Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Meaning of Meaninglessness

Many people have argued that humanity is privileged because we have meaning in our lives. Religious people often say that God has made us as a mirror image of his own magnificence, and we should rest assured that nothing happens outside of his cosmic plan. They say, moreover, that even the astronomical notion of the Goldilocks zone proves God's paternalistic love for us. I find this theory quite boring and contradictory to particle physics. Particles seem to move in chaotic spasms instead of well-defined paths; randomness is an apparent characteristic of nature.

But where does that leave humanity? How can we find meaning in a meaningless, godless universe? These questions plagued existentialist philosophers like Sartre, Nietzsche, and Camus. These philosophers have truly struggled with the idea of personal meaning. Sartre, in his work Existentialism is a Humanism, gives us a prescription for this very struggle. When claiming that human existence precedes essence, he writes, "... man first exists: he materializes in the world, encounters himself, and only afterwords defines himself. If man as existentialists conceive of him cannot be defined, it is because to begin with, he is nothing. He will not be anything until later, and then he will be what he makes of himself. Thus, there is no human nature since there is no God to conceive of it" (22). I find this observation personally astounding and hopeful. Where the Christian believes that he is born a sinner from the sins of his ancestors, the secularist is free to make his meaning on his own. This is truly liberating.

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