In Part 1 of this series, I outlined the three main arguments in Ravi’s talk, “Why I Am Not An Atheist.” Today I will deal with the second point — that without God, there is no ultimate meaning, therefore no hope.
The Christian apologist William Lane Craig, in a discussion with atheist philosopher Shelly Kagan, made the same argument. Since the naturalist does not believe in an afterlife and since the universe is predicted to end sometime in the far future and everything will die anyway, then there is no ultimate meaning and our lives do not really matter anyway. In other words, the Nazis were neither right nor wrong as they tortured the Jews because everyone’s existence ends anyway.
Kagan was quick to point out the flaw in this sort of reasoning. How do you go from saying “since life has no ultimate meaning” to there is therefore “no meaning AT ALL?” The torture surely mattered to the Jews who were undergoing it. It mattered even to some Nazis who realized the horror of what they have done afterwards and scarred them for life. To use a more recent example, it is wrong to say that since there is no ultimate meaning, then it doesn’t matter that people were killed or hurt during the recent attacks in Paris or that innocents were also killed or hurt as France retaliated at Syria.
Just because something doesn’t last forever doesn’t mean it doesn’t hold meaning. You give a box of chocolates or a bouquet of roses to your loved one knowing full well those things won’t last more than a few days. You spend time with them, talking, playing games, or watching a movie. Do those things last? No. Are they meaningless? I doubt if you would agree. (I explore these issues in an older essay, Death and the Meaning of Life)
Do our lives become meaningful only because someday after we die, we can sit around sipping heavenly coffee with Jesus, swapping stories about the good old times on earth?
On the contrary, I can use Christianity to argue that life on earth is meaningless (except for around 5 minutes of it). The central teaching of Christianity is that Jesus died for man’s sin and his death acts as a substitute for our own. And so, even if one has done evil most of his life but makes a deathbed confession (like the “good” thief crucified alongside Jesus), he is deemed worthy to enter the pearly gates. So those 5 minutes you spend confessing your sin, feeling sorry for what you have done, and asking Jesus into your life as your Lord and Savior, becomes the sum total of your life. Everything else you have done is meaningless. Every little bad or good that you did is rendered moot and pointless.
Now, preachers make that sound like such a grand thing. That God himself gave you that precious chance to “repent and be saved.” But let’s put this back in the context of the examples we used above. It means that the Nazi who tortured and killed Jews, but survived and later on made a deathbed conversion to Christianity, is now in heaven — while the Jews he murdered are now in hell (since Jews don’t believe that Jesus is the messiah). It also means that the terrorist suicide bomber in Paris is roasting in hell alongside the atheist Parisians he bombed (I’m not saying that all Parisians are atheists but I’m assuming some of them were). I hope you see the absurdity of this picture.
Think about that now. How meaningful are the lives of these “souls” now suffering in hell? All their little victories, their art, music, laughter, joy and love were all for nothing because they didn’t accept Jesus’ “offer” of salvation. Zacharias criticizes the meaninglessness of atheistic philosophy yet is blind to the senselessness of his own doctrine. The Buddhist doctrine of karma, reincarnation, and continual striving for enlightenment makes more sense than this.
I myself do not know whether or not there is an ultimate meaning after all, but that does not prevent me from finding meaning NOW, from finding joy and sharing it with my loved ones NOW. Your life matters, not because someone else says it matters, but because you yourself recognize that it does.
Originally published in Sunstar Davao.