Essay: Why God CAN'T create meaning

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By BatmanWithBunnyEars   |   Watch
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Published: February 10, 2012
Many religious apologetics claim that without God, nihilism necessarily follows.  The counterpoint has been made many times that even if the universe is meaningless or unpalatable without God, that doesn't make God any more likely to exist.  If you decide that a world in which you're no seven feet tall is unacceptable to you, that won't make you any taller.  However, nobody seems to have questioned the assumption that God's existence would impart meaning.

After listening to lectures from religious believers and talking to them online, I've noticed that they tend to view their God the same way a toddler views a father figure.  Daddy is infinitely strong.  Daddy knows everything, and he is always right.  If Daddy says it's good, it's good.  Pointing out flaws and inefficiencies in God's alleged work, and the moral and logical errors in God's alleged plan, seldom phases a believer, just like a toddler can never be convinced that their father is anything less than perfect regardless of his past deeds.

Now let's look at the most important question we all face: What is the meaning of life?  It's a scary question, since nobody wants to find out on their death bed that they've wasted their life.  After conversing with religious people, I now have some understanding of why the answer seems so simple to them.  Do what Daddy says and all will be right with the world.  They're happy to pawn the tough question off onto religion and see no reason to contemplate it further.

However, if you do contemplate it further, you'll notice a problem.  Let's assume (despite mountains of evidence to the contrary) that God does exist.  Let's imagine that cosmologists come forward one day and tell us that they found a large man in space, who has presented compelling evidence that he indeed created the universe, and tells us that he has a plan for us.

How would this plan affect our meaning to life?  As thinking beings, we could evaluate this plan, decide what seems right based on internal consistency, how selfish or selfless of God's motives are, how following God's plan would affect other people, the rewards for following God, etc.  Notice that even in this religiously ideal case, we're still making judgments based on our own belief systems and values.  We're still creating our own meaning.

To counter this point, some Christians will assert that we only have values (and morality, since it follows directly from our values) because God encoded them into us in the first place.  This is one instance of religious stupidity that I find genuinely insulting.  It implies that my values aren't really my own, and that God merely whispered them into my ear at birth and deceptively* made them feel like my own ideas.  My personal revulsion aside, this lunacy runs into an immediate logical problem.  If God covertly programmed us to have the belief systems, values, and preferences of his choosing, that is glorified brainwashing, and free will goes out the window.

*Contrary to what Christians would like you to think, the bible doesn't actually say that God magnetized our moral compasses or instilled within us our values.  However, there are plenty of passages that claim nearly the opposite: that our (God-created) bodies urge us to pursue that which God himself detests.  Go figure. :shrug: Genesis 6:5 Romans 8:5-8 Job 15:14-16 Romans 3:10-18

The crux of the matter is this: in order for anything to have value, it has to be valuable to someone.  The idea that intrinsic meaning was woven into the fabric of the universe by a deity, independently of anyone's thoughts, feelings, and values, isn't just impossible; it's absurd.  To accept this religious view would require us to reevaluate our most joyous and treasured moments as meaningless, if only we found that there was no deity floating around in space somewhere to reassure us that our joy was real.

In closing, I'd like to add that not only does nihilism not follow from atheism; it is religious fanaticism that is the true nihilistic position.  If your interests all revolve around pleasing an invisible (and in all likelihood nonexistent) worship-hungry narcissist in the sky, and all of your good deeds are done to achieve this end, then you don't really care about the people in your life or anything else in the real world.  That is the epitome of nihilism.
© 2012 - 2019 BatmanWithBunnyEars
So it turns out there is something God can’t do. Okay, two things.

An angry religious person who had read some of my essays recently scolded me for not believing. “WHY ARE WE HERE!?” was one point he screamed in protest. Although this wasn’t the voice of someone who was interested in the answer, I tried to explain that we create our own meaning. It wasn’t until later that I thought of the perfect response to this objection:

What are some things that are important to you?

(He or she lists some of their values, such as family, friends, art, music, sports, etc.)

Hypothetically, if you were to discover that we did come about through naturalistic processes, and there really is no God out there, would those things still be important to you?

(He or she would almost certainly say yes.)

There you go. You can and do create your own meaning. You don’t need an outside force to tell you what to care about; you are free to decide that for yourself.
anonymous's avatar
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stealthwizzard's avatar
stealthwizzardHobbyist General Artist
This is a well-written article and, I think, a very well-thought-out one. I'm not a philosopher and I can't answer all your questions, although I'll think about them. One thing that struck me, though, was in the second-to-last sentence. About how a "religious" person can't care about people and things in their lives. It's kind of along the lines of "he was so Heavenly minded he was no earthly good." I'm a Christian. I'm also an artist. I dearly love and treasure all the things I create. Other people may not like them but if what I made wasn't worth keeping, I erased it and started over. So what if someone loved the world and the people in it MORE because they loved the person who made it. So instead of saying, "So and so is a jerk." they said, "So and so is dearly loved by my God, no matter what mistakes they make or annoying things they do." Shouldn't Christians be the ones who love EVERYONE no matter who they are or what they think? Simply because the God we love also loves that person? I know we often fail but that is the idea.
sfalter's avatar
I first read this essay in 2012 and only now do I tell you how sublime it is.:imsorry:  I can honestly say, it has remained my favorite piece of literature I have seen, on this site. It's hard to understate how liberating and refreshing this realization was/is. My adolescence was defined by existential despair, and associated dark s@#! But I learned (am learning) so much.

So, thank you for sharing such beautiful reflections.
pinelopi-z's avatar
I love this. I would write more but I was casually reading before going to sleep and it's late here, I didn't expect to find something like this. I am very pleased to see that people share my views about life and atheism as it truly is, because I have been accused of being a nihilist far too many times. Thank you for writing this, you made my day better! :)
I think more people should also stop being religious just to avoid the hate and critisism people who are open and straightforward when it comes to their beliefs do. It's a shame to worship someone because you were just born in the place where people worship that particular God. The thing is, atheists don't think they are better than others at all. (As some say) I strongly believe no one should let others brainwash them. It is nessesary that we read about all concepts and all religions before we decide what we believe is true. And when someone has beliefs that don't agree with ours, it does not mean the other person is to be hated. I can't express how important that is.
I could start talking about how churches around the world take advantage of people's faith and how they try to get all the power they can possibly have in the most greedy and insulting way, but I should not get started.
I agree with everything you said. My favourite part is about the morals. We can have morals on our own, we don't need to be threatened with an eternity of suffering to "behave", we can be ethical without someone telling us to. Being an atheist does not mean "No God, no rules". It is quite the opposite. You get to decide what is right and what is wrong, without the confusion of being ordered to do it.
Ah, thank you again for writing this, you're amazing and I shall watch you.
HumanScolopendra's avatar
HumanScolopendraHobbyist Writer
I stumbled across this in my favourites. It was an interesting read and forced me to ponder how the matter looks like according to my current religious views :) Even though I don't agree with it as strongly as I would back then when I favourited it (being agnostic at the time), it's still cool.
Anselm-King's avatar

These are all important questions worth asking, since in percieving ourselves as separate from the whole, inevitably the search to "know thyself" is an unavoidable one. Questioning what surrounds us then is an obvious avenue of intellectual travel as well. Is it possible that the act of debating the existence of God implies that the one asking has not yet come to a clear conclusion? If he or she is firmly decided and knows with every fiber of their being the true answer then the process of questioning seems contradictory to the fact. To have an open discussion with the attempt of limiting our personal feelings on the matter is a difficult task.
I think you might have opened yourself to harsh critisism due to your use of certain words in describing your perspective. Of course this is only from my own point of view---The use of the word "daddy" instead of father or God, might cause people to automatically assume you are labeling anyone with a belief in a higher power as childish. And to have an honest debate one would not wish others to believe they are resorting to simple name calling. Not to say that was your intention.
At my current stage of development and understanding, (which is of course still fallible), I like to think of God as every hard drive combined into one---man being a singular travel drive. The travel drive does not have information that is not already included in the entirety of all those hard drives combined. What it does have is bits and pieces of information from the one source. It is from our point of view that we are individuals, when in actuality we are part of the whole, that is our essence. (Whatever you might like to call that "whole").
I suppose I find it hard for myself to be outraged that I might not actually have a unique personality or purpose, when what I am is the personality and purpose of all things combined. However I cannot be that on my own---in some way I need to be connected directly to the source. Again, this is just my perspective, and I've yet to come to the actual core of things. This might all just be pointless yacking on my behalf.
The title of your essay is the most interesting of all really. One definition of meaning is, "what is intended to be, or actually is, expressed or indicated; signification; import. The end, purpose, or significance of something." Haven't you given meaning to God by this very essay? Even if it isn't thought of in the "greater" sense of a deity or what have you---just the word itself, "God". Have you given meaning to "God" by the use of your own words? And in that sense has "God" created meaning in the replies of those interested in your perspective?
If our most joyous and treasured moments are all interconnected to everything, it would seem impossible for them to lose meaning.
Regardless of whichever conclusion a person comes to, this act of questioning things is of constant entertainment. Perhaps the greatest faith a person can have is not being concerned with whether or not they actually exist?Thank you for sharing your own "personal" search, I've very much enjoyed reading it. <3

anime12violet's avatar
anime12violetHobbyist General Artist
I found this really insulting. We are always getting bashed on the most out of any religion and what did we do? Try to convert you into a better person, where in at least in our minds is the right, helpful thing to do? we are just trying to help you. thats all. What's the problem with believing in something? it gives you hope courage wisdom kindness etc. so per say there really isnt a God above at all...wouldn't you be glad that you lived a life donating, given hope(false or not, it consoles you), etc, and you were happy about it?

we view God as our "daddy" because he created us, therefore he is our Father. And there is also mountains of evidence that he DOES exist. There is an article of some scientests taking the cells of blessed bread and wine ready for communion and they were human cells. before the test, the exact same two were food cells or whatever. plant cells.

6th paragraph you must've misunderstood somebody or they were giving you wrong information. God does not whisper what we will do into our ear, he gives us free will to choose what we do and he helps or guides us. (I mostly have bad analogies sorry but) Imagine God as a teacher and we are all students. He tries to get us to learn (the right thing to do in this case) and get wiser, but some of us aren't going to listen and will cause trouble and the teacher will punish them.

Its funny how hard you try to prove us wrong because you have to look up every scripture that could be mistaken for something else or because it was written 2000+ years ago. and roughly translated over centuries. 
Daniel-Gleebits's avatar
Daniel-GleebitsHobbyist Writer
Here's the problem with that mode of conversion. It doesn't stop at "Oh hey, come be a christian with us. It's great! Lots of hope, meaning, and fulfillment. Trust me, it'll be awesome."
No, it ends at "and if you don't, our loving creator, who only wants the best for you really, will send you to a place of eternal burning, damnation, and suffering, where you'll writhe eternally with no hope of alleviation or reprieve. So sign up now."

The christian message isn't the least bit benign. It's a shakedown. Believe what we say, or suffer a fate worse than death.

And you're not picked on. The reason people keep having a go at the christians is because they're the loudest, whiniest, most spoiled group in the western world, who cry victimhood at the merest trace of provocation, whilst all the while kicking back confident in the knowledge that most politicians, celebrities, and a good majority of the common people all believe in the same mythological, bronze age, fairytale bullshit that you do.
We're not picking on you, we're just shouting back at the constant stream of christian propaganda relentlessly being shoved in our faces day by day.

MountainBoar's avatar
"t implies that my values aren't really my own, and that God merely whispered them into my ear"
Is this more insulting to you than having your evolutionary heritage structure your psyche towards prefference A rather than B or C?
"Free will goes out the window"
Free will is a supernatural concept in any case. To say human beings have free will is to say we're demi-gods, that we can operate independant from or prior to deterministic processes. If you accept that fine, but that is a magical claim, as any non-deterministic claims such as those about god are.
BatmanWithBunnyEars's avatar
BatmanWithBunnyEars General Artist
It's interesting that you bring that up, because I think it depends on how you define "free will." It seems straightforward at first, but the more you think about it, the muddier it becomes. I wrote an article on that subject if you're interested: Free Will: Asking the Right Question.
InvaderLez's avatar
InvaderLezHobbyist General Artist
What is a nihilist? :?
BatmanWithBunnyEars's avatar
BatmanWithBunnyEars General Artist
There are several different versions of Nihilism, but here I'm referring to the belief that life is entirely pointless and nothing has any value of any kind.
Verixas92's avatar
Mind if I write a response to this issue and link you to the page?
BatmanWithBunnyEars's avatar
BatmanWithBunnyEars General Artist
Sure, no problem. :)
Verixas92's avatar
Okay, here's my article on atheism vs nihilism: [link]
Spazzboy911's avatar
This is interesting. I am both a Christian as well as a nihilist; this simply saying that the universe and everything in it has no inherit value except that which God gives it and even then, only to those who live in the Spirit, since those living in the flesh will find no meaning in the universe or anything in it. To me, the two are are complimentary ideas; without God, no meaning. Find God, find His meaning.

I am not destined for this world. My destiny is with Him in His kingdom everlasting. Try looking up Ecclesiastes, my favorite book. Some of the first words in the book are "Vanities of vanities! Everything is meaningless! A chasing of the wind!" And yes it is. Even wisdom is meaningless, for God is above wisdom.

Anyway, wouldn't a nihilist already know that if all things are without meaning, then nihilism itself is without meaning, and so worthless? It's self fulfilling, thus self defeating. Belief in God is meaningless, living in the flesh is meaningless, vanity is meaningless, and nihilism is meaningless, a chasing of the wind.
BatmanWithBunnyEars's avatar
BatmanWithBunnyEars General Artist
So you claim to be a nihilist, but in the same breath you call that position self-contradictory? Well, I guess you're not a true nihilist since you believe that God gives meaning. In any case, I don't think nihilism is self-contradictory. Just because you believe something is true doesn't mean you think it is valuable or good; I believe that if I go to a the Kroger parking lot, I can find at least one silver car (by the law of averages). I don't think that's good or bad - just true.
Spazzboy911's avatar
"True nihilism" doesn't exist; it's self defeating ;]
EnitanStitches's avatar
EnitanStitchesHobbyist General Artist
Hmm. Well, in a way, some call me atheist. And? I really do not mind.

I am me. That is all.

I write, I draw, I read the Brother's Grimm, I love mythology.

That is it. I do not follow a man in the sky telling me what is and what is not, and it is a shame that some take religion too seriously and can not make their own choices.

Now, does that mean I insult and despise all associated with such a topic? No. I say if you believe something, hey, don't let me intervene. So long as someone does not overpower me and give me what some call "the Johnson treatment", after what former president Lyndon D. Johnson would use in his more "in-your-face" management, which was quite effective, then yes: I shall most likely attempt to devour your fingers, more or less.

Now: this essay, as many presume, is controversial. But it seems, in all aspects to be more of meaning and independence rather than just religion and such.

So there you have it.

Henskelion's avatar
This hits all the I'M AN ATHEIST DEAL WITH IT tropes like a checklist: rejection and mockery of paternity, use of phrases like MAGICAL BEARDED SKY WIZARD LOL/LMAO, and an injection of denial at every possible moment (if there were a god BUT THERE TOTES ISN'T). It's like I'm really reading the ED article for youtube atheists.
BatmanWithBunnyEars's avatar
BatmanWithBunnyEars General Artist
This comment hits all the insecure Christian tropes: Aimless, butthurt rage, condescension, and most importantly, a complete lack of argumentative substance. It's like I'm really reading a kid's temper tantrum when he's told there's no Santa.
Henskelion's avatar
bitch I ain't even christian; I merely enjoy highlighting the rampant goonery and FUCK YOU DAD in every atheist argument ever.
Axel230's avatar
Axel230Hobbyist Writer
You sir deserve a medal for this.
This is what people fail to understand when they speak about how God has a purpose for us and how meaningless our lives would be if there was no god, etc.
It's sad to think that whenever I come with a similar argument to this they come with the argument that "An inner devil" is tempting me and that I'm trailing away from God ¬¬
And on a completely unrelated note (And honestly some sort of venting out): I'm sure that what most people claim they feel when they pray or go to church (Which as far as some sort of joy and excitement :shrug:) is really just extreme fanatism, similar to seeing the new work of your favorite artist/singer/actor/etc. or the excitement of when you read/watch something exciting, just on a larger scale since they actually "Adore" their deities.
CollectTheBroken's avatar
CollectTheBrokenStudent Digital Artist
I remember when I used to be a Christian, but then I realized just how much we have to push away and simply stop questioning in order to follow a religion. I simply cannot do this, I don't believe that you have to rely on some sky wizard up there to do the thinking for you.

It's frustrating how many religious people refuses to listen to your arguments because they believe only God's word is right. The thing is, they are trapping themselves in a paradox, where if someone agrees with them, then it's perfect. Yet, if someone disagrees with them, they will simply ignore them because that person is obviously insignificant compared to God. Their flawed reasoning creates a enraging narrow-mindedness.
ApostleOfEventide's avatar
ApostleOfEventideHobbyist Writer
I have to agree with you on the narrow-mindedness. I'm actually Agnostic, so I do believe in a possibility...But to me, religion is how you raise cattle. Not men. You want to see really annoying religious people, talk to an evangelist. The ones that go door to door selling their religion. THOSE people are annoying and they don't like anything you say if it's against what they think. They will not stop until YOU give up. Pisses me off. Excuse my language. Belief doesn't make you a better person, behavior does. Wish they could understand that.
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