I think there are very few people in the world who can sit comfortably in the idea that there is no meaning or point of life and that simply, you are born, you live and then die- full stop. Take for example those movies or books that suddenly end with no obvious plot line or theme. To make ourselves feel better in having spent wasted time for no reason, we try to come up with our own meaning whether it be explaining the movie or book as being “artistic”, or that the writer had some deeper thought processes going on that is not easily identifiable to us, the audience.
I have come to a conclusion that even if it turns out that there is no bigger meaning of life, the more important question to ask and answer is what personal meaning I want my life to have. What do I want to create? What story do I want to tell about my life looking back? Maybe we have been getting it the wrong way around all along with purpose and meaning? Instead of a frustrating search in life trying to find what is our purpose and why were we born, maybe its just about sitting down and really thinking about what do I really want to do with whatever time I have to live?
One of my favourite TED talks related to the Meaning of Life is by Stephen Cave titled “The 4 stories we tell ourselves about death”. Stephen talks about how across the civilizations we cope with the traumatic fact that we are all going to die, through the comfort of believing in one of the four immortality stories-
1) The first immortality story is the belief that there exists an Elixir of life that will cure mortality whether it be finding a fountain of youth or curing death through science.
2) A second immortality story is the belief in a religious faith that supports the idea that after death comes resurrection, rebirth or reincarnation.
3) A third immortality story is around the spiritual soul and the belief that we may leave our physical body behind in death but we still live on through the soul.
4) The last immortality story is about the belief of legacy and being remembered long after we have died through having children or achieving worthy accomplishments.
I think the immortality story I believe in, is the importance of leaving a legacy. I would like to be remembered for a worthy accomplishment whether it be through writing, illustration or some other creative project that contributes something good or meaningful to the world.
Personally, I have yet to be be convinced in the belief of the other immortality stories regarding elixirs, resurrection and the soul. Working at a hospital, yes I have seen first hand how medications and medicine has extended the human lifespan but often not in a positive way when it comes to quality of life. With each year I have worked at the hospital, the medical issues of patients seem to be more complex and intertwined heavily with lifestyle decisions. The number of patients with drug, alcohol and mental health related conditions is definitely on the rise. I’m pretty doubtful that science can come up with an elixir that solves both the end of disease and the end of unhappiness.
In regards to the immortality story of religious faith and resurrection, I have been thinking a lot about faith lately and whether I have formed misconceptions and biased opinions about religion from what I was exposed to as a child growing up and being around my mum’s beliefs. I’m keen to learn more about different religions when I’m travelling around the world and to see whether there exists a religion that I can put my faith in that is open, accepting and able to stand up to boundless curiosity.
1) My ideal religion would be one that allows the freedom to ask lots of questions and whys. What I know so far of different religions, I don’t think questioning of faith is encouraged
2) My ideal religion would be one that fully accepts everyone into the faith no matter what their ethnicity, class, sexual orientation and gender.
3) My ideal religion would accept other faiths and not state that there is only ‘one’ true god. A religion that doesn’t try to discount or discredit other religions
4) My ideal religion would not scare monger people with threats of hell if you don’t follow the faith or seek forgiveness for your sins. Why can’t religion be simply about community, respect and kindness towards others just for the sake of human good?
5) My ideal religion would accept that non believers and atheists may be equally moral and as happy as people with religious faith and consequently don’t need to be converted or saved.
*On a side note, a really thought provoking documentary that demonstrates the above point about atheists can be equally happy is “The Grammar of Happiness” which is about the missionary Daniel Everett who lived among an Amazonian Piraha tribe. Despite 20 years of living with the tribe, Daniel was unable to convert them to religion because they were already happy, appearing to live entirely in the present. The tribe’s culture, sense of community and way of living in not worrying about the past or future, had such an impact on Daniel that he lost his faith and became an atheist.
Even if this ideal religion exists, the deciding factor will be whether I can put my faith in the religion and truly believe. All those years of going to church every Sunday, attempts at praying and trying to make a connection, honestly I never really felt anything. Probably the only time I may have felt something, was when I was baptized and even then I don’t know if the connection was just the atmosphere of the congregation and the ritual itself.
The last immortality story around the belief in a soul is a very nice idea and honestly I haven’t put enough time and thought into this belief to be convinced. I suppose what I need further clarification on is whether the soul exists? If so, is the soul like a spirit, a ghostly presence, maybe like the wind in being invisible but has a physical force? is it a separate entity from the physical body, the brain? What do you think would happen if you transplanted your brain into another person’s head. Would that person then become you? Is there a transference of personality? memories? skills? the soul? I suppose the closest we can come to any possible answers is studying people who have had organ transplants (ie the heart) to see if there are parallels to the organ donor.
I’ve really enjoyed writing this blog post on such a big topic. At the age of 10, I began thinking about death and the meaning of life and haven’t stopped. There are no definite answers only a little bit of clarity and a whole lot more questions to think about.