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009 The Meaning of Life and Other Tall Tales

In Meaning of Life on November 27, 2009 at 1:07 pm

IN SEARCH OF GOD

We have pretty much exhausted this avenue of consideration for the meaning of life, for how can an inconsistent god provide direction on what is expected of us? If a loving god is still in the picture, then perhaps it is also a god who is not all powerful, for a loving god would not set up the earth to be a place where fear of death is constant and omnipresent. I will ignore the long list of inconsistencies because I am sure you are familiar with them, from incest to murder.

To say that god works in mysterious ways is to say nothing meaningful. There is nothing mysterious about creating a place of death, sacrificing your own son to die in that place, and threatening to destroy the planet if we don’t figure out what he wants from us. Furthermore, god can only act in mysterious ways if he exists, and I am at a loss to prove it either way.

Additionally, if you consider what he is selling and what we are buying, it is nothing short of loss of autonomy for you and me. If I do what god (or his highly placed priests) want from me, the price is my eternal, unquestioning obedience and my continual singing of his praises (starting now!). The word for that is “slavery.” On the other hand, I could have as many as 100 years of total freedom, before I am punished for exercising free will. If this is the only choice, why would I choose immediate incarciration?

My god would be a loving god

Most Christians don’t feel they need to prove this step because the only unforgivable sin in Christianity is disbelief. No matter how the proof comes out, there is only one answer. My bias says to that bias, how can you be sure you haven’t backed the wrong god? (Remember, as discussed earlier, at the same time and place that Jesus was vying for the title of messiah, there were more than 200 other “messiahs” laying claim to the throne.)

A true believer would perhaps also be concerned that they have not inadvertently selected the devil to worship because they didn’t make the effort to verify this god that claims to be the one, true god.

My god would be a tolerant god

An extension of a loving god, called out separately because I cannot believe that any god worth his salt would be so petty that he tortures his creations for an eternity for failing to measure up. Mistakes are bound to happen, particularly with so much in the way of imperfection in the world. I believe that if there is a god, he forgives mistakes much more readily than man forgives, and seeks no revenge, but teaches non-violence in its place. If we prefer the violence we can easily find it everywhere on earth.

My god would be nothing like man

My god would be a force for positive unification of the power that is the universe, that has no anthropomorphic resemblance to man. A life force that I would liken to Carl Jung’s collective unconscious, or Ralph Waldo Emerson’s transcendental oversoul, or even Stephen Spielberg’s the force. Or perhaps all three, and still more, which serve to remind us that one man is a pathetic wretch, but six billion, properly educated, are a formidable force in the universe.

FINDING MEANING WITHOUT GOD

It is clear that we are going in circles. Whatever god is, he is not our guardian in any sense of the word, and there is nothing we can do for him that he cannot do for himself. The traditional way of painting him makes him the Dictator, the King, the Emperor, the Warrior, or any other dictatorial figure in our history. What we need is a President, a Prime Minister, or any other open-minded individual who is also truly interested in his fellow man.

We need to act on facts, not on fictions. So unless one of you out there steps into my life and says he thinks differently, I think it is time to write-off the silver-tongued individuals who wish to manipulate and control us. Even if we are wrong, creating a life where we are taking care of each other for 80 or more years is much more important than singing the praises of a tyrant for an eternity. And if I am wrong, then this is not the place I want to be, anyway. Next week we look at alternative meanings.

Copyright © 2009-2010 by Tad Laury Graham

“The Meaning of Life and Other Tall Tales”

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008 The Meaning of Life and Other Tall Tales

In Meaning of Life on November 17, 2009 at 7:49 pm

IN SEARCH OF FACTS

We now have the minimum tool set required to sift through clues in search of facts.

  • We begin by asking the inevitable questions,
  • We compile a list of things known through opinions and interpretations,
  • but which cannot be proven,
  • We derive a second list, this time of facts which can be proven,
  • The second list is shown to be true, and right under our noses for thousands of years with the questions of the first list, with little or no change.

For the sake of completeness, we should note that we previously introduced a two-part theory which states that we cannot understand the meaning of life without understanding the meaning of death and vice versa. We may or may not try to prove this theory later, but it feels important, so it has been labeled and filed for future use.

For contrast, lets identify an initial list of facts.

  • All living things eat, and are eaten by other living things.
  • All living things kill other living things.
  • All living things die, from the perspective that physically we are gone from this world (regardless of where we might or might not return).
  • All animal species known to man have members that are gay.
  • All animals and plant life are evolving,
  • These changes occur rapidly, and have been observed for many years.
  • All living entities experience pain and illness,
  • Yes, even plants feel pain, experience fear, and have memories (NOT opinion, but FACT!)

Every statement on this list is a fact  because we can prove that every statement on this list is true. Now let me give you an opinion that illustrates why we might want to include them in our search for meaning: there is an inconsistency between what these statements say and the existence of an all-knowing, all powerful and loving god who watches out for us. I do not think it would add anything to the discussion to labor over these statements ad nauseum. For me, and by now for you, they should come under the category of intuitively obvious.

If it seems unfair to bind you by these rules, let me say that you also may personalize this list with some true statements of your own.

  • If you say, I believe in god, then we take this as fact. It’s a fact that you believe in god.
  • You can even believe in the inconsistent god of the Bible.
  • But, if you say, there is a god (my book says so), then we take this as opinion, and we respect your choices, for afterall we cannot prove you wrong.

More to come next time.

Copyright  © 2009-2010 by Tad Laury Graham

“The Meaning of Life and Other Tall Tales”

007 The Meaning of Life and Other Tall Tales

In Meaning of Life on November 12, 2009 at 10:35 pm

IN SEARCH OF CLUES

The first action we will take is to explore how far we can get looking only at opinions. We will attempt to define the boundaries of what would be an acceptable answer. This may seem like stuffing the ballot box to ensure that the answer matches our own bias, but the issues are so large when looking at belief systems that we could grow into old age before we begin to appreciate the complexities of the task.

The first boundary that we can probably agree on is that opinions provide clues, but they fail to provide certainty. This is why I gave you a very complete (perhaps too complete) picture of my own personal biases (i.e., it is difficult to know what influences what in this complex environment). Furthermore, clues provide theories to be tested in the field, so to speak.

Second, but of some importance, to ask “what is the Meaning of Life?” presupposes that we live our lives for a purpose. I will assume that most would agree, since the most common “reason” for being here includes getting closure or finishing something. But so far, we are only talking about process, and to really understand we need to talk more about substance.

We could start by asking:

  • What are we supposed to finish?
  • Is this task specific to each individual, i.e., is it different for each of us?
  • Or is this a group task, whereby we are supposed to work together?
  • How would we figure out what we are supposed to be doing?
  • Why don’t we already know the answers to these types of questions?
  • Or are we born with the answers hard-wired into our brains?
  • What would this suggest about the nature of free-will?
  • And many other such statements …

Perhaps the first thing we notice about these statements is that they are inspecific. In fact they are high level, broadly based and infused with popular opinions. And that is the key to these kinds of questions, they are about opinions. It’s the method we have been using for centuries to understand our world, but we have gotten no where for the diversion.

None-the-less, as stated above, opinions are useful in providing clues to understanding. For now, lets begin the analysis of some of this data with the statements: “Why are we here? What are we supposed to finish?” We have already noted that this question is too broad to be meaningful, and perhaps too vague to prove, so lets start by forming some additional, plausible theories, using the statement list:

  • [Theory 2a] Maybe god works through man to achieve his goals. Maybe we are some kind of caretaker for the planet, a stand in for god who is busy in other parts of the universe creating more worlds where new life forms can thrive.
  • [Theory 2b] Maybe that was the mission that god gave to Adam and Eve, the job of first caretakers, starting with the Garden of Eden—until god fired them for eating the fruit “from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.”
  • According to the scriptures, when Adam was asked why he ate the fruit he basically said, the woman made me do it. On hearing this, god makes every woman on earth a second class citizen, to suffer pain in child bearing, and to be subjugated and kept in their place by men.
  • Yet god is not convinced that the problem is handled, and he banishes both Adam and Eve from the garden before Eve can tempt Adam to taste the fruits of the Tree of [Eternal] life.

This scenario, while contrived by us, would explain why god is suddenly an absentee landlord, and what he thought was required to keep us in line until he got back. It would explain the appearance of not caring. Maybe, just before god left, he really did say that he would annihilate us when he returned, if we didn’t get it right. As usual, however, there is no evidence that this scenario is true, but it does provide some theories that can be further examined.

This approach of trying to explain away man’s biased views of his personal god, of his own design, out of his own personal need, without proof leads to disbelief. The problem with this approach is that we have to suppose an awful lot to get to a plausible, satisfying explanation. And the facts do not support the case, except in a superficial way.

For example, we could be caretakers. The message can be found in the Bible that we are to take care of each other, and other forms of life. But do we really believe that god so despised half of the human race, that he subjugated them to pain and slavery for the rest of time for wanting to understand the difference between right and wrong?

This post will end with a quick summary:

  1. It would be pushing it to say that god left on a mission, and man stayed behind on a mission, without an exchange of a single word of instruction.
  2. We can’t seem to go down any path for very long before we are confronted with an inconsistent, angry, punitive, bully that people call god.
  3. I don’t know whether or not god is reality, but I truly believe that this god, the one that hates women, would be an affront to any real god.
  4. Finally, even when we fabricate the answer to the what-if, we still have no facts to base it on.

By the way, if you missed the 1st comment at the end of this section, where Terry (The Other I) talks about catastrophic events that have influenced man’s thinking on the nature of god, please do take a look.

More to come next time …

Copyright © 2009-2010 by Tad Laury Graham

“The Meaning of Life and Other Tall Tales”

Questions I have been asked

In Meaning of Life on November 9, 2009 at 9:42 pm

I received two questions over the week-end, apparently causing the readers some confusion. The questions were submitted as follows:

  • “What is Yahate?”-  Yahate is a family surname, used by the Ojibwa Indian tribes. The Ojibwa are called Chippewa in the United States (but Ojibwa prefer the traditional name for their people).
  • “What [is] the meaning … of facts and opinions?” – A simplistic method of categorizing what can be known and what cannot be known. If we can prove a statement to be either true or false, we say it is a fact. If we cannot prove a statement true or false, we say you are giving your opinion. For example, if you say you believe in god, that’s a true statement, and therefore a fact (unless you lied). But if you say there is a god, that’s a subject of much speculation. It is not a fact, but an opinion. However, an opinion does not prove that god doesn’t exist, only that there isn’t enough information to prove one way or the other. (Which is why I am an agnostic, not an atheist.)

I was also asked about the meaning of tall tales.

  • A tall tale is a story that exaggerates a truth into a lie to make a point. If we go that far in the series, we will will identify when we are on shaky ground (to keep the academies happy). The reason for adding it is that we often take ourselves too seriously, and we miss the point: life above all else was meant to be lived. Otherwise, why bother going through the pain of birth, child hood, and 40 years of a career we didn’t choose, before we finally get to do what we want, only to find out that we are dying, which shouldn’t be a surprise because that’s the next step in the grand scheme of things? In case you are wondering, yes, I just told you a tall tale.

Copyright © 2009-2010 by Tad Laury Graham

006 The Meaning of Life and Other Tall Tales

In Meaning of Life on November 4, 2009 at 12:06 am

METHODS OF INQUIRY REVISITED

Most of us, at one time or another, expend a fair amount of energy in wishful thinking regarding something we want, or something we want to do. It turns out that the more energy we put into the thing we want (i.e., the more we invest of ourselves, and our egos) the more we tend to believe that we are entitled to it. There is something about pursuing a goal that the longer you pursue it, the more you think you should achieve it.

So where am I going with this? Let me suggest the following: religion is not trivial; most people have expended a lot of time thinking about what they believe. Many are still asking the questions, i.e., have made a huge and continuing investment in the decision. And most have arrived at an answer based on emotion, often fear, and irrespective of the facts.

On the other hand, we often agonize over these decisions for no justifiable reason. Nothing is permanent (fact), and all paths lead to the same place (opinion), which in English goes by the name of Death. Through Death, we either find the missing piece of the puzzle (i.e., through some form of life after death), or we find that life has no meaning (at the instant of death). No amount of wishful thinking will change this.

As much as we possibly can, we will construct fact-based arguments, which (ideally) are proven to be true. Remember what we said earlier:

  1. A fact is a data point that can be proven true or false.
  2. An opinion is a data point that cannot be proven true or false.

There are many types of opinion. I have already mentioned that an opinion in the scientific world is often called a theory. Wishful thinking is an opinion-driven argument. Speculation is the expression of an opinion. We can have an informed opinion, or a misinformed opinion. Regardless of what we call it, it’s still an opinion, unless proven otherwise. Therefore (in my opinion) The Meaning of Life, when taken in its totality, weighs in as an opinion unless we prove otherwise.

Intuition (and a certain amount of stubbornness) tells me that we might be able to prove pieces of the great cosmic puzzle. You might see this as an inconsistency, for only a few posts back I pointed out that we were missing part of the definition: The Meaning of Death. Taken in its totality we had to consider both sides of the coin.

But if we can find a smaller “piece,” taken in its totality, we have a better chance of proving that smaller piece. And if we find enough smaller pieces that are facts on their own, we might be able to discover some new truths, through combining some older ideas.

Copyrite © 2009-2010 by Tad Laury Graham

“The Meaning of Life and Other Tall Tales”