TWADE: The Peculiar Case of the Postmodern Penguin (Ch 9)

Hi @Interested_In_Book_Studies and RZIM Connect Friends!

This week’s chapter is over the big question, “What’s the meaning of life?” Andy begins the chapter by uncovering the answer from an atheist perspective, and it seems to be of split opinion. Some atheists, humanists to be exact, say, “There might not be a meaning to life, but we, as humans, can create our own meaning, value, and purpose.” While other atheists, those more in line with the old guard, say, “There isn’t any meaning to life and we need to accept this fact so we can build upon it.”

The chapter discusses the implications of a worldview devoid of God and concludes that the old guard, indeed, is correct. Without transcendence, there is no way to ground meaning or purpose in our lives. My favorite example given is that of a rock Andy picked up along the shore and took home to use as a paperweight. The rock, sitting on the beach, had no meaning or purpose until something outside of it gave it purpose (to hold papers down). If atheism is true, humans are just like that rock, a collection of atoms, so we too do not have a purpose unless something outside of us provides it.

To end the chapter, Andy examines how Christianity answers the question and it provides a much better explanation that more accurately accounts for the world we observe around us. Andy questions Christianity with the four categories used throughout the chapter (identity, value, purpose, and agency). His words are much more eloquent than mine, so to quote the book beginning on page 182:

“I believe passionately that Christianity answers those questions better than any other world view I have investigated, not least atheism, which scarcely gets off the starting blocks, Beginning with identity, Christianity says that you are not an accident, mere scum on the surface of the cosmic pond, but rather that you were fashioned, shaped, and created by the creator God. What about value? … Christianity says that God was willing to pay an incredible price for each one of us, the price of his Song, Jesus Christ. That why we have value. Turning to purpose, Christianity claims that there is indeed a purpose one bake into reality, and that purpose is to know God and enjoy him forever. And, finally, what of agency? In his short story Leaf by Niggle , J.R.R. Tolkien tells the story of a struggling painter, Niggle, who spends his entire life trying to paint a beautiful picture of a forest, with a vista of mountains and field in the distance far beyond. But Niggle so desperately wants his picture to be perfect that he can never finish more than one leaf on one tree, endlessly obsessing over getting it right. Sadly Niggle is struck by a chill, falls ill, and dies, his painting unfinished. After his death, Niggle arrives in heaven, where as he approaches the edge of the heavenly country he sees a tree. Not just any tree, but his Tree, finished and complete, every leaf perfect. Christianity says that we are all like Niggle: that we can make a difference if our efforts, our energy, our work are caught up in and with and are part of God’s greater purposes. Then our strivings can not merely outlive us, but be revealed as part of something bigger, beautiful, more real; the kingdom that God is building for eternity.”

  1. Have you stopped to answer this question (what’s the meaning/purpose of life?) from the perspective of multiple worldviews? If so, what did you discover? If not, take the time to think deeply and see which worldview matches reality the closest.

  2. It’s very likely that you know a person or two who think that the meaning of life can be created by humans. How would you engage with this person in conversation (assuming this topic is already being discussed)?

  3. Andy provides several helpful illustrations in this chapter; which is/are your favorite(s)? And, do you have one of your own you could share to further this discussion?


Hi @boabbott
sorry I didn’t get a chance to respond to the last chapter, been away on holidays with family - I read the conversation.

I did enjoy this chapter; contrasting between atheists that acknowledge there is no meaning; or those that say meaning is what you make of it.

I thought it was interesting with the quote from Huxley that pointed out the motivation of embracing the philosophy of meaningless was because he did not want there to be a God to which he was answerable.

I find it difficult to discuss ‘meaning’ with another person as a way of reaching someone, as most day to day conversations are very far removed from this topic. perhaps if someone was going through difficult times, and brought up the topic it might be easier to discuss. If someone says that the meaning of life is just to chase happiness; I would probably try to link that to the morality question fairly quickly; "How do we know what is right and wrong, when my pursuit of life’s meaning conflicts with yours? " to me, the morality question seems to have a lot more relevance to day to day life and decisions we make.

I think honestly, that I’ll be going back over and re-reading the book, writing a one line summary of what each of the chapters cover and if someone brings it up, just ask a few questions to try to get the other person thinking of spiritual things and then give them a copy of this book.

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No worries, @matthew.western. Life is busy. I was almost non-existent too, my grandfather passed away and I was out of pocket for most of the week. Looking forward to your comments and opinions on the next chapter.

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