Finding Meaning

Andrew Sullivan wrote in The Intelligencer that “It is impossible not to have a religion if you are a human being…By religion I mean…a way of life that gives meaning…We are a meaning-seeking species.” However, he seems to mean that it is impossible not to seek meaning, but that it is possible to fail to acquire enough religion to actually obtain the meaning you can’t help but seek.

Andrew takes shots at a lot of different groups, all of whom share the mistake of abandoning true Christianity according to him. He sees a great many problems stemming from the fact that traditional religious institutions are increasingly irrelevant. He says people are looking for their religion elsewhere and Trumpism isn’t working for them.

Commenting on this article, Clay Routledge said, “This “religious impulse” results from humans being existential animals. It is in our nature to seek enduring meaning, to strive to be part of something larger and more enduring than the fragile and mortal individual self.” In that thread Clay elaborates that the substitution goes both ways, secular-to-religious or religious-to-secular, but the need for meaning endures.

It seems that these authors take it as a matter of fact, barely worth acknowledging, that 1) humans need meaning and 2) religion is the way humans get meaning. Even when people make the secular-religious distinction they point out that if someone manages to obtain meaning via “secular” means it looks largely indistinguishable from religion. So “secular” mostly means “something other than traditional religious institutions”.

Finding meaning through secular means is the foundation for our humanist church. We agree with Routledge that humans are seek enduring meaning, but we disagree with Sullivan that religion is the only way to find it. More people today are looking for meaning outside of traditional religious institutions. What they find is that there aren’t many other constructs they can turn to which help them discover meaning.

While some might claim politics is replacing religion, political ideologies do not provide meaning. An ideology can provide some of the artifacts of religion, such as a way of living, dogma, and community. Ideologies, thought, tend to be limited to the particular goals they were created to achieve (political, private, etc.) thereby limiting their ability to provide generalized meaning.

The characteristic that all traditional religions share, and that “secular” options seemed to lack, is a connection to infinite meaning. The characteristic all “secular” options share, that traditional religions lack, is that they don’t need to reference the supernatural.

We started our humanist-church because we want a framework for playing the infinite game that doesn’t depend on any supernatural ideas. Thus, we get the best of both worlds: infinite natural meaning.

For more on our philosophy, check out our foundation post here.