Friday, February 4, 2011

Meaning of Life

No one disagrees that the Holocaust was a truly horrible, unprecedented event in human history.  Between 1933 and 1945, the Nazi regime in Germany killed at estimated 12 million people – the exact number will never be known – because of perceived racial superiority.  Close to 6 million of the victims were Jewish, whose sole apparent crime was belonging to a religion the Nazis despised.

When World War II ended, the search for meaning in this tragedy began.  Jews, in particular, sought to explain why God had allowed this to happen.  Orthodox Jews claimed to know the answer: God was punishing European Jews for not adhering to His laws.

That’s disgusting.  That answer converts Nazis into messengers of God who killed at His behest.  How someone can propose that idea without vomiting is beyond me.  It also ignores a reality that millions of non-Jews, who clearly are not remotely interested in God’s dictates to Jews, did not survive either.  Why were they punished, too?  Or, are only Jews expected to follow God’s rules and face mass murder of they don’t?  None of the people who needlessly died were pious?  If so, what happened to the idea of righteousness that informs all faiths and has long been endorsed by Jewish leaders?  In fact, Jews honor righteous gentiles who helped Jews during the Holocaust.  

There is a better answer.  There is no meaning to life, whether we are talking about the Holocaust or the random death of 12-year Bryan Griffin, a Florida child killed by an alligator in 2003.

It is not easy to accept that.  An Islamic student who has been discussing religion with me was appalled by the concept.  He could not accept that a “bad” person faces nothing more in the grave than someone who is “good."

I understand his concern.  However, who decides what is good or bad?  A terrorist, for example, is evil to those who are hurt and a hero to those who are being defended.  What was bad in one era may be considered good today and vice versa.  God would need very flexible standards.  How could He justify punishing one person for a sin at one time, when the sin becomes required in another era? 

Besides, we only have the human concept of sin.  The Bible hardly serves as a guide.  People pick and choose which laws they obey.  

To me, the only meaning to life is what we give it.  In reality, we are on a planet making laps around a star.  That’s all.  However, we can find meaning in what we do every day.  I find it teaching and writing.  I see some of my students moving on to achieve their dreams.  That is fulfilling.  I see other people who enjoy my books.  I like that, too.  Others find meaning through different activities.  My wife teaches; my sister-in-law drums and makes glass jewelry.  

It doesn’t matter.  What can only matter is here and now.  The great thinkers and guides from religion and secular life – Muhammad, Jesus, Moses, Shakespeare, Mozart, Locke, Einstein and so many others – found meaning in their lives.  Their efforts gave some to us.  That is their greatest accomplishment.  Just as we no longer know the inspirational forces among the Cro-Magnon and Home Erectus, future humans will not remember those we honor today.  Instead, others will arise to create meaning from meaninglessness.

I do have one caveat to this concept of nothingness.  Not near death experiences (NDE), which supposedly “proves” the existence of an afterlife.   Some people have claimed they saw a great light and were greeted by former relatives.  I am sure that the trauma of death activates memories, and that was what created the NDE.  Besides, some people claimed to have seen or heard nothing during their ordeal.

Past life experiences (PLE) divulged under hypnotism fails to impress.  Hypnotism, too, activates memory.
On the other hand, none of us can imagine ourselves not existing.  It’s impossible.  As Rene Descartes noted in the 1600s: “I think therefore I am.”  All of us have that inner feeling that makes us feel different.  Dogs, cats and other mammals, even birds, have that, too.  I imagine that, eventually, we’ll discover that all higher species share that trait.

Our essence may live on.  Since we are all a form of energy, it’s possible that we do not die – that is disappear completely.  Energy does not die, but takes new forms.  That would be true for us.  Buddha suggested that concept.  The Hindu belief system is built around that.  To me, that would explain ghosts, NDE, PLE, and other, similar phenomena.  

We’ll all find out on our own in due time.

One thing I am certain of is that we will not find a God after we die.  A dear friend suggested there is a God, but we, as humans, cannot understand Him.  In that case, what use is prayer?  What use is ritual?  What use is religion, which is based on the idea that we are in communication with God and that He cares about us?
That’s no different than having no god.

The sad truth is that we are alone.  Atrocities, such as the Holocaust, are human events without a God watching or caring.  There is no heaven and hell, both inventions to try to curb human behavior.  There’s nothing except whatever we as individuals do to find elusive meaning amidst the void. 

Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers. 

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