For probably as long as humans have existed, we have questioned what the meaning of life is. We have constantly wondered about the purpose of not just human life, but all life. In trying to answer our own questions, we have often turned to either one god or several as an explanation, who have created everything we see in all manner of fantastical ways. This has led many people to come to rely on religious/spiritual leaders and sacred texts to explain the world to them and teach them the true purpose of their lives, and the true purpose of all life, for it is thought that purpose is as tangible and as real as the nose on your face. However, I have a problem with this reasoning and, more importantly I suppose, I have a problem with its outcomes.
There are really only two ways for people to be able to know what the purpose of their life is: feeling it or knowing it. The “feeling it” way is exactly what it sounds like, there is something in your brain that acts like a switch so when you have managed to find your purpose the switch flips and produces a feeling that tells you your purpose has been found and it’s just a matter of continuing to look for your purpose until the switch flips and you don’t have to rely on anyone else to tell you although they may be able to tell you what the feeling of finding your purpose will be like. Whether this switch was placed inside your brain by some sort of god or by a happy accident of evolution, or both I suppose, is really up to each person to decide for themselves. I really don’t have much of an issue with this way of finding our purpose other than being somewhat sceptical about the idea that there is some sort of mechanism in the brain to help us find our purpose but, ultimately, what our purpose is is for us to decide and who am I to tell other people what is going on in their own head without first sticking them inside a massive MRI scanner. Maybe we each only have one purpose in life or maybe we have any number of purposes that our brain will accept and it just so happens we tend to only find one, sort of like the questions surrounding the idea of soulmates. Although, let us at least accept that, with this way of finding our purpose, we will most likely find several “purposes” before we find our true purpose the same way people have several “the ones” throughout their lifetimes.
The other way people can find out the purpose of their life is by simply “knowing it”. There is no biological mechanism involved with this way or “sensing” you have found your path, no instead you are simply to be told what the meaning of life is and what your purpose in it is and you are to just accept it and follow the orders of your spiritual or religious leader without complaint, as it is God’s will. It is only with this way that I have any real problem. I don’t really understand how God’s choice for what you should do with your life is really any different from your own choice if there is no physical or psychological change that comes along with finding your purpose. And yet, those people that believe in this kind of purpose seem to simply take it as gospel (pardon the pun?) that God’s will for your life is objectively more important than your own.
Indulge me for a moment. Imagine yourself and I had a disagreement on the morality of a certain behaviour, let’s pick something contemporary and go with either abortion or homosexuality. If we were to ignore any argument that could be made based on the existence of God then you would be right in thinking that the righteousness of our moral judgements are the same in that they are subjective and, therefore, there is no real basis for either, in the same way there is a basis for the existence of gravity. While one of us may argue that following our moral rule will result in a healthier outcome, the judgement that this is a desirable outcome is still a subjective one.
Now imagine that I have ultimate power. Imagine that I have the ability to torture you forever, and however I see fit. Does this now make my moral judgement the righteous one? I would argue no. My judgement is still just as subjective as before I gained magical powers, and yet this is the main argument for the righteousness of any all powerful God and why we should follow their commandments. The argument goes that God can send you to hell and therefore they are moral but God’s judgement is just as subjective as any human’s, with the only real difference being in power levels. Thus, even in a world where an all powerful God does in fact exist, there is still no difference when it comes to differing moral judgements of humans as all of these judgements are still based on subjective opinion, it’s just that anyone claiming their moral proclamation to be that of God’s has outsourced their judgement to another being whose judgement is still subjective.
Bringing this back to how people know what their purpose in life is, we can now say that, if God’s judgement is just as subjective as your own, there is no real difference between you deciding your purpose for yourself and God deciding your purpose for you, through religious/spiritual leaders and books. People might argue that because God created you then you should follow the path that God has chosen for you. However, since there is no desirable physical change that comes from following God’s purpose when it comes to the “knowing it” way of knowing your purpose then there is nothing that actually makes following God’s chosen purpose better than following your own chosen purpose, and thus there is no more reason for following the path God has chosen for you than there is for following your own path, chosen by you.
The reason I have made this blog post is that it saddens me to see people continue down a path that makes them miserable simply because it’s their “purpose” and “what God wants”. However, this argument is only valid if it is accepted by us that God has more of a right than you do to decide what the path of your life should be, as a purpose chosen by yourself is somehow inherently more inferior than a purpose chose by God. I hope then that my arguments against this reasoning will weaken its strength in controlling the lives of others and encourage them to decide for themselves the path their lives should take. I don’t even necessarily think people shouldn’t follow the rules of their God, again it’s the person’s choice what they do with their own life, but in understanding that there is nothing “wrong” about going a different path hopefully you can then find peace and contentment in knowing that you have that choice and you have made it for yourself, even if it is a pain in the backside sometimes.