We have become a treatment-resistant Prozac Nation. But the practice of believing in something—anything—can pull us out.
25 years ago I was on a ventilator in the hospital paralyzed from the neck down with a mysterious illness. College had killed the last of any belief I had in God, along with America - both replaced with some kind of vague relativism and a smug disdain for anything sincere. Unable to move or speak I was conscious but essentially buried in my body. The understanding was I would either not make it at all or - maybe if things turned around - make it and never walk again. I was terrified, at my lowest point, and for the first time in years I started praying. All I can say is God came to me in that moment - or more I was with God and God was with me. It was an experience of profound bliss, sheer joy, torrents of pure love, complete peace and a deep understanding. I knew I would be ok and that even if I didn't make it I'd be ok anyway. It's the first time I experienced something larger than myself and at the same time something that I was part of fully. One important and totally loved drop in an ocean of pure Love.
Purpose is like that. It's the ability to sit with and accept pain and difficulty and challenge. It's knowing things will be ok. And that you're both part of and in service to something infinitely larger than yourself. It's living your life not as a one and done but as a continuum.
It's sad to me that Americans have lost our ability to both accept the challenges and to love each other and everyone else in a transcendent way, to recognize that we are interconnected - though individually we're not all that powerful, we're all here now and part of something that is enormously powerful and has a unique ability to profoundly change the world for the better. Young people are being taught that it's better to anesthetize and shield from difficulty and challenge instead of looking deeply into it, accepting it and finding opportunity in it. That doing the right and loving thing isn't necessary when it's the hard thing, which it so often is. that they're a singular point in time, not both a unique and amazing point in time and part of an infinite wave. They are taught to define their lives through a sense of shame and shaming, not a sense of being profoundly loved and given a unique gift to choose a love bigger than themselves in this lifetime. It is no wonder they are depressed and anxious. How alone and senseless that must feel.
For me it wasn't an easy recovery and I did have to relearn how to walk - but it was a near full one. That experience is the most cherished of my life, and I'd do the whole thing again a million times over. Is every day of my life since a perfect day? Yes and no. Sometimes things are tough and I feel temporarily defeated. But that's the thing about living your life with a sense of purpose and hope. It's buoyant. Happy Spring, Happy Easter everyone.
Interesting to see an old argument against humanism resurface. When we killed God, we replaced him with ourselves, resulting in pathological self-absorption and the worship of ourselves. Now, the good thing about the Christian God is that death is no great barrier, as he’s prone to resurrection.
Find a purpose you will be better. Hitler did that and things did not get better. Stalin had a purpose and things did not get better. Pol Pot had a purpose and things did not get better. The author misses the mark in that the purpose MUST be guided by ethos. It can be borne from pathos but if it is not tempered by logos extreme disaster may follow.
For far too long, children have been taught to decide by emotion (thank you SEL) and adults have placed emotional appeal over facts and truth; objective truth has been supplanted by "my truth". Jean-Jacques Rousseau has been subtly forced down our throats for 2 decades through education and media and we are seeing the impact.
The "Counter Culture" failed. They never offered an alternative that worked. It was all more or less literal pipe dreams. They gave The Man the finger, then became the Man, but without any of the Man's moral compass or anchoring. They were the Man with better coffee and better croissants, a bad attitude, and a never ending sense of mild self loathing that very quietly admitted the failure without the courage to acknowledge and learn from it.
Why would a bunch of teenagers and twenty somethings REALLY be able to improve in a few short years in major ways on thousands of years of human experience and gathered knowledge?
Everything the Left has been doing for the past century has been dedicated to undermining and destroying traditional culture, but May Day and propagandistic BS don't really address the true emotional needs of individuals or societies.
For some time I've been using the image of the scene in Indiana Jones where he replaces a gold statue with a bag of something else, and it fails. He sets off all the defenses of the temple, because it was not a true exchange. We were asked to replace gold with brass, and in far too many cases did so, and are now wondering why we feel a sense of loss.
It is because of loss. We lost something. We gave something away without replacing it.
And I would make this comment. I don't know Ray Bradbury's politics, but in Fahrenheit 451 he was arguing for the value of human Culture as expressed in books. The Left, many of whom were at one time HONEST Liberals, agreed. The bookey people tended to be Democrats. But now those same people will burn, in effect, any book they are told to burn, and erase any author they are told to erase. Shakespeare is a dead white male, and most of them fail to read the greatest author, arguably, in the English language, EVEN IF THEY STUDY ENGLISH IN COLLEGE.
I have spent all my life studying problems of meaning and community, and could say much more, but will end with this. One thing that is VERY clear is WE NEED TO STOP DESTROYING THINGS AND INSTITUTIONS WHOSE VALUE WE DON'T REALLY UNDERSTAND.
The Left needs to stop making things worse. No recovery will be possible where the only impulse is destruction, violence, and death.
The decline in America’s traditional values is disturbing on many levels. I don’t recoginize America anymore. What I see evolving, in all aspects of American life has no purpose and unfortunitly there’s no way back. We have lost our American story, and without a common story that brings us together, where is the pride?
Ah, another God shaped hole article, albeit well written.
If only one thing has become apparent over the last few years it’s that climate zealotry, racial activism etc does not satisfy the human quest for meaning and fill aforementioned hole.
We’re going to need to go deeper folks.
Maybe we are lost because we've become untethered from what really made life worth living. A family to build, love and nourish. A man or woman to cherish and protect. A man fulfilling his historical role as provider, worker and protector. A woman hers as the giver of life, the nurturer, the light of her family. All with a deep purpose and a belief in the goodness of God and the bonds of family and friendship. The more we turn our back to this, the more lost we will be. A "purpose" based solely on self will never fill the hole in our souls. Only service to others. And to a higher power. We all can see that. Let's not pretend otherwise.
I think back to when President Obama said, “You didn’t build that.” That is, you’re totally dependent on the government, so don’t take credit for your accomplishments.
Thank you for this wonderful piece. At 72, daily I still hear my parents parents words, “Your life is not about you. You were put on this earth to make things better for someone else and to give glory to God”. Luckily for me they provided plenty of examples in living that. I am grateful but wish that so many more people were as lucky as I have been.
Nice article... In regards to the self-love and self-esteem, I think Jordan Peterson has made an excellent point. He's bluntly said, "trying to force people to feel good about themselves if they don't have any reason to do is stupid." His point being that rather than obsess over affirmations, go out into the world, work hard, create things such that you have legitimate reasons to feel good about yourself.
I take great joy and find meaning in writing my Substack. It's bloody awesome and gives me a hell of a lot of purpose in life. As do other things. In earlier ages we might have had these grand, over-arching sources of meaning like patriotism or religion which are now fading, but all hope is not lost. You can still create your own meaning in life.
I retired almost five years ago and was silly enough to think that life would be trouble-free (or trouble-less). Instead, family matters took a serious turn and the weight of it all left me physically and emotionally broken. I decided one day to pray; what the hell, what harm would it cause? I bought a bible and began reading aloud from it every day and that act alone soothed and comforted me. I took an online bible class and even though the earthly troubles were still there, my perspective was changing. My faith sustained me through the pandemic and the riots of 2020. I managed to conquer many fears during that time and I still learn more and more each day.
People flee Godless governments. In 1989, we celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Look at what a world without faith has brought us. We can't even define ourselves anymore without getting into a heated argument or worse. Our country is filled with powder kegs from many different sources; all waiting for the chance/opportunity to explode. Our cities are falling; even our countrysides are scary with drug addiction rampant.
Perhaps, instead of ___History Months, we should have Pray Your Way Through The Day Month. God is working; ignite something positive.
We all struggle with our sense of purpose, but our younger generations struggle more. Individual sense of purpose is difficult enough, but we also no longer have a national sense of purpose or identity, which is why we have descended into identity politics. Without purpose, there is no meaning or point to our lives. We are cast adrift on an endless and fruitless search, wandering aimlessly, as you describe. Most of us had a clear sense of purpose growing up in families, churches and communities. And, in this country. We knew what we were about. We could define it. At work we had a core mission, values and goals. It wasn't all harmonious and correct. Community, especially families, can be pretty tumultuous, but their foundations were strong. The path may not have been clear, but we always knew where we were going and the roots upon which we stood. We are no longer rooted in family, community or national identity. The young are quick to leave all behind, easily discarding their heritage and their elders with a never look back policy. Until they need them again. We can no longer define family; we can no longer define community; we can no longer define ourselves as one nation. Our children struggle with all sorts; rudderless, without foundation. Family is. ... It is all life. It is Nature. Natural. Every life form has a family of some kind, every single living thing is born and does not stand alone. We are all connected and intertwined and are consumed by each other. We forget this in the mindless search to describe terms mother, father, sister, brother, friend. In the Australian Aboriginal language (they are the longest surviving race of humanity we know- over 50,000 years in peace and harmony with each other and nature- no wars, no tribalism), there is no word for family. Family just is. Every single thing on their entire continent is Family to them. Every person, every animal, every tree, every flower, every snake, every spider, every organism; the dust on the ground, the air, the rain. Perhaps that is the obvious secret we overlook.
“You are not enough.” No truer words. May we never forget that during this most Holy Week. He has risen indeed!
I’ve been listening to the Bible in a year podcast with Fr. Mike Schmitz. A cradle Catholic now six decades removed from the cradle, this is my first time through the entire book in this kind of linear and systematic way.
I will confess that the OT can be a challenge to slog through each day. But occasionally, I hear a passage or a phrase from antiquity that acts as a sort of loud, shrill alarm bell piercing time and space and calling to us even now, some 3000 years later. This one, the last line from the Book of Judges, seems to have special resonance today: “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”
Today in the U.S. at least, we are seeing the horrific consequences of eliminating faith in God and doing “that which is right in [our] own eyes.” And Chesterton’s aphorism has become a prophecy: ‘When men stop believing in God they don't believe in nothing; they believe in anything.”
God save us.
Just recently a CycleBar instructor said, “put yourself first today”, as if so many people aren’t doing that already. People being selfish is a big part of the problem. Me, me, me mentality is rather lonely.
There's a cognitive dissonance in bemoaning a poll that showed that only the value of money had increased, while other values had declined, and then valorizing entrepreneurs who are obsessive about succeeding in large part so they can become wealthy.
By the way, the article only put forth what was very important and not what the pollsters felt was th more important result of what was both very and somewhat important. See below if you're interested.