Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Death of God and the Meaning of Life

While grubbing around HalfPriceBooks looking for a suitable book to buy in their March coupon sale, I came across The Death of God and the Meaning of Life, by Julian Young. Since HalfPriceBooks had priced it at $19.99 and it was selling at #1,485,784 at Amazon, I figured it must be good. So I bought it last Sunday with the 50% off coupon.

Seriously, what attracted me was that the book promised to be a quick round-up of Plato, Kant, Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer, Freud, Nietzsche, Hegel, Marx, Heidegger, Sartre, Camus, Foucault, Derrida. It's a bit like the renowned Edward Casaubon and his "Key to All Mythologies." A book like that might be the key to all philosophers.

No, it's not at all like that because Young, like Mary Ann Evans, has read his Germans. So he tells a very good story about how Kant thru Marx were all trying to revive the "true-world" faiths, the world as a vale of tears, that Newtonian science had demolished. Marx, on Young's telling, was simply continuing Christian eschatology with a heaven in the future in this world rather than in another world. Starting with the later Nietzsche we are trying to make meaning out of life without some sort of heaven where everything comes right in the end. Mostly, these radical continental philosophers offer the idea of living life as an artist, or as if life were a work of art.

(This is why my Three Peoples theory includes the People of the Creative Self).

With Sartre and Camus we come close to a nihilist idea of life as absurdity. But in later Heidegger, Julian Young finds a meaning he can live with. It is the notion of living life as a guardian of the world, rather than an exploiter, bringing forth rather than doing violence, that Heidegger develops in his "Question Concerning Technology."

Of course, I have a bit of a problem with that, because it makes it sound as though environmentalists are the best people in the world, and I'm not at all sure that environmentalists are as good as they advertise themselves to be.

But here is my big problem. The telling thing is how many of the names up above were never married and/or never had children. And I don't recall children as getting a mention in the book. It's easy to say, like Sartre and Camus, who never married and never had children, that life is absurd. I can understand it would look that way if the world began and ended with you and your sexual affairs. But, to quote Edmund Burke, "society is a contract between the past, the present, and those yet unborn." And it is telling that Sartre and his "partner" Simone de Beauvoir each individually semi-adopted younger people as they aged and willed their property to these intellectual executors in place of children.

Another problem is the idea of Christianity as a world-denying religion. Certainly, Christianity has succumbed for centuries to what Rodney Stark calls "upper-class asceticism," but I'd say that following the Great Awakening in the 18th century mainstream Christianity has been world-affirming. It does not say that life is a bed of roses, but it does say that God sacrificed his Son for our sins, so we don't have to sacrifice, and that if you accept Jesus in your life you are saved and go to Heaven. And Christianity is catnip for women, because it says that you can have the best love of your life with God: you love God and God loves you, in the relationship from Heaven.

I'll have to go into the details of later Heidegger in the future, but I'd say that the guardianship notion is defective. It suggests a world past its prime, with a guardian there to keep things going in its inevitable decline. But, following Burke, I'd say that the guardianship applies to the contract with the past and the future. But the contract with the present implies clearing a place in the world to create life and help it thrive, and then leaving a world in which those yet unborn can thrive.

And I don't believe that God is Dead. Perhaps the Homeric gods playing politics on Mt. Olympus with the lives of humans are dead. Perhaps the anthropomorphic God is dead to the intellectuals. But in the light of modern physics and the knowledge about the genome I experience life, the universe and everything as a profound and ever-deepening mystery. Call that mystery whatever you like, but the most obvious word is God.

1 comment:

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