Wakey Wakey.
reveille precedes revelation

Why Am I Here? Or, If I Wasted My Life, Would I Know It?

Like lots of people who feel frustrated about their relative amount of personal productivity, I’ve been reading The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. Like most books I read, I’m reading it in fits and starts, every so often, when I’m interested. It’s a good, common sense book that has equal parts “well, yes, that’s kind of obvious” and “oh yeah! Why didn’t think of that before?!” in it.

Stevie C talks about the four quadrants of stuff we do. Since I’m too lazy to create paste a chart in my post, imagine with me. You’ve got this 4 quadrant grid. On the left column, you’ve got “Important” and on the right you’ve got “Not Important.” On the top row you’ve got “Urgent” and at the bottom, “Not Urgent”. You can group your stuff into the four quadrants. Paying your taxes is probably both important and getting somewhat urgent (Quadrant 1). Things like staying on top of email with red exclamation points fit into urgent, but not important box (Quadrant 2). Things that matter to the quality of your life–like building relationships and watching homestarrunner.com movies fit into the not urgent, but important quadrant (Quadrant 3). That leaves Quadrant 4, which is there for things that aren’t particularly urgent or important, like most other websites (perhaps including this one).

The thing is, how we divide up our lives into “important” and “not important” is not particularly straightforward all the time. Most of the time, we wind up doing urgent stuff (Quadrant 3), get overwhelmed and stressed out, and head straight for Quadrant 4 stuff. The result is that we don’t get around to doing anything all that important. We waste our lives without noticing, because we’re busy and/or entertained. Covey says this is because we don’t spend much time actually defining what is important to us. And when it comes to my life, he’s right. I’ve been doing some hard thinking about what is important and whether I was doing it. I wasn’t. Apparently reading the occasional self help book can be valuable, if the author is as insightful as Mr. Stephen Covey.

Your worldview–what you think about what we came from, what a human being is, what our environment is, etc.–impacts how you’ll evaluate whether you’re doing important things with your life, or whether it’s being wasted. For example, if you follow Maslow (and there are lots of good reasons to) you see yourself as a bundle of complex needs. The human animal’s job is to go about meeting these needs–be they for food, shelter, and safety, for community, or for accomplishment. If you follow Nietzsche, you don’t see any inherent value in human life at all–except the values that are imputed by humans. Nietzsche’s philosophy might not give you any guidance in determining what values you must obey, but Nietzsche the man certainly would be happy to provide you with insights as far as the things he deems important–human responsibility, empowerment, culture, nobility, and choice. From another perspective, a Christian worldview certainly sees human life as having intrinsic value apart from what humans think or choose. A classic formulation of the Christian answer to the “why am I here” question is, “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Christianity (and in this case, I mean the belief shared by pretty much all the diverse followers of Jesus around the world) sees humans as created and loved by God, and made to serve and be in relationship with Him. Christians believe that God made the world for God, and God gave himself to the world.

So anyway, what you believe about the nature of human beings directly impacts what’s important to you–and should thus impact how you live your life. Right?

So that was my intro for our Feb meeting. The questions up for discussion were,

So what do you think people are here for? What’s your worldview? What, if anything, is the purpose of human life?

Do you actually live life as if that’s what you believe? If not, what would you do differently if you wanted your life to reflect what you think humans are here for?

It was a lively discussion. People at our table were across the spectrum in terms of whether values were intrinsic to the universe or something purely chosen by humans. I think we were all challenged. I won’t give anything away, because that conversation was between individuals, not on the internet. But it’s a conversation that bears thinking about. Have you ever thought about what your life is for? If you care to comment, feel free to let us in on your thoughts.

During discusson at Gray’s, it was challenging to articulate our worldview to people who didn’t totally share it. And I think we were challenged to ask ourselves whether our worldview was comprehensive enough that it merited staking our lives on it. Some of us chose our approach to life because we felt it “works” for us. If that’s how we fell into our worldview, if we’re honest, we usually come around to the question, “Do I believe this because it’s what I want to believe, or is there some kind of basis in reality for my beliefs that other people can affirm or deny?” If you stake your life on a belief that is convenient, you might be wasting life on a fantasy. On the other hand, there are those of us who came to our worldview because we were aiming at scientific fact, verifiability, and infallibility–and if that’s how we got to where we are, we usually have to ask ourselves if our worldview is enough to give us guidance on how to live our lives, deal with pain, or find joy.

I wanted some parting questions for people to think about in light of our conversation, and I share them here, too. When you’re evaluating your worldview (or any worldview for that matter), it might be good to ask,

  1. Can the worldview direct my life? If not, where do I get direction?
  2. What does this worldview say about people outside this world view? Does it care? How do I have a conversation with outsiders? Is my worldview realistic about how that conversation will go?
  3. What does it do with insights of “non believers”? Can outsiders have any truth?
  4. On the other hand, is my worldview too easy? If it lets everyone believe what they want, does it say anything that can possibly benefit my (or anyone else’s) life?
  5. Does my belief system depend on historical antecedents? What kinds of evidence do I have for my worldview’s historical claims?
  6. Did I make my worldview up, or does it come from outside? Does it claim to come from divine revelation, a grand tradition, myself? Are the sources for my tradition reliable enough to stake my life on it? Are they good authorities?
  7. According to my worldview, what’s my status if I fail?
  8. According to my worldview, what’s the payoff if I succeed?
  9. How much explanatory power does the worldview contribute to my understanding of the world I live in?
  10. How much explanatory power does the worldview contribute to the struggles of life?
  11. What does the worldview do with the reality of pain?
  12. What does the worldview do with the reality of joy?
  13. How does the worldview direct me to be and behave in community with the natural world?
  14. How does it direct me to be and behave in community with your fellow human beings?
  15. How does believing what you believe impact my behavior? My character? My thought life? My relationships with others? My mood?

Not having answers to all these questions doesn’t mean you or I are entirely wrong about the nature of the universe. But if these kind of questions keep us awake at night, it might mean we have some maturing to do. So let’s talk.

What? There’s nothing but blank space and no comments below this post? Well, feel free to get the ball rolling. Tell a joke or something.


21 Responses to “Why Am I Here? Or, If I Wasted My Life, Would I Know It?”

  1. This is so great. It’s just so MUCH! You might have to wait weeks for comments just because we’re all mulling it over for so long. 😉

    (Then again, there are probably quicker thinkers than I . . .)

  2. Yeah, Jenn–
    Definitely a work in progress. What works at GT might not work online. But since posts will only come up monthly, people have time to mull. Thanks for visiting!

  3. Of course!

    Also, I wanted to say I’m glad that viewing homestarrunner.com movies ranks as “important.”

  4. I’ll respond to a couple of you questions.

    Question (1) assumes that there is free will. If we make that assumption, then I think that one’s woldview by necessity directs one’s life, albeit often unintentionally.

    Question (11) and (12) you assert than pain and joy are realities. Has GT already proven that?

    If anyone out there with young children has time to “head straight for quadrant 4 stuff”, please share your secrets.

  5. Hey! gduckett!

    Yeah, I make a lot of assumptions. This blog would totally fail a foundationalist analysis. GT assumes we have assumptions that we bring to the table, takes a lot of those assumptions for granted, and is happy to have assumptions called into question. We’re not starting alone in our Cartesian room by the fire (if it exists), we start with a question and our assumptions and talk, and then naturally our assumptions get called into question where we disagree. At least, if we’re having a real conversation, that’s what happens. Everyone last week assumed the reality of free will, joy, and pain, so these weren’t assumptions we called into question. Feel free, though. That would be fun.

    I think I agree with you that worldview directs one’s life necessarily, and that’s another good topic for discussion. i was talking about how my worldview doesn’t always direct my life as much as I think it should, since my worldview includes values I hold very dearly. In biblical terms, I’m often a hearer of the Word, but not a doer of the Word, you know?

    Thanks for chiming in–it is much appreciated and it is good stuff. Hoping you can find time for some blissfully insignificant q4 stuff,


  6. Question #6:

    I think that we have to assume that our senses are accurate. There is no reason that we should expect this to be so. Why should the chemical processes that convey information about the real world to whatever our consciousness is be an accurate portryal of whatever reality is? Yet we generally assume this to be true. And we can’t really “know” anything if it isn’t. To me that is a strong argument for the existence of a creator. I think the odds of this happening randomly are too small (notwithstanding the likely Darwinist argument that an organism whose senses were inaccurate would be at a competitive disadvantage, which is certainly true.)

    Given that we trust our senses, I think our worldview is shaped by what we are taught when we are young. Once it’s been established, it is very difficult to change a worldview. I think that generally only happens when evidence of an inconsistency between one’s worldview and perceived reality makes a refinement necessary.

    That brings up the question of sources. How do people determine what they consider reliable sources? People tend to consider anything that contradicts their worldview , or even their preferences, unreliable. That makes it all the more difficult for a worldview to change.

  7. OK, gduckett, so I’m just dying for one of the other GT folks to chime in on your first paragraph. I’ll leave that one open for them. Er, him. You know who you are.

    Your second and third paragraphs–anticipate some future wakeywakey/gt topics that are percolating. I think you’re right–changes in opinion are hard because we build plausibility structures around our own beliefs and implausibility structures around others’ that contradict ours. It’s a habit that supports human knowledge–you need to be able to build structures of knowledge so you have the capacity to learn more things. But it is also a tendency that can blind us from seeing things that should be obvious. What do other readers think? Do people (not you necessarily, people in general) ever change their worldview? What does it take for that to happen?

  8. Weirdness. That was me who wrote that anonymous comment, in case you couldn’t tell. Apparently wordpress didn’t know who I was. WordPress, I thought we were buds.

  9. I just Wiki’d [sp?] Decartes, since you brought him up. I see he didn’t trust his senses. Note that I didn’t say that our senses are accurate, but rather that we have to assume they’re accurate. Sure, it’s easy enough to fool our senses. But you can’t get very far if you discard what you “learn” from them.

    …trying to stick with your questions…#3, of course outsiders can have “some” truth, otherwise scientific advancement couldn’t happen unless all scientists had the same, correct worldview. Whether that truth is of eternal significance, that’s another question…

    Back semi-off topic, can a worldview be proudly inconsistent? Can a worldview include a tenet that conisitency is irrelevant?

  10. Yeah, I agree that a worldview that denies the ability of outsiders to have insights would crumble pretty quickly. It seems to me that most of the major religions and non-religious worldviews, if they allow that the truth is “out there” to be experienced at all and that senses are reliable, affirm that everybody knows (at least) a little bit of something” (to quote my favorite rock band; that’s for you, Porick and Jenn…). But I thought it was worth throwing in there because sometimes the way we behave reveals the way we think (rather than the worldview we officially subscribe to). Even if some folks give lip service to the idea that everyone can have access to truth (Christians or atheists or whatever), if they’ve insulated themselves in an enclave of people and books that share their opinions, they might get rocked a little bit when someone from an outside perspective sees something true that they can’t deny but didn’t notice before themselves.

    At least that happened to me in college when I was trying to tell people about Jesus, and lots of the people I was talking to were more aware of my own doubts and insecurities about my faith than I was. Experiencing this sort of thing can help us grow up–causing us to reject the beliefs we have that don’t work and refine the ones that do.

    Back to your comment, there are definitely proudly inconsistent worldviews–anyone care to give an example?

  11. K’s X quote duly noted.

    This comment reminds me of a conversation Mr. the Item and I had on Monday. Do you think it’s ever inappropriate to confront people with the insecurities they’re not aware of; do you think it’s ever better just to leave them with their unexamined ideas because you don’t want to scare them or make them unhappy?

  12. I dunno, what do you think? I guess it depends on how much trust is already in the relationship and how much humility you bring to the confrontation. No need to be a jerk. No need to be a coward.

    I suppose that’s one of the good reasons to build trust in relationships–so you’re comfortable enough to be uncomfortable sometimes, when it’s necessary, and there’s a comfortable place to go back to when the uncomfortable conversation has run its course.

    But yeah, now I’m curious what Mr. The Item and Jenn have to say about this topic.

  13. In the context of which we were speaking, Mr. the Item was skeptical about airing some of his views and questions in the small group I attend which he has been visiting. He feared, I think, that he would unnecessarily rock some people’s worldviews and/or that they would get angry.

    I feel that this is not totally beyond the realm of possibility, but on the other hand, from my particular worldview, I also believe that “no one can snatch them out of the Father’s hand,” and also that even a powerful intellect is not invincible.

  14. Grosser, you rock…

    Question #6: This may point to a creator but what kind of creator?

    Question #11: It is easy to convince someone of the reality of pain but you’ll go to prison.

    Question #15: Tantra was recently described to me as thus: when two people interact they “leave a part of themselves” with each other. I take that to mean their ideas and views get inside each other’s minds and bounce around. Tantra can be uncomfortable. I like tantra, though there is only so much I can take at one time. People who don’t like tantra can get very upset while having conversations with people who do like it.

    Jenn…can you snatch yourself from the Father’s hand?

    Or, more theologically…can you work your way out of salvation?

    Psalms 115:3
    Daniel 4:35
    Acts 13:48
    Romans 9:15-16

    If the answer is no then why upset people while they are in the waiting room for eternal life, and if the answer is yes then I do not want to be responsible for giving them any ideas.

    Rock on kids…

  15. Item: Good thoughts/points/questions. I personally don’t think I can snatch myself out of the Father’s hand, unless, of course, I’m no one.

    Coming from that perspective–upsetting people might be worth it if salvation (as YCW said on your blog) is not the endpoint, but the beginning. If it’s true that there’s a God, and if it’s true that that God wants a relationship with us, then one would expect that He or She would want a “tantric” one (by your definition above, anyway). And I’m pretty sure relationships don’t deepen and develop and grow without some conflict. Maybe some other person’s upsetting thoughts or questions would make the upset person deepen and grow in their relationship with God. Being upset is sometimes unpleasant, but it isn’t always bad.

    Grosser–sorry if this is all too blatant.

  16. Yeah, pretty much the premise of this whole blog is that challenging your own worldview is a good thing–because if your worldview is weak in some areas, it probably needs to grow up (read my first post). Or, in some cases, be abandoned for another one. I don’t think Christianity is full of holes. But lots of Christians way of approaching Christianity is full of holes, including mine. Which is why I need people like you and the folks who come to Gray’s, whether they happen to be Christians or not. Other folks who don’t plan on being convinced of Christianity are enjoying the conversation because they’re finding their worldview challenged in similarly constructive ways. These are the kind of reasons that my post that we’re commenting on had that series of questions at the end to chew on–some of them are more challenging to certain kinds of Christians, and some are probably more challenging to certain kinds of agnostics, and some are probably more challenging to certain kinds of atheists.

    the item, one of the major turning points in my walk with God was when a non-Christian that I was trying to share Jesus with asked me questions that I couldn’t answer. He basically told me I believed Christianity because it worked for me and because I “needed” it to be true. He saw insecurities that I had that I wasn’t completely being honest about, and he said, “Look, you believe in Jesus not because it’s rational, but because you’re insecure about x, y, and z. You’d be a lot happier if you just got laid. Look at me–I’m getting some and I’m happy.”

    I was single at the time; this was a powerful objection. He was right. I was certainly sexually frustrated. 🙂 I wasn’t being completely honest with myself about why I believed what I did–I was trying to meet needs through my faith, and these needs, I felt, weren’t really being met. I was covertly very unhappy with God at the time. On the other hand, this guy was also wrong. He was not necessarily being honest with himself; there were a lot of things that were making him unhappy and a bit of a jerk. In addition, I wasn’t being completely irrational, I did have good reasons to believe in Jesus, and well–Jesus takes us when we give our lives to him for less-than-noble reasons, and purifies us so we follow him for more of the right reasons. My conversation with this guy was one of the things that I believe God used to help me to follow him for more noble reasons–God, using this guy, was helping me to stop resting in my own ability to believe the right thing (a shaky place to rest) and start resting in what Christ did for me (much sturdier). It also happened to (eventually) change me from a person who didn’t like tantra (as described) to a person who (most of the time) does. This is a good thing to happen from a Christian perspective (as well as being a good thing from many other perspectives).

    This is the sort of thing Jenn and YCW are talking about when they say becoming a Christian is not an endpoint, but a beginning.

    I’m sad that Christians (including myself) have often given people the impression that once you’re a Christian, you’re in a waiting room for eternal life. The Bible talks about eternal life, yes, but it also talks about “abundant life”–life fully lived, which means wide awake, truthful, enjoying one’s restored relationship with God, fellow humans, and the world. Assuming all I’m saying is true (and assuming that the Bible is right and no one can snatch people like Jenn out of the Father’s hand), your challenges might just be the kind of thing that helps push some Christians out of the waiting room and into abundant life. This would be good. Also, challenging Christians might give you some unexpected opportunities to experience some pretty sweet tantra if these Christians happen to respond with something particularly inspired. It might not happen, but it might.

    Thanks for the good words, Jenn and the item; I’m not worried about things getting blatant (this *is* supposed to be about expressing opinions, right?) as long as there is space for shy people to express *their* (assenting or dissenting) opinions, too, you know? I try to keep my framing questions general enough so that people can answer in their own language. But yeah, I mean, most people who read this blog know what I believe.

    Oh, and I want to second the item’s public service reminder that no one should actually try and *physically* demonstrate the challenge of #11 to someone else’s worldview. Many emotional demonstrations of #11 are also illegal. Viewer discretion advised. Void where prohibited. Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball. Knowing is half the battle.

  17. Yikes, that was long. Sorry.

  18. ‘Twas also awesome. As others have said before, you rock.

  19. There’s a lot of rocking goin’ on by a lot of people in this conversation.

  20. Wow, I can see that I missed out on a lot of discussion. Just want to say “Amen” to your point about Christians thinking we’re waiting for eternal life and missing the point that we already have it. I know this isn’t really on subject, but I love the fact that “you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live… but because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised up up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms….” Excerpts from Ephesians 2. All of those references to what God has done for us are past tense, so we are already living in a new realm–we just need (as you suggested) to remember it!

    BTW, how did you ever get to be so smart….?

  21. “demonstrations” of #11 will only work if your targets’ senses accurately convey them to their consciousnesses.

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