Belief Makes Meaning Difficult

Terry Eagleton has become one of my go-to authors for pure enjoyment in reading, as he takes on loaded topics with wit, humor and penetrating insight. He had the audacity to pen a book called “The Meaning of Life,” from which this quote comes:

Religious fundamentalism is the neurotic anxiety that without a Meaning of meanings, there is no meaning at all. It is simply the flip side of nihilism. Underlying this assumption is the house-of-cards view of life: flick away the one at the bottom, and the whole fragile structure comes fluttering down. Someone who thinks this way is simply the prisoner of a metaphor. In fact, a great many believers reject this view. No sensitive, intelligent religious believer imagines that non-believers are bound to be mired in total absurdity. Nor are they bound to believe that because there is a God, the meaning of life becomes luminously clear. On the contrary, some of those with religious faith believe that God’s presence makes the world more mysteriously unfathomable, not less. If he does have a purpose, it is remarkably impenetrable. God is not in that sense the answer to a problem. He tends to thicken things rather render them self-evident.

Eagleton, The Meaning of Life, 77.

The last part of that paragraph resonates perfectly with me. When I first became a Christian, I was utterly convinced that life now made perfect sense, and I knew what the meaning of (my) life was. I now see that, firstly, it would be difficult not to see more clearly after I ceased abusing enough drugs to fell an elephant. Secondly, my simple confidence in the meaning of life is no longer simple, but rather assailed with anxiety, doubt, and not a little fear. And this is because of my faith in God.

God seems to have delighted in turning my life upside down, not in just a supposedly instantaneous moment of salvation, but in a style more akin to a car crash that lasts for years and years. Any notion of stability is simply a reprieve from the tumult bound to break in at any second. I don’t know which way is up, and it’s all God’s fault.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

4 responses to “Belief Makes Meaning Difficult”

  1. that’s a really great quote. again, you know how to pick them!
    i’m a little disturbed though by the car crash analogy…it is a disturbing one in fact. the way you would see yourself being broken over and over again. where would you say the healing comes in? does he not break the shackles off of us (which feel like us) and set us free of them? are we not then more alive?

  2. maria: Good comment, and great questions. My own thinking is that this continual brokenness is inextricably bound up in God’s healing and saving actions towards us. I have no thought of arriving at a point where I don’t have any shackles to be broken off anymore. Even if God breaks them all of of me in a particular moment, I believe that I will have set up 5 idols by sunset and not even know it.

    I therefore believe that true freedom includes a vulnerability to God where we grant him free reign to break us over and over again. To put it colloquially, God has messed up my life, but it’s a much better and more alive kind of messed up than I could manage on my own.

    Anthony: cheers mate.

  3. Great Scott man! It appears as though we have been reading two completely different books by two completely different authors and have some how come to similar notions of awarenes to our own meanings pervasive interactions through these experiences, both from pasts to now be present, and the other way arround. To see things in past events as that of new realizations to the incomprehensible incongruency to our own current state despite the fact that those events placed us no where else but here. And only really being able to see the anxious “what ifs” and “whys” because of our anxiously seeking faiths through this process. A faith based of stumbling incongrent acknowledgements to where meaning means what it has meant, and how that means it has to change more, despite the fact that right now it simply is, until we find it to be other wise. I just finished Owen Barfields’ Poetic Diction and Thomas Merton’s Zen and the Birds of appetite. If I were teaching a class on this, it would apear that all three books should be taught at the same time. As for me and my house we are going to read “The Meaning of life” by: Terry Eagleton

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