Friday, July 15, 2011

The Meaning of Life and Why We Act

A friend of mine was living in Chicago and he was miserable. Not because of the Cubs. And not because of toll booths. And not because of the winters!

He was miserable because he wasn't famous.

He was slaving away auditioning everywhere and doing some sort of comedy improv thing on local access cable TV and he was angry and sore that nobody noticed him. His whole life was focused on getting noticed! getting seen! getting famous!

And this is what happens to actors when they forget that it's not all about them. It's about the work.

But before I say that again, let's examine the question of The Meaning of Life

Earlier this week we had a backyard meeting of the ChesterBelloc Drinking and Debating Club, my men's only group that sits around discussing philosophy, life, religion, while arguing and drinking. Two of our members have tremendous faith - not faith in God, but faith in Evolution as the Answer to all Questions.

I finally got one of them (my favorite atheist, Steve) to admit the following:

From a subjective point of view, which is to say from the point of view of a human whose vested interest is the survival of his self and his species, man is better than other creatures. From an objective point of view, however (the point of view of an observer from space or an impartial eye in the sky), man is no better than any other creature. And the things that make man different from other animals - art, music, literature, will, reason, love - these things we value subjectively because they have a biological or evolutionary function in that they give us a reason to get out of bed in the morning, to eat, defecate and copulate. Culture, will and reason serve our animal existence by making us more adaptable and varied, etc.; in Steven's view the higher serves the lower, for really there is no higher or lower, it's all level.

Indeed, Favorite Atheist Steve was consistent enough to admit that only within the framework of life does life have meaning. Natural selection and adaptation are meaningful only because living things struggle to adapt and live - but from a purely impartial point of view, life has no inherent advantage over non-life: living matter is no better than non-living matter: indeed, something is not better than nothing, except for those selfish living somethings under the illusion that it is. Thus a rabbit exists only to make more rabbits and not to chew some grass and enjoy the beautiful day. We don't live to understand and appreciate and love; we understand and appreciate and love in order to live - for reason and will and even joy and laughter are only biological tricks to keep us eating and defecating and copulating so our kids can eat and defecate and copulate some more.

And this fascinates me.

Actor Erik with a K (our other man of faith) noted, "Are people better than animals? Let me put it this way, if a house were on fire and I had a chance to save either serial killer John Wayne Gacy or a dog, I'd save the dog."

"And I'd save John Wayne Gacy," I replied. "That's what makes me Catholic. Even the worst sinner is made in the image and likeness of God and is infinitely more valuable than all animals."

Now this does indeed all relate to acting - because either Steve is right that art, culture, music, reason, will, faith, love, have no intrinsic value, no objective value, are in and of themselves worthless, and are valuable only from our own points of view, and even then for reasons that are biological and chemical and deterministic; or I am right they have a transcendent value that rises above the dog-eat-dog world of natural competition and selection. "Prove that," Steve challenged me. "I can't," I replied, "You either see that or you don't."

But if you see that culture has value, that man has value, that life has value, then you can see that God probably does exist - for if any reality is transcendent, then the greatest reality must be transcendent. If reason is there - and it is - then life is not just about matter, for even if reason is a function of matter, reason transcends matter. If will is real, then there is a spiritual reality, for will is a spiritual thing. There is not just matter, there is form as well, as there is no matter without form. These unseen things (reason, will, form) are real and quite literally transcendent. So is beauty. So is goodness.

At any rate what you do see if something is better than nothing, if life is better than non-life, if man is better than a dog, if reason and will are better than robotics, if art is better than eating and defecating, and if good art is better than bad art, then, actors, listen up ...


You are made to make. You were created to create. "Ourselves we do not own" as Shakespeare says. It's not about you being the hero of public access cable TV, it's not about you being a matinee idol - it's frankly not about you at all. It's about truth, beauty and goodness - and those things are real, as real as matter and energy and biology - and they are of God. The idea of God is not an illusion to make us get out of bed. God does not serve our lesser selves. We drag the butts of our lesser selves out of bed in order to serve God; otherwise, what's the point? Literally. What's the point?

Use your talent for great things, for things beyond your self. Use your talent to serve God.

Otherwise you'll be miserable in Chicago, waiting 100 years for a World Series victory and 100 hours in traffic jams.

My next post: The Actor as Priest. Stay tuned.


Mark Scott Abeln said...

And who is this supposedly objective observer in space, or impartial eye in the sky? How did he form his value system, where he considers a man equal to a cockroach? Is he actually objective, seeing all things as they truly are, or is he so prideful that he lets his personal opinion cloud his judgement?

Martin said...

Actor Erik with a K (our other man of faith) noted, "Are people better than animals? Let me put it this way, if a house were on fire and I had a chance to save either serial killer John Wayne Gacy or a dog, I'd save the dog."

Why would an atheist put himself at risk to save anyone or anything?