Monday, 22 July 2013

So, What is 'The Point' of Life?

While we all spend huge amounts of time putting our efforts into things such as building a career, raising children, or searching for love, at some point it becomes clear that life isn’t going to bring us the ‘happy ever after’ that we expected to reach at the age of 25 or 30. Instead, many of us find that life has started to resemble the ultimate ‘shaggy dog story’; no sooner than one particular goal is reached or problem solved than another one arrives to take its place. If none of our efforts will eventually lead to the happy ending we dreamed of as children, then what is the point of life? 

For most people the point of life is the reward we hope (or expect) to enjoy for all the efforts we make. The Christian ideology that is ingrained in Western culture suggests that if we work hard and tolerate the daily grind with a serene smile on our faces, that we will eventually be rewarded in Heaven. In this way of thinking, the point is to struggle and sacrifice while finding a way to maintain our faith in the promise of an amazing after life. While many Westerners are a little more earthly and pragmatic in their approach today, they are still ultimately looking for some kind of reward, usually the big pay cheque or finding the love of our lives. There are still others who feel the only point to life is to propagate the species which, if it is, would of course be the biggest shaggy dog story of all time. This particular belief leads to the rather dodgy conclusion that people who are unable to procreate have no real reason to exist and that women who choose not to have children or people in same sex relationships are breaking some kind of ‘natural law’ and should be sanctioned.

We may choose various ways to give our life meaning but the point of life itself must be beyond these individual choices or, depending on your point of view, certain individuals or groups would automatically be barred from having any right to exist. While individuals and cultures may adopt various different values and approaches to life, the underlying point of life has to be universal. Human beings are continually projecting their experiences and beliefs out into the world whilst believing they are looking at the whole picture, but you can only see the whole picture when you include all human experiences and possibilities. If a belief about life excludes any human experience, person or group, then it cannot be ‘the truth’, it is only the truth for some people. While there may not be one single meaningful way to live life, there is a universal point to it and it isn’t to gain reward, to compete for survival or even to procreate. There is only one thing that we all have in common and that is that we are here experiencing life as human beings; we all exist at this point in time. Therefore it seems the point of life is simply to experience being human and any other purpose we give our time here is merely a reflection of our personal values and preferences.

Once we accept that the point of living is simply to experience being human, then life suddenly becomes a lot simpler and less divisive. When we are able to take a step back, even the most abhorrent experiences or actions become just another colourful pattern in the giant kaleidoscope of experience we call ‘being human’. If a human being is doing it or feeling it then it is a valid human experience no matter how much we dislike it. The experience of being human will always contain both positive and negative aspects, the problem arises when we attach moral judgements to the intrinsic polarity of our existence and label positive experiences as ‘good’ and negative as ‘bad’. When we make such moral judgements, we start to separate experiences into those we will accept and those we reject and fight against and this naturally causes division and conflict within ourselves, our relationships and society as a whole. 

Somewhere along the line, we lost sight of the fact that experiences are essentially neither good nor bad, they just are. There are positive and negative aspects to every human experience; nothing can be experienced as purely positive or negative. It is impossible to blot out or eradicate the negative aspects of life, yet this is precisely what we seem to spend most of our time trying to do. We don’t want any pain, illness or suffering and we judge particularly harshly anyone we deem to have caused such things. Of course I am not suggesting that we should tolerate or ignore destructive behaviour amongst our fellows, but we can learn how to put up healthy boundaries, both personally and culturally, without stepping into moral judgement. Saying ‘this is not acceptable and if you do this, these will be consequences’ is very different from saying ‘you are a bad/evil person and you must be punished, humiliated or obliterated’. 

As Jesus once said; let person who has not sinned cast the first stone. However, this Christian understanding that we are all sinners has unfortunately often been misconstrued to mean that we are all bad and intrinsically guilty, ashamed and worthless so everyone is busy trying to pass the buck. What it actually means is no one is perfect and therefore no one is qualified to ‘play God’ and sit in judgement of anyone else. We are all capable of selfish, destructive behaviour and of making mistakes (sinning) and if we want the world to be a more loving place we would do well to focus on cleaning up our own side of the fence rather than casting aspersions, scapegoating or blaming others for the messes in our individual lives or the world as a whole.

Acceptance of ourselves and others becomes a whole lot easier when we let go of any moral judgements about the meaning of life. If the point of life is simply to be, then every ‘sin’ against us can ultimately be forgiven because feeling pain is just part of the human experience. When we maintain strong, loving boundaries with appropriate consequences for transgressions on both a personal or social level, there is no longer a need for the revenge, retribution or humiliating punishment and we become free to give our energy to something far more productive than trying to eradicate evil. And if we accept that the point of life is to experience it to the full, warts and all, then we also become free to give our individual lives any meaning we choose without fear of judgement or punishment for ‘getting it wrong’; if the 'point of life' is simply to experience it, then what purpose do you want to give your life?


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