Philosophy

Rabbi Rami Shapiro: The Meaning of Life is “once upon a time…”

rabbi_rami_printWhat is the meaning of life?

Meaning is a narrative rather than a fact; something one creates rather than something one discovers.

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Meaning is “once upon a time” rather than E=MC2.

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Life has meaning only insofar as we give it meaning.

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If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one to tell a story about it, does it have meaning? No. It may have purpose, but it has no meaning.

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The purpose of a tree is, for example, to hold the soil in place in times of rain, and to convert carbon dioxide to oxygen through the process of photosynthesis — but purpose is not the same as meaning. Purpose is intrinsic to life, meaning is a narrative that people lay over life. And because meaning is a human creation, there is no one agreed upon meaning that all humans share or affirm.

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We humans give life meaning primarily through storytelling.

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Storytelling is not unique to human beings: elephants, dolphin, whales, and other mammals may also be storytellers and meaning makers, though the stories they tell and the meaning they make are as yet unknown to us.

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Storytelling is the way we make meaning out the raw facts of existence. People tell stories the way oak trees make acorns: it is part of our nature and essential to our survival.

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Unlike oak trees people are driven to not only replicate our genes, but also to replicate our memes — our ideas, our philosophies, our religions, our insights, our wisdom — and we do this by creating stories.

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Storytelling is the way we make meaning, and the way we pass our made meaning from one generation to another. Storytelling can take many forms: oral, written, artistic, musical, cinematic, choreographed, etc. What all these forms have in common is to lift us from the ordinary to the sublime.

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Our need for meaning is so acute that we deny we are making meaning and pretend that we are discovering meaning in order to elevate our stories into histories, and our fictions into fact.

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Religion happens when story becomes history and meaning–creation becomes meaning–revelation. Organized religion seeks to kill the creative capacity for meaning making and storytelling by shifting “once upon a time” to “once and for all.” This is why organized religion is essentially lifeless, and so ready to stifle new stories, and kill new meaning makers and storytellers.

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The cure for murdering those who cherish stories other than our own, is reclaiming the fact that all stories, no matter how precious and meaning filled, are human creations rather than divine revelations.

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Knowing that meaning is created rather than revealed, religions cease to compete over imagined truths, and begin to compete over which is best at freeing the meaning making imagination of humanity.

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Knowing that meaning is created rather than revealed, we are free to measure the quality of different meaning-tales by their capacity to help us live more justly, compassionately, and lovingly.

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Knowing that meaning is created rather than revealed, the conflict between science and religion ends. Science becomes grist for the meaning making of the human imagination. The best stories are the ones that work with the facts of science rather than against them.

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How shall we live knowing that life is without meaning other than the meaning we create? Humbly, and with immense curiosity about the nature of life and an equally immense respect for our capacity to make meaning out of it.

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What, then, is the meaning of life? Once upon a time….

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~Rabbi Rami Shapiro, author, educator and freelance theologian
www.RabbiRami.com

Copyright © 2015 Excellence Reporter

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Categories: Philosophy, Spirituality

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