This is Your Place in the Universe: The Tiniest of Kings and Queens


Source: NASA

Source: NASA

It’s popular on social media, notably Twitter and Facebook, to post videos that show how infinitesimally small the earth is when compared to objects inside our universe. They then draw some conclusion of, “See how insignificant we are?” or “So when your problems seem overwhelming, just look at how big the universe is and realize how small your problems are.” Such messages, I guess, are suppose to be inspiring, but ultimately they’re quite nihilistic. It’s like one of those Lisa Frank paintings with nihilistic messages:

tumblr_nuceptJzuw1uegvy1o1_1280

It looks kind, cuddly, and just pukes sentimentality, but the message is pretty dark. And that’s how these videos on the universe are; yes, we’re small, we’re tiny compared to other physical objects in the universe, but does that really mean our problems are insignificant? Just say, “Cry into the night sky, but understand that your sound goes into a void that will not answer back and will not hear you.” It’s atheistic existentialism without the acknowledgement of angst or absurdity, it’s optimistic nihilism, which is to say it’s neither optimistic nor nihilist, but just a logical contradiction.

How non sequitur is it to say, “But the universe is vast and large and we are insignificant” when someone comes to you with a problem? More importantly, why would the size of the earth play into our significance? While the magnitude of a problem experiences some subjectivity – to a three year old, dropping an ice cream cone is an act of supreme evil – it doesn’t mean our problems or even our lives are insignificant. We can’t look at the crisis in the Middle East, the number of orphans, widows, and rampant genocide, we can’t look at the rapes, the theft, the wanton loss of life and go, “Yeah, but VY Canis Majoris is 5,000 light years from earth and dwarfs our own sun! So really, how big can our problems be?” That response is properly received as cold and callous, and that’s because it is, because human lives are significant regardless of their size.

See, while VY Canis Majoris might dwarf our sun, or while the whole of North America might look like a smudge when compared to the size of Jupiter, human lives dwarf absolutely everything else in this universe, including the universe itself. We are the kings and queens of creation, placed as stewards over all that we observe, even if what we observe is bigger than ourselves. Much to the chagrin of atheists or the non-religious, though evolved we are still made in the image of God. And since God is infinite, within that image there is infinity, and infinity shall always remain greater than the finite. And the universe, no matter how vast it is, is still finite. The problems we face, the evil we cause, the good we enjoy, the love we create, and every aspect of our existential lives are not insignificant or small just because the universe is large; these elements echo in eternity and will surpass even the universe itself.

And for those who aren’t religious or are atheists and prefer not to believe that we are in God’s image, I can respect that, but I can’t respect the devaluation of human life. For even the atheist existentialists would embrace the absurdity of treating human life with dignity because, after all, it’s the only intelligent form of life of which we know As small as we are, our intelligence makes us of far greater value than some distant star of mass quantities.

So yes, in terms of physical limitations humans are insignificant. We’re nothing compared to other animals on this planet, if we’re only looking to physicality. But if we’re looking to more, if we’re looking to the intangible, immaterial aspect of our existence (for love, knowledge, and the like cannot be measured and though immaterial, are a vital part of our existence and are what makes us human), then nothing in the observable universe comes close to our own significance.

 

Contra Progress: We have made the modern world, but the modern world is not made for us


IMG_0039The United States is a place full of oddities and contradictions, much like the rest of the world. Our greatest contradictions exist within the workplace. We leave a house that we hope to sell (in order to move into a bigger one), drive in traffic that we hate onto the way to a job that we deplore, take orders from a boss we despise, and spend 7-8 hours (on average) in a building we’re working to eventually escape, only to fight that same hated traffic on the way home. By the time we get home we’re drained, we have no creativity or energy left, and what’s worse is we must wake up and repeat the process all over. Our only respite is the weekends, but even then we must fight crowds and face the reality that the eternal return of the same shall stare us down beginning Sunday night into Monday morning.

The angst of modern man is quite different from his ancestors. Existential angst has always been a part of human existence, the crisis of realizing that we exist, but truly understanding why we exist is at the core of many philosophical discussions. It is a question that spans across both Eastern and Western philosophies; both Socrates and Buddha, both Christianity and Taoism, and everything in between attempt to explain the crisis of existence. Even into the 1960s when hippies weren’t tripping off LSD, they were questioning why we’re here. These hippies eventually became the yuppies; the counter-culture warriors of the 60s became the consumerist capitalists of the 80s. Today, the question of “Why am I here” is answered in a myriad of commercials: “To produce and consume.”

Whereas the term “progressive” is commonly used to refer to someone who is liberal or even socialist, the greatest irony is that modern capitalism is truly progressive. Imagine a CEO coming out tomorrow and saying, “Our corporation has made a huge profit this year. We really don’t need a bigger profit at this point, so we’re going to give any extra profit to our workers.” That, of course, isn’t really progressive because it limits the growth of the company. Modern capitalism wants a world where satisfaction and contentment are dirty words, not signs of maturity. Some might say that this is really consumerism, to which I’d say that consumerism is a logical conclusion of capitalism.

We’re stuck in wage jobs where our entire existence depends not on our work or creativity, but on the effective management of the company for which we work (in previous ages this was called slavery, just of a higher degree than non-wage slavery). “If you work hard enough, you can make it.” I’m sure many people who were laid off or “downsized” work incredibly hard; but their labor was owned by another, and their owner mismanaged the fruits of the labor. If you want that new car, that new TV, that new boat, that new house, that new whatever, then you need to keep working. But ultimately, what are we working for? All these things will gather dust and eventually gain nothing. They are not wrong to have, but to pursue, to make them your goal in life? To seek a new model in a few years? We’re told our purpose in life is to consume, to consume things we don’t need, to consume things that will lose value within our own lifetimes; and if we reflect on that, even for a millisecond, when we think of how many hours of work we put into buying a new TV, we can’t help but feel the angst and disgust.

In pursuing progress in all things financial, we’ve stopped asking why we were created. But such a cessation of questioning is only harmful and has created nasty side effects. Just 100 years ago the majority of Americans lived in small towns where they were no more than a few minutes walk from the world as it was. While we might not have had an answer as to why we existed, we could at least walk within a natural environment and, even without knowledge, feel at home. Today, because we’ve stopped asking why we are here we have lost our connection with our first home. The sounds of nature, of birds chirping, of the wind rustling the leaves of a tree, of the beautiful silence of a forest during a winter snow are often interrupted or drowned out by bustling cars, honking horns, or the “progress” of construction. The incessant clamor of the modern world was born out of the silencing of the big questions.

How odd that modern man has moved his home away from nature when he is only home when closer to nature. In seeking to master the world, we have become slaves to our progress; in seeking to move our homes into the modern era, we have become homeless. We’ve struggled to create a fantastic world, a utopia, only to discover that it is so fantastic and so utopian that we don’t belong to our own creation. We have no frame of reference for our existence and so we stumble forward, blindly into a dark abyss, until we hit the age of 45 and go, “What the hell is all of this for?” To which the car salesmen sells us the new sports car, we leave our family for someone new, everyone chalks it up to a midlife crisis, and we still lead empty and mundane lives, just filled with new stuff.

Marriages aren’t falling apart because we’ve lost religion or because “the gays” can get married. Adultery doesn’t occur because we live in a post-sexual revolution world. Family values haven’t decreased because of Democrats (or Republicans). Society isn’t falling apart because of some liberal or conservative conspiracy theory. Rather, we’ve created a world that isn’t suited for humans and all we see are merely the conclusions of such a world. Just like our bodies will die when placed into an environment not conducive for bodies, so too will our souls die in an environment not conducive to the soul. Our modern world, the one that places our existence on our ability to produce and consume, one that seeks to work us and work us until our company can progress in its profits, is a world that is not only unfavorable to souls, but in many instances kills the soul.

Humans are not meant for the busy life. We’re not meant for 8 hour work days, five days a week (and that’s if you’re lucky; more and more we’re working a clocked 56 hours a week, not to mention the emails and calls at home). We’re not meant to sit in traffic driving metallic cows herded from one area to another. We’re not meant to be “producers” or “consumers,” at least not as our primary function. We’re not meant to remain busy, busy to the point that we lose who we are or worse, never discover what we could be. We’re not meant to look for the next big useless thing and then slave away so we can pay for that big useless thing. We’re not meant to be cut off from nature, not to the degree in which we’re separated, for ultimately we are still a part of nature. We’re not meant to live in isolation amidst our crowded cities. We’re not meant for the modern world.

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.

Lost, Lonely, Confused, and Loving It: A Condemnation of Western Society’s Indifference


IMG_0082

We are, all of us, searching for water in a dry and desolate land; stumbling in the dark; groping for something stable to support us and give us direction . . . and that’s the way we like it.   Deep down, hidden beneath a host of questions and doubts, we realize we are lost and don’t want to be found.  We are hedonist at heart, and lazy ones to boot: we’d much rather watch pornography than discover Truth.  We are too selfish and controlling to even want Truth; because Truth is outside of our direct control.  Truth is not something we can create, or tame, or manipulate; it’s too restrictive and limiting and, thus, untenable.  It works against our inner narcissist.  Hence, we rest, quite contently – with only the slightest and most obligatory hint of angst – in the void of cynicism and doubt.

Sure, we pay lip service to the notion of Truth . . . but do we really desire it?  Years ago I met with a group of teenagers who fancied themselves Atheists and Agnostics.  I led discussions on a variety of philosophical and theological problems at a local coffee shop.  I remember asking one of the students, who attended regularly, what she thought the goal of our discussions was?  Her response was revealing:  “well . . . mainly to have fun, you know, talking about different ideas.”  Like so many in our culture, she wasn’t thirsty for knowledge; she was indifferent; she just wanted to have fun.  As many of religion’s “cultured despisers” did in the time of St. Gregory of Nazianzus:

“Who should listen to discussions of theology?  Those for whom it is a serious undertaking, not just another subject like any other for entertaining small-talk, after the races, the theater, songs, food, and sex:  for there are people who count chatter on theology and clever deployment of arguments as one of their amusements.”

The majority of young people I talk to have this attitude.  They are like the Athenians who, “spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing” (Acts 17: 21).  Discussions about God, morality, meaning, or value are just “small-talk” – an amusing pastime, like baseball.  There’s no substance to their questions and no deep desire to find answers.  More often than not, their “intellectual” struggles – which prevent them from accepting objective truth – are merely a facade maintained to justify elicit sex and drug use.  For others, the questions are asked in an effort to appear sophisticated or edgy.  Very few young people thirst for knowledge and actually want to find an answer to the question of value.

Put bluntly, our culture has lost its desire for meaning and replaced it with an insatiable lust for “reality” TV and Starbucks Frappuccino’s.  This is why the New Atheists will acknowledge the universe is utterly meaningless, that life has no intrinsic value, and that morality is rooted in the blind, ruthless, unintentional, irrational, laws of evolution (which is really just another way of saying, there is no morality) . . . and then shrug.  “Well, I like my life” they say; or, “life has meaning when we give it meaning.”  And what, precisely, is the meaning we ascribe to life?  Ultimately, in the West (and especially in the United States), life’s meaning can generally be classified in one of the the following three categories: (1) our elation over the new Star Wars film directed by J. J Abrams, (2) our intense love for shopping, and (3) our constant and unbridled desire for orgasm.  This is why we look at people in third world countries and wonder, “how can they stand to live that way?”  It is also the reason we can’t understand why the majority of people in third world countries have a deep faith in God and a firm belief in the supernatural.

It’s only in the face of tragedy that we Westerners are forced out of our drunken stupor . . . and, even then, only for a little while.  In the face of intense evil and hardship the reality of our fate often begins to sink in; the reality that we are weak, fragile, finite, temporary, shifting shadows.  In the midst of pain and suffering we are reminded of the absurdity and futility of our existence.  When we realize that our fate is no different than that of the irrational beast or the unconscious rock, we then start to consider the question of meaning more seriously.  When our dignity has been violated and we are standing on the edge of a cliff, we then find ourselves asking the same haunting question that William Shakespeare posed in one of his most famous monologues:

“To be, or not to be — that is the question:whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune / Or to take arms against a sea of troubles / And by opposing end them / To die, to sleep no more, and by a sleep to say we end the heartache, and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.”

To exist or not to exist?  Have you actually considered this question?  Have you ever taken time to meditate on how utterly futile human existence is?  Or is Albert Camus just cool, hip and trendy?  Is it just fun to quote Nietzsche, to feel intellectual, and have a good laugh–or have you actually absorbed the implications of Nietzsche’s thought?  Have you, not just thought it, but felt it in your heart and soul?  It’s easy to shrug off the purposelessness of reality when you’re busy trying to look and sound cool . . . and trying to get laid.  It’s not so easy when your dignity and value has been utterly trampled on and life seems hopeless and unbearable.

Everything you think gives your life meaning becomes mere dust blowing in the wind when you have been violated or when life hangs in the balance.  Your cars, your computers, your video games, your films, your music, your beer, your pornography, your books, your drugs, your sexuality, your pets, your wealth, your sports, your technology, your scientific advancements, your successes, all fade into nothing when you are the girl who has been raped or you are the child sold into sex slavery, or you are the one lying in the hospital bed dying of cancer, or starving to death while living in a trash heap.  Suddenly, words like meaning, purpose, value, and eternity take on new life.  Suddenly trite answers like, “you give your life meaning” feel stupid and hopeless.  Especially when you understand that, if the nihilists are correct, there is no meaning, purpose, value, or eternity for the individual.

You’ll only want Truth when you realize that all of the things you think give your life meaning have no meaning at all apart from Him.  When you internalize the fact that we are completely helpless – slaves – in a world that is, at rock bottom, irrational, uncaring, and unintentional, you’ll finally be in a position to hunger and thirst for the Truth.  In that moment you will understand why Truth says,“I am the bread of life.  He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).

Re-Blogged From: Truth is a Man

Rethinking the Problem of Evil: A Unified Theodicy (Part 6) – The Existential Problem of Evil


Ideally both the logical theodicy defense and the evidential theodicy defense should leave us prepared to have a good groundwork to deal with the existential problem of evil. I call our experience of evil the “existential” problem of evil because we must face it in our own way, and the greatness of the evil varies from person to person. While the previous two categories of evil allow us to step back and view the problem without any attachment, the existential problem of evil focuses on our everyday lives and experiences with evil. How we evaluate that evil is purely subjective, which poses a problem for explaining why the evil is allowed. To the three-year-old, not being able to have ice cream for evil one can face; for the adult it’s losing one’s job, losing a spouse, losing a child, or so on.

What is consistent about the existential problem of evil is that it seems all the academic efforts in theodicy fall apart in a personal crisis. One of the more famous examples is C.S. Lewis, who dealt with the problem of evil in his book The Problem of Pain. Yet, when he suffered an incredible loss in his own life (the death of his wife through cancer), he openly questioned God and found no solace in his theodicy, all of which is painfully evidence in his Grief Observed. When faced with the existential problem of evil it seems there is simply no reasoned response to it, which some would argue is a problem for Christians.

However, I would contend that the lack of a reasoned response is not a problem, but expected within a Christian worldview (though not necessarily a theistic worldview). As stated earlier, evil is the privation of good and good is an attribute of God. We must remember that His attributes cannnot be separated (for God is not composed of parts, but is simple). That means if evil is the absence of good, then it will in turn also be the absence of all other attributes of God. There won’t be any good in evil, but there also won’t be any wisdom, eternality, logic, and so on. Since evil is the absence of the power of God’s goodness, it follows that evil is also devoid of God’s reason as well. Therefore, all evil is by definition senseless and irrational, so when we experience evil there isn’t a reasoned response to it.

While we can offer a reasoned response to evil when we’re simply an observer, because we can draw back and look at it within the scheme of things, when we’re experiencing the evil we lack this ability because we’re in the midst of an irrational action. In fact, the greater the evil, the more illogical and senseless it is. The more we suffer or watch someone close to us suffer, the less likely we are to find an answer because evil is not only the privation of good, but the privation of reason as well (and all of God’s attributes). Since evil is devoid of the power of God (His goodness, His reason, and so on), we shouldn’t try to make sense of what is by nature senseless.

Some might take issue with me saying that evil is the privation of God. Perhaps it is better to flesh this out before moving on. When I say that evil is the privation of God as a whole, which includes all His attributes, what I mean is that it’s the privation of God’s power, for God Himself cannot be removed from anything (this would entail that He has limits). Therefore, evil is the privation of God’s power, but even then this comes in degrees.

A less evil (or sin) will entail a minor privation of God’s power, though not His presence. A greater evil would entail a major privation of God’s power, though not His presence. Due to the existence of free will, God’s power (as it is experienced) can be withheld without His presence being withheld (for God can remain hidden if He so chooses).

Some might contend that my argument falls apart when we consider the communicable and uncommunicable attributes of God. For instance, God is love and humans can love, God is rational and we can reason, etc. Here I would argue that while we can love, we cannot do so perfectly, thus we don’t technically share in the attribute of God itself, but rather in the power of God’s attribute. For humans can increase or decrease in love because we are accessing the power of God, but God cannot increase or decrease in love because it is a part of who He is (and His power is ever present in Himself).

Sadly, I don’t have space to go through a full defense of this – which could possibly require an entire other section and if I ever write a book on this issue, I might dedicate substantial space to this issue – but will leave my defense here. Since God cannot be divided and evil is a privation of the power of His goodness, it should follow that it is a privation of all of God’s power to some degree. This would include reasoning (as well as love, which is why an act of love can never be evil).[1]

Certainly, though, there must be some explanation to the existential problem of evil. There must be something we can turn to, something we can grasp a hold of. I would argue that there is, but it only makes sense if we work out the problems with the logical problem of evil and evidential problem of evil first. When those are settled, we are then supplied with the necessary framework to explain the existential problem of evil. I believe this is best accomplished through a Unified Theodicy.


[1] I would assert that this explanation of evil as a privation of God’s whole power (to varying degrees, depending on the evil) is almost essential to my Unified Theodicy. Without the belief that evil is a privation of God’s power, a Unified Theodicy would collapse.

Existentialism: How it has affected modern Christianity


When one thinks of the 19th Century, one often imagines the end of the Enlightenment within philosophy along with scientific positivism as the grand utopian hope for Western people; however, Existentialism finds its roots in the 19th Century as a response to the rampant rationalism that was left over from the Enlightenment. Existentialism was born out of the mind of Soren Kierkegaard as a Christian philosophy. It places a high emphasis on irrational faith that one acts on and does not study, thus rationality is devalued in theistic existentialism. Though born out of a 19th Century response to rationalism, its impact has spread into the 21st century and is finding its way into popular Christian books. Though Existentialism is helpful in reminding Christians that rationalism is inadequate, it destroys the idea that Christians can truly have a relationship with God.

Theistic existentialism is a system that devalues the rationality of faith – sometimes to the point of denying that faith is rational at all – and places a heavy reliance on experience within the faith. Francis Schaeffer defines existentialism as a “…theory of man that holds that human experience is not describable in scientific or rational terms.”[1] According to Schaeffer theistic existentialism seeks to deny that “faith” is something that can be rationally explained or studied and instead seeks to have nothing but an experience. This seems to be in line with the Swiss existentialist Karl Jaspers, who believed, “the claim of philosophy to prove or disprove God’s existence and agrees with Kant in rejecting this. For ‘a proved God would be no God but merely a thing in the world’.”[2] Whereas the orthodox faith prior to the 19th century attempted to prove the existence of God through appeals to nature, ‘orthodox’ theology, through the existentialists, appealed to nothing other than experience arguing that nothing could prove God, because He is beyond understanding. Continue reading