Meaning: Either it’s there or it isn’t

One of the most appealing aspects of the Judeo-Christian understanding of reality is the idea of meaning and purpose: everything — including my life — has both meaning and purpose. Unlike an atheistic understanding of reality, my worldview doesn’t require that I live a fiction: instead, I get to live my life exactly as it is: with a meaning and a purpose.

Let me unpack that a bit.

One of the great tragedies of contemporary American culture is that despite the abundance of material wealth and leisure time which the vast majority of us have, many of us are profoundly unhappy. There are many causes for this malaise, among them a sense of purposelessness and a lack of meaning.

To overcome both, some people try to maintain a state of perpetual distraction, while others throw themselves into their work, hobby, or something else which at least gives their life the appearance of meaning.

The conundrum is this: if the atheist is right and there is no God, then life has no meaning, and any attempt to give it meaning is fictitious. While the average atheist may not have thought this through, the more intellectually-serious and -coherent atheists have (e.g. the twentieth century British philosopher Bertrand Russell, as I discussed in this post).

On the other hand, the Judeo-Christian account of reality says that yes, my life has meaning, every circumstance I encounter has meaning… indeed, everything in existence has meaning.

Instead of living either a lie — pretending there is meaning where there isn’t — or a life of “heroic despair” — acknowledging there is no meaning and soldiering on anyway — I get to live an adventure: first, discovering the meaning of my life, and then living it to the fullest.

I’ll take the latter option, and twice on Sundays, thank you very much.

So… what’s the meaning of your life?

2 thoughts on “Meaning: Either it’s there or it isn’t”

  1. I’m trying to understand what you might “mean” by the two terms you use.

    Here’s how I’m thinking of them: Meaning is that-by-which a thing exists; purpose is that-for-which a thing exists. So in this crude schema, meaning answers a “why it is” question and purpose answers a “why it will be.” It’s been a while since I studied philosophy so these comments are likely incoherent, contradictory, or simply insufficient as definitions. We need a genus and a specific difference for each term.


    1. Thanks for your comment, Johann! I’m using both terms in there everyday sense, which lack some philosophical precision, but still get at something real.

      Meaning in this context has an internal (to the thing) dimension, while purpose has more of an external “feel,” similar to the meaning or purpose of, say, a sentence: there’s a difference between understanding what the text says (its meaning) and why it was written or uttered (its purpose).

      Again, these sensibilities of the terms lack some precision and rigor, But they still get at something real.

      For the purposes of the post, they are each articulated in questions like “What is the meaning of my life” and “Why do I exist?”

      What do you think, about this or the larger point of the post?


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