By Serge Kreutz
Of all the knowledge we can acquire or possess, knowledge of the purpose of life reigns supreme. Why do we exist, and for what reason do we exist, and therefore, how should we conduct our lives? The extraordinary impact religions have had on mankind for thousands of years has to do with exactly the fact that they have always pretended to have the answers on these questions.
In the monotheist religions that have evolved in the Middle East (mainly Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), the answer is that we walk this planet to conduct lives that please God, so that after death, we will be elevated to another world, named paradise, where everything is better for those who have avoided sins on earth.
In Hinduism, the gods are less serene, and instead of being elevated to paradise, we will just be thrown back on earth after we have died as a Brahman or a cow, if our karma is good, and if our karma is really bad, we will come back as a worm, and be trampled upon. Therefore, the purpose of life, so they teach, is to take good care of our karma, and to follow according rules.
In the religions of East Asia, they tell us that the purpose of life is to attain enlightenment, which sounds like a lot of respect for knowledge, but on further investigation, it turns out that what they have in mind isn’t science, but rather enlightenment through meditation and total withdrawal from the world.
In modern times, ideologies have sometimes replaced religions in providing answers to the purpose question.
During the European Age of Enlightenment (no relationship to what Asians understand under the term), the idea has been forwarded that a common good is worthwhile to live and die for. This gave rise to patriotism and culminated in the racism of the Nazis who felt that they were what Nietzsche defined as “Uebermensch”.
In Communism, “social progress” was defined as a proper, idealistic purpose for which to live for.
Not the priests and imams, and not Himalaya gurus or the philosophers of Enlightenment, and neither the party bosses, nor the politicians advocating democracy and freedom for everyone are the proper authorities to address with questions on the purpose of life, but biologists.
And their answers are just as easy to formulate as are the answers of religions and ideologies: the purpose of our lives is to engage in activities that are associated with propagation. This is not the same as saying: we live to propagate. Because the purpose is in the journey, not in the destination.