The Language of God, Chapter 2
By B.J. Marshall
In this section, Collins poses the questions of whether the near-ubiquity of the search for the existence of a supernatural being represents “a universal but groundless human longing for something outside ourselves to give meaning to a meaningless life and to take away the sting of death” (p.35). The search for meaning in one’s life is an important question, but I don’t think the search for the divine stops there. We have a curious approach to the world, and we like to understand why things happen. When we don’t understand why things happen, we have throughout history tended (sadly, some still do) to invoke gods. Don’t know why the sun goes around in the sky? Oh, that’s Apollo’s chariot. Not sure why there’s thunder and lightning? It’s due to Ah Peku, Inazuma, Karai-Shin, Lei Kung, Ninurta, Orko, Pajonn, Tien Mu, Thor, Zeus, or several others. Let’s get more modern: Not sure where the universe came from, or why it seems so finely-tuned? Yahweh did it.
Back to Collins’ point here: God gives meaning to a meaningless life and takes away the sting of death. I will grant that humanity has no ultimate purpose in the universe; in another five billion years, our sun will die and our planet with it. (I use “humanity” loosely here knowing that, since it took about three billion years to go from single-celled organisms to humans, our descendants five billion years hence will most likely look nothing like us.) Furthermore, some physicists theorize the universe itself will die a sort of heat-death; it’s not a rosy picture for ultimate purpose. But just because there is no ultimate purpose does not mean life is without meaning. Many atheists find meaning in life. For me, I find meaning in: raising my son, sharing my life with my wife, enjoying time spent with friends, caring for my neighborhood, a chance to play golf, a good scotch. And that list is certainly not exclusive.
I find Collins’ statement about removing the sting of death to be puzzling, especially given that it seems religious people are still rather afraid of dying. There are plenty of web sites addressing the Christian fear of death, so it leads me to think that there really isn’t much sting taken out by a belief in God. If anything, there is an added fear of going to Hell, even if one thinks one’s done the right things to avoid Hell. I think the frank and honest acknowledgement that there is no god, no heaven, and no hell, and that nothing other than death happens when you die is rather liberating. Furthermore, in addition to taking the sting out of death (or at least reducing that sting), this acknowledgement has the added bonus of provoking me to do the best I can in this life, rather than treating this life as a proving grounds for some afterlife.
Other posts in this series: