Ask the Patriarch 42
Yet Another School Project
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I am currently doing a studies of religion assessment at my school in which i am required to recieve a first hand response from an agnostic person on the following question:
"Can those individuals who choose an agnostic lifestyle find true meaning in their responses to the fundamental questions of life"
Those 'fundamental questions of life' being "why am i here?", "how did i get here?", "is there a purpose in life?" and "what happens and where do i go when i die?", amoung others...
It would be very highly appreciated if you could give any sort of response to these questions.
I thank you for your time
The Patriarch replies:
[Revisiting this after a number of years, I realize this response comes across as unduly snarky in places - particularly as I was answering a young student. I could and should have been a lot more respectful in my response, particularly as I wanted Rebekah to give my reply serious consideration. jt]
People seem to like to write to me with their school projects - you are not the first. I suggest you read the following for previous school projects and thoughts on the meaning of life:
These will give you a good idea where I am coming from. I suggest you do read them to put the following into context and to fill in any holes you may think I've left in my answer.
As to the issues you raise:
- You mention "those individuals who choose an agnostic lifestyle."
I realize you did not create the question but this is extremely ill-informed and misleading. There is no such thing as an "agnostic lifestyle" so it is not something one chooses. Our lifestyle is indistinguishable from our neighbours, except we don't waste time on church attendance. Most people come to agnosticism as an intellectual decision after considering the alternatives and finding them wanting. It's not a choice. It is not a lifestyle. It's a logical (to us) determination.
- You speak of the fundamental questions of life.
Just think a bit. Are these questions you ask really fundamental? Or are they just meaningless metaphysical meanderings? When you ask about the meaning of life, what do you really mean? Can you explain it in a way that makes sense? And does "meaning of life" really need a deity?
I suggest it is possible to live a contented and worthwhile life without considering any of these questions. They are in no way fundamental. The fundamental questions of life are "Where do I find food, water, shelter, and companionship?" Metaphysics is a luxury, not fundamental.
I'm not criticizing you. I'm criticizing the nonsense you have been taught.
But I will discuss the questions, I just won't consider them fundamental.
- You ask "How did I get here?" I am here because quite a few years ago, a man and a woman sought some mutual pleasure and had unprotected sex, an ovum was fertilized, and eventually I was born. That's how I got here. There's nothing more to it than that.
- You ask "Why am I here?" I am here because an unwanted pregnancy was not terminated, and subsequent to birth, I have not died.
- You ask "Is there a purpose in life?" The purpose in my life is the purpose I give it. I take full responsibility for that. I own my own life.
Similarly the purpose in your life is the purpose you give it. Even if you accept a purpose assigned to you by some external agency, it still is your decision. You are solely responsible for the purpose of your life - or not having a purpose.
- You ask "What happens when I die." It's simple. The world goes on. The universe goes on. Unfortunately, there's a good chance the "I" does not.
- You ask "Where do I go when I die." There is no knowledge (I'm excluding faith and belief from knowledge - they are different) of any form of afterlife. We do not know. Interestingly, belief in an afterlife is not necessarily tied to a belief in a deity. There are believers in versions of god who do not believe in an afterlife; alternatively, there are atheists - particularly among some forms of Buddhism who believe in an afterlife or in reincarnation. I think it is most likely the "I" ends when physical life ends. But I don't know. It is not important. This life which I am living right now is important, and I live that life to the best of my capabilities. If there actually is another life to come, I'll be pleasantly surprised. It is nothing to fear.
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