Paul Tillich was a Protestant German-American philosopher-theologian whose thought exemplifies Christian existentialism. In his book, Tillich discusses the origin of anxiety as coming from the loss of meaning in life. Here he is referring to the underlying but nagging realization most of us suffer briefly, or for a lifetime, that existence has no purpose. We come into being at birth then learn through daily life experience that death, nothingness, non-being awaits us.
Arguments for the immortality of the soul are futile when we visit a funeral home. In spite of all logic, biological extinction causes anxiety. The corpse reminds us that it is our fate too, to be thrown out of existence at any moment. Is it any wonder then that it takes courage to accept this unacceptable fact?
Most people push aside this anxiety of non-being by adopting a religion and following its precepts sometimes to the point of fanaticism. They find comfort in accepting what their church insists is the true meaning of life and an afterlife. But there are also the religious fanatics who insist their beliefs must be imposed on others. Mankind is well aware of the horrors these extremists cause today and have caused in the righteous past.
Then there are those who push the anxiety of non-being into an unconscious mental recess and lose themselves in a work ethic. They identify with their job, their position, their status in life. Quite often, they fail to examine their own existence until faced with loss of it through disease or a life threatening illness.
Sadly, there are those so overwhelmed by the anxiety of non-being that in despair they turn to alcohol, drugs, or suicide.
What does Tillich mean by courage? In The Courage To Be he states that courage is the strength to continue to live on in a meaningful way in spite of the fact that our existence appears to have no purpose. We do not wallow in doubt, self-derision or despair. We have come into being in this time, in this place, in spite of the ever-present threat of non-being.
This courage comes from a fundamental person-to-person acceptance of God, a belief in a being that infinitely transcends one’s self. We do not believe because religious dogma demands it. We believe because as limited human beings we simply accept a loving, intelligent, understanding and forgiving God.
Theologian Tillich readily admits there are no valid arguments for God’s existence. What does exist is the courage to believe in spite of all doubt. Our life’s purpose lies within a personal encounter with God.
The book as a whole cannot be read without much reflection. But it is worth the effort. I would highly recommend The Courage To Be to all practicing psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, counselors, and any person interested in a more meaningful existence.Powered by Sidelines