Cathy and I love to try out new restaurants. We like a funky setting that offers fresh and surprising food. Because I’m a vegetarian, unique entrees are a rare find. Usually, we check out the menu on line, or call, before we head out for some new place, just to be sure there is something I can eat. So, when we do find some new place, it’s a real treat for us.
If the vibe is good, and the server asks, “Can I answer any questions for you?” I just can’t help myself. I have to ask, “What’s the meaning of life?” Typically I get a smile, as in “I’ll oblige you because you’re the customer.” Sometimes the server says, “Wish I knew?” I’ve asked the question more than a hundred times. Rarely do I get an answer worth keeping. Until a few months ago, we were in Tucson visiting my sister. We went to a unique place we hadn’t been before. The server asked my favorite question, “Can I answer any questions for you?” I said, “The meaning of life?” He said, “42.”
Of course, the server’s answer was from Douglas Adams’ book, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. At a pivotal point in the book, two alien beings ask a giant computer “The answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.” The computer tells the questioners to come back after she has had 7.5 millions years to work on the answer. Upon their return, the aliens receive their answer, “42”.
There are hundreds of speculations as to why Adams choose “42” as the answer to the meaning of life. He skirted around the question from interviewers most of his life. At one point, apparently bored of being asked why he selected 42 as his answer, he said he was staring out the window, over looking his garden, pondering his book, and the number popped in his head. Being a writer myself, I am fascinated to read biographical stories of the authors I’ve read and enjoyed.
Admittedly, Adams’ book dates me—but so do a lot of other popular cultural references. They are awfully hard to avoid, because life is exponentially more time sensitive with each passing day. While the answer “42” is time relative, the question is timeless.
Adams was an atheist. Scientist and atheist Richard Hawkins acknowledged Adams at his death as a man that scientist, atheist, conservationist, and the animal kingdom would dearly miss. The fact that Adams was an atheist is germane to his question about the meaning of life. He was poking fun at religion’s weak attempt to provide an answer to every unanswerable question.
Apparently, most religious leaders believe they have found the simple answer to unanswerable questions. They proclaim an absolute undeniable answer to the meaning of life and how to find eternal purpose. While those types of questions haunt most of us, religion in general, and especially Christianity, demands that its followers accept their version of the correct answer. Without regard to the fact that the answer seems fleeting, out of context for the culture, or worse, irrelevant, Christianity (and I think most religions) holds onto to their illusionary ideas of the truth.
In the twenty-first century, more and more people in Western culture, Americans, see religion, especially Christianity, as out-of-date and meaningless. To make matters worse, recently we have witnessed betrayal, hypocrisy, and an abandonment of the faith from prominent leaders.
In a most recent article in Huffington Post, Bart Campolo, well known in his own right and son of the famous Evangelical academic, writer, and speaker, Tony Campolo, announced he was no longer a Christian.
He left Christianity to become the humanist chaplain at the University of Southern California. The younger Campolo left Christianity, he said, after deconstructing several of the tenets of the faith, most prominently, the sovereignty of God and the authority of the Scriptures. The final blow to his faith came at the hands of a near fatal biking accident in 2011. It was then he decided that when the body dies, that’s the end.
Since Christianity is “my tribe,” to quote the elder Campolo, I have to wonder if Bart ever felt safe in a community of Christians, aliens in a foreign land, to discuss his doubts and to wonder about the writings of Origin, Clement of Alexandria, Meister Eckhart, the Gnostics, Carl Jung and the likes of Marcus Borg. I wonder if having a safe community where he could be an atheist and still be a part of tribe was in reach for him?
Now as a humanist chaplain, Bart Campolo ministers to people who don’t believe in God but are looking for community. Maybe community where people seeking the answer to life’s illusive questions gather to find solace in the face of the dark void? Maybe 42 is the answer to the meaning of life? Four, the number of wholeness, plus two, duality, equals the complexity of simplicity—maybe that is the answer? No, too simple. Anyway. Healthy communities can, and do, exist to provide a safe place for us, atheists and Christians alike, together, to work out our stuff. The keys are that the community must be safe, let us do our work without providing the “answers”, and allow my stuff, no matter how wyrd, even if I do believe 42 is the answer to life, in the room. Religious, humanist, atheist, agnostic, we’re all probably searching for a place of safe community to work out our wonderings. Isn’t 42 a card game? Or is that dominos?