Ever since we were able to look to the heavens with our big brains and curious minds we have been asking the question: what’s it all about? What is the meaning of life, the universe and everything, as Douglas Adams put it.
Each of us understands, I think, that it is up to us as individuals to find meaning in our own lives. There is no authoritarian schoolmarm pointing a finger and telling us our life’s direction, no marks on the pavement or letters that arrive when we turn 18 and graduate from school. To find the answer we must look into the heart of the man or woman that stares back at us each day from the mirror. We have to decide for ourselves what matters and gives meaning to our existence.
The bigger question that Adams and others have asked is what is it all about with regard to our species. Is there some grand design to our existence, some final destination, an endgame? Are we a great experiment left to thrive and evolve beyond anything we can dream? Or, are we to fester and swell and eventually disappear, a died-out culture in some universal petri dish?
What we know about our quest for species-wide meaning is simple: there is no answer. Religion and other myth-based world views can’t offer any real answers here, nothing solid or definable, anyway. And nothing that has stood the test of time. Science and naturalism can only define and describe. They aren’t equipped to provide meaning. Philosophers are all over the board with meaning but, like religion, they fall short when it comes to proving anything. Even Bertrand Russell could offer no answer to the question of what’s it all about.
The problem with our search for meaning is that we are attempting to place a pin on a map and beat a path to a fixed destination. But there is no map. And where we are going is anyone’s guess. But, still, just a guess.
Christianity tells us God created us to have a relationship with him and to glorify him but this view requires some very twisted logic. If God is truly omniscient then what would be the purpose, other than to temporarily alleviate his boredom? He already knows everything we would say, everything we would do. Are we really so arrogant to believe that we would have anything unique to add to a conversation with God? There are theologians who want us to believe that God limits his own omniscience in order to allow us free will. You can’t have it both ways, omniscience is what it is – total knowledge. But humans, as we all know, can go to great lengths to create scenarios that fit their worldview, regardless of any proof or lack thereof. What would be the point of God limiting his knowledge just to have a chat with us? More importantly, if God did create us and then leave us alone to make of things what we will isn’t that really deism? If so, deism goes against everything religion wants us to believe.
One truism consistently reveals itself to us in all parts of life: the simple answer is usually the accurate answer. Fabricating complex reasons for something – anything – using circular logic and impossible leaps of reason isn’t the simple answer. There has to be something else.
Douglas Adams, in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, offered up "42" as an answer. It was a joke. But it was as good as any answer to date, which should tell us a lot about the question itself. And that leads to the real point of this essay: maybe we are missing the point of it all. Life, in this vast and clockwork universe, is a celebration. Meaning has nothing to do with it. Against all odds we are here to contemplate and discover. We are here to savor a beer or glass of wine, experience the glory of a sunset, and exalt in the laughter of a child. We are the odd mixture of stardust that gets to witness and celebrate the wonders of the universe, a flower in an otherwise barren garden. And that isn’t half bad.