The Unexamined Life

If you Google “blog” the first result (other than ads and Wordress) is “Seth’s Blog”. Impressive. The most successful blog in the world currently. Who is “Seth”? I looked around. It was hard to tell. I went to one of his other sites and it read “author, marketer, speaker, etc” – he speaks on “everything” – but in reading all this I realized one thing: he is a philosopher. A modern-day philosopher. We don’t have much bearing in modern society, in the sense of, we don’t really know why we’re alive or what to do with our time. I got this idea more clearly as I walked San Francisco this week, thousands of tourists brushing me by. What in the world do you do with your time? If society has already removed enough illnesses that you’re going to get past age two, and then well past age ten, and it has also created such a peaceful world that the immediate pressure of war does not give you an identity and a cause, and the urgency of finding food and protection is gone since we have done such a damn good job at, well, everything (compared to previous civilizations), then we are left with one big glaring and simultaneously unbelievable question: why am I alive? Surely it’s the question we should have always been asking, but if you’re busy just staying alive with no time to think, this is inevitable. Would Socrates be proud of us, the author of the phrase “the unexamined life is not worth living”?

Seth, in his own modern way, answers this. I say “modern” to point out the fact that he doesn’t really answer this. Instead, he addresses tactics, you know, he talks about living day to day, makes 10,000 assumptions, and doesn’t go into such messy territory as, uhm, religion. I suppose now that God is dead, and you can meet just about every need however you want, and all you really have to do is make enough money to stay alive the requisite amount of time, a transcendent emptiness descends.

I should clarify that I speak out of the Christian worldview. I have been doused in the idea that this world is not all there is, and I have been secondarily doused in the idea that most people think this world is all there is. The gap between physicalists and dualists/spiritualists is large. I don’t feel a pressure to make this world perfect. In fact, I operate under the premise that it can not be. It is the afterlife that I have sure belief in. Which makes absolutely no sense from a perspective. The “afterlife” is the thing for which I have the least proof (none to be exact) and yet I am banking on it more than anything. And second, the faith that teaches me this thought (Christianity) at one time had no knowledge of this thought. Weird, isn’t it? The Jewish worldview (from which sprang the Christian worldview) had no believe in life after death. Then along came Jesus, Paul, the pharisees, and I believe Greek thinking, and that changed.

So enough of that history lesson (mostly because my knowledge has now been depleted, not because it is no longer interesting or relevant). We are, as they say, technologically rich but spiritually poor. We do what we do very well, but no one really knows if it’s worth doing. That’s certainly getting the cart before the horse. Albert Camus once said the primary question of philosophy is whether to commit suicide. While I feel at this point the need to apologize for introducing such darkness into these thoughts, I am also absolutely compelled to say: he’s right.

Kids have to think life is about looking better (better clothes, better looking boyfriends, better iPhones, etc), feeling better (happiness, great sex, validation), and pleasure in general. This is so good (up to a point), and from my Christian worldview, so unbelievably empty. I guess I too can go running around looking for more Pokemans. But this “smallness of your world” which is created by thinking that “the value of my life is determined by whatever I want it to be determined by” has got to raise its ugly face over time. I can’t be the only one to see it. In my own life, when I pleasure-seek too much, the pleasure turns on itself, the whole thing becomes counterproductive and sick, and I go “oh, yeah, I’ve done this before, I know exactly what’s going on, there actually is more to the world than what meets the eye”, and I am comforted. (It’s one of my favorite truths about the universe which can be summed up in one of my favorite metaphors: donuts. While two donuts is better than one, and three is likely better than two, four will not better than three, and five will be worse than zero. Could depend on your usual intake of donuts…)

Donut philosophy aside, I am sad for those with no richness in their life, and there will be no richness if you truly, deeply believe that all value in your life sources itself directly in you and probably also in your friends and society. Has not humanity failed itself enough to prove what a dead end this is? A very genuine friend of mine, a coworker, told me once – in the midst of his sincerity and somewhat Eeoyre-looking facial expression – that most people were depressed, most of the time. I’ve undergone enough pain in recent years to believe this, but always there was something very real, larger, and more valuable than I at play: a transcendent truth. When you remove the transcendent, what do you have? It only looks like emptiness to me.

Blindness and Wretchedness

“When I see the blindness and wretchedness of man, when I regard the whole silent universe, and man without light, left to himself, and as it were, lost in this corner of the universe, without knowing who has put him there, what he has come to do, what will become of him at death , and incapable of all knowledge, I become terrified…. And there upon I wonder how people in a condition so wretched do not fall into despair. I see other persons around me of a like nature. I ask them if they are better informed than I am. They tell me that they are not. And thereupon these wretched and lost beings, having looked around them and seen some pleasing objects, have given and attached themselves to them. For my own part, I have not been able to attach myself to them, and, considering how strongly it appears that there is something else than what I see, I have examined whether this God has not left some sign of Himself.”

-Blaise Pascal, “Pensees

Ethical, Moral

I started an “Ethics and Education” class the other day. It is pretty philosophical. My problem so far is what is “ethics” and what is “moral” or “morality”? I spent a decent part of the class just looking up these terms in my Merriam Webster app. It appears that these two terms are, at a high level, interchangeable and mean nothing more than a preferred standard of behavior. This immediately begs a few questions. Who is doing the preferring? Presumably this is the largest part of society which may mean nothing more than the noisiest part of society. And then we have to ask what is the source of their standard of behavior? I believe it’s in answering the second question that the can of worms opens. One obvious difficulty could be that your source is your religion and it is simply not a religion that your neighbor shares with you so your morality is different. Then there’s C.S. Lewis’ idea that, at base, all morality’s are the same. That’s a really nice, neat, and tidy idea. I like it, and I do actually agree with it. Of course, there is more than “the base” and it’s when you progress further in your thought, or attempt to apply your theory that things get messy.

More to come. I hope to explore ethics/morality more.

A Burden of Beauty

A burden of beauty. This phrase came to me while being overwhelmed at a friend’s dedication to Jesus Christ, and more largely at God’s supreme dedication to man. I sometimes hate reading/knowing these things because they are so costly emotionally. I feel the deepest part of myself being invaded, but is it not also beautiful? I’ll be more specific. When I see my sweet friend speak freely, lovingly, truthfully, and out of true and natural conviction about the best thing in life (God’s love for man), I am forced to look at this blinding beauty. Why does God love me? Why does God love anyone? Why God? A universe without Him is a bit easier, but also unbearably meaningless. So, when someone who commands my respect speaks of the paragon of what it means to be human – to know the source of life, God Himself – my heart is invariably pointed in that direction, my face is pointed towards the sun. And God is not easy. He is demanding. He is perfect. He is partially unknown and thus invariably scary. I prefer to think about cleaning out a vase I just emptied, doing the dishes, warming up the pot roast for dinner, cleaning out my email inbox, reading some Sherlock Holmes, and going to bed. Anything other than God Himself. I guess He wears me out sometimes. A silly thing given that Jesus wanted the “little children to come unto him” and drives His point home by saying that we can only know Him if we can be a child. Well, I can do that! I excel at needing guidance, at requiring another nap (or break), at having 10,000 questions and not always knowing the full ramifications of my own questions or even retaining the ability/energy to wait for the answer. My mother tells me we are all children. Whether or not we know it. I suppose in the Christian ideal, you simply know, and this creates humility.

The Weight of Glory. This is the title of one of C.S. Lewis’ books, and it’s another way of saying what I was saying: a burden of beauty, something which is both “exactly what we would want” but also costly. Why do the best things in life have to be costly?