Rebirth of Reason


Something Bigger Than Yourself
by Joseph Rowlands

One of the selling points of religion or big government is the idea that if you sign up and support them, you will be joining something bigger than yourself. Why is that a good thing?   Why is it attractive to people?


The idea of something bigger than yourself is thought to increase your own importance or significance. Instead of just being one more person in the world, you'll matter. Your impact will be magnified by the cause. By attaching yourself to something important, that importance rubs off on you.


So if you join a religion and help to spread its belief system, you become part of a large group. The accomplishments of the group become your own. If the group has an impact on the world, such as by saving the souls of your fellow man, then you get to take credit for it. Sure, you may only share the credit, but that's still a lot of credit to be had. You can view your contribution to the world as significant.


The real goal of it all is to find meaning in your life. It comes down to the source of value. People don't think their own lives are valuable on their own. To be valuable is to be valued by others, whether God or society. To be valuable, to have meaning in your life, you have to be part of something greater than yourself. Only when you are a means to someone else's ends can you be though of as a value.


That's the idea, and many people accept it. It is easy to treat others values as more important than your own. For religious people, they treat God's values are more important than your own because he is supposed to be the creator. For those finding importance through society, it comes down to pure numbers. Others are more important than you because there are more of them than you.


Valuing yourself based on how you contribute to the goals of others is easy, and seductive. It allows you to assume those goals are meaningful. For some, choosing their own goals and justifying them is a difficult task. They may be uncertain about their choices, and uncertain about the rightness of it all. So judging yourself by the goals of others, whether real or imaginary, allows you to shrug off these difficult problems and simply have faith that the others must know what they're doing.


They may not have any better idea than you do about what you should do or how you should live your life. They may in fact have much worse ideas. But you can hide your fears through faith or sheer numbers. If your religion says that your god has the answers, you can just assume that they know what they're talking about. If you sign up for some socialist endeavor, you can assume that the values of others are more reliable than your own.


Treating your life as important in itself is harder. You can't fake it the same way. You know your own values, your own goals, and why you've picked them. You know there is no magical formula that makes them more than they are. You goals are valuable in relation to your life. You have to accept that your own life is valuable for its own sake, and not as a means to some external goal.


This is both easy and difficult. It's easy because it doesn't take anything more. All you have to do is realize that your own life is the source of any values to you, and that anything else would be arbitrary and nonsensical. Of course your life is important to you! And more, making it important to others would require you to value the opinions or goals of those others. But why should you? They are only valuable to the extent that they impact your own life.


It's also hard because many people accept the idea that value must come from outside. It is like the arguments for God that says everything must have a cause, and so God has to create everything. But who or what caused God? Similarly, the idea that value stems from outside sources implies a similar chain of dependencies, with an equally impossible starting point.


But if you except this view of external sources, you will have a hard time accepting your own life as a source of value in itself. You'll constantly be looking for some kind of connection to something larger. Why is your own life valuable? You'll constantly seek some way to see it in terms of a means to some other end, in an infinite regress. The idea that you can just stop at your own life, that it is a source of value to you, will appear as a kind of cheat. It doesn't satisfy the pattern you've accepted.


The pattern is wrong, though. There is no infinite regress. Value doesn't just keep going. Value has a purpose. Value is a way of saying that something serves an end, and your own life is such an end. It need not go further. You don't have to be part of something bigger. Your life is valuable on its own.


And from this perspective, being part of something bigger can actually diminish the value of your life. Instead of recognizing it as the ultimate goal, you diminish its important by claiming it is only valuable in connection to a bigger purpose.


And that creates an interesting problem. In the hopes of trying to make your life seem more valuable, the typical path of seeking a larger purpose actually diminishes the importance of your life. Only by recognizing your own life as the source of value can you really feel that your life has meaning and value.

Sanctions: 17Sanctions: 17Sanctions: 17 Sanction this ArticleEditMark as your favorite article

Discuss this Article (9 messages)