Since I moved to the Freethought Blogs network, I have a bunch of new readers who aren’t familiar with my greatest hits from my old, pre-FTB blog. So I’m linking to some of them, about one a day, to introduce them to the new folks.
Today’s archive treasure: Atheist Meaning in a Small, Brief Life, Or, On Not Being a Size Queen. The tl;dr: In an atheist/ materialist view, human life is unbelievably tiny and short, an infinitesimal eyeblink compared with the immense size and timespan of the universe. But this doesn’t make it meaningless. It just means we have to scale down our sense of meaning, and see value in small, brief things. In fact, conscious life on Earth could easily be seen as the most important thing in the Universe, by definition… since “importance” is a concept that only makes sense to conscious beings. The fact that it’s finite doesn’t make it unimportant: we don’t have to see longevity is the truest measure of importance or value.
A nifty pull quote:
Can there be meaning and joy in a universe where human life is essentially an unusual chemical process on one hunk of rock orbiting one of a hundred billion stars in one of a hundred billion galaxies… a chemical process that’s only been going on for about 200,000 of the Universe’s nearly 14 billion years, and that’s pretty much guaranteed to end in another billion years, if not sooner, while the Universe continues to expand forever into an enormous expanse of mostly nothingness?
I think there is.
But it means letting go of a big chunk of ego.
I think this can be one of the hardest things about letting go of religion. It certainly was for me. I hated the idea that my soul wasn’t going to live forever; that there was no God or World-Soul animating the Universe for all eternity who nonetheless cared about my little contribution to it. I found it profoundly upsetting. (Yeah, so I have a bit of an ego. I like to think of myself as important. What’s your point?)
When you let go of religion, your life can still have meaning. You just have to let go of it having meaning on an immense, universal scale. You have to let go of the arrogant belief that the very source and guiding hand of the Universe cares about what you do. You have to scale down the sense of where your life is lived: down from the cosmic, eternal scale, and onto a human, finite scale.
But it’s not like the human scale is any less real for being relatively small and relatively brief.