The Meaning of Meaninglessness
It was C. G. Jung, I think, who said that the main cause of the psychological damage to humanity is meaninglessness.
This seems to me to hit the bullseye. People have been trying to find the meaning of life since they have had the time to think about it, and they came to the inevitable idea that there is another world beyond the known physical one, but so similar that it was located in a different place, a faraway country with a Mount Olympus, for example. The denizens of that country, despite being gods, were much like ourselves, with the same virtues (sometimes), the same desires and shadow-sides, but much more powerful.
Even before that many more primitive cultures considered the sun to be god – a rather obvious opinion, considering that the sun is the sustainer of all life, so must be its creator as well. All kinds of myths were imagined and accepted as true. For example, here is an American Indian creation myth, slightly retold:
The first woman and the first man dreamed that God was dreaming them.
They were right. God, immersed in tobacco smoke, dreamed them while he sang and shook his maracas, and he was happy. But the dream also caused him to tremble with doubt and mystery, for he knew not what the dream meant.
The Makiritare Indians know that if God dreams of food, he fructifies and gives to eat. If God dreams of life, he gives birth.
The woman and the man dreamed that a great, shining egg appeared in God’s dream. They were inside the egg and they sang and danced and made a great racket, because they were crazy with the desire to be born. They dreamed that in God’s dream joy was stronger than doubt and mystery. So God created them in his dream and sang:
I break this egg and the woman is born
and the man is born.
And together they will live and die.
But they will be born again.
They will be born and will die again
and once more will they be born.
And they shall never cease to be born,
because death is a great lie.
If we for a moment consider the egg and the dream and the dance as what we would call metaphors today, is this myth necessarily untrue? It even introduces the concept of reincarnation!
There are many more creation myths, including the story of Genesis. No rational person can believe today that the world was created in six days, that the first woman was sculpted from the man's rib and that the Biblical creation myth is literally true. Yes, I know intelligent people still do, but, as Dostoevsky remarked: having intelligence is different from acting intelligently...or, I'd add: thinking intelligently. Nevertheless, the Genesis story could have been concocted from the germs of truth and told according to the mentality of the people of the time – metaphors believed literally.
And the god – Jehovah – who did all that work in a few days (or epochs?) turns out, as the Biblical myth continues, not to be such a nice guy after all. In the arch-dualist ideology of the various Gnostic systems, the material universe is evil, while the non-material world is good. Accordingly, the demiurge (the creator) is malevolent, as linked to the material world.
Then came Christianity and, where it finally took root, everything changed. This was the good son of a good god – a teacher, a philosopher, a martyr for humanity. And god himself was incorporated in Jesus of Nazareth. But again much of the myth tends to insult our intelligence: the magical trick of turning water to wine, walking on water, curing the sick and, most shockingly, resurection after death.
But what if, as some think, this is a mystery teaching, metaphors to be understood by those capable of understanding it: the initiates. What if Mary Magdallen and the apostles really did see Jesus resurected, but not the physical chemical-mineral decaying body, but what Rudolf Steiner called the “resurrection body” which only they whose eyes had been opened were able to see?
Then came Islam which, although I am far from being knowledgable about its deeper theological aspects, seems to be a retreat to Old Testament Biblical times.
All these things, and many more, point to humanity's search for meaning.
But then came modern science, the domain of contemporary prophets, a title well earned because of science's astonishing revelations. But they demand concrete physical proof of ideas. The brain thinks (they think), so let us investigate the brain and find the thoughts lurking in our neurons. Their view of evolution is one which omits a creator or creators: the gods, for there is no evidence of them; no one has seen one. Those who claim to have seen or experienced one or more can not prove it in a way that we all can experience. If there is no duplicatable evidence for something, it does not exist – period. The universe was created by an event: the Big Bang. Well, yes, the Bang may well have happened, but does it have meaning? Does it tell us why we are here? I think not.
If we reject the old myths we must create new ones, existentialism for example: We're here, we don't know why, so let's make the most of it – in a nutshell. It includes the idea that existence is absurd anyway: “The notion of the Absurd contains the idea that there is no meaning in the world beyond what meaning we give it. This meaninglessness also encompasses the amorality or "unfairness" of the world. This contrasts with the notion that "bad things don't happen to good people"; to the world, metaphorically speaking, there is no such thing as a good person or a bad person; what happens happens, and it may just as well happen to a "good" person as to a "bad" person.”
Kierkegaard, thought to be the founder of existentialism, recommended faith as the tool for overcoming meaninglessness. But modern existential philosophers, such as Satre, reject faith as an antidote.
So where are we? Stuck in meaninglessness and, necessarily, all potentially psychotics, unless we can find meaning somewhere, somehow. So search, friends, search and you shall find...maybe. A good place to start – depending on your karma (mythical or real) – could be right here at SCR.
Frank Thomas Smith, editor