Note: This essay is included in the anthology Rational Egoism: The Morality for Human Flourishing, which makes an excellent gift and is available at Amazon.com.
Purpose is one of the most important values in human life. It is the value that answers the question “What for?”—the value that motivates us to think, strive, and thrive—the value by reference to which we focus our minds, direct our actions, and pursue our goals.
And it is under assault by advocates of religion.
Religionists bastardize the concept of “purpose” (and the related concept of “meaning”) in an effort to convince people—often the young—that there can be no objective purpose in life unless it comes ultimately from God.
“If there is no God,” writes theologian William Lane Craig, “there is no purpose” and “there can be no objective meaning in life.”1
Pastor Rick Warren writes, “Without God, life has no purpose, and without purpose, life has no meaning.”2
Dennis Prager claims, “If there is no God who designed the universe and who cares about His creations, life is ultimately purposeless,” and “there is no objective meaning to life.”3
Ben Shapiro elaborates, “God expects things of us . . . He has standards for our behavior . . . He demands our holiness”—and “His standards of truth matter, not our own.” Thus, having a “moral purpose” consists in “living the life God wants for [us]”—the life God laid out for us “through a series of rules to be found in His holy book.” And, Shapiro emphasizes, according to the Bible, living this way is not morally optional; it is morally mandatory: “As King Solomon concludes in Ecclesiastes, the purpose of human existence is simple: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”4
Why is this our duty? Why must we obey God’s commandments and live the life he wants for us? . . .
You might also like
1. William Lane Craig, “The Absurdity of Life without God,” https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/popular-writings/existence-nature-of-god/the-absurdity-of-life-without-god/.
2. Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 30.
3. Dennis Prager, “Secularism and the Meaningless Life,” Orthodoxy Today, May 31, 2005, http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles5/PragerMeaningSecularism.php; “If There Is No God,” Dennis Prager Show, August 19, 2008, https://www.dennisprager.com/if-there-is-no-god/.
4. Ben Shapiro, The Right Side of History: How Reason and Moral Purpose Made the West Great (New York: Broadside Books, 2019), 34–35.
5. Warren, The Purpose Driven Life, 18. It’s worth noting the non sequitur here. Even if God did exist, and even if he made you, it wouldn’t follow that you must live the life he wants for you. Your parents made you, and you have no moral obligation to live the life they want for you. You are a sovereign being with a mind and free will, and you can think and choose for yourself. And, according to rational morality, if you choose to live, you have a moral responsibility to think and choose for yourself.
6. Warren, The Purpose Driven Life, 17.
7. Warren, The Purpose Driven Life, 286.
8. See Scott Holleran, “Andrew Carnegie: The Richest Man in the World,” The Objective Standard 5, no. 4 (Winter 2010): 47.
9. See Ross England, “Louis Pasteur: A Light That Brightens More and More,” The Objective Standard 8, no. 4 (Winter 2013): 49.
10. See Katharine Hepburn, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katharine_Hepburn.
11. See Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged (New York: Signet, 1957); and “The Objectivist Ethics,” in The Virtue of Selfishness (New York: Signet, 1962).
12. For a brief indication of how the principle is derived, see my article “Secular, Objective Morality: Look and See,” The Objective Standard 12, no. 2 (Summer 2017): 47. For a lengthier discussion, including a fleshed-out explanation of the so-called is–ought problem, see my book Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts That Support It (Richmond: Glen Allen Press, 2002), especially chapter 2, “The Is–Ought Gap: Subjectivism’s Technical Retreat,” and chapter 3, “To Be or Not To Be: The Basic Choice.”
13. Genesis 6:7.
14. Leviticus 24:16.
15. Deuteronomy 13:6–9.
16. Leviticus 20:13.
17. Leviticus 20:9, Deuteronomy 21:18–21.
18. Leviticus 25:44, Deuteronomy 15:12.
19. Deuteronomy 22:28–29, Numbers 31:15–18. Lest anyone claim that such commandments are found only in the Old Testament, bear in mind that the Old Testament is as much a part of Christianity as is the New Testament. According to Christianity, there is one God, and all of his laws, including those spelled out in the Old Testament, must be upheld. The New Testament is crystal clear about this. In the words of Jesus: “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the [Old Testament] Law to become void” (Luke 16:17). And: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17–19).
20. Al-Baqarah 2:191, At-Tawbah 9:5.
21. An-Nisa 4:24, Al-Ahzab 33:50.
22. E.g., see Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “What is the Purpose of Life?,” TorahCafe, https://www.torahcafe.com/rabbi-lord-jonathan-sacks/7-what-is-the-purpose-of-life-video_ad898c862.html; and William Lane Craig, “What Is The Purpose and Meaning of Life Without God?,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKWKdiwDEcM. Regarding the latter, William Lane Craig’s claim that if the universe has no purpose, then you can’t have an ultimate purpose is ridiculous. It’s like standing on a rock and saying, “If this rock has no purpose, then I can’t have an ultimate purpose.” Likewise, his claim to the effect that if life is not eternal—if it ends—then it is meaningless, makes no sense. That’s like saying, “If this article ends, then it’s meaningless.”
23. Excerpted from Ayn Rand’s radio interview with Raymond Newman on The Raymond Newman Journal, 1980.