The Irrationality of Existence or, How to Find the Meaning of Life, much to Nietzsche’s Chagrin


DSC01524We’re too busy to ask the big questions anymore, but they linger over our heads like an ominous shadow lurking in our rooms while we sleep. We keep ourselves occupied with jobs, television, movies, video games, the internet, and a host of other things. Companies make billions of dollars a year off the fact that we will buy anything, any amount of money, and do anything we can in order to keep ourselves busy and thoughtless. The more thoughtless the entertainment, the less it demands of us, the more likely we are to consume it. Why is it that reality television shows have become so popular? Is it because we are that dumb, or are we that desperate to silence the big questions of life? At least the alcoholic is honest with himself and admits to drinking in order to avoid and suppress life’s difficulties; the TV junkie or video game addict hardly realizes he has a problem.

Yet, we must all face the big questions. At a funeral, they sneak up on us without our permission and infect our minds. What if I’m next? What has the purpose of my life been? What if this is all it’s worth? We hate funerals because it reminds us of our own inevitability; certainly we will miss the person who has died, but even for strange acquaintances whose funerals we attend out of social obligation we still feel our stomachs turn.  We realize that one day we will be the person in the casket and it is in that moment that life’s big questions engulf us, it is then we all become Jonahs in the belly of a great fish, trapped in a darkness we’ve fought so hard to avoid.

We quickly push such thoughts away by looking at our phones for the latest news, looking at what Jane is wearing, thinking about what the kids have to do tomorrow, putting together a grocery list, and the line of distractions grow. We distance ourselves from the big questions, yet they remain. When forced to confront our own mortality, we are faced with the meaninglessness of our existence. To the ancient Greeks, life wasn’t meaningless because one was supposed to pursue the good. Of course, they then spent countless hours defining and attempting to understand exactly what “the good” was. For Plato, the good was some abstract form, something to which we could only achieve within the form world. To Aristotle, the good was found mostly in this life, through living a virtuous life. Yet, both seem meaningless; if the good is abstracted and unobtainable in this life, then what is the purpose in trying to pursue it? If the good is found in a virtuous life, how much virtue and how long do I have to live before I obtain it? For the Romans, specifically Cicero, the good was best manifested in being a good citizen. But oh that Cicero could have seen his Republic fail (he did see its twilight), for then he would realize that being a good citizen cannot be our ultimate end since the State is mutable. Turn East and one could seek the Tao, but the Tao is immutable and therefore one cannot know if it is obtained or not. Or one could seek Nirvana, which is ultimately nothingness; if the purpose of life is to obtain nothingness, then there is no purpose.

Before we ridicule the ancients in the East and the West, we should better understand that us moderns are infantile in our quest compared to the ancients. At least they dared to stand their ground against the big questions of life. Rather than fleeing as we do, they turned and like a brave soldier fought against these questions. They did battle with the struggles of life and even if they did not emerge victoriously, at least they fought. We moderns are far too quick to run away. We tend to take the meaning of life for granted, hiding behind beautifully written platitudes that when exposed to scrutiny, dissolve like paper in acid. Think of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which while a great film, provides a cleverly written, but stupidly simple meaning of life: “To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.” Like modern music, such a saying might sound great to the masses, but there’s really nothing behind it. If the meaning of life is to see the world, then already those who are poor are now excluded from enjoying the meaning of life. Only those who can afford trips need apply to having meaning in life. To see dangerous things to come, to see behind walls (that is, to see the truth of the world), to draw closer and find each other, and to feel; none of these, however, indicate positive things. By all accounts, both Gandhi and Hitler obtained the meaning of life, both Mother Theresa and Josef Stalin stood on equal footing when it came to finding meaning in this life. All involved saw the world, they saw the dangerous things, they saw behind the lies of the world, they drew closer to some and even found love, and they did feel. Such a meaning of life is amoral, which means there is no meaning at all.  Continue reading

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The Teacher


Truth is a Man

Here is another sneak peak from the book The Diary of a Despairing . . . I Mean Aspiring Author I am currently writing.  You can find the first two installments here and here.  Please keep in mind that this is only the first draft.


The Teacher

Growing up in a devout Christian family I heard the stories of the great biblical heroes numerous times and could recite most of them by heart.  It wasn’t until I was twelve, however, that I dedicated time to personally studying Sacred Scripture.  Naturally, I was immediately drawn to the more exotic, and often overlooked, books; the “black sheep” of the canon.  The first to grab my attention was Ecclesiastes, in which, to my great dismay, I read the following passage for the first time:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”

says the Teacher.

“Utterly meaningless!

Everything is meaningless.”

What do people gain from all their…

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Some Thoughts On Don Juanism


What is Don Juanism?  It is, perhaps, most easily expressed by this simple Latin phrase made famous by the film Dead Poets Society: “carpe diem!” or “seize the day!”  Loosely defined, it describes a certain disposition or attitude toward life which is explained by the French existentialist Albert Camus in his influential book The Myth of Sisyphus.

According to Camus, Don Juanism is not a system or a formula but a general outline suggesting a way in which the “absurd man” might proceed in a world devoid of intrinsic meaning or value.  Who is the “absurd man” you ask?  The man who acknowledges the world is meaningless—and, that there is no hope of a life after death—yet, seeks to ascribe or, at least, search for meaning anyway.    The absurd man, when faced with the dilemma of nihilism, may choose (following the manner of that famous womanizer Don Juan) to suck the marrow out of each moment of his existence.  He does not dwell upon the past nor does he worry about his inevitable fate (i.e., death, dissolution, and non-being) but seeks to experience as much pleasure (not necessarily erotic pleasure; but typically so) as possible here and now.  He is driven by passion, desire and self-love.  He chooses not to limit himself—to narrow himself—to the love of but one creature but to share himself with all.  As Camus explains:

“Don Juan, as well as anyone else, knows that this [i.e., love which limits itself to but one creature] can be stirring.  But he is one of the very few who know that this is not the important thing . . . A mother or a passionate wife necessarily has a closed heart, for it is turned away from the world. A single emotion, a single creature, a single face, but all is devoured. Quite a different love disturbs Don Juan, and this one is liberating. It brings with it all the faces in the world, and its tremor comes from the fact that it knows itself to be mortal. Don Juan has chosen to be nothing.”

In short, Don Juanism suggests we adopt a god complex. In the face of the void it calls for us to create meaning and value in accordance with our likes and dislikes (we, thus, become the truth). It further challenges us to extend ourselves–our vitality–as far as possible; to transcend limitations and take in as much of this life that we can. Yet, ironically, under the impetus that one day we shall no longer exist and, thus, no longer experience.

It is safe to say that this is a way of approaching life many in our culture–especially those in Hollywood and the music industry–have embraced and enthusiastically promote. We are constantly told to live in the moment; to be true to ourselves (i.e., to passively allow our irrational instincts and biological impulses to dictate who we are); to release our sexuality; to hold nothing back. We are told to liberate ourselves from the shackles of traditional mores and moral constraints. This means moving away from longterm, monogamous relationships and diving headlong into unabashed–unrestricted–eroticism. We hear this ever so loudly in the music industry (Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga, or Beyoncé are but a few examples).

The lines become increasingly blurred as we seek to extend ourselves and to experience as much as we can: oral sex with members of both genders, multiple sex partners, bisexuality, polygamy, androgyny, threesomes, orgies, unrestricted masturbation, sex toy’s, hooking up with strangers, pornography, beastiality–the sky’s the limit! All this in an effort to establish our identity; to authenticate ourselves.

Note, however, the basic premise underlying Don Juanism (inadvertently expressed in the quote I shared from Camus): individuals or persons become nothing. There is no intrinsic value or dignity to the person–in the world according to Don Juan we are but brief irrational manifestations of the monolith that is the cosmos. And, the cosmos is unconscious, unaware, uncaring, and purposeless. You and I are, thus, non-being; because we (whatever “we” designates) are temporary, unidentifiable, meaningless blips, in a long series of meaningless blips, destined to fade out and be utterly forgotten. There is nothing concrete or eternal about us. We have no essence and, thus, no identity. And, to renounce identity is to renounce existence.

So I ask myself: What kind of freedom is this? The answer comes quickly: It is a freedom without hope; and, hence, not true freedom. It is a freedom built on an illusion; and, hence, not true freedom. What silly and pathetic little god’s we have become! God’s incapable of changing our fate; god’s with only the illusion of self; god’s with the mere illusion of being able to shape the way things are. Don Juanism requires the impossible–it requires something to come from nothing. It requires the unidentifiable to create identity; the non-existent to bring forth existence.

But, from out of nothing, comes nothing. The “absurd” man is far more absurd than Camus dared to imagine.

The Swamp . . .


Truth is a Man

Here’s another “sneak peak” of the autobiographical piece, The Diary of a Despairing . . . I Mean, Aspiring Author, I’m working on.  Last week I posted the forward which can be read here.  I’d love to hear your thoughts!  Please keep in mind this is only the first draft.

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The Swamp

My earliest memories are of the swamp.  Viewed through the lens of a child the swamp is at once magical and terrifying; filled with beauty, wonder, darkness and terror.  In this way, swamps are a microcosm of the universe.  For our cosmos is both majestic and frightful—awe inspiring and unnerving.  The swamp is beautiful in its own way, full of unexpected pleasures, yet, also leaves one with a sense of dread.  Like the rest of existence, it is a paradox; an unlikely combination of darkness and light.  It is in this setting, surrounded by thick…

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Existence as an Act of Love


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Act I

Once I wallowed in the darkness of the void

That darkness darker than the night

Ever searching, ever groping, ever longing

My hands clutching shadows that slipped through my fingers.

Lost in a maze without meaning, without purpose, without destination

I wandered in a dry and waterless land

My soul aching for something or someone to give me hope

An experience to justify this pitiful existence.

How I yearned to escape the absurdity

I clung to my individuality, my uniqueness, but in vain

Having rejected You I acknowledged that all was One – ever turning, all encompassing

And within this Monolith “I” was an illusion.

How I longed to communicate – to understand and to be understood

How I longed to reciprocate – to love and to be loved

How I longed to impose my will – to create and to be created

But how could I escape the Monolith?

Mindless forces, endlessly indifferent, from the dawn of time

Blindly marching on, from everlasting to everlasting

Laws of nature too powerful to escape

Leading me, guiding me, shaping me, informing me, fating me.

I was but a cog in the wheel

One piece of the machine

And even this wasn’t real

For everything was One and “I” was an aberration, a twisted trick of nature.

My thoughts were merely a chimera

Every doubt, every fear, every belief, every feeling, every passion was an inevitability

A destiny set in stone by the cold, irrational, unconscious, laws of physics and biology

Since the dawn of time.

Reason and rationality became but a farce

I groped aimlessly in the night

For “I” was but the dust in a star

Like grass, my puny body would deteriorate and die

My atoms scattered to and fro . . .


 

Intermission 

And so it was that I sank into the pit of despair and hopelessness

Where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

 


Act II

But You, my Beloved, drew near in my distress

You who made blind eyes see, shattered through the night

Piercing the darkness with your unapproachable light

Illuminating my mind and reviving my heart of stone!

Through You, O Lord, we may see existence as an act of love

Ultimate reality as an intimacy shared between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit

The eternal wellspring of personality, communication, and love

The perfect communion of three distinct personalities sharing one

nature, energy, and will.

For in You, O God, is perfect community, true intimacy, and pure holiness

It was out of this  love that You gave birth to the Universe

Speaking into existence something other – yet still reflecting Your incomparable beauty

A supreme act of Self-Giving.

And You imprinted Your image and likeness upon it

Creating other distinct personalities capable of communication and love

That they, too, though finite and limited, might share in the wonder of your eternal glory

and experience the delight of Your All-Holy Spirit

Even now You lovingly maintain the order and harmony of the Universe

Fixing the laws of nature, those models of elegance and simplicity

Maintaining regularity – the ebb and flow of matter and energy

That we may live and move and have our being.

Ever communicating Your love!

Ever revealing Your heart!

Ever beckoning us to abide!

That we may join the everlasting and harmonious community of the Blessed and most Holy Trinity

Come let us abide in You and You in us!  Amen.

I Lost Faith in Myself . . . Now I Have Hope


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It occurred to me the other day that Nietzsche is right.  The only thing I could possibly have faith in, if God is dead, is me.  This thought, I must confess, is rather unsettling (namely, because I know myself far too well).  But, if there are no transcendent values, if there is no meaning, what else is there to put my faith in?

I suppose I could put my faith in “science” or in some abstract notion like “humanity” or “the universe”—but these things are only meaningful, in a world devoid of intrinsic value, if I consider them meaningful.  In such a world, I, the subjective knower, am the arbiter of truth, meaning, and value.  It is clear, therefore, that, in actuality, “I” (and not some objective reality outside of myself) am what I truly have faith in.  I have faith in my beliefs, my intentions, and my desires (e.g., my affection for science is the source of my trust in science; for science in and of itself has no objective meaning or value).

This, however, is truly a miserable, and hopeless, state of affairs.  I am finite; I am mortal; I can be (and will be) destroyed.  My existence is a temporary blip—a shifting shadow like the shadows on Plato’s cave wall.  I am merely the byproduct of cold, impersonal, meaningless, physical processes which blindly, and uncaringly, march on without direction until the final death and collapse of the universe.  In such a world, I am not a subject; but, merely, an object—a passive object.  All of my thoughts, longings, desires, and emotions, as well as my ability to reason, are merely physical happenings—unimportant, undirected, predetermined, events.  Thus we see the sickening irony of the situation: there is no “I”—at least, not in any traditional sense of the term.

To make matters worse, I am unreliable.   I fail to understand or to comprehend or to communicate effectively.  I am forgetful and can easily be deceived.  I fail to keep my promises.  I tell lies and cheat and steal and have pity parties.  I lack self confidence and lack the power to change anything about the laws of nature which completely hold sway over my fate.

As I ponder these things I realize that, in the absence of God, there is no hope; because I am my only hope . . . and I have no delusions of grandeur.

When we recognize that placing total faith in ourselves is utterly useless and ultimately futile, we are finally in a position to understand the paradox that Truth presents us with:  “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matt. 16:24-25).

“I” is an absurdity—a meaningless illusory object—operating under the delusion that the world has value.  Life is hopeless; the universe is impersonal; I will end; I can’t save myself.  This is because I live in a fallen world disconnected from Truth and estranged from the Giver of Life.  I remain in this despairing state so long as I worship “self”; so long as I pin my hopes on a temporal, finite, feeble, dying blip in the universe.  This is why Truth tells us to deny ourselves and to follow Him.  Only He can give us life; only He can restore meaning and value.  Apart from Him, we remain in the void, in the darkness, and held captive by death.

Previously posted on Truth is a Man.

A Hope Beyond Cynicism or, the Resurrection and Evisceration of Nihilism


Icon of the Resurrection

Icon of the Resurrection

It is in the fashion of the times for popular television scientists, such as Neil deGrasse Tyson, to explain how science is leaving little room for God’s existence while in the same breath stating that we humans are insignificant, and that it is good we realize this. Such scientists do not seemingly see the irony in their thinking: Materialism, which believes in a large, yet finite universe, teaches that humans are insignificant, while Christianity, which believes in an infinite, incomprehensible God, teaches that humans are significant.

Such pondering tends towards materialistic pantheism, that we are great because we are made of dead stars. We are all physically connected to each other and to the universe we see. While true, what real moral impact is there in this statement? The CEO is connected to his poor worker because both are composed of atoms, but what of it? Stating such a scientific truth may seem deep and profound, but it is no more profound than saying the earth rotates around the sun or that one apple plus another apple equals two apples; all are mere statements of fact, nothing more.

These modern anti-philosophers – men who decry philosophy, yet act as philosophers – act as though they are speaking deeply by saying there is no purpose to life, but we are to act as if purpose exists. These English-speaking scientists think they have broken new ground, while blindly waving away the cigarette smoke from the French who have been here for quite some time. As in true historical fashion the English follow the trends of the French, claim it as their own, and the French are left cursing the ignoble English all the while denouncing the English rendition of French fashion. The philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Albert Camus already struggled with a materialistic worldview leading to no purpose. Of course, in following true European fashion, the French must surrender the origins of their fashion to Germany (with Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Hegel, and others). The Germans, in turn, would bashfully admit that their existential and materialistic heritage was stolen from the Rome they sacked, mostly from Lucretius. Yet, the Romans would have to admit that their philosophy came from the conquered Greeks, from the Epicurean teachings. Our modern scientists who think they are quite progressive in their atheistic existentialism would be dismayed to discover that they are not moving forward, but backward to a theory that is older than the Christianity they so detest.

Facing the dark emptiness of the universe is nothing new; it is not something modern science has forced us to undertake. Facing the darkness of this world, facing a life without God, is something that humanity has seemingly always faced. Atheism is not the result of Darwin’s theory of evolution and advances in science; rather, atheism is the result of man’s rebellion culminating in wanting not only to be like God, but also to erase Him from our very existence. Even the Psalms speaks of the foolishness of those who deny God’s existence, but it acknowledges that such people exist. The idea that the world we live in is all that exists is as ancient as religion itself. Neil deGrasse Tyson has discovered nothing new, but has stumbled upon an ancient conundrum.

Even St. Paul recognized the issue of nihilism, that is, on the purposelessness of life. What makes Christianity so distinct is that we acknowledge that this life actually is without a purpose. We recognize that this world is truly empty and pointless. The difference, however, is we can explain why this is the case and why it need not be the case. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul is quite adamant about the importance of the Resurrection, stating that without the resurrection of Christ and of our own bodies, there is no point to this life. He goes so far as to say that if there is no physical resurrection then there is no point to living like a Christian, that we should “eat and drink” for tomorrow we may die.

Within Christianity, we do not disagree that if God does not exist, this life is pointless. We go even further – much to the dismay of our Theistic co-belligerents – to say that even if God does exist, without the resurrection there is still no point to this life. We can claim to drink in the fullness of this life, to milk the enjoyable sap from every second we exist, but in the end we are simply fooling ourselves. If there is no resurrection, then we are hapless souls wandering a desert who happen upon an oasis only to discover it is a mirage. The soothing shade and cold water were quite convincing, but in the end it was nothing more than sand. All the while, the vultures fly overhead, awaiting our inevitable end.

Without a resurrection, there is no meaning to this life and we fool ourselves if we think otherwise. We may pretend that our meanderings have meaning, that it somehow matters that we are physically connected to ancient stars, but in the end, we still cease to be. Those who remembered us will cease to be. 4.5 billion years from now the sun will swallow up the earth as entropy takes its full effect and all that we have ever known will burn up. Everything we work toward, all our struggles, our happiness, and history will wash away like a sandcastle at high tide.

Yet, there is hope that reaches beyond the cynicism of nihilism. That hope is found in Christ, who has given meaning and purpose to all things that exist. That hope stems from His resurrection. In a poetic paradox that only God could accomplish, the emptiness of the tomb besieges the nothingness of nihilism, and this emptiness is full of so much that it simply wipes away the nothingness. When Christ hung on a cross and was placed in a tomb, nihilism reigned supreme. The shrouded Jesus faced the pointlessness of this life as He lay dead in the tomb. Yet, the death could not hold Him, for death is the absence of hope and Christ is Hope. As the darkness consumed Jesus, it choked on Light Himself, and unable to contain this Light surrendered to Him. The hopelessness of this world could not contain the Hope for the world.

The resurrection provides real hope and real meaning to this world rather than the empty platitudes of scientific existentialism. The resurrection acknowledges that in our physical body we are certainly linked to dead stars, but in the entirety of our being we are linked to the living God. When we die, what we have done will have meaning because it will reverberate and ripple into eternity. When one dies we sing “Memory Eternal” not just because it is a beautiful sentiment, but also because it is the truth; one is remembered eternally by the Eternal One. Only in the resurrection, where life continues for eternity, can there be any meaning to this present life. The more we learn about the universe and its vast expanse, the more we ought to turn to its Creator in order to find the meaning for all things