Materialistic Philosophy & Lifestyle
Dr. Alexi George
For centuries, people have pondered the meaning of life. Some relinquish all responsibilities in their lives and go on a quest to find the purpose of their existence. Numerous people conclude that their life is not worth living, and they commit suicide. Even today, this quest for meaning continues in the minds of people throughout the world.
There is a pattern of thinking that says that reality is centered on matter alone. This is the basic philosophical premise of materialism. Materialistic philosophy claims that the only thing that exists is matter. Not only are all things composed of matter, but even consciousness is the result of interactions between matter. Thus the only true substance is matter.
Brief History of Materialism
As a philosophy, materialism developed independently in several regions of Asia and Europe. The Indian ‘Chârvâka’ philosophers around 600 BC were some of the earliest developers of materialism. Although it was not accepted in the mainstream of Hindu philosophy, it stands as evidence for some of the earliest materialists. This materialistic philosophy developed alongside the naturalistic thinking that everything in nature results without the input from any deity.
When the concept of a deity is dismissed, people have only the material world around them. Thus the material world became the primary source of everything. Around the same time as ‘Chârvâka’, several Greek philosophers came up with a similar view. It was the Atomist school that proposed that all that exists is matter in a small form of indivisible tiny particles called atoms. Whatever did not consist of atoms was simply empty space. This accounted for several eastern and western philosophers who independently came to the same conclusion that the only ultimate reality is matter.
With the emergence of Christianity, all rejection of the divine and the spirit was quenched. Because of the widespread influence of Christianity, materialism took a back seat until the "Enlightenment" of the 17th century allowed for free thinking without the influence of the church. Rene Descartes, termed as the "father" of modern philosophy, suggested a dualism of mind and body to explain the consciousness of people. He understood that mind and matter both exist and relate to one another in some way. But others countered that mind is the byproduct of matter, and nothing but the byproduct of matter. Essentially, this went back to the traditional thinking of the supremacy of matter.
Denials of Materialism
When we consider matter as the ultimate reality, the natural conclusion is that human beings are without souls. Since the soul is non-matter, it would simply be considered invalid since it does not fit into the thought patterns and categories of materialism. Thus humans are simply physical beings devoid of any deeper meaning to existence. This has further implications on the value of human life.
Another important denial is the rejection of the existence of God. When the Bible says that God created the heavens and the earth, the obvious implication is that God is above matter since He is the Creator. When materialistic philosophy says that matter is the ultimate reality, that is in direct opposition to the claims of the Bible regarding the creative act of God and His supremacy over creation.
Implications of Materialism
When the existence of God is denied and humans are considered devoid of souls, they are now free of moral responsibility because they are the final authority. They are no longer accountable. The concept of right and wrong become relative. Each person has the right to choose what is right for himself. What is right for me may not be right for others, and what is right for them may not be right for me. This makes it impossible to define anything as "sin," for the idea of sin is based upon absolute truth that is incompatible with the relativistic thinking of materialism.
Another implication of materialism is hopelessness. Life is full of difficulties and challenges. We constantly face failures in numerous areas of our lives. These failures point to our weaknesses and our limitations as humans. The accumulation and consequences of these weaknesses and failures lead people to depression and hopelessness. If matter is the ultimate reality, then humans are left to themselves to solve their surmounting life problems. Ultimately, people give up hope because they have nowhere to turn. The brokenness all around us is certainly a witness to this hopelessness.
Our Ultimate Reality
God our Creator has given to us all the things (matter) of this world to use. According to the Bible, He has made us stewards of all matter in this world (Gen 1:28-30). As Creator, God is our ultimate source for everything. His commands define for us what is right and wrong. Sin is a reality with which we must deal. Our brokenness is not evidence of hopelessness, but an invitation to trust in the One Who is the true ultimate reality.
As people all over the world search for meaning in their lives, we are blessed to know the One who has created us with a purpose and who came to live among us through His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ has given us everything we need. As we turn to Him, He fills our lives with hope. With Him, we put matter into its proper perspective, and put God where He belongs in our lives.