When seeking purpose it is almost inevitable that the search will at some point prompt us to confront our most personally held beliefs about religion, spirituality, and faith. Strange though that many times this is equated with purpose despite most people not tying that self-proclaimed purpose to the manner in which they wade through life. Religion and spirituality is often practised and defined as a specific extension of who we are but rarely defines our complete being, which poses a challenge to the claim that religion gives us purpose especially when considered in light of the priorities we tend to focus on in an ordinary day. Those priorities are rarely aligned with that purpose that we convince ourselves is the beacon by which we steer our course through this world.
It’s even more strange when I observe people turning to sages and scholars to seek guidance as to their (those people’s) purpose which in turn informs their sense of religiosity or spirituality, often without them even realising it. Most often it ends up confirming their subscription to someone else’s purpose rather than them realising their own purpose. I speak of this in the third person because it is something that I can’t ever recall relating to. There was a time in my youth when learning through academic processes about my choice of religion or cultural practices was an expected indulgence in order for me to be a successful part of the system that society constructed around me. However, applying those learnings without question should only last as long as it takes us to achieve a sense of self where deliberate and conscious effort defines our actions rather than habit or indoctrination.
The problem is that most people rarely move beyond the indoctrinated mindset because of the fear of being excommunicated from the social circles of which they long to be a significant member. However, so deeply is that fear of exclusion ingrained that even suggesting that they follow blindly in order to appease yields the most aggressive responses, sometimes cloaked in excessive overt spirituality. Unless we break away from such conditioning and start reflecting on our individual accountability for the belief system that we subscribe to, we’ll risk living a life devoid of purpose but cleverly disguised by our subservience to someone else’s calling as being purposeful.
Our choices or decisions must be based on truths or observations that we have realised in our own lives. It always amazes me to see how easily taken we are by the ramblings of scientists or scholars that define theories and dogma that relies on faith and cannot be proven in this lifetime, but again we fight jealously to defend the indoctrination that we subscribe to while believing that its propagation is our higher calling in life. This applies to both theists and atheists alike. We push ideas and philosophies down each other’s throats insisting that the opposing party is misguided or lacking in intelligence while forgetting that our assumption of intelligence is in fact arrogance, which if considered within the grand scheme of just the observable reality confirms our stupidity instead. I mean, how can we possibly assume a level of arrogance about these belief systems when we’re mere subjects of it rather than designers?
The problem I have with theists and atheists alike (for the most part) is that they do nothing more than deconstruct each others arguments without providing anything of substance in return. Theories are not substance, they’re only assumptions based on other assumptions that have been accepted to be reasonable assumptions, but nonetheless remain as nothing more than assumptions. So if we are to assume that atheists are correct, then there’s no point in the circular debates or discussions because our lives will only amount to that which our imagination allows it to as long as we’re breathing, since nothing comes after this life. And if that is indeed true, isn’t it a waste of an atheist’s life for them to try to convince others of this ‘truth’ that they believe they have uncovered if it all amounts to nothing once we’re dead? The average theists’ view is just as problematic because they try to convince the atheist that their belief based entirely on faith is a concrete belief because the scriptures say it is so, but often fail dismally when being asked to practically demonstrate the reality of what they profess to be the truth.
Our legacies serve only to feed our egos. Nothing we leave behind is of any worth to us once we die if the atheist’s view of the world is anything to go by. So again, I ask, if there is no purpose to life except what we construct for ourselves, and then surround ourselves with like-minded individuals that serve only to prop up our egos because of the inherent effect of affirmation, why then should atheists be bothered with whether or not theists believe them, or for that matter, believe in an unseen god? Similarly, why should a theist become obsessed with the belief system of an atheist if they have no physical proof to offer? So where does the truth lie regarding whose definition of the purpose of life is in fact true?
For the atheists, by their very own philosophy regarding the nothingness that comes after death, any attempt to convince anyone else of why atheists are correct would be a waste of life given how finite life is. However, for the theist, their belief in the after life defines their purpose and conviction in wanting to improve the lots of others and to see others subscribe to a set of values and principles that they believe will hold them in good stead when they believe it will matter most. i.e. on the Day of Judgement. So strictly speaking, if we compare the indoctrination of the one against the other, atheists generally tend to be living the agenda of the theists by insisting on propagating a belief system that holds no value for the disbeliever (so to speak) since by atheistic standards, the theist will amount to nought once they’re dead.
So perhaps it is time for both sides to realise this and instead of trying to convince each other of the merits of their belief systems, their focus should be on realising the value of their belief systems in a practical manner in their lives so that the demonstration of such benefits may serve as a consolation for the lack of hard evidence regarding who is right. Perhaps through our internalised focus of who we are and what we subscribe to, and the resultant dictate that we should be true to that conviction in everything we say and do, we will convince others of the veracity of our claims to be on the path of truth or intelligence.
The purpose of life therefore lies not in what is professed, nor in what is dictated or indoctrinated, nor in rituals or in irreverence but rather in what is realised to be of meaning beyond the selfish accomplishments of our own existence. In fact, I would hazard to go as far as saying that even if the theist strives to selfishly achieve the goals of their afterlife independent of their contribution to society, such a goal will remain elusive after death because of the neglect of their duties and the rights of those around them.
So in choosing my purpose in life, I have found myself inclined to reflect and observe rather than to dictate or indoctrinate, and in so doing, I’ve chosen those ways and philosophies that align with what I believe to be a logical outcome to this life. Even the casual observer can see that true justice does not exist in this lifetime. Even an eye for an eye does not yield true justice because the loss of an eye for a singer does not bear as much consequences as the loss of an eye for a scientist. It is exactly such relativity that dictates that the human need for justice cannot ever be fulfilled in this world. Considering this reality, for me, it therefore stands to reason that justice is only possible under the informed judgement of the One that created this system of cause and effect. If no true justice is possible in this world, and there was no consequence to this life except for those rewards or difficulties we earned in this lifetime, then what could possibly keep us obliged to respect the rights of another? In fact, on what authority would we then define those rights, or respect it? If such authority is established in society as a whole, who then establishes the authority for the imposition of those rights and responsibilities on the one that refuses to subscribe to society’s ideals?
It therefore stands to reason that in the absence of such a higher authority my right to murder or plunder must be respected just as much as another’s right to protect and maintain. This creates an impossible situation and fails to answer the most basic need of being human and that is to be treated fairly and to be maintained in a dignified manner. If we were to assume that that were just an evolution of societal standards, it would result in each of us being aggressors on anyone that disagrees because the imposition of our will through self-proclaimed authority will be the only means through which such a ‘natural’ order could be maintained. This seems illogical on all levels, and it is through such and similar reflections that I have arrived at my choice of purpose in life, as well as my subscription to a belief system that aligns with such observations and aspirations. But that is my purpose that I have chosen for myself. The moment I choose to impose that on someone else under the guise of wanting them to be guided correctly, I merely feed my ego and betray any higher purpose that I may profess to be serving.
For this reason, if nothing else, there can be no compulsion in religion. By extension, there can be no dictate of purpose either. We must seek to consciously choose our values in life, and if the belief systems that claim to be divinely inspired are indeed so, then it stands to reason that such introspection and observation will lead one to be aligned with such a belief system and compulsion for compliance will never be needed, nor justified.