The Necessity of Secularism, pg 11-12

Oct 3, 2016

“What is the point of my life?” This question cannot have haunted many people in earlier centuries; they were too busy scratching out a living, providing food and shelter for their families, fending off threats to their health and security. But now that we have pretty well solve the most pressing problems of staying alive, and have the free time to reflect on what it all means, we are assaulted at every turn by a flood o information about the apparently meaningful lives of a lucky few – doctors, judges, guitar heroes, sports stars, billionaires, celebrities, politicians, explorers of ocean depths, and conquerors of the highest mountains. If we can’t all have glamorous lives – if we can’t all be famous for even fifteen minutes – what is the point, really? Why should we care about anything?
The best answer today has been the best answer for millennia: find something more important than you are, and devote your life to it, protecting it, improving it, making it work, celebrating it. But doesn’t this usually require forces with others, finding a supporting organization with a clear vision? Yes, it does, and for centuries the premier options have been religions, made all the more irresistible by one of the great master strokes of advertising: you can’t be good without God. There may well have been a time when this was practically true, when the only feasible path to a life of importance (and we all want our lives to be important) was to be a member in good standing of one church or another, one temple of another. Step One in the project of having a meaningful life was to be God-fearing. Those who weren’t God-fearing were seen as disreputable, untrustworthy, sinful, defective, empty.”

–Rob Lindsay, The Necessity of Secularism, pg 11-12


Discuss!

12 comments on “The Necessity of Secularism, pg 11-12

  • “What is the point of my life?” This question cannot have haunted many people in earlier centuries; they were too busy scratching out a living…

    The best answer today has been the best answer for millennia: find something more important than you are…

    If most people for most of humankind’s history couldn’t afford the luxury of even thinking about the question, how could the ‘best answer’ have been around for millennia?

    When one’s life is wholly dominated by just satisfying basic needs (food, shelter) and life expectancy is short, obviously there are very few things that are more important than oneself.

    Even when one’s life has been largely freed from those restrictions (like in ‘developed’ Westernized societies), the tendency to keep behaving as if there were very few things more important than oneself still lingers…



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  • “What is the point of my life?”

    So far this year I’ve given two eulogies. When I wrote them I tried to include every major accomplishment of the two deceased. What they loved and what they hated. What did they struggle with and what natural talents they had. I researched the simple facts of their lives like birth dates and places and their education. I talked about the places they’d traveled to and other adventures they’d had.

    If someone wonders what the point of their life is, try writing your own eulogy and see if it sounds like something you can be ok with. Will you be satisfied with your legacy? Have you been a good leader? Helped others when they really needed you? Maybe this would inspire those who are searching for a point or purpose in life to reach out and grab a few opportunities to fill in those blank spaces on their future eulogy.

    Too morbid? 😉



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  • …we are assaulted at every turn by a flood of information about the apparently meaningful lives of a lucky few…

    But we all know better, don’t we? Appearance of meaning is not meaning.

    “What is the point of my life?”…The best answer today has been the best answer for millennia: find something more important than you are and devote your life to it…

    All this does is move the “what’s the point” question one step away from oneself. Never mind “more important”; what makes anything important at all? Isn’t important just a synonym for meaningful? If I conclude after much navel gazing in my abundant free time that my own life is unimportant and ultimately meaningless, how could I possibly find anything else important at all, much less more important?



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  • Hi LaurieB [#2],

    If someone wonders what the point of their life is, [they should] try writing [their] own eulogy and see if it sounds like something [they] can be ok with

    I tried this and I kept coming up against the question: What is it for a life to ‘have a point’ – what does that even mean?

    Beats me.

    My life is for me to live – does that equate to a point (purpose, theme, apex, aim, goal, meaning … etc.)? I tried writing my own eulogy, as suggested, and if I have/had any intentions they don’t – either individually or taken together – give a single over-arching goal or meaning, so, no.

    My life has had goals – both short and long term. Is there some repercussion of having set myself goals that obliges me to interpret my life as having a single point – an acme? If there is I can’t see one.

    Did I achieve all my goals (so far)? No, and many are now beyond my reach. [Aside: This is an interesting point that religions often side-step – doors to alternative futures close all the time and often without us knowing, understanding until it’s too late, or even if we tried to get our foot in … ]

    If someone says to me that my life should, or does, have some meaning – even a hidden meaning (whatever!) – what are they saying? The religious frequently say this kind of thing about themselves and, by inference, about the rest of us (because passive-aggressive has never gone out of fashion in theology).

    The agenda of the religious when they ask us to reflect on ’our life’s point’, they say, is to help us see the light …

    Rob Lindsay: But doesn’t this usually require … finding a supporting organization with a clear vision? Yes, it does, and for centuries the premier options have been religions, made all the more irresistible by one of the great master strokes of advertising: you can’t be good without God

    Lindsay is definitely on to something. The very idea that we ought to have an over-arching goal (or point) to simply living is religions’ premier sales pitch and, before I forget, what do religions say about the goals we didn’t achieve?: You lacked the vision that we can give you! The flip side of that coin being: You klutz! Because, you know, the religious are nice people … Of course “it’s never too late”, even murderer’s have a route into heaven from the Condemned cell …

    Thinking about your life as if it ought to ’have a point’ is thinking using religious rules.

    Is religious advice, in more general terms, a good way to learn about ourselves and the World in general? No. Peter Boghossian has gone over this enough times: The epistemology of faith is a bad way to learn about anything if you value truth.

    Will you be satisfied with your legacy?

    I do applaud you for this Laurie, it is a good idea to write our own eulogies and to look at these kinds of questions. It will help us to understand why we may have got our priorities wrong – and that we really should be using our time more wisely. But you don’t need to include thinking about your life’s ‘point’ – because that’s pointless.

    Have you been a good leader?

    Do I have to be a leader at all?

    Too morbid?

    Nah! 😛

    Peace.



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  • For those not interested in philosophy, a trigger warning: This is a philosophical take on the extract (above) from Rob Lindsay’s book.

    In his famous work The Myth of Sisyphus Albert Camus says: “There is only one really serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.” Camus says this after determining that life has no meaning and that there is something deeply absurd about the human quest for ‘life’s meaning’. I’m not going to go into his arguments for this conclusion – if you want to know, read Camus.

    If life has no meaning, how do we deal with the likes of Camus and live life without thinking that suicide is the answer?

    Nietzsche also thought that life was devoid of inherent meaning. But he thought we could give it a kind of meaning by embracing illusion (e.g. through art – if we think in terms of Treckies and COMICON folk that’s probably a little harsh on many of them, but it’s Nietzsche’s general theme). Some of us would say that this is exactly the solution embraced by the religious: In the sense that religions offer ’comfort’ by side-stepping the truth of our very existence.

    Camus’ solution is that the Absurd Hero doesn’t attempt to escape from reality via the illusions of art or religion. Camus does not despair in the face of the absurdity he sees. Going back to Sisyphus:

    In Greek mythology Sisyphus was a King punished by the gods (for bragging, and for being sly and dishonest) by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a mountain, only to watch it roll back down to the bottom, and having to do this every day for eternity. Sisyphus recognizes the futility and pointlessness of his task, yet he willingly begins to push the boulder back up the mountain every dawn.

    Camus’ view is that the gods were wise: They saw that an eternity of futile labor is a hideous punishment. Yet, at the end of The Myth of Sisyphus Albert Camus says that we have to “imagine Sisyphus happy.”

    The Ancient Greeks did not say how Sisyphus endures his punishment, and that is why he is Camus’ Absurd Hero. Sisyphus’ willingness to shoulder the burden anew, each and every day, tells us what we need to know about Sisyphus’s state of mind. In that time, as the rock rolls away from him at the top of the mountain, and in his walk down the mountain to begin again, Sisyphus is briefly free from his labor. He is fully aware of the absurdity of his fate – including that he has no hope of reprieve. And yet … at the same time … Sisyphus sees himself and his situation with great clarity, rationality and understanding. For a while he is free, he is eternal and it’s all downhill …

    The only sadness for Sisyphus comes to him when, in these brief moments, he remembers what he used to be, what he did and what might have been (writing his own eulogy?). But because Sisyphus accepts his fate all sorrow and melancholy are quickly vanquished. What Camus is saying is that accepting the “crushing truths” of our existence, like the eternity and futility of our fate, is what makes them crush us. But, like Sisyphus, we can rise above that.

    Or, as Bob Marley put it:

    You just can’t live that negative way. You know what I mean. Make way for the positive day. Cause it’s a new day…
    .
    You not supposed to feel down over whatever happen to you. I mean, you’re supposed to use whatever happen to you as some type of upper, not a downer

    Peace.

    p.s. Yes; Bob was Rastafari and that means I quoted a theist. Get over it.



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  • 6
    Pinball1970 says:

    @#2 LaurieB “try writing your own eulogy and see if it sounds like something you can be ok with. Will you be satisfied with your legacy?”

    Insightful bonnie.

    I think the idea of writing one’s own eulogy is a pretty daunting option.

    I know what my failures and short comings are, so I would be lying to myself if I did not include them.

    I agree with Steven OW, “It will help us to understand why we may have got our priorities wrong – and that we really should be using our time more wisely.”

    I may have a stab at this if I am feeling brave, at least I know I won’t be judged by a dead jew and his fake dads rule book.



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  • SoWimbleton

    I agree that having a point to life is pointless. Too narrow in focus maybe. I still like the legacy idea because it feels broader and more interesting and more forgiving. A legacy is more about what one gave to others and less about my own myopic concerns. This is where the leadership thought came in.

    I find myself to be in a leadership position in my own family and with my in-laws as well. It’s not all to my credit of course. It has to do with my age (fifties), and other things about me that aren’t really accomplishments. Well, hmm. Some of these things are accomplishments and some aren’t. So at this point in my life I look around at other families and see what their leaders are doing well and what they’re slacking on, and then, what are the consequences of both. I take the good and reject the bad from these observations.

    Ethical assertive leadership makes a big difference in families and in the outside world too of course. I come from an old style authoritarian family model and I knew I didn’t want to perpetuate that. But how to find a better way? I had to look outside for better models and my readings on pragmatic ethics filled in the rest. A. Grayling’s books were wonderfully helpful and also P. Singer had great contribution too. They really changed the way I run my family and gave me the guts to stand up to those who were a bad influence on these matters. A little practice and then it becomes second nature.

    So I think this is all about what I want my legacy to be. That I mustered up the grit to make big changes in my own worldview and for the extended family based on new ideas of right and wrong, good and bad, valuable and not valuable. After that, I want to extend that out into my widening circle of empathy and role model that for the younger set who will hopefully install that as part of their basic operating brain system and not have to reprogram themselves in their thirties as I unfortunately did. I lost a lot of time because of this. Trying to make up for that now. The old archaic programming still seeps through the cracks from time to time. ugh.

    Maybe this is the point of my life. Maybe there is a point after all. But I’m making my own point, not some cosmic asshole in the sky doing it for me!

    You just can’t live that negative way. You know what I mean. Make way for the positive day. Cause it’s a new day…

    Love that.

    Rambling as usual 😀



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  • Pinball

    I may have a stab at this if I am feeling brave,

    In my family it’s me who is apparently elected with writing and reading the eulogies. I realize that many people just can’t stand to be involved in this. No judgement there. But I can tell you that for the person who is going to read and write yours someday (far, far in the future 🙂 ), the best favor you can give them is to have ready at least a rough draft, written by you, for them to use as a template. When in the depths of despair, hunting down facts like dates of graduations, military service, marriages, etc seems like a depressing chore and sometimes there’s just not enough time to do a good job with this. If at least these milestones are organized then the writer can devote themselves more to the feeling of the piece. If you can get that far, with the basic outline, then add some thoughts about what delights you and what angers you. What are you proud of and what are your lessons learned the hard way. What do you hope for in the family, in the society, and in the world? Jot it down, tell the people close to you that it exists and tell them where it is filed for safekeeping.

    The thing is, if we don’t take some initiative on this sort of thing, there is a risk that no one else will be able to take it on for one reason or another and the problem is that a clergy member might be brought in to do the job for them. This is inadequate and objectionable to many of us. Clergy will botch it up and you’ll end up with a generic religious eulogy and I for one can’t tolerate that.

    At the next holiday, Thanksgiving (which I hate) I’m going to gently prompt several family members to get moving on their fact sheets and take it as far as they can. I might handle this as a sort of interview with prepared questions to prompt them. This is me delegating! It’s a lot better than washing dishes. har har!



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  • 9
    Pinball1970 says:

    @8
    We have discussed this before Laurie in another post I think.
    If it was someone I was close to I think would struggle to stand up and speak.
    The recent funerals I have been to spoke about jesus and heaven a lot because they were church dos. This helped me though because it made me think, “Oh shut up!”
    It took my mind off the fact my friend or relative was dead.
    All the silly, stand up, kneel down, let’s burn some incenses and do some chanting is also a great distraction.
    I will take your advice however and write about the things that are important to me.
    There will be a part on the importance of secularism, it will be the last chance I get to lecture everyone in a place where they cannot just up and leave the room!



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  • PB

    Yes, I think I do remember this on another thread.

    I get to lecture everyone in a place where they cannot just up and leave the room!

    haha

    Well of course that is irresistible!



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  • Pinball1970 #9
    Oct 7, 2016 at 8:13 am

    There will be a part on the importance of secularism, it will be the last chance I get to lecture everyone in a place where they cannot just up and leave the room!

    Ah! But the stronger fundamentalist religions are more determined to seek numerous opportunities to lecture while preventing people from “leaving the room”!

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2016/09/when-does-praying-in-public-make-others-uncomfortable/#li-comment-212328



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  • “What is the point of my life?”

    Well,
    What is the point of everything?
    Why Good is Good and Bad is Bad?
    Why it is Good to be Good and Bad to be Bad?
    Is keeping our fellow humans in good spirits is borne out of reciprocity or is it engendered in our DNA to look after our fellow beings? (If so why do non-vegetarians do not apply that to animals?)
    Why are humans so obsessed with the meaning and purpose of life? Is it the restlessness of the human mind that it wants to make something out of NOTHING?
    If we want of make something out of anything… here is it: We are meant to be born, we eat when we are hungry, we have sex when we want to, we die when our heart stops. A bit reductionist I suppose, but to me living human beings are just that. All the rest are a manipulation of the mind on different levels, whether it is an asexual starfish or bisexual chimpanzees or humans.
    Meanwhile as species armoured with good communication skills, we can debate on the purpose of life just like monkeys jump from one branch to another until we die without knowing the purpose or believing that we have known the purpose.
    Good luck to us!



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