Religion and the meaning of life

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One thing is certain: We shall all die. None of us will survive the hardships of this world. We ultimately leave this world, and the physical body is buried in a grave. The terrifying question is: What will happen to us after death? Will we be greeted by demons or angels, or eternal silence?

In the film version of J. R. R. Tolkien's trilogy, "The Lord of the Rings," directed by Peter Jackson, two of the main characters have the following conversation prior to a dramatic battle:

"I didn't think that life would end like this."

"End? The journey doesn't end here. Death is just a new path, one that everyone must travel … towards the white beaches below. There lies a fertile country and a new sunrise."

Today the knowledge of the afterlife and deeper meaning of existence seems lost in Western popular culture. The belief that human life is subordinate to God, that we are responsible for our own actions and will be judged by the Creator, is simply an unbearable thought for the general nonbeliever. He has been taught by atheists that God, who is in the metaphysical realm, does not exist since modern science, which only examines the material realm of human experience, cannot prove it. But the empirically provable in the tangible world can never fully explain the spiritual realm, which is in another dimension than the physical.

By denying man the connection to the metaphysical and God's existence, atheism has poisoned our culture with its nihilistic view of an empty universe without the eternal love of God for his creation. The atheist approach has opened the floodgates to a suicidal culture, one deprived of the knowledge of life after death.

What makes traditional religion so profound is that it addresses both the material realm and its spiritual dimension, and explains how the two are intertwined. Religious philosophy provides deep reflections upon the meaning of life and death, how man may serve God's purpose, overcome suffering and achieve a lasting inner peace in the midst of upheaval.

Religion – defined as belief in God and how the spiritual realm is connected to the material world – has very clear answers the questions of the meaning of life. Man is to connect with the Creator and thereby acquire the power of love and make this world a better place to the best of his ability. In doing so, he fulfills God's purpose for his life and defeats the forces of evil that exist in the world. Whatever ability one has, whichever gift or talent, is to be used for the betterment of human kind.

One of the great Orthodox thinkers, St. Paisios of Mount Athos, sums up the Christian doctrine in his famous book ""Spiritual Awakening": "The meaning of this life is to be prepared for our homeland, for Heaven, for Paradise. The most important thing is for man to grasp this most profound meaning of life, which is the salvation of the soul. When man believes in God and in the future life, then he understands the vanity of this present life and prepares his passing to the next."

One of the early church fathers, Clement of Alexandria, points out that the rational purpose of life, the ultimate destination, is to become more similar to God, more knowledgeable and more filled with the love of God toward one's fellow man.

According to sociologist Max Weber, the human psyche has inherent needs that extend beyond the observable. Man is driven to think deeply about ethical and religious questions, not just because he searches for the golden mean to achieve a satisfactory life, but also because he has an inner desire to understand the world as a meaningful place. He needs to know why he is here.

Weber famously identified common characteristics between religions and claimed that they all deal with the problem of evil and suffering, and God's justice.

As man's choices on earth are interlinked with the consequences of his actions in the afterlife, the need to do the right thing while alive becomes vital.

This is both to avoid pain in the next life and to avoid the judgment of God, as well as minimize suffering in the current life. The deep-rooted essence of religion rests on the fact that man is created by and profoundly dependent on God's benevolence to exist. It is God, outside time and space and the narrow scope of materialism, that has created man; it is He that established the premises for life. Naturally then, He becomes the one to approach in order to find the meaning of existence and the path to a fulfilling afterlife.

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