Here’s a poignant footnote to our discussion of whether, for atheists, there can be meaning
in life without reference to a transcendent reality.
Jewlicious praises a rebranding campaign by the Los Angeles Jewish Federation
, quoting in turn a Jewish Telegraphic Agency blog, the Fundermentalist
, about Jewish philanthropy. This enormous community organization, the L.A. Federation, canvassed Jews around L.A. (my hometown) and found that those who support causes like the Federation are hungry for, you guessed it, meaning:
The new branding tagline “GiveLifeMeaning.org” emerged from extensive conversations within the community, asking people what was their most powerful motivation for involvement and support. People mentioned a variety of reasons. Yet as we analyzed the responses, we understood that regardless of what they said, the issue of meaning was the one common denominator at the core of every response. It was a powerful denominator.
The new poster and website are certainly jazzy. Why poignant, though?
Because the idea of “giving life meaning” implies that there’s no authentic meaning there to begin with that is to be sought and discovered. I’m sure that’s not what the campaign intends to communicate, but it’s implicit in the slogan.
In such a context, you only “give” something to something else where it doesn’t already exist. I would have said I was interested in “finding life’s meaning.” If life inherently has a meaning, distilled in Torah as Jews once overwhelmingly affirmed, then you can seek it out, clarify it for yourself, unravel its mysteries, weave it into your life. You don’t thereby “give” life meaning. Do you see the difference?
The stories of making meaning through human kindness, human bonds, community building, connections, friendships and family are now everywhere. Our communal institutions, synagogues, rabbis, teachers and leaders are setting examples that make each of us proud to be part of the Jewish People. In an environment like this, as we come together with great purpose, the extraordinary begins to happen. We see it emerging now. It is a massive movement of human kindness, including volunteers and funders, based upon the teachings of Tikkun Olam–Repairing the World.
Which all sounds lovely. Yet the phrasing of the marketing slogan, while clever, tells a lot about the spiritual condition of the American Jewish community. The revealing choice of words carries a slight back-of-the-throat taste of relativism, existentialism, nihilism — all those modern afflictions that are, in the first place, the main causes of Jewish alienation from Judaism.
They are also what accounts for the pervasive indifference to otherwise commendable organizations like, for example, your local Jewish Federation.