Update: Finding an Honors Project

With school and all that comes with it, I can’t put the same time I’d otherwise like to into my blog. I apologize. However, I’d still like to continue it in a series of “updates,” petit posts to fill the interim as I write my thesis, lead clubs, and cram classwork via tea and naps.

That said, I can’t put the same level of polish and professionalism that I’d otherwise like to, but hopefully a few phrases still ring and a few ideas linger after that final punctuation point.

 

I’ve been preparing an Honors Project–a two-semester project of any nature that earns an “Honors degree” at graduation. I’m not quite sure why I signed up. But last graduation, I went to the award ceremony, and seven people out of the sizable graduating class received the special degree, “with Honors.”

Like most people, I’m a sucker for praise, I suppose.

I wanted to do the problem of evil, how an all-good, all knowing, all-powerful God can allow evil in the world. For a deeper introduction, check out a post I wrote for another blog.

It’s an old problem with a rich history.

But I wanted to go further. A life-long skeptic and fence-sitter, I couldn’t just examine evil in a religious sense; I needed a secular take. Steeped in the philosophy of Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, and Camus, I found  voices for another problem: meaningless suffering.

As Nietzche closes The Geneology of Morals:

Man, the bravest of animals and the one most accustomed to suffering does not repudiate suffering as such; he desires it, he even seeks it out, provided he is shown a meaning for it, a purpose of suffering. The meaningless of suffering, not suffering itself was the curse that lay over humanity so far…

The presence of evil–often experienced through suffering–may challenge and even defeat God, but it leaves humanity in a void, a “horror vacui,” says Nietzsche. Our other arguments do the same any time we drop from God into the physical world.

Here, Nietzsche’s famous words, which he never actually said himself but put in the mouth of madman, gain context. “God is dead,” says the madman in section 125 of The Gay Science. “God remains dead. And we have killed him.”

This statement deserves qualification. First, Nietzsche does not mean God himself, an immortal being, has died. That would be impossible. Second, he does not only mean the Christian God; he means all objectivity and Truth. We’re left catching veils, never finding actual substance. Even in science,  our “immaculate perception” of clear objectivity is an illusion.

We’re stuck in the subjective world without purpose.

In my own life, purpose has posed a bigger problem than suffering, just as Nietzche phrases it. Perhaps because my parents were never big believers, perhaps because I preferred science to religion class–I’m not sure–but religion has always proved difficult. Hampered by doubt and skepticism, I’ve limped toward God and never formed beliefs that last, despite my reading, retreats, and meditation.

But, I’ve needed to find a purpose. Thomas Merton opens his classic No Man is an Island by saying that our dire thirst for purpose must mean that there is one. Somewhere. To me, that’s a leap. Yet the sentiment is key: we thirst, we need. One day, a “why?” arises requiring an answer.

Hence my thesis: The Problem of Purpose. Framed around the language and experience of Camus, a personal favorite, I hope to catalogue my own search for purpose and the fruit–or lack thereof–gathered in the process.

As I accumulate more research, I hope to continue updates–hopefully lighter ones now and then. Thanks for your patience.

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4 thoughts on “Update: Finding an Honors Project

  1. This post is amazing. I am SO excited to read more about your thesis. As someone who grew up more on the faith/religion side, and ended up definitively on the science/philosophical side, I appreciate how much purpose deserves contemplation over evil. I agree that evil is somewhat overdone in terms of focus, but there are things about purpose that go so deep that the journey, in my opinion, proves to be way more defining than the conclusion.

    I’m not sure I worded my thoughts coherently, but I am SO stoked about this thesis! Also, have fun in school! I’m starting my capstone in a couple months for media psych and I’m STOKED! Keep us posted!!

    1. I think your thoughts were very accurate and coherent. I’m glad my project has you so stoked–it helps me feel like I picked a valuable topic.

      I certainly throw some updates now and then. Thanks so much for the comment!

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