I should acknowledge that Richard Packham’s column in which he frequently espouses his atheist world view annoys me. At the same time, I am grateful The News-Review allows a space in the public forum to rise about the usual mindless chatter and talk about things that really matter. So it was with that ambivalence that I read Mr. Packham’s recent comments regarding the purpose of life. Mr. Packham’s stated his personal purpose was to exist and that for others it was whatever they decided it to be.
It matters. C.S Lewis wrote that before a boat goes out on the high seas, it has to answer three questions. First is how to stay afloat (personal ethics). Second is how to avoid bumping into other boats (social ethics). Third, and most important, is why it is out there in the first place (essential ethics).
Subsumed in any discussion of good and evil or injustice and violence is the purpose of life that has been assigned by that world view. To violate means to desecrate or take something away from its intended purpose. It is only when you understand purpose and essence that you can fully understand what it means to violate it. If there is no established purpose outside of personal opinion, what is it you violate?
Every question of evil is either raised by a person or is about a person. The concept of personhood is inextricably bound to the moral impetus of the question. You cannot have the moral component in the question unless you have essential worth to personhood. Intrinsic worth, which is indispensable for the validity of the question, cannot be conveyed by state or culture, or any other power. If man is randomly evolved from time plus matter plus chance, what is his worth independent of his own feelings? The only way to justify intrinsic worth for every life is if there is a transcendent intrinsically worthy first cause who created that life and imparted that worth.
Everyone has a world view. Most people just haven’t thought it through. A world view is a lens through which one looks at life to make judgments and to find consolation and coherence. This world view is not one’s dream or purpose, but it sets the parameters of the dream; what is possible, what is desired, what is right and wrong.
The concept of right and wrong introduces tension. It seems arrogant and judgmental. So one says, “everybody has the right to determine morality and purpose for themselves. I will not judge.” This may seem an honorable position until one realizes in assuming it, one has forfeited the right to criticize even the most depraved, vile or cruel behavior. It is, after all, just another opinion. And one man’s evil is another man’s justice.
Everyone has a world view. And those loudest to deny a defined world view of their own are most quick to criticize the one they see in others. It feels good, even righteous. But every denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind. You cannot say this idea or action is wrong without there being a right way to respond. And if there is a right and wrong, there has to be a moral law with which to differentiate the two. And if there is a moral law, there has to be a moral lawgiver — either yourself, society or God. And when one says man can be good without God, he assumes he gets to decide what is good.
Mr. Packham assumes being yourself is the thing to be, as if yourself was automatically interesting and good. The consequence is that what was once called selfishness is now called fulfillment. The word “love” is used just as much as it ever was, but it means something else entirely. For a Christian, the measure of love is what one is willing to give up for it. For the existentialist, the measure of love is the most exciting state of the ego and reflects what another can do for you. The social consequences are more greed, more crime, more family breakdown, more violence and an extreme restlessness and distrust that permeates society.
Dean Koontz wrote “when social forces press for the rejection of age old truth, then those who reject it will seek meaning in their own truth. These truths will rarely be truth at all; they will be only collections of personal preference and prejudices.” We are called to a greater purpose than this.
Tim Powell is a physician and the president of Evergreen Family Medicine. He has lived and practiced in Roseburg since 1980. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.