I believe that the central spiritual question is whether or not life matters; and I believe that it does.
Often we find ourselves caught up in an assortment of questions that are not actually as central as we first assume them to be. Consider:
• Is there a God?
• Is God humanlike or transcendent?
• Is God a personal and theistic, or impersonal and pantheistic, or is God panentheistic: having transcendent qualities unavailable to our understanding while permeating the universe with Divine energies?
• Is everything real, or is it an illusion?
• Is reality objective, relative or subjective?
These questions dance around the real one, the one which definitively places us into either one or another spiritual and moral foxhole wherein we are either free to make up the rules as we go along, or else bound by duty to discover, understand and conform to a law of some kind. That question is:
Does it matter, does any of this matter, does my life and do my choices and actions matter?
How one answers the question of whether or not life and the decisions we are faced with, the choices we make and the reasons we make them and whether the actions and behaviors we manifest as a consequence matter or not, results in either of two outcomes. Either you decide that in fact life, choices and actions do not matter, nihilism, or else you decide that they do: the path of meaning. In the latter case you will find it necessary to conform to one or another form of rule governing decisions.
For the nihilist, there is no law, no rules. He is free to make up rules, to change them as he goes, or to have none. For everyone but the nihilist, we all attempt to conform to a rule or law, however nondescript or unknown it may be.
I believe that life, its choices and actions, matter. I arrived at this belief after reflection on two points: self-delusion and its universality. If life, choices and actions did not matter, why bother to lie to ourselves? One of course understands the occasional lie to others, but if there’s no rule, what possible point could there be to self-lying?
Some who would agree that life has meaning and matters like to point out the universality of laws. Judaism has Halacha. The Greeks referred to a Natural Law, sometimes called the Logos. Meeting Jerusalem and Athens, Christians have fused the Halacha and Logos. Hindus and Buddhists have the Dharma, Taoists and Confuscists the Tao. Whatever we call it, we find a culturally universal affirmation of some transcendent rule or law.
To some the universality of cultural affirmation is unpersuasive. While I personally suspect this is a case where the existence of exceptions is in fact an example of the exception proving the rule, I’ll give it up to that objection.
Yet the objection to the cultural universality of a transcendent law fails to get around the reality of a personal universality of belief in such a law – the universality of which is evidenced by the fact that everyone finds cause to lie to him- or herself.
But what about the rare person who doesn’t lie to himself and who does not do so on account of the fact that he believes there is no consequence, no matter or meaning to his choices and actions?
Another universality is that when we encounter this rare species, we hold them to be either of two types: either sociopathic – that is, severely mentally and emotionally, even neurologically disordered, or else sane, but having made a disturbing, even grievous intellectual and moral decision whose consequences are frequently only less shocking than the banality of the mind that made them. Here Adolph Eichmann comes to mind.
Whether we adhere to a doctrine of Halacha or Logos, Dharma or Tao, or any other system of meaning, we seem to all agree that life matters. That we do, that we believe this at our very core, as part of what distinctively makes us human beings, moral creatures, is evidenced because from time to time, nearly without exception anywhere, we all find our own choices so disturbing or upsetting, so far short of reasonable expectations, that we are compelled by guilt to lie, to ourselves.
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