I read the King James version of Ecclesiastes this week. It's an interesting book, if for no other reason than it gave so many phrases and sayings to the English language; probably more on a per word basis than any other book of the Bible, or any of Shakespeare's works.
Authorship (thanks to the opening verse) is attributed to Solomon, but only literalist scholars accept this. The general feeling is that it was written long after the other books attributed to Solomon. Ecclesiastes is generally dated to about the 3rd century, B.C., though it has been suggested that it may actually have been written as late as the era of Herod, or about the same time as Christ was supposed to have been born.
But what does this book mean? It seems to me that it is open to almost any interpretation. It can be read as expressing the deepest pessimism, it can also be read as expressing a "live your life fully for today" attitude. It can be used to support both stoicism and Epicureanism. In many ways it seems Buddhist, in others, Confucian. It can mean whatever you want it to mean.
My own view of the intended meaning of Ecclesiastes is:
- Life is pointless (or has no meaning.)
- What we do in life, what we think, what we feel - is all entirely pointless.
- Whatever we do, or fail to do, the world will continue long after we are gone.
- We are all going to die.
- Neither we nor our works will be remembered after we are dead.
- And finally, while we are alive "Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man"
That's our complete duty while we are alive? To fear God? To worship God (which is the main thrust of the 10 Commandments)?
If that is really why this Jewish or Christian God is supposed to have put us on Earth, life indeed is pointless. But our lives would not be so pointless as the life of a deity who had nothing better to do than create intelligent life for the sole purpose of fearing him and worshipping him. That kind of deity is the epitome of pointlessness.
We don't need this god, and without him, we are each able to give our own lives a more relevant meaning. Our lives do have meaning - if we want them to.