The Meaning of Life

When you are getting older, it is probably normal that you think more about ‘existential’ questions regarding Life and Death…:-)

  • Is there an Afterlife?
  • Do we have an Immortal Soul?
  • Has (my) Life a Meaning?

My background is (Protestant) Christian, but already during my student days I lost my faith. For many years I called myself an agnostic, but during the last decade I became more and more interested, reading a lot (Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens) and I became a staunch atheist.

Actually I try to avoid the word atheist, because it raises aggression in many people.

So I call myself a secular humanist. The god of the Abrahamic religions does not exist, he (she?) is a human construct, a meme. I do not believe in an immortal soul or in an afterlife. This life is the only one I have. When my body dies, my mind will be no more, it will be the end of my “I”.

Life is without meaning. It developed on Earth, 3.8 billion year ago, probably only once. Everything that is alive now, is offspring from this common ancestor. There has been an era of the dinosaurs, now we live in the era of homo sapiens, the next era may be dominated by insects. Let’s not overestimate our importance.

Has my life a meaning? That is a different question and I think the answer is yes. We are social animals and can only survive in a group. Our relation with this group (family, friends, society) gives meaning to our life.

Recently I came across an impressive letter about these topics, written in 1931 by the American journalist and writer H.L. Mencken . The full text can be found here , where also background information is given.

The letter ends with:

I do not believe in immortality, and have no desire for it. The belief in it issues from the puerile egos of inferior men. In its Christian form it is little more than a device for getting revenge upon those who are having a better time on this earth. What the meaning of human life may be I don’t know: I incline to suspect that it has none. All I know about it is that, to me at least, it is very amusing while it lasts. Even its troubles, indeed, can be amusing. Moreover, they tend to foster the human qualities that I admire most—courage and its analogues. The noblest man, I think, is that one who fights God, and triumphs over Him. I have had little of this to do. When I die I shall be content to vanish into nothingness. No show, however good, could conceivably be good for ever.

Well said!

This will not be my last post about religion/philosophy and related matters

5 thoughts on “The Meaning of Life

  1. Thank you for having the courage to boldly state your philosophy, Jan. You have precisely described the development of my own philosophy and given me some good literary leads. I have always been rather timid and reluctant to explain my feelings (yes, my Faith), fearing that I might either turn others against me or, alternatively, make such a strong case that it could destroy the long established faiths of others, causing them discomfort and loss, which I would not want to cause.
    To Ash, I would like to say that I don’t think of it as sad, at all. I am convinced that, as a human, I could not adapt to the changes that I’m sure will take place in the coming centuries. I, too, am content to simply cease to be a part of the world of the future, just as all are who preceded me. I have had a very good life and hope to have the same for as long as I am alive, but when it’s over, it’s over. That’s the way nature works.

  2. “Has (my) life a meaning?” really is a strange question without
    specifying (or asking) for whom. You answer that: for friends, family,
    society. And that answer makes it obvious that (your) life has meaning,
    no need to even ask the question ;-).

    But I think you forgot to mention one party: yourself. Perhaps you have
    some protestantism left to get rid of ;-), it’s quite alright if your
    life is meaningful to yourself, as well as to others.

    • Thanks for your comment.
      I still value parts of my Calvinist background!
      The Christian God does not exist, but the Christian Bible contains many gems of wisdom.
      My favourite Bible book is Ecclesiastes.
      If you have not read it yet, please do!
      It starts in an impressive way with:

      “Meaningless! Meaningless!”
      says the Teacher.
      “Utterly meaningless!
      Everything is meaningless.”

  3. HI Jan,
    We all all children of the stars and when we die, all the atoms in our bodies which were forged in the stars, will return to unite with all the other star dusts. This should give all atheists as much comfort and satisfaction as the religious believers in the souls with an afterlife. Cheers. From Richard Yap.

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