In my 100-level psychology class in college the professor and an older student were discussing the experience of satisfaction in adults. What age group experienced the most satisfaction: 18-34, 35-49, 50-69, 70+? The next class the professor brought in a study which showed that satisfaction is pretty similar among each age group. The claim that there is no preferred age for satisfaction is highly intriguing, but it also leads me to many thoughts about happiness. If satisfaction levels never peak, when can I expect to achieve the level of happiness that I deeply desire? And what is the level of happiness that I truly desire? When I’m honest with myself, I want to be happy. But not just a little bit. I want to be happy in a complete way. I want to get to a point where nothing can steal my joy. I want an impervious kind of happiness that never goes away and can never be undone or outdone. But where can I get it? What kinds of things should I do to achieve it? What do I need to experience, attain, or accomplish in order to fill my desire and longing for maximal, permanent happiness and satisfaction? Is it even something life really offers us? Is our culture leading us to this kind happiness or something else? As C.S. Lewis famously pointed out, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world” (Mere Christianity).
As much as we endeavor to be completely happy, this life is brimming with disappointment. There are many great things, but they are intermingled with discontent. Other people use us, frustratingly deceive or mislead us, they don’t follow through on their commitments to us, they cheat us, steal from us, let us down and we all do the same back to them. Countries lie to each other, obfuscate the truth, set up a wily network of agreements with other countries, eventually we go to war, kill each other, and destroy the trust and love that cause the peace and joy we all truly desire. The world is broken, and insofar as it’s broken, it leaves us unsatisfied. So what is our response to broken things? In my driveway, I had a vehicle I wanted to sell, but it had problems that needed to be fixed before it was worth anything. I had a broken thing, and I just kept ignoring it. One response to our broken world is to ignore it. The other response to the broken vehicle requires a more laborious answer (but when I’m honest with myself, I enjoy the struggle of fixing broken vehicles more than being lazy). The other response to our broken world is to engage in the struggle of fixing it. As with fixing the vehicle, fixing the world and the culture is much more inconvenient than ignoring its problems. But as G.K. Chesterton once pointed out, “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”
So that leaves us with two very different approaches to the world we live in. Largely due to the initial experience of satisfaction, I believe we live in a world that has decided indifference is the best approach to these questions. We’ve seen war in every age of human history and in the last century we’ve seen war kill more people than all other centuries combined. It is frankly depressing to think about important questions that carry heavy weight or claim something significant about human existence. The idea of progress is reduced to technology and conversations about individual rights where the great ideal of progress was once about the nature and purpose of human existence. In fact, these more important questions were the ideals that Enlightenment was founded on. It led to significant questions about reality, the moral good, and the greatness of the human spirit. But, as history shows, Enlightenment easily led from questions of the purpose of human nature to the unmitigated oppression of anyone who disagreed. These eighteenth century ideals soured throughout the nineteenth century and climaxed with the Great Wars of the twentieth century.
Since that time I believe we’ve frankly been a little sheepish about asking important questions. For many reasons, including many not referenced here, it seems clear that we live in a time that avoids the more important kinds of questions. We have established a culture of indifference. There is no major understanding of the constitution of human nature today. In fact, with the exception of the ivory tower of academia, there are not even any significant competing theories used by the public. As a result of our indifference toward our own nature we ignore questions of our purpose. Because of this, the deepest questions we try to answer are ordered to the lower parts of nature: food, living situations, future survival, sex, in short, our carnal inclinations. “Get paid and get laid” is basically the zenith of our culture of indifference. Today we equate comfort or pleasure with satisfaction. And, most importantly, we’re supposed to stay away from being adhering too tightly to any religious or ethical system. Even the words “coexistence” and “tolerance” have taken new meaning. They don’t mean lovingly living alongside another’s way of life with which you disagree; rather, what people mean by tolerance and coexistence is actively supporting and promoting a position that is in some way foreign to you. I can be tolerant of abortion doctors, but that doesn’t mean I have to promote their cause. The culture of indifference would lead us to believe that all religions are ultimately the same, while ignoring the fact that many of their core beliefs are mutually contradictory. It doesn’t matter though, because the culture of indifference won’t ever get to the point of asking questions of the essential qualities of a thing like that. And that’s really the point of this article.
Our culture of indifference will latch on to the most convenient theory without asking the ultimate questions about where it leads. According to our society, morality, for example, is purely subjective—or at best—relative. Because we are indifferent we say what is right for you is fine and what is right for me is different, but still right for me. This is convenient because our indifference allows us to get rid of having that awkward conversation about someone actually being wrong! But what about murdering children (or murder in general), rape, molesting children, or even if a teacher simply started throwing glass shards at his students for no reason. Or what if a teacher at the end of each semester randomly assigns F’s to four students who would otherwise have good grades. Who would not be in their corner saying, “That’s unfair”? Are these things only bad because I think they are bad or my society thinks they are bad? Or are they bad because they are in fact unfair? What about serving people in need, sacrificing time to become friends with those who are lonely, giving to the poor, helping people get on their feet to be self-sufficient, giving up time to help someone move, doing anything that we would consider generous, kind, or compassionate, and so on? Are these things only good because our particular society accepts them? Or are they in fact good? Or, coming from a completely different angle, when I read Solzhenitsyn about arrests in Soviet Russia I can’t help but think how we shouldn’t merely assume that the secret police are right just because society accepts it. When the NKDV or the MVD or the KGB comes to arrest you, if you’ve done nothing to deserve an arrest, you can legitimately ask the question, “For what?” But it is the case that either you are right or the secret police is right. Both parties cannot be right.
It is clear, that when pushed to any kind of critical examination, there are things that all people find to be morally good or bad because they are simply good or bad in themselves. What people should say about morality is that there are some points that are still worthy of debate, but this does not mean we should throw away legitimate and objective right and wrong. Ultimately, it is about choosing the good and avoiding evil. That is something we definitely don’t want to lose, because choosing good and avoiding evil is the only way to a life of true happiness. In any event, none of what I just said about religion or morality matters in our culture of indifference because those questions don’t have to do with our carnal inclinations, with comfort or pleasure. So you will not find a great many people who get passionate about objective right and wrong or about pointing to real religious differences in the great monotheistic religions. The culture of indifference doesn’t really care about those things; the culture of indifference, as I’ve belabored, cares only about carnal things. In a way, because we’re so indifferent, all that is left to get passionate about is transient, immediate gratifications.
But there has to be a better way! We were made for more than just the boring “get paid and get laid” mentality. When we are courageous enough to ask, the deeper questions lead to a deeper understanding of what a human being is, what it means to do good, and the real existence of a thing called “greatness.” When I’m honest with myself, my heart doesn’t race when someone offers me a fancy hotel room with a buffet (though I like the idea and might take the offer). But I wasn’t meant only for this kind of happiness. I was meant to make a difference. My heart races when I think I’m going to make a meaningful difference. You were meant to make a difference. We let life slip by being indifferent while we’re missing a great adventure! You are the only ‘you’ that exists right now. You are the only ‘you’ who has ever existed and who will ever exist. You bring something to the universe that no one else has or ever will. You adventure is found in finding what you’re supposed to become and then being you the best you can! Your adventure will change the course of the universe in the way only you can and no one else can. Are you ready for an adventure like that?
There is so much good to do in the world right now. Perhaps that’s the only thing that is good about evil; it gives us ample opportunity to do even more good and change the world for the better. The bottom-line for this Love InSight Manifesto is that we want to help people know and choose what is truly good, learn how to love – even in the midst of evil, and use that love to change the world in a unique way that only they can. Good and evil are really out there and we have a role in the drama that is playing out as those two things battle in the world around us. Our faith assures us that good will win. The struggle will not be in vain. The Church constantly reminds us that the battle was won by God himself, the designer and creator of the universe. It will not be an earthly victory, perhaps, but it will be a definitive victory where truth and eternal happiness ultimately win. Indifference is making us sheep when we were meant to love with the intensity of a lion. We only have to look to Him and therein keep love in sight.