Suppose, by way of analogy, that a group of people find themselves conscripted into a World-War-I-type conflict — they’re thrown together in a platoon and stationed out in no man’s land, where over time a kind of miniature society gets created, with its own loves and hates, hope and joys, and of course its own grinding, life-threatening routines. Eventually, some people in the platoon begin to wonder about the point of it all: Why are they fighting, who are they fighting, what do they hope to gain, what awaits them at war’s end, will there ever be a war’s end, and for that matter are they even sure that they’re the good guys?One of the things that strikes me about this exchange is the extent to which it underlines different modes of thinking. From Douthat and Fulwiler, we have have an essentially teleological mode of thinking, one in which the question "why is that?" and "what does that mean?" in some final sense are the most important human questions. The opposing view in this case is a functional view which seems to draw a lot from engineering and scientific methods of the more procedural sort: "Okay, look, we're not really sure why we should think any of this has meaning, but clearly we do so that's functionally good enough to go with for now. Let's get on with other stuff."
…At this point, one of the platoon’s more intellectually sophisticated members speaks up. He thinks his angst-ridden comrades are missing the point: Regardless of the larger context of the conflict, they know the war has meaning because they can’t stop acting like it has meaning. Even in their slough of despond, most of them don’t throw themselves on barbed wire or rush headlong into a wave of poison gas. (And the ones who do usually have something clinically wrong with them.)… Instead, given how much meaningfulness is immediately and obviously available — right here and right now, amid the rocket’s red glare and the bombs bursting in air — the desire to understand the war’s larger context is just a personal choice, with no necessary connection to the question of whether today’s battle is worth the fighting.
I'm somewhat flummoxed as to how one would find it remotely satisfying to address a question such as "meaning" from a strictly functional perspective. Though perhaps that just shows how much in the former camp I am. However prone to skepticism I am, and it's a straing that runs strongly in me, one of the things that makes Catholicism so much more intellectually satisfying to me than the alternative of agnosticism is that I don't see how one can answer questions like "why do we exist" and "what is our purpose" with a shrug of "Well, we seem to be here, so who cares."