Bringing meaning to human experiences

Atheist Friedrich Nietzsche once stated, “He who has a why to live for can endure any how.”

The ability to believe in something is a fundamentally human characteristic, one that separates us and elevates us above non-rational creatures.

In a recent interview with prominent atheist Eugenio Scalfari, Pope Francis pestered the journalist regarding belief in a transcendent being.

“You, a secular non-believer in God. What do you believe in? You are a writer and a man of thought. You believe in something; you must have a dominant value­­,” Francis said.

This is a question every individual asks oneself and no doubt repeatedly asks oneself throughout the course of existence.

As such, every person must at some point provide an answer for that question which runs through the vein of what it means to be a human being.

Without belief there is no hope, and without hope, existence becomes meaningless and despondent.

In his book “Man’s Search for Meaning,” psychologist Viktor Frankl chronicled his time in a concentration camp, wherein he observed the varying psychological states of the prisoners, their responses to suffering and their extraordinary ability to persevere.

Frankl himself spoke about how he dreamed of being reunited with his wife once he was liberated and how that gave him the strength to endure some of the worst evil imaginable.

This real longing for something good signifies a greater longing for the Good.

An old priest whom I know once said that we are not human beings participating in a spiritual experience; rather, we are spiritual beings participating in a human experience.

Hence, Francis’ response to Scalfari’s claim that he does not believe in the soul: “You do not believe in it, but you have one.”

As such, one can place hope in two things: the material and the immaterial.

The visible is quite obvious. What is just as obvious is that experiences will pass.

While it is good that I look forward to enjoying a football game in the company of friends, to place all my hope in this experience would be insane. I would be empty and unfulfilled.

I would say, and so would Francis, “The world is criss-crossed by roads that come closer together and move apart, but the important thing is that they lead towards the Good.”

Surely, this Good must be better than all the earthly experiences we could imagine, because it is an experience that never loses its brilliance.

So, while it is certainly good to enjoy those human experiences which bring happiness to our lives, how much better would it be to place our ultimate belief in that which never expires?


Reach the columnist at mrrich2@asu.edu.


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