By Donald Ardell Ph.D. | 13 March 2020
The majority of Americans and most people the world over claim to believe in the efficacy of prayer and life after death. I’m skeptical of both claims.
Regarding prayer, I truly doubt that even those who pray expect divine favors or genuine protection, faith fixes, miracles or other forms of response to their imprecations seeking mystical intervention. More likely, even the professed faithful would sympathize with Robert Ingersoll’s description of improved man, namely that he will not endeavor by prayers and supplications, by fastings and genuflections, to change the mind of the Infinite or alter the course of nature, despite the fact that they go along with such foolishness anyway as part of unexamined cultural traditions.
As regards an afterlife, realize that descriptions of such are always vague, never based upon verified reports from anyone who has certifiably died and gone there and returned to tell about it with believable details. These after-life lives are usually represented as spirit worlds, called heaven by contemporary Christians and countless names by other fiction writers and mythical faith systems. Examples include Valhalla, Paradise, The Elysian Fields, Zion, El Dorado and the Happy Hunting Grounds. (Note: Such grounds do not sound so happy for the life forms being preyed upon.)
Alternative to prayers and hopes for an afterlife
The alternative is to consider the facts of science and the overload of reason that strongly indicates life is meaningless. Seriously.
Do I really believe that life is meaningless? Yes and no. This three word phrase is paradoxical until the double meaning of these three words is described.
Yes, life is meaningless in the grand scheme of life, that is, in the sense that human and all other life forms are decidedly not part of an all-encompassing meaning and purpose. It means that human and other life forms are not here in some cosmic, eternal sense, guided by an invisible hand for all time.
In this sense, all life is ultimately meaningless in a cosmic sense. There is no grand purpose; oblivion is the ultimate reality for all life.
This sense of meaninglessness clarifies and enobles, rather than diminishes, how important OUR short lives are, lives that are more likely to be embraced, treasured and enjoyed when we realize this is the only one there is.
That is what is meant by life is meaningless, why it’s true in one sense and not true in another, namely, in the short time we have on this Earth.
Christian promises of eternal life blur and deny this reality, which takes imminence from the brief time available for rendering our individual lives meaningful to us and, hopefully, others as well.
A few more words to help effectively communicate this paradoxical idea. The idea of eternity destroys meaning and value in the here and now. The view expressed about meaninglessness means being aware that you are bounded by your life on earth; nothing whatsoever about you is renewed by death! You don’t have a soul, a spirit, a ghost or anything that will transmogrify. When you die, that’s it. You will be as you were from the beginning of time before your birth, and for eternity, that is, forevermore.
A belief in an afterlife distracts from a focus on seeking daily an exuberant embrace of this fleeting instant of existence. Death, when seen from a perspective or belief in an afterlife, means you always face a schizophrenic god who, though alleged to be divine, all good, all wise and otherwise a super stable genius, possesses a split personality. This truly vicious god, accordingly to most religions, will send you off for either everlasting bliss (bad enough) or worse, eternal torture. Pray, confess and do good all you like — you still can’t be sure the dungeon of unimaginable pain does not await.
The “afterlife” alternative: Oblivion, the same “freedom from care” that was your reality before a eukaryotic cell (zygote) formed from a fertilization event between two gametes, evolved in a womb and became you.
“May the Blessed Virgin Mary-Mother of God & of the Church, Health of the Sick & Help of Christians, our Advocate, help suffering humanity, saving us from the evil of #coronavirus & obtaining for us every good necessary for our salvation & sanctification.”https://t.co/HVIM4YN2hs
— National Catholic Register (@NCRegister) March 24, 2020
Recognizing that life is meaningless will enhance an appreciation for REAL wellness lifestyles. Such conscious awareness will also enable more people to focus on this precious, fast-passing existence and promote a willingness to liberate ourselves from the baseless hopes of improbable afterlives. While hope is the consolation of the world (Ingersoll), it’s best if hope is not based on myths, magical thinking, groundless claims or superstitions.
A little background for perspective
Humans are late arrivals on our 4.54 billion year-old Earth. Single cell life commenced some time after the oceans formed four and a half billion years ago, but multicellular life did not come about until 900 million years ago. Our species, Homo Sapiens, arrived roughly 200,000 years ago.
Is there anything about this that makes you wonder about a grand design concerning your life and all other life? Is life such a big deal, except to those of us present around this same era?
Keep in mind that the long-term future is not so great for future humans, or the planet itself. Besides the possibilities of countless natural and man-made calamities, such as asteroid strikes, thermonuclear weapons in the wrong hands (as if there ever were right hands for such things), worldwide pandemics, a supernova and/or unhinged megalomaniacal leaders with reprehensible instincts, never forget that there are certainties that support the view that life is ultimately meaningless.
Maybe the above factors have already convinced you. If not, consider what’s to come if our descendants hang on for a few billion years (not likely). Guess what? Eventually our sun is going to die. At first, it will start to expand, getting hotter and hotter. Earth will become a giant desert; only insects and bacteria will remain. Later the oceans will boil off and everything will catch fire. When the sun explodes, Earth and our solar system will be gone with nary a trace.
Still think that in some grand scheme life is not meaningless?
But, no need to go all Ecclesiastes’ about it and lament that all is futile, utterly futile. Your fleeting life need not be meaningless, though it will be futile in the not-so long term, so seize the hour, day and other periods remaining. Do even more: Suck this orange of life dry and welcome the Grim Reaper to have at the peelings. (Ingersoll paraphrased.)
In summary, there should be less confusion about the REAL wellness axiom that life is meaningless. Your life, my life, other lives being lived need not be so but all life is ultimately futile, utterly futile so get off your arse and live, love, laugh and be happy and give all others the rights you claim for yourself. (You know who.)
Your momentary presence on this planet as a somewhat advanced life form is a cosmic accident. It’s highly improbable — and a true wonderment. This life is it. It’s not going to last very long, even if you’re not a senior citizen. If you are, well, remember what they say about buying green bananas.
A few tips for making your life meaningful.
- Try to include as much joy, art, music, drama and love into life before you die.
- The end is near — get on with it. Make no mistake — all of this is good news. In fact, it’s an incredibly liberating perspective.
- Set a course that will lead you to live well and die happy.
- Celebrate — and shape your own meaningless existence in ways that are precious for you and particularly your loved ones.
In no way will this perspective lead you to ignore your wellbeing and the wellbeing of others. On the contrary, we know from Viktor Frankl, Irving Yalom and many existential philosophers who emphasized meaning in this life, that service to others is the surest path to happiness.
Many who can afford lavish self-indulgence have chosen causes and varied avenues of service to their fellow men and women, and derive personal satisfactions and passions in life from doing so.
Consider that holy books, creeds, dogmas, theologians and all who want you to believe in miracles, gods, eternal damnation for critical thinking tend to harden hearts and imprison brains. They are all enemies of intellectual freedom and REAL wellness.
How could life while it lasts not be meaningful if those of us who still have it were to read Ingersoll? Of course, there are countless others whose words deserve mention and would resonate and inspire, but I’m most familiar with those from the mind of Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899), so I’ll offer a few of my favorite Ingersollian contributions to a meaningful life. Happiness is the only good. Reason is the only torch. Justice is the only worship. Humanity is the only religion. Love is the only priest. My idea is to get what happiness you can in this life, to enjoy all happiness that breaks through the clouds of misfortune. Life is poor enough at best. No one should fail to pick up every jewel of joy that can be found in his path. Know that the highest possible philosophy is to enjoy today, not regretting yesterday, not fearing tomorrow… the time to be happy is now, the place to be happy is here and the way to be happy is to make others so.
Be well. Make a life, however meaningless, that is epic and triumphant.
Reprinted with permission from the author.
Donald B. Ardell is a lifelong promoter of REAL wellness based on reason, exuberance, athleticism and liberty. He is a life member of Freedom from Religion Foundation and publisher of the REAL Wellness Report. He’s also an Robert Green Ingersoll enthusiast who lectures on both wellness and “The Great Agnostic.” He is a champion triathlete, having won more than a dozen national and seven world titles in the sport. His website is donardell.com. His latest book is entitled, “NOT DEAD YET: World Triathlon Champions 75+ Offer Tips for Thriving & Flourishing in Later Life,” available on Amazon.com.
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