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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Existence IS meaningless (Page 2)

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Author Topic: Existence IS meaningless
trailmix
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"a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings."

Above is the dictionary definaition of athiest.

"a person who holds that the existence of the ultimate cause, as God, and the essential nature of things are unknown and unknowable, or that human knowledge is limited to experience."

Above is the dictionary definition of agnostic.

A group of organized athiest or agnostics can print a manifesto if they like. I personally consider myself a non-denomonational agnostic.

The majority of athiest and agnostics that I have spoken to, myself included, don't subscribe to one mans version (or another groups) version of their belief.


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tnwilz
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For the purposes of this group and the original question asked I used a very general idea of what agnostic and atheist brings to mind. I didn’t imagine in the context of that original question and subsequent discussion that I would be taken to task as to the exact academic definition of those terms. So I apologize if that was an issue for anyone or anyone would view me as “horribly” uneducated for using those terms in simplified forms.

Oliver, you and I have approached this from entirely different angles. You have played the devils advocate so to speak in that you sought to define beliefs that are not your own and did so quoting multiple academic sources. As you can see from some of the responses not everyone will accept another’s definition of the label no matter how well qualified the said source purports to be. Of course this is true of many labels. I wouldn’t recommend defining “democrat” to a well-educated democrat whose degree is in political science, unless you enjoy being counseled and corrected. I am a simpler man than you and I mean that respectfully and do not intend to imply pious humility on my part. It is simply the fact of the matter. I use two resources, the bible and personal experience. I speak of “emotional atheists” out of multiple actual experiences, people who actually declared themselves atheist to me out of anger. One woman who lost her 17 year-old daughter and her daughter’s best friend to a car accident on a trip to Santa Barbara, was inconsolable for years and stood on her lawn yelling at the very God she claimed to no longer believe in. While the academics might dispute her claim to atheism I would dispute their right to do so. “True atheists” to me are actual people on the street making such declarations, from the completely uneducated to the broken mother to the high-minded philosophers to the guy who simply gave it some thought and drew his own conclusion. Tell me which has the right to cast the definition in stone. But don’t tell the crushed woman who lost her child; she will likely physically attack you. I’m just talking now because I’m certain you didn’t mean it that way or even imply it for that matter. I’ve seen your website and know you are a compassionate man, certainly no less than I.

I cannot apologize for what I said about Jessica. That story tore me up and I am unable to soft-peddle that reality. As succinctly as I can put it, that’s what happened to her and in the context of discussing pain that leads to atheism I could write no less. It’s not in me to forgive that man and no excuse will suffice. He is pure evil. Perhaps for me, veiling what he did is minimizing it, the first step to putting her out of my mind and turning the newspaper to the next page. I don’t know why this is such an issue for me but I bet there is a few women here with insight enough to explain it.

I think this discussion has been more valuable to Zero than if he just started Googling stuff. He has heard real people; men and woman from many walks of life say their piece and then some. I hope this leads to powerful characterization. It has a good chance, all voices heard.

Tracy


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Zero
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Being able to interact with actual people and get perspectives of "characters," if you will, has, in fact, been 1000x more valuable than google and wikipedia, despite how useful they are. And I should point out that this discussion isn't a substitute for those resources, it's a complement. Regardless of whether this discussion or google would be more helpful, this conversation AND google will always be > than just google. But for the record, yeah, this has been and continues to be very helpful.
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Rommel Fenrir Wolf II
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I haven’t read all of the discussion but, Life is never meaning less. The only way for it to be so is if you regret things you have done in life and wish you can change them. What you do makes you who you are and what you will be. You learn from mistakes and apply them to the future. Religion is the way we cope with things and it works well.
Or as Spaceman put it “I'd probably have a Siberian tiger eat him for lunch.”
You can have something happen to end his life that is out of his control and he can find out the truth on the meaning of life.
Rommel Fenrir Wolf II

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Zero
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Most people would agree with you, I think. But I know there are people out there who don't see humanity and existance as actually really being significant. Do we have an intrinsic purpose other than to exist and pleasure ourselves? If so can you define it and prove it? You'll have to answer "no" to at least one of those questions, if you answer honestly, and until some genius mathematician/scientist can find a better answer then there will always be people out there who are approaching hopelessness. It is those characters I am trying to discuss here. Specifically the ones who are religious.
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Rommel Fenrir Wolf II
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Yes we all exist to pleasure ourselves. Why? It is in our nature to feel good about ourselves. It is also in our nature to help out others when they need it. I find that to be a blessing and a curse. If we didn’t help out the sick and week what would we be that makes us better than animals other than our ability to reason?
I would rather live in a society that only the strong survive. Survival of the fittest. That way resources that are being wasted to support the weak can be better used.
Religion is a way we make what we do wrong feel right. We will be forgiven in the end (most religions say)
Like my squad leader tells us, “Life is never fair SO SAPPER UP, DRIVE ON, AND WORRY ABOUT IT LATER.” That is his philosophy in life.
Rommel Fenrir Wolf II

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Zero
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Um... I'm not sure I interpret you correctly, I rarely am, but I get the vague impression that had you been born with down syndrome you're views would be vastly different.
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tnwilz
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I'll bet he dont believe that!
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Rommel Fenrir Wolf II
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I know people with that disease and my view is don’t let them live. They cant contribute to the grater good. And I would not care if I had the disease and was put to death because I would be dead.
Rommel Fenrir Wolf II

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tnwilz
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Bingo
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Rommel Fenrir Wolf II
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Is a name of a dog and a rather odd game.
Rommel Fenrir Wolf II

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Okay. This topic now has the potential to go off in a totally unacceptable direction.

Please do not let it do that.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I'd like to consider the selfish character Zero was asking about again.

This individual seems to feel that the idea of "pay it forward" is meaningless. After all, someone else would have had to have done things to help anyone who made it to the top, right?

So what is meaningless about being grateful for that help and being told that instead of trying to pay the helper back for the help, to "pay it forward?"

Can any system based on paying it forward ever be meaningless?


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Zero
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Look at the whole picture, no it can't. But I think it can be perceived as menaingless.

For example if our character receives everything he gets/has regardless of whether or not he pays it forward, it will not put him back to refuse to "pay it forward," but it would be costly to "pay it forward" on his time and effort, and, if he did it and perceived no additional benefits to hismelf as a counterweight. He could, quite rationally, decide it was menaingless.


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Rommel Fenrir Wolf II
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And people say I am insane. You are turning down good points here. I just tried to give a view of what some people think.
You are driving your self mad over it.
Rommel Fenrir Wolf II

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trailmix
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The problem I have with survival of the fittest is the definition of fittest. Often the most brilliant minds are in bodies that would be destroyed if that was the way of things. Stephen Hawkins for example, argueably the smartest man alive but he can't even wipe his own but. Some of our greatest achievement have been acomplished by people with broken bodies.

If that were the way of things, we would have no need for medicine. When someone gets sick, they are weak, let them die. If your in combat and your battle buddy gets shot, let him die. Your wife needs a kidney transplant, don't donate the kidney, let her die. Your grandfather breaks a hip, don't help him. If he can't fend for himself let him die. A child of 2 or 3, can't fend off the neighbors dog, let her die.

On paper survival of the fittest seems like it should work but we as a species survive by helping the weak. Helping others is in our nature but only when we think of them as one of us, as part of the family.


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Rommel Fenrir Wolf II
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That is similar to what happened to a friend of mine. His wife died. He loved her so much that it drove him crazy but he didn’t mind that she died because he knew that she had moved on. What drove him crazy was the fact that he could not go first.
My squad leader always tells us if we get shot don’t expect him to try to save us. And I am fine with that.
Grand father’s broken hip. He is nearly 70 he sometimes wishes he were dead.
Girl gets attacked by the dog. Well it will teach her not to do that again.
“Medicine why do you need a doctor. Sick call has nothing on water, drink a canteen change your socks and put some 100 mile an hour tape on it you will be fine.” That is what my Drill Sgt’s taught me.
Stephen Hawkins he is so far from the truth it is funny he calls him self an expert.
Rommel Fenrir Wolf II

[This message has been edited by Rommel Fenrir Wolf II (edited March 08, 2007).]


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trailmix
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"That is similar to what happened to a friend of mine. His wife died. He loved her so much that it drove him crazy but he didn’t mind that she died because he knew that she had moved on. What drove him crazy was the fact that he could not go first."

Not sure what that has to do with the conversation.

"My squad leader always tells us if we get shot don’t expect him to try to save us. And I am fine with that."

Not the kind of dude I would want to share a foxhole with.

"Grand father’s broken hip. He is nearly 70 he sometimes wishes he were dead."

Doesnt mean he would want to wallow in his own filth until he died of starvation.

"Girl gets attacked by the dog. Well it will teach her not to do that again."

No it wont. She is dead. And there was know indication that it was provoked in the example.

“Medicine why do you need a doctor. Sick call has nothing on water, drink a canteen change your socks and put some 100 mile an hour tape on it you will be fine.” That is what my Drill Sgt’s taught me."

That works for bumps and bruises but the military does give you vaccines which may have very well saved your life without you knowing it. Medicine also includes preventative medicine.

"Stephen Hawkins he is so far from the truth it is funny he calls him self an expert."

Actually, everyone else calls him an expert. We don't really know the truth so there is no means to measure how close he is to it.


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tnwilz
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Kathleen, obviously there is great merit in what you say. For me, the word that glues your statement together is “grateful.” Gratitude is the driving force behind this meaningful society you speak of.

However gratitude is rapidly going the way of the Dodo. I believe that gratitude or appreciativeness only comes from experience for many people today. It’s hard to teach our children gratitude and humility when the world teaches selfishness. The commercials our children watch use catch phrases like, “because you’re worth it,” or “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful” and “be the envy of your friends.”

Humility is the new weak and kindness is for those who come in second. Children tell their parents, “I didn’t ask to be born,” and genuinely believe everything is owed to them. Parents too, in ever-greater numbers, are beginning to begrudge their children depriving them from freedom. Grandparents drive along in their $100,000 motor home sporting the bumper sticker “We’re spending our children’s inheritance,” and you better believe they aren’t kidding. Me-ism is being embraced more and more by western society.

I would suggest that this character is a product of such a society. In order to find meaning he has to learn humility and learn to appreciate that his very life is built on the shoulders of innumerable sacrifices.

When my daughter was 13 she babysat all day for a couple with five kids. She was exhausted. But she loved those kids. She took every dime she made that day and bought little gifts for each of the children. She was so happy that week. I was a proud father, but also a humbled one. She had figured out at 13 what had taken me twenty plus years. There is more HAPPINESS in giving than there is in receiving.

I would suggest happiness = meaning/contentment.

Tracy


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oliverhouse
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First, the personal stuff, starting with an apology. Tracy said: "So I apologize if that was an issue for anyone or anyone would view me as “horribly” uneducated for using those terms in simplified forms." I intended my "horribly uneducated" comment as a wisecrack based on attitudes I've seen, not as an insult against you, and I'm very sorry if I made you feel otherwise.

Tracy also said, "I cannot apologize for what I said about Jessica." I'm not asking you to. I only snipped the description because I didn't want to make it appear on the screen again.

Next, part of the issue -- and the less interesting part, if you ask me -- has to do with labels.

In brief: the definitions you posted also work with the attitudes I discussed; for example, "a person who disbelieves the existence..." fits a weak atheist. "Disbelieve" seems to connote something stronger than "don't believe", but if you look in the dictionary you'll see that the use is legitimate.

With that out of the way, let's get to the more interesting aspect of this: characterization. ("Remember Alice? It's a song about Alice...")

I'm Catholic. When I read books with supposedly Catholic characters, I look hard at their attitudes. Sometimes I say, "yeah, I know Catholics like that" even if they don't think like me. Other times I say, "this guy has a narrowminded and stereotypical view of what Catholics think."

You can characterize an atheist however you like, of course, but if you don't pay attention to what they say about themselves, you're likely to lose that segment of the audience, and possibly also editors who cater to that audience. If you don't care, okay -- everything's a trade-off -- but I'd bet that in science fiction it's a higher percentage than in the general public. It's also a growing segment in Europe. I'm certainly not taking anyone to task; I'm just being my usual pedantic and annoying self.

What made me get on this tangent? This question:

quote:
If a person's personality (exposition/decisions/cognition/etc) are based completely on deeply rooted biological factors, because they have no inherent spirit or whatever, then are they more than just computer programs working out the details of their programming?

This is a philosophical question, and it can't be answered without some philosophical framework. Unlike the religious nihilist that started this thread, the predominant philosophy of those who think that "a person's personality... are based on deeply rooted biological factors" is atheism. If you want to create a believable character who would think about this problem, you'll want to at least investigate atheism. Anyone who doesn't is more than welcome to skip all my blather.

One last thought: people are saying that I'm being "academic". I assure you that the people who hold these views don't see anything academic about it.

Analogously, look at Tracy's statement:

quote:
Did Jesus not describe himself as a mediator countless times. Was he not “the firstborn of all creation.” Did not all things come into existence “through” him. Does history not show in fact that the Trinity was made up by an apostate church (that Paul foretold) hundreds of years after the disciples and apostles established the first century Christian church? If you answered yes then you’ve read your bible without anyone leaning over your shoulder trying to spin every other thing Jesus said into the trinity, which isn’t even in the bible.
This paragraph shows very specific things about how you interpret scripture, your views on the status of scripture as opposed to tradition (or Tradition -- Catholics hold that there are different types of traditions), what it means for Jesus to be a mediator, and so on. This isn't "academic" to Tracy, nor is it to me, but pick any of these things -- say, the doctrine of the Trinity -- and you'll find it has been discussed "academically" for literally thousands of years. For instance, you can read about Arius and the Arian conflict, which started in approximately 318.

An atheist who thinks as I've described would not find this discussion academic at all. It's what they believe in about the ultimate questions. If you don't, whether or not you're an atheist yourself, that's fine.

So please, if this is being a distraction from your writing, ignore it and keep writing! However, if you're interested in the questions raised -- about meaning, about belief, about any of it -- then it was worthwhile.

I think my blather on this topic has exhausted its usefulness.

Regards,
Oliver

P.S. "Survival of the fittest" is often misunderstood. All it means is that the organisms fit their ecological niche better than other organisms. If a slime mold can survive in that niche better than Stephen Hawking or Larry Bird or Mahatma Ghandi, the slime mold is "more fit".

[This message has been edited by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (edited March 09, 2007).]


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trailmix
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"I assure you that the people who hold these views don't see anything academic about it."

I am one of these people. Yes, I have study theology. My next statement is, in any way, meant to be offensive or an attack on any religion.

I, personally, find the idea of God to be ludacris.

That is why I dont believe. Belief isn't a choice you make. One doesn't decide what sounds like truth to them. I cannot believe in God in my current state of being. Again, I do not beleive there is no God.

Zero,
I was raised Catholic. I went to CCD, which is like sunday school but for us was 2 times a week. I was Baptized, recieved First Communion and fulfilled all of my requirements for Confirmation. Ussually that is all done by the time a person is 14. My family moved a lot so I was 16 by then. I remember about the time I was 14 sitting at Mass and thinking to myself, this doesn't sound true. I didnt have a bad priest. His sermons were good but it just didnt sound right to me. I still went to church every week. I didnt tell my mother that I didnt believe until she told me it was time I started fulfilling my requirements for Confirmation. This consisted of more CCD, community service and writing a letter to the Bishop explaining why I wanted to be Confirmed. I refused to write the letter because I don't like lying. I think my mother wrote it behind my back because I was ready to be Confirmed a few months later. The day of the ceremony I pleaded with my mothter not to make me do it. I did not believe and did not want to make the ceremony a mockery for the others that did. She relented but still not-so-secretly hopes that I will find my way back to the flock.

I figured that might help a little bit. Not exactly sure why but there it is.


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Zero
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trailmix,

I think you did the right thing. Even though I do believe in God and find the concept of God a great deterent for suicide, heh, I think if in your heart you can't make sense of something then you have no business going further down that road. I am sure that our respective concepts of God are vastly different, but I have learned to applaud someone for making a choice to follow their heart even if it conflicts with the desires of those around them. And by heart I mean everything from desires, to feelings, to personal conscience, that is why this opinion of mine doesn't strecth to condone crime.

Zero

note: edit was because I accidentally wrote "didn't" when I meant to write "did"

[This message has been edited by Zero (edited March 09, 2007).]


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oliverhouse
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quote:
"I assure you that the people who hold these views don't see anything academic about it."

I am one of these people.


Sorry, after I posted it I realized that I might come off as trying to tell you what you think. Not my intent. What I mean is that among the people who hold to the beliefs as I've described them, the beliefs are anything but academic; just as the phrase "one in being with the Father" isn't academic among Catholics, even though it's a source of much academic discussion.

Finally, your mother was absolutely wrong to do what she did. To lie to a bishop so that her son can undertake a ritual that confirms his supposed faith in a religion that he doesn't believe in... Where do I start?


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trailmix
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I didn't take it that way at all. I was just agreeing with you on that point.

Yes, I beleive my Mother was wrong as well but she was just trying to do what she thought was best for her baby boy. I dont begrudge her that.


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AndrewR
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A religous existentialist. I love it!

I see no philosophical reason a person couldn't feel this way. After all, he is simply saying he personally doesn't recognize the importance of God's plan. And why should he have to? Just because it is important to God doesn't mean it must be important to him.

Of course, a vast majority of those who believe in God also believe it is important to please Him. But like children who reject their parents wishes and values, I see no reason why a character couldn't do the same for God.

Have you seen the Kurosawa movie "Ikiru?" It addresses a man dying of cancer who finds meaning in life by pushing through the development of a park. It made his life meaningful because getting the park built was meaningful to him. You can live a very moral and meaningful life by working on those things you find imporant. You don't need God to define them for you.

It sounds like a fun idea to me.


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franc li
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quote:
franc li,
That's a really intriguing story idea. Mormon nihilst is a great term to describe the above character. You say you've had experience with this, what do you think are some natural products of this kind of thinking? If we considered this state of mind to be a multi-directional fork. You aluded, or seemed to, that you became an athiest after this experience. What provoked that reasoning above, say, an alternative conclusion?

I was a mormon, then a nihilist, then somewhat of an atheist, then I became a believer again. Later when I tried actually talking to some Jehovah's Witnesses, I found their beliefs to be very close to what I thought as a Mormon nihilist- That spiritual experience is suspicious and that all truth can be derived from the written word.

My experience with mental illness caused me to guard against the irrational, but the flaw in my path was that it was my mind and not my spirit which had been ill.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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In response to your original question:

Malachi 3:13-18


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