The following is my entry to the Power of Purpose contest that concluded in August, 2004:
My name could draw blank stares. My occupation could dazzle no one. My purpose could change the world.
Did someone say, “What’s all this hifalutin talk about purpose? It’s all I can do to keep food on the table and shoes on the kids’ feet.”
So, there you have it: Survival, personally and for one’s family, drives all of us.
Or does it?
Science–that is, evolutionary theoreticians–tells us we’re nothing more than highly-evolved animals perched atop the evolutionary ladder. If we are, in fact, over-achieving animals, our driving force should be that of all other animals, albeit highly-evolved: the species, family and individual survival instinct.
Such a conclusion leaves an unsettling question: When forced to decide between denying our beliefs or facing torture and death for ourselves and our families, why do we lofty, evolutionary ladder-perching animals, ever choose suffering over security? Doesn’t our tendency to value fidelity over survival seem to deny the presumed, highly-evolved survival instinct? That it does, unless said survival instinct views ideological compromise a greater threat than extinction. But if that were the case, wouldn’t the survival instinct contradict its own definition? Don’t take this too hard, scientists, but you’ve leaned your evolutionary ladder on the thin air of invalid assumptions, with its bottom-half stuck in muddy, Popular Scientific rationale.
Part of the blame for that tenuous reasoning falls on two ideas that we generally misunderstand: instinct and purpose. Rather than being near-synonyms, they are outright contradictions. One of the many inferred meanings of purpose is: “A characteristically human motivation that counters instinct.” Whether for good, or for ill, a conscious sense of purpose separates us from the rest of creation.
Society has witnessed the unlikely wedding of its academic establishment and its mass-communications industry. The happy couple is currently populating our schools and TV sets with their offspring: Biased Academic Entertainment, Amusing Editorialized Journalism, and Socially Irresponsible Programming. All three precocious children favor their parents’ aversion towards value-judgments.
We’ve all heard well-meaning teachers, psychologists, and every other -ologist imaginable, say, “You shouldn’t say should or shouldn’t,” or some other antinomian tripe. An alarming number of our youth’s teachers and counselors refuse to validate any moral standard for fear of appearing moralistic, or worse yet, religious(perish the thought). Their hype calls it, “Values-Neutral Education,” saying it allows children to discover their own, personal values. If they are right–though by their stated beliefs they can be neither right nor wrong–there would be no difference between Mother Teresa’s purpose, and that of terrorists. They’re both purpose-driven. They’re both extreme in their religious or ideological adherence. And they’ve both changed the world in that pursuit. Yes, that claim is ridiculous, but unimpeded by a moral code, that kernel of reasoning grows inexorably to extremes.
So we face a quandary: If humanity is indeed purpose-driven, what standard should govern that purpose? As painful as it must seem to you, O amoral academia, this calls, not for societal values-neutrality, but for personal values-judgment.
History has validated, despite wars and genocide: Humanity’s highest aspiration is betterment, while that of the animal kingdom is survival. As lofty as that sounds, everyone seems to have different, often conflicting, standards of what constitutes a better condition. While reflecting on that ambiguity, a discerning sage once said, “HELP SOMEBODY DO SOMETHING ” Doing something requires taking a stand, but on what should we stand?
All the great religions, ideologies and institutions bear certain similarities, one of which is the preemptive value of human life, and its corollary, quality of life. But these values are not as simple, or obvious, as they might seem. Intellectuals have written volumes to cover their exigencies and ramifications; dry, academic tomes of interest only to other sympathetic intellectuals, the authors’ colleagues, and their mothers.
In all the millions of words written to “encapsulate” these values, is there no universal moral filter that all reasonable people might accept? Is there not some kind of “Golden Rule” through which humanity might qualify its manifold contradictory aspirations?
While all the world’s great religions teach a version of this “Golden Rule,” Christians harken to Jesus’ words in Luke 6:31 of their New Testament. The New American Standard Bible* translates it: “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.” What a simple code What a seemingly impossible ideal for the human family to attain
But, why not have our governments pass laws dictating the Golden Rule? That’s a great idea, and there’s only one slight wrinkle we’d have to iron out: Passing such laws may give the legislators purposeful feelings and job security, but if the Golden Rule is not written on individual hearts, history has shown legislation will never put it there.
“Turn to Religion, O man, and thou shalt find the Bounty of Goodness.” Okay, it’s not a quote from scripture, but it sounds nice, doesn’t it? Religionists have pounded their pulpits with some version of that message since a certain couple failed to walk away from a certain serpent. Yet, religion’s history reveals anything but applying the Golden Rule to its purposes.
“Give me one generation of youth, and I will transform the entire world.” Comrade Lenin’s higher purpose has already peaked, but where is the transformation?
“Education holds the key to change Give our schools enough money to fulfill their purpose, and the ghettos will turn to gardens; violence will vanish.” In this Values-Neutral academic environment, does school write anything but facts on our kids’ minds?
“We have but to push the boundaries of our scientific knowledge ever further, until we know all there is. Then we shall be as gods.” Haven’t you noticed, O serpent, that science’s noble purpose has produced myriad ingenious death-machines, along with sundry other, helpful inventions?
“The Truth is out there.” Great sound-bite for an FBI agent regardless what letter he assigns to his files, but since religion, politics, education and science have all failed to implement the Golden Rule, how can humanity survive its apparent purpose of extinction?
All of these purposeful institutions and endeavors are products of our highly-evolved, innately destructive human nature. The only purpose contrary to that, is the only purpose outside human nature: That of our non-religious, non-political, non-educational, non-scientific, cognitive, infinite, loving, redemptive and personal Creator. He is the Jews’ Messiah, the Gentiles’ Christ, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords, before whom every knee shall one day bow in worship. He is the Solid Rock on which we must stand to reach any purpose worthy of His unique creation.
* Scripture quotation taken from the New American Standard Bible®,
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by The Lockman Foundation
Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)