Articulating a compassionate and intelligent case for Islam in a post-secular society is quite difficult. Due to an increase in materialism, the value of religion has diminished. One way of starting a conversation is to get people thinking about the implications of their ideas about man, life and the universe. Once it can be shown that there are some absurd consequences and unpalatable logical implications, it can create fertile ground to have rational discussions about why Islam is true.
A popular view about life is that it is “just a game”. We have one life (YOLO) and we should make the most of it. However, is life just a game? This belief ignores or denies the supernatural and any form of Divine accountability. Why would there be? When you play a game you either win or lose, and then you move on to the next game, and then you eventually die. The formula is simple; believing life is just a game equals no ultimate purpose and value. Not only does it make life ludicrous but it also represents a very bleak outlook on our existence. As this article is going to explain, this conclusion is a result of thinking rationally and logically about the implications of thinking that life is just for frivolous play.
“And We created not the heavens and the earth, and all that is between them, for mere play.”
The Qur’an, Chapter 44, Verse 38
Is it reasonable to believe? To help us try and answer this question, let us take the following into consideration:
You are probably reading this article sitting on your chair, and wearing some clothes. Have you ever asked yourself the question: for what purpose? Why are you wearing the clothes, and what purpose does the chair have? The answers to these questions are obvious. The chair’s purpose is to allow us to sit down by supporting our weight, and our clothes fulfil the purpose of keeping us warm, hiding our nakedness, and of course making us look good. Our clothes and the chair are lifeless objects with no emotional and mental abilities, and we attribute purpose to these. Yet, some of us do not believe we have a purpose for our own existence. Naturally, this seems absurd and counter intuitive.
Having a purpose for our lives implies that there is a reason for our existence, in other words some kind of intention and objective. Without a purpose we have no reason to exist, and we do not really have a deep, profound meaning for our lives. This is the implication of believing life is just a game. If we take the logical conclusion of this indifferent view on our existence, we are essentially on a sinking ship. This metaphorical ship is our planet, because according to scientists this planet is heading towards its inevitable demise, and will suffer what they call a “heat death”, where the Sun will eventually destroy the earth. Therefore, if this ship is going to sink, then what is the point of reshuffling the deck chairs or giving a glass of milk to the old lady? The Qur’an represents humanity’s intuitive stance on this issue,
“Our Lord! You have not created all this without purpose”
The Qur’an, Chapter 3, Verse 90
Islam’s view on the purpose of our lives is empowering. It elevates our existence from being a mere product of matter and time, to recognising us as conscious beings that freely choose to have a relationship with the One that created us. Under the belief that life is just a game, there is no ultimate purpose for our existence. We are just based on blind, random, non-rational, physical processes.
And they say, “There is none but our worldly life, and we will not be resurrected.” If you could but see when they will be made to stand before their Lord. He will say, “Is this not the truth?” They will say, “Yes, by our Lord.” He will [then] say, “So taste the punishment because you used to disbelieve.”
The Qur’an, Chapter 6, Verses 29 to 30
What is the difference between a human and a chocolate bunny? This is a serious question. According to the belief that life is just a game with no afterlife, everything that exists is essentially a rearrangement of matter. Everything is a result of prior physical causes and processes.
If this is true, then does it really matter?
If I were to pick up a hammer, smash a chocolate bunny, and then I did the same to myself, according to this perspective there would be no real difference. The pieces of chocolate and the pieces of my skull would just be rearrangements of the same stuff; cold, lifeless matter.
The typical response to this argument includes the following statements: “we have feelings”, “we are alive”, “we feel pain”, “we have an identity” and “we’re human!” These responses are quite intuitive, but not all intuitions are true. According to this perspective, these responses are just neuro-chemical occurrences in one’s brain. In reality, everything we feel, say or do can be reduced to the basic constituents of matter. Therefore, this sentimentalism is unjustified if one adopts this worldview, because everything, including feelings, emotions or even the sense of value, is just based on matter and cold physical processes and causes.
Coming back to our original question: what is the difference between a human being and a chocolate bunny? The answer according to the life is just a game perspective; there is no real difference. Any difference is just an illusion – there is no ultimate value. If everything is based on matter and prior physical causes and processes, then nothing has real value. Unless, of course, one argues that what matters is matter itself. Even if that were true, how could we appreciate the difference between one arrangement of matter and another? Could one argue that the more complex something is the more value it has? But why would that be of any value? Remember, nothing has been purposefully designed or created if everything is the result of cold, random and non-conscious physical processes and causes.
From an Islamic perspective, we have ultimate value because God has placed an innate disposition within us to acknowledge some fundamental moral and ethical truths. This disposition is called the fiṭrah in Islamic thought. Another reason we can claim ultimate value is because God created us with a profound purpose, and preferred us to most of His creation. We have value because the One who created us has given us value.
“Now, indeed, We have conferred dignity on the children of Adam…and favoured them far above most of Our creation.”
The Qur’an, Chapter 17, Verse 70
Islam values the good and those who accept the truth. It contrasts those who obey God and thereby do good, and those who are defiantly disobedient, and thereby do evil,
“Then is one who was a believer like one who was defiantly disobedient? They are not equal.”
The Qur’an, Chapter, 32, Verse 18
Since believing that life is just a game ignores or denies the Hereafter and any form of Divine justice, then it rewards the criminal and the peacemaker with the same ends: death. We all meet the same fate, so what ultimate value does the life of Hitler or the life of Martin Luther King Jr. really have? If their ends are the same, then what real value does this view give us? Not much at all.
However, in Islam, the ultimate end of those who are compassionate, honest, just, kind and forgiving is contrasted with the end of those who persist with their evil. The abode of the good is eternal bliss, and the abode of the evil is Divine alienation and eternal torment.
“And in the Hereafter is severe punishment and forgiveness from God and approval. And what is the worldly life except the enjoyment of delusion?”
The Qur’an, Chapter 57, Verse 20
In Islam we have value. Under the view that life is just a game, any sense of value cannot be rationally justified except as an illusion in our heads.
Once you have read this article you will see that all of the profound questions that we as human beings have about our existence are answered in the Qur’an. God didn’t create the universe and everything in it only to leave us all to our own devices. Our Creator cares about us, and it is out of His mercy that He sent down the Qur’an as guidance.
To conclude, believing that life is just a game cannot provide profound answers for our existence, and therefore real happiness can never be achieved. When we stop treating life like a game and become God-conscious, we free ourselves and find ourselves. Only then can we achieve true happiness both in this life and the next :
“Truly it is in the remembrance of God that hearts find peace.”
The Qur’an, Chapter 13, Verse 28