With Will Ross
Meaning of Life
I've often been asked about my beliefs and how I explain them to people who come from a different set of beliefs. What follows is a brief introduction to my beliefs.
1. When you are dead, you are dead. Many people find this a scary hope-deprived position, but I find it the exact opposite. The belief that this is the only life that I will ever have frees me up to make the most of this life.
When I was a child, I was taught that this life was a test to see what sort of life I would have once I was dead. If I passed the test, I would go to heaven, but if I failed the test, I would go to hell. According to the instructions that I received, passing the test was easy; all I had to do was believe that Jesus died to save me from my sins.
But there was a problem. I have an old fashioned view that you only believe things that make sense, and for which there is sufficient evidence. The idea of an afterlife and some guy dying to save me from my sins failed on both these criteria, so I cannot believe it. Therefore, according to the teaching I received as a child, I am doomed for hell.
Forming the belief that there is no afterlife frees me from having to worry about it and allows me to enjoy this life. It is a liberating and empowering belief.
2. We create our own meaning of life. Through the centuries, philosophers and others have tried to find the meaning of life. The problem with this search is that it makes several unfounded assumptions:
Once again, these assumptions fail the test of making sense and of having any supporting evidence, so my old-fashioned view doesn't allow me to accept any of these beliefs, and I reject the lot of them.
So if life has no pre-ordained purpose or meaning, then we are free to create our own. Once again this is an empowering and liberating belief. Many people object to my first two beliefs on the grounds that I have no reason to behave morally, because I'm unconcerned about my future. That is where my third major belief comes in.
3. The best life is one that is value-driven. If you lived alone on a desert island, it would be almost impossible for you to behave immorally. But none of us lives alone; we share our lives with others. If we all did as we pleased, we would live lives that - as Thomas Hobbes pointed out - would be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. Therefore it is important that we develop rules of conduct that allow us to go about our daily lives in safety, free from the fear that someone else's goals are going to trample over our own, and with the responsibility to ensure that our own goals do not trample on the goals of others.
A value-driven life is one that helps to create a society that is better for everyone, not just a chosen few, and certainly not one that is so self-centred that it ignores the rights of others. To lead a value-driven life, we need to think about our place in the world, and what we can do as individuals, and as a society to improve the conditions under which we all live. The irony is that the more you do to create a better society, the more you benefit from living in that improved society.
4. Life is to be enjoyed. If you only get one life, why not make it a joyous occasion? Get out and get involved in life. Set aside time each day to have fun and try to ensure that you make someone else's life fun too. Look after your health by eating properly, exercising, and not over-indulging in things that are detrimental to your health and wellbeing. Get into the habit of living zestfully.
In addition to living zestfully, enjoyment comes from having a passion for a long-range pursuit. We find pleasure in those things that take time, such as raising children, writing a book, learning to play a musical instrument, or building a loving relationship with someone special.
5. We can all stubbornly refuse to make ourselves miserable. The bulk of our misery is created by our own self-defeating beliefs. Learning to monitor our thoughts and change the ones that make us miserable is the key to leading a life that is fulfilling and joyous. Getting into the habit of rational thinking gives you the inner freedom to become the person you want to be as all your self-created restrictions, fears and self-criticisms melt away.
Life is full of hassles that can easily lead to us feeling depressed, afraid, or angry. But by thinking about our problems rationally, we can face them calmly, we can develop the courage to change those things that we have the capability to change, and we can act compassionately towards others and ourselves despite our faults.
There you have it. Obviously there is more to my beliefs than this brief introduction shows, but I hope that it gives you some insight into how I believe it is possible to lead a rewarding life.
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