Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Meaning of Life and Hope

From Canada, Michael Coren writes in the National Post on life without meaning. The Kanuck commentator aptly notes the denigration of life as the central and essential value in modern Western society.

Problem is, life is considered one of the least significant issues in Western culture. Compared to opinions on the state of the market or the state of Paris Hilton, the notion of a person's inalienable right to live appears rather meager. Or to put it another way, life is only assumed to be significant when it is thought to be of quality. (Emphasis added)

Being old, handicapped or even unattractive are at best unfashionable and at worst unacceptable. Life is not precious in itself but measured to the degree that it is ostensibly glamorous, stylish or important. And none of these characteristics are instantly applied to the dying, the severely disabled and the very old. Which leads us to the cult of euthanasia.
Implicit in Mr Coren's argument, which is no more than speaking clearly about the situation, the relativistic secularism that currently rules our society ultimately is vacuous in re values, leaving irrational hedonism at the ultimate determinant. If it can't be enjoyed it is to be avoided or ended.
The general view is that all depends on will. In other words, if a person does indeed ask for death it is their body and their choice. Yet surely the very last people who can make calm and balanced decisions about life and death are those who are suffering or are in pain. (Emphasis added) Anguish and emotion are powerful factors and they make for an often gripping story. But by their very nature they obscure clear thought.
This is such an obvious point that I'm surprised so few have stated it in such succinct terms before. Ignoring the influence of pain and stress on such important decisions leads to a de facto ethical callousness in which "my" inconvenience in dealing with the one suffering ultimately trumps the value of the very personhood of the sufferer.
It is no coincidence that the most outspoken opponents of euthanasia are the handicapped. They are justifiably concerned about how they will be treated in a society increasingly obsessed with ending what is seen as life lacking in quality. They also know that for every seemingly compelling story of a dying person merely wanting closure, there are innumerable cases of the vulnerable being coerced into assisted suicide and the powerless being murdered.
The the whole article here.

I would also note that the one monk who is interviewed in the magnificent "Into Great Silence" (the elderly blind monk) also speaks eloquently to the meaninglessness of life when God is taken out of the equation. (If you haven't seen it yet, don't wait for Nativity, get it now as inspiration for your Advent Fast!)

In yet more related news, the Holy Father has released his second Encyclical called Spe Salvi, which like its predecessor, Deus Caritas Est, should be read, contemplated, and treasured.

Amongst the many vital things noted in the Encyclical, the Holy Father speaks to the failure of atheism and modern relativistic materialism.

We can try to limit suffering, to fight against it, but we cannot eliminate it. It is when we attempt to avoid suffering by withdrawing from anything that might involve hurt, when we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing truth, love, and goodness, that we drift into a life of emptiness, in which there may be almost no pain, but the dark sensation of meaninglessness and abandonment is all the greater. It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love.
(Spe Salvi, no. 37)

Atheism precisely fails due to the elimination of objective values it entails. A Godless universe is truly a universe without purpose, blindly moving from chaos to vacuous darkness. Similarly, human life requires purpose and direction. Progress without purpose is mere careering in the void.
If progress, in order to be progress, needs moral growth on the part of
humanity, then the reason behind action and capacity for action is likewise
urgently in need of integration through reason's openness to the saving forces
of faith, to the differentiation between good and evil. Only thus does reason
become truly human. It becomes human only if it is capable of directing the will
along the right path, and it is capable of this only if it looks beyond itself.
Otherwise, man's situation, in view of the imbalance between his material
capacity and the lack of judgement in his heart, becomes a threat for him and
for creation. Thus where freedom is concerned, we must remember that human
freedom always requires a convergence of various freedoms. Yet this convergence
cannot succeed unless it is determined by a common intrinsic criterion of
measurement, which is the foundation and goal of our freedom. Let us put it very
simply: man needs God, otherwise he remains without hope.

(Spe Salvi, no. 23)

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