We have this double problem, don’t we? The first is: what is the meaning of life? That’s pretty tricky to answer; and if that weren’t enough we have the compounded problem here in the West: we are not allowed to ask that question, or at most we are expected to skirt around it. Why is this? Because a bunch of useless philosophers, building on a long-standing anti-spiritual tradition, in the middle of the last century decided that it was a meaningless question, and so there was no point in asking it as there was no meaningful answer. With retrospect this seems like assuming the answer before we have fully investigated the question. This suits people who don’t want life to have a meaning since it enables them to keep ‘transcendence’ safely locked away in the deepest ocean of their sub-conscious, never to disturb their perfect lives. However, it fitted the zeitgeist of the time and so the most important question of all, the question that has absorbed philosophers and human beings before and since Plato for thousands of years, was relegated to an historical footnote – better that than having people seriously attempting to grapple with and answer this profound challenge.
One of the greatest exponents of this view was the philosopher, Professor AJ Ayer, responsible for promoting an ideology called Logical Positivism, which essentially did what I have outlined in my first paragraph: namely, it debunked any kind of knowledge that wasn’t or isn’t scientific and open to that sort of discipline’s validation. Curiously with Ayer, towards the end of his life he had a near death experience and one of the medical consultants attending him reported Ayer as saying: "I saw a Divine Being. I'm afraid I'm going to have to revise all my books and opinions". Unfortunately he never had time to, and the ‘believers’ in Ayer’s sort of meaninglessness sprang into action to attempt to invalidate the reported words of the medic. Mostly they seemed to have used more great logic: he couldn’t possibly have said those words, could he? And so he couldn’t have.
Of course Ayer was wrong – except possibly in having seen a Divine Being – in his views, particularly about knowledge and what is and isn’t valid. Without being a philosopher myself I can state with complete confidence that science and logic are both coherent and powerful forms of understanding; but they are not the only forms available to human beings. Indeed, to gain a truer picture of what it means to be human we have to realise that ethics and beauty have their respective disciplines which are not science, but are equally true. And truth itself – hence philosophy, the love of wisdom – is a discipline that is not valid in any objective sense. The prioritisation of science and the scientific method has led to an appalling deprivation in our understanding of the world and what the world means. Ah! – ‘means’, that word again.
So what is the meaning of life? Curiously, and as a first pass on the question, the answer is closer than one might expect. We might expect the answer to trot off the tongue in a sentence like: The meaning of life is … God, Om, happiness, my family, love, human progress, the survival of the fittest, and so on. And it might be these things if we go for the second pass, and delve more deeply. But before we do that, let’s get to reality. The meaning of life is … meaning. Yea, that’s it – meaning.
Carl Jung put it this way: "When people feel that they are living the symbolic life, that they are actors in the divine drama, that gives the only meaning to human life; everything else is banal and you can dismiss it. A career, producing children, all are Maya compared with that one thing, that your life is meaningful". So not only is it about being meaningful, but also Jung gives us the mechanism by which this occurs: to feel that our lives are symbolic, especially in a divine drama. Wow – that charges us. Another way of putting that is: we are all on a hero’s journey, but so many of us in the West has put to port and stayed at the very first obstacle that beset the great hero, Odysseus. They are on the land of the Lotos-eaters, imbibing the lotus of logical positivism and all the other negative philosophies and ideologies that lead to despair and inertia.
The truth is, as Eric Idle once sang, when you are part of the divine drama, as Brian was, you can ‘Always look on the bright side of life’ and journey on, for you have a destination.