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"Does Existence Make Sense?"

     My philosophical friend berates me quite sharply, for
stating that Nature is consistent and the physical world
dependable, and that I derive great comfort from that underlying
     "You want life to make some kind of sense," he rants.  "It
does not make any sense at all.  I believe your wanting it to
make sense is a left-over from the long religious training that
you had.  You want life to make sense.  What a hopeless and
ridiculous desire you have."
     So, I have that to think about.  I frankly doubt that
learning Greek and Hebrew and church history and "systematic
theology" [which I called a contradiction in terms then and still
regard as such] is the source of my hopeless and ridiculous
desire.  I rather think that it could better be blamed on my
earlier study of science and mathematics. 
     I am willing to suppose, for the moment, for argument's
sake, that the human search for meaning, including that of Viktor
Frankl and the other existentialists, may be wishful thinking. 
We humans are good at adding meaning, if we possibly can.  Samuel
Becket does it in WAITING FOR GODOT, by the creation of a
beautiful, near-perfect play, in which the plot and the point
clearly state that nothing means anything.  Tchaikovsky does it
with his Sixth Symphony, labeled sentimental and even maudlin by
some critics, in which he makes Death, or the acceptance of
Death, somehow a thing of Beauty.
     Maybe the meaning is only added by the human artist, and not
innately there.  But, if so, where did the artist get it?  Can
the part be meaningful, and the whole not?
     Besides, I meant something more basic that humanity's
experience of death, when I spoke of the dependability of Nature. 
Matter reveals a pattern, an order, an orderliness.  The
structure of the atom, the generalizations being discovered by
the analysis of Chaos [which used to be the word for primordial
disorder!] reveal pattern.  I am greatly comforted by the
dependability of Nature.  What goes up must come down.  Every
action has an equal and opposite reaction.  Lying about reality
doesn't change it.  Nature cannot be successfully lied to or lied
about.  Unless some other physical force moved it, Harry, your
hammer that you can't find is right where you left it.
     My friend seemed to think that the existence of Ice Ages
proved that Nature was not dependable.  But I didn't mean
dependably supportive of humans.  I meant dependable in its
adherence to the rules of physics.  Ice Ages are a global
cooling, caused by interference with solar rays, changes in the 
orbit, movement of the poles, whatever.  I like Ice Ages; they
come about for real reasons.
     And now, getting personal, I sense some meaning, some kind
of sense after all, in the pattern of my own life.  Almost every
biography I read displays meaning and consistency.  I'm reading
one after another, trying to discover the meaning of a human
life.  A marvelous example of the good this inquiry does me come
out of Howard Fast's examination of his own life, in BEING RED. 
He moved from Communism to Zen, and tells of a Zen teacher who
taught him to be glad for the opposition of small-minded, lying,
mean-hearted anti-Communists.
     My philosophical friend, who began as a sensitive activist
not at all unlike Howard Fast in his youth among the Wobblies of
the northwest, sold his soul to Mammon and gave up on ever
improving the world and the lot of the poor in the world.  Now he
reaps bitter results, blaming the very structure of the Cosmos
Itself for his Despair.  We are allowed to be puzzled about
Cosmic Purpose, given the time and distances, but Despair is ego
yelping as the end nears with no sense of any underlying meaning.
     I am willing to admit that my "religious training" sometimes
provides the vocabulary with which I do my thinking about all
this.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer first made me look at the meaning of
my own life, as he told about the meaning he saw in his, looking
at it from inside a Nazi jail cell, with the strangling piano
wire in place.  John Bunyan described the Giant Despair,
accurately.  Viktor Frankl described MAN'S SEARCH FOR MEANING.
     I have rejected the ecclesiastical institutions, which claim
to represent and embody "religion."  But I continue to wrestle
with The Big Questions, and this one is the biggest of them all -
- does anything matter?  Does it matter what I do, or believe?  I
believe it does, and I base my belief on the reliability of
Nature, not some kind of "supernatural" revelation.
     P.S.  I regard the word "supernatural" as an oxymoron.  If
something exists, it is natural.  If it is not natural, it does
not exist at all.  Whatever is, it is natural.  Nature is What
There Is.  There is nothing at all outside of Nature, or beyond
Nature.  And Despair is Ego.
* * *
Copyright © 1997 Harry Willson

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