Does Life Have Meaning Apart from God?
by Andy McLean
Does life have meaning? Is there purpose to our existence? Questions like these are not unique to the modern thinker. Individuals have been asking the same question for centuries, and the answers that have been offered are the ones consistent with the competing worldviews and belief systems of the time.
Not only that, but they are questions asked not only inside a philosophy classroom, but can also be found within popular films and television series. From the nihilistic comedy of Seinfeld to most of Woody Allen’s films, talk about the meaning of life liters the contemporary landscape.
For instance, take Woody Allen’s comedy film Stardust Memories as an example. In the movie, the main character finds himself having a bit of an existential crisis when he begins to start questioning the meaning of it all. In talking to some friends, he says, “Hey, did anybody read on the front page of the Times that matter is decaying?….The universe is breaking down….Soon there’s not going to be anything left….There’s not going to be any Beethoven or Shakespeare.” For him, the implications of these physical processes is nearly too overwhelming to consider, leading him to despair as he contemplates the meaning of his life.
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Yet to go beyond a Hollywood answer to this question, one needs to begin by first settling the larger question concerning God’s existence. This is because the question about whether life has meaning is directly tied to whether God exists. This idea was illustrated somewhat recently by the late atheist Christopher Hitchens, who was once asked in a debate, “If God does not exist, what then is the purpose and meaning to life?” Hitchens responds, in typical fashion, by turning what would otherwise be a serious question into an opportunity for lighthearted humor. He says, “Well, I can only answer for myself. Whatever cheers me up. I suppose mainly gloating over the misfortunes of other people.” On a more serious note, he goes on to list other things, such irony and sex, before saying that every one of us is making a “clear run to the grave.”
Why would Hitchens respond this way? Is this the standard answer of the self-professing atheist, or the inevitable outcome of a naturalistic worldview? It would seem that an answer along these lines would certainly follow from the atheistic worldview. This is because, as Hitchens well knew, if God does not exist, then the objective grounds for ultimate meaning and purpose do not exist either…