Fill in the Blank

I listened to a talk by actor/author Alan Alda on the iTunes "Meet the Author" series.  The topic was his search for what makes life meaningful.  One of the audience members asked him to comment on his point of view:  Many people find meaning the easy way in religion, in which meaning is prescribed; the harder path if you reject religion is to find your own meaning.  Often when I hear this assessment a snobbish attitude toward religion is included, which I didn't detect in this particular exchange.  The general idea is that the truly independent thinkers set themselves a greater challenge by defining meaning for themselves rather than have it handed to them.  To his credit, Alda observed that whether or not someone gets their meaning and values from religion or elsewhere, the challenge to live by them is the same for all people.

What's behind the observation of the audience member?  The presumption that I believe usually goes unexamined is that there is no objective meaning because there is no objective human nature.  It presumes that meaning is subjective.  It presumes that the idea is passe that we are created and endowed by our Creator with a human nature that has a particular fulfillment, our pursuit of happiness.  If that is the case, then there is some objective meaning and value that fulfills human nature, and it wouldn't be remarkable that it would be found in a particular religion.  The idea of human nature means that meaning is a particular kind of life that the Creator has in mind for human beings.

These presumptions about human nature and meaning are the result of Darwinism.  Of course, if human beings evolved in a naturalistic process, there is no human nature and there is no objective meaning.  Meaning is something we make up for ourselves.  Human nature isn't a blank we fill in, and the easy answer is to have religion do it for us.

Even if it is objective, that doesn't mean it's simple because human nature and its fulfillment is a profound kind of thing that requires a great deal of examination and reflection.  Theologians and philosophers over thousands of years haven't exhausted the topic. 

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Melinda Penner

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