Is There Meaning and Purpose in Life?
Buddhist, Christian and Humanist offer answers at CMU/GodTalk radio forum
Posted March 12, 2007
Is there meaning and purpose in life? That’s a question many people ask. About 150 people turned out to a forum at Canadian Mennonite University on March 5 to hear a Christian, a Buddhist and a humanist offer answers to that question.

The forum, which was sponsored by CMU and the CJOB GodTalk radio program, featured Joe Boot, Executive Director of Ravi Zacharias Ministries Canada and a full-time Christian apologist; Barrie Webster of the Humanist Association of Manitoba; and Sensei Fredrich Ulrich of the Manitoba Buddhist Church.

Although the three didn’t agree on the nature of life’s purpose, they all agreed there is one.

For Ulrich, it’s the special role that humans have “in the community of living things to enhance life.”

Webster said the purpose of life “is to make the world a better place,” but without resorting to a belief in God. “There is no supreme being at the head of the action,” he stated. “We are responsible to make sure our lives have meaning.”

For Christians, Boot said, meaning and purpose is bound up in “the claims of Christ, who said He was the way, the truth and the life.” People don’t invent purpose, he added. “We discover it in God,” he said.

In a question and answer period that followed their responses, the panellists dealt with a variety of queries, including one from a woman who asked: “Why does all this exist?”

Ulrich replied that there is “no ultimate answer” to that question. In Buddhism, he explained, “we never ask that question—we just experience life and deal with it. The only thing is to make life better here and now.”

For Humanists, Webster said, evolution and natural selection explains why the world exists. “It’s more important to figure out how, not why,” he stated.

Boot said that the world exist “because God chose to create it.” As for why He did it, “there are lots of theological answers,” he said, noting that he favours the idea that “God is a relational being, and he created the world so we could know Him.”

The forum featured some debate over the exclusionary nature of Christianity. “I have a problem when Christians say that even good people are going to Hell for not believing in Christ,” said Ulrich. “I don’t think that the boundaries are that rigid.”

Boot replied that “whenever a truth claim is made, there is always a point of exclusion.” Even someone who says there are no exclusions—that everyone goes to heaven—is excluding people who think exclusions exist, he added.

The question of evil was also raised. For Boot, evil exists because “God valued the good of human choice,” including the ability to make bad choices. “Coercion and virtue cannot co-exist,” he stated.

Webster dismissed the idea of original sin, saying that humans are born “neutral.” For him, parenting is vital. Evil also arises from things like inequality and lack of respect for each other, he said.

For Ulrich, evil exists because “human beings are limited, and being limited, we make mistakes. We can’t help ourselves.”

He went on to say that evil arises from what Buddhists call the “three poisons”—ignorance, hatred and greed. “Much evil comes from these,” he said.

Each panellist was given an opportunity for a closing comment. Ulrich said Buddhists believe that people “can never have complete and absolute knowledge—we cannot know everything about God. And in my ignorance about God, there is room for you.”

Webster encouraged the audience to remember that although other cultures and beliefs may look “quaint,” they should try to remember that their beliefs look the same way to people from other religions. “We should try to turn things around, see things from others points of view,” he said.

Boot said that he enjoyed the evening, since it showed that people of different opinions could “have dialogue and discussion without offending each other.” But, he said, “I would be remiss if I didn’t . . . encourage you to seek the person of Christ.”

GodTalk is a division of Family Life Network, which is affiliated with the Mennonite Brethren church of Manitoba. GodTalk “is an open conversation about the living God . . . a place to investigate beliefs and engage in meaningful dialogue with people willing to listen.”

Click here to listen to the forum.
Click here to read Sensei Ulrich's comments

Canadian Mennonite University News
Posted March 12, 2007