Saturday, February 27, 2010

Part 2: The Abyss of Meaninglessness

Ecclesiastes 1:2 "Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless." (NIV version) and Ecclesiastes 1:14, 17-18 I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is futility and striving after the know also striving after the wind. Because in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge, increasing pain.

Rather totally pessimistic about everything, isn't the Speaker?

But there is some superficial truth, I suppose to his nihilism. When I was a young Christian fundamentalist growing up in a small village in Nebraska--before I had gone to several universities, read extensively, suffered tragedy, lived in various places in the world, met humans with totally contrary worldviews, etc.--I didn't understand this hopeless wail.

I thought I understood life and God and the world. However, I was ensconced in much illusion and some delusion, though I didn't know it.

So I was happy and productive and filled with hopes and dreams. Aren't most kids, before the harsh realities of life wear us down?

But even after some very tough times, I still wouldn't have identified with the Speaker's utter feeling of futility, because I had a secure foundation in my faith in Christ.

My faith in God gave me a deep spiritual life. Thank God, I didn't live on the surface of life chasing after this world's glitter or, worse, its glut.

But then tragedies came...

And the worst one of all is when I discovered at 17 years of age that most Christian leaders for 1,700 years (beginning with Augustine) had claimed that God doesn't love most people, that infants are "in essence, evil," etc.

I battled against this horrific version of Christianity for most 50 years, until I finally realized to my deepest self that Christianity can't be true, that the Good News version I heard as a kid and young teen was a delusionary aberration.

Well, you get the point...

And now at 62, after doing spiritual battle against Augustinian-Reformed theology, and for so many years against inner failings and testings, and destructive worldviews, trying to help others caught in confusion and dysfunction and sin, and grieving over unanswered prayers, and experiencing deep heartache, I, too, understand what the Speaker means when he finds even wisdom to be a striving after the wind.

And what do we do, when even more and more modern Quakers are supporting Augustinian-Reformed thinkers or at the opposite extreme, claiming that there is no Ultimate Meaning or Purpose to existence?

Why do so many leading Christians now and in the past adamantly support theological determinism which claims the vast majority of us humans are preordained to eternal torment/damnation?

And why are so many modern Friends, exactly contrary, denying that God even exists?

It's so much like the horrific wall in Herman Melville's conundrummed short story, "Bartleby."

And then there are the everyday heartaches, trials, and tribulations...

And when a certain political figure, President Barrack Obama, is elected on the theme of hope, but then reverses many of his solemn pledges and ideals.

And when the natural world heaves, and the striving of hurricane winds and drought and disease and more disasters kill millions.

Yet the vast majority of leading Muslim, Christian, and New Age thinkers claim God planned and foreordained all that evil!

Even most Atheists, too, claim that all horrific human choices for slaughter and rape and rapine, and all natural disasters were determined at the moment of the Big Bang!
We humans are only "illusions," "wet robots," "puppets," etc.

So much nihilism in human philosophy.

No doubt, someone will point out that this is the way life has always been--tragic, brief, and short.

And, no doubt, the person is correct. That is why Ecclesiastes came to be written by a Jew living about 250 B.C., because so many of the promises of God in the Torah and the Prophets and in Proverbs and the Psalms hadn't come true.

Where had the Psalmist been hiding that he could claim, "I have been young and now I am old, Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken Or his descendants begging bread (Psalm 37:25)?

So sometimes, like millions of others at present, or in the past, I too drown in the abyss of meaninglessness, plummet for days down into the bottomless pit of despair.

If as the Speaker emphasizes through most of the book, we only have this life, we then are only like a live dog versus billions of dead lions and dead dogs who have gone before us.

Is not this life then a senseless striving after the wind?

An emptiness and meaninglessness like a transient vapor--here and then gone?

This is where Paul's statement in the New Testament shocked contradictorily and was life-saving: "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21) until I realized finally that it can't be true.

As I teen, I loved the first part of that verse. Jesus was my ideal, my hero, my best friend.

As for the latter part, I couldn't see Paul's view at all. But now many years later, past innumerable struggles and heartaches, I can see how, for Paul who suffered much, that Heaven did beckon.

But now I realize that there is no afterlife, that religion is mostly delusion.

Thankfully, however, I do hope in God yet--that despite all those tragic details which I briefly explained.

I do hope with all of my brief finite self, that there is Meaning and Purpose in our existence even though we humans don't know what it is beyond seeking to live compassionately and to support human rights and justice...

To seek the Good, the True, the Reasonable, and the Beautiful

in the Light,

Daniel Wilcox


Hystery said...


As you know, I have struggled recently with this sense of futility. Today I read an article about depression and illness in those who have lost their jobs or in those who work but who live in fear of unemployment. Working people have experienced this insecurity for a long time. Now middle-class people are learning about it first hand. Living in a state of economic uncertainty has certainly been a physical and emotional strain on me. This seems a trivial thing in light of the disasters, genocides, wars, and famines that haunt humanity but it just shows how fragile the human brain/body is. It seems that we are wired to experience fear and psychic pain.

And yet... I have been amazed that there remains a spark. At times it seems very small indeed. I cannot always see it or feel it but just when I think it is quite gone, it flares up again. Very often, my friend, this happens when I reflect upon conversations with you. Also, as I read and teach history and as I converse with so many good people on and off the internet, I am as struck by their constancy of love in the face of horrors as I am by the horrors themselves. Where does this will to love and hope come from? I do not know but I am greatly encouraged by it.

Katya5 said...

Hello, Daniel,
As I read your post, I remembered the words of Aleister Crowley, "Every man and every woman is a star." These words for me have a direct bearing on the question of The Meaning of Life. Chasing the meaning of life, or Universal Truth, or Absolute Knowledge sure can be a cause of grief and dispair, because - what are they? Do these things even exist? What is the Meaning of Life? ("Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" offers a prompt and short answer - 44. And then states that if the answer does not make much sense, maybe it's because you've asked the wrong question.) How can Knowledge be absolute, if the world itself changes every minute?
Anyway, for me the words of Crowley mean this: every individual, like a star, has his/her own way, path and purpose in life. So, everyone's meaning in life is individual. For me, I try to look at life as a learning process... When something happens to me, fair or unfair, pleasant or horrible, I ask myself - did I learn from this? If yes - that's an experience that has not been wasted; and if in the process of some experience I die - then... it would "be a gain."
I know you and I look at things differently, but - that's the beauty of it, because each one of us is different and has a different path. So, please do not take my statements as an assault or challenge of your beliefs, but rather as a different viewpoint of the same general picture.
Thank you,

Daniel Wilcox said...

Hi Hystery,

It's true that you or myself (or our friends and relatives) may not be suffering as much as others. However, all suffering and pain are real, especially when it is your own since you are living it.

You say, "Where does this will to love and hope come from?"
I feel tempted to share of my own faith answer, but I will resist since I've already done that a lot so you know what I think and besides you don't need words...

Am holding you in the Light,

Thanks for sharing,Hystery.


Daniel Wilcox said...

Hi Katya,

I almost said Katya5. Does that mean you are the fifth one;-) Doubtful. I recently discovered that there is another poet besides myself named Daniel Wilcox. So I thought I would use my full name including my middle name: Daniel Eugene Wilcox, but then I discovered there are even other people with that name too. So much for individuality when it comes to names!

You say:
>>Chasing the meaning of life, or Universal Truth, or Absolute Knowledge sure can be a cause of grief and dispair,

Seeking after U.T. hasn't been a cause of grief and despair for me. Just the opposite, it is this "seeking/being sought" which has helped me to survive this life filled with grief and despair.

>>because - what are they? Do these things even exist?

Yes, but I already shared my hope/faith so I won't jabber again:-)

In the Light,