27 online
Most Popular Choices
Share on Facebook 42 Printer Friendly Page More Sharing
OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 2/21/20

Purpose-Driven Lives

By       (Page 1 of 2 pages)   1 comment
Message James A. Haught
Become a Fan
  (1 fan)

This piece was reprinted by OpEd News with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

Millionaire evangelist Rick Warren is correct: Having a purpose-driven life gives people meaning and goals. But he's absurd in claiming that purpose comes from gods and devils, heavens and hells, miracles and messiahs, and the like.

I think the purpose that drives science-minded freethinkers can be summed up in a single word: honesty. It's dishonest to claim to know supernatural things that nobody can know. Honest people want evidence, and don't embrace magical assertions without it. Simply to be honest about beliefs--that's a powerful motive imparting purpose to skeptics.

Sixty years ago, when I was a gawky young news reporter, my mentor was a tough city editor who was a clone of H.L. Mencken. He sneered at hillbilly preachers in our Appalachian Bible Belt. As a naive wisdom-seeker, I asked him:

"You're right that all this Bible-thumping is silly but what's the truth? Why is the universe here? Why does life exist? Why are we all doomed to die? What's the meaning of everything? What truthful answer can an honest person give?"

He eyed me squarely and replied: "You can say: I don't know."

Bingo. That rang a clear bell in my mind, and it never left me. It showed me how to be honest in the face of bewilderment. An honest person admits inability to comprehend ultimate reality.

Later, as I studied, I learned that this same conclusion was reached by Ancient Greece's great Epicurus and by Omar Khayyam in his profound Rubaiyat and by Jean Paul Sartre and fellow modern existentialists and by Zorba the Greek, whose questions exposed "the perplexity of mankind", and by multitudes of other earnest seekers trying to discern what underlies our existence.

The honesty worldview can give you a sense that you are supporting factual reality. It makes you advocate science, democracy and human rights as the best tools to improve humanity. It gives you a personal identity, something worth fighting for.

Honesty makes us realize there's no trustworthy proof that our minds will continue living after our bodies die. As far as we can tell, each person's psyche is created by an individual brain and dies when the brain does. Accepting the coming oblivion requires courage, but it's the only honest stance. Wishing for immortality is self-deception.

When I foresee the abyss, the blackness of death ahead, it breeds existential gloom, a sense that everything ultimately is meaningless, a bleak awareness that our struggles soon will be forgotten and ignored, like those of past generations. I'm haunted by the bard's rant:

"All our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Pointless floundering, soon to vanish into the forgotten past. That's a dismal summation, and it rings true. Yet we nonetheless can develop purpose-driven lives that hold the gloom in abeyance, while we slog onward.

We gain purpose by raising children, working at a satisfying job, sharing our life with a fond spouse or lover, relishing the serene joys of nature, etc. But those pursuits don't address the ultimate questions that cannot be answered and never go away.

Historian Gleb Tsipursky of Ohio State University says trusting one's own sense of integrity and belief in the scientific method imparts value.

Next Page  1  |  2

(Note: You can view every article as one long page if you sign up as an Advocate Member, or higher).

Must Read 2   Well Said 2   Inspiring 1  
Rate It | View Ratings

James A. Haught Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

James A. Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia's largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail.  Mr. Haught has won two dozen national news writing awards. He has written 12 books and hundreds of magazine essays and blog posts. Around 450 of his essays are online. He is a senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine, a weekly blogger at Daylight Atheism, (more...)

Go To Commenting
The views expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.
Writers Guidelines

Contact AuthorContact Author Contact EditorContact Editor Author PageView Authors' Articles
Support OpEdNews

OpEdNews depends upon can't survive without your help.

If you value this article and the work of OpEdNews, please either Donate or Purchase a premium membership.

If you've enjoyed this, sign up for our daily or weekly newsletter to get lots of great progressive content.
Daily Weekly     OpEd News Newsletter
   (Opens new browser window)

Most Popular Articles by this Author:     (View All Most Popular Articles by this Author)

Feeding 7.7 Billion

Megachurch Mess

Religion-Tinged Politics

deadly labor struggles

The Dreams that Stuff is Made Of

Coal Mine Wars

To View Comments or Join the Conversation:

Tell A Friend