Whether or not there is a God, human beings did not create themselves ”” perhaps an obvious but nevertheless salutary truth. We are the products of an amazing (perhaps even ultimately mysterious) array of causes that operated long before we came on the scene and will continue to operate long after we are gone.
That alone is enough to produce a sense of vertigo, of amazement, as we contemplate our own fragility and seeming insignificance against the infinite backdrop of time and space ”” the “eternal silence of those infinite spaces” that terrified Pascal. Yet so far from accepting, as the 20th-century existentialists did, that our lives are absurd, or that we are free to invent any values we chose, many, perhaps most, are drawn in an opposite direction.
As we struggle through life, we seem compelled to acknowledge, sooner or later, that our human good, our flourishing and fulfilment, depends on orienting ourselves towards values that we did not create. Love, compassion, mercy, truth, justice, courage, endurance, fidelity ”” all belong to a core of key virtues that all the world’s great religions (and the secular cultures that have emerged from them) recognise, and which command our allegiance whether we like it or not.
We may try to go against them, to live our lives without reference to them, but such attempts are always, in the end, self-defeating and productive of misery and frustration rather than human flourishing.
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