Monday, December 24, 2012

On a Precipice

One thing that still eludes me on this Christmas Eve is the meaning to life.  I was hoping for answers by now.  Will Santa stuff them in my stocking tonight? After all, I'm forty-something years old and have devoted a better part of my life to this question.  This year saw no second coming of Christ, no return of the Mahdi, no Mayan apocalypse.  Heck, I’d take a minor epiphany, something sufficiently transcendent, like a divine spark, to give me hope.  Am I condemned to traverse a precipice with an abyss on each side?  Apart from two or three friends, I can’t really share these deep thoughts with anyone.  Why?  There are those who seem to have the answer already: some of these people are of a religious faith and others are decidedly not.  The former profess a firm belief not merely in God, but an entire theological system of judgment and redemption.  I can no longer share this presumption. The latter dismiss any search that doesn’t conclude a purely materialistic existence ending with the degradation of our bodies.  I’m not saying they’re wrong or right, but I discern a smug sense of satisfaction in both of these groups.  They act as if they've given much thought to these deeper questions, but they've done virtually no research of their own.  I agree with T. S. Eliot’s assessment of humanity: “the majority of mankind is lazy-minded, incurious, absorbed in vanities, and tepid in emotion.”  Those who call themselves skeptics and unbelievers, he further writes, are merely “cloaking a disinclination to think anything out to conclusion.”  I have no interest in consulting posers.  Consequently, my quest is a solitary one.
What are my options?  I’ve come up with a few.  I could retreat into fideism.  Yes, I could embrace the faith of my forefathers in spite of my previous disillusionment.  I could sit in the pew, pray the prayers, and meditate on the sacred texts.  I didn’t say this was a likely option.  Few are those thinkers who have made such a trek back into the safe embrace of their childhood faith.  The disillusioned seeker is a refugee who can never return to her spiritual birthplace.  How about I join a cult and let others do the thinking for me?  Okay, I’m not serious.  How about taking up arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them?  No, I’ve always considered people who committed suicide due to psychological anguish, let alone lesser reasons, as cowardly narcissists.  I’m not about to join their ranks.  How about drinking and being merry for tomorrow we die?  Indulge the appetites and pay no need to the mind?  Such hedonism would be too boring and unproductive for my old Calvinist habits.  Why don’t I simply stop thinking about such things?  Just live and die.  Invest my life in others, and try to make a difference for the good.  Well, there's nothing wrong with this option.  And helping others shouldn't depend on any answer to an impossible existential quest.  Still, humanitarian efforts will always seem vacuous to me without a definitive answer to life's meaning.  Across millennia past, minds far superior to mine made little progress in finding an answer, so I have no arrogant pretense that I'll find what I'm looking for.  Worse than that, I fear I’ve already given less and less attention to this search in recent years.  I’ve become more lazy-minded and incurious than I care to admit.  If I’m honest with myself, I must ask: Is this quest for meaning really what keeps me up at night?  Maybe I suffer from insomnia because of the cares of this world.  Or maybe it’s the coffee and booze I consume.  Look, I just want some peace of mind.  Is that asking too much?  Wir sind Bettler.  Hoc est verum.