What is the Purpose of Life?

I came across this quote today from professed atheist Dan Baker which states, “Asking ‘if there is no God, what is the purpose of life?’ is like asking ‘if there is no master, whose slave will I be?’ If your purpose of life is to submit as a slave, then your meaning of life comes from flattering the ego of a person whom you should detest.”

And all I could think was if that if you’re going to be an atheist then you should at least be a good atheist. When I wrote an article in defense of traditional marriage in light of the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage I had a guy question some of my premises. (In fact here’s the shameless plug of the piece with comments included if you’re curious)

I don’t mind being challenged on my beliefs. Because before I believe in something I have to accept it as truth, and I believe that truth is eternal and will stand regardless of whether anyone agrees with it or not (myself included). So defending the truth doesn’t stress me out because unlike most modern “debates” I’m not constructing some relative narrative I’ve heard from my friends that changes with every capricious whim. Instead, I’m simply stating the pieces of truth that have been revealed to me through various ways as I’ve gone about living life.

But this guy’s argument is not a good defense of atheism or a good argument against Christianity. “If there is no God, what is the purpose of life?” is not comparable to “if there is no master, whose slave will I be?” This is a faulty premise. He draws his conclusion from it and it’s a faulty premise. This never seems to bother people, but it bothers me.

I don’t like the assumption he makes about God and the people who choose to worship Him. It’s full of pride, which is the true religion and driving force behind the new atheism. He’s looking at Christian morality from a distance and claiming that a defiance of God is freedom.  Freedom from the rules. A freedom he believes Christians would pursue if they were as “enlightened” as he is.

And yet I have to wonder, in his vast intellect  do you think he ever stopped to consider for a moment that he is acting precisely as most children act towards their parents? When I was little I would have preferred an all candy diet and staying up past eight-thirty. But my parents would have none of it. Does it make me the slave to their master? If you want to view it that way you certainly could, but could you truly present that picture as the truest interpretation of the events in question?

Because  if you view it through the eyes of humility then you might realize that my parents were wiser than I was. That they had read all the child development books (I was the oldest so they really did their homework) and knew I needed sleep, playtime, and good nutrition in order to experience childhood in full. Candy would have made me sick. Sleep deprivation would have made me cranky. They had my best interests at heart because they love me. They said no to me not because they are evil dictators who deserve to be defied, but because they knew I was just a kid who couldn’t see beyond my immediate needs and desires. I was living so thoroughly in the moment that I wanted what I wanted right when I wanted it and thought my will should be law. I felt that wanting something automatically justified me in getting that something. Mom and Dad saw the bigger picture, they wanted me to become a healthy, happy and well-adjusted adult. And I like to think I did, for the most part!

And parent-child is not a bad lens to view the relationship between God and man, that’s why He calls Himself our Father. We’re short-sighted and can’t see past our immediate gratifications and the pulls of the world. We want our will to reign supreme and sometimes we think we know so much better than our parents.  But the truth is God loves us, has our best interest at heart, and cares for us daily whether we thank Him or not. And to me the purpose of my life is not to mindlessly serve some vague, dictator of a deity. I serve the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. Yahweh, the great I Am, the God who is love Himself. And the notion that my God has any sort of ego is offensive and contrary to everything the Bible reveals about His nature. (His love is so selfless and complete He doesn’t have room for one)

No my purpose in life, and where I find my meaning, is learning to love my Father, myself, and others in the same selfless way that He loves me every moment of every day.

So I’m thinking that asking, “if there is no God, what is the purpose of life?” is instead rather like asking “if learning to love is not the purpose of life, then what is?”

And you can quote me on that.

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The Secret to Success

There really isn’t one.

But blogs who claim to have it get hundreds of thousands of views and shares. (which is just a touch more than I get, lol)

But fear not, I have a very different definition of success than most people and I’m very content with this blog and very flattered that even one person takes the time to read it, much less a few thousand- so thank you!

Because I think in our globally connected society we think just a little too big. You’re not a success unless you influence millions. You’re not wealthy unless you live like a Kardashian. Your political movement didn’t work unless it abolished everything you disagreed with by the next day and ended poverty to boot.

You may think I’m exaggerating, and maybe I was a little, but it was done to make a point.  The point that this train of thought breeds apathy and ingratitude. It hardens the heart to the world around us and the plight of others. It makes us think that unless we can do everything we shouldn’t do anything. And that’s just foolish because I can’t think of a better way to suck the joy out of living.

Instead, I would echo something closer to the theme of Schindler’s list, that “he who saves one man saves the world.”  Because while we’re so busy being big we forget to enjoy being small, and full of wonder like a child. We forget to smile at the stranger sitting next to us or be happy at the smallest act of kindness that someone does for us or that we do for someone else. We forget that sometimes life has a little bit of magic in it, and it sits in plain sight if we would only just remember to look for it.

And that’s why I really don’t care whether this blog gets a hundred views or a hundred thousand views in a day, because when I was little if the person next to me agreed to read one of my stories I would sit breathless with anticipation, not because I was looking to change the world, but because I was simply hoping that when they read it they would see the magic too.

The Littler Way

So as you all can probably imagine I spend more time than I ever dreamed I would arguing with people I’ve never met on the internet. (Believe me it’s embarrassing to admit because I never wanted to be that person.) But as fate would have it I publish a lot of stuff online and when people misunderstand, offer a crappy counter-argument in an arrogant way, or bash something that doesn’t deserve bashing I just feel some inexplicable need to defend it. Anyway, in one such instance I innocently posted my article A New Faith and a guy responded, “the only thing I hate more than people who blame God for their problems are people who give Him credit for their successes.”

I can’t imagine a person needing to begrudge another person their gratitude, and I said as much to this mystery man and I explained how I felt about God and I admitted honestly that “I hope by the end of my life that I take credit for nothing, because I would rather be anything than proud.” And oh my goodness the internet exploded.  Had more people read it the internet might have shut down entirely because people were furious about my attitude and horrified by my religious “brainwashing.” Like I’ve just been so brainwashed by religion that I don’t realize how dumb I am and if I saw my ignorance through their eyes I’d feel sorry for my pathetic self and repent by reading Richard Dawkins.

If you have to be brainwashed by anything, it should be religion, the water of grace, the stuff of the Saints, nothing like truth and solid dogma to refresh your mind. In fact, I would rather be “brainwashed” by religion than the new atheism because I have studied the effects of both and made an informed decision to remain Catholic. Because I think a fantastic measure of truth and sound dogma, that is seriously underutilized in this day and age, is to look at the lives of the people who live their creeds and ask yourself which way you’d prefer.

But before I go too far down an entirely separate tangent I’d like to come back to the purpose of this article, which was to enlighten people to what exactly I meant by my apparently super controversial statement. Because there was a reason it sounded so outlandish to my atheistic and cynical counterparts, to the point where it angered them, and the reason is a sad one. It was because they don’t understand the essence of humility which I believe, in large part, is why they also have so much difficulty having any kind of relationship with God.

To explain, let’s examine the nature of the disagreement. The article I wrote was discussing a gratitude and a new faith I had developed in the past year or so and a confidence that if God could get me through those particular trials then He could get me through anything. The counter was that I had gotten myself through the various trials on my own and that my credit to God was, in a word, stupid. (Or ignorant, if you liked that one better).

Now what I was trying to get this guy to understand was yes I did make some economical decisions that helped me save money and yes I was proactive in searching for jobs while unemployed etc. But to tell my tale of hardship and woe out of the context of my relationship with God would not only render it significantly less interesting but horrifyingly incomplete. My article glossed over the year as a whole, it did not include my daily prayers or take into account the fact that my new faith came second, not first. What these people missed was that with God great things never start off great, they start off small.

To clarify, my big year didn’t begin as a year, it didn’t even begin as a day, it began as a moment. A moment where I was really afraid, intimidated by the future, and unsure of what to do next. So in that moment, I decided to do something new because my old way, the type-A extremely well-organized 5-year plan method, the way of the world that career experts recommend as foolproof, was leaving me in knots and getting me absolutely nowhere. I decided to forgo my careful planning and trust God. In 23 years as a practicing Catholic, I’m not sure I had ever truly and genuinely trusted in God before to actually come through for me in my adult world. I had always kept everything rather compartmentalized, maybe due to my skepticism that God really does have a grand plan for my life and cares about my day to day needs too.  I don’t know I guess I’d always had God as an idea, but certainly an abstract one that I wasn’t sure how to incorporate into my life, and I guess it was time for us to finally get personal.

And get personal we did. Because instead of living in fear I thought I’d dare to be daring. I basically said something to God along the lines of “well God with everything I have going on, with my old plans out the window, it seems a good a time as any to finally start living life like it’s an adventure again instead of a calculated chess game where the object is only to win. And adventures always have a good ending, so I want my final destination to be heaven. Forget the rest of it, forget making a name for myself, or having it all, or living in the suburbs. My goal now is just to go to heaven and enjoy the trip, and I’m going to need You to take care of me each moment until I’m finally there, because I trust in Your mercy and I can’t wait to see it.”  And that was that.  I started sharing each moment with God: the good, the bad, and the ugly crying. And the more I tried it the easier it became and the more I actually enjoyed the little moments of being alive again. I realized that, although extremely informal, this was prayer and as it became more natural to me I was noticeably happier, even though my circumstances hadn’t even changed for the better yet.

So as the time started flying and nearly a year had passed, I wanted to pay tribute to that way, which I affectionately call “the littler way” (because St. Therese had a “Little Way” of offering random acts of kindness to God but since I can’t always be counted on to be kind my way was even littler in that I was going to share the moment with God no matter what it held, whether I was managing kindness or was my usual sassy self.) But after those many months I wanted to give God credit for exceeding my expectations, because as I found out God has a way of making the most insignificant, or even awful, moments of life really beautiful just by being a part of them.

rose

And this littler way, be warned, has a way of making you extremely little too, because with God it wasn’t merely “coping” as they cheer you on to do in the self-help section. It was learning how to live in the present moment in peace, in joy, and with a new faith (hence the title of the original article). And the reason I said I would rather be anything than proud, is because to reframe what I just told you as an empowering story of how I pulled myself up by my bootstraps, made a plan and stuck to it without compromise, and did all of this without help from anyone would not only be self-serving, arrogant, and misleading it would be an outright lie (which I strive never to do). The worst kind of lie too, one that diminishes the light of the truth by blowing the smoke of the world. I mean, it’s impressive how much work has been done already to that effect, because I actually had the intellectuals (and by that I mean those who were not ignorant like me) lecturing me on how “pride is not a bad thing” and “you realize there are different degrees of everything, right?” (i.e. as long as I keep my pride in reasonable check it won’t harm me or others at all, which, interestingly, is the ironic error that Elizabeth Bennet mocks Mr. Darcy for in Pride and Prejudice.) It was certainly something to behold. Ignorance is truly bliss by comparison to this mental game of Twister.

Because when my adventure comes to an end and I finally get to heaven, I hope that when I stand before God I don’t feel the need to brag about a single accomplishment or hand Him my resume. I hope instead that I look Him in the face with one of those thousand-watt smiles and say, “thanks for everything Dad. I loved every minute.”