Archive for April, 2013

The Meaning of Life, the Universe, Everything!

April 12, 2013

When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe man’s labor on earth—his eyes not seeing sleep day or night—then I saw all that God has done.  No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun.  Despite all his effort to search it out, man cannot discover its meaning.  Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it.  Ecclesiastes 8:16, 17.


I’m slowly beginning to see what Solomon meant by this statement.  The world as a whole is full of humans looking for and finding “paths” to truth, happiness, spiritual awakening and a host of other things which help us explain and cope with our reality.  We see gurus making millions selling their particular brand of enlightenment only to find it’s just a new face on an old method.  It makes me wonder how many of us really pay attention to how these “truths” work themselves out in the real world.

The older I get the less I trust answers which appear too easy or explain complicated stuff with a one or two sentence write off.  I’m also beginning to see all these philosophies, religions and lifestyles as different packaging on same of product.  Growing up in a Christian church on the fringe of denominations and acceptance put me in a unique place where I experienced strong boundaries with staunch, rigid and sometimes merciless guidelines (some of which were unspoken rules) of conduct.  My denomination tried to have an answer to everything, down to how to poop in a healthy way.  While in this lifestyle-cum-doctrinal-philosophical-spiritual “compound” (metaphorically speaking), I never questioned the validity of it even when it chafed or seemed unnatural.

I grew up with intelligent highly educated people who were fixated on their particular brand of Christianity to the exclusion of all others.  Though there were the “fringe” teachers within this fringe culture who taught a step or two outside our little box, when the chips were down even the liberal thinkers among us agreed our “truths” were sacrosanct and valid.  I thought we held the answers to almost every question.

That is until some questions from outside our little subculture began intruding on my comfortable world.  Within a three year span everything exploded inside me.  I began seeing the world around me as it was—or may be just a little clearer than before because I’m not bright enough to grasp reality just yet.  The safe haven of my heritage began to crumble and look more like a castle made of sand, shored up with driftwood.  I realized the answers weren’t quite as simple as I’d been taught and a lot of truth existed outside the box in which I was raised.  At first, I got scared, even while curiosity drove me to explore.  It was frightening not to have all the answers—or even some of them on certain subjects.

Now I know why our teachers, leaders and preachers didn’t want us to listen too much to outside rhetoric or entertain questions.

Revelation upon revelation intruded itself into my myopic view.  The teaching I grew up with denounced rose colored glasses as false revelation but I began to see my heritage was based on glasses too, just of a different shade.  I’m pretty sure I grew a bit obnoxious as the wave upon wave of truth washed away my dysfunctional perspective.  I began to see humanity as a whole—not partitioned or segregated into “us and them” but as one big sea of mass confusion about the meaning of life.  Every religion, teaching, and discovery in science begged the question of why we existed in the first place and what, if any, the purpose would be.

In the course of reality prying my eyes open I realized humanity just couldn’t help being hungry for meaning, purpose, or value.  The search of thousands (years or people, take your pick) either supported or dismissed gods or a God, leaving a myriad of questions and unanswered facts scattered everywhere.  Another thing which struck me in this rebirth of sorts was how myopic people remained after finding their “answer”.  It didn’t matter how crazy or thoughtful their new truth was their fixation became complete once they were convinced of their “new” idea.

Very few saw the problem in the background of their new façade.  I’m not sure if I really see it correctly but reading Solomon’s assertion here, I think this is what I discovered:  The way we believe our truths may never change even though the “truth” we accept might.  The storefront changes but the person remains the same.  I call the new habits or rituals a façade because I usually don’t see the difference in the person.

Almost without fail none of the people I saw who changed religions, ethics, philosophies or lifestyles were truly happy.  They remained as defensive, angry and often imbalanced as before, the only difference was what they put their energy into.

I don’t understand the meaning of life.  I don’t see the point exactly.  As a follower of Jesus I get that I live to Him and die to me, and this has a depth of meaning I’m still grasping, but the why of me I don’t grasp at all.  I’ve heard explanation after explanation to the point where they begin to blur together and sound the same after a while.  I have yet to hear one explanation which is not a derivative of an old one.  Nothing changes, really, except may be the words we use and the foundation on which we believe we can stand.

Christians follow a god/man named Jesus, the Son of the Father God, who is the Jewish deity.  Muslims claim to follow the God of Abraham, who they call Allah, which technically would be the God of the Jews as well, though there is some dispute about this.  Hindus have so many gods with one father of them all that it’s not expedient to mention them save to say their religion is pretty diverse.  Buddhists serve the light or enlightenment, I’m not sure they even have a sentient being they call god or not.  Agnostics serve the now, wisdom and knowing stuff.  Organized atheists fight everyone but the agnostics who they try to convert through their form of logic.

Every single one of these religions or philosophies is man’s attempt to explain the unknown with the known.  It’s like we can’t help drawing to conclusions about the unknown and unknowable, though we attempt some sophisticated rhetoric to explain our conclusions.  What’s sadly funny to me is how vehemently the members of each of these teachings will defend their belief and attack all others.  In several conversations with peace mongers I noticed their ire goes up the moment someone disagrees with the more fringe assertions of their viewpoint.  Though peace mongers won’t get physically violent they have no problem setting fire to a person’s self-worth and disparaging their ancestry verbally.

Our chosen or inherited ethical conclaves of reasoning mean a lot to all of us.  Most of our negative reactions to challenges or downright opposition stem from our fear that someone will destroy the foundation for which we took a lifetime to build.

Solomon points out humans have sought answers since time immemorial, and though we scratch the surface, we still don’t get it.  Here’s a man who is preaching the benefits of wisdom and knowledge acknowledging his own inability to grasp the eternal mystery.

And here, my friends, is where I landed all those years ago.

My first order of business during those years of upheaval was to get comfortable with the things I didn’t or couldn’t know.  If you read this blog regularly, you’ll see me espouse openness to all views.  The reason I do this is because I don’t know for a fact without a shadow of a doubt my chosen path is correct.  Sure I accept by faith that Jesus is the Way, Truth, and Life but I can’t prove it scientifically—as in put it in a test tube or lab to get repeated results.  I see all these viewpoints as either intelligent or desperate attempts to explain what is beyond our control or knowledge.

Atheists disparage Christianity and other religions as simple minded because much of our default “answers” don’t fit into the style of logic they have come to accept.  Paul categorizes this type of reasoning as part of the Greek’s efforts for wisdom and knowledge.  Believers in gods of all stripes argue from their POV without grasping the need for a common language between arguments.  For instance, using the Bible in a discussion with those who don’t accept Its authority merely sets us up for a circular conversation.  If the other folks use a different source of authority for their viewpoint, we have an impasse.  Set 5 Christian theologians in a room from various denominational perspectives and you’ll have a pretty lively debate—which often times gets heated.

My point is that we forget other viewpoints in our efforts to communicate our truth.  We ignore other ethics have truth because they don’t have our truth.  Yet none of this really solves the problem of why any of us believe our various teachings anyway.  It’s the search for reason, purpose, meaning and some sort of grasp on what reality is.  I didn’t give up, nor will I, on this quest, but I have come down to this:  I’m comfortable with knowing I won’t have the answers for everything and therein lies part of my peace.