Monday, January 28, 2013

Through a Glass Darkly

For much of the past couple of years the majority of my posts at Songs of a Semi-Free Man have considered the idea that we are haunted by the sense we were meant for something more, or even that something else is going on in the background. In the words of St. Paul we see “through a glass darkly”. (1)

We grope for meaning in love, work, education, art, sport, family. We want to do great things; we want to be part of great things. It is not enough to live, mate, procreate, work and die. If this is our fate we reject it (even as we give intellectual assent to philosophical and scientific dogmas that promise such a pointless existence). Death pains most of all.

We dream of utopia but live in the shadow of the waking nightmare of Doomsday. We want to scream out – “I am and I matter.” Sometimes we even dare scream – “they matter too.”

Many thinkers have felt this inner drive for meaning. Existential philosophers such as Jean-Paul Sartre recognized that life was essentially meaningless and that or everyday lives lull us into complacency so that we do not realize we are sleepwalking through life absorbing and contenting ourselves in meaningless things. An ancient Hebrew text described this sense thousands of years earlier.

Modern science tells us that we have no purpose. Over time we evolved. Any sense of purpose we possess must be a leftover from some primitive instinct that helped us to survive. If this is true the quest for meaning is itself meaningless. If we are merely animals, albeit highly developed animals, driven to survive why do we care about meaning something? Evolution and natural selection assert that the strongest and fittest survive and pass their traits on to succeeding generations. And there are many people walking the earth today who exploit, maim and murder their fellow humans for gain.

But, strangely we do not laud this behavior but condemn it in the strongest terms and try to punish it. Instead we profess to value generosity, selflessness and sacrifice in others; traits that harm our chances of survival. Why?

It is asserted that we will eventually evolve into peaceful loving creatures that will usher in an age of peace, love, understanding and equality. However, history so far tells a different tale. We continue to butcher and exploit – the only difference is that as we have become more efficient at doing so we have increased our efforts to pretend that we are really not that bad. How do we reconcile our dreams of utopia with natural selection?
Many of us resort to cynicism, making fun of our earlier earnest hopes, but feeling sad for their loss at the same time.

I believe that this sense of something greater is there because there is something greater. Linked to this article are some, but not all, of the posts I have made on this topic.

As I look forward to exploring new ground on Songs of a Semi-Free Man, this is a look back at where we've been. Please enjoy and thank you for reading!

(1)     1 Corinthians 13:12.  king James Version.

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