Click above, for articles
In our last issue,
Leonard Manfred, my colleague and friend, wrote an interesting editorial
entitled, “Our Father who art in heaven…” which elicited some really
emotional responses from readers.
Maybe the questions that were cited were too strong for some to bear, in
any event it seems Manfred’s essay touched a nerve regarding the doubts that
many may be unconsciously repressing, for whatever reasons.
Some interpreted the
essay as blasphemous, especially the phrasing of the title and its similar
wording in the body of the essay, reflecting the overture to a Catholic
prayer, as fodder for an editorial on the perceived shortcomings of
Overall, there were
two main lines of thought, which encompassed the feedback pointedly rebutting
- Evil is not a negation of God’s existence, because in
order to know goodness we must have its opposite—evil. Therefore, the existence of evil
cannot be seen as a negation regarding the existence of God;
- Some words are sacred and should be respected—there are
things, which are outside the realm of investigation and inquiry. One should
not question whether God exists-- this is blasphemous.
This second argument
is of course anti-science, and in its totality, anti-reason. Nothing in the realm of existence,
nothing in our experience, is beyond question. Nothing.
However in reference
to the idea that there are concepts that are held as sacred, and should not be
held to ridicule, by non believers, in such a manner I, as editor, as well as
Leonard Manfred, offer our sincere apologies to those readers who were offended
by the usage of words that they may consider sacred.
discussion, it was decided that I provide an answer to our readers, rather than
Leonard Manfred. What follows is
partly attributed as an answer, but it also reflects an alternate worldview—an
alternative to how we live our lives.
A writer, is a
wordsmith who has been taught that words have power and are to be used in order
to convey meaning. However, that meaning must be connected to our experience as
human beings. It must provide us with a way to dialogue, to build bridges among
ourselves; such dialogue should enable us to progress to higher planes of
existence. Words are symbols that
are to be seriously evaluated and considered as representations both for what is
real and what is possible.
Words are symbolic
interpretations through which we reflect the practical world. Words can either reflect real constructs
or hypothetical constructs, theoretical constructs, alternate possibilities
within that same world—this irrespective of whether we can recognize those
possibilities or not. These symbolic constructs have permitted
mankind to elaborate mathematics, chemistry, physics, poetry, novels, the short
story, medical science, and the myriad of languages that imbue our world with
meaning, facilitate learning and communication among human beings. Think about it, everything in your life
that has any meaning can be expressed as a result of some combination of words.
religion, relies on the use of words, to answer certain questions that are
universal to human beings—irrespective of whether one is Chinese or French or
any other nationality. Such questions for example are;
Why am I
How did life
come to be?
everything in our world related?
What is life’s
Why do I have
to one-day die?
Is there an
have different answers to these questions, but there are some commonalities.
There are classic approaches by theologians to defend the existence of a deity
and by necessity such approaches need to neutralize the ‘problem of evil’—the
chief argument posed by agnostics and atheists against the acceptance of a
theistic alternative. Both the
arguments listed above by our readers are classic examples of
counter-arguments to the negation of the existence of God.
Let us also
recognize that our words are grounded to a large extent in our empirical
world. This is so, because words
are symbols and symbols begin as empirical devices, which enable easy
manipulation in our thinking. Or as Henry James says in his final work, Some
Problems in Philosophy, “life is in the transitions.” Order in our
perspective in our experience, is in the progression, it is always in the
making, leading to some higher construct.
Call it experience, call it metaphysics, call it truth, it is in a way
the same thing—the gist of meaning is always in the act of becoming.
Religion gives us
meaning, it answers the unanswerable questions. Why do we suffer? Why do we struggle? Why do we live a circular existence
leading from birth to death?
Religion answers our questions. It provides us with easy answers. It
gives us palatable meaningful answers, which we require to live life with some
degree of purpose, leading us to an end that makes sense.
How would we behave,
how would we react if we found out that God does not exist? How would you face your life if you
knew, knew for certain, that there was no preordained higher purpose or design
behind our existence—that there was no higher intelligence? Faced with such a scenario, I would
argue that one would imagine a fork in the road of one’s life path and that such
a bifurcation would present us with two alternate, yet opposite, paths of
possibility to follow:
- If there is no God then our lives have no meaning, and
our struggle is absurd. The
Existentialists would say this.
Albert Camus used the example of the 'Myth
of Sisyphus' as a comparison to man’s struggle in life. Camus reasoned that we live our lives
in quiet desperation, we struggle
to earn a living to pay our bills, and to be able to eat--in short we
struggled to survive.
During our lives we continually experience minor defeats, and small
victories, and ultimately we die—the ultimate defeat. The summit to life, our life, no
matter how insignificant, or laudable, ends similarly for all in the
obliteration that is death.
Camus’ Sisyphus, had the duty to roll an enormous bolder up a mountain,
only to see it roll down the other side.
Then, he would again roll the same bolder up the mountain and again see
it roll down the opposite side.
Over and over, Sisyphus was destined to labor in this way for all
time. According to Camus and many
Existentialists this is the best characterization of man’s existence. If accurate, then our life is absurd,
and meaningless. The often-quoted
expression, “He who dies with the most ‘toys’ wins” is a reflection of this
type of thinking. In such a
world, there are no rules; everything is possible and just as valid as the
traditional Judeo-Christian thinking of how to live one’s life. In such a world, the hedonist
philosophy becomes the alternative of choice, it is individualism taken to the
extreme. In such a world, ethics,
morality vanish, because rules and laws are brandished, with hipocrisy, as
methods of oppression and control. In such a world corruption is the
I would argue
that although, most citizens in America, and in most modern ‘first world’
consumer oriented capitalist societies say they believe in God and live their
lives according to the principles of some religion, they instead secretly
embrace hedonism as their raison d’etre (their reason to exist). In such a world
view, materialism rules supreme, and “hey if it feels good do it, to hell with
everyone else,” such is their motto.
- The other alternative to a ‘Godless’ existence forces
the human being to Create Meaning amid absurdity. I would refer to this second
alternative as Humanism. Humanity
becomes the center of existence, but not in an hedonistic manner. Mankind, I
would prefer to use the gender-neutral term humankind, takes center stage,
according to a Copernican perspective; the universe does not revolve around
us, and we are not the zenith of life.
In the remainder of
this essay, I will elaborate on this second alternative for Humankind, in the
spirit of Copernicus, to construct meaning in life by defeating absurdity,
hedonism and existentialism.
According to this perspective, God does not exist, never existed and
shall never exist. Humans are
simply one species, which is related to all other life forms. In this way, given
our high level of ‘intelligence’, we have a responsibility to all life in a
manner very similar to Jainism, a far Eastern religion that repudiates all
violence, and accepts a responsibility to do no harm.
for one’s life is reflected amid all of humanity because unlike the specter of
existential absurdity which haunts all of humanity, by creating meaning we can
resolve the perennial questions that previously were answered by religion.
How? Well, science
is an example of this manner of creating meaning. Before the development of scientific
thinking, humanity relied on modes of superstition, alchemy, and astrology to
explain why events developed in the practical world of nature. As with
religion, such methods attempted to assuage the fears of not being able to
control one’s life. Carl Sagan, the
late great astronomer, teacher and scientist wrote an eloquent exposition
regarding this very topic; on the opposing forces of science and anti-science (
Demon-Haunted World, Ballantine Books, 1996
), I would refer you to Sagan's elaboration concerning the value of
science in solving many of the problems facing humanity--his book
really deserves to be read.
With the development
of science and empirical approaches to the study of our world, humanity has been
able to achieve a fundamental level of understanding that has provided us with
an ability to predict or control some of the events in our lives, but the larger
questions still remain unanswered.
So how to approach the answers to such questions, and how do we create
Science, and education are the tools, which
must be used. Such tools are the
anti-thesis of superstition and help to lay the groundwork, the foundation for
understanding the world. Only an
informed and educated mass of humanity can progress to the next stage, which is
the empathic recognition that all of humanity shares the same problems; be it in
one form or another. The origin of
such problems can be reduced to the concreteness of the struggle for
survival, an endemic struggle which is locked within the basic confines of
our biological, physical existence. But there is another level to that
struggle for survival, the other level necessitates a spiritual resolution,
one that seeks to make sense of the direction of one’s life—a teleological
formulation which resolves the problem of meaning for each human being. In other words, how each person resolves
their own grappling with the problem posed by the ‘Myth of Sisyphus’.
Humanism provides us
with the following resolution to both levels of conflict. Science and reason should be used to
resolve the basic concern of survival.
This concern is addressed in the myriad forms that science partakes in;
education, medicine, pharmacology, physics, engineering, etc., etc. In other words, science and reason,
become the tools not of corporations to create products for mass consumption, in
order to generate profits for corporate boards and investors in the hedonistic
game of amassing wealth. Instead
science should be used in a progressive manner to solve the problems of
humanity vis-a-vis its survival—by ameliorating the conditions for life and
eliminating its threats.
Once such threats to
survival, both to the individual, as well as to humanity are resolved, then
we progress to the higher plane of survival and its accompanying questions of
meaning—'what for, why.' In other
words once we assure our mutual survival, equally for all, then we must
subsequently address the questions created by the paradox of our existence in a
world absent of any predefined meaning.
such questions by embracing the concept of equality for all persons. In such a concept, humanity labors
for the benefit of all, rather than for the benefit of oneself. Let me state this in another way; only by
'escaping' from one's self-centered wants and desires, by substituting the needs
of humanity can an individual ultimately be 'saved' from the constaints of
If humanity’s concern were for the benefit of
all, environmental issues would easily be resolved, labor issues, civil rights
issues, and many of the conflicts currently facing humanity would be resolved
quickly. In such a world corruption
would not be tolerated, it would have no place.
existence would be satisfied by the idea that we were all in the same boat, that
we all worked for the benefit of all; meaning would be found in the idea that
humanity progressed together, hand in hand, and that our reason for being was to
be found in the world being built in unison. Those who who came
before, had helped build a better existence, in fact they had built the buttress
that today supported us. So, in turn, we
today had a similar obligation to those of the future, to continue to build on
past achievements. In this way, humanity would live for its own reason,
to be found in its own survival, and in its amelioration. By so doing, all human activity
becomes progressive, and history becomes a recounting of human development,
rather than a sick overture of man’s past exploits of destruction, oppression
Schweitzer in his philosophical
exposition The Philosophy of
Civilization eloquently makes a similar case to the one I
have attempted to delineate here, but much less awkwardly. He states
“But that men
should be released from responsibility for self-devotion as men to men, the
ethics of reverence for life will not allow to be legitimate. They demand that
every one of us in some way and with some object shall be a human being for
human beings… one with another we all have to recognize that our existence
reaches its true value only when we experience in ourselves something of the
truth of the saying: ‘He that loseth his life shall find it.’ ” ( p. 322-3 )
ourselves responsible to the civilized way of thinking we look beyond peoples
and states to humanity as a whole.
To anyone who has devoted himself to ethical world- and life-affirmation,
the future of men and of mankind is a subject of anxiety and hope. To become free from this anxiety and
hope is poverty; to be wholly surrendered to it is riches. Thus it is our consolation that in a
time of difficulty and without knowing how much we may still experience of a
better future, we are paving the way, solely by our confidence in the power of
the spirit, for a civilized mankind which is to come.” (p. 343-4)
2005, Victor M. Saraiva,
This essay was constituted in part from a chapter entitled “Musings on Meaning”,
from the book When America
Lost Its Way, (not yet published). All Rights
Victor Saraiva is senior editor, he can be reached by email firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted October 31, 2005
You are here: HOME page-OLDER ISSUES-OCTOBER 2005-Editorial page-The Alternative
Previous : 2000 Too Many