Is life worth living? A review


by William Hurrell Mallock

There is a question no more pressing to us than the above question and when one looks at the history of man, it appears as one that its answer has remained elusive to the critical mind.  In considering this question, one inevitably must ask whether life has an inherent value. So far as I can tell, the answer is no and if there is any value in it, they are those values that we have attached to it, to make it at least bearable for us and no more. This observation is, I think true both for the believer and the unbeliever alike.

In the book we are presently reviewing, the author wants us to believe that by doing away with  gods, and he means the christian god and the versions of hell and heaven, life looses its meaning. He tells us, by removing god from the picture and the ideas associated with it, we have no basis for morality, for love, happiness and as I have said before to go on living.

He starts first by telling us we live in a quite different world than the ancients did. As proof of this, he tells us that, Christianity

 has by uniting into one the scattered points of brightness and by collecting other rays that were before altogether imperceptible such as the idea of good, been given a definite shape by its deity.

He continues to write

That deity, from an external POV, may be said to have acquired his sovereignty as did the Roman Caesar. He absorbed into his own person the offices of all the gods that were before him, as the Roman Caesar absorbed all the offices of the state; and in his case also, the whole was immeasurably greater than the mere sum of the parts. Scientifically and philosophically he became the first cause of the world; he became the father of the human soul and its judge and what’s more, its rest and its delight.

Which from a casual glance appears to mean, that before the advent of Christianity, men were without souls and likewise the universe did not exist unless he means to use this allegorically and not literally.

He feels that science has reduced the vast complexity of the universe and man’s place in it. He opines that scientific discoveries have taken the wonder and mystery from the earth. Here, we are not told the truth, for to look at the night sky with its constellation of stars is still a source of wonder and the lack of belief in a benevolent god takes nothing from its beauty.Therefore, when he writes in part

The skies once seemed to pay the earth homage and to serve it with light and shelter. Now they do nothing, so far as the imagination is concerned, but spurn and dwarf it. And when we come to the details of the earth’s surface itself, the case is just the same.

it’s to appeal to the ignorance of days past. It is to want to believe the impossible, that is, that the world was created chiefly for men and that we live at the centre of the universe and everything in it pays homage to man. It is such a belief, a belief in the superiority of man, especially as taught by the Judeo-Christian religion that has allowed man to give least attention to his environment.

Our author seems, to me,  bothered by the skepticism of the current age. And in rejecting positivist that of the day, he writes

positive thought reduces all religions to ideals created by man; and as such, not only admits that they have had vast influence, but teaches us also that we in the future must construct new ideals for ourselves.

which he sees as a problem for the future, for says he,

we shall now know they are ideals, we shall no longer mistake them for objective facts.

I don’t know about you, but to claim that without the threat of punishment and the hope of immortality, men will not strive for ideals strikes me as odd.

We are told, the worth we are trying to analyse is closely bound up with morality and that the loss of faith in god and immortality does away with the second one. He tells us, we cannot, the unbelievers, continue to hold on to what is good if we no longer believe in god. He asks to believe that by making man mortal, killing his god and this life being the only life, there is no reason to believe men will aspire for greater ideals and at the same time, there would be no way of reproaching anyone.

His next frontier where he finds a problem with positivist though is on consciousness. And here the problem he writes about originates from the assertion that consciousness is a function of the brain & altogether inseparable from it. His argument here is that since as far as science can tell us, consciousness remains a mystery in the sense that we are not in the least able to tell how matter combines to translate to consciousness. To solve this problem, he suggests that we must accept god and immortality of the soul the two things that themselves need explanation.

We are presented with a dilemma, he writes

Science places the positive school in a dilemma. The mind or spirit is either arranged entirely by the molecules it is connected with and these molecules move with the same automatic necessity that the earth moves with; or else these molecules are, partially at least, arranged by the mind or spirit.

We are told we must accept one or the other, that is the choice between

man as an automaton or his consciousness in no mere function of any physical organ.

I will readily accept man as an automaton until at least, it can be demonstrated there exists an immaterial, parallel world that cause affects in the present world. Ignorance of the how the brain/mind is constituted is, to me, no license to create a second immaterial universe, independent of the material and obeying different laws. Such a belief would require men to abolish their reason and accept things on faith. The greatest testament of virtue shall be

I believe because it is impossible!

The author then delves briefly into the discussion about hell and whether a god who we are told is good could create hell to send men there for eternal damnation. He writes

[..]God is here represented as making a hell with the express intention of forcibly putting men into it, and his main hatefulness consists in this capricious and wanton cruelty. Such a representation is, however, an essentially false one. It is not only not true to the true Christian teaching, but it is absolutely opposed to it. The god of Christianity does not make hell; still less does he deliberately put men into it. It is made by men themselves, the essence of its torments consists in the loss of god; and those that lose him, lose him by their own act, from having deliberately made themselves incapable of loving him. God never wills the death of the sinner. It is to the sinner’s own will that the sinner’s death is due.

Which is an odd statement, given that the same god is described elsewhere as all powerful, all loving and all merciful. One wonders how the works of a finite mortal in the scale of things, would upset such a being so described? I have written elsewhere, and I will repeat it here, that for man to be eligible for punishment, Christianity or rather the Judeo-Christian- Muslim religions had to make responsible. It would be against natural justice to have god punish man if he were not responsible and they think by wishing this, it becomes true. Whereas our author would want to think he, by making man responsible, has freed his god from all responsibility must ask himself if he believes that god is the author of everything there is, seen and unseen, how would man resist him? How would man annoy him? How would man displease him? It boggles the mind what the theologian tells us of his god, the powers he gives him and then turns around to annihilate all goodness with the things he tells us his god shall do or allow to happen.

As I come to the end, our author offers a scathing criticism of protestant Christianity. He tells us

protestant Christianity, after three centuries, is at last beginning to exhibit to us the true result of the denial of infallibility to a religion that professes to be supernatural. We are at last beginning to see in it the practical denier of all revelation whatsoever.

And a defender of the catholic faith, he writes

The church maybe conceived of as a living organism, for ever on all sides putting forth feelers and tentacles, that seize, try and seem to dally with all kinds of nutriment. A part of this she takes into herself. A large part she at length puts down again. Much that is thus rejected she seems for a long time on the point of choosing. But however slow may be the final decision in coming, however reluctant or hesitating it may seem to be, when it is once made, it is claimed for it is that it is infallible.

The church knows the difficulties that her past records present to us, especially that of the divine character of the bible. But she knows too that this divinity is protected by its vagueness; nor is she likely to expose it more openly to its enemies, till some sure plan of defence has been devised for it.

To which I’d say, had he lived now, he would be the least surprised to find in the introduction to the bible approved by the catholic church, the admission that Moses could not have been the author of the books of the old testament and

the books of the Pentateuch do not record historical facts in the way we expect the work of a modern historian to do. They record the traditions of a people about the origin of the universe, the world and all it contains and the people themselves. They express the fundamental truths on which the understanding of the people rests

which leaves me asking why should they be revered? Why should it be the standard upon which current generations base their lives? Are we morally bankrupt, or less creative to draft ideals to aspire to? Ideals that do not include the supernatural with its attendant killings and rituals?

And lastly we are told how the Catholic church manages to propagate itself even in the face of contrary evidence to its claims. He writes, and this is very instructive for anyone who is committed to questioning the church and its policies and stand in opposition to its continued dominance on the world stage, that

It may be that before the church defines inspiration exactly, she will wait till lay criticism has done all it can do. She may then consider what views of the bible are historically tenable, and what not, and may faithfully shape her teaching by the learning of this world, though it may have been gathered together for the express purpose of overthrowing her. Atheistic scholars may be quoted in her councils; and supercilious and skeptical philologists, could they live another hundred years, might recognise their discoveries, even their words and phrases, embodied in an ecclesiastical definition.

A declaration, yours truly, is at a loss of how to classify but for lack of a better word would for the time being describe as fraud.

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About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

23 thoughts on “Is life worth living? A review

  1. Mordanicus says:

    I can recommend you “Better Never to Have Been. The Harm of Coming into Existence” by David Benatar.

    Muslims will tell you that Islam will give your life meaning, Hindus will tell their religion will do so. Each religion will claim that, a Christian has to make clear why those other religions are false. But more importantly one has to show that life ought to have a meaning in the first place. Too many people simply assume that life needs to have a meaning.

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  2. aguywithoutboxers says:

    A very good dissertation and conclusion. Is it necessary for life to have a meaning? Isn’t that a fallacy that belief systems want us to subscribe in order to empower the belief system?

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  3. Absolute meaning is as required as an absolute shoe size. I have a shoe size on a scale that is an agreement shared with society and that thus works by allowing me to buy shoes that fit. It’s not absolute. It’s chosen. But it works.

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  4. john zande says:

    Seems more like a proclamation for the benefits of delusion rather than an attestation of religious truth.

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  5. May I ask simply WHY are you reading this book ??? : )

    My life has meaning because I personally find it so! I strive to find beauty, joy and happiness in those around me. By treating others with respect and kindness and allowing the positive reciprocation to influence my life and actions.

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    • makagutu says:

      You know, in order not to be accused of confirmation bias, once in a while a person ventures out to hear what the neighbor is saying only to discover the neighbor has clouded his stories in innuendo, credulity and hopes on the gullibility of his audience to sway them to his way of thinking.

      Yes indeed, there is no cosmic meaning to our lives and anyone on a journey to find such an answer will come back dejected and unanswered

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  6. Excellent analysis, Mak. Fraud is right. The term ‘hubris’ comes to mind after reading this. It’s not anything I didn’t already have shoved down my throat growing up under the heavy influence of the RCC, which constantly promoted tribalism.

    Neil deGrasse Tyson puts it into perspective.

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    • makagutu says:

      How are you my friend?

      The part where he talks of the glories of the Catholic church struck me as so odd, once I finished the book I had to look for his bio.

      Neil Tyson does put the whole question in great perspective.

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  7. My father and mother had sex, and here I am. Might as well make the best of it, huh?

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  8. Roman Dawes says:

    Yet my life is better than just bearable, and how was that assertion so easily discredited? Because it makes a simple, sweeping proclamation to describe billions of complex human beings. It seems to me that to arrive as a conclusion on what if anything makes life worth living, one would have a lot of interviews to conduct.

    I’m a Christian, but I don’t have any problem with the critique on faith. I do wish that atheists and those in their echo chambers would better appreciate how annihilating it is to assert things like life hasn’t any inherent value (not even to the people living it?), just some things here and there to make it bearable.

    Do you realize what a charismatic leader building a certain movement at the right/wrong time could make of that? “Their lives are miserable and without inherent worth, and the values they’ve attached to them silly.” Social Darwinism at one point seemed as clever, rational and innocuous but it opened up a path to the Holocaust – annihilation.

    Sure, that doesn’t mean the assertion is wrong. I respect that. But do appreciate the implications.

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    • makagutu says:

      Roman, thanks for taking time to read and comment.

      In your first paragraph, you imply to make a comment about life, I would need to carry several interviews. That charge then must also be put on the author of the book I was reviewing for page after page, he asserts that there is no meaning in the life of the godless and nowhere does he say he interviewed any one of them. That is, however, besides the point. If you were to reread my first paragraph, I write

      So far as I can tell, the answer is no and if there is any value in it, they are those values that we have attached to it, to make it at least bearable for us and no more. This observation is, I think true both for the believer and the unbeliever alike.

      and I would like you to tell me where I’m wrong and also where I don’t leave the matter open?

      Your second paragraph, is wholly without merit. Not all atheists believe like is inherently without meaning, so why group them in one critique? Why not attend to the argument at hand and demonstrate that save for the meanings we attach to life, it has some other value. I think, that would be a more valid criticism that telling us to keep quiet, for keeping quiet, we definitely or speaking for myself, shall not do!

      That would not be my fault. If the charismatic leader finds life meaningful separate from the things he has attached to it to give it value, he can be my guest. Social Darwinism was not responsible for the Holocaust. The Holocaust was a religious problem that rests squarely on the bible and its authors with the Antisemitism passages therein. Hitler and his Nazi partisans were religious, depended on the church, the Catholic church for that matter, and if anything did not as it appears to me understand the theory Darwin had advanced.

      And how would you know whether I don’t appreciate the implications of the assertion?

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      • Roman Dawes says:

        Alex Autin’s first paragraph below can’t state my position any better. I have to demonstrate the value of life outside of meanings we attach to them? Why wouldn’t life have inherent value that people assign to it because they like being alive? Seems to me that value needn’t a rational or religious demonstration of worth.

        Where in my post do I even hint that you should “keep quiet?” I would never do it.

        I often wonder when I read atheists denigrate our existence and our lives on Earth so robustly if they realize how closely their words approach nihilism. I do believe, as in your case, that it’s unintentional, and that your thoughts don’t intend to devalue human life. But when I read that life has no inherent value outside of meanings we attach, it’s alarming. I know of many people who live without religious or rationally-justified “meaning,” but that doesn’t mean their lives have no value.

        And please don’t let Social Darwinism (yes, a bastardization of evolution, but one widely accepted during its heyday in the West) off the the hook for its moral culpability in justifying European domination over other peoples of the world. Religion? The Nazis didn’t oppress or kill only Jews. They treated blacks, the Roma (Gypsies), Eastern Europeans and liberals similarly. There is no mention of an Aryan master race in the bible.

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        • makagutu says:

          Is life worth living? Does it have a purpose? In my opinion, the answer to both is yes. However, that worth and purpose is whatever I assign to it.

          That is the first part of Autin’s response. And she is very categorical that the worth is whatever she assigns to it. How is this different from my assertion that life’s meaning is whatever we give it.

          I will not run away from the charge of nihilism. If my thoughts devalue human life, I apologize I can’t say them differently. There is no alarm in the observation that outside the meaning we attach to life, it is inherently meaningless or else how do you explain people constantly seeking meaning and getting bored with their lives? You seem to confound two things. I don’t deny that people have found some ways to make their lives meaningful. That I don’t deny in the least.

          Are you telling me that in The Descent of Man and Origin of the species Darwin intended that some men subdue others? This is the question.

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  9. Alex Autin says:

    Is life worth living? Does it have a purpose? In my opinion, the answer to both is yes. However, that worth and purpose is whatever I assign to it. I’m not concerned with what value, or purpose, others may, or may not, assign to life as my self-assigned value doesn’t depend on anyone else agreeing with it.

    Religion does not have this luxury. It’s existence depends on large numbers of people accepting and agreeing with it’s dogma. With its back against the wall, and the floor falling out from beneath its feet, religion will grasp at anything which will perpetuate it’s very existence. Claiming to be the sole proprietors of life’s meaning and purpose is not surprising, especially when considering the other equally ludicrous, and unsubstantiated, claims it’s made. I will not, however, give it this. I will not concede to religion terms such as value, meaning, and purpose.

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    • makagutu says:

      Religion can be best described to be like a man drowning who sees chicken poop floating on the surface of the water and tries to get to it hoping by that act he shall save himself. The ground has shifted and the sooner the religious acknowledge this, the better for its adherents.

      We are not about to make any more concessions to religion. It has had its time and no more.

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  10. mixedupmeme says:

    To answer the question: If the rest of my life is anything like the last week. No! Not worth living. lol
    I was in the doctor’s office and on the wall was a container of pamphlets. I couldn’t see them well, but some words in larger print stuck out:
    RESTART YOUR LIFE
    I thought…I don’t want to restart my life. I’ve had enough, enjoyed enough, gone through enough. Not going through this life again. lol

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    • makagutu says:

      I would like to meet an old man who would want to restart his life, and I will tell you of a person who didn’t live their lives fully!

      It is good to have you back feeling better.

      Like

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