Rebellion, Meaninglessness, Joy

     In the coming weeks and months I am going to roll out a series of essays and stories about a topic that I believe is the key to a life well and authentically lived. I don’t believe that it has ever been explored in quite this way before, and my art and blog are dedicated to it. The three topics of Meaninglessness, Rebellion, and Joy are closely interlinked. Take a look at Joseph Campbell’s quote:

“And in this life-creative adventure the criterion of achievement will be… the courage to let go the past, with its truths, its goals, its dogmas of “meaning” and its gifts: to die to the world and to come to birth from within.” — Joseph Campbell, ‘The Masks of God, Volume IV’ page 678.

     Campbell placed the word meaning in quotation marks. What a grand and understated nod to our central condition in this life! I want to expand on this for months, maybe years, but the gist of it is that meaning, that meaning which so consumes those who strive to live consciously, is not a foundation or a solid rock. Rather, it is more like a useful model of how to live here, and what to do to live well and truly. Meaning, so to speak, is a structure which gives form and impetus to a life. Obviously, a life without meaning is unbearable. Yet, meaning itself is not a thing. It does not exist as anything. There is no meaning or meaninglessness at all, unless someone chooses one or the other. In other words, the basis for the meaning of our lives is just a choice to have meaning in our lives. There is no deeper ground.

     Now, I can hear the protests of the religious saying that the ultimate ground of meaning is God. Sure, I too believe in God. But God notwithstanding, it is still your choice to give meaning to God. God gave you the freedom to choose, but he did not give you meaning itself. It may very well be that the great abhorrence toward atheism and nihilism by the religious is nothing more than an unrecognized dread of this truth about meaning—that is, that it begins and ends with us alone. God or no, I must face the universe myself.

     At birth and throughout life, everyone gets a package of ready-made meaning. Meaning is presented as something real, as truth. And generally, rebellion against the myth is not tolerated. Enter Rebellion and meaninglessness. To live truly, you must rebel. We are on a “life-creative adventure” and the chief achievement will be “the courage to let go the past with its truths… its dogmas of ‘meaning’”. The rebel is the one who sets out from the warm hearth of his inherited meaning. She ventures away from meaning and crosses through meaninglessness– “I walk through the valley of the shadow of death”. There are many wastelands, but this is the ultimate. It is also the one most worthy of being crossed. You must “…die to the world and come to birth from within”. So the rebel crosses the valley to new meaning, to truth and authentic life. That is the process: Rebellion, Meaninglessness, Joy.

11 thoughts on “Rebellion, Meaninglessness, Joy

  1. Ready for it! Will be looking for you……

  2. This fits in with my research for “The Human Condition” remarkably well. Have you been reading my research notes? 😉

    Seriously though, I would have quoted you as a source if I had read this a week ago…

  3. Your thoughts resonate with the process I have been going through in recent years…just last night I wrote “I feel I am formless and void,”, perhaps I am that place of meaninglessness. Looking forward to following your blog.

    • Hi Danese, thank you for your honest words. It’s really something to think that my little efforts might click with somebody— thanks for letting me know.
      You must be on a good path because meaninglessness is the beginning of really living, in my view. Maybe that is what was meant by these words: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” I look forward to staying in touch. 🙂

      • You are very welcome! I love the way connecting here on wordpress can be so personally insightful and encouraging. Plus it is a delight to make new friends! I will definitely stay in touch. Peace, Danese

  4. Good piece! Though I would disagree that a belief in God does not necessitate meaning. If you do not believe in God, then I think you are right on point about finding an authentic meaning. But if you do believe in God, I think that an objective meaning logically follows from this belief. I guess it may vary though, depending on whether you define God according to the Judeo-Christian tradition, or a different view. Either way, great thoughts!

    • Wow, thanks for engaging the topic. It’s really helpful to get some feedback. I think we are actually in agreement, but wording the same thing in slightly different ways, perhaps? This give and take really helps me to refine my thinking. Thank you for YOUR great thoughts!

      • For sure, the internet’s not worth anything without good dialogue! And I think you’re right, we may be agreeing…either way I’m looking forward to reading more.

  5. Hi Matthew…. You really got me to thinking because you bring up a really important point. I know you have your own life going on, but if you could spare a moment, I would be honored to hear your take on Ecclesiastes 1:1-2, which I am going to review soon. NIV has this: “The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem: “Meaningless! Meaningless! says the Teacher. “Utterly Meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” He is, of course, talking about “things under sun”– or here on earth. I like the point you brought up because it seems to draw a line between mere earthly meaninglessness and ultimate meaninglessness. Like I said, if you have time to help me with this, I would be most indebted! Either way, thanks again for your excellent point.

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