“Existentialism isn’t so atheistic that it wears itself out showing that God doesn’t exist. Rather, it declares that even if God did exist, that would change nothing… in this sense Existentialism is optimistic, a doctrine of action, and it is plain dishonesty for Christians to make no distinction between their own despair and ours and then to call us despairing.” – Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism.
In the last few blogs we saw how theologians and people of faith argue God is necessary for human life to be meaningful. First we examined their logical argument that the existence of God affords meaning to human life by virtue of pre-ordained purpose, objective morality, immortality, and ultimacy – none of which they believe applies in the absence of a deity. Then we reviewed typical practical expressions such as living in a community of believers, imitating the life of Christ, consolation for earthly suffering in the afterlife, self-transcendence and the conquest of finitude and ambiguity via religious symbols, and acting so as to merit eternity and the approval of the divine. Today we consider rebuttals to these assertions.
First it is unclear and certainly debatable whether pre-ordained purpose is necessary to a meaningful life. On the one hand, this is not a self-evident principle; take the example of the human eye, which has the purpose to enhance human survival, but is easily repurposed to appreciate art – the latter being arguably of greater importance to human meaning. On the other hand, it is unclear whether a purpose imposed by another is as meaningful as one chosen by oneself.
Second is the question of morality. It appears doubtful that morality is determined by the divine – take slavery, which is condoned in the Bible, but seems intrinsically wrong. Morality it turns out can be derived through reason as argued by Immanuel Kant or defined by a species as is asserted by humanists. If there is a God, it seems likely that His goodness is not affirmed by the assertion that all his acts are by definition moral, but rather that in His perfection, he acts in a way that is always morally correct by some extra-divine objective criteria. God’s choice to do logically unethical acts would not impart moral goodness upon them: it seems equally evil for God to needlessly blind baby animals as for humans to do so.
Next, while immortality may increase the hope of meaningful existence, it is not immediately evident that immortality is essential to it. This involves some complex arguments that we will address later, but as an example, if the last two living members of a species have offspring from which the species is renewed, it seems their existence is utterly meaningful despite their own eventual deaths. And if only humans are immortal, then all other living things become meaningless by definition as does arguably the universe itself. This does not even address the doubtfulness of human immortality and the problems with it as discussed in the section on Death and Immortality on this site.
(continued next post)