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Monday, March 10, 2014

Worldviews: Question 2 — Endings

“… so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”


“… These [godless people] will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord.”

Okay, we’re now on step two of my posts on Worldview Analysis. This is actually the third post on the subject, since the first was a general introduction. Before reading any further, may I suggest you return to the first such post and pick up the thread of thought, if you have not been with us all along. If you don’t, I’m afraid you could find what I say a bit out of context.

The purpose of Worldview Analysis is to give you a general philosophical structure into which you can plug all sorts of questions that have been bothering us all for a long while — questions like, “What’s the point of life?” and “How do I know what is right and wrong for me to do?”

I’m actually going to suggest that you can find answers to such things — or at least get a whole lot closer to answers — if you can get a handle on what it means to have a worldview.

Where Are We Going?

So let us begin today’s post. Today’s subject is the second of three basic worldview questions. Simply put, it asks, “Where are we going to?”

Now, as in my previous post I said we shouldn’t confuse the anthropogenic question — the question of origins — with short-term answers like, “I came from my parents”, I’m going to suggest that we should treat this second question just as broadly. I want us to ask ourselves, “Where are we humans all going to?” I mean after death. I mean even after this whole world of ours runs down or snuffs itself out. I mean forever.

It only makes sense that if in looking at the question of origins we went all the way back, that in the question of the future we go all the way forward. We also noticed that bundled with the question of where we came from is the possibility of asking, “Why were we created?” or “What is the purpose of our existence?” If so, then it should be easy for us to see that bundled with this new question come similar questions, like “For what were we created?” or “Towards what end were we put on this planet?”

Teleology

Philosophically speaking, we call this question “The Teleological Question”. Teleology is a big, fat, five-dollar word that just means “end” — but not “end” as in “termination point” so much as in “purpose”, “goal” or “objective”. It ties in with what a thing is created for, not just what its fate may be. It may be the fate of a rusty hammer to end up in a landfill, but its telos [Greek], its purpose, is to pound nails. A car may end up junked for scrap, but its teleology shows it was meant to be a road vehicle. A blog post may end up being sent to the e-trash; but its teleological intention was to be read, and to communicate information.

If you look back at my previous post on “Origins” in worldviews, you’ll see that there are three ways of looking at our beginnings: we could be products of God’s deliberate creation (the Christian answer), or we could be a semi-divine fragment of the Divine Principle behind the universe (the Eastern answer) or we could be an accidental byproduct of impersonal forces (the atheist answer). But the teleology issue is of limited use to the second of these, and of no relevance at all to the third.

The problem for the Eastern view is that material reality has always existed, and so is not a product of a purposeful act at all. Individually, we humans may set for ourselves the “purpose” of returning to union with the Divine Principle as a whole, but that is not something the Divine Principle knows much about. In fact, Buddhists compare their “heaven”, Nirvana, to the snuffing out of a candle flame or the dispelling of water droplets into the sea: thus the true telos of human consciousness in that worldview is oblivion. However, there is some limited potential for seeing a sort of purpose here: it could be that transcendence into the Divine, or endless cycles of reincarnation, or whatever, could be viewed as a plan for people to follow. In fact, this is what such religions teach is the case. People have to make an effort to be enlightened, and must achieve their liberation from the material realm. They are, then, “going somewhere”, so to speak. They have a direction.

As for the third option, atheistic materialism, if our creation is a mere accident then it’s stupid to ask that it have a “purpose”. If accidents had purposes, they’d be called “on-purposes”, not “accidents”. Making them cosmic-sized “accidents” wouldn’t change this a bit. Evolutionism and the secular Myth of Progress are often held up as suggesting a trajectory for human existence, but if all is accidental anyway, then evolution itself is goalless, and the “progress” it seems to entail is not directional and purposeful, but rather a wandering happenstance: things seem “better” now, or “more advanced” in some views, but these value judgments are themselves only accidental byproducts of an inherently meaningless universe.

Purpose

Only if you have a deliberate Creator can you answer the Teleological Question. Only a conscious, intentional Being can impart purpose to his creation. Thus, for the Christian, that which has been created has a purpose. And human beings can achieve (or sadly, fail to achieve) that purpose.

Well, if human beings are actually the products God’s creation, they have whatever purpose, whatever telos, he had in mind when he made them. However, they may achieve it, or they may not. It depends on what they decide to do with the freedom they have to obey or disobey that purpose, for unlike rusty hammers, human beings have will and volition, and so may choose not to end up where God would prefer them to end up. While the Bible is clear that God is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance”, since he created human beings with individual human identity and free will, it is quite possible for them to end up (like the rusty hammer) somewhere they were never meant to be. That’s just how it is. Freedom only “works” if a person can choose to do or be something he was not intended to do, or become what he was not designed to be.

Unfortunately, as we have noted earlier, in this world, many things do not end up achieving the ends for which they were designed; they can go off track badly. Remember our rusty hammer in the dump? Yet you need to know where you should be going, even if the fact at the moment is that you’re not heading there. Maybe especially then. And to know that, you always need to know two things: where you’ve come from, and where you’re going to.

Think of it like driving somewhere in a car, whether you’re using a map or GPS. The map will display the place you want to get to, but it’s useless to you unless you also know the point where you are at present. The GPS will contain the coordinates of your destination in its memory, but if it loses satellite contact and you don’t know where you are, then it can’t help you get there either. You’re still lost.

Who Am I?

In summary, the key principle remains this: created things are created to do or achieve particular ends. They have meanings in and of themselves; meanings put there by their Creator and reflected in their whole structure. If human beings are created beings, then they also have a design intention, and an ultimate goal for which they were intended. This is the second orientation point of a complete worldview.

Now we have to put the two together: the Anthropogenic Question and the Teleological Question — where we’ve come from, and where we’re going to. Between the question of origins and the question of ends stretches a line … the line of life itself. When you see that, not only can you begin to ask, “Where am I going?” but “Where am I on the line thus formed?” and out of that you can form a clear picture of the degree to which you are or are not being what you were created to be.

In other words, the answers to the first two questions create the basic context of the third question in our worldview triad: Who am I?

The End of Man

Now, I realize that my suggestion that human beings have a telos, a particular kind of end-in-view, rather than a field of unrestricted freedom of choice may not appeal to some readers.

In fact, you may not believe in a creation or a Creator. If you don’t, then I have no answers for you on the Teleological Question. Your worldview tells you that you are destined shortly to be dust, and some years afterward, to be reduced to an equal distribution of random energy particles through the heat-death of the universe itself.

You want consolations? You’ll have to go elsewhere; it’s not my job to lie to you. I can’t perpetuate the common fantasy of any kind of meaning in a materialist universe. Sorry.

In a similar way, adherents of the Eastern tradition will have to fend for themselves here. They are welcome to justify and defend their worldview to you as they may. I will not attempt to do it for them. If you find yourself put off by something like a multitude of warring demigods, reincarnation and the caste system, the denial of desire and the indifference to pain, or the prospect of Nirvana itself, I’m with you. I don’t think that when it comes to worldviews we should fear to question a belief just because it’s ancient or a whole lot of people happen to believe it; I think we should believe it because it’s rational and plausible to us, and in fact, seems the most true.

I’m a Christian: I believe in a purposeful creation by a caring Creator, and I take his word for what the ultimate telos of my life is. The intended purpose of a human being, the Bible informs us, is to become a “friend of God”, an eternal “joint heir” of the splendor and joy of the Creator. And we need not worry about our human limitations; all the created human needs in order to achieve this goal is a right relationship to the Creator himself, who has promised afterward to bring this telos about.

Whoever you are, where are you on the worldview map? You may find yourself totally committed to one or the other view. But if so, you’re not typical, I think.

I find that most people are a sort of irrational mix, combining things like belief in a random origin with the hope of an afterlife. Worldview Analysis won’t fix irrationality if we are determined not to follow the strict logic of our own particular worldview, but it can help you see what genuinely rationalizes between your view of origins and your view of your end.

Next Time

So now, presumably, we know who we are. What’s to be done about that is the subject of my final posting on Worldview Analysis. Or maybe I’ll do one more after that, just to suggest some things we can do with the results. We’ll see.

4 comments :

  1. Good blog! I'm really enjoying reading some of your older posts!

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    1. Thanks. Encouragement is always appreciated, Mr....um...Gooey. Is anything of particular interest or use to you?

      I'd be interested in hearing what people want to see treated on the site.

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    2. The worldview posts and the issue of science and it's relationship to religion. I guess with the growing secular assault on Christianity--especially online--it was really cool to read a clear-headed analysis.

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  2. Thanks for the feedback, Hanns. We're throwing a lot of stuff at the wall right now, so to speak, to see what sticks and what people find beneficial. It's great to have anything specific to work with!

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