Introduction

Life is beautiful; life is challenging; life is short. Each of us will have a very different experience of life but many of us will ask the same questions: What is the meaning of life? Will my life have meant anything after I'm gone? Will I even be remembered?

This blog is a collection of musings on the meaning of life and offers suggestions for leading a fulfilling, meaningful and memorable life.

Thursday

Do I need religion to give my life meaning?

Many people, ascribing to several different faiths, endeavour to give their lives meaning and structure by adhering to a particular set of religious preachings or guidelines for living a “good life” (as defined by their chosen religion). Some of them may seek to persuade others that religious faith is the only way to understand the meaning of life. But do I need religion to give my life meaning?

Evgeni Dinev/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I should preface the following by making clear that I am familiar with the social convention that one should never discuss sex, politics or religion at a dinner party – for fear of offending other (rather sensitive) guests. I also fully appreciate that many people are wholly unwilling to discuss their religious preferences and views, and that some people take great offence from anyone who so much as implies that their chosen religion might be in any way wrong or not the one true religion. However, I also fully appreciate the value of the freedom of speech, and believe that everyone is entitled to their own opinion on any given subject. So, if you don't want to read my opinions about religion, go pick another post to read.

The answer to the question posed may well depend upon how broadly we define "religion". One might attempt to define religion very broadly to mean a set of beliefs that attempt to explain our existence and the meaning of life. In that case, it seems almost axiomatic that I need religion to give my life meaning (because the term “religion” would then refer to the beliefs that comprise my answer to the question that I was asking myself). However, most of us use the word religion to refer to one of the major, organised religions; to refer to the belief in, and worship of, a god or gods. It is this latter definition that I refer to when I query whether I need religion in order to give life meaning.

If a particular religion is necessary to give my life meaning, the clear implication is that I cannot give my life meaning unless I follow the teachings of that religion. However, at least in predominantly secular societies (such as the UK), a person's religious beliefs are often (but not always) a matter of personal choice, much like any other choice they might make about their lives: Where should I live? What job shall I take? Who shall I spend my time with? When religious preference is so easily chosen, it seems to me that whether or not I choose to follow a particular religion is only one way of many in which I might seek to give my life meaning – the very fact that I have a choice about what to believe means that no particular set of beliefs (or prescribed way of living a “good life”) can objectively guarantee to give my life meaning. If it could, wouldn't we all follow the same religion?

Even if I were to accept that the only way to give my life meaning was by leading my life according to religious principles and teachings, which religion is the correct one to teach me how to live a meaningful life? There are 19 major religions (20 if you include Scientology, and why should we ignore it just because it's the most recently developed?). 20 different (albeit occasionally similar – at least when considering general principles and overarching themes) religions, each offering a different system of beliefs and teachings. It stands to reason that they cannot all be correct or the only way that I can give my life meaning (particularly when several contradict each other and propound that followers of other faiths are wrong to do so).

Religious beliefs appear to give some believers real comfort. They also purport to offer answers to questions that we cannot (yet) answer – deep, meaningful questions, like: Why am I here? What is the meaning of life? Is there one correct way to live my life? The very fact that so many people follow organised religions demonstrates that each religion must surely offer benefits to those people who (freely) choose to follow them. Followers of each religion doubtless benefit from feelings of shared experiences with other believers of the same faith; from the emotional and psychological comfort offered by being part of a large, collective belief system; from the structure and direction offered by regular gatherings, lectures and discussions. All of these benefits are no doubt very real to the people who enjoy them, and are most likely craved by many people who feel directionless in life, or who question the purpose of being. But is religion the only way that I can give my life meaning?

In my view, there are a plethora of ways to give one's life meaning. Just for example, by contributing to the advancement of human understanding or knowledge; by improving the lives of others; simply by endeavouring to achieve one's own personal goals in life. For me, following the teachings of a particular religion is just an additional way of seeking to understand more about life.
It seems to me that there is more than one way to live a meaningful life, just as there is more than one way to be happy and fulfilled. Religion (whichever one a person may choose – or be required - to follow) is just one way in which a person may seek to give their life meaning; to understand more about who they are and why they're here. It seems clear to me, though, that I don't need religion to give my life meaning, and, even if I did, how would I ever know for sure which religion was the right one – the only one – to teach me how to live a meaningful life?

Religion, of course, is a belief system. To the extent that a person does not cause others to suffer as a result of his or her beliefs (whether religious or otherwise), then what that person thinks or believes should be entirely a matter for them to decide. As indeed should be their personal decisions about the right way for them to go about living a meaningful life. If religion has taught us nothing else, it has taught us that there is no single right answer to the question “what is the meaning of life?

9 comments:

  1. Great post!. I totally agree with your stance on religion. It's a shame that more people don't respect another person's right to choose what role religion should play in their life.

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  2. It can make your life meaningful in the way that many religions practice following Christ and living by his example. Which is treating others kindly and doing service to others. Often when you live this way you feel good about yourself and your life.

    HEALTHY LIFESTYLE ALTERNATIVES

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  3. Thanks, Kimmie. I think it's fair to say that the world would be a far, far better place if followers of each formal religion were more tolerant of the beliefs of people choosing to follow other religions, and of "non believers".

    One's religious persuasion or views (or lack thereof) should be of no more concern to another person than one's dietary preferences or opinions about the existence of fairies.

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  4. Thanks for your post, HealthyMom. You certainly highlight two admirable characteristics that certain religions encourage in certain individuals. However, I'm not sure that a person needs to be a Christian (or any other sort of religious believer) in order to treat others kindly and do service to others.

    The strong message that you convey, however, is that altruism (irrespective of what inspires or encourages it) benefits not only the recipient but also the benefactor. It's a win-win situation. The only shame is that more people don't recognise this.

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  5. My name is Christopher. I come from a Christian family. Way back, after finishing my schooling and when I was doing my Intermediate (junior college), I sensed a kind of emptiness in my heart. (This emptiness, which I later-on understood, was God’s way of drawing me to Himself). In my desperate attempts to solve this problem, I found myself bunking college and attending Christian meetings and visiting Christian bookshop with the hope of finding a solution. During one such visit to a Christian bookshop, I came across a small book-let titled; Tell me plainly, how to be saved. Through this book-let (written according to the Bible), I have understood that every human-being is a sinner and is bound to go to hell after one’s time on this planet-earth is over. But God’s great love for man-kind made Him send His only son, Jesus Christ, into this world. Jesus, who lived a sin-less life, suffered an account of our sins and died on the cross in our place. He rose again from death the third day and is now in the midst of us in the form of the Holy Spirit. Whoever believes in Him will become a child of God and will skip hell to enter heaven, the presence of the Almighty God.


    The book-let went-on to say that the way of believing in Jesus Christ is by repenting of our sins and asking Jesus for forgiveness for our sins as only the blood of Jesus Christ has the power to cleanse us from every kind of sin. Then we should invite Jesus into our hearts. When I did all this, the emptiness in my heart left and the love, joy & peace which I never had till then filled my heart. Since then, the Lord has been wonderfully leading me and has never left me alone, as per His promise in the Bible for all those who come to him in faith. He gave a purpose for my living. Whatever I have been going through in life, I can say with all confidence, that there was never a time that I felt or was left helpless; this is so as one of the precious promises in the Bible says: “Even lions go hungry for lack of food, but those who obey the LORD lack nothing good.”

    This is how the Lord has sought me, forgave my sins, made me His child, gave me a purpose for living, has been meeting all my needs and put His peace & joy in my heart that no person or experience or circumstance or problem can take it away.

    It’s a Biblical fact that every person has a heart with a God-shaped vacuum and nothing can fill that vacuum, except God Himself. This is why we need to invite Jesus to come into our hearts after repenting of our sins.

    The one decision I will never regret is, giving my heart to the Lord Jesus Christ. I hope and wish that you also will make a decision to make Jesus Christ your personal Lord and Savior. If so, please say this prayer meaningfully from your heart:

    Lord Jesus Christ, I believe that you are the Almighty God. Thank you for suffering on the cross for my sake. I now repent of all my sins. Forgive me of my sins. Cleanse me with your precious blood. Come into my heart, Lord Jesus and make me your child. From now on, I will read the Bible regularly and obey what it says. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

    If you have made a decision to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, please let me know the good news. Thanks. May you know the truth, and the truth will set you free. my email id tcchristo@gmail.com

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  6. I'm irreligious but I'm nice, I'll help people were I can and I'll fight to protect a principle if I need to.

    I don't need some story of a supposed prophet or some unprovable notion about the origins of this universe and creation for me to be as worthy of my life as a religious zealot, and I don't need any fantasy of life after death to help me deal with my demise either.

    But if you do ... that's OK by me.

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  7. The trouble I have is this: Why should I have to struggle through this life when I was forced into it by my mothers selfish act? I am waiting for the day when someone will answer that question.

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  8. To me, if one believes in God and tries to live life in a way which does not hurt or disappoint God, then one does not need to live life according to a particular religion. One would surely win worth in the eyes of God if one is living a pious life in which one helps others and plays a positive part in this worldly life. This might be an open-minded approach that does not stay bound because of a certain religious domain.

    To me, religion creates divide. We understand and respect most of the professions around us, even though our own profession might be different, because we in one way or the other understand how all the different professionals are required in the society, such as doctor, engineer, architect, painter, carpenter, tailor, teacher, lawyer, and so on. However, when it comes to other religions, sometimes the respect that is due diminishes and one places his/her own religion as the supreme religion or at least draws an element of discrimination. I wish to rise above such differences and be able to live with all those across the borders in a world without boundaries. May God bless us and guide guard us and help us in living good peaceful lives Aamin.

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  9. Great Post and very interesting comments as well. In my view a religion is no different from a fan club. As rightly said in the post, religion is a collection of belives. Just like, if I like soft classical music than hard rock style, it then becomes my choice to find the meaning of my life through this preference. Religion is nothing but a tool and in my view not the "only" way to live. It is like a rope that we can hold on to (if we want) as we climb to mountain of life.

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