A couple of articles I came across recently reminded me of a lot of the "life wisdom" ideas I came across when I was an atheist. I was always seeking to know more about our existence, I suppose you could call it a quest for the meaning of life, so I took a keen interest in finding out what the great minds of our time had to say about how we can find purpose and fulfillment in life (without getting into any of that religious nonsense of course).
Unfortunately, in pretty much every case I walked away feeling depressed about what I just heard. All of the secular advice was along the lines of "live for today" or "help others" or "don't be afraid to live your dreams" or "be a good person". It sounded great, but I couldn't get around the fact that we're all going to die. As I saw it, what does it really matter if I'm a good person or a bad person, if I am happy or sad, since the entity that I think of as "me" is going to cease to exist in a relatively short time? When discussing the matter with other atheist or agnostic friends, the conversation usually went something like this:
ME: What does it matter if I spend this weekend volunteering at the soup kitchen or burglarizing people's houses? I mean, I am not going to exist for very much longer! Why should I care?
THEM: It's about your legacy. Imagine how many people you could help at the soup kitchen, and how many people's lives you'd negatively impact if you stole all their stuff.
ME: But they're going to cease to exist too.
THEM: Well, your actions could have far-reaching effects into future generations.
ME: OK, let's take the 5-billion-year view. Let's fast-forward to when the sun is a red giant that's either swallowed up planet earth or burnt it to a crisp. Then does it matter if I spent my weekend feeding the homeless or stealing stuff? Does anything I ever did matter?
For me, this is what it boiled down to: when the last life form is gone from the earth, did anything that ever happened here matter? My answer was: obviously not. To my way of thinking, "meaning" was confined to the human brain. It was something we people came up with. So when people were gone, so was any kind of significance to anything that ever happened or would happen. The Holocaust, the great wars, the hidden good and bad that played out in people's private lives -- I couldn't figure out how to make a logical case that any of it mattered once earth is a smoldering rock. Once we all cease to exist, if there's no force outside of the material world in which some part of us lives on, we might as well have never existed.
She came to realize why this felt so wrong when she came to realize that God exists. (I recommend reading the whole piece because it's really terrific!)
Today, Wesley J. Smith has linked to an article from
What I find amazing is the paradoxical thinking at work here. Mankind is worthless and not special, but, at the same time, mankind is also going to destroy the planet! While holding man in contempt, Spector also holds man up as some kind of superior being that is capable of destroying the earth. As if we have the power to truly destroy it. We might make it less inhabitable, or even completely uninhabitable in some places, but destroy it completely? I'm not sure we have that ability, to be honest.
The interesting thing is, Christian thinking not only places value on all human life, but it also places value on being good stewards of the natural world. We are to have dominion over it, but the Good Book says that true leadership (or dominion, if you will) is based on service. So we are to care for God's creatures and all of Creation. We aren't to abuse the earth, for that wouldn't be good stewardship. But, at the same time, we are more special than the animals. We aren't called to spare them from being eaten. Quite the contrary! The Old Testament has God telling the children of Israel to eat of their sacrifices, the New Testament has Christ telling Saint Peter to eat all kind of animals, including the ones said to be "unclean" in the Old Testament.
Back to the original article: Smith rightly points out that, should earth become devoid of human beings, who would care? Who would appreciate it? In his words:
But what difference would it make if humans weren't around to appreciate it? Think about it: The dinosaurs lived for hundreds of millions of years and yet their grandeur was never once recognized in all that time. It took the exceptional species--us--to see the wonder. Similarly, if the bubbling creeks bubble and we aren't there to sigh in contentment, the planet might as well be as lifeless as Venus.