Remember Jean-Paul Sartre’s statement that the basic philosophical question is that everything that exists has come out of absolutely nothing. In other words, you begin with nothing. Now, to hold this view, it must be absolutely nothing. It must be what I call nothing-something or nothing-nothing. If one is going to accept this answer, it must be nothing-nothing, which means there must be no energy, no mass, no motion, and no personality.
. . . You must not let anybody say he is giving an answer beginning with nothing and then really begin with something: energy, mass, motion, or personality. That would be something, and something is not nothing.
The truth is, I have never heard this argument sustained, for it is unthinkable that all that now is has come out of utter nothing.
. . . The dilemma of modern man is simple: he does not know why man has any meaning. He is lost. Man remains a zero. This is the damnation of our generation, the heart of modern man’s problem. But if we begin with a personal beginning and this is the origin of all else, then the personal does have meaning, and man and his aspirations are not meaningless . . .
It is the Christian who has the answer at this point—a titanic answer! . . . Man’s damnation today is that he can find no meaning for man, but if we begin with the personal beginning we have an absolutely opposite situation. We have the reality of the fact that personality does have meaning because it is not alienated from what has always been, and what is, and what always will be. This is our answer, and with this we have a solution to the problem of existence—of bare being and its complexity—but also for man’s being different, with a personality which distinguishes him from non man.
We man use an illustration of two valleys. Often in the Swiss Alps, there is a valley filled with water and an adjacent valley without water. Surprisingly enough, sometimes the mountain springs leaks, and suddenly the second valley begins to fill up with water. As long as the level of water in the second valley does not rise higher than the level of water in the first valley, everyone concludes that there is a real possibility that the second lake came from the first. However, if the water in the second valley goes thirty feet higher than the water in the first valley, nobody gives that answer. If we begin with a personal beginning to all things, then we can understand that man’s aspiration for personality has a possible answer.
If we begin with less than personality, we must finally reduce personality to the impersonal. The modern scientific world does this in its reductionism, in which the word “personality” is only the impersonal plus complexity. In the naturalistic scientific world, whether social, psychological, or natural science, a man is reduced to the impersonal plus complexity. There is not real, intrinsic difference.
–Francis Schaeffer, He Is There and He Is Not Silent
Most of us live without knowing what we live for. Surely this is life’s greatest tragedy, far worse than death. Living for no reason is not living, but mere existing, mere surviving. As Viktor Frankl found in a Nazi concentration camp, our deepest, rock-bottom need is not pleasure, as Freud thought, or power, as Adler thought, but meaning and purpose, “a reason to live and a reason to die”. We need a meaning to life more than we need life itself.
Millions all around us are living the tragedy of meaningless life, the “life” of spiritual death. That is what makes our society more radically different from every society in history: not that it can fly to the moon, enfranchise more voters, have the grossest national product, conquer disease, or even blow up the entire planet, but that it does not know why it exists.
Every past society gave its members answers to all three great questions. It transmitted the teachings of its sages, saints, mystics, gurus, philosophers, or gods through tradition. For the first time in history, society no longer regards tradition as sacred; in fact, it no longer regards it at all. We are the first tree that has uprooted itself from the universal soil. If we are to find an answer to the question “For what may I hope?” we must find the answer individually; our society simply does not know. The only sound we hear from our noisy society concerning the most important questions in the world is the sound of silence.
How has this silence come about? How is it that the society that “knows it all” about everything knows nothing about Everything? How has the knowledge explosion exploded away the supreme knowledge? Why have we thrown away the road map just as we’ve souped up the engine? We must retrace the steps by which we have come to this dead end . . .
From the Renaissance emerged something radically new in human history: a secular society with a secular summum bonum. Of the twenty-one civilizations Toynbee distinguishes in his monumental Study of History, the first twenty kept some sort of religious basis and purpose; ours is history’s most unique experiment. It remains to be seen how long a civilization can survive without the use of spiritual energy, without a supernatural source of life.
–Peter Kreeft, Heaven: The Heart’s Deepest Longing
Even the wisest of mankind cannot live by reason alone; pure arrogant reason, denying the claims of prejudice (which commonly are also the claims of conscience), leads to a wasteland of withered hopes and crying loneliness, empty of God and man: the wilderness in which Satan tempted Christ was not more dreadful than the arid expanse of intellectual vanity deprived of tradition and intuition, where modern man is tempted by his own pride.
―Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot