Skip to comments.The Meaning of Life According to Me
Posted on 10/28/2003 11:45:20 PM PST by marron
(The Whole of Life Explained in 7000 Words)
Life and death
Life is fleeting. We are only here for a moment, we emerge out of nothing, we shine for an instant in a burst of energy and motion, and then we vanish. What possessions we have acquired pass into other hands and then, eventually, cease themselves to exist.
What is the purpose of this brief flash that is life? What, in fact, is life?
There are two basic forces at work in the universe. There is a force sometimes referred to as entropy, the process by which all things decay and break down into their basic components, all energy dissipates, everything seeks and finds a return to a steady state. Entropy is death. Whether we are talking about a universe, a star, or a biological organism, entropy is the inevitable end to its existence as a distinct individual object and force. It is the tendency that leads all matter and all energy toward chaos, toward the loss of orderly structure, and the loss of any unique identity.
The force opposing it is life.
Life is the process by which basic components bind themselves together, form chaos into structure, by which steady state becomes dynamic, and by which shapeless conformity becomes infused with will and identity. Life is the process by which a motley collection of atoms and electrons form themselves into a flower, or into you, despite the preeminent force in the universe forever driving them apart, carrying them relentlessly toward decomposition and extinction.
The force which rejects this chaos, which opposes the natural scattering of atoms, which brings uniqueness out of the undifferentiated mass and which brought you and me out of the void, is life.
Or, another way perhaps of saying the same thing, it is God, and life is the byproduct.
We understand God as a creator God, and we are his creation, built in his image. The same force which gave us existence and breathed into us will and identity, created in us his essence. Our existence is a rejection of chaos, and a denial of death and decay. We are sons and daughters of the Creator, and our essence is his essence, and our purpose is to join in the creation.
We are by our very nature creative beings, creative energy given physical form, fired like bullets each with a specific trajectory, launched into the void of the not-yet-created universe to build and to create the reality we will inhabit and to construct the reality our children will inherit.
We are not on this earth simply to exist, to breathe, to possess. A life spent in the pursuit of physical survival is a life that has missed the point. To focus on your own physical survival is to bet a losing hand. In the end, we do not survive as physical creatures. In the end we pass from this earth, taking nothing with us.
The fruit of our lives is in the reality we have built, which we leave behind.
Inseparable from the process of creation is faith.
When you create, when you build, you are giving shape to a universe that does not yet exist, which exists only as an idea, or as the result of actions planned or unplanned, purposeful or without thought. To conceive of an idea, to imagine life or reality as it is not, and work to bring it into existence, is an act of faith. This is true whether the reality you seek to change is your own, or within your family, or else something more ambitious yet.
If you write, or sing, if you build houses, if you establish a business, if you build a family, you are engaged in acts of creation that redefine both your own reality and the world of the people around you. To step into the void and shape it to your design is an act of creation, and it is an act of faith.
Faith is not religious belief. That is quite another thing. It is not belief in God. The sun doesnt come up in the morning because you believe it will, and Gods nature is not determined by your belief or lack of it. God is. The universe is. And you, whether I believe in you or not, are.
Religion may shape our understanding about what are proper goals and methods, our belief in God alters our understanding of our place in the universe. But faith is not about believing, in some flat-footed passive sense, faith is always about doing. Faith without works is dead. Faith which is separate from action is not faith at all, it is something else. Faith is what leads us to conceive of an idea, a project, a reality that could be, and to step into the breach between what is and what is not yet. It is what leads us to act not knowing the outcome but determined to shape it come what may.
Faith is courage in motion.
When you begin to understand yourself as a creative being, an agent of creation, and when you begin to understand Faith as inseparable from action, and specifically inseparable from creative action, you will understand why religion in and of itself is not enough. We have all seen that oft times the people who prosper in this life are not necessarily religious, and for some its hard not to see that as unfair.
But that is because we confuse religion and faith, which are quite separate things. Religion should lead you to an understanding of your place in the universe, it should lead you to a relationship with God, but until you begin to move, to build, to act, you have not yet experienced faith.
There are people who, although lacking in their understanding of God, nevertheless are disposed to creative action, to work, whose character is such that they are led or driven to build and to create. The fact that they may lack an understanding of the full meaning of what they do does not change the fact that they did it. Creative action, acts of faith, bear fruit even if you dont yourself fully understand the significance of what you do.
This is the irony. You may begin to know God, or to know of God, thanks to your religious instruction, but it is the man who acts, and risks failure, who will prosper, who will succeed in reshaping the world around him. I understand, and do not. He does, though he does so without understanding. The man who does, even without understanding, is the man of faith, while I, who understand and do not, am nothing more than a would-be philosopher, a scribbler, and cheerleader for those who do. The prize goes to those who are in the race. The reward goes to those who do.
For von Mise, the basis of economics is acting man, the man who acts, who by his choices and actions creates the world as it exists and as it evolves. It does no violence to his economic philosophy to point out that he is saying very nearly the same thing I am saying. The world as it exists is the sum of the actions and decisions of the people in it, and all of those who went before.
Wealth is not money, but is the fruit of creation. Wealth is what results from the act of bringing something into existence that did not previously exist.
If you build a house which you sell for $100,000, for example, you may understandably think of the $100,000 as wealth, but it is not, it is only money. The house itself is wealth, and the knowledge gained from building it is wealth. If you blow the money foolishly, you may suddenly find yourself in a financial predicament but the house still stands, the family living in it still reaps the benefit of your work, and furthermore having built one you have the knowledge and experience to build another.
It is a cliché to point out, as people often do, that working people generate products worth more than their pay. It could hardly be otherwise. By your work, by the combination of effort and intelligence something is created from out of nothing, or from out of the less-formed world, and that something is wealth. The money exchanged for it is just a marker, a place-holder, a way of keeping track of the wealth produced, but it is not itself wealth..
Activities which generate money, but which do not bring anything new into existence, do not generate wealth at all though they may clearly fill the pockets of whoever is fortunate enough to have harnessed the process. Gambling, or tourism, or drug-trafficking, all cause money to change hands but bring nothing new into existence and so create no wealth, and the countries that are devoted to them are consequently poverty-stricken despite the flow of cash. Theft generates cash flow but no wealth, and where it is widespread you will find misery despite the money sloshing about. Money is not wealth, and you cannot generate wealth by taking money from another. If you lack, your mission must be to create that which you lack, to build it, to grow it.
If you believe that you cannot, and you therefore do not, you are trapped in your poverty, although you may mask it by helping yourself to the wealth generated by others. But if you do so you have squandered your own existence, because as a child of the creator God your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to create that which does not exist, not simply to possess. If you manage to extend your biological existence thanks only to the creative action of others you will have missed your own chance to be fully human. You lose, not the person you robbed; for although he may have lost a portion of what he created, he nevertheless created it, and it nevertheless exists, and it is you who dies having created nothing and having denied your own essence. He lived, he did, he created, you did not. He fulfilled his creative mission, whereas you were dead while you were still living.
There is a lesson in this for those who devote themselves to charitable work; if your efforts help another to become creative, productive, provenant, then your own life force is in a sense magnified and multiplied. But if your efforts make it possible instead for another to get through life having created nothing, then you have not helped him, you have killed him, you have helped to smother his life force and you have robbed him of his own creative mission.
There is a danger, then, in unearned wealth. Some men, thanks to an inheritance, or lottery winnings, or some other windfall, are able to get through this life having done nothing. If you understand what has been written here so far, that the unfruitful life is not life, then you will understand that wealth or circumstance which allows you to live creating nothing is a poison pill; we have no right to deprive a man of his inheritance or his good fortune, but it is a dangerous thing. In the right hands it is a tool, it is the seed corn that makes further creation possible. For others, though, it can be death.
This is why Jesus told the rich man to get rid of his wealth. There is nothing immoral in wealth, it is the natural result of a productive life. There is nothing immoral in inherited wealth, understood properly it can magnify a productive life. But inherited wealth is deadly dangerous, and in the case of the rich young ruler rather than magnify his life it had insulated him from it; it had permitted him to live without building or creating anything. His only hope was to step outside his cocoon, not so he could experience poverty, but so he could experience life, so he could begin to act as an agent of creation on his own behalf.
Perfection and Truth
We often refer to God as perfect, without ever contemplating what that means. There is in fact no such thing as perfect in the static sense. There cannot be. Any stage of perfect one could imagine merely sets the stage for the next, higher stage of perfect. Perfect, then, is nothing more than a mental construct, an abstraction.
Perfection, though, is another thing. Perfection is dynamic. Perfection is a process, it shifts, forward and back, side to side, as we learn more, forget what we learned and re-learn it at sometimes great cost. We understand Truth as objectively knowable, but the knowing itself is dynamic. You catch a glimmer of Truth out of the corner of your eye, you focus on it, examine it, put it to work in the garden and the shop, and time and study and experience all serve to hammer the impurities out of it as we learn what it is and what it means and what we can do with it.
The search for truth, and the path toward perfection, is a thing of beauty when viewed from a small distance, but it is nothing pretty to look at up close. Up close you see the rivets and the scars, the welds and a slap of paint. The machine-works shudder and shake and a fine mist of oil covers everything. We cobble something together and then over time we go back and clean it up a little, and polish it, but as we advance we never really have time to buff out all the imperfections. Let the ones who come after us worry about the aesthetics, we are on a roll and we are on the move.
How often have you heard someone say that if God is perfect then why is the world the way it is? This is always from someone who imagines that perfect exists outside his own mind, and it is normally someone who has never built anything, who has never perfected anything. Or if he has, he imagined that all the pain and struggle and false starts and rebuilding was somehow due to his human imperfection, rather than understanding that this is what perfect looks like. Perfect, in the real world, is beautiful but it isnt pretty.
Because perfection and the search for truth is a rocky road, it cannot be separated from missteps, from pain, from sorrow, and the constant need for redemption. You build, and then you re-build. And then you drop back to Plan B and start again. At some point you falter and someone else picks up the torch and continues on. That is the way it works. No one said it was easy, or if they did they were kidding you. But it was God that set us on that path, God who accompanies us on the road, God who sets us upright again when we have fallen and God that awaits us at the end of it.
We have to get away from the notion of love as a feeling, although when love is present you will feel it. You feel a lot of things when they are present, wind, heat, blunt objects, but you would never mistake the feelings caused by those things for the thing itself.
Faith is not a feeling, as we have said, it is always action, and it is action that is inseparable from the drive to alter reality. If you want to know who a man is, look at what he builds. If you want to know what he believes, dont bother to ask him, you may get a multi-page treatise like this one in response and you still wont know what he really believes. Instead look at what he does, and you know all you need to know about who he is, and what he believes. It is really that simple.
Love has a similar quality. Much of what we call love is something else, egoism and sentiment, admiration and affection. These kinds of feelings masquerade as love, and we often feel them when the real thing is present, which only helps to confuse the matter.
Love, like faith, is action, and it is action of a particular kind. Love is not sacrifice but it is inseparable from it. It is always marked by it. If you want to know what a man loves, again, you need not ask. You just look to see what he is willing to sacrifice for what, and you now know with scientific precision what he loves, and how much.
And when love is strongest, the odd beautiful truth is that you will often make the sacrifice without batting an eye, you simply do not count the cost.
The New Testament tells us the story of the Good Samaritan. A man was robbed, beaten, and left for dead by the side of the road. People passing by, seeing him, would avert their gaze and hurry on their way. A priest passed by, a businessman, but like the others they were afraid to involve themselves in the personal tragedy of another.
Except for one, the Samaritan, who saw him and whatever else he was doing was set aside as he went to the mans aid. He gathered him up and carried him to a hotel, where he cared for him as far as he could, and when he could stay by his side no longer, he paid the innkeeper to look after him.
Its not hard to imagine yourself in the shoes of the people who did not stop. Maybe hes a drunk, maybe hes a criminal, maybe if you stop to help you wont be able to get rid of him later. And everyone has some place they need to be, and we all have responsibilities that wont wait.
But one man did stop, he took the time, he felt compassion for the victim and acted on it. He did not ask permission of any authority, he acted on his own authority as a human being, paying the costs from his own pocket.
There is a subtext to the story, and it speaks to Jesus attitude toward earthly religion. Among the men who passed by and did nothing was a priest. The man who stopped and acted, though, was a Samaritan, which is to say, a man of an ethnic minority who was not a Jew. The message of the subtext is clear. Jesus, a Jew preaching to other Jews, is telling us that Gods people are not those belonging to the proper religion; Gods people are not those who feel compassion; Gods people are those who act on it.
There is another story that is more explicit. A group of religious souls approach the gates of heaven expecting to gain entry, but are rebuffed. Another group of souls are ushered in instead. The latter group, though, are surprised to find themselves welcome there. What did we do to deserve heaven? they ask. And Jesus answer is, you acted. When I was sick, hungry, in trouble, you were there.
When did we do that for you?
When you did it for the others, you did it for me.
This is key. The men who were saved in this story, the men who were Gods people, did not know they were his. But as Jesus makes it very clear, Gods people are not those who claim to be heaven bound, but rather they are the ones who act.
Remember this the next time someone poses the conundrum, are you saved by works or are you saved by faith? It is a trick question. They are one and the same. Faith cannot be separated from action or it is not faith. Love cannot be separated from action or it is not love.
We have recently seen a war in the Middle East, and as I write this the danger is not yet past. The regime which was overthrown was guilty of crimes that are almost unimaginable to sane people, it committed murder on a massive scale and used methods of torture and execution that simply boggle the mind. The Dictators control of the security apparatus was so complete that there was no chance for a moral counterforce to take shape, or threaten his power from within the country. Not that no one tried, they in fact tried again and again, but were found out and slaughtered in massive numbers and in such gruesome fashion as to shock the civilized mind.
In the months leading up to the war, people from all over America and Western Europe gathered in Iraq for the purpose of lending their moral support to the Iraqi people. This was the human shield movement, where westerners traveled to Baghdad to place themselves between the Iraqi people and Americas bombs. They flocked in offering to hang around hospitals and schools, places that in modern US warfare are never attacked.
As the obvious beginning of the war drew closer, however, many of them left, especially the ones who were assigned as shields to facilities that quite possibly might be on the target list.
The human shield phenomenon actually revealed, for anyone paying attention, the great faith these war-tourists had in American soldiering. They volunteered to be placed where they knew they would be safe. They refused to be placed anywhere that might logically be a target.
And they most assuredly did not attempt to place themselves between the Iraqis and the regimes security apparatus. Despite their professed love for the people, that was a step too far, whose outcome would be only too predictable. They were willing to place themselves in facilities that were certain to be safe during the campaign, to protest civilian deaths they knew would be strenuously avoided. They were not going to go to Baghdad and protest the deaths that were really happening there, thousands per month, month after month, year after year, at the hands of Saddams triggermen.
For the Iraqi people taken captive, and held in the regimes dungeons to await their fate, where was their salvation likely to come from? As they spent their last hours on earth praying for deliverance or a quick death, where were the human shields? Did anyone arrive from Paris or Toronto or San Francisco to step between them and the meat grinder? Did anyone of them force the lock on the prison door? Were there any journalists interviewing their loved ones or investigating their plight?
No, there werent.
But their prayers did not go unanswered, because men of a different sort were gathering on the borders, and when the time came these men would fight their way in and put an end to the vampire regime.
Who loved the Iraqi people, the folks who professed their love for them but ignored the slaughter going on right in front of them, who risked nothing? Or the rough, profane men who came from the other side of the world to kick in the doors of the torture chamber?
My answer will be obvious. The man who looks at the sick and says go and be well, the man who sees the hungry and says go and be fed, we understand to be an empty cup. What of the man who goes into the heart of a charnel house and wishes a nice day to one and all, executioners and condemned alike?
The soldiers who saved Iraq might be embarrassed at the notion that their effort, their sacrifice, was an act of love, but if so it is merely because they make the mistake so many others make in equating love with sentiment. These guys have a rough job and present a rough exterior to the world, and keep perhaps a tight grip on their feelings as a part of the personal cost of what they do.
But the man who loves is not the one who talks about it, who makes a show of it, its the man who risks himself, its the man who sacrifices himself for a buddy, for his country, for strangers he will never know.
Love is inseparable from action and love is inseparable from sacrifice, or at least the willingness to sacrifice. This is how you recognize love; this is how you distinguish it from mere sentiment. Policemen risk themselves to make your town safer, firemen do the same, and the fact that they get paid to do it does not change the nature of the risk willingly assumed or the sacrifice they may one day be required to make. You see the same phenomenon among people everywhere, people who do not carry a badge or get a city salary. If there is a disaster, a calamity, an outbreak of violence, you will find people running toward the danger to try and help the others. Firemen run into a burning building to save others; if they are late in arriving you will find that the neighbors have already done the same, doing what they can to save people they do or maybe do not know.
This is something I have often seen, and you have too, people running into danger to help people they dont even know.
Why do people work their whole lives to give their kids a chance? Why do teachers refuse a better paying job to keep on teaching? Without much difficulty we could think of dozens of examples of self sacrifice, sometimes done after serious thought, sometimes done as automatically and as thoughtlessly as breathing.
In every case, where humans are involved, you will find a mix of motivations and feelings so complex that if you ask them why they do what they do they may not be able to articulate it, and if they are able they may be embarrassed to do so. Dont ask. Just look at what they do. We are all, all of us, a mix of motives and emotions, some noble, some less so, but at the moment of truth some of us will run one way, and some of us will run the other.
People often say there is no such thing as a truly unselfish act. My reaction to such people is to place my hand on my wallet and back quickly away. What they are saying, of course, is just a cliché, its just something people say when they want to appear to be wise, easy cynicism masquerading as depth, so to speak. But lets pay them the respect of considering their argument anyway. Obviously we are all human and we all have our own personal concerns front and center in mind. And yet, despite this, there are the people who run into burning buildings, who stop to help when you are broken down on the road, who gave you a chance when no one else would.
And those who would not.
Love is the force that leads you, despite yourself, to value something or someone beyond yourself, and to act on it. Like faith, love is often mistaken for a feeling but it always manifests itself as action or it is not love.
We are hardwired for survival, and much of what we do is directed by that innate instinct. In this we are similar to any animal, any creature. Dogs do what they do because they are designed that way; a dog cant be either good or bad while behaving as a dog normally behaves. A dog could not be thought of as a moral creature, nor can it be considered free. He is just a dog doing what a dog does.
In that sense, a human behaving in accordance with his instinct is merely a biological creature like any other. And in the same sense as any other creature, to the degree that your behavior responds to instinct alone, you could not be considered either moral or free.
This is not to say that the struggle for physical survival is immoral. Survival is obviously of pressing interest to all of us. We all act every day to assure and protect our physical existence. We are not immoral when we see to our survival, we are responding to our internal prime directive. But if that is the sum total of our motivation, we are not moral agents at all. It is only when you step beyond instinct, when you act outside of your hard-wiring, that you can be considered either moral or free.
And the two cannot be separated; they are two sides of a single coin. Free and moral acts do not necessarily go against instinct, not at all, but they are acts taken without regard to it, uncontrolled by it. This should be clear; the things you do to survive are not wrong, they are in accordance with your biology. And despite what some of our more ascetic friends might think there is nothing evil about your biology but it is just that. Biology.
And until you move past it you are neither moral nor free. Nor, in the end, fully human.
We believe that liberty is God-given. Our liberty is of divine origin and it is an inseparable part of our nature. We are biological creatures, but we are more than that. We are endowed with drives and hungers that go beyond our physical appetites, for we carry within us the drive to build and create, to seek truth and knowledge, to love, each of these drives inseparable from our nature and each inseparable from the other. Love, creation, truth, these are the drives that shape us and reveal us to be creatures in the image of God. Embrace them and you embrace God, and you accept for yourself the role God intended for you. Reject them, deny them, giving yourself over to your biological nature entirely, and you embrace an existence that suffocates the spirit in life and must end in the grave. Accept the role God intended, give yourself over to love, and creation, and the pursuit of truth, and you begin to live a life that is not bound by the limits of biology, you begin to reshape the world around you. You begin to live and behave as a free person, indeed you will insist on your liberty.
And as you learn to recognize Gods image in those around you, and as you understand that they likewise must fulfill their God-given nature, you will embrace and insist on their liberty as well.
To retreat from this, to withdraw into a focus on your own material existence, or as some do into a destructive rage, is to reject God and to reject your own humanity. In the first case you become a slave to death; in the second, an agent of death. Even if we call it liberty, a liberty which rejects creation, love, truth, is a rejection of liberty and it is to embrace death.
We have been granted life, not merely biological life, which ends in death, but life that is not bound by biology, life which is not bound by the limits of our own finite existence. We have been called to rise up out of our mortal shells and walk as free men and women.
Freedom implies the capacity to govern oneself. Self government is a moral quality. It requires the capacity to make judgments and act on them, and it requires a willingness to accept the consequences of our actions. There is no liberty without the capacity to rule oneself, and the willingness to accept the consequences of what we do. Thus liberty is the exclusive preserve of the moral and the courageous. There is no other kind. There is no liberty available to those who cannot or will not rule themselves, and there is none on offer to those who do not accept the consequences of what they do. There is only a counterfeit that masks slavery, that hides our retreat from our own humanity.
The morality of the free is not the group morality of the good citizen. It is the morality of the independent conscience, acting according to its own understanding and reason.
We impose laws on ourselves for two reasons. They help free men, acting independently, to avoid collisions with one another, and to resolve conflict when it occurs. And they set boundaries for the control of those who can not govern themselves.
The free and moral man has no need of the second kind of laws, he is quite capable of ruling himself, and he is prepared to accept the consequences of his actions be they good or bad.
Those who cannot govern themselves, though, are not free and can not be. To the degree that their behavior forces their neighbors to deal with them, their range of choices begins to narrow. If their existence becomes enough of a threat to others, their neighbors may eventually imprison them or kill them. So the link between morality and self government and liberty is not of idle or theoretical interest, but a matter of life and death.
Similarly, people who refuse to take responsibility for themselves eventually force their neighbors to do so. If the number of people who reject responsibility for their actions ever reaches critical mass, the society as a whole will forfeit its freedom.
Rule by a governing elite is reinforced by a kind of circular logic. People who are managed by others never develop the talent for managing themselves, and people who will not manage themselves force their neighbors to do so, and eventually force a governing elite into existence.
This leads to an unsolvable problem. Rule by an elite always leads to the infantilization of the populace, and an infantile populace will demand oversight by an elite.
But no elite could ever manage your affairs as well as you could if you were willing. And if you are unwilling to accept the consequences of your own actions, much less are you willing to accept the consequences of the steps and missteps of your rulers. This leads to a permanent state of unrest, or its twin, a permanent state of repression.
It is a sad fact that not everyone is capable of living life as a free man, and if the percentage of these people in a given society is high enough the society itself ceases to be free. Only a society which inculcates individual morality and individual responsibility, an individual willingness to act and an individual willingness to accept the cost of acting, only this kind of society can be free. These are moral qualities, and most importantly these are qualities of individual morality. A free society cannot exist without a critical mass of moral men and women.
And it is individual morality that provides the barrier against dictatorship. Totalitarian rule in all its various guises requires that men give up their independence of thought and action to the collective, and this requires first and foremost that the individual moral code be set aside in favor of a civic morality, a group morality.
The great crimes of history have perhaps without exception occurred when individual men have abandoned their independence of judgment for the morality of the herd. Pick any instance of mass murder and enslavement, examine societies which are wracked with endemic corruption and repression, and the common feature is that in every case individuals have traded their personal morality for the collective morality by which they justify and excuse the inexcusable.
The only barrier to the disease of herd morality is the individual, with his sense of personal responsibility, with his personal moral code, and the courage to resist the collective. Men become capable of crimes on a massive scale when they lose track of themselves as individually responsible. The ability to hold to your conscience against the pressure of the surrounding society is what I call honor.
It is the individual courage and morality of honorable men that keeps a society healthy, and honor is what makes liberty within a society possible. When a society is going off the rails, it is the honorable men who must first be pushed to the side, driven into exile, or simply bred out of existence. When the men of honor have gone, liberty is gone as well and history loses its forward motion and becomes instead a circular nightmare.
This describes much of the world as we know it.
The Two Races of Men
If you are one of those who derives his identity from the quantity of pigment in his skin, or if you derive your sense of worth from your accidental membership in some cultural sub-grouping or other, you probably havent read this far in any case.
But if you have read this far, you have by now understood that men can be distinguished from one another based on the degree by which they fulfill their humanity as God has bestowed it. The only race that matters among men is the race of the provenant. Your cultural background, your family upbringing, your religious persuasion may or may not have prepared you to take your place among the fully human, but in the end it is a choice and it is yours to make. God has granted you life and the opportunity to make the choice. Either you grasp it and run with it or you do not. Either you are one of the creators and builders of this world, the compassionate, the seekers, the honorable, the free, or you are not.
There are two races among men, and you choose every day to which you belong and to which end you live your life. Either you embrace the transcendent, Godly humanity that God has offered you, or you live in service to your biology and the grave.
The rules of engagement
I have described here at length the principles of life as I understand them. The principles are actually quite simple, and could have been expressed in a few short words. Boiled down to their essence, it is simply this, that God is our Creator, and we are crafted in his image. Our purpose on this earth, then, is
1. to build and to create
2. to seek truth and knowledge
3. to love
4. to live honorably
5. and to raise up another generation to do the same.
It is really that simple.
What you do, where your life leads you cannot be contained in a few maxims, however. Only God and reason and the urgings of your own spirit can tell you that. Of all of the billions of souls who have lived and died on this earth, of all the billions who now live, none of them are the same; none of them were intended to be the same. Each had his own path to blaze, his own world to build, and his own battles to wage while he had breath to wage them.
And then, at the appointed time, or sometimes prior to the appointed time, he left it behind.
You do not choose the times into which you are born, you do not choose all the circumstances of your life; what you do control, and what you are responsible for, is what you do. Some men are born rich and some poor, some are born with every opportunity and some are born with few, but we are all born with decisions to make, and battles to fight, and our piece of the unformed world to create. In that respect we are all equal. We are all born with the responsibility to act, and the opportunity to act, and we must all assume responsibility for the decisions we made and the ones we failed to make.
Its a heavy thing but this is Gods gift to humanity.
I've been waiting for this on pins and needles.
Impressive work. Thanks.
It's an eye-opening exercise when one sits down and attempts to articulate ones worldview in writing. Many shy away from doing it, for fear of exposing what may be incongruous ideas and beliefs for all to see .... and ... gasp(!) ... possibly even critique. :)
A worldview is a set of beliefs about the most important issues in life. It is a pattern or arrangement of concepts /ideas (a conceptual scheme) by which we consciously or unconsciously place or fit everything we believe and by which we interpret and judge reality.
Ones worldview can change, though, since it is subject to many factors such as quality and level of education, emotional maturity, life experience, the influence of rational or nonrational motivations / ultimate commitments of the heart, etc.
There are ultimately only two religions (even though there are many manifestations of the man-centered one, including the variation called "atheism"):
 In ALL the manifestations of the man-centered worldview, man is sovereign. And in the various "Christian" manifestations of this worldview, man is thought to be "basically good".
 In the God-centered (biblical) worldview, God is sovereign in everything, and fallen man is NOT "basically good".
America's Framers held to the biblical worldview and drew up the Constitution / founding documents of our "separation of powers" government undergirded by an impartial rule of law to [a] protect what they recognized as our individual God-given (inalienable) rights, and [b] to effectively stand in the way of the worst inclinations of man (including themselves), whom they knew *not* to be basically good.
"..a 'deep and abiding distrust of human motives ... permeates the Constitution.'"~ Marci Hamilton
Marci Hamilton ... a nationally recognized expert on constitutional and copyright law from Yeshiva University's Cardozo School of Law ... in her forthcoming book, Copyright and the Constitution, examines the historical and philosophical underpinnings of copyright law and asserts that the American "copyright regime" is grounded in Calvinism, resulting in a philosophy that favors the product over the producer.
Calvinism? Hamilton's interest in the intersection of Calvinist theology and political philosophy emerged early in her career when she began reading the work of leading constitutional law scholars.
She was puzzled by their "theme of a system of self-rule." "They talked about it as if it were in existence," she said. "My gut reaction was that direct democracy and self-rule are a myth that doesn't really exist."
What Hamilton found was that a "deep and abiding distrust of human motives that permeates Calvinist theology also permeates the Constitution."
Her investigation of that issue has led to another forthcoming book, tentatively titled The Reformed Constitution: What the Framers Meant by Representation.
That our country's form of government is a republic instead of a pure democracy is no accident, according to Hamilton. The constitutional framers "expressly rejected direct democracy. Instead, the Constitution constructs a representative system of government that places all ruling power in the hands of elected officials."
And the people? Their power is limited to the voting booth and communication with their elected representatives, she said. "The Constitution is not built on faith in the people, but rather on distrust of all social entities, including the people."
Hamilton found that some form of Calvinism played a role in the lives of at least 23 of the 55 constitutional framers, and that six were Presbyterian (the reform movement founded by John Calvin). Two of the most important framers, James Wilson and James Madison, were steeped in Presbyterian precepts.
It is Calvinism, Hamilton argued, that "more than any other Protestant theology, brings together the seeming paradox that man's will is corrupt by nature but also capable of doing good." In other words, Calvinism holds that "we can hope for the best but expect the worst from each other and from the social institutions humans devise."
"Neither Calvin nor the framers stop at distrust, however," Hamilton said. "They also embrace an extraordinary theology of hope. The framers, like Calvin, were reformers."
Action! Having been a bit of a navel gazer all my life -- too much contemplation and not enough gettin' bizzy -- I have much to learn on that score. For a person like me, the question becomes: How does one convert the wonderful food for thought in the essay into an agenda for action? This is the existential dilemma, solvable only by the individual himself.
The essay called to mind a favorite few lines by the poet John Donne, written in 1620:
On a huge hill, Cragged and steep,
And hee that will reach her,
About must, and about must goe,
And what th'hills suddenes resists, winne so,
Yet strive so, that before age, death's twilight,
Thy soule reste, for none can worke in that night.
Outstanding essay, marron! beckett, thank you so much for bumping it to me. Will be mulling this over some more at my earliest opportunity.
Thank you for the heads up, betty boop!
So tell me, Masked Man: Who the hail are you?
To put that impertinent question into context, we could recall that Plato, in Gorgias, had Socrates instruct his student Chaerophon to ask the first question of the great Sophist, since they were imminently to be joined in company, along with Gorgias' students, Polus and [the fatal] Callicles....
Chaerophon was clueless what question would be appropriate to address to the celebrated orator. So Socrates said, just ask him: "Who he is."
Now this is quite a difficult, if not "fatal" question to ask any intelligent person. For as Voegelin points out, this is the question that
"...is for all times the decisive question, cutting through the network of opinions, social ideas, and ideologies. It is the question that appeals to the nobility of the soul; and it is the one question which the ignoble intellectual cannot face."
Your essay is not "an intellectual exercise." It cuts to the heart-and-soul problems of human existence. And it seems to have done so, so effectively as to have precluded meaningful debate.
That is, I notice that few people have taken the trouble to reply to you.
And the whole thing was done in glorious prose!
KUDOS to you, Masked Man [Woman]!
Sorry. Physics does the same thing.
So does Kaopectate.
You've seen my infomercial? There are operators standing by. Have your credit card number ready.
And if I may add anything, originally faith concerned the interaction with the divine. Faith generalized concerns interaction with any agency. All action is interaction, and faith would be one of the four aspects singled out in the active and passive aspects of two agents in proximity (total of 4 considerations).
The big mistake of rationalism is that it fails to respect the non-contingent independence of another's agency. Not eloquent, I know, but I think it's true and important for "the meaning of life." No faith, no sovereignty. And BTW, you also have a way of writing well.
At the end of Book 8, Demodocus the bard has been telling his tale, it's pretty good, and makes Odysseus weep. So the Phaecian king makes Demodocus stop. "Hold off--you're making our guest weep. Let's be more civil." And with that he turns to Odysseus and says, "Now then, what I'd like to know is this. What's your name?
marron also has a very nice response about them there Straussians
Still reading but, Oh, I like this very much! With Thanks to beckett and bb for the ping. And beckett, what a pleasure it is to see you here! And Askel, what a pleasure it would be to see again!
Yes; and that's a very different question than asking "who he is." The latter question goes to personal qualities (virtues), to personal actions and their fruits. "What's your name?" is a comparatively impersonal question that, in this passage, ultimately goes to one's native land and family/clan connections. Even such an extraordinary figure as Odysseus would not be understood as a unique individual in the culture formed by Homer.
Plato was perhaps the first thinker to conceive of man as he is "in himself" -- and set off a revolution that continues to reverberate to this day. Truly, Plato marks a profound intellectual and cultural turning point in human history.
Thanks so much for writing, cornelis. It's good to see you again!