The Pointlessness of Human Existence

Some people are perpetually amused at the world. They see clearly the faults of humanity and find them food for laughter. Other may think they are unkind, but there’s a different sort of kindness in them for doing no more than laugh at us.

Others are simple; they take life as a gift and don’t care to look it in the mouth. My husband is this sort of person; despite his intelligence, his primary motive in life is just to live it.

Then there are people like me, mad with a weighty sense of the pointlessness of life. The book of Ecclesiastes makes all too much sense to us – free will and sanity are both illusions.

I am that kind of person. My brain likes straight lines with beginnings and middles and ends. Yet everything around me appears to be running a circular track, and circles are pointless.

If I wonder why I am suffering, the first kind of person laughs at me for thinking I deserve better; the second kind of person says kindly that I’m alive at least and it’s better to be alive and suffer than not to exist at all. (It’s hard to be sure they’re right.)

And then, along come the people who do not seem to be real folk at all. They are a collection of painted-on attributes, borrowed from the dump of human sentiment and opinion. These will tell me that I suffer so that I can help others who suffer.

And immediately a the circular track pops into my head. If others never suffered, I wouldn’t need to either. Yes, if folks have got to suffer, it may be well and good that someone suffers needlessly in order to help the people who have got to suffer. But what’s the point of the suffering in the first place?

And by suffering, I do not mean anguish only. I mean all the things through which I pass – my passion – which come upon me and happen to me as if I were a blank canvass that exists only to be painted on. But by what madness does it come about that the canvass was made to be aware of the inescapable sludge that is being traced upon it?

Unless someone thought it would be a grand thing to turn the canvass into the artist by these means…I’m speaking madness now. It’s the rain.

When the rain passes, I will perhaps remember that moments of contentment can be found by doing whatever is set before me, with all my might. When you are doing something that must be done (and within the circular track it certainly must, I don’t quarrel with that) you are not thinking about why you are doing it. And so for people with my kind of insanity, the fear of God functions as a sort of temporary “student’s answer” to unanswerable questions.

***

October 25 2011 – My last comment on the matter.

I thought that meaning would look like a road with a destination at the end. Our minds are busy,  driven to try making sense of everything whether we are tired of the effort or not. Yet our minds in themselves are not capable of comprehending the foundation of being, since our minds flow out of our being and are not its source. So we substitute mental operations for the deep insight we crave – imagination for knowledge, fantasy for insight. Living mentally in this way, we set up the image of the road, or some other image, and furnish it with things we find lying scattered about our life’s landscape, trying to make a story about ourselves. I do not mean the Life that gives us life, but the “life” in which we woodenly pass through time while having experience, something in us screaming that there ought to be more.

This is how I describe our constant attempt to find meaning, and many of us rightly suspect that it is futile and does not reflect the real nature of things. But instead of looking for more, our society tells us to be content with less – to seek what is basic to ourselves instead of what is essential to ourselves.

Eventually we come to coldly tell ourselves that it is the instinct for “more” that is at fault – that we are “only” or “just” or “merely” this or that. In this late day, whole scholarly disciplines exist to prove and explore this assumption, and to put up rather weak theories about why this instinct for “more” persists so steadfastly in human experience if it does not correspond to any real possibility. (And these are only assumptions and theories – they can never be anything more despite their scholarly credentials, just as a blind man’s assertion that sight does not exist can never be more than an assumption and a theory, despite his inability to know with certainty that it does.)

Thus, to ease our pain, we cast away our inborn desires and try to learn to live with less, impressed with our own stoicism even as it destroys us. We come at last to faithlessness. There is no such thing as goodness. Reality is not good. Human nature is not good. Thus without ever embracing anything we would have thought was evil, we abandon all goodness and choose sides against ourselves and anything of virtue in the existential struggle.

But the love of God is not like any of this.

In the weeks to come it is possible that I will perish doing what has been the death of so many women before me – giving birth to my child. My mind tries to tell me that here is irony – just when my child arrives I may be rendered permanently unable to care for her. This would indeed be illogical, leaving my life unfinished and its destination unreached. But with a different kind of knowing I say that like my daughter, I exist because of love and as long as I am loved with the Love of my Creator nothing at all can invalidate, abrogate, undo, or make futile my existence. And even this saying is only my mind’s attempt to clothe in words and logic something that I know in a completely different way, without any doubt.

So I come to say that it doesn’t matter if human existence is pointless, not because we need less than a point in living, but because we need (and have, if only we could believe it) so much more. Our nature demands something far more total than some final justification founded on a circumstantial end-point.

The Love of God is a cradle and a swaddling blanket, a mother’s womb and her waiting arms. It is childhood home and the urgency of growth and the whole landscape of light to which the inner secret of our nature opens like a flower or like a grateful eye in the morning. Here at last is what fills us from the inside out and leaves no room for any fretting, nagging suspicion that there ought to be more.

We are never without God’s Love, even in Hell. But  when we live cut off from the knowledge of God’s Love, we become unable to suspect its existence. The experience of being alienated from his love even a little alters our awareness in deadly ways. Our mind floats free, like a restless ghost, in torments. The organ of spiritual knowledge, our heart, is left shivering and dying in place to which the gate has been shut. A cycle begins in which our selfhood, being, and nature inevitably dwindle as we lose, existentially, the “will to live.”

But when it comes God’s Love, this mystery, is the key in the lock and there can be no other because the gate to a truly and fully human existence opens to nothing else. Our lives, it turns out, are not justified either by great deeds, as the pagans believed, or by stringent morality, as recent, twisted forms of Christianity seem to suspect. Our lives are justified by their beauty, and the beauty of a human life is the Love that flourishes in it, not as a parasite but as a freely welcomed and perfectly suitable partner. That Love is the answer is obvious after the fact, though not to be suspected beforehand. The love of God is the true secret of a finished life even for those who die young or tragically. Not history, but the Love of God is the real story of human existence.

And as I face childbirth again, with its blood, pain, sacrifice, and danger, I know that the Love of God has nothing whatever to do with my having things nice, or safe, or working out sensibly. God’s Love for me will flourish when temporal reality closes in on me with terror and pain and horror.

God’s Love cannot be put into a slogan. On the one hand, it “just is.” On the other hand, it is more abundance and fullness than we are even capable of absorbing.

The Love of God is his own being, and it is our being too – unless we are content to fall away into nothingness and to deny our own life.

72 thoughts on “The Pointlessness of Human Existence

  1. I don’t want to get you too down, but another thing that continues to bug me about the pointlessness of life is the constant reminders of how primitive and understandable our brains are becoming. That complex, creative mystery is becoming a testable and tracable thing. It seems to be blow to our hope that we will ever figure a reason to be happy with our lives when science is quickly proving our wants and desires, our seemingly “random” thoughts, and our individuality is all programmable.

    I don’t claim to be a learned scientist by any means, but it seems my little understanding combined with what I think is common sense might give some hope in this matter: when humans are formed, chemicals and such are moving about in a way that is (right now) uncontrollable. This gives us individuality and interest, even if it is only that. Interest for the sake of interest. Nothing grand or meaningful about it, just something to take comfort in… if you can.

    I struggle with this same problem, and so I googled “the pointlessness of life,” and came across your blog. My aim with this little comment was not to further upset you, but maybe to share my concerns as well so that the great, happy minds of the world can find some way to calm us all down, as I hope your husband does.

    -Devon

  2. Devon, you’ve named what may be the largest looming reason for despair in the modern world. I thank you for your frank, thoughtful comment.

    I also think about this sometimes: what if there’s something more, and science is, by its very nature, unable to detect it? In that case, scienctific people can go on and on about there being no mystery but we can just take that to mean “no mystery of the kind that is detectable by science.” And that’s comforting in itself, because what kind of mystery would that be anyway?

    I try to be really honest. I wrote this post because I was genuinely feeling this way. I’m not a saint, not someone who has had a certifiable mystical experience of God. In the Orthodox Church we hear a lot about people like that, from the ancient past right down to our own day. I’m not one of them (I’m a sinful person, with all the pain, confusion, and despair that entails) but I do have faith.

    What I mean by faith is that I’ve taken the side of the argument that says, “what is good is true and what is true is good.” I believe in God and his Mysteries because it would be better for them to be true than not to be. I know some people will draw comparisons between that and flying spaghetti monsters and so forth. The difference is one of quality. God is immeasurably better than any such monsters. A Christian saint is far better than Superman or the Easter Bunny. However, honestly coming to this conclusion is by no means an easy, flippant process.

    So yes, human existence is pointless in itself, by itself, and especially when it tries to explain itself according to itself and nothing more. We all experience life in that way, but I suspect that when we do, our experience is less real (because less good) than it was meant to be. In other words I still have hope that there’s Something outside us that can render us free and our lives meaningful if we become part of it and it becomes part of us. I’ve chosen to call this Something by the name, Jesus Christ. I think that’s who it is.

    Thanks for coming to my blog.

    • Do you think that the things you are talking about are deep and interesting questions?
      It seems to me as though you are talking nonsense. Everybody in the world knows that their life is pointless because it is not even conceivable for a life to have a point, or extrinsic meaning.
      Yes, we’re born, we live, and we die. Every religion is just a list of dogmas for people who don’t know how to think for themselves, and it always makes me sad to see people attemtping to justify them.
      Jesus Christ was a man, like every other male human being who has ever lived. And God is a nasty person who says gays will burn in eternal fire, Jewish children ought to have the end of their penises snipped off, and you have to give money to the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church.
      Why are you using the word God as synonymous with Love? God is hateful. Love is love. It is chemical.
      There is no meaning or essence or spirit or voodoo outside of existence. I think you have been thinking queer thoughts for so long they’ve turned you nutty.
      Why waste your life walking around in circles when you could be having lots of sex? THAT is what makes human beings happy. People who refute that fact do so because they want to deny their and everybody else’s humanity. And they do that because they do not want to die.
      But we are all going to die. And nobody wants that. Stop saying you are OK with dying, because you aren’t. If your heart suddenly shot with pain now, you would be TERRIFED because you are a HUMAN and that is what we do.
      The only people qualified to talk about the pointlessnes of life are the dead. If you are alive, you like life more than not life.
      Get over yourselves.

      • LOL,

        I’m glad you’ve all got it figured out, Joe. With all these dogmas, your fairly slutty prescription for happiness, and your contempt for those who don’t think like you, I think you are ready to start your own religion.

  3. Funny thing, I’ve found your blog by typing “the pointlessness of life” in google, exactly like Devon.

    But to the point – sometimes I envy the people who don’t feel the need of asking questions. Those who can be happy with their lives just living it. It seems that we have as much free will as stones that fall when dropped, and the only difference is that we’re far more complex – the difference of quantity, not quality. But there’s one question remaining – why do we feel? Why do we experience all the things that happen to us? I don’t mean any physical changes in our brains, I mean the inner experience of just being conscious. Where does it come from? Is it limited to us, humans, or animals? Maybe it does make sense to ask “How does it feel to be a stone?” or even “How does it feel to be a Universe?”. For me, it’s still a great mystery. And one (if not the only) thing that makes me want to live is plain curiosity. There’s always something you don’t know.

  4. I disagree that it is “pointless to point out the pointlessness of human existence.” In fact, perhaps we should push the theme a bit. Not only is life pointless, but free will and subject-object dualities are illusory, as are our very selves as traditionally defined. We are virtual selves involved in a groping, ultimately hopeless, quest for a more substantial mode of being. We crave a sort of thing-like facticity (Sartre, Camus, Heidegger). But we cannot be as things; through the medium of our various projects, we become … always somewhat ahead of ourselves with our pro-jects.

    Anyway, its good to know that a few people out there are thinking.

  5. I suppose I should add that what you say about our being “virtual selves involved in a groping, ultimately hopeless, quest for a more substantial mode of being” fits in rather well with the kind of Christianity I practice, at least as far as it goes. In this ancient version (see Athanasius) God, a completely indefineable and incomprehnsible being beyond being, calls us into an existence, from nothing, in which we truly live and exist only so far as we inter-subsist in Him. Having failed to sustain the communion that feeds and extends this existence, we find ourselves falling back toward the non-being from which we came, “virtual selves” as you say. Restablishing communion, then, is the whole method of salvation and with it comes the hope, not of a life after death so much as a new kind of life that is the real existence we crave. This is why Christians consume Christ in the Eucharist, under the forms of bread and wine. It’s not canibalism – in Baptism we are incorporated into Christ and in the Eucharist Christ is incorporated into us. And we benefit from this communion as we live according to it – that is the point of the instruction and commandments. The whole Christian religion is a movement toward being through communion with God.

    When I wrote this I had not yet experienced baptism and holy Eucharist. I had only the faintest glimmers of the possibility of communion with God. Now the glimmers are a little brighter. It’s a long hard road upward from this failing bewildered consciousness to real subsistence as a person. So, for me, I understand your definition of our existence but I have to say it’s not finally and utterly hopeless unless you consider our lives in themselves alone and not through the glass of the Christian religion.

  6. while i might not be a deep as the my fellow commenters i feel i should say some thing as to the fact, that finding this blog through google suggest that random surfers no entirly happy with there lot, personally i find denial a great way to deal or not with life. how about you?????

  7. I too used google to look up the pointlessness of being, mainly as a way to seek out links to more esoteric Buddhist websites because the first noble truth of Buddhism is that life is suffering, so I figured those who perceive life as pointless would likewise seek out the path out of such a woeful mindset. I find it interesting that none of you has mentioned Buddhism as well and that Heidegger came up (as I did a grad paper addressing the question would androids have dasein?) Anyway, since I’m becoming ever more a student of Tibetan Buddhism (thru reading of course), I’m finding myself ever more coming around to thinking in terms of rebirth, which is strange way of thinking for me as an American raised in the predominantly Christian ideology which saturates our culture. so, the question for me is whether being is in fact pointless once you perceive being as a constant progression from ignorance toward ultimate awakening (buddha consciousness). Finally, it’s likewise interesting here to note that Thomas Merton had just arranged to practice Tibetan Buddhism firsthand in the weeks preceding his untimely death in 1968. Thanks for the topic discussion and please address the notion of compassion in relation to pointlessness.

  8. Samantha, I don’t think it was rude. It may very well be, as you suggest, a flaw that for many of us, contentment with our lot is a massive struggle that consumes our lives, instead of coming naturally like it does for others. All the same, the very fact that some people are discontented with their lot (and that many many people have plausible reason to be) brings up questions that people want to explore. If you are the sort of person who wants an explanation about the nature of human existence, then you have to answer questions about human pain, about tragic accidents, and so forth.

  9. Jack, I don’t know much about Buhddism but perhaps your fellow commentors will have something to say. I still haven’t read Dasein, either, so I will have to withold my comments till I have.

    As far as compassion and pointlessness, I can only give you an answer from the perspective of an Eastern Orthodox Christian.

    It seems to me that true compassion can only descend toward those who are caught in the tension of human existence, from That Which Is Above All Being. When a man is united with the Lord God in an existential transformation, he incomprehensibly grasps what is neither being nor non-being nor a transitive state between, but transcends all this. Then he comprehends in his own person the pitiable state of his fellow-creatures, and like the Lord he sees that they are only dust, and to dust they will return, and he has pity on them and pours himself out for them and gathers them into himself, because this is what God, who has become a principle of Life within him, does continually. (He does it continually but we are blind to the fact because we cave in on ourselves seeking pleasure, or because we open ourselves to the Universe and seek to be absorped into what has less being even than we do and thus seek the dissolution of the soul that he has constituted within us.)

    However, very few people ever reach such a state of union with God, so in the meantime the rest of us must bear our captivity – this transitive state in which we strive toward the being that our nature craves and also fall toward the non-being from which we were called by the Word ofGod. So we must try to practice a sort of imitative compassion in which we experience something of the nature of the true compassion, but incompletely and without any visible end or goal. It seems pointless but we should not become weary of it because the hidden fruits of such efforts will appear in due time. I believe that this is the activity of faith, and that for the sake of such blind efforts God loves those who seek Him in the wellbeing of their fellow-man. And whomever he loves he will eventually bring home to Himself, and that is when pointlessness ends because an infinite Goal has been given to the beloved.

  10. alas ignorance is bliss. why, do we live? if all of our species committed suicide would there be any consequence? i think life would go on. although i struggle hopelessly for an answer that seems to actually mean something(nothing short term) so hmmm. why?

  11. Adam, my prayers go out to you tonight. The answers are found in the questions: if it’s meaning you are searching for, then it’s meaning you are made for. This will lead you back to God if you can allow yourself to become simple enough.

    • So interesting that we humans actually question the reason behind our existence. definition of human? I know that my existence is no more than a natural phenomenon, no more than the fact that water and rock exists. i will cease to exist one day and that does not bother me, its just a fact. It used to bother me until I realised that it was only bothersome because it IS the driving force of life. we reproduce, gather and consume resources in order to continue to exist. It explains all life functions: evolution, greed, relationships, etc.
      so should I care if i will cease to exist? really …no. it is going to happen eventually. however, if your existence was primitive and pointless as in you did nothing more than act as part of the animal kingdom then your existence is pointless. but our given ability to understand that our existence can actually interpret and understand why all living things have a force behind them and eventually we understand that it is one common force then I am quite happy to exist. religion tries to explain it but it is quickly falling behind explaining all the occurences which happen and ultimately just gives us a bunch of rules. It (religion) can also be taken advantage of for personal benefit.

      I truly believe it is as simple as that.

      Tom.

      • Tom, sorry I missed your comment.

        Religion can certainly be taken advantage of for personal, and institutional benefit. No one knows this better than I and I could tell you many stories to illustrate the point.

        But if we are going to talk about what “can be done” we shouldn’t forget about the good things religion can do, as well. Nor should we forget that secularism can be used for evil ends as well. (For instance, vastly more people were killed by atheist states in the 1900′s alone than by religion through all of recorded history, even when you take into account Islam and barbarian human sacrificers.) Ultimately religion is human. That doesn’t make it bad. We are human, and our ways are our own.

        So the question becomes, where is the Divine in any given religion? It seems clear to me that God enters into some religions more than into others.

  12. I read all your comments and I must say that I fully agree with some statements, but disagree with others. Like jack said: life is suffering. There is no doubt about that fact and atheists (most commonly) who tell you that life is pointless and that it’s ok because “who cares!? Enjoy life while it lasts” are missing a GREAT point: Almost everyone in the world is miserable. Be it war, starvation, death or disease it’s all the same: People are suffering. And most of them have no luxory of “living life to the fullest”. To them, life is an agonizing horror that they can’t escape from. These people are not to be laughed at! It’s not their fault they need a god to justify their suffering! And I think this “feel good” crap is just a feeble attempt of most atheists to cope with their own inability to deal with life’s purposelessness. And finally, let’s not forget the self delusional fools who beleive they are not conscious (what a way to cope with problems!).

    What I can honestly say is this: We are conscious. We experience the world internally, which our science cannot( and I beleive never will) understand. It is in our nature to ask questions and some questions defy explanation. We know very little, but not nothing (if we knew nothing, we wouldn’t exist). What we don’t know, we speculate about for it is within our nature. Speculations are just that, speculations.

    Faith comes from ignorance and inability to cope with reality, but… lets also not forget that nothing happens without a reason! We have consciousness for a reason. We ask these questions for a reason. We “feel” for a reason… for if the reason didn’t exist, neither would we…

  13. Great points in general, Robert. It’s very kind of you to not blame people for reaching out to something greater than themselves in their time of need. If someone’s physical existence is indeed a horror, why would they not want to develop an alongside spiritual life filled with dignity and light, love and beauty, accomplishments, goals, personal worth, admiration for someone great, guidance, the promise of future reward, and everything else the human heart craves? Of course if this spiritual life becomes a very real dimension of their lives, actually populated with angels and demons and saints and some unapproachable inescapable Light and most surprising of all the discovery of previously unknown and untapped regions of one’s own soul, the question turns back on itself – wasn’t that world there all along waiting to be discovered?

    Also, you musn’t forget the most important point of all, and that is the overpowering attraction that God himself exerts on the human being, irrespective of whether that human being is suffering or not. It may be – in fact if you search history I think you will find it is – that some people become very attached to God without the rod of suffering driving them in any way.

    But perhaps you have never encountered any representation of God that made you feel this attraction. In this time of religious ignorance and decay such spiritually horrifying existences are common.

    Friend, thanks for stopping by.

  14. I’m stuck in a loop of logic I can’t seem to break: Why did “God” feel it necessary to create anything? If he/she/it/they are “perfect”, why the flawed need for “company”. What was he/she/it/they doing prior to the alleged “Big Bang”? Feeling lonely? In my mind, the creation of the “universe” is ultimate proof of God’s imperfection. And if God is not perfect, why are we looking to him/her/it/them for anything?
    Thanks for letting me rant, and I hope (to God, I guess) that we all find what we’re looking for.

    • No, I totally get it. And what’s more, although I’m not a scholar and I can’t give you all sorts of references, I know that these are all questions discussed in great detail by early Christian theologians (and later ones, too.) You are not the first to wonder, but most people have found a reason to believe anyway!

      Well, here’s the deal as I understand it. First of all, it is wrong to think of God as being subject to any “need” or “necessity,” as you have so shrewdly perceived. This is why Christians believe in the Holy Trinity and conceive of God as One Being (or subtance) in Three Persons. Scripturally, this is a simple explanation of why God is presented as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but philosophically it also is a way of saying that God is Alone but not lonely. In other words, God alone exists beyond existence, self-sufficient, in an eternal circle of Love between the Persons of the Godhead. But Ultimately the three Persons are One God because they are absolutely the same in essense – they share their being.

      Forgive my unworthy presentation of a truth of which those who have gazed on it speak in a fountain of raptured paradoxes.

      The doctrine of the Trinity is also supposed to defy logic, thus helping believers to confess God as completely Other.

      But why, then, if God is sufficient unto God, did he create anything?

      The Christian belief is that the Love which is God’s being is of a sort that delights in pouring itself out. Put simply, God created us in order to love us. His desire to be loved by us is secondary to this. If we ever succeed in loving God, my friend John, then we will be free, made like God, and this will be the fulfilling of our created purpose. We will exist, like the Blessed Trinity, in a ongoing ascending and descending circle of outpoured metaphyisical Love and Light and Life.

      I think it’s also important to realize that time is a physical dimmension. God exists outside his physical creation (although he also exists within it) and thus before the creation God’s existence was not a succession of ongoing years in which he waited to create something. Rather his existence was something inconceivable.

      How do we know these things are so? I myself believe them dimly and cling to them but my faith is strengthened by being in the Church where the Light of Christ shines out from people who do know – who have been united more or less to God and no longer doubt. Most of them are in heaven and we have their writings, their prayers, and a sense of their presence as well as the miracles done by and through them. Some walk among us in earthly flesh. My priest, as I am discovering, is a very holy man, outwardly unpreposessing, but after a while you realize that God speaks to him and in him. Not all clergymen are like this but when they are it’s a great help. Many clergyman in the Orthodox Church have this same paradox of the “outer man” who is like anyone else and the “inner man” emerging in the image of Christ Jesus.

      You may find some help in George MacDonald and C.S. Lewis. Lewis was a highly-educated philosopher of sorts who converted to Christianity from atheism because he finally saw it as more reasonable. MacDonald was only a Scottish preacher but he taught Lewis a lot and he has a rough simple directness that can be very helpful.

  15. what about just killing yourself? u express a hate for how pointless life is. why live it? u are thinking about it, but you know subconsciously that you don’t always think like that. and the good things in life are enjoyed for much deeper reasons than what they seem. that love is not pointless like the conversation to lovers had about their day. life is a huge concept and seems pointless, but is too big to be or NOT be pointless. everything from a certain angle can seem pointless and unnecessary, but everything from a certain angle can seem different, not beautiful like a normal happy person would say, but just, not pointless. you have to know that the very same train of thought that pushed you to post what you posted has arrived and departed at many minds. and that perhaps it too, is pointless.

  16. I understand what you say, Dan. I think you’ve said something good and true. Thank you. I recognize it because in the time since I posted this I have come to something of the same grip on reality although I might not have been able to come up with the words to say what you’ve said.

    Courage, man! That is what I say to my soul. And I think the virtue of courage may be a key to part of the point… But as you say Life is too big to be or not to be pointless. And I wonder if that isn’t simply the best thing to say.

  17. I would posit God, like pointedness or purposefulness, is a construct sprung from our highly developed pattern-detecting minds to make sense of our world.

    Science, I would argue, deepens the mystery whereas religion cheapens it.

    Science would say: “The only purpose is that which we ascribe. Each individual is ultimately responsible for filling their own life with meaning.”
    Religion would say: “The purpose is God’s. You cannot know it until you die, but rest assured it is there. Please select a the appropriate holy text for guidance.”

    Science offers no reassurances, and that I’m here after googling “the pointlessness of existence” should be a good indicator just how content my mind is with the answers science offers to my athiest-self.

    Life isn’t easy, though, and we should all be careful of answers that seem too good to be true.

    I really wish I could stop thinking about this. :)

    Cheers!

    • I agree Eric.

      Methinks we just opt for a particular ‘thought train(s)’ and give that energy and thus life. Hence I am x, y, z and this is what is really important etc.

      Reckon what game we choose and the intensity with which we invest in that ‘game’ is determined by what genes we ended up with, but ultimately we are just a whole bunch of carbon based life forms scurrying around an object in space.

      There is no point and no not point, there just is.

      Probably all of us that are distrubed by the question are just suffering a seratonin imbalance and well therefore rediscover ‘meaning’ with medication.

  18. you should be aware of all these things, but not care. we need to understand that as humans, we can educate ourselves with these abstract ideas, but can do nothing but let it go. find your own happiness. do what you can to be happy, thats the way it is. and im happy to help:)

  19. i too got to your post through Google. amazing that this was posted more than a year and a half ago!

    a lot depends on whether one is an atheist or a theist – belief is a matter of faith not reason.. for me, i’m trying to look upon this pointlessness as a good thing.

    because there is no ‘set path’ or ‘ultimate purpose’, one is free to do whatever one wants to that would make one happy in the short & long term. we’re all a part of the process of evolution. nobody knows where it’s heading.. to each his own purpose and happiness.

    easier said than done. :-)

  20. It does seem to me that for most people, reason tags along after faith… what province does reason, which is only a mental process after all, even have without a basic assumption, a starting place? Every syllogism has its premises.

  21. “Sometime back, I watched a group of linguistic-psychologists (of varying sorts) in a panel discussion (CSPAN). All of them were involved in advising political campaigns. What they know about the science of language and how people actually make decisions versus how we would like to think we make decisions was staggering. Among the most staggering of agreed pieces of data was that 98% of the process of so-called rational decisions are actually unconscious. That is to say, that most of what goes into a rational decision is something that is far deeper than rationality (rationality turns out to be only the tip of the iceberg and not a very big tip at that.)”

    There’s more, and it makes you think.

    http://fatherstephen.wordpress.com/2010/12/11/formed-in-the-tradition/

  22. There is no particular point to life. We are here by chance initially and evolution later on. We have evolved a level of intelligence where we can fathom the pointless of it all. We live, we fall to death and oblivion. Only in reproduction can we expect any kind of continuation of ourselves. our imperative is to breed sucessfully and that is all. The purpose/motive of life for humans is the same as it is for all other living things, survival & reproduction. If you are looking for some deeper meaning you aren’t going to find it. The evolution of the human brain is to some degree a paradox, on one hand, it enables to us to reproduce & survive to a degree above all other creatures. On the other hand, because we got so productive with our Time and require little of it to satisfy our survival needs ,we are left with a lot of free time to contemplate the purpose of our mere existence? For most people, religion fills this void, so they need not ask nor answer this question. For the non religious the trick is to accept this paradox and mentally move on to another plane of consciousness. Easier said than done. When someone steals from you, laugh. When someone lies to you, laugh. They are spending so much effort being deceitful & dishonest, for what? The point is survival & reproduction, if you have to lie, cheat, and steal to achieve those simple goals then you are pretty incompetent. So look at it this way, life is easy! The point of your life is to chase after your cheese(your needs , your wants , your longings or whatever that makes you happy )…
    P.S- Your happiness depends on how your brain is wired..its the addiction mechanism built into it to keep you addicted to life even though one can see the pointlessness of it all.

  23. lovely comment by PDJ. after one has honestly accepted the pointlessness and moved beyond it, one can truly realize how happy life can be. some are lucky to have figured this out earlier.

  24. The trick is to find the pointlessness beautiful.

    Except normally it isn’t. Most people have a value to their next breath. Those of us who don’t attempt o delude ourself into thinking it is an abstract concept, perhaps beyond our understanding that should be taken on faith.

    But pointlessness is ugly.

    Pointlessness of life is the creator’s greatest and most cruel joke upon mortals.

  25. Sophistication has the capacity to render The Beautiful banal and the ugly beautiful. This is why I do not trust sophistication. I find that fantasy and delusion haunts, not those with simple faith, but those that insist on trying to overmaster, with their minds, the vast mysterious reality in which they live.

    You don’t know whether it was a joke until you hear a punch line. The story’s not over yet.

  26. I think a cruel joke would be a life in which all appears joyous and peaceful but secretly a person is being devoured.

    A situation in which everything looks hopeless and very little is promised, but people are offered the chance to stand on the side of reason, goodness, and beauty, – well that might very well turn out to be an epic, not a joke.

    Again we have yet to see the end of the story.

    That said, I’ve been speaking here like an agnostic, for the sake of argument. In reality I am long past the point where I can sustain, as equally possible, the opposing ideas that 1) present senselessness is the true meaning of the world and that 2) after all, this ‘pointlessness’ is just the smoke and disorder of battle, while the true nature of reality is Good. I have tasted Good – I know it is the foundation of the world and of being and that it even transcends being.

    O taste and see that the Lord is good – the highest order of being is personhood and the Lord Jesus is higher than the heavens. The point of our lives cannot be articulated. It is something beyond words and meaning.

    Although when I hear you folks talk about coming to rest in something that makes no sense to you I almost feel like saying, “You are not far from the Kingdom.”

  27. I’ve thought about these matters all my life (I’m 43 now). I’ve gone from monotheism to atheism to New Ageism to Buddhism to agnosticism to mysticism.

    Maybe all that exists is God, and he is fast asleep dreaming that he is every person, animal, tree, rock, planet, and star in the universe. Pretending to be separate and limited and mortal and afraid, like immersing yourself in a scary movie or book. When we die, our little “self” dissolves and we realize our unity with everything else in the Universe.

    This is what the Eastern religions have always taught, as well as some of the Christian mystics. Try reading some Alan Watts, or check out his videos on Youtube.

  28. I’m an Eastern Orthodox Christian. We have mysticism but it does not involve a concept of God that has him asleep and involuntarily seeming to create things. Nor do we long for the dissolution of God’s greatest gift to us, our personhood – his image.

    Christ was not tempted by hell and we do not lean to the call of dissolution and death, either. We walk through the valley of the shadow of death as aliens and foreigners, losing our life to gain it again as our second Adam did.

    The highest logic of true Christianity is the paradox: particularly the paradox that says “one yet many” or to put it another way, “union without confusion” and “One Substance, Three Persons.”

    We are saved by becoming one with Christ but at the same time we realize our true personhood as never before.

    The real illusion, my friend, is that personhood and unity are incompatible and cannot be true at the same time.

    This is the revelation of Jesus Christ; we are the Christians and this is what we know and believe.

    Again, there’s a basic choice to make: to stand on the side that worships nothingness and death as the true nature of reality, or to side with goodness and truth and beauty. Being is good, not evil. This is what good people affirm.

    The mysticism you represent is only the systematization of despair.

  29. You look like you’re very young, and when I was your age I could imagine my Self going on and on forever. But as you get older, you may find that you grow weary of yourself. The whole business of keeping it together every day becomes exhausting.

    Why do you think so many people try to escape from themselves by any means available? Drugs, booze, sex, shopping, TV, reading, sports, politics, religion or whatever. If we couldn’t escape into deep sleep each night, we would soon go mad.

    The idea of an afterlife where we maintain our separate personalities and identities for all eternity sounds terribly depressing to me. Again, it didn’t when I was younger, but it does now. Don’t be too certain you won’t change your thinking as the decades roll by.

  30. Also, I’ve never known an intelligent, thoughtful and sensitive person – as you appear to be – who didn’t have their comfortable religious beliefs collapse at some point under the weight of reality. It’s happened to me a few times now, so be prepared. Let me share with you this quote on Faith by Alan Watts:

    “Faith is a state of openness or trust. To have faith is like when you trust yourself to the water. You don’t grab hold of the water when you swim, because if you do you will become stiff and tight in the water, and sink. You have to relax, and the attitude of faith is the very opposite of clinging, and holding on. In other words, a person who is fanatic in matters of religion, and clings to certain ideas about the nature of God and the universe becomes a person who has no faith at all. Instead they are holding tight. But the attitude of faith is to let go, and become open to truth, whatever it might turn out to be.”

  31. Speed, I appreciate what you are saying, and I see some experiential wisdom there, but I need to fill in a few gaps about myself and my faith.

    First, I am twenty eight and while that is young, there has been enough time for me to face the blackness of existential despair and huge doubts about my religion. I was raised a Baptist fundamentalist and now belong to the Orthodox Church – the most conservative Church on the face of the earth according to historian Mark Noll. That was a big change for me and yes – as a Baptist fundamentalist I thought I had everything figured out, while the Orthodox Church tells me that the God’s essence is unknowable and must be approached by confessing what he is not and dismissing conceptual ideas about him.

    When I was sixteen I had some sort of heart event in my sleep – I mean my heart started pounding very painfully, my soul left my body and then everything went still. In that moment someone was in the room with me but everything was dark – not the tiniest shred of light – and the person who was there made no motion toward me, said nothing, did not identify himself. I do know that faith involves the great horror of darkness and unknowing. When I stopped fighting in the darkness and surrendered myself, my soul reentered my body and I awoke to see the light coming in under the door again.

    This is part of the reason why I am Orthodox. The Church’s teaching about the nature of God is that it is indescribable and unknowable and the soul that wants to approach it must do so in a state of relinquishing all mental ideas about God.

    That said, no amount of despair will ever induce me to deny the Lord Jesus. His nature as God may be inscrutable but as Man he came to my level – died, and rose again, and invites me to become part of his new spiritual body so that I too have died and risen again.

    I too have known the weariness of one’s own individuality and self-will, the limited track of one’s own ideas. You will find Orthodox descriptions of this state quite as damning as Eastern mystical ones. But I assure you that personhood in the Christian sense is not individuality. It is a state from which we have fallen – individuality is a mocking imitation or broken version of it – and we regain this state counter-inuitively, by surrendering our self will to Jesus Christ and entering into union with him through obedience and simple sacramental acts. (We approach the unapproachable divine by approaching the person who is the bridge between the divine and human, who united in himself both natures without confusion.) Christians are called by Christ to die to ourselves here and now rather than being promised such dissolution in the future. When we lose ourselves in Christ we regain ourselves in ways we cannot imagine now – not through independence, separateness, and indviduality, but through communion and oneness with Christ and all the world.

    Orthodox saints who have reached this state describe how they see all of nature at once and understand it from the inside, while at the same time being aware that their own death is a cosmic tragedy and that it is their duty to seek life.

    It’s not fair to call me fanatical because I accept the revelation of Jesus Christ. His revelation is not a set of ideas. It is the entry of something inexplicable into human life. He did come and teach what no one has ever taught before. He did works that no one else had ever done, and if you doubt the historical record, I don’t, simply because those works continue in his disciples to this very day.

    Our Christian faith is not a philosophical monotheism. Nor is it something I “figured out” as if it were a collection of ideas. In Church we do not entertain an orgy of concept-centered preaching. Instead we are taught to face reality. First, physical reality, as we deal with the sound of our own voices in prayer, candles, pictures, bread, water, wine – and confess our actual deeds. Next, mental realities as we confess and lay bare the secrets of our minds and open them to the light – as we practice dismissing the constant swirling of thoughts that leave us without rest and unable to hear our hearts, hearts which are made to touch eternity and view the invisible. Finally we deal with realities of the heart, where mysteries are touched.

    No, the Christianity you may be familiar with may be full of ideas and undue certainties. The original Church deals with realities. We speak of what we have touched and handled of the Word of Life. Of the unknowable nature and essence of God we say what he is not, rather than making comfortable assertions about God’s attributes or whatever.

    The certainty you may hear in my voice has to do with Jesus himself. He is not an idea. He is the most real being in the Universe: a Person. My loyalty has always been to him, whatever else I may have gone through. That will never change.

    It sounds like this Alan Watts fellow has helped you. That’s fine. If you haven’t read the stories of some modern-day Orthodox saints, like Silouan, Theophan, John of SanFrancisco, and so forth, you may want to “open your mind” to these real life events and leave the speculative and the conceptual behind. (And there are the gospels – they’re worth reading for what’s in them apart from scholarly speculation about their origin – and there are older saints like St. Symeon the New Theologian and others.)

    I say these things in all good will, as I know you do also.

  32. Thanks for taking the time and making the effort to dialog with ‘Speed’, and especially for the brief description of your experience at age sixteen. We are very much ‘on the same page’ and, of course, accept and try to live the same Orthodox faith. Even at almost sixty (that number will be mine next Tuesday) and having followed Christ intentionally since age 24, the faith in God that I have has not changed or collapsed under the many ‘challenges’ and disappointments I’ve had to deal with, even to this very moment. Our lives change, the world changes, but Jesus Christ is the same today, yesterday, and forever, as we heard in last Sunday’s reading. And because we follow Christ who is the author and finisher of our faith, that doesn’t change either, only deepens.

    However deep into the depths we are driven and even buried, Christ is deeper still, to be with us even there, and to bring us back again: the existential and experiential ‘descent into Hades’… who hasn’t experienced it?

    Glory to God.

  33. Thank you, Romanos. This post gets more traffic than just about any other post – it’s something that people of a certain type (like me and you, I suppose) keep finding and commenting on.

  34. BTW, Romanos, I read your little blog about accepting images during prayer. It was very helpful to me and I wanted to ask you, what about when people seem to read expressions on the faces of icons or think that they are being told something when they look at an icon? I tend to shy away from the belief that God speaks to us through impressions – I’ve had a very bad experience recently where I thought someone was going insane more or less because of these kinds of fantasies. The “messages” coming from icons’ facial expressions and so forth was part of it all, but I need to hear someone say I’m reading this right… or wrong.

  35. Thanks for sharing, AR. I hope your faith always works for you.

    I think the primary reason I left Christianity is because of the idea that only Christians are “saved” and the other 4/5ths of the world’s population – and billions of people who lived before the spread of Christianity – are “not saved.”

    So I’ve always tried to look for a spiritual answer that applies to ALL of us, and the varied ways people have lived throughout history – whether 5000 years ago in Egypt or China, or today in a primitive tribe in the Amazon that still has no contact with the outside world.

    That’s why I feel we will all find our way back home in the end, though each of us have taken very different journeys.

  36. Forgive me, Alana, if I seem irreverent or dogmatic, but I regards all such phenomena as “when people seem to read expressions on the faces of icons or think that they are being told something when they look at an icon” as being highly suspect of demonic influence. I have also had bad experiences with this at the beginning of my life in Christ, and over the years have also met others who have nearly become insane because of such delusions (hiding them from their confessors, often).

    As for ikons, they are not channels of communication between the living and the dead, even if they are saints. Strange things sometimes happen, even miraculous things, with ikons, and I’m not saying all are demonic, but all are suspect, until we can see for ourselves the fruits of such encounters.

    Have I responded to your question, or just muddied the waters?

  37. You have answered it completely, Romanos. I never got around to asking Fr. Gregory about this… but always meant to. I’ll bring it up with him but I’m glad someone with experience and study was able to confidently confirmed what I suspected.

    There is a terrible bondage when your conscience is bound by things that are that subjective… but I went to college under some fanatical Keswick leadership. *Shudders* That kind of thing is sort of ingrained.

  38. Speed, your kindness is appreciated. I, too, felt the horror of that heartless damnation of everyone who failed to come to agreement with Christian doctrine during life. I still don’t entirely understand this issue, but again, I find Orthodoxy to be much easier to live with on this issue.

    The final destiny of each soul is seen to depend at last one one thing only – whether there is anything salvagable in the soul once it meets the purifying “fire” of God’s grace, unmediated and unveiled by material corruptible temporal creation – whether there is any spark of grace remaining. This is not seen to be an arbitrary decision but rather the only possible consequence of the meeting between God and his creatures. God puts this off as long as possible to give everyone as much time as possible to prepare but in the end it his is mercy that we must all hope for. Every human being will be resurrected because Christ is resurrected and the entire human race has come to consist in him – he has taken the place of Adam, our first father. In this sense, all are saved by Christ’s death. Whether they can come to love God and be happy in his presence is up to them.

    While I believe firmly that Jesus Christ is the only Way that God has sent us to shed our sins, be reconciled to God, acquire the fire of incorruption, and ready ourselves for this meeting with God… no one is deprived of God’s grace and everyone can have to the degree that they open themselves to it. Belief in Christ is the way to do this but again, I don’t know that we are required to believe that everyone who doesn’t come to that intellectual belief in this life will burn forever. But maybe Romanos has something clearer to say on this topic.

    I have also heard people say that in the moment of death, Christ comes to each soul and allows them to make their final and true choice, the summation of the choices of their whole life and what was really in their heart. My experience at 16, while I don’t want to pretend it’s a source of revelation, does seem to confirm that idea at least for me.

    On this, if you are curious, you might read “The River of Fire” – an article that explains Hell and Heaven from an Orthodox perspective. Again my purpose is not to argue with you and I appreciate your kindness… but it’s important for me to defend the Christian faith from some of the corruptions that are preached in its name.

    You said: “That’s why I feel we will all find our way back home in the end, though each of us have taken very different journeys.”

    I understand this feeling – C. S. Lewis said that God will look to every soul like its first love, because he is its first love. The Psalmist says, “You have been our dwelling place in every generation, O Lord.” The world is a perilous place for us since evil entered it… I don’t want to pretend that everything’s automatically going to be OK, either physically (which is obviously not true) or spiritually. At the same time I have a strong sense that God’s mercy and compassion must prevail and I do not believe that he purposely set the world up so that he would have the “glory” of saving some and damning others. I think he will save everyone who can possibly be saved, apart from his unmaking them and forcing them like robots. As far as I know this is a sentiment shared largely by Orthodox Christians.

  39. I don’t wish to inaugurate a dialog or try to convince you, Speed, that leaving Christianity because it doesn’t satisfy your idea of fairness towards non-Christians was a bad idea; but I think it was a move made with insufficient evidence.

    Some realities are absolutes, and if you started with them and worked your way backwards, the outcome would be different.

    Start with Christ’s own words. He is pretty specific, and He doesn’t throw curses and threats around. His language to us is reasonable but demands personal (1) obedience and (2) faith (or trust). If you want to be a Christian at all, you have to accept what He says. Watch is actions, too, in the gospels. This is what I would call the first absolute.

    The second absolute, again working backwards from Christ Himself, is what the holy apostles wrote, and how the Church lived right from the beginning. Again, you must return to the New Testament as primary source book, but again, you do not find curses and threats being thrown around (though you do find some specific exclusions in some of the language). I would call the apostles (what they wrote, not what later authorities have said about what they wrote) the second absolute.

    We are still very far from having to believe that 4/5 of humanity is going to hell because they haven’t accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior.

    The third absolute, I’m afraid, would have to be something you’re not prepared to accept: the faith of the Orthodox which, following the first two absolutes, also does not lump humanity into the saved minority (only themselves) and the wicked and lost majority (everyone else). It’s not quite so easy to get at this third absolute: it’s nothing so easy as reading the bible; it’s using the first two absolutes as the raw data for producing the third absolute. How? By living according to those first two absolutes. Where is that possible? In the Orthodox community. Why there? Because it hasn’t compromised those first two absolutes. It hasn’t attached human speculation and guesswork to them, or erected systems of anti-contamination and quarantine to them, making it all but impossible to even hear, let alone believe and practice, authentic Christianity.

    You have left Christianity, but what if what you thought was Christianity was just a mirage? What if Christianity from Christ’s point of view were absolutely different from what you rejected? What if you found out that you agreed with ‘the unknown God’ and that history really did have a surprise ending, that the Christians you heard tell of an unhappy ending didn’t really know what they were talking about?

    These are some thoughts I wanted to share with you. What have you rejected, the real or the counterfeit?
    If the former, so be it, but what if it’s the latter?
    Even one person was worth dying for, so
    maybe even one person is worth
    waiting for.

    He wasn’t kidding when He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and if He is who He said He was, then His Father will grant His prayer, not just this one, but all of them. Start with the absolutes, and think again.

  40. i too entered the pointlessness of life on google a couple of weeks and ago and came to ur page..have been going through all the comments and i agree with the fact that meaning is something that we give to life..i am not quite sure if life has any meaning of its own…also another thing that fascinates me, though in no way does it help with the question of whether life has an independent meaning of its own, is the question whether we can ever be sure of anything. Bertrand russell’s teapot argument even though it was regarding god it does have another point to it. What if there is a reality out there which is different from what we perceive. What if even science cant get to that reality? I mean what if there is, taking from russell, a teapot orbiting the sun which is too small to be seen from our most powerful telescopes? What if there are other such things. Not to mention life is too vast and different people have so many different experiences that, i feel, one cannot conclusively say whether something is universally correct. Some people even say that suffering gives meaning to life. Now m sure this is twisted but looking at it logically it could give purpose to those who are interested in overcoming the suffering.

    Just felt like sharing my thoughts. Excellent thread here. I have now for quite sometime been haunted by my thoughts that life is meaningless. I am only 24 and have had many reasons to feel depressed and ultimately feel life is meaningless. But i see people all around me not caring and being so involved in life. I just don’t know how they do it. I come from a religious family but can’t somehow relate to god for various reasons. I see my friends being happy about the smallest things and actually living life to its fullest with whatever they have. They don’t even have the time for questions like why do we exist etc. I have tried ignoring these things but can’t. It feels nice to be letting out my thoughts coz my friends and my parents can’t be bothered and feel I am just saying things that don’t practically apply to life. They say it doesn’t help in making a life. I like one quote which according to me says a lot and indicates that keeping an open mind may be good.

    “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy” – Hamlet

  41. hey teapot. just commenting on your comment about others not being bothered about the point of life. i used to feel the same way too, only i’m a lot older now, and i’ve realized that almost everyone has pondered on life at some point and made their peace with it. one mainly needs to ‘accept’ the pointlessness and move beyond it.

    lets say, life’s a train ride, from A to B. you can either sit alone inside and keep thinking about the point of it all, or enjoy the journey; learn. grow. laugh. love. i spent so many years analyzing – dostoevsky, camus, nietzsche – and now, i feel there was so much laughter i missed out on.

    my only suggestion is to do things that make you happy. even at work – find ways to make your task enjoyable (it’s never what you do, it’s how you do it). in time, you’ll love yourself more and more, and once you love yourself, you’ll love others and life too.

    on religion – don’t take it literally. they all mean well. look for what their preaching symbolize. all in all, religion has probably done more good than bad. it is the nature of man to forms groups and segregate society. if not religion, he’d have found other ways. but yes, one should question and ‘get’ the underlying symbolism.

    long reply. take care man.

  42. I think that some people are more philosophical by nature. Some people are content with the obvious fact or facts of existence while others are born to ask questions. To put it in terms of my favorite personality type theory, about 25% of the population is “intuitive” and the other 75% “sensing” so only a quarter of us are really concerned with the philosophy of why and how – and the tendency to indulge that concern is genetically predetermined.

    I think these questions so easily become a way for people like us to be tormented and to become those who scoff and curse. Just because we can’t find out about God through thinking about him does not mean it’s smart to deride and despise our own life, our sustenance, our happiness, and the existence of ourselves and everything around us. I think now that looking for a point in it all was just a way to distract me from the is-ness of it all.

    Not all pious people are believers. Pious people are those who are wise enough to revere the plain realities of life and existence, to observe them and practice them with humility.

    As for knowing God it’s impossible. Just ask those who know Him best.

  43. Life is pointless I agree. So I have to give myself a point. Problem is that it’s pointless to do so. Everything we do in life is a distraction from life’s one true constant…. Death. I cannot help but wonder if the point of life is to end it…. Try to imagine somebody that died 500 years ago… Now, how much do you care ? Honestly ?… If I die today, in 500 years my own future blood relatives wont even know I ever existed. Look at it universally. If planet earth just exploded and everyone died, 99.99% of the UNIVERSE would not even know….. Honestly, if the earth blew up and we all died and an alien accross the galaxy asked another alien, “what was the point of mankind ?” How would he answer ? How would you answer from that alien planet accross the galaxy ?
    65 million years later, what was the point of dinosaurs ? All life ends. That’s why it’s pointless. *sigh*.

  44. Perhaps as humans we should continue to act in the face of uncertainty which can be viewed as an opportunity to create something novel instead of an ominous burden. The consequence of knowing our purpose is to loose our creativity which is the most beautiful thing we possess. Most of the comments takes the approach of a single absolute truth. “but they pose as having discovered and attained their real opinions through the self-evolution of a cold, pure, divinely unperturbed dialectic: while what happens at bottom is that a prejudice, a notion, an ‘inspiration,’ generally a desire of the heart sifted and made abstract, is defended by them with reasons sought after the event”. Perhaps we are programmable machines, but it is our experiences which define us and mortality is the best guarantee they will be authentic in the face of uncertainty.

  45. I thought that meaning would look like a road with a destination at the end. Our minds are indeed busy, frantically scurrying to make sense of everything but without being capable of comprehending in themselves the foundation of being. We substitute imagination for knowledge, fantasy for insight. Living mentally, we set up the image of the road, or some other image, and furnish it with things we find lying scattered about our life’s landscape – not the life that gives us life, but the life in which we woodenly pass through time while having experience, while something in us screams that there is more. Eventually we come to coldly tell ourselves that it is the instinct for “more” that is at fault – that we are “only” or “just” or “merely” this or that. Thus, to ease our pain, we cast our inborn desires away and try to learn to live with less. We come at last to faithlessness. There is no such thing as goodness. Reality is not good. Human nature is not good. Thus without ever embracing anything we would have thought was evil, we abandon all goodness and choose sides in the existential struggle against ourselves and anything of virtue.

    But the love of God is not like any of this.

    In the weeks to come it is possible that I will perish doing what has been the death of so many women before me – giving birth to my child. My mind tries to tell me that here is irony – just when my child arrives I may be rendered permanently unable to care for her. This would indeed be illogical, leaving my life unfinished and its destination unreached. But with a different kind of knowing I say that like my daughter, I exist because of love.

    Human existence needs far more than a point. Our nature demands something far more total. The Love of God is a cradle and a swaddling blanket, a mother’s womb and her waiting arms. It is childhood home and the urgency of growth and the whole landscape of light to which the inner secret of our nature opens like a flower or like a grateful eye in the morning. Here at last is what enters us from the inside out and fills us and leaves no room for any fretting, nagging suspicious that there ought to be more. Living cut off from an awareness of God’s Love, we could not expect it, because the experience of being alienated from his love even a little alters our awareness in deadly ways and begins a cycle in which selfhood, being, and nature inevitably dwindle as we lose, existentially, the “will to live.” But when it comes, God’s Love, this mystery, is the key in the lock and there can be no other because the door to a truly and fully human existence opens to nothing else. It is obvious after the fact, not to be suspected beforehand. The love of God enters and enlivens a human heart in any circumstance of life, it is the true secret of a finished life even for those who die young or tragically. It is the real story of human existence.

    I know at last that God loves me and that this is cause, reason, source, satisfaction, goal, reward, nourishment, energy, and home of my life. I know it without argument, without ever having had any suspicion that it was actually true, despite my lifelong efforts at living the Christian faith. It cannot be put into a slogan. On the one hand, it “just is.” On the other hand, it is more abundance and fullness than we are even capable of tasting.

    The Love of God is his own being, and it is ours too unless we are content to fall away into nothingness and to deny our own life.

  46. The thing about about faith is that believing in something or rather believing that something exists will not make it exist. For instance Santa does not exist even though millions of children have faith that he does.

  47. Anonymous, I hope no one thinks that a person’s belief in something makes it real… although we do see this ridiculous idea in movies sometimes.

    On the other hand, if something is real we have a duty to believe in it if we can.

    However, I do not really expect that people uninitiated in the Christian faith will understand that faith in Christ is not a “belief that” he is real. It’s not even really a confidence that he’s the good guy, or that he’ll pull through for me or what have you. It’s a way of being that is bestowed on someone, like being born into a family bestows a certain relationship with one’s parents.

  48. You can’t fucking escape either, huh?
    The great thing about this sense of pointlessness… You want to know what it is?
    That when you’re feeling it, you’re also forgetting it at5 some very superficial point. Focus on that then.
    Enjoy life if you can’t find a path that leads you to enjoying life.
    This is your curse.
    Our curse.
    Nothing is.
    So just enjoy what is and isn’t.

    • Yes, you are exactly right.

      Two things go together.

      Their opposites go together.

      On one side, the belief (or the unspoken assumption) that quite literally everything has been debunked. (This is, of course, an ugly myth. That never happened.) Everything is an illusion, there is no reality. What goes with this is despair, immorality, and infidelity.

      On the other side, the belief that reality is good and non-existence is an evil to be avoided. What goes with this is the belief, “It’s too good not to be true,” especially in regard to God. If reality is good, then the reverse is true – that goodness is real.

      Figure that.

      I found life pointless because it went in circles.

      Because this was all my life consisted of (for reasons that had to do with the theft of my willpower as a girl) I was tempted to extrapolate from this the view that this circular path was the nature of reality. I gradually came to realize what you have realized – that’s a halfway point, no mind can rest there. Reality has no nature and is nothing; or, reality is good and no illusion. One or the other. There can be none of this well, life is real but it’s not supposed to have a point, either.

      Life doesn’t go in circles if you have a purpose.

      So I stopped doing housework and started working on my novel. Today at 2 am I finished the outline – including the elusive third act that I had never been able to envision before. Now I have two viewpoints struggling within me. One says, well there’s still no point to this. My joy, my own existence, the vast agreement of humans throughout history, and the appearance of everything – in other words, every rational basis we have for coming to any conclusions at all – disagrees violently with that viewpoint and I’m going with joy and reason and God.

  49. WOW! For the record I finished writing this post but had trouble commenting, which was when I reloaded my page and read your latest comment. I’m on a second draft phase of my novel which I’m incredibly conflicted about, from which I’ve developed two conflicting viewpoints which can be narrowly defined as utter hopelessness and utter belief. The great part is I still haven’t chosen an ending, and that ending is completely contingent on whether I find belief in the finishing stages. Of course that could end really badly if I have an unfruitful search. Luckily, as you read in my post, I’m hopeful. How is your novel going?

    Dear AR,

    From the perspective of a college student at your average hippie liberal arts college. I was recently in Berlin for the summer (I’m studying German). There I had my “big moment”. It was 3 weeks after picking up an essay at the suggestion of an online personality titled Free Will by Sam Harris. I don’t know what your opinions are about Sam Harris, but mine stem only from the essay which I read. The essay was phenomenal and blew apart my belief in free will. At least, it did that in a philosophical way, but three weeks later on the eve of my 19th birthday, I felt the paradigmatic shift in my mind. Free will, or the belief in it, was a feeling. That’s how it affects humans, not based on any truth value, but on the belief that they have it. Now my feeling towards will has changed. I won’t say that I’ve lost the feeling that I’m free, because many things still feel normal (ironically, for example, the desire for caffeine). This came at a pretty bad time in my life. I’m a sophomore in college. I have declared a German studies major. I don’t see a point to existence. I don’t deny that, given my age, there’s so much more to experience in life. But it is really hard to put your heart into something when you have this outlook on life.

    I feel like I was made to end up at this belief, because I’ve always been a strong willed person who just had too many conflicting wills. And now none of them seem to work. I’m oriented by base pleasures like dancing or a novel, and can’t concentrate on my schoolwork. I know how good I can be because of the past…but I just don’t see God here.

    I don’t often meet people who are in my position. I don’t know if my free will belief is a rationalization for my depression or visa versa, but I assume they are inseparable. In any case, the flowering culmination of this idea (by the way I haven’t read any Nietzsche, but I was probably influenced by Hermann Hesse. In fact I don’t have a very strong background in philosophy. I just had a very philosophical skeptic friend in high school combined with a creative soul. Creative as in the will to create.) This free will belief strengthens my depression and I fear that without a serious delve into the base roots and possible solutions, I’ll be thrown into the inescapable whirlpool of blind action motivated by nothing. I’m sinking right now, and it’s very hard to stay afloat. As I’m sure you have noticed, the world offers myriad options from its stores of history for possible inspirations of the path to love, and I can say from the bottom of my heart that I am so glad someone so conscious has found love in religion. Obviously the christian God meshed well with your soul, and I don’t deny the possibility that He might with mine too, but from my outlook it’s easy to be bleak about most potentialities. I do love Carl Jung. I haven’t read him in a while, but he really sparked a will to live in me. Maybe I’ll check him out of the library. Now that I can read German that could serve to help me even more. I’m glad I left this post. It reminded me of something I’ve forgotten, a source of inspiration from a time long past. Fingers crossed I’ll make it to the end with a song in my heart, food in my belly, and love in my family.

    Peace and love in yours! How is your daughter, she must be at least 3 or 4 by now. What was her first word?
    Theo

  50. Hi, Theo. Thanks for your very thoughtful comment.

    My daughter is actually only nine months old… I’ve added to this post over the years so maybe the chronology looks mixed up. However, her first word was either ‘hi’ or ‘hungry.’ My son is six, and his first word was either ‘hi’ or ‘ball.’ (I’m never sure about the hi as it seems to start so early!) Now I’m curious – why did you ask that question in particular?

    My early reading on the subject of free will was Jonathan Edwards. He wrote as a strict evangelical Christian of course, but beyond that he had an amazingly logical mind. He was arguing for a Calvinist (Christian Determinist) viewpoint but he said something interesting – that human beings are as free as it is possible for derived beings to be. So that’s kind of ambiguous. He has some very closely argued reasons for this, but it was enough to get me stretching out mentally on this question. Ultimately he saw human beings as limited – like the sea in Psalms, “thus far shalt thou go and no further.” Orthodox theologians see man as having the capacity to contain eternity in his heart, and the heart as the fountainhead of will. So freedom is just a completely different concept in my church than it is anywhere else. It’s something we’re thought have the capacity for but must acquire through exercise, spiritual nutrition, and purity, much like physical strength.

    I haven’t read Sam Harris but I’ve read some things that seem inescapable in their airtight argumentation at the time. Something so perfectly argued, you can’t find any flaws in it. Something, usually, that presents you with the very viewpoint you’ve always been half afraid was true, which somehow adds to its plausibility. However, every argument is devised to support something that a person believes to be true already, for some reason that has nothing to do with the arguments. Like the “one hoss shay” in the poem representing Jonathan Edwards’ theology, the whole argued structure can fall apart in an instant, whole. Not because you find a chink in the argument but just because you grow beyond it and suddenly one day, you simply see around and past the whole idea. At least, that was my experience.

    I feel your position – it’s a rather dreadful one to be in. Not to be condescending or offer pity but simply to say, I know what it is to feel that something important has been debunked and can never charm you again and also to feel that there’s no reason for what you do – but the very fact that this makes you increasingly dysfunctional should alert you to the fact that this philosophy is at variance with nature and reality.

    Also, I’ve learned not to despair in that place of bewilderment and disappointment. There’s a reason why it doesn’t bother me when I hear that someone is an atheist. When I think about all the images and ideas of God that I’ve entertained over the years which I now austerely reject, and how little they have to do with this tiny spark of serenity and certainty growing somewhere deep in me now, I think it’s better to have false images challenged and discarded. That you’ve given up an idea of free will which couldn’t stand up to argumentation is no reason to suppose that a better sort of freedom isn’t out there. Perhaps you will someday come to a whole new concept of free will, one that can’t be assailed by the likes of Sam Harris. In the meantime, it’s illogical to assume that the reality is worse, instead of better, than you had hoped.

    I don’t think it is right ever to give in to despair. When we despair, we shut off the possibility (you mentioned possibilities) of the things that are accessed through hope, and that way our despair turns out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Personally I feel, with Edwards, that the ‘free’ in “free will” is redundant. The nature of will is, precisely, freedom. To give up your will (in response, perhaps, to a clever argument convincing you that you never had it in the first place,) is to surrender your freedom. To grow in the power of one’s will is to gain freedom. Most mystically of all, to love is freedom and the natural use of willpower, and to hate is bondage and addiction and the abuse and degradation of willpower.

    As for the Christian God…sometimes I think that the fractured image of him projected by modern Christianity does more harm than good. Our God is Jesus, and he became one of us. Humanity is joined to God. That is, hmmm, an existential truth and not a philosophy. I guess I think he’s real enough to find people even in the current epistemological haze. I believe that if you continue to be honest with yourself and never surrender your integrity, you will find out about him. Not because it has to be that way (logic tells us it doesn’t) but because this is something I’ve observed about human nature.

    I think a German major and studying in Germany sounds really, really cool. I dropped out of my senior year of college, partly because of my despair. I hope that you can rediscover your joy and get more out of your opportunities.

    All the best. Let me know how it goes.

  51. Everything you believe comes from your brain. Thus, everything you interpret or read is from the same place. It is illogical to thus believe that the Bible can be absolute truth. As for philosophy, that’s a form of sophistry. Essentially we are here for no real purpose other than history has made it so…We are just like any insect, tree, dinosaur, blade of grass, dog, or mammoth, we are just here. We make of life whatever we can then we die. It is the simplest answer.

    As for where the universe came from: there is no longer need for a Creator, since the universe has probably always existed. There was no ‘time = 0′. Without a Creator we don’t have to worry about a creator God.

    What happens after we exist – whether we somehow survive death in some extra dimension or something we don’t yet understand (and there’s a lot we don’t understand) I cannot say. The probability is weighed massively against this as there does not seem to be a way for our neurons to transmit what makes us who we are into some kind of unknown field that allows our ‘minds’ to escape the cessation of life.

    I have nobody to love in my life; nobody cares a jot if I live or I die. No-one knows who I am; what I am; even where I am; there’s simply nothing to link me to anyone. I was born and only child and when my parents die, that is my last true connection with humans I actually know, feel for and truly understand. As for making friends, I’ve never really done that. I went to many schools when I was young, and I was a nomad, so I have no real home. Every time I’ve invested any time in people they’ve always rejected me, so I’ve gave up a long time ago bothering. I’m much happier without all that emotional crap to worry about.

    Instead I’ve been studying very hard. I’ve discovered that civilization as we know it is kaput by mid-century when oil becomes too expensive and there’s nothing to replace it; when currency dies; and when the illusion of Moore’s law is replaced by Murphy’s Law for everything we’ve been making so far e.g. Rare Earth Elements are running out fast – all technologies including petrol refineries are buggered with a capital ‘B’. The world will become anarchic as states fight over depleted oil, gas, coal, water aquifers and minerals vital to their existence. No amount of energy efficiency or material efficiency, will solve this problem. It is inevitable. It is not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ and it doesn’t matter if I’m out by a few decades, IT MUST HAPPEN since we live on finite ball of rock with no escape systems up and running. Populations will rise against their leaders as even food – most of which is only grown using oil and fertilizers (made from phosphorous – which is running out even now!) – become scarce and thus pricey. The Arab Spring will become the European, American, Russian, Chinese, Indian and yes even African Springs as massive revolutions destroy the old order to be replaced by despots, tyrants, ill governed radicalised pseudo-democracies (a bit like the ones we have now but a lot more violent) and of course rabid right wing oligarchs, hell bent on taking what they need by force. No amount of positive thinking by eminent physicists who think fast breeder reactors will solve the problem; or floating fucking cars may be possible, will solve this problem. There won’t be any religions left either – they are already dying off in the face of scientific materialism.

    So now you all know, be happy, for we live in the best of times…

    • Hi “Franz”

      thanks for commenting.

      Well, first of all… I do not really believe that the Bible is absolute truth. I agree that it’s problematic to posit absolute truth in a text because our minds are naturally superior to text since we create and manipulate text. It’s impossible to approach a text, even a text in which humans have traditionally sensed a divine breath, without seeking to master it mentally. So you can’t worship what you master.

      That’s why I conclude that it’s absolutely necessary to worship what is, at least in some sense, unknown and unknowable. Anything else ends up being self-worship, as you have so rightly pointed out, not because nothing exists outside our brains but because our minds always turn to the image they’ve created of something and so distract us from the thing itself.

      Why do people need to worship? you may ask. It’s hard to answer that question for someone who tells me that they have no one in their life to love. Without an understanding of the normal human activities of the heart, it’s hard to imagine how you might progress to love for an invisible person. Yet with God all things are possible. For me, those few moments here and there, unpredictable and unexpected, when the weight of glory presses me to my knees while paradoxically my soul is lightened – when I don’t have any object before my mind and yet I spontaneously respond in the core of my being to what I cannot sense or conceive of – these few moments form the only thing that reconciles me to my own existence.

      So yes, these times in which so many people are convinced that the only way to be reasonable and honest and remain un-deluded is to reject the experiences of the heart that every human being craves above all else – to reject our own humanity and to deny our own nature – to conclude that what our brain conceives must therefore be imaginary and so to embrace an insanity in which the minute we know something it is therefore falsified – these times are indeed the best of times but only if for some reason you have a vested interest in debunking and categorically shutting out everything that makes human life worth living.

      I suppose it seems simple to “make of life what we can and then die.” If life is only what we make of it then there is no life to make something of and to me that’s quite convoluted.

      Jesus famously said, “When I return, will I even find any faith left on the Earth?” So perhaps that is something you agree with him about. I hope that the answer to his question is yes – that something, at least, will be salvaged. You may consider faith to be delusion but I consider that in its most basic and seminal form, faith is simply being on the side of goodness and reality – standing by the idea that goodness is real and that reality is good, however degraded in our personal experience. St. Paul prophesied that in later times from his, a comprehensive deception would overtake the world and that even natural affection would wane and be corrupted. I do not see this as a reason to rail against human beings – we are all victims of what came before us – the death, the grief, the antitheses of that very goodness that I just said I consider to be true reality. To find out that we have personal sin to grieve about in the presence of Him who grieved for us first is something that comes in due time, not a bludgeon with which to corral us into a religion.

      Your political predictions might very well be true. And yes, religion is failing, all over the world. Then again, I saw on the news the other day that arctic ice is up 60% from last year and it reminded me that anything can be renewed.

      My fellow-human being, on account of your brotherhood to myself I wish with all my heart that I could comfort you who believes you need no comfort, that I could say, “Someone does indeed love you, he stands near you even though you wouldn’t recognize him if you saw him.” And in fact, only my fear that you would find something to mock in these words holds me back. I fear you would literally have to be re-educated to even recognize the possibility that life and goodness might flow from above rather than arising from below. On the other hand, the Lord might spontaneously give you this gift of understanding. I don’t know.

      So I will give you the best advice I can, something that doesn’t involve emotion or reaching (for you) intellectually untenable conclusions.

      If you see someone who needs something that you have, say to yourself, “my human kin” and give it to him. How could it hurt?

      All the best,
      Alana.

  52. Hi Alana, I happened across your blog looking for links to talk about pointlessness; meaninglessness if you will. I find meditations on meaninglessness very meaningful and fulfilling, strangely as that may seem. It harkens to apophatic prayer and realizing that God is unapproachable and only by so realizing can we begin to contemplate approaching God.

    I see comments about being orthodox. Are you familiar with Nicolas Berdyaev? I would suspect you would enjoy reading his works.

    I see a lot of poetry. How delightful. Good job on the blog. I’ve tried and quickly set it aside because of the time it takes to write and the organizational and search limitations.

    God bless!

    • Thanks for visiting here at my blog. Yes, I love to read and write poetry, though I couldn’t be called successful at it in relation to publishers. :) It’s interesting you link meaninglessness and apophatic prayer. At first blush I would think that they would be opposite ends of the spectrum, alike in a superficial way. But in terms of the growth of a human soul, perhaps the desolation of losing all one’s cherished “meanings” can lead to the release of self-will that allows us to pray to God without defining him… hadn’t connected it before that I remember. Thank you.

      Nicolas Berdyaev…. no, haven’t run across him before. Shall look him up, thank you!

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