The Idea of Meaning (or Something)

Writing on Why I’m Catholic, “atheist convert” Jennifer Fulwiler explains why she turned to Rome, starting with concerns such as these:

One thing I could never get on the same page with my fellow atheists about was the idea of meaning. The other atheists I knew seemed to feel like life was full of purpose despite the fact that we’re all nothing more than chemical reactions. I could never get there. In fact, I thought that whole line of thinking was unscientific, and more than a little intellectually dishonest. If everything that we call heroism and glory, and all the significance of all great human achievements, can be reduced to some neurons firing in the human brain, then it’s all destined to be extinguished at death. And considering that the entire span of homo sapiens’ existence on earth wouldn’t even amount to a blip on the radar screen of a 5-billion-year-old universe, it seemed silly to pretend like the 60-odd-year life of some random organism on one of trillions of planets was something special.

I guess that depends on what you mean by “special”. To family, friends, and, indeed, to oneself, a life can surely be “special” even if it counts for nothing in the scheme of that big old indifferent universe. If all is indeed random (best guess, but who can be entirely sure?) pondering that fact ought—by inserting a little proportion into how we see ourselves—to be comforting. And it says nothing to the meaning of life. To the extent that we feel that we need meaning, we can make that for ourselves. Anything else looks a lot like vanity. Who needs the universe’s applause?

And if Ms. Fulwiler wants to construct that meaning for herself through the faith she has discovered within, good for her, and one can only wish her well, while regretting, perhaps, the faux naïveté of passages like this:

I finally caved in and bought a Bible, the first I’d ever owned. Not knowing how else to approach it, I started reading at page one. I was alternately baffled and horrified by what I read in the first few hundred pages. Joe encouraged me to the second part of the book, called the New Testament, explaining that that’s where Jesus comes into the picture.

Oh come on. I know the American education system is not what it was, but is this college-educated woman implying that she had never heard of the New Testament, a collection of writings that are, for all their flaws, a foundational text of western civilization?

If so, God help us (so to speak).

H/t: Andrew Sullivan

NGC 602: Not Too Bothered About Us

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4 Responses to The Idea of Meaning (or Something)

  1. Even if Fulwiler disagrees with your argument that life without God is special, the conclusion that atheism is wrong does not follow from the claim that atheism implies lack of meaning. It’s a total non-sequitur.

  2. John Farrell says:

    She also overlooks the possibility that you could derive a larger meaning for the whole shebang via teleology, without any recourse to the Bible. This is, after all, what the Ancient Greeks did.

  3. CONSVLTVS says:

    Interesting that I was just pointed to Fulwiler’s blog Conversion Diary about two weeks ago. Never heard of her before, and now twice in a fortnight. Statistical cluster.

    Can’t say I’ve done her justice, but I have no trouble accepting that she is what she says–a former atheist. The doors of those churches swing both ways, apparently.

  4. Don Kenner says:

    Mr. Stuttaford is right: the most disturbing thing about the woman’s piece is the idea that something as “foundational” as the New Testament was unknown to her until “Joe” showed her how to flip to the last quarter of the book. What did Joe say, I wonder…

    “Start here. This is where the hero finally comes into the damn story!”

    Someone should quickly introduce Fulwiler to Shakespeare and Samuel Johnson. Just in case she’s never heard of them.

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