My purpose in life is not much different than that of a theist. I strive to have the best life I can within my ability. Is a Christian much different?
The question pops out in our discussions, “But how do you have any purpose in life?” as if upon becoming an atheist, I lost my drive, my goals, and my desires within the world. Nonsense.
Think about how we live. I cheer my son on in soccer, next to the Christian who is cheering on her son. We each take time out of our busy lives, allowing dishes to pile up at home, to allow our sons a moment of joy for the playing a sport. Is our purpose different?
My Christian friends and I discuss our investments, what vehicles to buy, who is sick and what remedy best works, where to travel, where to NOT travel, problems with relatives, problems with in-laws and promotions at work. We all face disease, discomfort, and death. We all have moments of pure bliss, of triumph, or failure. We all work hard, hoping to leave the world a little better place for our children and their children.
When I hear this plaintive cry, “But you don’t have any purpose” and view how we go about our lives from day-to-day, it clearly cannot be a difference in what we do. We both seem to be striving to make our lives and the lives of those about us as comfortable as possible here in this world.
In fact, if we picked a few people out of a crowd, it would be very difficult indeed to tell who has “ultimate purpose” or not, based upon what they were doing at that particular moment.
No, it has to be something more. Not merely how we spend our time on earth.
It appears what a Christian means by “ultimate purpose” is that God has to give them a blessed after-life because of something the Christian did here on earth. The Christian deserves it! The “purpose” which is being discussed is a reward for doing something right. What is so “ultimate” or “grand” or “purposeful” in that?
Now, that may seem harsh at first, but let’s inspect this a bit closer, shall we?
Envision, for a moment, there was no after-life. Still a God, still a moral base, still a life on earth. Everything in place, except after death, nothing but silence. Would a Christian still be talking about their unique “ultimate purpose”? If so—what could it possibly be? If one does not follow a God, they still live with as much fervor, reward and punishment as one who does. The only purpose a human would have would be to live out their life while on earth. (The same as most of us are doing, regardless.) Glorifying God or not would not change what happens after dying.
We see that followers of god(s) and people who don’t each receive benefits, detriments, and both can equally live to be 9 or 90. As Jesus phrased it, “the rain falls on the just and the unjust.” Matt. 5:45. This “ultimate purpose” would appear to encompass more than just how we act with the few years given us.
Simply living would not seem to be what we are discussing.
There appears in this claim of “purpose” to be some reason more—something greater than just living out a life in the natural world. Part and parcel of this “ultimate purpose” is an afterlife.
And not simply any afterlife, but a happy one at that. Imagine a step further. That there was only an afterlife of Hell. What if every man, woman and child was destined, regardless of what they did, to be barred from heaven. An afterlife of misery.
To a Christian, this is not out of the realm of possibility. I am often informed that it is not God sending people to hell, but rather we are all going there anyway. The very essence of being human includes a one-way trip to Hell after death.
Further, I am informed that Christ did not have to come and live and die. That God was well within his rights to doom us all to Hell. We deserve it. It is the default position. Apparently in God-world, our “ultimate purpose” would equally be fulfilled by an unpleasant after-life.
Yet this is not what is being discussed by Christians, either. Such an existence would not give them an “ultimate purpose.” They would not fill the churches with cries of “What a great life we have—first we die; then we fry! But at least we have purpose!” That is not purpose—that is doom.
We do not see any difference in the day-to-day motivations of our individual lives. That cannot be the “ultimate purpose.” Nor do we hear claims of “ultimate purpose” from those that hold to no after-life, or a terrible one.
Practically and pragmatically, it seems to me the difference, when it comes to “ultimate purpose” is that the Christian plans on a glorious paradise, based upon their actions within their lifetime. In its most basic form, the Christian finds “purpose” in being rewarded for doing something right. How is that dissimilar to any other entity that hopes for reward by performance? What makes such a purpose unique, or “ultimate”?
I anticipate protests that salvation and purpose do not come from human action, but from God granting grace. Come, come. We observe what you say and do. We were in the system. We know the songs, the stories, the doctrine, and the rote.
There is no claim that God picks by completely random lottery. In order to gain entrance into heaven, to obtain “ultimate purpose” the human must do something. It may be as simple as “accepting the gift” or acknowledging Jesus is Lord, or asking Jesus into your heart, but something must be done by the human. It is not solely God acting. There is some requirement, albeit perhaps extremely slight, but some action required on the part of the human in order to make this thing work. Without the human doing this act, however minor it is, God cannot allow them in heaven. The human has to do it, and do it right!
And, the fact that we debate and go back and forth demonstrates the reality of the belief that it includes some intellectual assent by the human.
If you do something correctly, you get heaven. That’s it. After all the rhetoric, and fancy doctrine is peeled away, and “ultimate purpose” is inspected for how the Christian realistically and completely treats it—it boils down to this: Do it right—you get a reward.
How does that make a Christian’s position any more plausible, or any better than any other position? We all (at least I see genuineness in humanity) try to do it right. We all hope that doing it correctly provides benefits.
Sure, the Christian can claim there is an after-life. ‘Course, being me, I can’t help but point out the complete lack of evidence of such a place. But striving to obtain some happy Great Beyond, by saying or doing or believing the “correct” things here on earth is no “grand pursuit.” It is pragmatism at its most basic.
It is expectation of a deserved reward. To paraphrase Smith-Barney, “We get to heaven the old-fashioned way. We earn it.”