Posted by our religious correspondent Richard Rawlinson
The North Texas Church of Freethought, according to its website [http://www.
A group of non-believers who acknowledge how many aspects of religion continue to attract, their interest is in what they hold to be the human imagination which dreamt up gods and creeds. They recognise that religion embraces architecture, art, nature, marriage, death, ritual, time – and that by getting rid of God, one is dispensing with notions that have held societies together.
This secularised version of Christianity is not new. In the early days of the French Revolution, painter Jacques-Louis David unveiled “A Religion of Mankind”, which aimed to build upon the best aspects of religious tradition, with feast days, wedding ceremonies, revered figures (secularised saints) and atheistic churches. The new religion would use buildings, good books and academia (seminaries) to try to make us good.
David’s experiment never took off. The Church of Freethought tried to open a ‘parish’ in California but it, too, folded. Is it surprising that secularismhasn’t been able to inspire communal rituals as religion does? Most secularists are content to act individually rather than communally. Why wouldn’t one sleep in, go shopping or read online on Sunday rather than go and hear a secularist lecture (sermon)?
Religions require sacrifices, and reject the secular assurance that everyone can discover happiness and meaning simply through physical life – work and love.
Theists find this as difficult to comprehend as atheists do the belief in a life after death, and the division seems unbridgeable. To some theists, an atheist is necessarily a nihilist, for whom beliefs are unfounded and existence senseless. If each generation’s death means the end of those individuals, then we’re faced with an endless cycle of creation and destruction, the meaning of which, if any, is incomprehensible.
Certainly the bereaved are affected by death, but death cannot be of any consequence to the purely physical human being who no longer exists. If you cease to exist, you need not fear death, where you will feel neither pain, nor pleasure, nor peace, nor torment.
But humanists assert that a person’s life before physical death has existential meaning. Belief in some kind of physical persistence of a human being’s past is the rational argument for the conclusion that even if physical death is the end, living a good life gives meaning and value to human existence.
Humanist philosophers also often speak of the void that would follow death as “the abyss”, suggesting a journey to an unknown place which lies at the end of our physical lifetimes. They seem to be giving substance to “nothing” as we cannot understand or visualise nothing.
Several of today’s physicists concur that we exist in some kind of four dimensional “space-time”. Mathematician Hermann Minkowski said: “Space by itself, and time by itself, have vanished into the merest shadows and only a kind of blend of the two exists in its own right.” Space-time is essentially the history of the universe, containing every event that ever happens.
While it appears to be impossible to scientifically prove that life has meaning, it is equally impossible to prove that it does not.