Fugitives from Fundamentalism

The Musings of Adult Missionary Kids (MKs) & Former Born-Again Believers

What if You’re Wrong?

Posted by Jerry on September 20, 2009

I’m fairly certain I understand what the Liberty University student was really trying to ask Richard Dawkins when she said, “What if you’re wrong?” Here’s that link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6mmskXXetcg. I may be wrong, of course, but as a former fundamentalist, that question is just code for, “You’d better repent and get some faith because you’re going to hell.” Dawkins’s answer was actually pretty debilitating to Christians. He told the student that she was only Christian because she lives in this country at this time and place, and that if she had been born in another time or place, she would almost certainly have worshipped other deities and have a different religion. Dawkins has a point by emphasizing the inherent unfairness of the gospel (if it were true).

Religious people have used this kind of cosmological blackmail for centuries in order to get their way. There are also more subtle forms of the same argument. Just get on a website of any contemporary church and you may see something like, “Find true meaning, love and life-transforming togetherness at our church.” In other words, the message seems to be that if you want your life to be meaningful, you will be Christian.  And the implication is that without this Christian infrastructure, life is just absurd, meaningless, and arbitrary. One of my old college classmates recently posted, “If God does not exist, any discussion of the fairness or unfairness of life is absurd at face value. If God exists, who am I to judge the fairness or unfairness of life?” I suppose I can appreciate his humility, but just think about that for a minute. That kind of thinking about life mocks the experiences that each of us has every day. Why is life absurd without God? Why do Christians perpetuate this self-loathing belief that life here on earth is meaningless unless there is a deity waiting with eternal life at the end of the rainbow? In fact, I’d claim the opposite: if the God-you-speak-of exists, the world makes no sense at all. Where the hell is he anyway?

Far from being absurd, I believe that the life I’ve lived, the relationships I’ve had, the communities I’ve been a part of, the experiences, struggles, failures, achievements, fears, joys, the deep losses and grief, the wonderful moments — all these things have given meaning to my life. That’s what it means to live a full and sentient life. And it’s not absurd. It’s just life.

20 Responses to “What if You’re Wrong?”

  1. JN said

    I’m being a bit facetious here, but how do you know your experiences, relationships, communities, etc. are not absurd? They may be meaningful to you, but they probably wouldn’t be meaningful to me and may not be meaningful to anyone but you.

    My pet gerbil consumes its day by chewing toilet paper rolls, running circles on a wheel, and begging for treats. This may just be the way gerbils are, but to me this seems like a pretty absurd existence. How can you know that your life isn’t just as absurd?

    Your college friend seems to believe the way out of the absurd is to find an anchor outside the realm of absurdity. He/she has found that anchor in Christianity. You either seem to believe life is not absurd, or you have decided that you will cope with the absurdity of life the best you known how, despite its absurdity. Both you and your friend claim to have found some sort of meaning. When its all said and done, who is more absurd?

    • Jerry said

      Why do you have a pet gerbil? It seems absurd to me to have one, but maybe the gerbil gives you happiness in ways that other pets could not. My point is that life is neither absurd nor meaningful — it’s just life. I don’t expect you to find meaning in my life or visa versa, but Christian apologists often suggest that my life has no meaning and is “absurd” because I don’t have a god in it. We all have “anchors” in our lives that give us meaning. My “anchors” are no less meaningful than a Christian’s “anchor”, that’s all I’m trying to say.

      • JN said

        So you’d agree with the first part of your classmates statement that life is neither fair nor unfair? It just is…

        (I have a gerbil because it was my wife ‘rescued’ it from a class full of screaming 3 year olds.)

        • Jerry said

          To me, life is just what it is and nothing more. What I object to is the idea that an atheist can’t have values or make judgments, or have ethical principles, but that Christians can because their principles are based on something “objective” like God. Theirs are just as subjective as mine. We’re all in the same boat.

        • JN said

          I was watching the GOD channel last night, as I do from time to time when I want to get angry, and it’s obvious that some Christians don’t value anything as much as they do money. The idiots on these TV stations have nothing else to do than blabber on and on about raising money for their ‘glorious’ work throughout the world. Some poor person in Sri Lanka is giving 500 rupees for these ‘spiritual’ jokesters to broadcast their pocket-picking nonsense. There is no objective reality truer than this: these guys are jackasses.

        • Jerry said

          You’re right. They seem to be obsessed with fund raising and money. I’m sure they’re not living in subsidized housing, either, from the way it looks.

  2. Paulo said

    “Why do Christians perpetuate this self-loathing belief that life here on earth is meaningless unless there is a deity waiting with eternal life at the end of the rainbow?”

    That is a good question. I agree with you, Jerry. I don’t think there is an inherent meaning to life. It just is. Deal with it. Like the old cliché: Life is what you make of it.

    Some people, I suppose, can’t find any meaning in their life, but they still want their life to have some meaning. So they turn to God and this whole idea that life is meaningless without him, and that he alone can bring purpose and meaning in life, and that it will all be better in the sweet by and by…

    There is a quote by Camus that I really like. I had to dig it up:

    For if there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this one.
    — Albert Camus

    • JN said

      I think some of it comes from Kierkegaard, perhaps indirectly. It’d probably make more sense if people would adopt more of his philosophy, but a lot of it is a bit too subjective for most Christians. I’m not terribly familiar with him, so I won’t comment any further.

  3. Charity said

    “Why is life absurd without God?”

    I agree with you that life is just life. But I also think life is absurd. Maybe it’s about how absurdity is defined? I’d define absurdity as what results when humans are confronted with the lack of absolute meaning in the world while in the process of trying to find meaning. Absolute meaning simply doesn’t exist, and no matter how long and hard the effort, it’s humanly impossible to find without making it up. So we fail to find meaning, but, in the process, realize we can create it.

    Recognizing life’s absurdity can bring a whole lot of humor to life, and, in a strange way, I find meaning in the absurd. Although sarcasm, when used intelligently, can be funny, it’s in humans’ endless attempts to create meaning I find the most humor. And in what they create–for instance religion, and fetishes, and strip clubs, and so on. Life, and incidentally language, is funny all on its own. Often unintentionally.

    I don’t think we must create meaning. But it helps us get through life to find things meaningful. In stuff like our relationships, experiences, and feelings. In the things we strive for. This is a choice though. We create meaning in our lives. It doesn’t exist without us. We even give meaning to our feelings. Filling the void of life’s meaninglessness with a made up religion and God, people fail to recognize the inherent beauty that already exists in this life. Life is tragic, but also beautiful.

  4. Jerry said

    It’s pretty fascinating to me to see how people react differently to various ideas. I really like the Camus quote which I’ve never heard before. I also agree with Charity “I don’t think we must create meaning. But it helps us get through life to find things meaningful.” For me, yes, that’s it. I think it may be part of human nature to find meaning in one’s life. For me, I really have found meaning in my life but it may be different for others. I actually know what my purpose in life is, and it’s something I’ve chosen for myself that gives me fulfillment and meaning. But no, I don’t believe that there is “absolute” meaning, even if I knew what that really meant. Even for Christians, it’s something they create to get them through their lives. I think I know what Christians are trying to say, but there’s nothing “absolute” about it.

  5. The Chaplain said

    Jerry, I agree with you concerning Dawkins’ response: it is a devastating one. He goes right for the jugular by pointing out the inherent ethnocentrism in her question. It strikes me that he is getting much better at this stuff. I’m pretty excited to see the circus that will surround his next book.

    My first reaction, upon reading your post, was to think, “But life IS absurd.” As I read through the responses above, I realized that this response is due entirely to lazy thinking on my part. I’ve read and written about Albert Camus’ concept of the Absurd for a long time, so when the words “life” and “absurd” appear in the same sentence I automatically begin to operate with Camus’ definition in my head.

    However, the truth is that life is not absurd. In fact, it isn’t anything. Life is nothing more than a human conceptual construct; it’s a label we attach to that time when matter is observed to take on the characteristics of these things we call human.

    • Jerry said

      “Life is nothing more than a human conceptual construct;” Yes, I agree. I think part of the “problem” is our human ability to reflect on ourselves abstractly and ask questions like, “Why am I here? Where did we come from?” and so forth. Even though a lot of Christians would say they understand the answers to those questions, they really aren’t able to avoid the problem because “Where did God come from?” or “Why is God here (and why did he suddenly decide to create us after an eternity of being by himself)?” are just as impossible to answer. I guess they’d say that their questions will be answered in the eternity, but I never bought that kind of trash logic anyway.

      • JN said

        I don’t agree with that statement. Life is not a human conceptual construct, unless you really want to wallow in a weird world of semantics. Life would exist even if I had no ability to think, feel, or reason. Human understanding of life may well be a conceptual construct, but existence is independent.

        • Jerry said

          JN, you’re such the antagonist, but I like your honesty. I agree with you that sometimes truth come through disagreements.

          I think you’re bringing up the old question of: “if a tree fell in a forest and nobody was there to hear it, would it make a sound?” The fact that you and I can reflect on our existence is precisely the problem. It doesn’t mean that life doesn’t exist, but it does mean that our reflections on life are by definition human constructs.

    • JN said

      OK, stop the love-train! It’s OK to disagree with the guy. Jerry will still come around even if some people, other than me, disagree with his opinions. Where are the other opinions? The air is growing stale around here.

      Instructor, elaborate on that second paragraph (especially the second half of the last sentence). Perhaps your intended meaning is not coming through. It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue either.

      • The Chaplain said

        Ha! I swear that I have never been accused of participating in a love train. (Actually, that sounds kinda dirty.)

        Okay, to clarify: when I say that life is simply a conceptual construct, I mean that everything in the known universe is in constant flux. As I write this, microscopic, old cells are flaking off of my skin and new cells are forming. There is no such thing as something that is “fixed.” Even the molecules in stone are constantly moving. As humans, we create labels that we attach to things we find significant in some way. However, all we are describing are different forms of matter. It is ALL matter. I call you JN, and I conceptualize you as a “thing” that is separate from your surroundings. However, the truth is that you are not separate from your surroundings. The concept of different forms of matter is a human construct. In actuality, all that exists is one undifferentiated mass of matter. To a creature with different sensory tools (other than our types of eyes or ears) the demarcations between different forms of matter would be different: demarcations might not exist where we have them, and new demarcations might exist where we see or measure none. So the idea of a self and of one’s life is simply a human construct. We set up the rules for what makes something separate (even though it really isn’t separate), and then we divide and categorize as we see fit.

        • JN said

          Yeah, I thought that’s where you were going. Obviously I have to agree with you to a point, but I also have to disagree with you. It’s the interpretation that’s the construct, not the matter or life itself.

          Life’s crazier than sci-fi. Perhaps the spaghetti monster’s out there somewhere after all…

        • Charity said

          “The concept of different forms of matter is a human construct”.

          Now you’re sounding Buddhist…perceptions of reality, or relative reality, lead us to believe we are separate. We are living with an illusion that we are separate from everything else. Buddhists try to free themselves from this “illusion” through meditation and self-discipline. Giving them insight into the true nature of reality, which can lead to release from suffering. The tradition of yoga comes from this idea. Theoretically, from this perspective, I can develop the ability to experience myself as connected to experience itself–I am my experience of reality.

    • Charity said

      “Life is nothing more than a human conceptual construct.”

      Life: n. The physical and mental experiences that make up the existence of an individual.

      Absurd: n. The condition or state in which humans exist in a meaningless, irrational universe wherein people’s lives have no purpose or meaning.

      Construct: n. Something constructed by the mind.

      I think we construct meaning in a meaningless world. So maybe life is not absurd, but still absurd.

      –definitions from http://www.merriam-webster.com/

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