Religion and Meaning

Religion and Meaning
hughsmith23
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Posted Mar 6, 2013 - 3:39 AM:
Subject: Religion and Meaning

This comes from a post I just posted in the "Optimism Delusion" over in General Philosophy, about the correlation between the supposition of a meaningful world and the existence of God. I think thinking about this may give some clue as to what "meaning" implies; it describes the difference between a world with a god, and a world without god. But if that is all it implies, there is a circle, since meaning is what is invoked as a reason to prefer the world-with-god.

What are the existential differences between the world with and without god which are suggested by meaning?

1. Length. A meaningful life lasts longer than a single lifetime, because it includes an afterlife.

2. Consequence. A meaningful life is organised morally ; our actions have consequences to ourselves; e.g. in the determination of the afterlife

3. Otherness. Humans are not the only rational beings

4. Certainty. The rational beings which are not humans have more certainty that humans; we can be judged accurately and sincerely, which is something we struggle to do interpersonally.

Which of these 4 is the most central to meaning as postulated as the difference between worlds with and without Gods? There are systems of meaning which reject consequence - pre-destination in Christianity, among others. There are systems which reject the afterlife (I am not sure, but I think some denominations of Judaism?). There are systems which reject otherness (Buddhism). What they all include is certainty, so therefore, we should consider meaning as a form of certainty. The problem here is that many people who find meaning in a world with god are uncertain about that system (a system which presupposes, more than anything else, certainty itself). What to make of this paradox?

It is as if if we believe only a little in certainty, than our lives are meaningful, because certainty is conceptually perfect, or indivisible, to us.

Emptyheady
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Posted Mar 6, 2013 - 9:24 AM:

I am not sure whether I understand your question correctly, so I will wait for the others to give a more intellectual response, but here is my take on religion and meaning.

Theists: If god (the Abrahamic) exists, then life (of human) has meaning.

The word meaning is rather vague, but I think it has to do with intention. Was life intended to exist?

Scientifically, we just say that life happened to exist, like the sub-atomic particle happened to appear and disappear with no particular reason, other than chance. Asking why there is life at all is rather an empty question. If you are a theist, it is like asking why does god exist? Who or what intended god's existence or gave god's existence meaning.

Atheist, tend to say that life has no meaning - i.e. it was not intended, it just happened.
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Posted Mar 6, 2013 - 10:47 AM:

hughsmith23 wrote:


...

What are the existential differences between the world with and without god which are suggested by meaning?

...

Which of these 4 is the most central to meaning as postulated as the difference between worlds with and without Gods?

...

The existence of the world with or without god is somewhat irrelevant (and begs the question).


The existence of faith is what makes people think there is meaning.


Rich Vernadeau
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Posted Mar 6, 2013 - 12:23 PM:

The lyrics to John Lennon's IMAGINE address this whole issue quite eloquently.
hughsmith23
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Posted Mar 6, 2013 - 3:19 PM:

Mystermenace wrote:

The existence of the world with or without god is somewhat irrelevant (and begs the question).


The existence of faith is what makes people think there is meaning.




I don't mean the actual "existence of the world with or without god" but what the presupposition of those worlds entail. I don't think thats begging any questions. Faith obviously has an object, otherwise we wouldn't have a name for it, and I wouldn't say that object is pure meaning itsef, though that'd be an interesting reading.
hughsmith23
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Posted Mar 6, 2013 - 3:22 PM:

Emptyheady wrote:
I am not sure whether I understand your question correctly, so I will wait for the others to give a more intellectual response, but here is my take on religion and meaning.

Theists: If god (the Abrahamic) exists, then life (of human) has meaning.

The word meaning is rather vague, but I think it has to do with intention. Was life intended to exist?

Scientifically, we just say that life happened to exist, like the sub-atomic particle happened to appear and disappear with no particular reason, other than chance. Asking why there is life at all is rather an empty question. If you are a theist, it is like asking why does god exist? Who or what intended god's existence or gave god's existence meaning.

Atheist, tend to say that life has no meaning - i.e. it was not intended, it just happened.

I agree with you - I should have included intention somewhere. But when people say, with hands raised in despair, "there is no meaning!", I don't think they mean "there is no intention behind this", though that may be an element.

Similarly, if someone says "my life has no meaning", they may still have an intention; e.g. to find out what the meaning of their life is, to worry about what the meaning of their life is, to despair about the lack of meaning in their life.

In an secular world, we can still have been intended to exist; in fact, except in cases of rape, our existence has been intended, and even in rape-pregnancies someone intended our existence. There is always intention; the question is whose?

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Posted Mar 6, 2013 - 4:06 PM:

hughsmith23 wrote:

Similarly, if someone says "my life has no meaning", they may still have an intention; e.g. to find out what the meaning of their life is, to worry about what the meaning of their life is, to despair about the lack of meaning in their life.


...to despair...?. I can hardly believe that people are genuinely and deeply depressed by this. The fact that all life will end, i.e. mortality. It is like, when you go to a party and you know that you have to leave eventually. Realising this should not depress anyone. You enjoy the party, for as long as it lasts.

I also feel that this kind of "despair" or "depression" is quite arrogant. Like the world owes you something. Like you deserve more.

Life should be more like this:

Welcome young fellah! Welcome to the party. Here are two people who "intended" you. They will show you around for some time. There is some cake and drinks on the table, there should be enough for everybody. We have got some rules here to keep up the mood. Now blow your candle and enjoy the party.






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Posted Mar 6, 2013 - 4:17 PM:
Subject: We might not know The Meaning of the World but ...

A world with (a) god seems less meaningful -- even completely meaningless -- than a world without (a) god because (a) god, being the source of all meaning or infinitely more meaningful than the world it purportedly created, renders the world's meaning/s, like the world itself, ephemeral & (at most) completely redundant. A part cannot encompass the whole to which it belongs -- reason cannot get outside the world since it belongs to the world and therefore cannot discern the meaning of world in its entirety -- yet belonging to that whole in itself orients (i.e. renders meaningful) its parts relative to themselves & one another; but a whole that itself is merely a part of a greater whole reduces the parts of the lesser whole to mere aggregates or ensembles organized by (i.e. oriented from) "on high" -- thus, interests which transcend the world (i.e. divinity) trumping the interests of beings-in-the-world (i.e. mortality). An analogue, to my mind, for a world with (a) god is a parasite with a host -- wherein does meaning lie? Certainly not with the parasite alone. At best, with the relationship between them, which seems enough, I think, to make my point.



Edited by 180 Proof on Mar 6, 2013 - 4:22 PM. Reason: Relative to an absolute, all is meaningless (i.e. "vanity"). O__o
On Mar 8, 2013 - 8:28 PM, Emptyheady responded: Relative to an absolute, all is meaningless (i.e. "vanity") Ah nicely phrased. Ultimately this is true.
hughsmith23
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Posted Mar 6, 2013 - 4:30 PM:

Emptyheady wrote:


...to despair...?. I can hardly believe that people are genuinely and deeply depressed by this. The fact that all life will end, i.e. mortality. It is like, when you go to a party and you know that you have to leave eventually. Realising this should not depress anyone. You enjoy the party, for as long as it lasts.

I also feel that this kind of "despair" or "depression" is quite arrogant. Like the world owes you something. Like you deserve more.

Life should be more like this:

Welcome young fellah! Welcome to the party. Here are two people who "intended" you. They will show you around for some time. There is some cake and drinks on the table, there should be enough for everybody. We have got some rules here to keep up the mood. Now blow your candle and enjoy the party.


Its not really a causal model (they may not be depressed by that) by its a diagnostic model - that is why they say they are depressed. But they never say "who intended me" - they do in paricidal Dostoyevsky novels and Arthur Miller plays - how can I live if my father is a nobody? (e.g. if my father was incapable of intending me properly ) - but that is not really a religious crisis.

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Posted Mar 6, 2013 - 4:35 PM:

It is easy enough to imagine that a world without God is meaningful or more meaningful - without God we are rendered independent. Our achievements - especially our moral achievements - are fundamentally our own, rather than checking against some answers at the back of the book. If we discover, it is because we are truly intelligent, and not because the world was made discoverable. If we find love or care then it is something that comes from us and from something for which we are essentially a conduit. We move us, rather than God moving through us. We are simply ourselves.
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