e-book The Call of Character: Living a Life Worth Living

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  1. Related Media
  2. What Makes Life Worth Living? ~ The Imaginative Conservative
  3. Was My Life Worth Living?
  4. Life Worth Living: Christian Faith and the Crisis of the Universities

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People have lived in corrupt, barbaric, and even cruel times. Were their lives not worth living? It not only sounds but genuinely is facile to simply reply that people of faith always have something to live for. A beautiful piece of music or sculpture is not itself beauty, just as the Rocky Mountains are not beauty itself.

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The sculpture may be lost to us, as may any specific natural wonder. But we have it in our power to find beauty if we look hard enough. But is aesthetic experience enough? Surely not, for the eyesight and the hearing fade, just as other physical sensations do—for both good and ill anyone thinking there is no good in this might consider the torments of the infant, so fully alive and sensitive to his surroundings. Moreover, few of us have the opportunity to spend very much of our time experiencing beauty, and, alas, most of us would become bored if we tried.

Love surely counts as a great good of life.

What Makes Life Worth Living? ~ The Imaginative Conservative

Some of us think it the greatest good, even identifying God himself as love. But most love dies, either in itself or as our beloved is taken from us. Parents, spouses, and even children are taken from us by death or circumstance, leaving loneliness and longing, if not regret. Then there are the passing pleasures of the flesh, including those of our current activity-obsessed culture, where sports and hobbies from rock climbing to sex become that for which one lives.

Was My Life Worth Living?

One can lose oneself in these activities as mere experiences unconnected with beloved persons and higher purposes for only so long before one realizes they are simply substitutes for professional vocation and warfare. As to vocation itself, the work itself, whatever it is, often must be boring.

And too often we fail in the attempt or see it torn down before our eyes. It would be far too easy, then, to see this life as merely a vale of tears—a time of trial we must experience and through which we must suffer with such virtue as we can muster, so as to reach a higher reward in the next life. Most of modern life may be summed up as the attempt to block out the simple, unavoidable fact that all of us including our children!

Is it not the conditional good of working to fit into a higher, more coherent plan of being than we can create on our own? Is it not the pursuit of joy through doing right? Most philosophies make do without God. They may posit a divine Being, but those other than the Christian fail to see our lives as part of the plan of a living, personal God who seeks our salvation so that we might be with Him in eternity.

This is not to say that non-Christian philosophies are bereft of meaning. But the emphasis of most ethical thought is on restraint, withdrawal, and submission. While important and too often ignored in our age of self-involved pleasures such philosophies of restraint lack that element I, at least, deem essential to a worthwhile life.

The Golden Rule is an affirmation of virtue—its command is to do unto others as you would have done unto you. It encapsulates, I am convinced, the essence of a moral, an ethical, and the only thing that might be called a happy life, namely a life of thought and action aimed at the good. If this all seems rather abstract I think the reason is that a life worth living is bound up more with habits than formulae.

It is more a matter of virtues instilled in our character than of casuistry. This is why our children are so important—both because we must instill right character in them through personal interaction and because the work of instilling such virtue makes us better people. I know that I am neither the happiest nor the most virtuous person on the block. But I also know that many of my very happiest moments have involved seeing my children experience innocent joy in acting rightly, whether crafting something beautiful, being kind, or simply running.

The glory of such acts belongs much less to me than to my God and my wife.

But it is a glory, and I take joy in having participated therein. The same goes for my teaching and my writing. The results are far less than perfect, but I take joy in them to the extent I can see them as contributing to the formation of good character or the furthering of conversations about important ideas and events.

These all are small things—as we all are small—but if made well and with the proper intention, our acts are worth far more, including to our happiness, than the success enjoyed by those who dominate through power, money, or ideology.

Life Worth Living: Christian Faith and the Crisis of the Universities

Ruti encourages us to honour and ponder those feelings, such as anxiety and uncertainty, that many self-help programs endeavour to master or quash. Ruti exhorts us to pursue our singular desires, as opposed to the sanitized or socially acceptable ones that tend to muffle or eclipse them. This demands deliberation and bravery, self-scrutiny and guts.

While she concedes that following our idiosyncratic desires can indeed be deeply unnerving or destabilizing, it is nevertheless preferable to following the path of least resistance all the way to a cul de sac of complacency. Positive thinking, the doggedly optimistic ethos of most self-help books, strikes Ruti as absurd and callous. Moreover, some of the strenuously can-do rhetoric of pop psychology can be cruelly indifferent to the way differences in our circumstances limit who we think we can be. She sees this kind of wilful optimism as a symptom of our culture, which overrates the well-adjusted, and seems to believe that the most harmonious or stable life is the worthiest or best one.

But a number of high-achieving weirdos and sad sacks in the arts and sciences—Beethoven, Einstein, Sylvia Plath, for example—suggest otherwise. And even those of us who are not tortured geniuses may find that our messy, erratic or miserable moments are far more revealing than the routines they disrupt.

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