Consuming Love: Commitment, Friendship and Passion, What It Means to Be Connected to Gods Heart
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Death, according to Heidegger, is not really an event that happens to me, since it only involves the termination of all possible experiences that I might have. After all, it is impossible for me to experience my own death. Rather than thinking of death as an episode that takes place at the tail end of my life, I should instead view it as an integral part of who I am right now, and during each moment of my life in the future.
I continually aim towards death and, even when I feel healthy, in a fundamental way I am really terminally ill. It is like playing a game such as soccer where, embedded in every moment, there is the idea that time is running out. So, Heidegger says, if I ignore my persistent movement towards death, or resist it as Gilgamesh did, I am only deceiving myself and living in a substandard world of make-believe. By contrast, a proper understanding of death clearly lays down the basic rules of the game of life and thereby gives life form and purpose.
If I could continually think of myself as on the path towards death as Heidegger suggests, that might help me accept my mortality. For one thing, the natural instinct to survive compels me to resist death at almost all costs, and this is something that I share with many creatures in the animal world. For another, I cannot psychologically conceive of the future without secretly injecting myself into it. Even if I try to picture the world a thousand years down the road, I am still there as a ghostly spectator to the events I am imagining.
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According to one neurological study, our brains have a built-in death-denial mechanism that can even be detected in brain scans. In this study, if I am presented with video images relating to the death of other people, I will believe that the threat of death to those people is reliable. However, if I am presented with similar video images relating to my own death, I will find the threat of death to be unreliable, and I will not believe that it could happen to me Dor-Ziderman, "Prediction-Based Neural Mechanisms".
Thus, whether I like it or not, I am inherently resistant to the idea of my non-existence. My natural human attitude towards death, then, may be to assume that I am immortal, and, at the same time, be horrified when I look in the mirror and see my body disintegrating before my eyes. So, the desire for immortality and its accompanying despair, like Gilgamesh experienced, may simply be part of life.
While there, he sees legendary people who are being punished for evils they committed when alive. Lying helplessly, two vultures pick at his liver; he swats them to shoo them away, but they keep returning. Another fellow is parched with thirst, but cannot succeed in reaching water. Wading in a lake up to his chin, whenever he stoops down to drink, it immediately dries up leaving only dusty ground.
He sees succulent fruit trees above him, but as soon as he reaches for their produce the wind sweeps the branches into the clouds. Then there is Sisyphus, a deceitful king who tricked the god of death and stayed alive longer than he should have. He finally died and went to Hades, but the punishment for his trickery was not a pleasant one. Day after day he pushes a huge stone up a hill, but, always losing energy as he nears the top, he lets it go and it rolls back down.
Homer describes the scene here:. I saw Sisyphus at his endless task raising his gigantic stone with both his hands. With hands and feet he tried to roll it up to the top of the hill, but always, just before he could roll it over onto the other side, its weight would be too much for him, and, without pity, the stone would come thundering down again onto the plain below. Then he would begin trying to push it up hill again, and the sweat ran off him and steam rose from his head.
All three of these scenes from Hades depict people trapped into performing futile tasks: swatting vultures, stooping to drink, pushing a bolder. Jill works in a lawnmower manufacturing plant, and her job is to bolt lawnmower blades onto motors. She has thirty seconds to line up the pieces and attach them together.
As soon as one is done, another follows on its heels.
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To reduce monotony, the factory rotates Jill and other employees from one work station to another, but, after a few minutes, the routine kicks in. Jill likes her co-workers and has no complaints against her supervisor. Still, at the end of the day, she feels that she may as well have been pushing a boulder up a hill. It is not just assembly line jobs that carry a sense of tedious futility.
Accountants, teachers, doctors, and most skilled workers face early burnout. What we do in our spare time is often no more rewarding.
A good portion of the day is spent in monotonous domestic chores, cleaning, driving to and fro, shopping, personal hygiene. Year after year, this seem as futile as assembling lawnmower blades. French philosopher Albert Camus believed that the story of Sisyphus had another symbolic message. Camus called this the absurdity of life.
Human life, he argued, cannot be neatly dissected and understood by human reason in the same way that scientists might successfully analyze and understand chemical reactions. We strive to be happy, but instead are trapped in a life of futile efforts. The problem is so bad that it might drive some to suicide. So, Sisyphus represents the overwhelming struggle that we each have in overcoming a pointless life. But Camus is not content to let the issue rest with despair.
Instead, he recommends that we revolt against the apparent pointlessness of life, accept our condition as limited as it is, and in that find happiness. Sisyphus should embrace his boulder-pushing task; the value rests in his effort, not in what he achieves. We must imagine Sisyphus happy. The problem may be resistant to a simple attitude adjustment, as zoo keepers have discovered in their experience with the mental well-being of gorillas.
For decades gorillas were kept in controlled enclosures with fixed routines like feeding schedules. While their basic needs were being met, the gorillas were all bored and depressed. Zoologists then discovered that gorillas needed complex tasks to challenge them throughout the day and keep their mental energies peaked. Applying this lesson to human happiness, we might look for the kinds of challenging tasks that spark our interests throughout the day.
We might need shorter and more varied work days; we might need more direct involvement with growing and preparing food; we might need the opportunity to explore new surroundings through travel; we might need to break free of overcrowded urban settings. In the end we might find that humans were designed to be content in tiny hunter-gatherer tribal groups — the condition in which the human species first evolved. Modern industrial life may not be suited to ward off a sense of futility, and for us the human condition today may be inherently absurd with no real solution.
Like Sisyphus, then, we unendingly push a boulder to no purpose. He breaks into a song about how enormous the galaxy is, containing a hundred billion stars over a distance of a hundred thousand light-years from side to side. The Milky Way itself, he explains, is only one of hundreds of billions of galaxies in the ever-expanding universe.
He concludes,. So remember when you're feeling very small and insecure,. How amazingly unlikely is your birth;. And pray that there's intelligent life somewhere up in space,. The man climbs back into the refrigerator and closes the door. If you want to feel significant in life, it is best to avoid thinking of yourself as a mere dot within a colossal universe.
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Even without the aid of modern astronomical telescopes that can peer into distant galaxies, people in ancient times looked up at the stars and were overwhelmed by their sense of smallness. One of the most disturbing ancient discussions of the sense of cosmic insignificance is that by the Roman philosopher Boethius — BCE. His personal story is a sad one. Born into a wealthy family, Boethius was an important diplomat within the Roman Empire, but a political misunderstanding turned the Emperor against him and, at the young age of 35, he was sentenced to death for treason.
While awaiting execution in his prison cell, he reflected on everything that he would miss in life because of this injustice. In this state of anguish he composed a work titled The Consolation of Philosophy.
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She explains that the size of the earth is only a speck compared to the heavens, that most of the earth is uninhabitable, that human societies are scattered remotely. It is not just cosmic space that dwarfs human achievements, she continues, but also cosmic time. Even if Boethius does gain some temporary fame during his life, that would be absolutely nothing when compared with the eternity of time. The lesson that we learn from Lady Philosophy is that, like Boethius, each of us is isolated within the limitless space and time of the cosmos, with no hope of making any meaningful or lasting impact.
For someone like Boethius who is approaching death, maybe this will be a little consoling.
So what if you are about to die: in the larger scheme of things your life does not amount to much anyway. But, for the rest of us who are not facing imminent death and have normal hopes and dreams, the brute reality of cosmic insignificance can be discouraging. Why should I strive for anything if I am a mere imperceptible twitch within the infinite body of the cosmos?
Contemporary French philosopher Paul Ricoeur — offered a solution to this problem of cosmic insignificance.
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That is, while I cannot grasp my personal significance within the incomprehensible cosmic timeline, I can still find my spot within American history, for example, and even more so within my family history. I know how this country was founded, how my ancestors got here, what my grandparents and parents did with their lives, and how all this has shaped me.
Thus, we invent a historical narrative of our human past which is larger than our individual selves, yet much smaller and more manageable than cosmic space and time. Does Ricoeur successfully solve the problem of cosmic insignificance? Without question, my personal knowledge of history does help clarify who I am and how I fit into the world around me. Thus, when I think about my spot within human history, I do not feel like an isolated being adrift in an unfathomable cosmic ocean. But while this may temporarily distract me from my sense of cosmic insignificance, it does nothing to change the reality of the limitless cosmos.
When I reflect on human history, I may feel at home, but the instant that I gaze at the stars, all of human history itself seems miniscule by comparison. The entire human legacy is confined to an infinitesimally small region of space for an infinitesimally small period of time, just as Lady Philosophy explained to Boetheus. Try as I might to keep my focus on human history, the stars return each night to remind me once again of my true limited place within the cosmos, and the sense of cosmic insignificance returns.
The story of Job from the Hebrew Bible explores another challenge to the meaning of life.
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Job was not obsessed with death like Gilgamesh, discouraged by futility like Sisyphus, or overwhelmed with insignificance like Boethius. Job is a wealthy and morally decent herdsman with a loving family, and he owns a large stock of sheep, oxen, camels, and donkeys.