“Can it be that every life—beginning with my own, my husband’s, my child’s, and spreading outward—is cosmically irrelevant?”
You can’t answer this question normally. When believers or even questioning non-believers ask this question, the only proper response is “Are you really that arrogant?”.
I posted the above comment over at Jerry Coyne's blog
, a blog post of his which was his response to a New Yorker article “dissing” atheism.
Indeed, you cannot answer this half-rhetorical, half-serious question on its face. Implicit in this question – about cosmic irrelevance – is that our lives should be relevant to the universe but, according to one paradigm, it is not. This very much hidden premise, this hidden “should be”, needs to be justified in some way. And the only reason people seem to justify it is due to arrogance.
Hell, even if a religionist thinks they have the answer to this question, in truth they do not. By positing an afterlife, they are emphatically affirming that this life is indeed irrelevant; it is just that there is some other life waiting for us that has “more relevance”. In essense, it makes this life infinitely irrelevant since the difference between some finite number and eternity will always be infinite.
Especially the Christian framework (aside from the Protestant Work Ethic
), the extent to which you are successful in this life is inversely proportional to how successful you will be in the next life (hell or “expulsion from their god's presence”); and how unsuccessful you are in this life is how much more successful you will be in the next (heaven). This paradigm basically fetishizes suffering in this
world, since said suffering would be considered veritable μακάριος (archaic “blessed” but more modern vernacular “congratulations”; cf Matt 5.3). If suffering is a blessing – a sign of how much more we will inherit in the next life – then what motivation do you have for alleviating your suffering now?
You have none.
You will see any suffering or the possibility of suffering and liken it to Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac – and follow through with it when you have the choice not to endure that suffering (or sacrifice) because you think suffering is a blessing. Or you will view suffering as the glory of Christ and not do anything about it (cf 2 Cor 12.7-10). A reversal of values, as Nietzche rightly points out in his critique(s) of Christianity.
Of course, my argument here is really just a subset of a couple of arguments I made before. One of them
was that, if a god gives your life meaning yet that god itself has no reason for its existence, then by proxy your life also has no meaning. Trying to give god meaning is to place something more important than that god which also makes that god meaningless. It is really a no-win situation for theists who think that their god gives their life meaning. The other
(for those who believe in this sort of thing) was that if a god who has some sort of master plan exists, then your life, again, has no meaning. Because this god's plan will come into fruition no matter what you do.