Shocking! But appropriate. An ideology is an ideology, whether political or religious.

The author also reiterates the standard Five Pillars of Islam, but they are not a meaning of life, nor even a means of attaining a meaning of life. They are religious rituals, checkmarks to mindlessly place in checkboxes, pointless in and of themselves. Ritual is a great thing for those who don’t want to put in the time and effort necessary to think for themselves.

RELIGION

Sadly, we are forced to conclude that these five religions have no more knowledge of the meaning of life than most philosophers or just moderately intelligent nonreligious people, for that matter. I suspect we can extrapolate this fact to all other religions as well. They do throw out a lot of red herrings, though, to confuse the issue. Perhaps we would be better off without such unnecessary distractions.

Our search for the meaning of life continues…

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