essay by Daniel A. Foster
“What meaning does your life have, if there is no god, no afterlife? What does your existence mean to you without the promise of eternal love?”
I hope, and I suspect, that you FEEL what’s wrong with that question. Humanism is, if nothing else, a joy for life that transcends dogma. Even as you intuitively sense the absurdity of that question, consider for a moment the logical fault at work in the question – consider the assumptions that lie under the inquest.
Christians believe in an infinite afterlife of bliss. For the pious, life here “on earth” must be a bit of an annoyance – a 79-year waiting room. If you are looking forward to an infinite amount of time in blissful serenity, then what relevance do material life and finite time possess? What could it possibly matter if you eat, or go to work, or even to get out of bed in the morning? Death holds the ultimate significance for the believer, and that exempts this life from any true meaning. A lifetime on earth does not even make a noticeable dent in an infinite time scale.
On the other hand, those of us who recognize the finiteness of our time hold death to be irrelevant – death is nothing at all. Hence, we recognize that life is the only truly precious thing we have. Every passing moment is crucial because it is so quickly – and so permanently – lost. Unlike the believer, whose life-span is a negligible bump on a path to eternity,time is the only commodity that Humanists truly possess. To fully appreciate each and every moment of that time is our most challenging goal, and is what elevates our lives above that of believers. We strive to understand and appreciate others, we seek justice for ourselves and for others, we work to secure peace for our world, because the preciousness of our time here demands it. There is no big-daddy to make things better for us, and if we leave this life without having made a positive change to it, we have failed to recognize and exercise the value of our finite existence.
When someone asks you what meaning your life can possibly have, speak seriously about the preciousness of your existence. Explain that it is precisely BECAUSE of your freedom from religious myth that you find meaning in life, and it is BECAUSE you reject appeals to supernatural power that you revel in exploring the depths of science and social justice. Explain that believing in a god would rob life of its significance, of its relevance, and of its passion and beauty.
Robert Ingersoll once wrote of the joys of freedom from god-belief. His words, which follow, are a beautiful tribute to the brilliance of Humanism…
The Joy of Freedom
Robert G. Ingersoll (1833 -1899)
When I became convinced that the Universe is natural – that all the ghosts and gods are myths, there entered into my brain, into my soul, into every drop of my blood, the sense, the feeling, the joy of Freedom. The walls of my prison crumbled and fell. The dungeon was flooded with light and all the bolts, bars and the manacles became dust. I was no longer a servant, a serf, or a slave. There was for me no master in all the wide world – not even in infinite space.
I was Free.
Free to think, to express my thoughts
Free to live to my own ideal
Free to live for myself , and those I loved
Free to use my faculties, all my senses
Free to spread imagination’s wings
Free to investigate, to guess and dream, and hope
Free to judge and determine for myself
Free to reject all ignorant and cruel creeds, all the “inspired” book that savages have produced, and all the barbarous legends of the past .
Free from popes and priests
Free from all the ” called ” and the “set apart”
Free from sanctified mistakes and holy lies
Free from the fear of eternal pain
Free from the winged monsters of the night
Free from devils, ghosts and gods
For the first time I was free. There were no prohibited places in all the realms of my thought – no air, no space, where fancy could not spread her painted wings.
No chains for my limbs
No lashes for my back
No fires for my flesh
No master’s frown or threat
No following another’s steps
No need to bow, or cringe, or crawl, or utter lying words.
I was free. I stood erect and fearlessly, joyously, faced all worlds. And my heart was filled with gratitude, with thankfulness, and went out in love to all the heroes, and the thinkers who gave their lives for the Liberty of hand and brain,
For the freedom of labor and thought
To those who fell on the fierce fields of war, to those who died in dungeons with chains.
To those who proudly mounted scaffold’s stairs
To those whose bones were crushed, whose flesh was scarred and torn
To those by fire consumed
To all the wise, the good, the brave of every land, whose thoughts and deeds have given freedom to the sons (and daughters ) of men (and women ).
And I vowed to grasp the torch that they held, and hold it high, that light might conquer darkness still.