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?
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