Meaning eggs and the meaning basket

You know that saying about not putting all your eggs in the same basket? Well the same goes for meaning.

A common concern for inquiring minds considering atheism/humanism is that of meaning. If there is no God, what is life all about? What is the meaning of life? I understand the concern, of course. When one’s life centers around one idea, when that idea infuses all activity with meaning and purpose (purpose-driven lives, and all that), the idea of giving up that organizing principle seems absurd. Dangerous, even.

But it’s not. I think theists and “life has a Meaning” folks more generally mistakenly assume that their lives are about what they think they’re about. They say they believe in God, or that everything happens for a reason. But if you look closely, they live like their peers, in predictable, human, fragmented ways. I suppose the occasional true believer really does center his or her life on ONE single thing. But that’s rather rare.

It’s more common for people (whether they realize this or not) to draw meaning and purpose from all sorts of activities. From work, from family, from hobbies, and so on. From a humanist perspective, this is all as it should be. My life does not have a singular, overarching “Purpose” (no purpose-driven life for me!). What it has is big and little “purposes” scattered throughout. My meaning eggs aren’t all in the same Meaning basket–if you see what I mean.

I find value in being a philosopher (and occasional blogger!), in being a stay-at-home dad, in being a partner to my wife, a friend to my friends, a brother to my siblings, and so on. I love music, food, politics, sunshine, travel, social justice, running, reading, etc. None of these is the whole of my existence however. And so while the loss of any one of these would be a real loss, none would completely undo me (which is not to say that I value all of these equally, of course–I’ll take being a father to my daughter over sunshine, if push comes to shove).

From a humanist perspective, coming to terms with this less-than-perfectly-unified texture of our lives is part of growing up. Life is a sort of hodge-podge (perhaps more so in these economic times than in previous times, but let’s not overunify the past, either). And that’s ok. Happiness is (among other things) embracing the present, or at least living with it, even if it doesn’t connect perfectly with our remembered past or our anticipated future(s).

Humanists may not have a singular foundation of Meaning. But they’ve got a vast and intricate web of meanings. And that seems like plenty to me.

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