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Searching for meaning in life

by Stefan

The Meaning of LifeImage by Jari Schroderus via Flickr

It is with a great deal of discomfort and uneasiness that I have managed to take an honest account of my life. I noticed a recurring thought or theme that keeps popping up; the utter pointlessness of it all and my inability to accept it as such. At this stage I have what seems to be an ambivalent attitude towards life. I am afraid I have climbed out of one ditch just to fall into another.

I posted my de-conversion story some time ago and although not much has changed with regard to the practical aspect of my religion (I still don’t believe in any deities familiar to me); much has changed regarding the way I feel.

I think a brief account of why I find myself staring down this black abyss would be a good idea at this stage.

I was raised in a typical middle-class, white South African home, where religion played an integral part of my life. I (and by I, I mean my parents) attended a typical Protestant church, and invariably all sorts of beliefs (regarding God, eternal life, Jesus etc) were instilled in me from a very young age. Children don’t like going to church and I was no exception, but during my mid teens I became a religious fanatic. I recognized the importance of quite literally giving your life to Jesus. This was brought about by a book called “He came to set the captives free” by Rebecca Brown. Not only did it scare the ^$#$ out of me, in hindsight it was a piece of $#^&. I still read a few pages from the book every now and again when I need a laugh. Unfortunately my teenage years were pretty messed up, not due to abuse or anything (I had wonderful parents), I was just painfully shy and I had this intense yearning to be loved and accepted, thus inducing mini-emotional trauma because my shyness prevented me from making friends (pretty standard teenage stuff I guess). I think my developing an obsession with God back then, may have stemmed from this intrinsic need to be accepted and loved. God could fill the proverbial “void” that people could not.

My obsession with converting the entire world led me to study theology at university. This is where it all came tumbling down. Quickly and miraculously (this is as close to a miracle I have ever witnessed) I realized that church doctrine and God is far from infallible and even worse, trying to untangle the two leads to an unholy mess. One by one my notions regarding religion and God were shattered to pieces. Instead of a blinding light that signaled the dawn of a new paradigm, it all kind of fizzled out into an unspectacular disappointment and emptiness. The change was gradual and methodical rather than fleeting and fast. I was still the same person, I just didn’t believe in God anymore. I did have a brief period of depression, but that is to be expected.

Only after I developed a passion for philosophy and psychology (I had changed my field of study in the meantime) did I feel the excitement at the prospect of the vast unexplored horizon that is life and the human condition. This enthusiasm rekindled the meaning and comfort I had lost during my de-conversion. I spent numerous nights reading works by philosophers and authors that truly inspired me. I became somewhat of a rationalist and harboured a faint hope that one day through intellectual endeavour we might arrive at answers for our questions. For the first time in as long as I can remember I was happy. This was quite different from the self-indulgent happiness rooted in fear and parading as concern for others, I had felt as a teen. God was no longer needed and I was ok with that. I still wonder about the existence of God and I don’t mind discussing my thoughts on the subject.

After a couple of years a strange thing happened. I found myself gravitating more and more towards the morbid side of philosophy and human thought. I began reading works by thinkers such as Edgar Allan Poe, Rorty, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche, and the one thing that enthralled me was the sheer despair felt by some as they desperately attempt to make sense of their own life. I was unaware of it at the time, but I was slowly changing. I became quite depressed, but on some masochistic level I enjoyed it. After all, how can one know joy if one does not experience pain?

At this stage I find myself staring down this dark hole trying to make sense of my world, but deep down I know that it will end in failure and these feelings of despair will always return. Some days I enjoy having the pleasure to experience pain and suffering, but one side of me always dreads it. I have been cursed with the notion that my world has to make sense, and no amount of thinking or wishing can remove that. I am torn between wanting order and meaning and recognizing that there is no such thing, yet I am unable to emancipate myself from what is essentially a part of me. I am caught in an endless cycle of cognitive dissonance from which there is no escape.

Christianity has left wounds that cannot seem to heal.