Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A life worth living

I was stirred the first time I heard of Fr. John Meyendorff's eulogy to Fr. Alexander Schmemann, "his was a life worth living."

I recalled aforementioned line today while giving a lecture on the value of Philosophy. I was talking about the misconception that so many people have that Philosophy is "useless". Then I brought up the fact that practically any issue we debate, question we attempt to resolve, or stance we end up taking is fundamentally a philosophical endeavor. The problem, according to me, is that too many who deem philosophy "useless" are adhering to a narrow definition of usefulness that boils down to "a skill that helps me acquire tangible things." Then, practically without realizing it (I'd given the lecture three times without this addition) I just flatly said what was on my mind, "... and if someone honestly places no value whatsoever on anything besides skills that acquire material things, I hope they fail out."

Now of course the students recoiled, because they assumed that I was insinuating a bias against materialistic people that would be reflected in the grades. I quickly said that's not what I'm saying. I won't make it happen per se. But, I still hold to my comment.

For me the issue is one of a life worth living. Socrates, who thankfully is their first reading, put it so well all those years ago: "The unexamined life is not worth living." I think in his eulogy to Fr. Schmemann, Fr. Meyendorff might well have had this exact idea, if not even this exact quote and author (which I do not doubt given his classical learnedness) in mind.

Truth be told, we Americans have such access to education, and such an opportunity to broaden ourselves, that whether or not we choose to live a "life worth living" - an examined life - is just that, a choice. We have the opportunity to make it happen. We also have the opportunity to skip over this self-examination and simply make money, marry 2.5 times, and die.

Here I'm taken to an early quote from the show Battlestar Galactica. Captain Adama is giving his (he thinks) retirement speech, and he poses a quandry: "So often we are thankful for our lives, but we rarely ask ourselves - do we deserve to live?" For modern Americans (among others) I think the question could just as easily be rephrased "do we deserve our prosperity." I'm of the opinion that if all we produce are buyers and havers, takers and absorbers, users and consumers, or as Tom Hopko says "copulators and calculators", then we are little more than extremely blessed and gifted parasites.

I cannot, for all of the love inside of me, find it in my heart to sympathize with the self-imposed problems of those who take blessings without thanks, and forfeit their responsibilities.


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