Many people are apparently untroubled by difficult questions regarding the meaning, value and direction of their lives. Most of us seem to go about our daily routines untroubled by the basic questions of life. But sometimes those questions break through, and here are some answers I’ve heard.
“Does anything matter, except making love and sleeping and eating and being flattered.”
George Jean Nathan, a modern hedonist, has expressed his philosophy of life as follows: “The best that man can strive for and pray for is momentary happiness during life, repeated as frequently as the cards allow. To me pleasure and my own personal happiness—only infrequently collaboration with others—are all I deem worth a hoot.”
Today, many people talk about realizing their “full potential.”
Here are some ideas about the meaning of life from some prominent literary people.
Tolstoy: “The more intelligent we are, the less do we understand the meaning of life and the more do we see a kind of bad joke in our suffering and death.”
John Paul Sartre: “All existing things are born for no reason, and die by accident…It is meaningless that we are born, it is meaningless that we die.
In Sigmund Freud’s perception, life is a struggle that simply ends in the complete defeat by death.
There is Camus’ image of Sisyphus condemned forever in the pointless pushing of that rock. Camus said that life is absurd, but human authenticity consists in living as if it were not.
The alleged meaninglessness of life is dramatically captured by Beckett’s characters waiting, waiting endlessly for the never appearing of Godot.
To be fair, I can recognize the geniuses of some non-religious versions of fulness and flourishing.
For myself, as Joan Baez sings: “every day that passes I’m sure about a little less.” But I do accept the Christian conviction that we are not accidental bubblies upon the great cosmic deep, destined to burst and be forgotten.
There are three principal ideas of human perfection. In antiquity the Barbarians made perfection consist principally in fortitude. The majority of Greek philosophers thought that perfection consisted in wisdom. Christianity teaches that perfection is especially found in charity; in transcending ourselves and living a life of self-giving.
Catholicism affirms that there is more to life than meets the eye. The longer I live, the more I have an awareness of something beyond and beneath the everyday; something especially hinted at in the daily flickers of loving moments. Indeed, I think there is an unseen reality behind everything.
St. Paul, preaching to the Greeks in Athens, said that God created us “so that we might seek God, and find Him: (Acts 17:27)
I think we live in a time where more and more people are asking “is this all there is?” No matter how happy our lives, a certain restlessness never goes away, the nagging restlessness that there must be something more than our day-to-day existence. A man I knew was assigned the job of working to establish a new marketing strategy for a new line of adult diapers. This marked the beginning of his search to find a greater meaning in his life.
There is the abiding discontent, a longing for the “more,” a kind of dissatisfaction, a kind of loneliness. For the theologian, Karl Rahner, to be human is to be an immense longing. Chesterton said “even at home, I am homesick.” Even the atheist, Sigmund Freud, when 66 years old, spoke of a “strange longing,” and began thinking there might be perhaps “life of quite another kind.” Again, there was the sense that there is something missing.
Throughout his life and writings, John Updike expressed intimations of an absence at the core of things. He clearly suggests it is a sign of the longing of the human heart for God. Updike wrote that people “yearn for some religion or spiritual assonance that they are more than a fleck of dust condemned to know they are a fleck of dust.”
The Catholic mystics answer the question about the meaning of life in terms of some kind of union with God. Life is somehow connected with sanctity.
Thus, our faith tells us that the meaning of life is larger than self-aggrandizement. What exactly is it we’re supposed to be doing here? It has to do with the radiant word “Mercy”—“be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).
A couple of final thoughts: I think there is danger in embracing the world’s value system, for she is a mother who often eats her young. And finally, I see the Cross everywhere.