Sunday, December 29, 2013

Why does life matter?

During Christmas's twelve days Walter Russel Mead is exploring "The Meaning of Christmas": "Why do Christians and so many other people believe in an invisible ruler and creator of the universe — and then how does the Christian idea of God differ from the others?" Today he takes up the question at about the same place C.S. Lewis did in the beginning of Mere Christianity: are there transcendent moral standards and, if so, where do they come from?
.... Most people believe in God because they feel that life means something.

We are born, we move through life; if we are lucky we grow old and die. As all this happens, we feel things. We feel connections to other people – to family, friends, lovers and spouses, fellow citizens of a nation, fellow members of our species facing a common fate on a single and fragile planet, the animals that share our lives and our world. We see astounding acts of heroism and devotion, especially in everyday life. We see parents sacrificing for the sake of their children, young people caring for aged relatives, firemen rushing into burning buildings to save people they don’t even know, inspiring teachers who earn very little money but seem contented and fulfilled, volunteers giving spare time and money to their communities in many ways, judges who give honest verdicts without favor or fear – and on and on and on. ....

Most people, including the very large majority of those people who say they are atheists, believe that life means something. To those who believe that life means something, the moral feelings we have about justice and duty (for example) aren’t just random biological signals that flash across our neurons in response to evolutionary patterns. We sometimes can’t articulate why this is true, but we feel that it matters that we do the right thing: that we bring up our kids well, that we honor our parents and care for them when they are old, that we remain loyal to our spouses and keep our wedding vows, that we behave fairly in our dealings with other people and that we contribute to the greater good through the way we live our lives. There are people and causes for which many of us are willing (though perhaps not particularly eager) to die.

Maybe we feel this way because we are biologically hard-wired to do so, but the fact is that the overwhelming majority of people around the world believe that life counts and that the whole is somehow greater than the sum of the parts. ....

Discussions and disputes about the nature of God are best understood as discussions about the nature of meaning. They involve the different answers people give to the question “What is life really all about?”

Christians answer that question with a distinctive understanding of God; looking into that a little more deeply will help us see how Christians can possibly believe that a baby in a manger could be God — and what they mean when they say it. .... [more]