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A “Purpose-Driven” Life?

Several years ago Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church published a book called, “The Purpose-Driven Life” which sold millions.  Clearly the book struck a chord with many people and was the beginning of a whole “Purpose-Driven” empire of products.   The “purpose” that Warren wrote about is pretty simple:  We are all put here to glorify God by serving humanity. (It’s basically a re-packaging of the opening question from the Westminster Catechism of 1647–Q: What is the chief end of man? A: The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.)

This model of human purpose raises a few questions.  Is it really possible that all 7-plus billion people on earth have the same fundamental purpose?  And if that purpose is for all of us to spend our lives singing the praises of the Great Heavenly Leader–doesn’t that sound just a little totalitarian, like living in a large version of North Korea?

One of the critiques thrown at the freethought movement goes something like this: “But you’re taking away people’s sense of purpose!   What is there to live for if you take God’s plan out the equation?”

What is there left to live for?  Here are a few possibilities.

  • Discovering what your passions and talents are, and pursuing those areas of life that bring you joy.
  • Using one’s unique talents for the betterment of life for others.
  • Learning more about how the world works.  Science is the gift that keeps on giving, a never-ending source of wonder, awe and new insight.
  • Relishing the joy of human fellowship, especially family and friends.

Honestly,  do you really need any more “purpose”  than that? I really don’t see why the myths of religion are necessary to convey virtues like love, forgiveness, humility and service.  Isn’t it possible to affirm and celebrate the goodness and beauty of life without requiring people to believe implausible things?

I guess I even question why it’s necessary to believe in some large, over-arching purpose.   Can’t our sense of purpose change with different life circumstances.  For instance, as I’m writing this post, I am waiting on the delivery of a very yummy pizza.  At the end of a long day, that pizza is all the purpose I’ll need for the rest of the evening.

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  1. May 30, 2012 at 12:36 am

    Hah! Wow. First, I remember this book for one very main reason. It seems to have been pushed around in the jails a lot as I had friends who were coming out spouting about how the purpose driven life had really drove home for them their purpose in life. Funny how much that also sounds like destiny/fate/pre-designed plan, and therefore no free-will to indeed do anything outside of what your supposed purpose in life is supposed to be, and we all know those aren’t always good or wholesome things for our society. Surely there are thousands of circular arguments available on this topic alone.

    Also, I too, am waiting on a yummy pizza delivery and consider it a fine reward for the things I have accomplished today. No eternal pleasure was expected.

  2. Rick
    May 30, 2012 at 12:41 am

    Can we shorten it to “We are all put here to serve humanity” and have an equally powerful purpose, maybe even more powerful, you do it because it is the right thing to do and not to serve some higher being. Even your pizza can qualify because by ordering it you gave several people jobs and there a means to live (or maybe money for a movie) I think that particularly her in the “puitain work ethic” driven US we crave a purpose so we feel we are doing some benificial and fit in with a group.

  3. C. John Stutzer
    May 30, 2012 at 12:57 am

    Whatever floats your boat
    About the only time I’ve given much thought to “purpose” is when my life is going through a stretch of particularly bad crap.

    The rest of the time, I’m not concerned with “purpose” as I am with goals (or banish the thought) paying the bills.Then there’s some bits where I get the “Keeping up with the Jones, wish I hadn’t done THAT” blues. Mostly though, I want to just wake up to another good day, and go to sleep with a good night.

    Oh, and help old people.

    I’ll betcha there’s a whole bunch of people in India and China that feels the same way – but with rice of course.

  4. Rick
    May 30, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    So to take it just a little further, I think people need a purpose higher than themselves. In a capitalist society, a person without purpose will do thinks to benefit themselves without thinking of the implications to those around them, like purchase a company, take all the equity out and then when the company goes under because of all the debt left behind say, well it was not a healthy company and it should have closed.

  5. Rick
    May 30, 2012 at 5:55 pm

    Really that it probably true in any society, just in different ways

  6. C. John Stutzer
    May 31, 2012 at 10:55 pm

    When people get caught up with the concern for a “Purpose driven life”, is it because they find their own lives and circumstances so mundane, that they hope to discover some thing or cause that will justify their current or likely future circumstances?

    I’m reminded of “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation” (Thoreau). Even in the age of Facebook and Twitter, we are still as individuals shaped by our peer group, and NEED a peer group. When the peer group – whether at the local grocery store or at church – no longer gives us enough positive feedback in the form of “I’m OK, you’re OK”, then we tend to get all flustered, worrying that we NEED a purpose driven life.

    I’m thinking that the Right Reverend Rick Warren may be projecting his own need to have a “Purpose Driven Life” on the rest of us.

    Haven’t we all done the same thing in one way or another? Is there anyone who hasn’t found some dinner dish they loved, and kept prodding their guest(s) to “Go ahead, TRY it, you’ll love it, I promise you!”. And we keep on pestering until the other person gives in and when they nod approval, our own self worth goes up just a little notch – because someone else validated our choice?

    The “Purpose Driven Life” that Warren talks about is one where the individual declares he/her has found a “True Calling”, and to me, it just smacks of another variation on the theme where you claim God directed you to the choices you make, and thereby can validate and justify your actions via higher authority (God as the ultimate peer group).

    For some reason, religious authorities ALWAYS equate GOD/PURPOSE with morality. And if you lack in GOD, then somehow you lack morality, you lack a useful “purpose”.

    I think that is just plain silly. If we are alive, we are participating in Life. That is plenty of purpose for me.

  7. Blood
    June 7, 2012 at 4:08 am

    “Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”
    ― Marcus Aurelius

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