Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Can life have meaning without God?

Peter Anderson raised this issue earlier today on Twitter:

Without God life is ultimately meaningless "...for apart from Him who can eat or who can have enjoyment." (Ecc. 2:25)

I have written about this previously as part of my criticism of the Alpha Course.

I think that life does have meaning without God.

I know many people who do not believe in God, for a variety of reasons, yet all of them find meaning in their lives. Here is a summary of some of the ways they do this:

  • We all contribute to the development of the world through our children, but also through the work we do and the way we interact with and help other people. These might seem insignificant when viewed up close, but in the context of all human development they are very important because what comes after needs the foundation that we have built.
  • People seem to find meaning in being part of the whole of creation. By understanding our part in the ecosystem we don’t feel disconnected from the natural world. The feeling of disconnection that many people feel is the result of urbanisation and is quite recent in human history.
  • Some of my friends find meaning through art and music.

Painting unbelievers lives as meaningless is wrong in three ways:

  1. It aims the churches message at those who are dissatisfied and therefore vulnerable, whilst ignoring those who are essentially quite contented and for whom the case for God would have to be clearer.
  2. It contains an implicit reverse argument that if someone cannot find meaning in their own life then they do not have God. This is not going to encourage people who are struggling in their faith.
  3. It limits the activity of God to calling people to repentance and otherwise only acting for believers. Yet, the new testament is full of stories of Jesus doing things for non Jews.

Of course this position also contains another reverse argument that if your life has meaning then you already have God. In fact many Christians do believe that life can have meaning for someone who does not acknowledge God.

Christians believe that God created everyone in his image. By recognising this image in all people many Christians are able to celebrate the meaning, purpose and value in the lives of people who do not believe. If God is omnipresent then he is in unbelievers too and doing more than trying to make them repent.

The main problem with trying to claim that life without God is meaningless is the plain fact that it isn't. Most people lead contented and meaningful lives. People of other faiths do too.

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