Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Judged Good

I've been chewing on an existential question for the last few months, and have not made any serious headway on it. I'm not even sure it's a legitimate question, but it keeps popping up in my contemplations. The line of thinking goes something like this:
  1. In order to know what you should be doing right now, you should know what you want to ultimately achieve in your life. It's the whole Steven Covey, "start with the end in mind" principle: you can't pick a sensible direction if you don't know where you want to end up.
  2. In order to formulate a goal for one's entire life, you need to establish an absolute standard for what a good life would be. In other words, you need to know how you are going to judge a good life.
  3. What, then, is the proper standard for judging a good life? Ostensibly, this is the sort of question the Self Knowledge Symposium is supposed to help people answer, and it's precisely here that my theology starts to break down.

There are a couple ways to answer #3. The classic theistic response is surrender to a higher power: "I'll do whatever God wants me to do." That's a whole new can of worms, with lots of underlying assumptions to root out:

  • For many, that answer also entails: "...because then God will love me and reward me eternally for my faithfulness." And I'm a little sketchy about the whole "eternal rewards" thing. If there is anything remotely like an afterlife, I don't think it's an everlasting, fully funded retirement.
  • It also assumes that God has something specific for you to do, apart from your own dreams and desires. It is entirely possible that you could ask God, and he would say, "I dunno . . . what do you want to do? What would make you happy?" If that seems implausible, consider the fact that this is exactly the position most earthly parents take. Would a heavenly father wish anything different?

So . . . if you decide that there is no judging God in heaven (either because there is no personified God to begin with, or because He's just not the judging type), how then will you formulate your life mission? Now you are thrown back on your own resources to answer the question. And that's a mess to sort out as well:

  • Your desires and aspirations are a conflicting mess. The whole reason you wanted a mission was to organize your desires into something consistent and sensible.
  • You could reduce all your desires and aspirations to, as your parents say, "whatever makes you happy." But that seems to resolve to a blunt sort of hedonism: "whatever makes you feel good." And that seems like a lousy, very unreflective standard upon which to base one's life. That approach defines self-centeredness, which feels like a dead end.

Comments are welcome. I haven't completely finished all the different lines of thought I have on this, but this is the basic shape.



Blogger Kenny Felder said...

Regarding your previous post, count me with the snooty intellectual boutique liberal elitists. I am terrified of mob rule and government by sound bite.

But, OK, the one I really wanted to talk about is the question of the life worth living. This is exactly the question that propelled me into spiritual work in the first place. Here's how I frame the question.

What is ultimately worthwhile? Or, what is The Good? Not "relatively good," not "seems good at the time," not "I prefer it," but Good in an absolutely true sense.

"More happy people" just doesn't cut it (I can dissect that one six ways). The strictly scientific answer, that there is no Good or Bad--there is just What Is--is completely unsatisfying to me, because there is quite literally no point in believing it. Even "knowing the Truth is better than not knowing the Truth" seems hopelessly arbitrary in the final analysis.

The intellect, I'm quite convinced, offers no answer to this question. And yet it is the only question that matters. So I hold out hope that transcending the intellect gets you to an answer. Because without that hope, what is there?

8:37 PM  

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