Tag Archives: Philosophy

A Life of Simplicity

Maybe there's a simpler side to life.

Our human lives are extraordinary, complex, and truly wondrous things. I don’t just mean this in a biological sense either; the human mind, society, and community is really incredible when you stop and think about it.

But there are so many areas of our lives and so many different ways in which we complicate things! The lives we lead in the modern day are of a much higher standard of living than almost any time or civilization in the past, but the high-speed, large-scale, generally consumerist philosophy of American culture seems to have taught us to constantly want more than we need. The aggressive advertising in today’s world is a natural outcome of a huge corporate entity, which is again a natural outcome of a growing population and economy.

Many of us as Westerners have convinced ourselves that the key to happiness is to fill our lives with every good thing we can find. We want a good house, a good family, a good car, a good job, and of course, the good life we’ve convinced ourselves will come out of all this. But the bar keeps getting higher! Society keeps telling us that we don’t quite have everything we need to be truly happy, so many people have become convinced that once they get one more thing, they’ll be happy. The bar keeps being raised.

Why do we do it this way? Why not find simpler, easier goals for ourselves to achieve, rather than constantly striving to meet society’s ever-rising status quo? Our existence has become laden with all kinds of baggage, baggage about who we should be, what kind of life we should lead, what we should think, say, and do, even what clothes we wear and what food we eat! More importantly, a huge and hugely complex social structure of codes and laws has been formulated and is the basis for so many of the interactions we hold. Many talk to the poor as if they were the dirt under society’s feet, while anyone addressing the president would never dream of doing such a thing.

When you really stop and think about it, almost none of this is inherent in our being as humans. The idea proposed by Locke comes to mind here: When we’re born, each of us is a tabula rasa, a blank slate. Things are “written” and impressed on us from the very moment our mothers give birth to us, as our experiences and the environment around us shapes who we are through our whole lives. Now, I need to interject here by saying that I don’t think we’re born completely blank. People have their own natural preferences, and whether that’s biological, mental, or even somehow spiritual, I can’t claim to know. My point though, is that so much of our perception of the “self” has been passed down and dictated to us by past and present society that we’ve lost a lot of our ability to think outside of those boundaries.

We’re told from the beginning of life that there is a certain way society works and holds together, and that there are certain rules and guidelines of a stable, healthy society that must be followed. For example, many people “naturally” regard a beggar asking for money on the side of the road as a drug-ridden lowlife, someone who has thrown away their life on alcohol and bad decisions. On the other hand, most people would respect a doctor or lawyer implicitly, based solely on their profession. But while going to law or medical school might better equip someone to deal with legal or physiological problems, it does not change the inherent value of a person.

So here’s my challenge: Stop thinking of things in the ways you’ve been taught, or at least exclusively so. Challenge yourself to leave behind your preconceived notions of the world and especially of other people, and strive to lead a simpler, less presupposing life. And finally, make you the self you want to be. Don’t let other people and outside influences exclusively make you who you are. Allow them to challenge your perceptions and ideas, but make your decisions and your life for yourself. If we could all be free from the preconceived notions that have been passed down to us about the world, we could transform ourselves and society from the inside out.

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Seeking the Spiritual: What did Jesus Really Say?

What did he really preach?

It’s more or less unarguable that the figure of Jesus Christ has had an enormous impact on the world, especially the Western one. Whether or not he really existed, or performed any of the miracles he claimed to, or died on the cross and rose again on the third day, Jesus has influenced Western thought and religion for 2,000 years.

I was raised in a strongly evangelical Christian setting. I went to church every Sunday, attended Sunday school, and I’ve been educated at private Christian schools from when I was four years old to the day I’m writing this post. I’ve been inundated in Christian teaching nearly every day of my life.

To be fair to my parents, I want to interject that I hold nothing against them for this, and they have always been extremely supportive of whatever view I choose to have. They just raised me in the way that they thought was best, and I really appreciate their love and commitment.

But has what I’ve always been taught about Jesus and my faith been the right view? I would never have challenged this two years ago, or even a year ago, but now I find myself asking really tough new questions. I owe this, at least in part, to a book I’m reading with members of the church I’m currently going to, called “Writing in the Sand.” The author, Thomas Moore, proposes some fascinating and difficult questions, and has given me an entirely new idea of who Jesus might be.

But first, I want to say that I don’t think that Jesus’ historicity is at all important in the debate over who he was. From the conservative Christian standpoint, Jesus’ factual existence is crucial, but I would challenge this view. Is it really important, for anyone, that Jesus did everything the Bible records? From the typical evangelical Christian perspective, the historicity of Scripture is paramount, but I would challenge this. So many problems arise for the Christian who tries to hang his faith on a literal interpretation of the Bible. And from a theological perspective, what’s more important? We could spend all the time in the world arguing about whether such-and-such event in the Bible really happened, and we would get nowhere, but if one focused on what the real message of Jesus was, all the rest is unimportant.

So what was the real message of Jesus? That’s a hotly contested issue, and one that I must admit I don’t have the most concrete answer for. But I have my ideas! Perhaps the real message of Jesus is far different than what we’ve come to expect and interpret. Maybe Jesus wasn’t trying to establish a new religion at all, but a new way of life. The very fact that there’s a Christian religion at all to me says that there’s been a deep misinterpretation of Jesus’ purpose. If one really reads the Gospels, the focus of Jesus’ life was caring for others, not making them believe or live morally pleasing lives. So much baggage has been added to who Jesus was and what he meant that his message has been twisted into a state that he would probably barely recognize.

The rebirth that Jesus meant when he said “you must be born again” was not a change of religion or belief, but a change of mindset. His message was not one that was meant only to apply to those who call themselves “Christian” or live a perfectly moral life. As Thomas Moore puts it, “Establishing the kingdom in the world doesn’t mean converting people to a belief system but creating the climate in which a spiritual vision combines with deep engagement with life.” Jesus wasn’t worried about the temporal religious designations we put on ourselves and others. He, like the Buddha, Saint Francis, Mohammed, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Lao-Tzu, and many others, was concerned with waking us from our stupor, and making all people realize that there’s a much deeper reality to the world than most people are willing to accept.

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