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Desperate for meaning

May 29, 2010

Ok, so my brother Dave sent me this amusing Onion piece about an existentialist firefighter. No worries pal. I found it hilarious. I’m still giggling at it now as I paste a bit of it in here.

SCHAUMBURG, IL—In an ultimately futile act some have described as courageous and others have called a mere postponing of the inevitable, existentialist firefighter James Farber delayed three deaths Monday.

Like any good humor from, say, SNL or the Daily Show, it lies not in being false but in truth taken to absurd extremes. I mean, it is true, technically. The doctors saved me from dying and yet I’m still going to die. It is ultimately futile. But what does this mean? Is ultimately futile the same as futile now, futile always? Why do we save anyone from anything?

Obviously, because we value the now, we value the time we do have; it’s not futile in that respect. The time we have, has meaning. We choose to give it that. It is a choice, and being free of organized religion, I can see it as a choice and not a default or divine directive.

I have something else in mind here or I wouldn’t have bothered. This must sound so dull and boring, I’m turning a joke into a lecture! But this quest for meaning is something I frequently see amongst believers.

For example, one of the apologetics for the problem of evil is referred to as ‘soul-making’ or an explanation of life’s trials and tribulations as a character-building exercise. This is an attempt to give meaning to some of the more horrible aspects of life; but I have seen the same character-building argument pop up in explaining all of life as well.

Recently, it appeared as a believer attempted to explain how it is that the skeptic is supposed to ‘return God’s love,’ which is supposed to be the point of life and the one (relatively) free choice we’re supposed to make. The conversation is taking place over on the Rational Skepticism board now.

Incidentally, that board also contains one of the more devastating problem of evil critiques I’ve seen, regarding animal suffering in particular as something that apologetics like human character building just cannot touch.

Believers make constant reference to their god-concepts when talking about meaning to life. This is why the ‘ultimately futile’ premise pops up in the first place. Since they have invested so much meaning to their lives into their preferred god-concepts, the mere idea of not having a god-concept makes that life seem meaningless to them.

And to an extent it is; but it’s no different than a believer’s life. The difference is purely imaginary, or at least, it is until they can demonstrate the reality of their gods. They imagine life, death, and suffering and all that rot have meaning through their god — but they can’t show it.

The skeptic owns up to this ultimate futility. The existentialist joke dwells on it. But the believer denies it, makes up fantasies to counter it, then mocks the others about it. You’d think that perhaps the skeptic would be the desperate one, but I detect a hint of it from the hapless believer, trying gamely to create some external meaning.

We create our own meaning to life. The believer does, too. It’s just more roundabout, creating a meaning that they baselessly assert is not created by them.

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One comment

  1. dude, that was one of the funniest Onion articles I’ve read in a long time!



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