Perhaps you saw a comment posted on this blog where someone (allegedly) named Carl asked:
“A suggestion….could you summarize each day and what you learned as a way of engaging everyone by just reporting what you heard and then inviting a response?”
(Despite the nature of the suggestion, Carl is a real person, who figures prominently in The Race Before Us.) Since I’ve been very bored here and there’s little else to do (seriously, we really wants to visit world-famous museums, study 500 years of western European architecture, tour Churchill’s Blenheim Palace or the real “Downton Abbey” (just 35 miles west) or spend some time in the nearby Cotswolds), And, even though we’re experiencing the best weather in Oxford since its founding in the 9th century, I’d really rather stay in my dorm room and work on my blog – so I thought Carl’s idea was brilliant! In fact, not only I am ready to devote most of my free time to taking care of Carl’s wants, I am surprised by the joy I expect it to bring.
We had a three-hour session with Os Guinness, where we looked primarily at “A Thinking Person’s Quest for Meaning.” Yes, Os is from Ireland and of the famous beer brewers by the same name. He is also the author of over 30 books, including A Free People’s Suicide, The Call, and A Long Journey Home (our class today was very much a nutshell of this last book). He is also the speaker in a video I shared with many of you last year (which I’m sure you can find on YouTube or Socrates in the City), entitled “Can Freedom Last Forever” (or “A Free People’s Suicide”). Needless to say, you don’t often get 11-person seminar with such accomplished scholars.
(Some of the historic sites I will be skipping for Carl.)
Socrates famously said “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Before taking a look the four stages Os believes the large majority of “thinking people” go through on a journey to find meaning, we began by asking why people might not be examining their lives. (Presumably they do not believe them unworthy of living.) Guinness believes the main reason the people-who-are-not-thinking are not thinking is due to “diversion” and/or “bargaining” – we are either so pre-occupied with entertaining distractions (referring to our array of mobile devices as ” weapons of mass distraction”) or we defer any real thought until we “have time” (Guinness thinks we bargain with ourselves (a bit like Scarlett O’Hara) – “I will get to that when things slow down, when the kids are grown” – “tomorrow”).
Stage 1: Presumably, sooner or later, people start asking questions. Individuals ultimately need meaning and belonging. Guinness believes that at some time circumstances (a “seasons of life” event, such as mid-life, medical crisis, etc. or a historical crisis, such as Vietnam, 9/11, etc., or some other personal reason) puncture their belief system and create a “signal” of transcendence. This puncture and this signal lead us to Stage 2.
Stage 2: At this stage, the individual asks a lot of questions. Ultimately though, most systems of thought fall into one of three families: (i) eastern religion, (ii) Abrahamic religion, or (iii) secular religion. Thus, it is a time of analyzing different worldviews to see if the philosophy of one corresponds with how they see and experience the world.
Stage 3: This is a time for “due diligence” – when the thinker studies the evidence and attempts to “check out” that worldview they think fits the bill. Ultimately, the seeker on this journey must answer the question (about the worldview they want to embrace)(and, keep in mind, making no decision is embracing a worldview), but is it true?
Stage 4: A time for decisions and conclusions. Guinness believes that for the Christian (the person who comes to see the truth of Christianity in this process) there is a profound paradox. You are never more aware of your self and meaning in life, but at the same time you understand that you are not really in control and that there are things bigger than and beyond yourself.
I found it particularly interesting because it’s not too difficult to see all four stages in my journey –The Race Before Us. What would you say, Carl?
P.S. I’m already getting pretty far behind, since I’ve only covered Monday and it’s already Wednesday night. Perhaps I can give up sleep with the sightseeing I’ve decided to eschew so I can get more of these daily reports out for Carl.