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The Meaning of Life

Including: what is NOT the meaning of life.

by Dear Jon
July 16, 2001

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The Meaning of Life_Dear Jon-Including: what is NOT the meaning of life. ACTUAL LETTER TO DEAR JON:

Dear Jon,

What is the meaning of life?


Dear Phil,

A movie by Monty Python. Ha ha ha.

A few folks had been doing a little writing in the "Religion/Philosophy" forum on the PO. I bet you could rekindle that forum with such a loaded question. It is a question more properly geared for the forums, since it is not asking, specifically, for advice. But I know that my readers look to Dear Jon for opinions about many things, so here is my shot at "the meaning of life."

When followed to its conclusion, we discover that life is arbitrary, springing from the desire of God. Life has no inherent meaning apart from God's desire that it exist.

Happily, the end of the quest for meaning, becomes the premise in the quest for purpose. In that sense, the question, "Since God desires that I exist, what is the purpose of my life?" is a more "meaningful" question.

Purpose can be frustrated by suffering, or it can be realized and clarified in the midst of suffering. Many PO readers today, being Americans well-off enough to have computers, either at work or at home, have a frustrated sense of purpose because they do not suffer. There is nothing to strive for, since we have everything. The consequence is frequently the suffering of purposelessness. What is needed most among Americans today, is a sense of perspective. With perspective, many might discover purpose.

In contrast, some of the best writing to clarify that sense of purpose, rose out of the suffering of the Second World War. To gain badly needed perspective on the human condition and human purpose, I recommend the writings of Victor Frankl, an Austrian Jew and World War II Holocaust survivor; Corrie Ten Boom, Dutch Protestant and World War II Holocaust survivor; Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Protestant who tried to assassinate Hitler and did not survive the holocaust; and "The Diary of Anne Frank," a Dutch Jew who perished in the Holocaust at the age of 13.

I also recommend the core texts of the world's religions, of which many of us are woefully illiterate. One core text of many faiths, is the Hebrew Bible, aka the "Old Testament." In the book of Qoheleth, or "Ecclesiastes," the statement is made, "There is nothing better than to eat, and drink, and find enjoyment in one's work." So find a job you don't hate doing. And when it's time to eat, stop working and enjoy your food. It may not go all the way to satisfying purpose, but if you're in a job you don't hate, you are on the right track.

Basically, people who have found their purpose in living for others, have generally been considered to have lived the most purposeful lives. This seems to be the slant in most religious writings, what with the Golden Rule being pretty much universal. As Bill Clinton said of Mother Teresa after she gave an impassioned pro-life speech to Congress, "It is hard to argue with a life so well lived."

The movie "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure," had Abraham Lincoln step forward in time to address California high school students in the 1980's. He summed up the purpose one can have in life very well: "Be excellent to each other. And party on, dudes."

Expanding further would risk betraying my sectarian convictions. So, I will shift the focus to talk about what your purpose in life is NOT.

1. It is NOT to die with the most toys.

2. It is NOT to get as drunk as possible as often as possible.

3. It is NOT the six-month review or the annual raise or the promotion or the interview.

4. It is NOT to collect as much Winnie the Pooh memorabilia as you can store.

5. It is NOT to achieve the high score in "Zombie Slaughter III: Mega Slaughter" on your game system.

6. It is NOT the next fix.

7. It is NOT the next boyfriend.

8. It is NOT to see how many extra miles you can drive when your bladder is screaming for a rest stop.

9. It is NOT to prove that you are right all the time, or to win every argument.

10. It is NOT the week-end.

11. It is NOT to awaken the sympathy of as many people as possible to your complaint.

12. It is NOT to compare how others are doing with how you are doing in terms of annual income, size of home, number of cars, number of marriages, or any other terms.

13. It is NOT to relive the last election every time you meet your Republican acquaintence.

14. It is NOT to study all the time or be a workaholic, since all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

15. It is NOT to avoid work as much as possible, either.

16. It is NOT to give your kids everything they demand.

17. It is NOT to torment or disappoint your kids so they learn "how tough life is."

18. If you have learned in the school of hard knocks, your purpose is NOT to recruit as many other people as possible into that school.

19. It is NOT to defend your life of privilege and luxury at the expense of justice, mercy, compassion, faith, and ethics.

20. It is NOT to wish you were living a different life. Your purpose is to live the life you have.

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