“To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.” Bill Watterson, author of the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes
The meaning of one’s life is a question every human struggles with. Many people turn to religion to give their life meaning. Evangelical zealots accuse atheists of having meaningless lives. According to them, a life without the Evangelical God is no life at all.
For the Evangelical, the meaning of life is strictly defined. The Westminster Shorter Catechism ask the question, what is the chief end of man? The answer? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.
In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon said the sum of a human’s life is:
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord:and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.
Jesus, in Matthew 22:37-40, stated:
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.This is the first and great commandment.And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
From these verses, the Evangelical concludes that the meaning of life is found in the worship of the Evangelical God and keeping his commandments. Worship and obedience. The Evangelical is commanded to love God with all his soul and mind and to love his neighbor as himself. In doing this, their life brings glory to God.
Many of us took took seriously these commands. We set out to form our lives according to the teachings, commands, and precepts of the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God. Out of love, devotion, and worship to God, we determined to live sanctified, committed lives. To the best of our ability, we surrendered our lives to God, asking him to do whatever he wanted with us. We didn’t matter, he did. Like the virgins in Revelation 14:4, we followed the lamb (Jesus) wherever he went. What Would Jesus Do (WWJD) was not a cute saying to us, it was a way of life.
Of course, this kind of thinking, because it was rooted in ignorance about the nature and history of the Bible, led to failure. Try as we might, we could not keep all the commands of God. Even though our hearts burned with righteousness and zeal, every day we failed to measure up to God’s holy standard. Even with the Bible in our hands and the Holy Ghost in our hearts, we failed.
The problem wasn’t our warped understanding of grace, as some will surely say. The proponents of cheap grace are everywhere today, preaching the wondrous gospel of fire insurance. If one takes the Bible seriously, believes all of it is the very words of God, how can they not strive to obey every teaching, command, and precept found in the Bible? It is up to those who preach up grace to show why they are free from what God has commanded. It is up to them to explain why they can embrace what the Bible says about Jesus and grace but ignore what it says about how to live one’s life.
The liberal Christian rightly points out that Evangelicals don’t really take the Bible literally and they most certainly don’t obey all the commands found in the Bible. Of course the liberal rarely points out that either do liberal Christians. The Evangelical at least makes a good faith effort to keep the commands of God. The liberal Christian dismisses most of the commands of the Bible, either by explaining them away, reinterpreting them, of ignoring them. Rarely do they present a cohesive argument for doing so.
Both the Evangelical and the liberal Christian find their meaning within the pages of the Bible. What within its pages gives them meaning varies greatly. Few atheists would argue that loving your neighbor as yourself is a bad idea. Few would argue against the fact that some of the teachings, commands, and precepts of the Bible have moral and ethical value.
It is one thing to say that the Bible is a good book from which wisdom and guidance can be derived. If the Bible is just one book among many, all is well, but Evangelicals don’t believe the Bible is one book among many. They believe the Bible is THE BOOK, the only book, the one true source of wisdom. To them, wisdom is gained by fearing God and keeping his commandments. The Bible becomes the blueprint for life, the operating manual for every generation, culture, and person. It is a timeless book that teaches timeless truths. There isn’t many ways, truths, and lives…there is ONE way, truth, and life, Jesus Christ.
To the Evangelical, the atheist, the agnostic, the humanist, is a fool. The Bible says in Psalm 14:1:
The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.
According to the Evangelical:
- The atheist, the agnostic, the humanist is a fool, and the Bible has nothing good to say about fools
- The atheist, the agnostic, the humanist is corrupt
- The atheist, the agnostic, the humanist does abominable works
- The atheist, the agnostic, the humanist does not do good (forgetting the fact that the Bible says in Romans 3 that the Evangelical doesn’t do good either)
It is for these reasons that the Evangelical thinks atheists, agnostics, and humanists live meaningless lives. They can not comprehend a life of value without their God being in the center of it. For the Evangelical, their worship and devotion will have a big pay off some day. According to John 14, Jesus is in heaven right now preparing a mansion (KJV) or a room (NIV) for them. Without such a pay off, according to the Evangelical, live is meaningless and not worth living. I suspect more than a few Evangelicals wonder why atheists, agnostics, and humanists don’t kill themselves since they have NOTHING to live for.
Over the past five years, countless Evangelicals have told me that my life is meaningless. A few have even suggested I commit suicide and get it over with. No matter how I try to explain how and why my life has meaning, they reject what I say because they can not fathom a meaningful life without the Evangelical God. Their minds are made up; no God, no life.
The Evangelical finds meaning in their religion and the Bible. The atheist, agnostic, and humanist, as Bill Watterson states, must invent their own life’s meaning. It is not an easy path to walk. Let’s face it, in many ways life was easier when we were an Evangelical Christian. The Bible defined what was moral/immoral, ethical/unethical. The Bible was the owner’s manual for our life and all we had to do is consult it on a daily basis. Now, there is no owner’s manual and we are forced to rethink and adjust our moral and ethical beliefs, and, at times, jettison moral and ethical beliefs that no longer make sense. This process can often be quite bewildering and painful, and more than one atheist has said, life sure was a lot easier when I was a Christian.
For most atheists and agnostics, it is humanism that gives their life meaning and moral/ethical form and substance. The Humanist Manifesto III states:
Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.
The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance…
…Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.
Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.
Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.
Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature’s resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life…
It is clear from the Humanist Manifesto that the life of humanist has great meaning and that meaning is found in life itself. Since this life is the only life we have, how we live it matters. As a husband, father, grandfather, citizen, neighbor, and friend, I want others to have a free, productive, fulfilling, happy life. Yes, death will end our live all too soon, but until it does, we should busy ourselves doing that which not only benefits ourselves but the lives of others. The humanist can say Amen to the Bible command to love our neighbor as ourselves. We all benefit when every human lives a free, productive, fulfilling, happy life. When love and peace reign we all benefit.
I realize that nothing I have said in this post will convince the Evangelical that atheists, agnostics, and humanists have a meaningful life. They are blinded by their obedience to a fallible, errant, contradictory ancient text, and until they are disabused of this belief they will not see the world any other way. The liberal/progressive Christian often sees the world like the atheist, agnostic and humanist does. While they may still believe in God, they, like the non-believer, do not grant the Bible power over their lives, and they do not allow the Bible to become the only measure by which they determine what is a meaningful life.