Sunday, February 11, 2007

Meaning IN Life

In one segment of his series, "Searching For Heaven on Earth," Dr. David Jeremiah discusses, and answers for us what is "meaning in life." Today's sermon on this subject was truly awesome. I may need to complete it over the course of several days and posts.

Before I get started on sharing the sermon notes, I decided to google the phrase, "meaning in life." Over 95 million links came up! However, most of the ones I viewed (in the first 30 pages) were headlined, "meaning of life." It appears that most people write about the meaning of life, rather than gaining knowledge and information about meaning in life. What's the difference you may ask? You might discover the difference at the end of this series of posts.

I did find a few links that were entitled, "meaning in life." But I found them quite lacking (as compared to Dr. Jeremiah's sermon) in the information shared.

One link was written by DERK PEREBOOM and was titled: "MEANING IN LIFE WITHOUT FREE WILL." That author based his writing upon philosophical thoughts. He had some good things to say, but he lost me when he wrote:

One might argue, however, that we nevertheless desire to be loved by others as a result of their free will. Against this, it is clear that parents' love for their children -- a paradigmatic sort of love -- is often produced independently of the parents' will. Kane endorses this last claim, and a similar view about romantic love, but he nevertheless argues that a certain type of love we want would be endangered if we knew that there were factors beyond the lover's control that determined it. He says:

There is a kind of love we desire from others -- parents, children (when they are old enough), spouses, lovers and friends -- whose significance is diminished... by the thought that they are determined to love us entirely by instinct or circumstances beyond their control or not entirely up to them... To be loved by others in this desired sense requires that the ultimate source of others' love lies in their own wills. (Kane, 1996, p. 88; cf. Anglin, 1991).

The plausibility of Kane’s view might perhaps be enhanced by reflecting on how you would react were you to discover that someone you love was causally determined by a benevolent manipulator to have the love she has for you.

Leaving aside free will for a moment, in which sorts of cases does the will intuitively play a role in generating love for another at all? When the intensity of an intimate relationship is waning, people sometimes make a decision to try to make it succeed, and to attempt to regain the type of relationship they once had.

Notice the lack of discussion about the role of commitment and covenant being essential in a loving relationship. If we read down a bit further, the closest he gets to even mentioning such a thing is this:

...a marital relationship ideally involves a continuously repeated decision. Indeed, many of us might very much desire a relationship with this sort of voluntary aspect. But again, it is difficult to see what is to be added by these continuously repeated decisions being freely willed in the sense required for strong accountability, as opposed to, say, expressing what the agent really stands for. It might well be desirable for each participant that the other make these decisions. But that the participants should in addition be praiseworthy for these choices seems hardly relevant.

Continuously repeated decision? Seems rather cold and me. I didn't find much satisfaction regarding finding meaning in life within that particular philosophical evaluation.

Then I found this link: More Meaning in Life. But I found that link unsatisfying, too. It was a post that was limited to the concept of "Setting (and remembering!) goals makes frugal living enjoyable."

Decided to go on to page 31 and found a Rabbi's philosophical idea interesting, but still lacking in any all-encompassing search for meaning in life.

OK. I'd better check some of the "meaning of life" links. Since there were so many, I just picked the ones that happened to catch my eye.

If you go to Wikipedia's site, you'll need weeks, if not months, to go through all of that material there!

However, at the top of the page it says this:

There is no question. The meaning of life, the universe and everything is 42.

I thought to myself...what?

Further down, this one offering states how many different ways even the question can be interpreted!

"What is the meaning of life?"

means different things to different people. The vagueness of the query is inherent in the word "meaning", which opens the question to many interpretations, such as: "What is the origin of life?", "What is the nature of life (and of the universe in which we live)?", "What is the significance of life?", "What is valuable in life?", and "What is the purpose of, or in, (one's) life?". These questions have resulted in a wide range of competing answers and arguments, from scientific theories, to philosophical, theological, and spiritual explanations.
These questions are separate from the scientific issue of the boundary between things with life and inanimate objects.

Now I know why Dr. Jeremiah specifically named his sermon, "searching for meaning IN life." It is a much more distinct question than "searching for the meaning OF life."

In my search, I found these interesting:

The meaning of life; can you find an answer on the web?

Yes...perhaps...if you want to search through all 95 million of them!!

Atheism, Depression, & Meaning: Do Atheists Lead Meaningless Lives?"

The author starts off claiming that such a thing (in the title) is a myth. Then, I thought that maybe he was on to something when he said this:

A theist might appear to be correct that, without God, there is no objective, externally imposed meaning or purpose to life. The universe does not seem to establish purpose to our lives, aside from perhaps reproduction, or meaning to our lives, aside from perhaps the sheer act of living itself. Thus it may not be unreasonable to conclude that, without the existence of a creator god, there may not be an objective meaning or purpose to our lives.

But, alas, he went on to state:

If, however, the need for an objective purpose or meaning is dispensed with, the need for a God is also eliminated. Do we need such a purpose or meaning? To be quite honest, I don't think so. It seems perfectly adequate for us to create our own meanings and purposes. Indeed, it is arguable that this is a preferable situation. When someone else imposes upon us a purpose of their own design, aren't we little more than slaves?

My answer? It's not "slavery" when one considers the concept of redemption through repentance. Repent is a word that is positive, not negative in meaning. "Re" means to "return." and "pent" means "highest position" (e.g. a penthouse is the highest position in a building.).

So, when we repent, we return to the past, highest position that was once enjoyed by Adam and Eve before the Fall.

At the Wikipedia page, I decided that I should post these, so that when I get into the actual sermon, you can look back at these thoughts, ideas and philosophies that have, as their goal, the desire to push God out of the picture when considering the "meaning IN life":

Atheistic views
Main article: Atheism
Atheism's strictest sense means the lack of belief that a god or supernatural overbeing (of any type or number) exists, and by extension that neither the universe nor we were created by such beings. Atheism pertains to three of the five interpretations of the meaning of life question: "What is the origin of life?", "What is the nature of life (and of the universe in which we live)?", and "What is the purpose of, or in, (one's) life?" Because most atheists reject supernatural explanations for the existence of life, lacking a deistic source, they commonly point to abiogenesis as the likely source for the origin of life. As for the purpose of life, some atheists argue that since there are no gods to tell us what to do, we are left to decide that for ourselves. Other atheists argue that some sort of meaning can be intrinsic to life itself, so there is no need for any god to instill meaning into it. Some believe that life is nothing more than a byproduct of insensate natural forces and has no underlying meaning or grand purpose.

Humanist views
Main article: Humanism
To the humanist, life's biological purpose is built-in: it is to reproduce. That is how the human race came to be: creatures reproducing in a progression of unguided evolution as an integral part of nature, which is self-existing. But biological purpose isn't the same thing as human purpose, though it may be a factor thereof. Human purpose is determined by humans, completely without supernatural influence. Nor does knowledge come from supernatural sources, it flows from human observation, experimentation, and rational analysis preferably utilizing the scientific method: the nature of the universe is what we discern it to be. As are ethical values, which are derived from human needs and interests as tested by experience.

Enlightened self-interest is at the core of humanism. The most significant thing in life is the human being, and by extension, the human race and the environment in which we live. The happiness of the individual is inextricably linked to the well-being of humanity as a whole, in part because we are social animals which find meaning in relationships, and because cultural progress benefits everybody who lives in that culture.

When the world improves, life in general improves, so, while the individual desires to live well and fully, humanists feel it is important to do so in a way that will enhance the well being of all. While the evolution of the human species is still (for the most part) a function of nature, the evolution of humanity is in our hands and it is our responsibility to progress it toward its highest ideals. In the same way, humanism itself is evolving, because humanists recognize that values and ideals, and therefore the meaning of life, are subject to change as our understanding improves.

The doctrine of humanism is set forth in the Humanist Manifesto [1] and A Secular Humanist Declaration [2].

Nihilist views
Main article: Nihilism
Friedrich Nietzsche characterized nihilism as emptying the world and especially human existence of meaning, purpose, comprehensible truth, or essential value. The term nihilism itself comes from the Latin nihil, which means "nothing". Nietzsche described Christianity as a nihilistic religion, because it removes meaning from this earthly life, to instead focus on a supposed afterlife. He also saw nihilism as a natural result of the idea that God is dead, and insisted that it was something to be overcome, by returning meaning to the Earth.

Martin Heidegger described nihilism as the state in which "there is nothing of Being as such", and argued that nihilism rested on the reduction of being to mere value.

Nihilism rejects claims to knowledge and truth, and explores the meaning of an existence without knowable truth. Though nihilism tends toward defeatism, one can find strength and reason for celebration in the varied and unique human relationships it explores. From a nihilist point of view, the ultimate source of moral values is the individual rather than culture or another rational (or objective) foundation. The characteristic that distinguishes nihilism from other skeptical or relativist philosophies is that, rather than merely insisting that values are subjective or even warrantless, nihilism declares that nothing is of value, as the name implies.

Positivist views
Main article: Logical positivism
Of the meaning of life, Ludwig Wittgenstein and the logical positivists said: expressed in language, the question is meaningless. This is because "meaning of x" is a term in life usually conveying something regarding the consequences of x, or the significance of x, or that which should be noted regarding x, etc. So when "life" is used as "x" in the term "meaning of x", the statement becomes recursive and therefore nonsensical.

Other philosophers besides Wittgenstein have sought to discover what is meaningful within life by studying the consciousness within it. But when these philosophers looked for a holistic definition of the “Meaning of Life” for humanity, they were stone-walled by the Wittgenstein linguistic model.

Logical positivism asserts that statements are meaningful only insofar as they are verifiable, and that statements can be verified only in two (exclusive) ways: empirical statements, including scientific theories, which are verified by experiment and evidence; and analytic truth, statements which are true or false by definition, and so are also meaningful. Everything else, including ethics and aesthetics, is not literally meaningful, and so belongs to "metaphysics". One conclusion is that serious philosophy should no longer concern itself with metaphysics.

Pragmatist views
Main article: Pragmatism
Pragmatic philosophers suggest that rather than a truth about life, we should seek a useful understanding of life. William James argued that truth could be made but not sought. Thus, the meaning of life is a belief about the purpose of life that does not contradict one's experience of a purposeful life. Roughly, this could be applied as: "The meaning of life is those purposes which cause you to value it." To a pragmatist, the meaning of life, your life, can be discovered only through experience.

Although I found many of the following lacking in depth concerning the absolute truth as revealed within the Bible, there are some segments within that can be considered biblically sound and agreed upon. (I have bolded my favorites)

Theistic beliefs
Main articles: Religion and Religious humanism
There are many different interpretations to the "Word of God", and therefore many interpretations to the meaning of life. However, reaching Heaven in the afterlife can be seen as a universal meaning of life or goal for followers of Abrahamic religions. Also universal teachings, or meanings, to be followed in virtually all religions are "The Golden Rule" and simple living.

Relationship to God
Most people who believe in a personal God would agree that it is God "in whom we live and move and have our being". The notion here is that we respond to a higher authority who will give our lives meaning and provide purpose through a relationship with the divine. Although belief is also based on knowing God "through the things he has made," the decision to believe in such an authority is called the "leap of faith", and to a very large degree this faith defines the faithful's meaning of life.

[Note: the following assumption is deeply flawed. For one thing, Satan's destiny has already been settled. Humans are here to find God through Jesus Christ and to worship Him forever; not to "settle a dispute between God and Satan." And, what's up with the mispelling of Satan's name? :]

Another belief by Fundamentalist Christians is that humans have been placed here to settle a dispute between God and Satain. The belief is that Satain thought that he could be as good as God, and therefore become God. With this God threw Satain out of Heaven. Satain appealed to God to be allowed back in by saying that none could follow God, or believe he is God. With that God made a deal with Satain, that if there was one believer in every generation, then Satain would be cast down into the lake of fire. Since the beginning of human creation, with the creation of the first man, Adam, and the first woman, Eve, there has been a believer in every generation. A Jewish believer before the coming of Christ, and followers of Christ after his coming. R.B. Thieme, and others ministries

To "be fruitful, and multiply; fill the earth, and subdue it"
An example of how religion creates purpose can be found in the biblical story of creation in the Old Testament of the Bible: the purpose for man comes from his relationship to God and in this relationship he is told to "Be fruitful, and multiply; fill the earth, and subdue it" Genesis 1:28. This indicates that subsequent to the goal of being in personal relationship with God, the propagation of the human race, the care and population of the earth, and the control of the earth (but as man sinned, he lost the full ability to do so, characterized by the fact that animals are not under full control) are the first three commandments God has set for man.

Another Biblical example is given in Micah 6:8, which states "He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." However, instructions given by God and the meaning of life (or the purpose of one's existence), are not necessarily the same thing.

To love God and neighbor
Another example, this one also from Judaism and Christianity, which agree broadly on two of their most important imperatives for life:

"The first of all the commandments is: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength'." This is the 'first commandment' according to Jesus (Mark 12:28-31), and is also a quote from the central prayer of Judaism, known as the Shema (Deut 6:4-9).
"And the second, like it, is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'." (Christianity: Mark 12:28-31). Judaism records this both in the positive sense (Leviticus 19:18: "Love thy neighbor") and the negative sense (Hillel, ""What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your fellow man. That is the whole Law; the rest is just commentary")
Both of these commands are relational and are primarily concerned with knowing God in order to equip the believer to maintain a loving relationship with other members of the human race. According to Benedict XVI, the ultimate reason for loving God and men is that "God is love" (Deus Caritas Est) and men are made in his image. The Christian God, he says, is the Logos, (the Word: meaning and reason).

Reformed theology: glorify and enjoy God
The Westminster Shorter Catechism looked at the history of what God has taught man, and summarized it at its outset: "man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever".

Finally, just for fun, I thought I'd include some of the humorous responses that have been given by popular culture. [Notice, too, the explanation (below) of the comment shared above that expressed that "the meaning of life" is "42."]

Humorous and popular culture treatments
The very concept "the meaning of life" has become such a cliché that it has often been parodied, such as in the radio series The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, later released as a novel, a television series, a film, and a computer game. As the story goes, an advanced race of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings (mice) builds a gigantic computer called Deep Thought to find The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything.

Seven and a half-million years later, the computer gives the answer: "42". After giving the answer to an (unsurprisingly) underwhelmed audience, Deep Thought explained that the problem with the answer was not the answer, but that no-one really knew what the question was. (It may be worth noting, that later on it is revealed to Arthur Dent, that the answer and the question cannot be known at the same time. In the book The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, it is found that the question is: "What do you get if you multiply six by nine." The answer would be 54 in base ten, but 42 in base thirteen.) In reference to this series, "42" is commonly provided as an honest answer if someone feels the word "meaning" is too vague. Joe Bob Briggs miscommunicated this in one of his columns as "43". In one strip of the parody comic "Sev-space" it is inquired "why the number 47 constantly shows up on the monitor?" it is then stated that "42 is the answer to life, the universe and everything... But you get 47 if you adjust it to the inflation." This is an obvious reference to the "Star Trek" series where the number 47 is heavily featured [5].

Or maybe there is no meaning to life; that is, "What you see is what you get", as portrayed in the comedy film The Meaning of Life: you are born, you eat, you go to school, you have sex, you have children, you grow old (if someone doesn't kill you first), and you die, and in Heaven every day is Christmas. At the very end of the film, Michael Palin is handed an envelope, opens it, and says nonchalantly: "Well, it's nothing very special. Uh, try to be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try to live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations."

In The Simpsons episode "Homer The Heretic", a representation of God tells Homer what the meaning of life is, but as usual the one who really wanted to know (the viewer) is left disappointed. The dialogue goes as follows:

Homer: God, what's the meaning of life?
God: Homer, I can't tell you that.
Homer: Why not?
God: You'll find out when you die.
Homer: Oh, I can't wait that long.
God: You can't wait 6 months?
Homer: No, tell me now...
God: Oh, OK... The meaning of life is...[Theme music starts and the show ends. The creator's original idea was that a commercial would come after this scene and before the credits, thusly having the commercial interrupt God's explanation to humorous effect]

In the Peanuts comic strip Charlie Brown explains he thinks the purpose of life is to make others happy, to which Lucy responds that she doesn't think she is making anyone happy, and—more importantly—no one is making her happy, so someone isn't doing their job.

Paul Gauguin's interpretation can be seen in the painting, Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

In Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, Bill and Ted end up meeting God. Before being admitted into his presence, St. Peter (billed as The Gatekeeper on IMDb) asks them what the meaning of life is, and they reply "Every rose has its thorn. Every night has a dawn. Every cowboy sings a sad sad song.". These are the lyrics to a song by Poison, a 1980s glam rock band.

Another popular belief is that the meaning of life is to die, according to comedians and other types of media. In a similar vein, antagonist Smith in the final part of The Matrix trilogy, Matrix Revolutions, tells the protagonist Neo that "it was your life that taught me the purpose of all life. The purpose of life is to end."

In the movie Judge Dredd (1995):

Warden Miller: So tell me, Rico, what is the meaning of life?
Rico: It ends.

Conan the Barbarian, in the film of the same name, when asked, "What is best in life?" responds, "To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women."

In several different media, the theme of finding one's individual path is revealed. For example, Coelho's "Alchemist" and the movie City Slickers both present a similar theme: the meaning of life is an individual journey to find one's own "path". In this context, the "path", similar to what is defined in Buddhism as the "4th Noble Truth", and is best explained simply as the overall way one chooses to lead their life. It is a different answer for each person, and the only obligation one has in life is to find his or her path.

Due to the apparently overwhelming "knowledge" of the MSN Messenger chat bot SmarterChild, its creators have claimed that the meaning of life is one of the most common requests from its users. The algorithm has since been tweaked so that instead of responding with a generic message, it replies with a humorous "ask Ken Ma" and a smiling emoticon. There has been speculation as to whether or not Ken Ma is a real person, whilst one common theory is that the name is an inside joke amongst the developers of the chat bot.

In his book "A Man Without a Country", Kurt Vonnegut sums up life with the words: "We're all here to fart around. Don't let anyone tell you any different!" Although it could be said that he believes the meaning of life was stated best by his son Mark whom he quotes in two books, stating, "We are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is."

George Carlin has once said that the meaning of life is "to find a place to put all your stuff". In another skit he speculates the meaning of life is that the earth wanted plastic which humans pollute the world with.

One popular phrase is "The meaning of life is 'to live': it's in the dictionary[6]" which, although technically incorrect ("life" is a noun while "to live" describes a verb), has both a humorous meaning, and a more serious one, implying that the answer is to enjoy the ride.

Interested in a sneak preview of what the sermon shares?

Here's three hints:

1. "Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever".
2. ...has both a humorous meaning, and a more serious one, implying that the answer is to enjoy the ride.
3. The only time to do something when it feels good is if it feels good to God.

HT: Wikipedia

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