Michael Battalio

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Serious conversations... (part 5)

I apparently forgot to post the last serious conversation. Here it is:

A bit of a disclaimer, this is the fifth in series of serious blog posts about religion and philosophy. If you have ever chatted with me about philosophy and religion and very much disagree, be prepared for that to continue.
 These are my responses (Edited, of course, to offend as few people as possible; although offense is inevitable with me.) from a conversation I am having with an atheist friend of mine about the meaning of life, consciousness, physics, the kitchen sink, religion and a couple of moral issues thrown in to boot. 
 Before every single religious person starts chomping at the bit, let me say this is not an argument about whether there is a God. This is more philosophical in nature. Also let me say that my unnamed friend is one of the most moral, responsible and decent people I have ever met, so no one take the high ground until you’ve read the entire series, and still don’t take it then either. This fifth entry is about my individual purpose to life.

Some time ago I started to read (and still haven’t finished, you know me) The Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle. He set out his purpose of life as being for Eudaimonia. (Eudaimonia is usually translated as happiness, but a better translation is that of human flourishing.) Aristotle says Eudaimonia is the pursuit of virtue through rational activity. (Aristotle then goes on to explain the virtues he refers to: rationality, relationships, scientific knowledge, character, etc.) I am using this philosophy as the opposing crutch to my purpose relating to there being a God. Eudaimonia makes up for what I find purpose-lacking religiously. It's an interesting concept. All humans strive knowledge (most of us at least) and happiness. (I am realizing already that I'm not going to do as good a job as Aristotle at explaining this.) Those things aren't good enough; that's why most people feel unfulfilled. You need all the other virtues to get anything out of life. It's the combination of character, intellect and knowledge that makes life worth-while.
It's curious that we are the only creatures that have to have a purpose to life. We are a very goal oriented species, and we are very good at inventing reasons for life. I think a lot of this as to do with the fact we are one of a few species that has free time. We can provide more than our needs, so we have to find things to occupy our time. Animals don't care they might not have a purpose if there are too busy fending off the latest predator to think about it. If we can't find things to fill that time we wonder why we are here if we can't do things we want instead of need.
If you can have a purpose to life without religion, then that is very commendable and independent of you. I can't. I wouldn't say I envy you though because I do like and genuinely believe in my religious convictions, but I will say I don't see how people can subscribe to an existence where the only reason they wake up is to be one day closer to death and therefore heaven. I need more than just religion as a reason to wake up in the morning. If I were you, I wouldn't be embarrassed of it though. There's no reason to be, in almost the same way I'm not embarrassed because I'm Roman Catholic and not Greek Orthodox or Baptist or Muslim or Hindu. Subscribing to a faith is all concept is just as commendable as being able to live with no religion at all.
For me the fact remains that I need both faith and reason to survive. I find that at some point along the way my convictions fail with just one and without the other.

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