To be or not to be
This week has caused me to reflect on life and its meaning. I attended a funeral for a man that served as an example of a life well lived. Tragedy struck the airport I grew up flying in and out of. Weeks like this reveal that life truly is but a breath, and our time here should be treasured and lived with purpose. However, we all have a deep sense that the way things are is not the way things ought to be.
This is why events like the senseless shooting at Fort Lauderdale Airport leave you shaking your head feeling sadness, but also confusion. It doesn’t seem right. Oftentimes, we are left questioning not only life and its meaning, but also the Author of Life. If God exists why would he allow suffering? What if we are just fooling ourselves, and there really is no God, no soul, no meaning? What if the whole idea of the “self” or the soul is an illusion?
Sam Harris, a renowned neuroscientist and atheist, says the self is an illusion. He asserts that we are not a thinker of thoughts in addition to the thoughts or an experiencer of events in addition to the events. Therefore, the sense, as he says, “that we are riding around inside our heads as a passenger in the vehicle of the body,” is a false reality. Instead, he would herald, as Francis Crick does, that you are “nothing but a pack of neurons.”
Sam Harris agrees humans can feel they have experienced a powerful and formational moment. He acknowledges self-transcendence, which is the overcoming of individual limits and individual desires in spiritual contemplation and realization.
But this only tells you about the possibility of extraordinary experiences and the nature of human consciousness, and Harris asserts the problem with religion is that it extrapolates these experiences to make grandiose claims on the nature of the universe.
As seen in history, we have for thousands and thousands of years been wrestling with the mystery of the universe, and its mysterious order and nature. We have found ourselves equipped with moral instincts, and a desire for justice. We have powerful and transformative religious experiences, and so, we have developed systems of belief that seek to explain reality.
The new atheism movement prides itself on being a movement of intellectuals seeking to explain away not religion itself, but what underpins all religions…the soul. If you can be convinced that there is no soul, or there really is no “you,” no “I,” nothing beyond, then all religions fall.
The problem is, if we are just determined products of a random universe, void of anything beyond or before, then not only does religion fall, but so also do all the things we hold most dear — justice, human rights, purpose, meaning. You cannot find justice under a microscope. A random universe based solely on survival of the fittest removes any possibility of purpose and meaning beyond survival. If there is no soul then human rights violations are an assault on what? A physical body?
Now, proponents of the new atheism movement or those who reject the idea of God will speak of civility, respect, and tolerance so that all may suck the marrow out of life as they define. However, then there is no framework by which to condemn or judge anyone for an opinion, action, or lifestyle choice. Therefore, there can be no justice because what is right for you may not be what is right for someone else. There is no concept of universal human rights. And purpose and meaning can only be defined as selfish living.
If there is no God and no soul then you have no right to shake your head at tragedy.
I believe in the universal truth of human rights because I believe all people are made in the image of God. I believe there is purpose and meaning, because I believe in a Creator above and eternity beyond. I believe in justice, because I believe in an original and intended design. I don’t believe we are “nothing but a pack of neurons.” I don’t believe that the self is an illusion, because I believe in a soul.
Horatio Spafford wrote one of my favorite hymns, “It is Well with my Soul.” He was a successful businessman who lost everything in the wake of the great Chicago Fire of 1871, after having invested along Lake Michigan. Shortly before his financial ruin, his son died. Amidst the turmoil, Horatio Spafford desired rest for his family, and so he planned a trip to Europe with his wife and four daughters. However, shortly before departure he had to stay in Chicago and planned to meet up with his family in a few days. The ship his family was on, S.S. Ville du Havre, sank killing his four daughters. Immediately, Horatio Spafford left to meet his wife who alone survived, and penciled “It is Well with my Soul” on his way.
The opening verse of the hymn says:
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
How could he write this in the midst of such great suffering?
Why does this story arouse emotions in us?
What could bring about hope such as this, except for a soul that believes in someone above and something beyond?
I like to think that Horatio Spafford was considering 2 Corinthians 4:16
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”
Science can explain the way things are, but it cannot explain the way things ought to be. That duty is reserved for the soul.