Every summer, I come down with a case of existential angst. As the immediate demands of the school year slow down and the space for some self-directed work opens up, it seems that broader questions inevitably open up as well — what is the point of all my work? I eventually get over it as I become absorbed in whatever project, but this time around I’ve been reflecting on the claim that religions faith gives people meaning and purpose and that they are somehow to be envied because of that. What strikes me as I look back on my own religious upbringing is that the meaning and purpose provided had no actual content. “God’s plan” or “God’s will” was a purely virtual reference point, which was applied very selectively to what happened to people. Aside from very broad moral guidelines — it was obviously never going to be God’s will that I murder someone, for example — it seemed that the reference to God’s will provided no actual guidance. All it added was the idea of a purpose, a kind of purposefulness without purpose.
It may seem unfair to pick on popular piety like this, but actual theologians aren’t much better. Read the rest of this entry »