A Startling Admission

If anyone has been following the recent posts surrounding “meaning” and my observations regarding the curious need on the part of atheists/materialists to still use terms denoting spirituality and enchantment even though their world-view would never produce such terms and concepts, there was a rather interesting admission made from a respondent.

I think the admission significant enough to address further here. The entire context of the conversation has surrounded the idea of “meaning” in the sense denoted when we use terms like spirituality, enchantment, morality, and the external artifacts that are produced out of this desire for meaning such as art, music, literature, poetry, sculpture, cinema, and other such areas. My observations have been that atheists/naturalists/materialists still feel the need to talk about these areas (spirituality, enchantment, morality) in a meaningful way when at the same time their world-view divests them of any reality or significance.

Obvious questions arise: How or why could an amoral, purposeless, meaningless, and value-less universe produce moral, purposeful, meaningful, and valuable persons? The answer on the part of one atheist is that the universe doesn’t—we have to create our own meaning, purposefulness, value, and morality. But clearly that only raises further questions. Why would we need to do this if those values, qualities, features do not really exist outside our subjective minds? That would mean they could find no fulfillment or correlate with anything outside our inner world/life. It would also mean we could attach any meaning, even the very opposite meaning, to anything we wanted—it wouldn’t matter. Plus, it still wouldn’t explain our need to do this in the first place. This position seems rather absurd to say the least. Nothing has been offered that comes even close to answering these questions.

So, given this context, my ever vigilant atheist friend has posted several responses and comments. Here is the exchange I think significant:

“At risk of being obvious, meaning in the affairs of humans and other animals is also an empirical matter- we have desires and those desires translate directly into meaning. If I want food, then food is meaningful to me, perhaps highly meaningful.”

“I am sure this is hardly news to you, and the question is simply which illusion is better- the illusion that you have, which involves baroque fantasies and “true belief” in a projection of this meaning out to a sponsoring imaginary being (much as Santa Claus supplies much of the meaning of Christmas to those who believe), or the far more modest illusions that I have…”

“Clearly, I am talking about very different illusions in these two cases. I hope you can appreciate that what one believes is not dispositive over what is. No one should believe in things that are not true. Yet there are certain aspects to our constitution that automatically create illusions for us. The sense of sight is a good example.”

Before we go any further, notice what is being done here. Instead of tracking with the context of the conversation which was a discussion of “meaning” in the sense of spirituality, enchantment, morality and the external manifestations of meaning such as art, poetry, literature and music, he throws out two physical aspects to life, hunger and physical sight. Neither one of these has anything to do with “meaning” in the sense we were speaking. Physical sight has nothing to do with our need to assign meaning or create works of meaning (ever heard of John Milton or Ray Charles?). Our need for food is obvious for survival, but we will not die without poetry or music.

But putting that aside for now, when I pointed out that it seemed to me he was speaking of these areas of meaning (as in spirituality, enchantment, morality) as if they were only “illusions,” here was the critical response/admission:

“I am sure this is hardly news to you, and the question is simply which illusion is better- the illusion that you have, which involves baroque fantasies and “true belief” in a projection of this meaning out to a sponsoring imaginary being (much as Santa Claus supplies much of the meaning of Christmas to those who believe), or the far more modest illusions that I have…”

Well, it is news to me. There isn’t a single part of the gospel that orthodox Christians believe to be an “illusion” in any sense of the word, regardless of how any atheist cares to characterize it. However, to admit that this is what one believes about his own world-view is rather startling even with all the equivocating and qualifying done to soften the admission afterwards. Further, it confirms one of the points asserted in my posts—that the atheist/materialist does not really believe there is anything behind the words “spirituality” “enchantment” “morality” or similar terms. After reduction, they stand for nothing; they are “illusions” of things that for some reason play out in our respective minds—things that have no bearing or connection to the physical world in which we live. I guess my friend might see it as a universal schizophrenia. What most of us consider the most important and significant aspect to our lives, our search for meaning and our ability to recognize meaning, in this scheme is not the sighting of a true oasis but rather a mirage—it is always a mirage.

How ironic. The cold, rational, and scientific materialist asserting his belief in illusions, while the mystic, intuitive, spiritual Christian asserts his belief in the cold hard reality of meaning reflected in everything about him.

Beyond that, finally, at the end of the day, what my friend offers us is this: “Far more modest illusions.” How about no illusions? That is what the Christian vision offers. Your choice.

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2 Responses to A Startling Admission

  1. Burk Braun says:

    Meaning that is <>“reflected”<> because its origin is … you! Remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. An object can be meaningful only if you have a relationship with it- dependent on your mental state and your memories. An example is the < HREF="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meaning_of_life" REL="nofollow">meaning of life<> itself, which to each person appears to be idiosyncratic and dynamic. Truly a never-ending search, as you say, because the destination is where you would never expect: <>within<>.Suppose you were a cricket- what would the meaning of life be then? Why would you imagine that humans have any more intrinsic meaning than crickets? I am sure that your god assures you that the order of things is that humans have more meaning than crickets do. But perhaps it is really the other way around. There is no way to tell, other than through the stories we tell ourselves.I can hear your reply now.. “As long as we are making up stories, why not, in the time-honored way of religion, make up a <>whopper<>?”

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  2. Darrell says:

    Or, it is “reflected” because it is meaningful…we recognize the meaning…I think the rest of your response simply makes my point again. For the atheist, meaning is an illusion, a “whopper.” For the Christian, the inner life and the outer physical world fit and make sense. It is one seamless story; one we don’t create, but are invited to step within. Both are real and the meaning is real. To the world, the Christian offers what they sincerely believe is a true narrative that makes sense of the whole. By your own admission, what the atheist offers is only the illusion of meaning, a “whopper.” It is just a more modest “whopper.” No thanks. I prefer reality.

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