Thursday, April 05, 2007

Life's Biggest Questions?

The other day, Newsweek referred to "Is God real?" as "life's biggest question". The occasion was a polite debate between contemporary thinker Sam Harris and megachurch pastor Rick Warren, which I've reviewed here. Perhaps I shouldn't be concerned with what Newsweek deems life's biggest question is, but it struck me that it might be fun to explore the notion a bit.

Why would any of us think the existence of deity was life's biggest or most important question?

I suspect the likely answer is we have been told the question involves whether we will at some point go to heaven or hell. If given that choice, many of us would naturally prefer to be in hell with our friends than be in heaven with the likes of Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and James Dobson, but the catch is that heaven is eternal bliss while hell is eternal torture.

So, perhaps it boils down to this: The existence of deity is thought to be life's biggest or most important question because it involves death's biggest reward or punishment.

Yet, does even that loose-loose choice between eternal bliss with the likes of the Religious Right versus eternal torture in the company of our honest friends genuinely make, "Is God real", "life's biggest question"?

As everyone knows, it's all very speculative whether deity exists, whether deity has created a heaven and hell, whether deity assigns souls to one or the other, or whether there's anything we ourselves can do about where we go upon death. There is no conclusive evidence for any of that, as demonstrated by 2300 years of mostly rigorous philosophical inquiry into the matter. And that should leave us wondering whether there aren't bigger and better questions than "Is God real".

For instance: We could ask whether it matters at all if deity exists or not? What difference would the existence of deity make, and how would it make that difference? For even if deity existed, it seems we would still be ignorant of the fact that deity existed, still ignorant of any demands deity made on us, and still ignorant of any way the existence of deity played a role in our lives.

Sure, someone could say, "if deity exists, then heaven and hell exist, then eternal reward and punishment exist, and so forth", but -- once again -- that would all remain speculation.

The question of whether it matters at all whether deity exists or not seems to me a more primal question than the question, "Is God real". Yet, I wouldn't even call that question "life's biggest". For I think such questions as, "How are we to live?", and "What is the Good Life?", are far more important than even, "Does it matter if deity exists?".


Anonymous said...


BrandonE said...

The questions you propose are much better, and they are also what I would have chosen.