Interactive Gospel
- Human Significance -
by Paul Hazelden


1.   Summary

We believe human life has eternal significance.

When we start to consider human life, one of the biggest problems we face is 'nothing buttery' (otherwise known as 'ontological reductionism'). It is the confusion we experience between 'is' and 'is only'. For example, it is clearly true to say the Mona Lisa is a collection of pigments on a canvas backing. But to say the Mona Lisa is nothing but a collection of pigments on a canvas backing is quite another thing.

A similar trick is often played when talking about people. That the human race is a species of naked ape can hardly be denied, but this does not mean the human race is nothing but a species of naked ape.

We agree that all the things the scientists tell us about ourselves are true, but we do not believe this exhausts all that can, or should, be said. We believe that people are more than just collections of chemicals. We believe that people are more than machines produced by strands of DNA.

We believe that people matter. We believe that the things you do, your hopes and fears - they have significance. One day, this world will be destroyed, but nevertheless, your life and what you choose to do with it, matters today, and will continue to matter in the future. You are important!

  1. I'll go along with that
  2. Please explain further
  3. I object to what you've said
  4. What are the alternatives?

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2.   Further Details

We believe you are important - your life is important - because God says you are important. You don't have to do anything to become significant. It does not depend on your intelligence, your money, your parents, your class or your country - it depends on God.

Clearly, this is a more solid base for believing that human beings have value than many of the alternatives. It is arguable that without a God nothing is significant, so nothing can give your life significance.

We talk about 'eternal significance', but when you think about it, if something is to have real significance, it must have eternal significance. If something is unimportant, what difference does it make if it becomes unimportant in the next five minutes, five years, or five million years? In the long run, it's all the same.

In the end, whatever you care about, it must last for eternity, or it is pointless. So, if human life - your life - is to have any real significance, something that is the essential you must last, or at least have the possibility of lasting, into eternity. This is what we call the 'soul'.

It is important to distinguish between the Christian concept of the soul and the meaning in religions such as Hinduism. In Christianity, the soul is individual, personal. In Hinduism, the soul is more like an impersonal substance out of which people are formed. In Hinduism and Buddhism, the soul may survive death and be re-incarnated, but the individual - the person - who died is gone forever.

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3.   Objections

Some people object that the ideas put together here do not necessarily depend on each other.

  1. I don't believe in God
  2. I don't believe in a soul

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3a.   I don't believe in God

Many people say that their life has value, even though they don't believe in God. Anybody can say it, and almost anybody can believe it, if they try hard enough. But very few people can point to any reason for believing it.

If there is no God, what can possibly give life any value, any purpose, any meaning?

The common claim is that human relationships, and in particular children, give life meaning. They certainly provide something vital. But the chances are that a hundred years from now, you and your children will both be dead. Two hundred years from now, who will even remember that you ever existed? Ten million years from now, what will be the value of your life?

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3b.   I don't believe in a soul

This used to be quite popular in certain circles - the existentialist position: "I have no reason to believe that life has any value, but I will believe it nevertheless." Or, sometimes, I will act as though it has value, while believing this to be untrue. The obvious question in reply to all this is... why?

What is the point in pretending that life has value when you 'know' it really has none? What is the point? Basing your actions on what you know to be false is hardly 'authentic' - and why is being authentic a value for existentialists, when you believe that nothing has any value? It is not so much a philosophy as a refusal to engage in philosophy.

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4.   Alternatives

Clearly, the only alternative is that human life has no eternal significance. We are nothing but complex collections of chemicals. We are machines produced by DNA, but that DNA itself has no purpose and no significance.

I have met many people who have claimed to believe this - at least, they made this claim at the start of a conversation. I only recall one person who continued with this position when I started to ask about it. When you think about it, this is an incredible position: everything you do is meaningless; everything you achieve is pointless; your whole life, whatever you may do, has no value. I do not believe that anyone can live consistently with this belief.

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Copyright © 1999-2005 Paul Hazelden
 
http://hazelden.org.uk/ig/ig_human_significance.htm was last updated 4 May 2008
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