Is life ultimately meaningless? For anyone who bothered to read the 1905 page suicide note by Mitchell Heisman, a nihilist who spent 5 years writing the note before dressing all in white and shooting himself in the head with a 38 while standing on the steps of a Memorial Church in Harvard Yard, one may actually think so.
But his sister Laurel didn't think so. After his death, said said she wishes she could have "made him see more of the beauty of life, and
how we create our own value and give our own meaning to life."
Religion tries to anchor that meaning outside of ourselves. It gives those who feel hopeless some hope that there is a larger story that they are a part of, and that no matter how bad things get, Heaven awaits all those who patiently suffer all of "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" that life can hurl at them.
In truth, the ultimate answer to the meaning of life that religion offers never lives up to its billing. Like a food that claims to satisfy all hunger pains forever after, the "meaning of life" that religion offers does not actually satisfy people's quest to find the ultimate meaning of life. If it did, people would not need to go to constantly reinforce that "answer" by praying, reading their bible or other religious books, and going to Church every Sunday, just to try and continually convince themselves that the "answer" they have found is the right one.
Worse, however, is the ultimate vanity and hubris that comes from thinking that we, among all other species of intelligence, have been given the ability to ask the question "what is the meaning of life" for no other reason than that we can actually "know" or discover such a meaning that must lay outside of ourselves.
Why, we are left to wonder, does our desire for "meaning" lead us to conclude that such a "meaning" must exist that is external to the one we provide? How could we ever determine that any answer we come up with - including answers related to God, religion, an eternal afterlife, etc - are not ideas that have been transmitted to us from an omnipotent, heavenly "being," but are simply ideas that we alone have come up with from our own mind?
After all, that the former may feel far more satisfying to us does not mean it would feel that way to plenty of others. Nor does the fact that it may feel more comforting to us to think that way in anyway confirm that it must therefore be true.
But why oh why must need to know the meaning of everything? Can we not look at a beautiful landscape like a masterful piece of art and appreciate it without having to know what it all must "mean"? Why must everything "mean" something anyway? And is not this quest to find some ultimate meaning to everything itself simply showing an all too human prejudice for elevating human thought over the enjoyment of human experience?
That many of us (but certainly not all) may want or even "need" to have a "meaning of life" to allay our anxieties says far more about us than it does about whether any such "objective" meaning must actually exist or not. And on a certain level, is it not these very anxieties that we so seek to allay, that drive us to cling so desperately and fearfully to our answers, that we will gladly engage in any manner of immorality to defend?
Indeed, perhaps the very fruit the serpent tempted Adam & Eve with in the Garden of Eden was none other than that they would "be like God," by abandoning the freedom to simply experience life, and instead be forever addicted to having to figure out what it all means.
But by convincing people that there is, and must be, an ultimate "meaning" to life, and that we of all species have been given the specific kind of intelligence necessary to both ask the question and find the answer (an answer which comes from God, no less), may itself be simply a means by which our own curiosity is used agaisnt us by charlatans of every stripe who seek only to enrich and empower themselves by providing us with the answers we may have been simply conditioned since birth to crave and depend on.
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