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Fierce certainty about the meaning of life and the afterlife is the best salve for the painful possibility that neither exists.

I've been thinking a lot this week about a post called Plans You're Not Supposed to Talk About. It gives five examples where group dynamics and game theory make it reasonable to decide on a course of action and then to deceive others – and yourself if possible – as to your motivation for doing so.

For example:

You want to be happy, but when you think about things you have edgy thoughts like life might be meaningless and no one will remember you and oh what does it all mean etc. Eventually, you decide that even if that’s true, there’s no profit in thinking about it, so you choose to believe that everything happens for a reason, and your work and family and friends and life are meaningful, and by believing in this reality you mostly seem to create it.

But still, you run into the occasional edgelord who insists on promoting a grimmer view. They annoy you: Do they think they’re wise or courageous? Do they think they’re pointing out something everyone else hasn’t thought about? All they’re doing is pushing a view that has absolutely no advantage to anyone, and ruining things for everyone who is trying to inhabit a better reality. And for what? Probably just to get some attention for themselves! But of course, saying that out loud would only help the edgelords so instead you mock them on superficial grounds to punish their defection. Slowly, you forget about your reasons for doing this, and just remember that they are lame.

-- Plans You're Not Supposed to Talk About

Broadly speaking, the church communities that I've been a part of during my adult life have emulated that second paragraph. Acknowledging that life might be meaningless isn't something you're supposed to talk about in church. It's as if fierce certainty about the meaning of life and the afterlife is the best salve for the painful possibility that neither exists.

Yet, tonight my friend TJ reminded me that the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes starts like this:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.”

What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.
All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.
No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them.

No real conclusion here. Just thought it was weird.