What is "Meaning?"
Does Meaning Matter?
In a previous post I argued that we can not have ultimate, big-picture meaning in life if there is no God (the best we can have without God is “purpose”). Many questions were not answered in that post. For instance, what is meaning? Why does it require God? Does meaning matter?
What is meaning and why does it require God?
I think meaning requires God because meaning assumes intention. When you find ‘meaning’ you find something that was ‘meant to be.’ But meant by whom? It does not make sense to ask “meant by what” because meaning requires intention, and intention requires intelligence (see: The Universe is a Crime Scene). Inanimate matter does not have intelligence and can not intend anything. Intelligence is necessary.
But not merely intelligence. If I wander into a cave and find chalk paintings of woolly mammoths I have to assume an intelligence with the capacity to make these particular chalk drawings. Likewise, if I am contemplating meaning in life, I need to assume an intelligence great enough to create life the way we find it. So it is not just intelligence, but “right sized” intelligence.
Furthermore, it would be silly to say that the wooly mammoths, the one’s etched on the cave wall, somehow intended themselves to be drawn the way they were drawn. It would be silly, that is, to say that they meant for themselves to be there the way we found them. Silly, silly, silly. The source of meaning of the cave drawings must be the artist who etched them. Likewise, it would be equally silly to say that humans are responsible for their meaning. The source of meaning for humans can only be their creator. “Meaning” requires a creator. And, in our case, that creator has to have the size of intelligence capable of creating the universe and human life. This can only be God.
Does Meaning Matter?
My first reaction to this question is: NO. In a practical sense it does not seem like meaning matters. People can live full-length, purposeful lives that are, ultimately, totally meaningless. It seems, on first impression, that if atheism is true and there is no God, meaninglessness does not limit us in the most practical, everyday parts of life. There is a world of pleasures and preoccupations to usher us through our long lives and gently distract us on our descent to our deaths. This is the way it seems.
But things are not so simple. If theism is true and God created us for a reason, then meaning exists whether we acknowledge it or not. If we were “meant to be,” or if we were created for a purpose, then life simply has meaning - whether you are an atheist, christian, muslim, or whatever. Just like when a democratically elected president is my president whether I voted for him or not, so too life has meaning whether I acknowledge it or not.
This makes assessing the importance of meaning difficult because, assuming theism is true, we can not really compare a meaningful life with a meaningless one. If God exists there are no meaningless lives. An atheist lives and dwells amidst the fruit and aroma of God’s meaning despite their denial of his existence. Humanity was meant to live in love relationship, and atheists soak in the riches of love even though they deny the source of love. So, arguing about the importance of meaning is like two sharks arguing, one of which is denying the existence of the ocean.
Even the nihilist, who denies meaning in life, can’t escape the meaning that exists all around them. Watch them as they seek a community of like-minded people, expressing their social nature (as they were meant to). Indeed, the nihilist who cries out “there is no meaning” reminds me of the Westboro Baptist Church yahoos who were belittling Steve Jobs on Twitter - from their iPhones!
Thus, whether meaning really matters or not must remain speculative. But the fact that so many atheists are so eager to claim that atheism does not lead to meaninglessness exposes how important meaning is to them. In my opinion we can survive without meaning, but we can not thrive. In my opinion meaning is very important. We all seek meaning, as we were created to, and we are all sensitive to futility, as we were created to be.
- CATEGORY: theology for your God-shaped hole