I was happy to see Stephen Maitzen commenting on my previous post. You see, Stephen and I have a bit of a history as longtime readers of this blog will know (where longtime is defined roughly as more than a year). For example, see here and here and here and here.
Now Stephen has challenged my life is a text argument and in doing so has linked us to a short article he wrote called “On God and Our Ultimate Purpose.” I recommend you take the time to read it. It is only three pages and Stephen writes well and argues clearly and with conviction.
I am going to take a bit of time to engage with his article which seeks to argue toward a provocative conclusion that I don’t accept:
“Ultimate purpose can’t exist even if God does; it’s a fantasy that shouldn’t draw anyone to theism.” (37)
Maitzen begins with a well-known essay by William Lane Craig called “The Absurdity of Life without God.” In that article Craig repeatedly states that without God life has no ultimate meaning (in this article I use the words “purpose”, “meaning” and “significance” interchangeably). But what, Maitzen asks, does “ultimate” mean here? Maitzen observes:
“One thing he seems to mean by it is ‘unending’: our lives can have ultimate significance only if they never end. He goes further: our lives have significance at all only if they have ultimate significance, and they lack ultimate significance if they ever end. If we cease to exist when our bodies die, our lives mean nothing.” (35)
I don’t think Queen, and Freddie Mercury in particular, would agree with Craig. After all, Queen performed “Who wants to live forever?” (Eat your heart out Andre Rieu.) Maitzen is with Queen on this one. He too doesn’t believe that forwardly-everlasting existence is necessary for significance. As he puts it,
“But is it true that nothing temporary has significance? Think about great music or drama. Does a world-class performance of Tosca or King Lear [or Queen’s “A Night at the Opera”] lack significance just because it lasts only a few hours? Would it have more significance if it never ended? Hardly. Its significance in fact depends on its having a finite arc; it would lose its significance and become unbearably tedious if it went on forever.” (35)
I agree with Maitzen on this. I don’t think fowardly everlasting existence is necessary for significance. However, I think the point could be made stronger than Maitzen makes it in the above-quoted passage. After all, a Craigite (or Craigean?) could possibly retort that a musical performance need not be fowardly everlasting to be significant but a human person does.
I think we can deal with that possible retort by considering Jesus’ famous summary of the law and prophets in two commandments:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-39)
It should be obvious that from a Christian perspective a human life that fulfills these two commandments is a significant human life. That significance is dependent wholly upon the fulfillment of those commandments and not on one’s living forever. Thus, even if one lives forever, the significance of one’s life consists not in the fact that they live forever but rather that they love (or fail to love) God and neighbor as they live forever. (Queen would agree: as Freddie sings, “Who wants to live forever when love must die…” In other words, living forever is only significant if it is a particular kind of living, i.e. one in which you also love forever.)
Moreover, it seems to me that a Christian should accept that there are many possible worlds in which God creates creatures that don’t live forever and yet which have significant lives just the same. (Anybody who would claim that such worlds are logically possible but not feasible for God to create would bear a significant burden of proof given that such worlds seem perfectly feasible.)
Thus, it seems to me that every Christian should agree with Stephen Maitzen, and Queen (and me) that a significant life need not be one that continues forever.