Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Just what is "Higher Meaning and Value" anyway?

A philosophy professor, Gary Cutting, has proposed a re-definition of Pascal's Wager in a New York Times opinion piece called: "Pascal’s Wager 2.0".  It's a fairly long piece, although since we are talking philosophy maybe this wouldn't be considered long.  It boiled down to Gary believing that everyone in the world cannot lose by wanting some level of "higher meaning and value" in their life that apparently can only come from belief in a "beneficent power beyond the natural world".

When I first read it I had trouble separating "beneficent power beyond the natural world" from a God, and I guess I still do.  What it looks like Gary has tried to do is water down the specifics of a deity until you reach a point where the concept is pretty much ubiquitous regardless of what religion you are talking about, but I think you are still talking religion.  But I guess calling is a 'Generic God' wouldn't sound so good.  Would he/she were a white robe with black block lettering?

I originally had a question, why does Gary insist on it being 'beneficent'?  It took me a minute to realize that he's not making an assumption, as I originally thought, he's simply moving the goals posts where he wants them.  Think about it, why should anyone want a relationship with an uncaring power, so assuming beneficent is a selling point.  At first I was a little confused, but once I realized that it was part of Gary changing the concept around, it made sense . . . well at least it was understandable, making sense . . . might have been too strong an expression.

So, now that I think I have a handle on it, I have to pare things back to the purpose.  Something I was taught a long time ago, always keep your purpose in front of you.  It was originally taught me as part of various communication courses.  For example if you are writing a speech, determine the purpose of the speech and keep it in front of you while you write the rest of the speech.  It tends to help you focus on what you are after and helps avoid meanderings into areas that don't serve the purpose.  Yes, there are many other aspects, but everything should be driven by the purpose.

My experience is that you can pretty well apply the idea of 'purpose' universally.  I find myself applying it to understanding the purposes of others.  It helps me place the things they do within context.  So when I read something like this, I like to try and determine their purpose, or at least examine their stated purpose and see how things mesh with my thinking.

Gary pretty well seemed clear on his purpose.  He sees no negative issues with a belief in a "beneficent power beyond the natural world" because he thinks it means even the most hardened atheist wants to have "higher meaning and value" in their life.  That's where things started moving out of true for me, I mean what the hell does 'higher' mean?

When you use such a categorical statement, you usually have to place it within some sort of context.  The ONLY context that seems to fit is a religious one.  What exactly is higher within Gary's context?  I can't get a handle on it, other than Gary thinks it's desirable.  Do I, and yes, I am speaking personally, do I need a higher meaning?  If you think the answer is yes, please tell me why?  I believe my life has meaning and value and I believe I created it through living my life and taking the actions that I took.  But where does 'higher' come into the picture?  Is supporting a charity higher?  If so, then I qualify.  If the ONLY definition of 'higher' involves the need to invoke one deity of another, I am missing the purpose!

Did I have a deity, or even a 'beneficent power beyond the natural world' holding my hand through it?  I haven't seen any evidence of it and while many offer their opinion, they offer no evidence to support it.  For example, I have often been told meeting my wife was a act of God, but in reality it took a trip to Mississippi.  When I say things like that they sorta recoil and come back with something like "But the timing, what is she wasn't there?"  My response, "Well then I guess we wouldn't have met." usually meets with a recoil now in horror.  "But you two were destined . . ."  and my usual response is either "Bullshit!" or "Prove it!" depending on whether I want the conversation to go on.  You see, there is an awful lot of opinion on the actions of this 'beneficent power beyond the natural world', but no evidence to support it, only conjecture.  If meeting my 'destined' spouse is an act of a deity, then that deity better get off his/her/their asses because damn few marriages go any distance any more. 

Like meaning, I believe my life has value, and I hope my family believes so or I won't be eating the meatloaf tonight (family inside joke)!  I also believe my life has meaning, but when it comes to both of those, 'higher' means exactly what?  There is one of my dilemmas.

'Higher' could mean anything!  Higher than myself, as in Society?  Does my life have meaning and value in the terms of Society?  I would hope so.  I work, earn a my living, operate within the economy, save for retirement, donate to charities, vote . . ..  Do I have value to Society?  I have to say yes, since I am a member of that society, I, and my actions, are part of it.  While I question, I try not to destroy.  I operate within societal norms, at least I think I do.  I don't claim sainthood, but I figure I am pretty  . . . hmmm, I hate using the word 'normal' here, but it seems to fit.  I usually say that 'Normal' is a setting on the dryer in my house, but in this case, I guess I am pretty much 'normal..

I'm sure you can see where I am going.  I do not agree that having a higher meaning and value in my life requires the acceptance of a beneficent power, generic or specific.  So, as a result, I don't feel the need to take up Pascal's Wager or Gary's supposed upgraded version.  I doubt too many people would be impressed because those who believe, don't want a generic deity, and those who do not aren't going to consider it seriously anyway.   Those who claim to be 'spiritual' rather than religious might appreciate the 'new' wager, but I doubt it.  I think I gave it more thought that it needed, but then I am silly that way.

Gary also made another statement:

"Denial of God means that I simply close the door on the hope that there is something beyond the natural world; "
I'm not sure I agree with that. Any denial I have is more the 'I really don't care' variety.  There may or may not be something beyond the natural world, but since no one has offered any supporting evidence, other than fanciful stories, I don't let that possibility drive my life.  I further believe people shouldn't let it drive their life, but that's my personal opinion.  I actively oppose people trying to use their beliefs to drive my life!  Freedom of Religion also means Freedom From Religion!

OK, enough on this topic.  If someone has some ideas of 'higher meaning and value' that does not involve to requirement to invoke one deity of another, I would be interesting in hearing it.  But for now, I will continue to live with the meaning and value my life currently has, irrespective of the involvement of a deity, no matter what stories anyone wants to believe.

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