The Purpose-Devoid Life, Part 3
This week I will continue criticism of the “What on Earth Am I Here For?” booklet, which contains the first section of The Purpose-Driven Life.
“What Drives Your Life?” is asked on the third day. “Everyone’s life is driven by something.” I suppose the author is right. If we all choose to eat and move everyday, we must have a reason for doing so. The author identifies five common driving forces in peoples’ lives. The first is guilt. The guilt-driven are said to be ashamed of their past actions, which sabotages their future. The author recommends a fresh start through God (as if you need someone’s permission to let go of the past and work for a better present and future.) The second force is resentment. I don’t know what the author’s definition of resentment is, but he makes it sound like resentment is a petty response to a trivial grievance and forgiveness is the cure. Perhaps there are too many people burdened by resentment, but are there no legitimate grievances? Is forgiveness better than justice? (If so, let’s close all the prisons.) Little is said about the third force, fear. Like resentment, it is portrayed as a groundless emotional response that holds people down. I was amused that the author wrote that fear can be caused by “genetic predisposition” since he claimed in the previous chapter that God chooses everyone’s genetics. How can fear be both “a self-imposed prison that will keep you from becoming what God intends for you to be” and something that God chooses you to have?
The fourth driving force is materialism. I don’t have many disagreements with the author on this subject. While possessions may improve lives, they are generally unable to provide lasting happiness or meaning. The last driving force (although it should be first) is the approval of others. The approval of others is indeed a powerful motivation; never underestimate the drive of someone who is doing what others expect him or her to do. Sadly, while the author denounces working for the approval of other people, he does not instead recognize the importance of self-worth. Rather, he says that you need the approval of just one other: God. The author mentions that other driving forces exist, but they also lead to a stressful, unfulfilled life. I find it surprising that he does not try to identify any positive forces that can drive a person’s life, such as love, hope, creativity, wisdom, curiosity, instinct, etc. I suppose he believes that all such things are equivalent to God.
The next few pages of the chapter explain the benefits of knowing your purpose. I would agree with most of it if references to God, an external judge of value, were removed. “Knowing your purpose gives meaning to your life.” That’s pretty much true by definition. “Without God, life has no purpose.” This is the third consecutive day the author has said this. Is he hoping that his readers, in wanting purpose to exist, will want God to exist as well? The statement “If there is no God, then there is no purpose” is logically equivalent to “If there is purpose, then there is a God. More quotes: “Knowing your purpose simplifies … [and] focuses your life.” Agreed. Knowing purpose keeps you concentrated on what matters. “Knowing your purpose energizes your life. Purpose always produces passion.” This is also pretty much true by definition. Having a reason to do something will make you want to do it, and if you don’t have a reason to do anything, you won’t feel like doing anything. “Knowing your purpose prepares you for eternity.” Now I have to disagree. The author describes how it is usually futile to try to create a lasting legacy on Earth. True, even the most influential people are usually forgotten within decades, but there is more to purpose than whether or not someone’s actions will be known forever. Eternal life is not required to know purpose. Actions that have a positive effect—no matter how brief—are good enough.
On the fourth day, the author continues talking about life after death. He confidently describes how life on Earth is just a training ground for eternity with God. Still, he neglects to say why it is reasonable to believe in a god or afterlife. As with most religious writers, his only hope is that his readers blindly accept the prerequisite myths. I disagree with several quotes in this chapter: “You have an inborn instinct that longs for immortality.” I’m sure that most people would like to live forever, but I doubt that desire is universal or existed from birth as the author claims. “The reason we feel we should live forever is that God wired our brains with that desire!” No, the reason most people want to live forever is that they think life is better than death. The author then states that trust in Jesus will lead you to heaven and rejecting “his love, forgiveness, and salvation” (by demanding justification instead of having automatic belief) will land you in hell. The author says that when you “realize that life is just preparation for eternity, you will begin to live differently on a daily basis. You will start living in light of eternity, and that will color how you handle every relationship, every task, and every circumstance.” In other words, you will lose focus on your life, and what I like to call “reality”, in order to concentrate on a mystical eternal existence you are told that exists.
“If your time on earth were all there is to your life, I would suggest you start living it up immediately. You could forget being good and ethical, and you wouldn’t have to worry about any consequences of your actions. You could indulge yourself in total self-centeredness because your actions would have no repercussions.” Live it up? No consequences? Are we terminally ill with days to live? I could die anytime, but I expect to live for decades more. I don’t indulge myself and hurt people because (among other reasons) I do care about the repercussions on my life on Earth, the only existence I will actually have. Also, why should someone with a finite lifespan be self-absorbed? There is nothing about the disbelief of eternal life that implies people cannot or should not care about others. Further, it is contradictory for anyone to “forget being good and ethical.” Whenever people make a choice, they think they are making the best (most good) possible choice!