Useful Quotations on the Meaning of Life

Pithy Prose for Politicians, Preachers, Professors, Pundits, and Public Speakers.

Contemplation is the highest form of activity. Aristotle.

If you’re feeling helpless, help someone. Aung San Suu Kyi.

“What is a fear of living? It’s being preeminently afraid of dying. It is not doing what you came here to do, out of timidity and spinelessness. The antidote is to take full responsibility for yourself – for the time you take up and the space you occupy. If you don’t know what you’re here to do, then just do some good.” Maya Angelou

“Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.” Joseph Campbell

“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.” Albert Camus

“1877. The vocation of humanity is to show forth the image of God and to be transformed into the image of the Father’s only Son. This vocation takes a personal form since each of us is called to enter into the divine beatitude; it also concerns the human community as a whole.” The Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church

You keep waiting for the moral of your life to become obvious, but it never does. Work, work, work. No moral, no plot, no eureka! You might as well be living inside a photocopier. Douglas Coupland.

“In order to lead a meaningful life, you need to cherish others, pay attention to human values and try to cultivate inner peace.” Dalai Lama XIV

“We are born and we die; and between these two most important events in our lives more or less time elapses which we have to waste somehow or other. In the end it does not seem to matter much whether we have done so in making money, or practicing law, or reading or playing, or in any other way, as long as we felt we were deriving a maximum of happiness out of our doings.” Clarence Darrow

“What is the meaning of it, Watson? said Holmes solemnly as he laid down the paper. “What object is served by this circle of misery and violence and fear? It must tend to some end, or else our universe is ruled by chance, which is unthinkable. But what end? There is the great standing perennial problem to which human reason is as far from an answer as ever.” Arthur Conan Doyle

“If there is any intelligence guiding this universe, philosophy wishes to know and understand it and reverently work with it; if there is none, philosophy wishes to know that also, and face it without fear. If the stars are but transient coagulations of haphazard nebulae, if life is a colloidal accident, impersonally permanent and individually fleeting, if man is only a compound of chemicals, destined to disintegrate and utterly disappear, if the creative ecstasy of art, and the gentle wisdom of the sage, and the willing martyrdom of saints are but bright incidents in the protoplasmic pullulation of the earth, and death is the answer to every problem and the destiny of every soul–then philosophy will face that too, and try to find within that narrowed circle some significance and nobility for man.” Will Durant

“What is the meaning of human life, or of organic life altogether? To answer this question at all implies a religion. Is there any sense then, you ask, in putting it? I answer, the man who regards his own life and that of his fellow creatures as meaningless is not merely unfortunate but almost disqualified for life.” Albert Einstein

The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful…honourable…compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well. Ralph Waldo Emerson

“If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering.” Viktor E. Frankl

“The human race is a monotonous affair. Most people spend the greatest part of their time working in order to live, and what little freedom remains so fills them with fear that they seek out any and every means to be rid of it.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“The only meaning our lives have is the meaning we give them.” Robert Hellenga, Philosophy Made Simple

“About once or twice every month I engage in public debates with those whose pressing need it is to woo and to win the approval of supernatural beings. Very often, when I give my view that there is no supernatural dimension, and certainly not one that is only or especially available to the faithful, and that the natural world is wonderful enough—and even miraculous enough if you insist—I attract pitying looks and anxious questions. How, in that case, I am asked, do I find meaning and purpose in life? How does a mere and gross materialist, with no expectation of a life to come, decide what, if anything, is worth caring about?

Depending on my mood, I sometimes but not always refrain from pointing out what a breathtakingly insulting and patronizing question this is. (It is on a par with the equally subtle inquiry: Since you don’t believe in our god, what stops you from stealing and lying and raping and killing to your heart’s content?) Just as the answer to the latter question is: self-respect and the desire for the respect of others—while in the meantime it is precisely those who think they have divine permission who are truly capable of any atrocity—so the answer to the first question falls into two parts. A life that partakes even a little of friendship, love, irony, humor, parenthood, literature, and music, and the chance to take part in battles for the liberation of others cannot be called ‘meaningless’ except if the person living it is also an existentialist and elects to call it so. It could be that all existence is a pointless joke, but it is not in fact possible to live one’s everyday life as if this were so. Whereas if one sought to define meaninglessness and futility, the idea that a human life should be expended in the guilty, fearful, self-obsessed propitiation of supernatural nonentities… but there, there. Enough.” Christopher Hitchens

MDH Editorial on Hitchens – One morning at breakfast my family and some of my children’s friends had a wonderful time discussing this quote. The first question to be raised is who is trying “to woo and win the approval of supernatural beings?” Certainly not Christians, because the Bible teaches that God gives blessings to man, including salvation, quite independently of the man’s worth. The cornerstone of the gospel is that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. We have God’s infinite love and unconditional approval simply because He wills to give it to us. Since it is infinite, it cannot be added to. Why the Creator of Heaven and Earth loves us so much is a great mystery, but it has nothing to do with our trying to win His approval. Believers do good works because we are Christians and our nature has changed; not because we are trying to become Christians. We try to please God because we love Him, not to make Him love us more.

The material universe is wonderful, even miraculous, and certainly worthy of a lifetime of study and awe. Materialists in no way surpass believers in their wonder at the natural world. Believers might have even more, because while an atheist forces himself to believe that the majesty of nature derives from chance and strains to find meaning in it, the Christian believes that Creation reflects the glory of the God who loves them.

Hitchens made a good point when he said that those who think they have divine permission are truly capable of any atrocity, but judging from men like Joseph Stalin and Mao Tse Tung, those who do not think so are equally capable. That is why it is not enough to believe in something; people must believe in the Truth. He is also right in saying “It could be that all existence is a pointless joke, but it is not in fact possible to live one’s everyday life as if this were so.” This fact itself suggests that existence has profound meaning nearly beyond our powers to comprehend

Finally, Hitchens seemed to imply that believers in deities expended their lives in the “guilty, fearful, self-obsessed propitiation of supernatural nonentities”. Whether or not God is a “supernatural nonentity”, the truth of life is that everyone on earth, regardless of belief, expends their lives in quite a bit of guilt, fear, and self-obsession. The real question is whether people who believe in God have greater guilt, fear and self-obsession than those who do not. Christians should have no guilt because Jesus Christ has borne our sin, no fear because He has risen from the dead and so shall we, and no self-obsession because God is the center of our universe. Our incomplete success in these matters is not because of the weakness of the Gospel but because of the weakness of man. MDH

“But if God and immortality be repudiated, what is left? That is the question usually thrown at the atheist’s head. The orthodox believer likes to think that nothing is left. That, however, is because he has only been accustomed to think in terms of his orthodoxy. In point of fact, a great deal is left.

That is immediately obvious from the fact that many men and women have led active, or self-sacrificing, or noble, or devoted lives without any belief in God or immortality. Buddhism in its uncorrupted form has no such belief; nor did the great nineteenth-century agnostics; nor do the orthodox Russian Communists; nor did the Stoics. Of course, the unbelievers have often been guilty of selfish or wicked actions; but so have the believers. And in any case that is not the fundamental point. The point: is that without these beliefs men and women may yet possess the mainspring of full and purposive living, and just as strong a sense that existence can be worthwhile as is possible to the most devout believers.” Julian Huxley, Man in the Modern World

MDH Editorial on Huxley – It is absolutely true that many who rejected God have sensed that their existence was worthwhile, but man’s capacity for self-delusion is nearly infinite, and Adolph Hitler surely believed in the virtue of his cause; the worth of his life. Those who reject God are left to assume that man is the arbiter of worth and therefore if a man believes his existence worthwhile, it is. They may perhaps argue that mankind, not man, is the real arbiter, but then they are forced to define who “mankind” is and how “he” can judge worth. Those who accept God must assume that He is the arbiter of worth and that a man’s life is only worthwhile if He says it is. This is a fundamental difference.

If a man’s worth is only in his own opinion, then the value of his existence perishes with him. If it is in the eyes of others, it passes away with them. Only if the eternal God deems a man’s existence worthwhile does that value last forever. MDH

As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being. Carl Gustav Jung

“Philosophers can debate the meaning of life, but you need a Lord who can declare the meaning of life.” Max Lucado

The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways. The point, however, is to change it. Karl Marx

“Life has to be given a meaning because of the obvious fact that it has no meaning.” Henry Miller

The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven. Milton

“Doubt as sin. — Christianity has done its utmost to close the circle and declared even doubt to be sin. One is supposed to be cast into belief without reason, by a miracle, and from then on to swim in it as in the brightest and least ambiguous of elements: even a glance towards land, even the thought that one perhaps exists for something else as well as swimming, even the slightest impulse of our amphibious nature — is sin! And notice that all this means that the foundation of belief and all reflection on its origin is likewise excluded as sinful. What is wanted are blindness and intoxication and an eternal song over the waves in which reason has drowned.” Friedrich Nietzsche

“True glory consists in doing what deserves to be written, in writing what deserves to be read, and in so living as to make the world happier and better for our living in it.” Pliny the Elder

“Without a purpose, schools are houses of detention, not attention” Neil Postman

“I don’t know the meaning of life. I don’t know why we are here. I think life is full of anxieties and fears and tears. It has a lot of grief in it, and it can be very grim. And I do not want to be the one who tries to tell somebody else what life is all about. To me it’s a complete mystery.” Charles M. Schulz

“To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life.” Robert Louis Stevenson

“Life is meaningless, when we take a life we take nothing of value.” Brent Weeks

Life is a game at terrible odds. If it were a bet you wouldn’t take it. Tom Stoppard

“I do not live when I loose belief in the existence of God. I should long ago have killed myself had I not had a dim hope of finding Him. I live really live only when I feel him and seek Him” Leo Tolstoy, A Confession

“The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever” Westminster Shorter Catechism

To realize one’s nature perfectly – that is what each of us is here for. Oscar Wilde

Oh, what’s the bloody point? Kenneth Williams

Surely something resides in this heart that is not perishable – and life is more than just a dream. Mary Wollstonecraft.

A living man is blind and drinks her drop. WB Yeats

Halloween

On those infrequent occasions when modern man considers the landscape of religion throughout the world, he is likely to think of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and a smattering of smaller faiths. These religions, the “big five”, encompass the beliefs of more than two thirds of the world’s population, though there are innumerable sects and denominations within each. It was not always so.

Of these, before 500 BC only Judaism and Hinduism existed, and even they were different in many respects from the religions by those names today. Instead the world was a bubbling cauldron of tens of thousands of tribal and regional religions. The Greek pantheon, which became the Roman pantheon, the Celtic religion, and the later Norse pantheon, are among the most well known today in the West. Even after the advent of Buddhism in the early 5th century BC, Christianity in the first century AD, and Islam in the 7th century AD, these tribal and regional religions played an important role in the lives of their followers.

No one knows where the holiday today known as Halloween originated, but there is widespread agreement that it came out of the cauldron of Christian and pagan influences in Europe in the Middle Ages. Some link it to the Celtic festival of Samhain (summer’s end) while others to the Roman feast of Parentalia (the festival of the dead). The name “Halloween” is a contraction of “All Hallows Eve”. The common belief was that the souls of those who had died wandered the earth until All Saints Day on November first, when they would be taken to purgatory. All Hallows Eve, therefore, was their last chance to take revenge on their enemies. To avoid recognition, however, the souls would disguise themselves. Those targeted by the souls of the dead could do something good for them and perhaps avoid retribution. Also, the poor would go from house to house in the Middle Ages on All Saints Day receiving food in exchange for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day, November second. From these practices followed the modern customs of dressing in costume and “trick or treat” on Halloween.

During the Reformation, Protestants objected to Halloween as “Popism” and tried to eliminate pagan influences from the Church. The Puritans in New England opposed the holiday but later Scottish and Irish immigrants brought it with them into the New World. Subsequently celebrating Halloween became widespread in America among all social classes and ethnic groups.

Like all things, holidays take on the color of their surrounding culture. The lives of medieval men and women were surrounded by death. The healthiest could and often did perish in an instant, and as Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) wrote in Leviathan “the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” As a result Halloween was heavily influenced by death, its main images being skeletons, corpses, and ghosts, or dealers in death, such as witches, demons, and even the unlucky black cat.

Halloween in America today is less about death, which seems distant in a land with good public health, excellent medical care, and where people die in hospitals instead of at home. Rather Halloween is more about sex. A quick look at almost any costume catalog reveals sexy pirate, foxy lady, sexy wench, sexy gangster, Aphrodite, nurse knockout, passionate princess, and a host of revealing costumes for women and even young girls. Men’s and boy’s costumes are more about violence and arrogance, with outlaws, commandos, and fictional superheroes as standard fare. There are, of course, still the historic Halloween standards of witches, ghosts, ghouls, zombies, and other bloody, rotting and scary costumes. And in the interest of fairness, many children and even a few adults dress up as animals, fruits, vegetables, (modest) princesses, and other fun and wholesome choices.

Christians today sometimes eschew Halloween entirely, sometimes participate wholeheartedly and without discretion, and sometimes celebrate a variation, such as “fall festivals” common among church groups. The Bible does not categorically state what the Christian response to Halloween is, since Halloween is a much later development. Nonetheless it does provide principles to guide our conduct.

First, believers in Jesus Christ should never fear. Some people feel that pumpkins, black cats, and other images of Halloween are so associated with this holiday that Christians must not be associated with them at all. This is false; the God who made pumpkins and black cats allows people to use, and even misuse, what He has given them, and uses their actions for His greater plan. Other people fear the images of death. This must not be, because death is a result of our sin and must be faced, and also because Jesus Christ conquered death once and for all at the cross. Still others fear the magic and what they perceive as demonic influences. Evil spirits undoubtedly have significant influence on the world, as do good spirits, and their influence is not confined to Halloween. However, Christ won the final victory, and if our eyes are on Him, we have nothing to fear.

Second, believers in Jesus Christ should avoid sin at all costs. Most everyone fears death, but few fear sin. This is remarkable because sin leads directly to death, and not just physical death, but spiritual death as well (James 1:14-15). When sin is wrapped in such an alluring package as a scantily clad, beautiful young woman, we fear it even less. While sex between husband and wife bears the imprimatur and magnificence of heaven, the same act between anyone else will result in eventual destruction (Proverbs 7). But sex is not the only good thing which if misused becomes sin. Power and pride, so laudable when directed rightly, so lamentable when directed wrongly, and so prominent a theme in the men’s Halloween costumes, can also lead to sin (Habakkuk 1:11).

Our family enjoys decorating, carving pumpkins, going to fall festivals, dressing up in costumes, and eating treats on Halloween. God made, either directly or through the handiwork of man, every pumpkin, every treat, and even every costume and decoration. He will use it all for His perfect purposes and His glory. Our responsibility, not just for Halloween but for every day, is to avoid the twin dangers of fear and sin. In so doing, we can enjoy all of the abundant life that He gives those who love Him.

The Fundamental Problem of Human Existence

What are the greatest problems facing the world today? Suffering? Death? Injustice? No, the greatest problem is the wickedness in the heart of every one of us. As we each become more like God, our world improves and our eternity is secure.

Open the newspaper, turn on television news, tune in to talk shows on satellite radio, or read internet news or text feeds, and you will be overwhelmed by a flood of information, mostly negative, about what is going on in the world. It would be easy to despair at the chorus of doomsday prophets describing how the world will end in dozens of different ways.

Get out of bed, get ready for work, work as best you can at the job you have, spend the evening with family and friends, and go to sleep. Throughout the day you will experience a mix of pleasure and pain, a combination of successes and failures, and if you reflect on the day you will wonder why things turned out as they did.

Continue reading “The Fundamental Problem of Human Existence”