Meaning


Why am I here? What is my purpose? Is there life after death? Is this really all there is?

These are questions that have plagued the human conscious for millennia and many claim to have closed the book on such questions. So sure of themselves that all the I’s have been dotted and the T’s have been crossed that they have declared that there is no longer a need for religion.

Stephen Hawking, a famous theoretical physicist & cosmologist, had this to say about the subject:

“I believe the simplest explanation is, there is no God. No one created the universe and no one directs our fate. This leads me to a profound realization that there probably is no heaven and no afterlife either. We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the universe and for that, I am extremely grateful.”

We are taught that this man’s belief is a basic reality, something that we must accept. A few years ago, atheists in the UK sponsored an ad campaign that ran on buses which said – There’s probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.

But if that’s true then why do those questions persist in our conscious despite the grandiose claims of religion’s demise?

C. S. Lewis offered a counterpoint to the claim of naturalists, those who believe nature is all that exists, when he wrote this:

“If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.”

Lewis’ point is that if there was no reason for the existence of the Universe then there is a knock-on effect. If the universe has no meaning than your life has no ultimate meaning or purpose. Atheists know that people can’t live without meaning or purpose, so they invent their own meaning. But an invented meaning is no meaning at all.

Just consider the final sentence of Hawking’s quote – We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the universe and for that, I am extremely grateful… What does it even mean in a universe that is a cosmic accident? In a world that is only based on the survival of our species, where our emotions are just the result of chemicals firing in our brain and nothing more?

Surely there has to be something more.

Recently I read the book Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl. Frankl was an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher, author and survivor of the Holocaust that wiped out his entire family including his young wife.

He was also the founder of logotherapy, which is a school of psychotherapy that describes a search for a life meaning as the central human motivational force. He accredits his time in the concentration and death camps as the chief reason he explored logotherapy. While Frankl witnessed the savage brutality and degradation around him, he theorised that it was the inmates who had some meaning in their lives that were more likely to survive the horrors of the Nazi regime.

In fact, he rejected the claim of naturalism when it comes to meaning and the idea that one can naturally create meaning in a one’s life.

“…procreation is not the only meaning of life, for then life itself would become meaningless, and something meaningless cannot be rendered meaningful merely by its perpetuation.”

Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning, Page 119

To Frankl, meaning was not something that you created but it was something that you pursued.

If anyone had to ability to reject meaning in life, you would think it would be someone who actually experienced life being treated as meaningless. But that is not the conclusion that Frankl was led to. This is what he wrote about the subject in Man’s Search for Meaning:

“Is there no spiritual freedom in regard to behavior and reaction to any given surroundings? Is that theory true which would have us believe that man is no more than a product of many conditional and environmental factors—be they of a biological, psychological or sociological nature? Is man but an accidental product of these?

The experiences of camp life show that man does have a choice of action. Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress… Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

Dosteyevsky said once, “There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.” These words frequently came to my mind after I became acquainted with those martyrs whose behavior in camp, whose suffering and death bore witness to the fact that the last inner freedom cannot be lost… The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity—even under the most difficult circumstances—to add a deeper meaning to his life.”

Viktor E. Frankel, Man’s Search For Meaning, Page 74-76

Frankel, after having experienced the worst that mankind could offer, was more resolute in his understanding that man is not a product of meaninglessness but that there is meaning in this life. There is even meaning in suffering.

Photo by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash

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