Friday, June 02, 2006

The Problem of Meaning

The Problem of Meaning is closely connected to the problems of Identity and Death. Meaning is about the relationship of the individual to the surrounding world, and this presupposes and Identity. And the question gets much of its gravity in face of death: What it the point of it all when we are going to die anyway?

But meaning is an aspect of life apart from identity and endliness, too. And activity, a relationship, an experience is perceived to be meaningful when it engages our true self. Meaning cuts through our superficiality and moves the core of our personality. When life is meaningful we feel that we are at home in our life, our identity is strengthened.

But when we feel our life is meaningless we have lost sense of who we are. This is why it seems like nothing really concerns us. But it is not only the problem of identity that causes meaninglessness, it is also caused by a culture that does not foster meaning. It is a feature of our culture that in becomes ever more superficial - a trend that is most easily visible in entertainment and media. The trend is paradoxical: nobody really likes shallow entertainment, still it is very popular. This is not (only) about people being hypocritical: it is a tension in our existence in that we at the same time long for meaning and fear it, because meaning requires us to question our identity and our fears. This is not pleasant to do.

Encountering meaning is a very powerful experience. I think most people have this experience, when a conversation suddenly feels important, real, true. Or when one in a relationship suddenly feels that one is more oneself when one is together with this person. And so on.

This is what the Christian tradition calls the presence of the Spirit of God. We encounter it in other areas too, and in very individual ways. Creativity is another example. The Spirit is also the Spirit of Creation. It is present in all those moments when we feel alive.

When the Church believes that this experience in its various forms is the presence of God, it is the affirmation that God is present in our day to day life. The Spirit is not something that is found primarily in worship or when we do other religious things. The Spirit is there whenever we are present in what we do.

In my next post I will try to summarize what salvation is based on how the Christian tradition addresses the existential problems of identity, death and meaning. Then I will move on to how the Christian practice and the activities of the Church brings this salvation to human beings.


Aaron G said...

"The Spirit is there whenever we are present..."

Meaning is linked to being present. This is key for there is no meaning in the past or the future whenever these are understood outside of the present. The present is the moment of meaning. The present is all we have. As John Dewey tell us, the past can become a “rival and distracting environment” if not utilized for the present. Finding meaning is about learning to live in the present – not in sentimentilised pasts or utopian futures.

Patrik said...

This is very true. At the same time, as I have argued in some previous post, there are situations when the human soul may need to escape the present and live on hope only. But that is not really meaning, it is hope for meaning.

Aaron G said...

Perhaps we must escape from the "present present" and live in "another present" - or is that just the same as hope/future?

Patrik said...

That is a good idea. That is something could be developed: hope as an interpretation of the present.