Sunday, January 18, 2009

What is the purpose of life?

Continuing in the series on David G. Markham's theology, existential question #2 is "What is the purpose of my life?"

This question also includes the previous question, "Why was I born?" The Dalai Lama says that the purpose of life to be happy. Jesus of Nazareth said that the purpose of life was to find the kingdom of God. Christians say the the purpose of life is to achieve salvation and the Buddhists say that it is to achieve enlightenment. Unitarian Universalists seem to imply that the purpose of life is to create a world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.

My answer to the question is similar to the answer to #1 and that is the purpose of life is for each of us to become the best person we can and to leave the world a better place than we found it. For each of us this purpose will be unique at the egocentric level and alike at the worldcentric level.

Having a sense of purpose gives us meaning in our lives and having meaning contributes to motivation. The theology of purpose operates at many levels, the individual or egocentric level, the group or ethnocentric level, the planetary or worldcentric level, and the cosmic or Kosmocentric level. Depending on the level of consciousness of the individual, his/her sense of purpose for his/her life will vary and change over the course of developmental time.

For the drug addict, their purpose of life is to get high, for the capitalist, to make money, for the hedonist to experience pleasure, for the altruist to serve, for the mystic to experience union with the transcendent.

If you would understand a person's theology of purpose, observe how they spend their time and their attitude about their activities.

The spiritual practice which gives one a positive sense of purpose is awareness and understanding of one's place in the world. Purpose comes from a sense of belonging, a striving to become a member of one's reference group to use the sociologist's terminology. Purpose comes from tuning in to one's inner compass and aligning oneself with one's participation in the world in a way that is satisfying and in balance. Coming to understand one's purpose requires experimentation and feedback from others, and reflection. Socrates said, "An unexamined life is not worth living" and living an examined life contributes to a sense of purpose.

Understanding one's purpose is to answer not the what question but the why question. It is not so much "what should I do with my life" but rather "why should I do it?" The answer to the why question is that it helps you become the better person which you desire to become and it serves the world in a constructive, just way.

The main spiritual practice dealing with the question of what is the purpose of life is observation and reflection. These practices can take many forms and are made manifest in a person's life in many ways. It is a major function of the church in society is to help people develop a sense of purpose.

As a child having learned the Baltimore Catechism I learned that my purpose in life was to know, love, and serve God. Substitute the words "spirit of life" for "God" and you have, "my purpose in life is to know, love, and serve the Spirit Of Life."

This is article #2 in a series on David G. Markham's theology.


  1. I like this definition of life's meaning which I found recently as quoted in the graphic novel 'Watchmen':
    As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being.
    Carl Jung, 1875 - 1961
    It's not very personal, so we also need to relate this concept to ourselves. You are doing a good job on that.

  2. "If you would understand a person's theology of purpose, observe how they spend their time and their attitude about their activities."

    Or, to plagU*Urize dear Abbie Hoffman -

    "Don't tell me what U*Us believe in. Tell me what U*Us do and I'll tell U*Us what U*Us believe in."

  3. Abbie was a hero of sorts of mine. He spend years underground and then wound up killing himself. This suicide I don't understand.

    Thanks for remembering him.

    All the best,

    David Markham

  4. Hi Alan:

    I have read about 2/3rds of the Watchman. I need to finish it.

    I think Carl Jung's quote is a most excellent one. Thanks for mentioning it.

    Could I be so bold as to ask what the meaning of your life has been for you so far? If that is too personal a question for a public space like this, feel free to pass.

    All the best,

    David Markham