23 February, 2011

Questioning the Purpose of Life

When you tell people that you feel there is something greater than the idea of God they see you differently. Parents wonder where they went wrong, brothers and sisters feel sorry for you and friends stop calling because they are afraid of your influence. Conversations with people you once admired are now discouraged because someone hates the questions you ask. Who do you talk to when you want to clear things up? If those in religion do not want to hear your questions or give better answers other than, "Because it's God's will," you end up having to look else where, something else they discourage. The longer you stay silent the more lonely the world gets. You've already lost what you were taught was the purpose to life and you do not know what to do next.

So how does one find a purpose to life when God is out of the equation? As a Mormon, I used to ask myself,"If there isn't a God, what is the point of living through all of the good and bad times if you wont exist after this life?" I used to think that all an Atheist did was persecute religion and only for their hatred towards God. I did not realize that the harshest attacks came from other religions against my own and I did not see how my own religious beliefs negatively affected the lives of others. As a missionary I asked people to question their own faith, it was only a matter of time that I would do the same thing out of fairness to those whom I left behind in Mexico.

Religion has always found a way to keep its influence in authority. When the Pope comes to Mexico his visit is nationally televised. He is showered with gifts and the streets are shut down as he drives by in his Pope Mobile. Now that's power. Islamic law is written into some of the governments in the Middle east and in the United States there is freedom of religion but not freedom from religion. Religious beliefs are written into our laws and those who do not believe are forced to abide by them. There is progress being made. Kids are no longer forced to say the words, "One Nation under God," while saying the pledge of allegiance and teachers cannot lead a class in prayer unless it is a private school. Prayer is different to all religions.

To question authority is what helps humanity progress. Ideas will continue to change and we constantly learn new things. When Martin Luther wrote the 95 theses, he challenged the interpretation of the Bible. He brought it into the public domain for all to read and understand in a totally different way than the Catholic Church did. Was he wrong for questioning the religious authority? The many protestant churches of today praise his efforts and are thankful for making their cause possible. Galileo challenged the church's scientific authority by confirming the Sun Centered model of the universe and he was put on house arrest. And then along came Charles Darwin. Through scientific research he proved that all life on Earth is the result of evolution and that it continues to do so even today. He held off on releasing his work because he didn't want to create controversy, he only wanted to show people this incredible evidence. Religion was quick to judge him and he suffered much persecution for it.

So what purpose can an Atheist find in living through life? As Carl Sagan would point out, "The beauty of a living is not the atoms that go into it, but the way those atoms are put together." There is so much life on this planet; plant, animal, bacteria, etc. and the variety of life is astounding! Look at the shapes these atoms form. The shape of a human, a bird, a rose, a bug and even a single cell. The years of natural selection from the first cell continue to give us more variety.

"We are all connected, to each other biologically, to the Earth chemically, to the rest of the universe atomically" (Niel Tyson). As Carl Sagan said, "We are star stuff." The atoms in our body were formed in stars that died out in the universe long ago. It is important to trace our origins to understand where we came from because we are a way for the universe to know itself. We are intelligent and one day we may find other intelligent life out there. We may even find a way to record our own consciousness into a computer, allowing us to live on forever.

Why is it so hard for me to believe in religion? For as long as humans have lived they have searched for their place in the universe, wondering how they came about. Stories turned into legend, legend became myth and soon myth would become religion. People felt comfortable knowing that they were being watched over. Some religious stories were passed on and altered to take shape in a new religion such as the flood myth. When I see the bones of a 3 million year old primate like Lucy, I wonder what things she had to worry about. I wonder what she thought of when she looked up at the moon. Was it just out of her reach or was it watching over her, keeping her safe at night? We see gorillas like Ambam walking on two legs as they Carry objects in their arms. What is their place in the cosmic perspective of life? Do hey also have a God they worship?

We trust in our feelings for love, faith, trust, and judgment. We see how those things can be an influence on others. We debate about who's God is real and who's God is false yet none can say, "Here he or she is." Only a few claim to have physically seen a diety but do not come back with any tangible evidence of their visit, just some tablets, a shield or a cup. On the other hand I can go outside with my telescope as Galileo did and look up at the planets and observe their orbits. I can jump up and know that I will fall back down to Earth. I can take my blood sample and compare it to that of a gorilla and have a hard time finding the genetic difference. This is why I have such trust in science. It gives answers with evidence to back those answers up. When there is speculation a scientist understands that they should not be married to their theory because someone may clarify their results giving us a new direction to go in.

I do believe in miracles but not from mysticism. Humans create miracles every day in the science lab. Vaccinations have saved millions and so have heart surgeries. If it helps for someone to believe that they are lead by the hand of God to perform such operations then that's a good thing. It keeps them more confident in what they are doing. Lets just not forget to be thankful that the doctor spent years in medical school and hours serving as an apprentice to perform in such a manner. Lets not also forget about the bacteria that works in a symbiotic relationship with our body to fight viruses. Yes there is bacteria in your yogurt and lots of it.

So my purpose to life is to question why things are the way they are. I want to see humanity progress into something so much greater than just prideful nationalities. I want us to explore the stars to search for our real past. Did life originate from an icy comet that smashed into earth? Was it lighting that struck a puddle? Did our DNA come from a planet with life that was destroyed billions of years ago? There are so many questions and I cannot settle with the easy answer. We can know if we only question. When we are discouraged from asking questions we undermine our own intelligence for the sake of keeping an idea alive. This is not an attack on religion, it is only an attempt to present the question why I should believe in one single idea when there are so many wonderful ideas out there?


Beth said...

I left the church more or less when I was 16; then officially when I was around 20. Good for you for having the courage to wake up. Here are some of my favorite quotes from people pondering the same questions you are:

""The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism. It is not a creed. Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more." - Christoper Hitchens

"When my husband died, because he was so famous & known for not being a believer, many people would come up to me... & ask me if Carl changed at the end & converted to a belief in an afterlife. They also frequently ask me if I think I will see him again. Carl faced his death with unflagging courage & never sought refuge in illusions. The tragedy was that we knew we would never see each other again. I don’t ever expect to be reunited with Carl. But, the great thing is that when we were together, for nearly twenty years, we lived with a vivid appreciation of how brief & precious life is. We never trivialized the meaning of death by pretending it was anything other than a final parting. Every single moment that we were alive & we were together was miraculous — not miraculous in the sense of inexplicable or supernatural. We knew we were beneficiaries of chance… That pure chance could be so generous & so kind… That we could find each other, as Carl wrote so beautifully in Cosmos, you know, in the vastness of space & the immensity of time… That we could be together for twenty years. That is something which sustains me & it’s much more meaningful…
The way he treated me & the way I treated him, the way we took care of each other & our family, while he lived. That is so much more important than the idea I will see him someday. I don’t think I’ll ever see Carl again. But I saw him. We saw each other. We found each other in the cosmos, and that was wonderful.“
– Ann Druyan, talking about her husband, Carl Sagan

Tyler said...

I often think that if I were an Athiest, I too would have no other reason to still come up with a purpose in life and I think if your purpose in life was to continue to question, what a great purpose.

However, I would hope that your other purpose in life would be to somehow bridge the gap to those that seem lesser to you (aka those that believe in God), rather than focus on how badly you've been treated (which I can accept, is not easy). Since they're obviously so confused and don't understand you, maybe spend time focusing on what you still do have in common and realize that you'll never see eye to eye on the religion thing, but you can still have love for them as fellow star dust.

I still love you Jeff. I accept your way of thinking and who you are. I'm sorry we're so far apart and don't have much time together, but that is more a result of life being busy, rather than your atheism. Sure, people in the family probably think differently of you, but there is still no doubt they love you. If they want to take pity on you, let them, because I'm sure in some way you're taking pity on them as well.

Love you brother. Keep up the blogging. I find the science stuff fascinating.

Jeffrey Dean Root said...

Thanks for those quotes Beth. Carl Sagan is one of my heroes. I've read Pale Blue Dot, Contact and I've watched all of Cosmos. I've got a few more books of his to read but he really helped me out through some hard times. It's good to know that people like him are here to make this world a better place. I respect Ann Druyan very much because she was the one who kept NOVA alive all of these years. Her work is just important to the progression of humanity. What a team!

Jeffrey Dean Root said...

Tyler. You may not know this but I respect you very much because you are willing to ask me reasonable questions and listen rather than being preachy, something I still need to improve on. The family thinks that I hate them but I don't. What's odd is that the only real problem I have with religion is that it interferes with peoples personal lives who do not believe. If they just did their own thing and let people live their lives then the world would be a happier place. I do believe that we need rules and regulation but it should be things that the majority agrees on, and I'm not saying a 52-48% majority. I'm talking about the general things like murder, stealing, cheating, things like that. Like I said, this post was not to bash, it was only to encourage questions. I question science all of the time. Scientists know that their work must hold up to the harshest of criticism in order for it to proven or at least heavily supported. I think that it is only fair that we question both science and religion. It's like when I ask my astronomy teacher about the big bang theory. Nobody really knows what happened before it. Just because we don't know, doesn't mean we have to be frightened of the unknown and it doesn't mean I need to make up something to fill in the gaps. I will keep searching for the answer.

Tyler said...

But you have to realize that everything you're saying has not proof either. When you berate someone for their beliefs, it doesn't make things better (you of all people should know that, i.e. two wrongs never make a right). You're in a position where, you're more advanced in your thinking due to science, you'll need to be more advanced in your love and acceptance of your family and their religion. It sucks, but it's the way it is (if you want to continue to build a strong relationship with them).

Your statement that if religion stayed out of peoples lives, the world would be better off, is just an opinion. You have no proof that the world would be better off; it's just an opinion, so how can you fault someone that truly believes in the teachings of a religion and wants to do better in this world? I certainly can't much in the same way that I can't berate you for your search for truth and science.

I'm off to go camping. I'll check back in when I return.

Anonymous said...

This is a good blog. There is no biased thought or stereotypes. I love your pure feelings without beeing clouded by anger. Religion is hard to swallow. And I would say most of them are rediculouse to put it nicely. I do have personal resons why I beleive at least in the afterlife and you can put me up there with the men that come down from the mountain with no evidence. And that makes me confused as to why some people have those experiences and some don't.

I love science and I hate it at the same time. Sometimes it is used for evil things. I'm not talking about evolution but other things. Making bombs and tanks and plastic cars that will rot on this earth thousands of years after we are all gone. Sometimes when we think somthing is good for the earth it destroys it. Paper or plastic?

I love the good things that come from science. Understanding our bodies,the planets,the universe,curing diseases etc. You have a great knowledge of science and it makes me want to learn more. That to me is a positive inflence on your fellow man.

Jeffrey Dean Root said...

For that very reason Tyler, I write everything on my blog rather than places like Facebook or family parties. It is an outlet for me. People can actually choose to go on here and they will know that it is run by one mind and one opinion alone. Hence the ability to moderate comments. I don't moderate because I like to hear other peoples opinions on the subject.

I don't really understand how you think that this post is an attack on religion. It is mostly a testimony of the way I see the world now. People get up on the pulpit and say, "There is no way there couldn't be a God because of what I have experienced." I guess you can call it my conversion story. I'm glad to see that people question what I believe because it helps me define who I am and also helps me consider all possibilities.

Like I said, I keep this stuff to my blog, so if people come on here knowing they are going to be offended by my opinions then they probably should stop coming on here.

You haven't seen me saying this stuff on facebook or family parties anymore, should I be forced out of saying it on my own blog too?

Jeffrey Dean Root said...

Tyler-"how can you fault someone that truly believes in the teachings of a religion and wants to do better in this world?"

So long as people aren't FORCED to abide by those teachings, then I'm OK with it. But that's not the case and until it is my own beliefs are under attack. Now I know that you and Russel think that Gays should be able to marry freely so when I talk about gay marriage I'm not talking to you guys. You both feel comfortable to question your church's actions on the subject. I guess my comments would be more directed to those who followed the church's broadcast on Prop 8 and their message read in sacrament reading. Those who donated to the cause to defeat equality in marriage. Maybe instead of saying "The LDS Church" I should be more specific and say, Russel M. Ballard or Boyd K. Packer. My good friend Cris is a practicing Mormon and he believes that Gays will one day marry in the temple with their lovers. It's nice to know he feels that way. Maybe one day he will be a leader in the church and find a way to change things.

Like I said, I admire those who question everything they are taught whether it be science, religion or the purpose to life. This post was a story about how I came to understanding the importance of questioning. I'm even questioning what I wrote because of the things that you pointed out.

Jeffrey Dean Root said...

Yes there is misuse in both science and religion and sometimes the two get mixed together. Both have been used to gain power and to oppress or kill people. Hitler experimented on Jews through genetic research in order to make a better soldier. The United States dropped two atomic bombs on major cities in Japan. The Catholics used religious authority to wipe out those who did not believe and the FLDS leaders use their power to take advantage of under age girls. For these reasons it is important to question everything. I'm sure most of the people in the U.S. are questioning our actions in the Iraq and Afghan wars. It is my OPINION that we should question everything including the actions of others. I BELIEVE that the world would be a better place if we did so. So yes, it is just an OPINION. Just wanted to point that out before I eat my own words.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry jeff but I'm not allowed on face book where I work and I hardly get to hear what your up to. I like to read your thoughts on science and religion if you are being fair. And I don't see a reson to put down in words the way you feel about the church on a blog. Probably it's because I have never had one. Well I do but I can't remember what happened to it. I lost it somewhere in the web.

Jeffrey Dean Root said...

At least your are not lost in the web Russell. I have it at my finger tips most of the day because I'm in a school with Wifi. I also left facebook, not only because I offended people, but because the little post were really worth nothing. Here I can organize my thoughts and if people don't want to see it, they don't come here. That's fine with me. I'm glad that there are a few people that want to listen in. If you had a blog I would go on it to comment as well.

Anonymous said...

Thats cool. I'm not against technology or anything but I love not being surounded by it at home. I know I will never have a cell phone to save my life.

On a diffrent note I think your intelect has grown over the past couple years as far as your writing skills and the way you put words to use. You should write a screen play. Your a much better writer than I am.

Jeffrey Dean Root said...

Writing a screen play is much harder than writing an essay or even a story in prose. Writing natural dialog is one of the hardest things in writing. It may sound good on paper but when you play the conversation out between two actors, it can really be a disappointment. I respect screen writers a lot!

Jeffrey Dean Root said...

I hoped that in writing this post that people would understand that I feel it is even more important to question science and its validity because it expects you to. Scientists can be just as stubborn as religious extremists about their ideas so it is important to keep an open mind in all things. As Richard Feynman once said, "I don't feel frightened by not knowing things. I think it's much more interesting." I am trying to keep an open mind to what faith is in the religious sense. I've had 20 something years to experience what faith is and only a few years of experience with real scientific concepts. So far I have found it difficult to marry both science and religion together and maybe I would have a better time connecting science to spirituality rather than religion. I do not feel that I have focused on spirituality enough.

Tyler said...

I think you really nailed it on the head. Science hasn't and never will explain everything, and that is what I refer to as spirituality of some sort, especially if it's something you feel should have an explanation, but science doesn't. I look up at the sky on a clear night and look in awe at the universe. We're not a mistake. We could be star dust, but that star dust is not a mistake either.

Jeffrey Dean Root said...

and because we do not know the answer, it isn't a reason to stop looking, it should be a reason to be inspired and driven.

Anonymous said...