Man’s Search for Meaning

July10

*The Summer Reading Series is designed to equip our growing community with curated book recommendations that can shape faith and sharpen cultural insight.

Excerpt from the Postscript: The Case for a Tragic Optimism

Let us first ask ourselves what should be understood by “a tragic optimism.” In brief it means that one is, and remains, optimistic in spite of the tragic triad, which consists of those aspects of human existence which may be circumscribed by: (1) pain; (2) guilt; and (3) death. This chapter, in fact, raises the question, How is it possible to say yes to life in spite of all that?

This presupposes the human capacity to creatively turn life’s negative aspects into something positive or constructive. In other words, what matters is to make the best of any given situation. 

Optimism in the face of tragedy and in view of the human potential which at its best always allows for: (1) turning suffering into a human achievement and accomplishment; (2) deriving from guilt the opportunity to change oneself for the better; and (3) deriving from life’s transitoriness an incentive to take responsible action.

It must be kept in mind, however, that optimism is not anything to be commanded or ordered. One cannot even force oneself to be optimistic indiscriminately, against all odds, against all hope.

Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to “be happy.” Once the reason is found, however, one becomes happy automatically. As we see, a human being is not one in pursuit of happiness but rather in search of a reason to become happy, last but not least, through actualizing the potential meaning inherent and dormant in a given situation. 

Once an individual’s search for a meaning is successful, it not only renders him happy but also gives him the capability to cope with suffering.

In view of the possibility of finding meaning in suffering, life’s meaning is an unconditional one, at least potentially. That unconditional meaning, however, is paralleled by the unconditional value of each and every person. It is that which warrants the indelible quality of the dignity of man. 

Just as life remains potentially meaningful under any conditions, even those which are most miserable, so too does the value of each and every person stay with him or her.

Summer Reading Series
Man’s Search for Meaning
Viktor Frankl
Beacon Press, 2006

Today’s Readings
Joshua 12-13 (Listen – 8:18)
Psalm 145 (Listen – 2:19)

Summer Reading Series
Find devotionals and more reading suggestions on TheParkForum.org.

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This Weekend’s Readings
Saturday: Joshua 14-15 (Listen – 9:20); Psalms 146-147 (Listen – 3:09)
Sunday: Joshua 16-17 (Listen – 5:13); Psalm 148 (Listen – 1:28)

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A Brief History of Thought

July9


*Editor’s note: This book, written by an French secular humanist, does not fall in our normal devotional content. We have included it in the Summer Reading Series to frame the assumptions of contemporary culture and offer context as you converse about faith with friends and coworkers.

Excerpt from Chapter One: What is Philosophy

I am going to tell you the story [of] the history of philosophy. Not all of it, of course, but its five great moments. In each case, I will give you an example of one or two transforming visions of the world or, as we say sometimes, one or two great ‘systems of thought’.

I suggest that we accept a different approach to the question ‘What is philosophy?’ and start from a very simple proposition, one that contains the central question of all philosophy: that the human being, as distinct from God, is mortal.

I will show how religions have attempted to take charge of the questions [the need for salvation] raises. Because the simplest way of starting to define philosophy is always by putting it in relation to religion.

Faced with the supreme threat to existence – death – how does religion work? Essentially, through faith. By insisting that it is faith, and faith alone, which can direct the grace of God towards us. If you believe in Him, God will save you. 

The religions demand humility, above and beyond all other virtues, since humility is in their eyes the opposite – as the greatest Christian thinkers, from Saint Augustine to Pascal, never stop telling us – of the arrogance and the vanity of philosophy. 

Philosophy also claims to save us – if not from death itself, then from the anxiety it causes, and to do so by the exercise of our own resources and our innate faculty of reason. Which, from a religious perspective, sums up philosophical pride: the effrontery evident already in the earliest philosophers, from Greek antiquity, several centuries before Christ.

Unable to bring himself to believe in a God who offers salvation, the philosopher is above all one who believes that by understanding the world, by understanding ourselves and others as far our intelligence permits, we shall succeed in overcoming fear, through clear-sightedness rather than blind faith.

In other words, if religions can be defined as ‘doctrines of salvation’, the great philosophies can also be defined as doctrines of salvation (but without the help of a God). Philosophy wants us to get ourselves out of trouble by utilizing our own resources, by means of reason alone, with boldness and assurance. The quest for a salvation without God is at the heart of every great philosophical system.

Summer Reading Series
A Brief History of Thought
Luc Ferry
Harper Perennial, 2011

Today’s Readings
Joshua 11 (Listen – 3:52)
Psalm 144 (Listen – 1:56)

Summer Reading Series
Find devotionals and more reading suggestions on TheParkForum.org.

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Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered

July6

*The Summer Reading Series is designed to equip our growing community with curated book recommendations that can shape faith and sharpen cultural insight.

Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered | Summer Reading Series
Excerpt from Chapter Five: A Question of Size

I was brought up on the theory of the “economies of scale” — that with industries and firms, just as with nations, there is an irresistible trend, dictated by modern technology, for units to become ever bigger.

Even today, we are generally told that gigantic organizations are inescapably necessary; but when we look closely we can notice that as soon as great size has been created there is often a strenuous attempt to attain smallness within bigness. The great achievement of Mr. Sloan of General Motors was to structure this gigantic firm in such a manner that it became, in fact, a federation of fairly reasonably sized firms.

In the affairs of men, there always appears to be a need for at least two things simultaneously, which, on the face of it, seem to be incompatible and to exclude one another. We always need both freedom and order. We need the freedom of lots and lots of small, autonomous units, and, at the same time, the orderliness of large-scale, possibly global, unity and coordination.

For constructive work, the principal task is always the restoration of some kind of balance. Today, we suffer from an almost universal idolatry of giantism. It is possibly one of the causes and certainly one of the effects of modern technology, particularly in matters of transport and communications. 

An entirely new system of thought is needed, a system based on attention to people, and not primarily attention to goods — the goods will look after themselves! It could be summed up in the phrase, “production by the masses, rather than mass production.”

What is the meaning of democracy, freedom, human dignity, standard of living, self-realization, fulfillment? Is it a matter of goods, or of people? Of course it is a matter of people. But people can be themselves only in small comprehensible groups. 

We must learn to think in terms of an articulated structure that can cope with a multiplicity of small-scale units. If economic thinking cannot grasp this it is useless. If it cannot get beyond its vast abstractions and make contact with the human realities of poverty, frustration, alienation, despair, breakdown, crime, escapism, stress, congestion, ugliness, and spiritual death, then let us scrap economics and start afresh.

Are there not indeed enough “signs of the times” to indicate that a new start is needed?

Summer Reading Series
Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered
E. F. Schumacher
25th Anniversary Edition — With Commentaries
Hartley and Marks Publishers, 2000

Today’s Readings
Joshua 8 (Listen – 5:55)
Psalm 139 (Listen – 2:26)

Summer Reading Series
Find devotionals and more reading suggestions on TheParkForum.org.

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The Mission of God’s People

June30

*The Summer Reading Series is designed to equip our growing community with curated book recommendations that can shape faith and sharpen cultural insight.

The Mission of God’s People | Summer Reading Series

Excerpt from Part Two: God and The Public Square.

By stressing human choices as well as God’s ultimate control, the bible avoids slipping into fatalism or determinism. It affirms both sides of the paradox: humans are morally responsible for their choices and actions and their public consequences; yet God retains sovereign control over final outcomes and destinies.

The Bible presents the public square — human life lived in society and the marketplace — as riddled with sin, corruption, greed, injustice, and violence. That can be seen at local and global dimensions, from sharp practices at the market stall or corner shop, to the massive distortions and inequities of international trade.

As Christians, we need a radical understanding of sin in its public dimensions, and we need to see part of our mission as being called to confront that prophetically in the name of Christ. For God, the corruption of the public square is not a reason to vaporize it, but to purge and redeem it.

Isaiah 65:17–25 is a glorious portrayal of the new creation — a new heavens and a new earth. It looks forward to human life that is no longer subject to weariness and decay, in which there will be fulfillment in family and work, in which the curses of frustration and injustice will be gone forever, in which there will be close and joyful fellowship with God, and in which there will be environmental harmony and safety.

The New Testament carries this vision forward in the light of the redemption achieved by Christ through the cross, and especially in the light of the resurrection. Paul comprehensively and repeatedly includes “all things” not only in what God created through Christ, but what he plans to redeem through Christ. 

The final vision of the whole Bible is not of our escaping from the world to some ethereal paradise. What will be brought into the great city of God in the new creation will be the vast accumulated output of human work through the ages. All this will be purged, redeemed and laid at the feet of Christ, for the enhancement of the life of eternity in the new creation.

Does that not transform our perspective on a Monday morning?

Summer Reading Series
The Mission of God’s People
Christopher Wright
Zondervan, 2010

Today’s Readings
Joshua 2 (Listen – 3:49)
Psalms 123-125 (Listen – 1:52)

Find devotionals and more reading suggestions on TheParkForum.org.

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A Free People’s Suicide

June29

*The Summer Reading Series is designed to equip our growing community with curated book recommendations that can shape faith and sharpen cultural insight.

A Free People’s Suicide | Summer Reading Series
Excerpt from Chapter Four: The Golden Triangle of Freedom

Two things have consistently surprised me in my years in the United States: that the sole American answer to how freedom can be sustained is the Constitution and its separation of powers and that the rest of the founders’ solution is now almost completely ignored.

It was not always so. Historians point out that the modern elevation of the Constitution as the sole foundation and bulwark of American freedom reached its present height in the 1930s. That was no accident. Significantly, it came right on the heels of a general secularization of American law that has led in turn to a general legislation of American life. 

The framers also held that, though the Constitution’s barriers against the abuse of power are indispensable, they were only “parchment barriers” and therefore could never be more than part of the answer. And in some ways they were the secondary part at that. 

The U.S. Constitution was never meant to be the sole bulwark of freedom, let alone a self-perpetuating machine that would go by itself. The American founders were not, in Joseph de Maistre’s words, “poor men who imagine that nations can be constituted with ink.”

Many educated people who scorn religious fundamentalism are hard at work creating a constitutional fundamentalism, though with lawyers and judges instead of rabbis, priests and pastors. Constitutional and unconstitutional have replaced orthodox and heretical. But unlike the better angels of religious fundamentalism, constitutional fundamentalism has no recourse to a divine spirit to rescue it from power games, casuistry legalism, litigiousness—and, eventually, calcification and death.

Sustainable freedom depends on the character of the rulers and the ruled alike, and on the vital trust between them—both of which are far more than a matter of law. The Constitution, which is the foundational law of the land, should be supported and sustained by the faith, character and virtue of the entire citizenry, which comprises its moral constitution, or habits of the heart. 

Together with the Constitution, these habits of the heart are the real, complete and essential bulwark of American liberty. A republic grounded only in a consensus forged of calculation and competing self-interests can never last.

Summer Reading Series
A Free People’s Suicide
Os Guinness
IVP Books, 2012

You can also watch Dr. Guinness present on this topic at Socrates in the City.

Today’s Readings
Joshua 1 (Listen – 3:11)
Psalm 120-122 (Listen – 2:12)

Find devotionals and more reading suggestions on TheParkForum.org.

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What is the reading plan this blog is based on? Click here.

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