Wednesday, 5 January 2011

'meaning', 'purpose', 'sin', 'God'

The following questions were recently put to me:

1) In what way are you 'seeking meaning and purpose'? Are you seeking it through science, religion, or what?

2) What do you understand by the terms 'sin' and 'sinners'?

3) Do you think/believe that God exists? Why or why not?

I would be very interested to hear anyone's response to these.

My response was this:

I seek ‘purpose’ by endeavouring to maximise the time I spend doing things that I find enjoyable and/or interesting. That can involve science, religion and many other things, e.g. swimming, humour, dance, politics, travel, … (the list is long).

I don’t know about ‘meaning’; I haven’t given that enough thought, e.g. I don’t have a clear idea of what ‘meaning’ means. (I even think there might be some (much?) truth in the adage held by some that ‘life is meaningless.’)

‘Sinner’ only has meaning if one has some moral code for humans in mind. Then a ‘sinner’ is anyone who transgresses that moral code. Different people have different moral codes, so will differ in their understanding of ‘sin’ and ‘sinners’. For example, I believe it’s immoral to exterminate a group of people because they happen to fall short of your standards in some respect; Nazis, in contrast, believe it’s virtuous to exterminate such people; therefore, they and I would differ in our understanding of ‘sin’ and ‘sinners’, although we would both apply the same logic: a ‘sinner’ is someone who transgresses the moral code that you yourself believe in.

Does God exist?
The concept ‘God’ needs clarification. Because I don’t take much interest in the subject, I only have rough ideas of what people mean by ‘God’. I will answer the question based on what (I think) people seem to mean by ‘God’.

1) God is a supernatural consciousness that directs the universe:
I don’t believe or disbelieve that. It seems a tenable thesis because it can (apparently) be convincingly argued that science explains nothing, merely elucidates the ‘how’ of natural mechanisms. So, regarding the question of how these mechanisms come to exist in the first place, a ‘creator’ seems a tenable proposition. Only if I took far more interest in the question of God’s existence could I come to the conclusion that the ‘creator’ concept is either nonsense or convincing.

2) God is a father figure in whom one should have ‘faith’. Not doing so means that, after death, you will be condemned to eternity in hell:
I don’t believe that, primarily because I don’t believe in fascism and fascist leaders, which is what this conception of God amounts to: ‘swear allegiance to me or suffer the consequences.’

The main reason I don’t take much interest in religion and God is as follows (and I think this reason applies to most people who share my disinterest):

My (perhaps crude) understanding of religion is that it is primarily concerned with morality, e.g. the correct way for humans to live. The problem, then, is that religious people, throughout history and the present, don’t mark themselves out as more moral than nonreligious people; indeed, it can easily be argued that people of religious faith behave far more immorally than nonreligious people. If anyone fails to lead by example in their professed area of expertise, then they are bound to fail in getting people to take them seriously.

(An example from the education world is this: I don’t take the judgements of school inspectors, e.g. Ofsted, seriously because I know that very many of them are failed teachers. They do not lead by example in their professed area of expertise – knowing what constitutes good education, so they cannot be taken seriously. When people do appear to take them seriously, it is only out of fear of inspectors’ perceived power. So this is like people’s fear-the-consequences ‘belief’ in God: people believe in Ofsted – or God – for the same reason that the citizens ‘believed-in’ Big Brother in Orwell’s ‘1984': fear.)

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