Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Purpose of Life

What is the purpose of our existence? One possible answer given by the "perennial philosophy:" our true identity lies in Oneness with the Divine, that we have fallen from this Oneness into the multiplicity of matter and that the goal is ultimate reunion with God. But then there is Hegel who warns that this Mysticism is merely “the night in which all cows are black,” that what we really need is not absorption in the One but reconciliation to the One through the Many. The Absolute is the “identity of identity and non-identity” which means that it is essentially expressed in our actual human lives, and not merely present in some other realm “above” or “beyond” human life.

Perhaps it is a question of perspective, of stages. You first wake up and realize the illusion of separate things, separate world, and separate ego. You renounce the world and your ego and seek some higher truth or Self that lies behind it. But then you come to see that this seeking itself presumes some kind of absolute separation between you and God, when in reality you are already one with Him, in your lived condition here and now. Thus there is no need to seek for a higher world, only an acceptance of the world as it actually is. The problem is that when one begins to reflect, when one comes off one’s Zen-like cloud, it is very hard to accept the world as it is. And this leads us to the problem of suffering, the problem of evil.

The traditional problem is how to reconcile evil with the existence of a loving, omnipotent God. If he is all-loving he would want to end evil, and if he is all-powerful he would be able to end evil, so if evil exists he must be either not-all-loving or not-all-powerful. But the problem of evil can be put in existential terms: given the reality of evil in the world, how can we unconditionally affirm the world? This is the way Dostoevsky presents evil through the mouthpiece of Ivan in Brothers Karamazov: Ivan can intellectually acknowledge that at some future state all the present evil will be swallowed up in some greater good, and so there may be an answer to the traditional problem. However, he cannot accept a world where such present evil is just a means to a greater end. What about the suffering of the seven-year old who was raped, sodomized, had gasoline poured all over her, then was lit on fire by a match and burned alive? Do we really want to affirm a world where such a thing can happen? Is it really possible to redeem such evils or justify them by saying they will “teach us a lesson” or that we can rest assured that the little child is “smiling now in heaven?”

No comments: