I wrote this article for the Valley Harvester, a local newspaper. It is an introduction to the matter of meaning, edited down significantly from the friendly debate I had with Dr. Paul Abela at Acadia in March.
A taxi driver in London had Bertrand Russell in his cab. Russell was the most famous philosopher of his day. The cabbie couldn’t miss the opportunity to ask him about the meaning of life, “So, what’s it all about?” Russell could only respond with silence.
What is it all about? Does life have meaning and purpose, or is it a random series of events that we endure until we die? The struggle for meaning is a universally shared human experience. Why am I here? What should I do with my life? Who will love me? What will happen when I die? These are all basic questions of human existence, the answers forming a worldview, a lens, through which we view the rest of life. This lens helps us to make sense of our lives.
Our worldview can lead us to believe and behave as though it all means nothing. In response, humanists say, ‘Carpe Diem!’ or, ‘seize the day!’ ‘Yolo’! Do whatever you like because you are here for only a fleeting moment. Or, our worldview can lead us to value our experiences of love and beauty, and to see in them meaning beyond the moment, beyond here and now, as a window into eternity.
To put it simply and starkly, there are two affirmations about what is means to be human. One, we will die. Two, we know that we will die. These affirmations cause us great anxiety. We know there is nothing to do to stop the creeping process of age and death, yet we also know that our minds and our hearts are caught up in eternity, a sense that through our creativity and love, we are so much more than a physical body. We are a soul, a spirit. We long for eternity beyond the certainty of death in this world.
The author and former atheist, A. N. Wilson found through his experience of the world, in particular through losing people he loved, that purely material explanations for our existence are insufficient. Language, love, and music led him to conclude that human beings are more than meat, here on the earth by accident. He became convinced from the evidence, that ‘we are spiritual beings and that the religion of the incarnation, asserting that God made humanity in His image, and continually restores humanity in His image is simply true.’ Wilson found new hope in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who ends the cycle of life and death with an affirmation of love and life.
To know we are loved by God, and so to love him, and others, in return lies, at the heart of life’s meaning. Ultimately, we cannot say that we hold the meaning of life. But we can be confident that the Meaning of Life holds us. And that’s a good place to start figuring out ‘what it’s all about’.