March 31, 2009

The Purposeless Existence: No Excuses Allowed

There is no objective, external purpose to your existence. This is a good thing.

Theists will tell you, again and again, that "God has a plan." When something really awful happens to you, they tell you this as a means offering consolation -- someone bereaved by the recent death of a loved one, for instance, will be told that Jehovah works in mysterious ways and that the death, while painful in the short run, will eventually work out for the greater good. Indeed, bereavement appears to be the most frequent time that theists trot out the "plan" and "purpose" bit -- and the plan is always unknown and mysterious, something so grand and subtle that we humans cannot ever hope to understand it.

I've never understood why such an assurance should be in the least bit assuring to someone dealing with grief. The loss of a loved one is an intense and painful experience, and telling a bereaved person that Jehovah took their loved one as part of some kind of "plan" suggests that this plan is either cruel or imperfect. If Jehovah wants us to suffer, then He is cruel. If Jehovah's plan requires us inevitably to suffer despite His love for us, then Jehovah is not sufficiently clever or imaginative so as to create a plan that allows us to avoid suffering, demonstrating His lack of omniscience. Either way, we suffer, and it's Jehovah's fault. If I were to lose a loved one, I would find the consolation that it's all part of a "plan" to be a weak consolation indeed.

Moreover, if there is some sort of a plan or external purpose to each of our lives, and we all have some kind of a role to play, then that means our lives are much like that of characters in a movie or a tdelevision series. Some of us, necessarily, will be villains. If Jehovah has a plan for me, He must have had one for Hitler, too. Did Hitler deviate from that plan or was the Holocaust part of it? Alzono Fyfe points out that if such a plan does exist, it is difficult to determine what the purpose of such a plan for the author might be other than entertainment, predation, or sadism. But if there is a plan, we don't get to choose our role in it. Our roles have been pre-set, determined already by Jehovah. This suggests that the purpose of the Plan, if it exists, is quite likely nefarious from our point of view.

And finally, the idea that there is a divine plan to our lives flies in the face of the idea of free will. We may have free will, or the illusion of it, but if there is a plan, then Jehovah knows in advance how we will choose to exercise that free will and He has arranged things such that our use of that free will dovetails into His grand and subtle Plan. It amazes me how much effort theists put into contemplating this quite obvious contradiction. If there is a Plan, then there is no free will. The two concepts cannot be reconciled. If fulfilling the Plan is morally good, then whatever evil thing is part of the Plan must not be evil at all, and we should not punish those who do evil because evil acts, too, are part of the Plan.

I reject this notion totally. First of all, it is predicated upon the assumption of an infinitely powerful, infinitely smart, infinitely foresightful, and infinitely subtle Diety, one whose existence is so doubtful as to represent a negligible possibility. Moroever, it is logically inconsistent and renders the diety ethically deficient. And it flies in the face of so many other things we are told about Jehovah -- that He is infinitely benevolent, merciful, and loving.

If you want to tell me that I am wrong, that there is a purpose to our lives and our existence and our suffering and the evil that some people do, then you'll need to do more than throw some Bible verses at me. An argument that I must have "faith" to see the plan is nothing more than a request that I ignore reason and logic. To change my mind, you will need to offer some sort of proof, some sort of objective logic to your contrary argument.

If the "proof" is a series of quotes from Scripture, know in advance that I do not credit any particular veracity or reliability to Scripture. The Bible tells me that π = 3, that the universe is six thousand years old, that the sun revovles around the Earth, and that a man lived in the belly of a giant fish for three days. These things are not true, so anything else in the Bible is going to need external verification, or at least some kind of objective plausibility, before I will credit it. There may well be true things in the Bible; however, in this respect is no more or less accurate than any other document of its age purporting to record the myths and legends of a Bronze Age people.

Personally, I find it remarkably liberating and gratifying that there is no objective purpose to my life. There is no god, so there is no plan. Therefore, if my life is to have a purpose, I get to pick what that purpose is. Being a more or less ethcially good person, I try and pick ethically good things to do with my life. It's true that some people are not ethically good and they will push themselves to do things that aren't good. But they do so of their own volition, and their own choices, and the rest of us can choose to defeat them or to convince them to change their ways.

It's up to us. We don't get to hide our pain or our ethical shortcomings behind the excuse of a divine plan. Each of us, personally, must to answer for, and deal with, what happens in our lives. Because we have only these lives to live, moreover, we must do this within this lifetime. And each of us must answer to the toughest critic imaginable -- ourselves. The good news is that we have a whole universe of options and choices available to us to self-purpose ourselves. We can each contribute to making the world a better place in our own ways. Not to glorify God or to advantage ourselves, but rather for the inherently good and selfless reasons of helping other people like ourselves.

1 comment:

Sheila said...

Dear Sir:
I've a story to share, of my own personal life experience('s).

Kindly advise if appropriate & to which e-mail should be used.