‘To whom else shall we go? You have the message of eternal life.” Peter says these words to Jesus. But they are spoken in a very conflicted context: Jesus had just said something that upset and offended his audience, and the Gospels tell us that everyone walked away grumbling that what Jesus was teaching was “intolerable”. Jesus then turns to his Apostles and asks them: “Do you want to walk away too?” Peter answers: “To whom else can we go?” But that’s more a statement of stoic resignation than an actual question.
Peter’s words function on two levels. On the surface, they express an unwanted humility and helplessness that sometimes beset us all: “I have no alternative! I’m so invested in this relationship that now I have no other options. I’m stuck with this!” That’s a humble place to stand, and anyone who has ever given himself or herself over in an authentic commitment will eventually stand in that place, knowing that he or she no longer has another practical choice.
But those words also express a much deeper quandary, namely, where can I find meaning if I cannot find it in faith in God? All of us have at some point asked ourselves that question. If I didn’t believe in God and had no faith or religion, what would give meaning to my life?
Where can we go if we no longer have an explicit faith in God? A lot of places, it seems. I think immediately of so many attractive stoics who have wrestled with this question and found solace in various forms of what Albert Camus would call “metaphysical rebellion” or in the kind of Epicureanism that Nikos Kazantzakis advocates in Zorba the Greek. There’s a stoicism which offers its own kind of salvation by drawing life and meaning simply from fighting chaos and disease, for no other reason than that these cause suffering and are an affront to life, just as there is an Epicureanism that meaningfully grounds life in elemental pleasure. There are, it would seem, different kinds of saints.
There are also different kinds of immortality. For some, meaning outside of an explicit faith is found in leaving a lasting legacy on this earth, having children, achieving something monumental or becoming a household name. We’re all familiar with the axiom: plant a tree, write a book, have a child.
Poets, writers, artists and artisans often have their own place to find meaning outside of explicit faith. For them, creativity and beauty can be ends in themselves. Art for art’s sake. Creativity itself can seem enough.
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