Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Tragedy of the Unexamined Life

Coming soon: a series on leadership. What makes a person a great leader? Who are some great leaders? Stay tuned for that.

I talked yesterday about how many of my generation live destructively. I made the case that a worldview, or outlook on life, that creates such a lifestyle needs serious examining. In fact, a worldview that creates such a lifestyle needs serious discarding. One need not be an evangelical Christian with a strong respect for the sanctity of life to know innately that self-destruction is not a good thing. Anyone who has walked a field alone, or swam in warm ocean water, or known the rush of love understands that it is better to seek such moments than to ignore them. Self-destruction pushes us away from the enjoyment of life and moves us toward hatred of it. Those who seek pleasure destructively will find that instead of sating their appetite for living, the quest for undisciplined fulfillment takes it away. Don't believe me? Ask the college student who has binge drunk themself into early liver cancer. Ask the rocker who lives with pain due to a sexually transmitted disease. They'll tell you by their eyes what they might not even say with their mouths.

Those who practice the lifestyle of self-destruction, albeit with a hunger for (generally) carnal pleasure, must sublimate their conscience, moral absolutes, and common sense to do so. This takes awhile. It usually requires one to cast off any sort of serious religious affiliation. That unfastens the conscience from decision-making. It calls for a stern questioning of absolutes. Once those are gone, most anything can be justified. It necessitates a deaf ear to the wise voice of common sense. That's usually the last to go, and when it does, there's really nothing left to keep one from living just how one wishes to live. Do you ever wonder why so few people truly practice religion? I don't think there's any better reason than this: any serious religious movement makes a claim on one's behavior. People do not want that. And so they disavow religion and cut themselves loose to live just as they wish. We evangelicals spend much time thinking through why people don't love God, but it's not terribly complex, in one sense. People wish to live as they want. They can't do that and love God. It as simple as it is tragic.

Once conscience, moral absolutes, and common sense are gone, the only refuge from self-destruction is self-examination. What do I mean by that? I mean a cold, hard, honest look at life. This is the sort of thing that happens when someone close to us dies, or gets in a car accident, or contracts cancer. We think, "That might be me." Then we soul-search a bit. For the first time in a long time, we consider our lives in all their ugliness. For some, self-examination results in the disavowal not of God, but of self-destruction. For many, however, the time of pondering passes quickly, victim to the appetites of human nature. Self-examination, you see, is too dangerous. It reveals the folly of a lifestyle that seeks pleasure in destructive ways and ends. Such thinking cannot last long for the one wanting only their will. Neither will the pleasure. This is the tragedy of the unexamined life.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You sound a little like Socrates. "The unexamined life is not worth living," he reportedly said. Maybe he wasn't that original after all. I know you don't mean your blog entry to be comprehensive, so this is more a critique of Socrates than my buddy: sometimes, even upon examination, if by common grace one sees the destructiveness of one's ways and thereby overcomes some amount of self-deception, there still is the problem of the will. Even if I know and see the destructiveness that sin brings me, my family and my friends, this only takes care of the intellect. I still do the things I know are bad for me, because I don't want to will otherwise.

This brings us back to the inadequacy of the Socratic/Platonic understanding of unjust action. Socrates teaches that right knowledge leads to right action and that the cause of wrong action is a deficit of right knowledge. But, even an increased measure of right knowledge is no guarantee that the fallen will--with it's lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, pride of life--won't overcome us.

This, of course, is to say too little about the exclusive role of the Holy Spirit in leading us to true knowledge of Christ, which allows us truly to know ourselves, and his role is transforming our will to love God.

8:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

that was me, by the way


8:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am not very scientifically inclined, but I remember from high school science class, I think it is the law of thermodynamics, states that all things in the universe are moving everyday towards self-destruction. In other words, all things, humans and animals, gravitate everyday towards self-destruction- towards imminent collapse and an end. While sin can be construed as self destruction, growth, the aging process, some of human's primordial instincts, can be construed likewise . I think there are people, chaos theorists who will argue with you that self destruction is interwoven in the very fabric of the universe. They will argue that it is the flaw of the God who made the universe, not humans.

Keegan on your critique of the socratic principle, I think that Socratic will say to know and not do, is not true knowledge. If I remember my Republic correctly, Plato theorized different stages of knowledge, the true form to be out of this world. Plato, Socrates will argue that that one who performs an unjust action is still unknowledgeable, tied in fetters to the wall a cave and has not made entrance into the light of day from where true knowledge, the knowledge of God, with special effects, can be utlized.

Jeremy Nyuwa

9:35 PM  
Anonymous Jed Atkins said...

Socrates...or perhaps Seneca the Younger. The interesting thing about Seneca is that while he stresses the importance of self-examination (in this he was Stoic and the Stoics followed, interpreted, and further expounded "Socratic" teaching--though not necessarily that of the Platonic Socrates), Seneca also had a very interesting teaching of moral action which diverged from the intellectualistic theory of human action found in, say, Socrates, Aristotle, or Plato. That is to say, sometimes he suggests that there is a distinct faculty from the rational faculty that motivates one to moral action. The reason why I bring up Seneca is in response to Keegan's comments. One should perhaps not think the positing of a faculty of the will (in one's theory of human action) as necessarily bringing one closer to the Christian teaching on grace. Philo, for example, (I would argue) is more intellectualistic (with regards to human action) than Seneca. Yet Philo (as a Jewish theologian contemporary to Christ) had a theory of "grace" in which the logos which is naturally present in man must be divinely illumined by a supernatural act of the Divine Logos. The upshot is that theories of human action stand or fall based on their ability to account for moral choice (or the failure thereof). The question of grace (whether it acts on the intellect or the will) is a separate matter altogether.

8:50 PM  

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